I arrived in Saigon on Monday, August 18, 2014. I’d been nervous to make the long flight, leaving SFO at 1:20am, with a lay-over in Taipei, by myself. I am happy to report that my flight across the globe, (approximately 20 hours travel time from SFO to SGN), was a fairly pleasant one. Nice seat-mate on both flights. Was able to stand and stretch at the seat as well as walk several times up and down the aisle. Slept five hours (a first for me on a plane!). Ate two good meals. Watched two movies. Read from two books. All in all a good travel experience (in spite of a delayed take-off at both airports). Patrick picked me up at Tan Son Nhat International Airport early afternoon Monday and we were off through the CRAZY traffic of HCMC in Mr Toad’s Wild Taxi Ride! I forced myself to keep my eyes open so as not to miss any of the sights along the way. A beautiful GREEN park lining a street out of the airport (will go back to check that out). And color everywhere! Lots of yellow and red. But mostly, my eye was drawn to watching (and biting my tongue to not scream “Watch Out!”) the traffic weave in and out and around and up on the sidewalks and through lights (what few there were). My greatest fear in coming on this trip was that I would not be able to leave the apartment without Patrick as an escort to cross the street. This trip from the airport, exhilarating and exciting as it was, was not doing much to assuage that fear! However we arrived at our destination, the apartment, unscathed (except for my heart being in my throat) and proceeded up a pretty dark and dank narrow cement stairway which had me questioning (silently) our choice of digs. Once at the top though it opened up onto a lovely (though VERY “rustic”) third-story entryway and balcony filled with light. As soon as Patrick unlocked the doors and pushed them open I could see the bright and airy space that would become our home and breathed a sigh of relief. Even if I COULDN’T leave the apartment by myself, this would be a place I’d be content to stay inside of: writing, painting, reading… I knew we had internet because Patrick had been working early morning hours from the apartment before going in to work. I was HAPPY!
And I’m even HAPPIER to report that after 12 days here, I am very confident leaving the apartment by myself. And although I still get turned around sometimes and walk in the opposite direction of where I’m intending to go, (see yesterday’s facebook post with video about that), wherever I DO end up is always an adventure in itself. And I’ve never felt unsafe. Well…. except for that ONE time crossing the busiest street (and I was WITH Patrick!). For me the trick is to take as much time as I need to feel safe-ish in crossing the street and I am not above going a few blocks out of my way to cross streets that seem less daunting to me. So, I wouldn’t say I’m any expert on street-crossing, or anything “Saigonese” for that matter, but I am proud of myself for being able to take myself out there on my own and go exploring this crazy, wild, colorful, messy, PLACE called equally often by it’s two names, Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City.
(About that “NAME” thing… I read this description/explanation in the “INSIGHT GUIDES–VIETNAM” which I found illuminating: “When the newly formed Socialist Republic of Vietnam compelled Saigon to take the name of Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, it was like rubbing salt into the wounds of its inhabitants. Today, most locals still defiantly refer to their city as Saigon as a matter of principle (and preferring to call themselves Saigonese). At the very least, people use the name Saigon for downtown District 1, one of the first sectors of the city to be built and the original French Quarter. Although great measures have been taken–even to this day–to wipe away the Saigon name in most official capacities (some publications, for example, are not allowed to use the Saigon title), it is still, confusingly, allowed to be used in some forms: notably, the river winding its way around the city remains Saigon River, the main city newspaper is the Saigon Times and the city’s state’s state-owned tour company is Saigontourism. Place names like Saigon Zoo, Port of Saigon and Saigon Railway Station are still in use, and the three-letter ticket code for the city’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is SGN. No wonder visitors get confused.”)
I’ve been here 12 days. I feel comfortable in my neighborhood; I love my Saigon home-away-from-home flat. And I’m very excited for the next BIG adventure… We are flying to DaNang with a local couple TODAY to spend FOUR days with them exploring his hometown (DaNang) and Hoi-An and Hue! I can’t imagine a better way to do it than with someone local who is visiting his home area and taking us along. I’m so grateful and appreciative to Ngu and Tham who have adopted us here and invited us to join them on THEIR holiday (Independence Day) vacation! (I will make facebook posts from there but I won’t be taking my computer so no blog posts until I get back!) HAPPY LABOR DAY TO MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY BACK HOME! I LOVE YOU ALL ❤ Rebecca