Sweltering in Saigon

One of the biggest watershed moments of my life was visiting Vietnam in December 2010 for the first time. My life has now been cut up into life Before Vietnam and After Vietnam.

Since that first trip 18 months ago, I’ve continued to return on a regular basis, for trips of varying lengths – 3 days being the shortest and 10 days being the longest.

I’m here on my fifth trip, and this time it’s a 5 day trip.

If you add it all up I haven’t actually spent all that much time here so I am continuing to develop my relationship with Vietnam…but pretty much everything about me still screams “foreigner!” I feel so close to what’s going on, yet so far away at the same time. Growing up Vietnamese and being able to understand the everyday language really gives me so many tantalising glimpses into the culture here – and yet I don’t quite understand how things work. And I certainly don’t quite know how to be here yet.

But that’s stuff way beyond what this trip is about. This is just a brief check-in, to say hello to my family here and to keep discovering all the delights that Saigon has to offer.

Today I discovered a new dish at Ben Thanh market. I’d never had bun suong before and it was a pretty awesome breakfast.

Bun suong
Bun suong and a coconut!

Then, a series of snacks, including savoury pastries and tropical fruit. I actually had no idea how much I missed jackfruit and durian, which I often ate while living in Thailand and took completely for granted. So. Damn. Good.

Tropical fruit
Tropical fruit for sale at Ben Thanh market. My aunt bought a couple of kilos of jackfruit, durian and longan.

We’ve spent the day visiting some of our favourite cafes. The sweltering heat makes sitting in a number of cafés during the day the most natural thing in the world – drinking ca phe sua da (iced coffee), ice tea, soda chanh (lemon) and watermelon juice.

Yoghurt
A yummy pot of Viet-style yoghurt at Cafe Terrace – a legacy of the French

And sometime during the afternoon I also had a really relaxing avocado facial at a day spa with my aunt, but I’ll actually write about that in more detail in the next post.

I had a pretty rough two days leading up to this trip so these first 24 hours have been wonderful and an escape from a bad situation back at work. I’ll deal with it all when I get back but for now, this is a much-needed reprieve.

On the plane ride from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, I finally read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which I’ve been wanting to for a long time. It’s a beautiful memoir, and so honest in its portrayal of grief. There’s a bit toward the end that really resonated with me, where she talks about some of her late husband’s thoughts in the lead-up to his death:

We were not having any fun, he had recently begun pointing out. I would take exception (didn’t we do this, didn’t we do that) but I had also known what he meant. He meant doing things not because we were expected to do them or had always don’t them or should do them but because we wanted to do them. He meant wanting. He meant living.

Watermelon juice
Watermelon juice on a very hot day.

So here’s my way of living: I will return next year and stay longer. I often talk about it and even plan for it, but I’ve decided that I’m finally going to do it. Life’s passing by so quickly and if I don’t catch it I’ll end up with unnecessary regrets. I’m going to come for a long stretch and spend that time connecting with my family, reading, writing and learning more Vietnamese. And perhaps, most importantly, I’ll learn how to just be in Vietnam.

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One thought on “Sweltering in Saigon

  1. Hi Sheila! I’m glad to see you back in Nam (hehe). I know we’ve been a little out of touch lately and just wanted to say hi, to let you know I am still following your adventures via Facebook. I’m heading on a short trip out of town myself (with boyfriend :) but only to Maine. Maybe next time I’ll shoot for Southeast Asia. I’m having a tough time at work as well, so I feel your pain, and hope you enjoy your getaway! Hello to Josh too

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