Hồ Chí Minh

Hello, Vietnam

In Saigon
so they call it here
there’s a constant wave of engines and horns
a steady sea of people
an energy you can’t get away from

Duck down a side street
through a narrow alley
a man sits on a small stool
smoking a cigarette
looking pensively
at you

You are lost
Why are you here?

Early Impressions

The rush of traffic and sheer volume of people in Ho Chi Minh overwhelmed me almost instantly as I exited the airport. A man approached us “Taxi” he showed me a card that read Vinasun- “One of the good ones” I thought and we followed the man across the street to the car park, it seemed odd I thought, but its a new country, keep on. We approached a busted up, old and very dirty looking black car. This is not Vinasun. “No” both of us refused to place our bags in the back of his car. We turned around and went back into the airport. Where are the real taxis? All the ones we saw were full. We walked down the sidewalk to the edge of the airport, and there we found a reputable company. No seat belts still, but this is Southeast Asia. We are off.

GPS says we’re close, but the driver cannot find our hotel. He asks a man on the street and we find the tiny building among so many other narrow, tall buildings. We enter through the back, the man at the counter cannot speak english, he takes our passports and writes the information. A woman comes from a back room somewhere to greet us, she gives us cold water and the man who cannot speak english shows us to our room. It’s furnished to the classic french style of the building, but the walls are smeared and the lights flicker. We spend the night, too tired to ask for anything else.

Early the next morning, I discover there is a childcare/ nursery across the street. Children cry as their parents drop them off and later, scream as they play. A jack hammer started to the other side of the building. Bags under my eyes and sweat dripping down my face, I ask if we can find another place to stay. T agrees, while he can sleep through a lot, jackhammers are a special kind of wake-up call. We eat breakfast, pack up and check out.

Our new place is not far. The language barrier from the day before makes walking our best option. We follow Google map’s directions (it’s 2015 and technology spoils us, we know)- they tell us to take a left at the next street. There is no street. Only a very small alley. We continue forward looking for the street, but we’ve passed it. We walk back. A scooter nearly runs us over on its way into the alley. This must be the road, we walk forward. OK. We’re on the right track now… so says Google. Each turn, we follow. Eventually, we arrive at our new place. It’s clean. It’s quieter. We stayed.

In the days after, we found our new favorite street stall serving Banh Mi, and I’ve started orientation to volunteer at the local rehab hospital. The Vietnamese people, while initially shy have been welcoming and seem glad to have us here. More adventures await in this crazy city, I’m sure.