On my second day – my full day being a Saigon tourist, I ate early brunch at the hostel then wasn’t sure if I played my role of a tourist so well that I didn’t recognize myself (except for the part I couldn’t indulge myself much). I wore my workout outfit – the type of clothes in which I normally don’t dare to walk around for a whole day in Saigon in case I meet someone I know; but that day was different. Even though my tourist fashion choice gave me comfort to stroll the city, I abhorred every calling of “bé gái” or little girl every now and then.
Another shot @ De Tham Street
To walk on Saigon streets or just to use Saigon streets is to have a taste of both Vietnamese and Saigonese specialty: Traffic. One thing about being a tourist in Saigon was that the terror of traffic somehow escalates to too many other levels. I don’t know how people live here. I don’t know how people even want to come here. Both four-wheeled and two-wheeled vehicles kept honking at each other and pedestrians. Very rarely any of them would yield to a pedestrian. At some points, I forgot to look out for the frightful traffic. Some taxis scared me to death by accelerating the moment they saw me tiptoeing my first steps off the sidewalk. Then I remembered to raise my hand to signal to the coming traffic that I needed them to yield (normally for locals, we just crossed the street confidently and skillfully without doing anything extra). When I was walking outside of the Independence Palace at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Nguyen Du, I also witnessed one motorbike and one bicycle both trying to cramp the sidewalk when a foreign family – the father has a limp, the mother was tightly holding their small child’s hand – was walking. I’m not sure for both locals and tourists alike, how would they explain to their small child about rules, laws, and etiquettes while being parts of the chaos of this city.
Then I arrived at Thao Cam Vien, or Ho Chi Minh City Botanical Gardens and Zoo. It was bigger than what I thought. It must be twenty years or so since the day my family took me here. I didn’t like how the animals were being taken care of though. They looked sad and weak. Yet I liked the trees, the pond, and the tranquility inside the complex. We are only a few steps away from Le Duan Street – one of the city’s most active areas. Enjoying my time, I felt more appreciative of the local efforts to preserve this park and hope we can make it more accessible to the general public (maybe even expand it). I would definitely run here every other morning or afternoon if I didn’t have to pay VND50,000 for an entrance ticket. Talking about ticketing, it was surprising that they don’t have any promotion for students.
Moving on, I headed out to Boa Bookstore at the Lam Son Square. It’s an unpretentious bookstore hidden in an old apartment building with a good collection of English books. They even put a small box full of old books in front of the door for free one-to-one book exchange. I didn’t realize the bookstore is here despite having been around this area frequently.
I spent the next couple of hours at a family-style spa. It’s not my first time there. I went there with my sisters and cousins once previously so I know this place to some extent. However, seeing they have good ratings on TripAdvisor, I decided to return. I had a wonderful time with my family, but now being there by myself I immediately wanted to head out as soon as I changed my clothes and found myself sandwiched between groups of friends and families. I wondered how we could spend more than an afternoon that time. But I stayed nonetheless because I already paid to stay. Then it occurred to me again how travelling can transform us. At an old place in a new time, I realized that everything changes over time whether I want these changes or not. The heat of the sauna once in a while gave me a cold splash as I remembered our chit-chats, laughter, or merely quietness shared with each other. Would the feeling be different if I was in another country among people who don’t share my mother language? Perhaps. But as I also have been yearning for alone time recently and was then alone, I reminded myself of the potential risks, albeit necessary or not, of my wishes.
Soon after I finished my curry for dinner (not a good day for curry after the alcohol I mentioned), I went watching the movie “Split” at Liberty CityPoint. Before we were allowed to enter the cinema, I heard the lady sitting next to me inviting her friend on the phone to join her. Her friend agreed so she headed downstairs to purchase an extra ticket. I decided not to call anyone. Even though at the time I bought my ticket no one seemingly would be sitting at the designated seats next to me, as the movie has progressed for ten or fifteen minutes, two couples came occupied those seats. I was disappointed at first because I thought the entire space would be for myself but that turned out a good thing because I didn’t know I would be watching a thriller. Another thing with it being a thriller is that I couldn’t really pay attention to how other audiences reacted to the movie either. Anyway, the lady on my right – not sure whether the movie was too boring or too scary for her – kept using her phone several times after the movie just passed its peak. Totally distracting.
Phố Tây again
As I left and continued walking throughout the day, I realized how Saigon sidewalks have become a topic of research. They have a vibrant culture. They have different activities at different times of a day. People selling and buying goods, people chatting, people watching, people sitting, people playing Chinese chess, people parking, people driving, people honking, people walking, people just standing and looking. And at the time when the night falls and the streetlights make Saigon look magnificent, the sidewalks get even busier while the streets and the alleys quieter. Yet suddenly, along every other two blocks there would be a middle-aged or an old couple sleeping either under their temporary shelter or no shelter at all. The parties nearby kept ongoing, but they already made the sidewalk their home.
An evening street stall
I returned to my hostel, took a shower, got to my bed, and immediately closed my curtain. Some parts of the movie still struck me. Most parts of the city kept me thinking. I realized as I step off my daily routine and become present when looking at my city, there is much more about it that I need to learn.