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Full Circle

Day 77: Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam 
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The England captain arrives with the pitch.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThere is cricket in Hanoi. A league of expatriates plays on a pitch belonging to the Vietnamese Air Force. Unfortunately it's a football pitch. When we arrive there is a game in progress between a Russian team and a Vietnamese military side. The Vietnamese are, head for head, an average of eight inches shorter than every one of their opponents, and they're a goal ahead.

After the football has finished, the cricket will begin. England will take on a combined India-Sri Lanka team, most of whom are already here, tossing the ball about and practising slip catches. The English team is in some disarray; the captain hasn't arrived.

'And he's bringing the pitch,' says an anxious colleague.

Eventually Martin, the captain, appears and produces a case of beer and a roll of straw matting twenty-two yards long from the back of his car. The matting is nailed into position across the centre circle and the crease marked out with white aerosol spray. Their previous pitch was underneath a bridge and every time the river flooded it had to be temporarily evacuated. Someone remembers this with fond nostalgia.

'There were turds everywhere.'

I talk to some of the team. Peter, a twenty-nine-year-old architect, has enough work to have set up his own practice here in Hanoi. In the last year he has seen remarkable changes. There used to be very few shops, what little there was for sale coming from baskets by the side of the road. There were buffalo-carts in the main streets. Now the main talking point is the installation of Hanoi's first set of traffic-lights.

A Canadian who sells telecommunications equipment is amazed by the demand.

'They want everything we've got. It's like kids at the candy store.'
Hanoi, Vietnam 
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The Vietnamese military arrive to stop us filming.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 77
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hanoi
  • Book page no: 113

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