Saigon in my room
Saigon came into my life when I was a teenager. My mum would come into my room and after one look of disapproval would say “what a Saigon you have here”. I didn’t bother much about it, thinking that Saigon must be an exciting place. I was still throwing my clothes on top of my books which were piled around the mattress where I slept on the floor, as a sign of protest against my childhood bed. Saigon was part of my life.
Vietnam was part of my dreams. Since I saw the movie “Indochine”, I wanted to go and see Vietnam. I don’t know if it was because of the handsome officer, chic Catharine Deneuve, enormous rubber tree plantations or the skinny rickshaw pullers. All these things made Vietnam seem exotic and desirable.
When I was buying our tickets to Vietnam, I didn’t have to think much where to go. I bought tickets to Saigon. To tell the truth, we were flying from Taiwan and they were the cheapest tickets.
Saigon’s proper name since 1976 is Ho Chi Minh city. We spent ten days there, during which we took several trips around. The rest of the time we spent exploring the city.
Saigon requires 150% attention. Walking through the streets isn’t just a pleasant walk, it requires skills. You need to learn how to walk between motorcycles parked everywhere and how to jump away when a scooter suddenly appears on the pavement. Scooter drivers will gladly choose to terrorise pedestrians by driving on sidewalks against the traffic on a one-way street or to by-pass standing traffic on a red light. When I was walking with my girls on the streets of Saigon I felt like a cross between mother hen holding my chicks as close as possible and a tigress – I wanted to scratch the eyes out of anyone who threatened us by driving on pavements. Walking on the streets of Saigon was as stressful for me as it was for my mum to enter my teenager bedroom.
However stressful it was every day walking around Saigon, at the same time it was fascinating.
I had rented an apartment through Airbnb. Close to the place we lived, on the corner of the street lived an old female. Her only property was a deck chair on which – depending on the time of the day – she would either sit or sleep. I never saw her standing. A big faded parasol stood over her, and her table was an upturned Coca-Cola crate. On this table was a small pyramid build from limes and next to that was a dirty glass from which you could drink freshly squeezed lime juice. I wanted to take a photo of this old lady as her face reminded me of my Grandma’s: scrawny, sun-browned, and with an enormous amount of wrinkles so deep that they looked like black lines. I also wanted to buy juice from her, but in the end, I didn’t do either. We passed her every one of our ten days in Saigon. She gave us her toothless smile. I smiled back, and the girls waved to her.
Saigon was fascinating in its diversity – new glass skyscrapers, soulless communist buildings and even older distinguished colonial buildings. Cheap, tasty street food and expensive restaurants. Cheap but good quality fake goods and shop with things so expensive that I didn’t even want to enter them. Fancy hotels and people sleeping on scooters.
In ten days of exploring, I didn’t find ”Indochina”, but I did find Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City.