I arrived in Hanoi a few hours ago, and what a change from the countryside! This clamoring city is bustling with contagious energy – its like hitting New York City after spending weeks in Fargo, ND. A much older metropolis than Ho Chi Minh (it turns 1000 in 2010), it offers more personality and flair – a sort of San Francisco to HCM’s Phoenix.

My hotel is in the Old Quarter, a fun place to explore with shops of unique mercantile. silk vendors, and cafes at every turn. Around the corner is the outdoor market where you can pick up a mango or two. Down the street is the serene Hoan Kiem lake with its shady banyan trees, and a picturesque green pagoda standing sentry at its edge. At dawn, hundreds of locals face the rising sun and engage in silent tai chi exercises in tandem on the wide brick walkways that border the lake’s circumference. I remember feeling a bit apologetic last year as I dodged in and out of the tai chi crowds on my morning runs like a slalom skier, hoping I wasn’t too much of a distraction.

I am looking forward to a bevy of meetings here this week with representatives from universities, potential funders, and various NGOs. The name of my driver who transported me to the hotel from the Hanoi airport was Thang, which I learned means “winner’ in Vietnamese. How about that? My own personal Rocky. I’m taking that as a good omen…..