Growing up I was always cautious. Dip a foot into the cold water, see how it felt. Do I go in? Maybe. Go to the deep end? Eh, Ill wade that way, hug the wall, and do some sort of slide along the wall, never really swimming, but feeling quite proud of myself as I coasted along that 6 ft 7in sign. As I got older I jumped into my share of deep ends but not without that same feeling of trepidation. Well, jumping into Saigon is something that I will never forget.
Saigon just might be the busiest city that I have ever laid eyes on. 10 million people and 7.5 million motorbikes on the road. The first night crossing the road our crosswalk goes green and we gawk as hundreds of cars and motorbikes continue to run across the road. We look bewildered at some stopped motorists who encourage us that it is indeed our time to go. We then remember Frogger, great game, and move across the road with hesitant step. We aren’t in Kansas anymore.
As we flew in we had noticed some fireworks, hmmm must be because they knew we were coming! Nope. Our arrival date was the beginning of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year that for those (like ourselves before we arrived!) who do not know is a weeklong celebration focused on prayer, family, renewal, and coming together. Families from all over swarmed the city to come celebrate the year of the Pig. We had literally jumped feet first into the biggest city in Vietnam during the most important event of their calendar year. M and M meet deep end. Those restaurants that have vegan food for Mandy, bummer closed. Literally every business around? Mostly closed for the week of Tet.
When life gives you lemons you?? Make some fucking lemonade. We walked that city mile after mile in the hot sun and found spots that were open, used our cumbersome Vietnamese and made it work. After a day or two we were pros crossing the road in any traffic volume, greeted strangers with a “xin chao Happy New Year”, and began to truly appreciate the spirit of Tet. Saigon was a whirlwind, a shock to the system, but just like jumping in the deep end the first time it will NEVER be something we forget.
PS, traveler’s tip for the culturally aware,
Although the ticket we took says Ho Chi Minh City you may have noticed I haven’t used that name. Real quick history lesson. Stay with me folks cause its important if you ever want to travel here! Following the defeat of the South Vietnamese/American/Australian troops in the Vietnam War the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh claimed the city of Saigon and renamed it in his likeness as a statement not only to the South Vietnamese, but to the world of the Communist victory. The sting of this slap still is raw in the city.
One of the highlights of Saigon displayed this sentiment. We decided to take a trip to the Mekong Delta with a jovial man named Lockie (pronounced Loki like the Norse mythological character). Lockie is a lover of song and throughout our trip sang local Vietnamese songs as well as some Elton John (my favorite was “Can you Feel the love tonight” complete with a bus full of back up singers). When he discussed the name of Saigon he still proudly said he detested Communism and the people of Saigon never refer to Ho Chi Minh City as such because that is not this city’s name. Saigon has been its name for thousands of years and for many that hasn’t changed.