my first day alone here,┬ámy mother messages me to ask why the weather report for Hanoi (she checks daily, she tells me) does not say sunny or cloudy or chance of rain. instead it says “smoke.”

what does smoke mean? she asks. is Hanoi on fire? after a little research, I find out that it is, in a way: farmers on the outskirts of Hanoi are burning stacks of straw after the rice harvest. as I read the article I see images of many little puffs of smoke rising out of the fields. it’s affected the air quality, which explains the weather report, and why I woke up with a sore throat and stuffed nose.

so my first day is smoky. when I step outside I realize how spoiled I’ve been on the motorbike. I have forgotten how difficult walking can be in this city. the sidewalks are constantly filled with little street food stalls, plastic tables and chairs, and parked motorbikes. the streets are filled with motorbikes, many of them ignoring traffic lights (in Hanoi yellow and red mean “go,” too) and going the wrong way down one-way streets. along the curb are little bags of trash waiting to be picked up by sanitation workers. I am alert, admittedly a little tense.

there are small victories: a freshly baked baguette from the baker around the corner, still warm when it’s placed in my hands. a productive writing day. the time to read four short stories from my best american anthology (2002 edition). not too bad at all.