Man With Pith Helmet in Sapa

The Jingle of Bells

H'mong man with NVA helmet, arms crossed, central market, Sapa, 1995.One sweltering afternoon in Hanoi,I stood by a shade tree near an old church on a main boulevard. At the time,bicycles outnumbered scooters and cars and the air hummed with the pleasing sound of thin treads rolling on smooth paved roads,the pleasant jingle of bicycle bells,the atonal lilt of the Vietnamese language. Many of the men standing or walking or squatting on their haunches wore North Vietnamese Army helmets or uniforms. This had no effect on me at first but that day,for some reason,the sight of pith helmets and green cloth touched a nerve. At the sudden loud clang of a church bell I staggered back to my room, bolted the door,sobbed,then slept for hours.