Make way for the train

A train might be the last thing one would expect rumbling down a narrow city alleyway.

But residents of a bustling neighbourhood in Hanoi's Old Quarter have become accustomed to, and even shaped their lives around, a train that whizzes through their street twice a day.

Just a short walk from Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi's "train street" is so narrow that the procession of railway carriages is often just a few inches from the front doors of buildings.

There is really no advance notice about the train's arrival, except for the horn that is sounded as a last warning. But residents there are so attuned to this daily occurrence that until a few minutes before the train speeds by, one can still find women washing clothes, children playing games and neighbours drinking tea by the side of the tracks.

Then, as if an internal alarm goes off, people suddenly disappear into their houses, shop signs are taken down and bikes are moved to safety to avoid being hit by the oncoming train.

It all happens within a few minutes, and once the last carriage turns the corner, life returns to normal and the buzz of activity continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'Make way for the train'. Print Edition | Subscribe