A Hometown Tourist (p.1)

I arrived at my hostel on De Tham Street at 4:45pm, checked in, got to my room shared with nine other ladies, then immediately headed out again to see the city. The hostel is a little charm at a corner of Ho Chi Minh City where we are not too remote from the central center and quite connected to the city’s other areas. Despite my intention to travel to other districts, I ended up spending all of my time in District 1 and 3 – the ones I frequent almost every day of my local life – for my one-and-a-half day trip. And I didn’t regret. There are just too much about my city and my districts I still don’t know.

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At an afternoon sidewalk market on De Tham Street, District 1

Because the hostel was located next to District 1’s Bui Vien Area – the famous Phố Tây or Western Street or more generally Tourists’ Area – in Ho Chi Minh City, I was awed by the amount of foreigners I saw. Not that I hadn’t seen that many foreigners, but that walking among them now I suddenly felt like one of them. Or more correctly, I felt like a tourist who perhaps had lived in Saigon for quite some time a few years ago and only now came back to visit. Maybe that’s why people say we all need to be a tourist in our own city for once.

Without an accurate memory of the area, instead of using Google Maps like I always do, I opted to ask other human beings for directions. One lady who was sitting in front of Tour Les Jours on Tran Hung Dao Street at first sounded angry that I asked. Yet it turned out she just had quite an aggressive voice. Looking at my confusion, she patiently reiterated that I only needed to keep walking my direction until I see certain street name, which would be when I needed to take a turn.

I unintentionally made a wrong turn when I got there so I had to walk a few extra blocks unnecessarily. But I liked the walk. I used to walk extensively, also often alone, when I was a college student in the United States. However since I returned to Saigon, I almost always have a companion whenever I go out and also have tried to like the GrabBike rides that sometimes still appall me. So with my backpack strolling the streets I both knew and didn’t know, I couldn’t help feeling that I was facing my past. That I realized, oh, yes, I was once like this. And, no, I wasn’t happy that I lost this habit.

My first day was a transitioning day because I had only half a day traveling. Without checking on any website for recommendations, I decided to eat at a vegetarian shop one block away from the hostel. The shop had a calm atmosphere. The food was cheap but decent.

After that, I strolled around Quach Thi Trang Park for some people-watching. I was amazed to see groups of foreigners (mostly white) and Vietnamese hanging out with each other. The bits of these conversations told me they were doing language exchange. Other groups were playing đá cầu or shuttlecock. One group was playing Chinese chess. Some people were running. Many people did exercise with the equipment provided at the park. Many tourists were also watching people like me while taking a rest.

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Despite both the noise and the air pollution, these men are still focused

Having already searched for a so-called local event, I then walked my way to Piu-Piu Bar near Lam Son Square to join a Mundo Lingo group. (First time to join such group in HCMC, yay!!) Over the scope of 2 hours, I downed one and a half glasses of beer – too little for many people but much more than the amount I normally take. Although it was good to help me keep the conversations going, the lingering effects prevented me from eating just anything I had an eye on from then until the next day. Anyway, I chatted with eight or nine people. One of them comes from the United States (who speaks at least six languages and loves Vietnam), one from Canada (who returned to Vietnam after last year’s couchsurfing), and another one from Taiwan (who learned Vietnam only 1.5 years but could handle our dialogue quite well). All others are Vietnamese. I actually wasn’t that interesting to talk to for most of my Vietnamese one-time acquaintances until I told them I used to study in the United States – one just frankly told me to find another group until she saw me chatting with the Taiwanese guy in Mandarin Chinese and so had more questions for me. But that’s properly because we were there for language exchange.

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At a corner of Phố Tây

 

Written and first published 27/02/17. Edited 28/02/17

 

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