Notes on Saigon

Notes on Saigon:










1.) Streets

Saigon is a back and forth buzz of motorcycles and cars squeezing through the narrow alleys like rushing water outgrowing the walls of a canal.  Prior to arriving here, I saw a youtube video of a man crossing a busy street in Saigon.  This was a very entertaining video, as Saigon’s traffic is crazy, yet still somehow follows a strange and almost scientifically consistent pattern: a person can cross a street not by waiting for a break in the traffic…(because it may never come) but rather by waiting for a time when the oncoming traffic is just distant enough to note the pace of the street-crosser.  Without fail it seems, if a person crosses the street at a calm and steady pace, no matter how much traffic there is, the influx of motorcycles will casually maneuver around them.  This is the advantage of having traffic consisting mostly of motorcycles.

Every day I cross a street I wouldn’t dream of crossing in the states.  Like a school of fish, motorcycles swarm around me without the slightest fear of colliding into me.  It’s as though they are untouchable elements of the atmosphere.  Unreal.

2.) Hats.

To my surprise, the street vendors here in Vietnam really do where those straw cone hats to shade their faces from the hot sun.

3.) An American in Saigon

Some of the less developed places we’ve been, we receive this funny reaction when we answer the question “Where are you from?”

“Oh Usa!  What’s up dude!”  It’s as though we are the king of the westerners.  We are American and therefore, we are from the country of movie-stars and athletes.  We are the popular kid at school.  We are the ones who show up on billboards and advertisements all over the world with our blond curls and pony-tails.  Vietnam however makes this response feel different.  “Ah. Usa.”  I know that much of it is in my head, but I feel the weight of history and it makes me suddenly self-aware and insecure to respond “I’m from America.”

What does Vietnam think of America these days?  I have so far encountered nothing but kindness.  But Vietnam is significant to America, and I can only assume that we are likewise significant to Vietnam.  So I wonder what goes through a local’s thoughts when I say “I’m from America.”  This curiosity, more than anything, is what makes me self-aware.


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