saigon random narratives
I stepped out of Tan Son Nhat International Airport arrival exit. I spotted Monette in the middle of the crowd of friends and families of arriving passengers. That particular moment felt like a halftone vignette in 30 degree-sephia, captured in slow motion. Slow-mo mainly because of our heavy backpacks but also because we missed each other so much after months of separation. We ran to hug each other right in the middle of a Vietnamese audience–Like a cheesy Bea and John Lloyd scene minus the romance.
I was overwhelmed with the fact that we were off to start our summer in the exact place that inspired the hit Broadway musical Miss Saigon. But we immediately walked towards a corner where we can put our backpacks down, light some cancer sticks and started blurting-out random rants.
As we approach Ho Chi Minh city, we couldn’t help but comment on the Vietnamese quirky fashion sense, the flaky take on modern french-asian residential architecture, the absence of mass public transportation, and the streets being curbed by motorcades of Honda bikes and Vespas.
Kitty, the hotel receptionist who never ran out of city maps which seemed like she is pulling it out of her a**, was very accommodating and nice to give us tips on where to go for a good food trip.
We spent the preceding night in two different airports, munching on overpriced transit food and we were dying to eat a real meal. We head off to our first Vietnamese brunch feast at a local restaurant serving a hearty bowl of Pho right at the corner of Tran Hung Dao street.
I couldn’t really figure out how to eat a stack of fresh greens served on a separate plate, until a local customer from the other table demonstrated it for me. To our pleasant surprise, the dishes only cost no more than two dollars each and the whole garden of coriander, mint, parsley, basil,
bermuda grass and lime on your plate was actually free of charge.
Starbucks, apparently, is non-existent in the city. Which totally makes sense if your country can pull one wicked blend par beyond what neighboring nations can serve. A glass of a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee is a concoction of 1/4 glass freshly pressed grounds, 1/6 condensed milk and a whole load of ice. The bold texture and strong aroma will keep you awake while sitting in specially arranged side street chairs designed for people
Most of people that we met were so nice and sweet, like their wicked fruit and yoghurt dessert that almost gave me a heart attack. Coming from Singapore where people has R.U.D.E. spelled in their name suffixes, Saigon was a breath of fresh air. Everyone is smiling and locals are very soft spoken that even if they are arguing you would think they are singing, until you see one of them spouting blood from the neck.
The vendors, waiters, random people, despite the language barrier they have a way to communicate with foreign visitors like us, and it often comes with polite gesture and subtle smile.
We hopped from one al fresco stall to another, killing time by watching people pass by, food sampling and Monette’s regular beer lavage. Our conversation was interrupted when a small boy jumped on my lap from nowhere. And he started reaching for a bottle of Saigon Beer. The boy was so adorable that instead of freaking out and shooing him away, we just let him invade our private corner. I wanted to slip him into my bag and take him home as souvenir. He could have been a cute little backpack key chain. We enjoyed that moment and savored the free and easy spirit of the city.
We got a pre-conceived notion that this trip will be one of those Cheap Holidays where we can just take it easy, sleep in the hostel’s veranda and munch on stalks of lemon grass that we picked from the road side. But when the money changer staff handed out our converted Dongs, we almost farted with astonishment with the amount of cash in hour hands. We were millionaires! (48 US dollars is about a million Dongs, March 2011) And it made us feel so rich (and famous) that once again, we violated the Flip’n Creed #2.
We tried out several local favorites like the Banh Mi and Bo Kho. And just like any other Vietnamese plates, these dishes were deluged with greens. Bo Kho is a stewed beef and carrot in lemon grass, Chinese five spice and coconut juice reduction.
Banh Mi is a relic of the old French Vietnam. It features thinly sliced pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers, pâté, mayonnaise and various meat fillings like roasted or grilled pork, steamed or roasted pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, chicken, head cheese and ham. All enveloped in crusty fresh baguette.
These authentic Vietnamese entrees were served in chic white china wares but may also be available in paper wraps with rubber band.
Wherever you turn you head in this city, you will always see something interesting to munch for a few thousand Dongs, or even less. But interestingly, Saigon is zero obese-bility, Everybody is annoyingly skinny! Yes, Everybody.
What where they eating?
Are they actually eating at all?
So we spent the rest of the slow afternoon competing to spot at least a single chubby Vietnamese. And I thought I got lucky to see one…
… oh, sorry it was Monette!
We have sampled the fresh taste of Vietnam, the famous coffee, Saigon beer, french sandwich and the ever so Pho-pular bowl. We have taken some photos of the structures and landmarks we stumbled upon. We survived the crazy streets where we almost ended-up being road kills and killed time sitting our fat asses down on the side streets. Yet the millions in our pockets seemed to be untouched… And it is only Five in the afternoon.
“It is gonna be a long night ahead!”