I spent the weekend going back to square one; back to where I started my life in Ho Chi Minh City. Let me back up a bit; I’ve been living out in a ‘suburb’ district for the last 6 months. Even though I have to come into the ‘city center’ (District 1) a few days a week, it’s not the same as living in District 1. Think Stanton Island vs. Manhattan. However, I started my time in Ho Chi Minh City exactly one year ago in the heart of the city; the backpacker district. I cowered in my little guest house hotel room a bit scared to go outside into the noise and chaos that was going to be my new home for the next year.
I spent this last weekend back in the backpacker district hanging out with some of my friends, ESL teachers, whom I started this adventure with. It was a walk down memory lane…one where I realized just how far I had come.
Some things were the same – old men with beautiful Vietnamese young girls, chaotic traffic going every which way, people begging you to come into their bars, kids playing out in the street with toilet paper on a stick and toy guns. Tons of video stores selling the latest movies that came out last week for a dollar. Knock off everything – paintings, purses, clothing; all flanked by souvenir shops. Oh and how can I forget the familiar sound of men driving around on their bikes shaking a metal ‘rattle’ advertising ‘massage’
I went back to old restaurants that I ate every day in the beginning of my stay here. Lam’s Café is still my staple choice in the Backpacker area. Sure, it looks a bit questionable – but it’s the best food for the money that you’ll find on Bui Vien street. Lemon grass beef with veggies, and a mango shake for $2.
However a year had gone by and you could also see the slow wheels of change in the Backpacker area. New western style dessert shops trying to fatten up the skinny Vietnamese. Cream Puffs, donuts, and yogurt – that should send the Vietnamese into sugar shock.
However one of the most shocking things happened while a friend and I crossed the street. We were going to cross a busy street, Pham Nu Lou; and we stood on the curb talking not in any hurry, when all of a sudden I saw a bright red narrow light coming towards me. As the figure came closer, I realized that it was some sort of security guard; he was carrying a light saber. Luke….I’m your Vietnamese father. The man with the light saber motioned towards us and started ushering us across the street with his light saber! He frantically waved it back and forth ensuring that the sea of motorbikes split with the magic light saber and we made it to the shore. We were tickled to get this ‘special foreigner service’ after year of living here, crossing the streets by ourselves and driving our own motorbikes! No matter how long you live here, I’ll always be a tourist in the local’s eyes.
When you are in the middle of change and chaos, you never think you’ll make it through; but you do. Sometimes you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you go back to the beginning.