Mr. and Miss Saigon
After a few days of heat, stress and manic tuk-tuk drivers in Phnom Penh we jumped on a bus and headed to Saigon for some much needed R&R with our friends Shauna and Randy. Shauna and Randy were the ones who convinced us to teach in Korea in the first place. They had been in Saigon for about 7 months after finishing their contracts in Ulsan. We were excited to see some familiar faces and have a few lazy days with no sightseeing, maps or guidebooks.
The first thing we noticed about Saigon were the multitudes of motorbikes crisscrossing the streets at all times. No description can accurately capture the sight of thousands of bikes swirling through a roundabout or jostling for position at the front of an intersection. In places they are so tightly packed it felt like we could hopscotch atop their helmets to cross the street.
Some bikes had entire families aboard complete with special baby carriers attached to the handlebars, others had beautiful Vietnamese girls in skirts working the gear pedals with their high heels. In a city of millions, it seemed like everyone was on a motorbike. Riding around on Randy’s bike was only half as terrifying as crossing the street, which was an ‘just close your eyes and go’ operation.
After paying about 5x what we should have for a cab, we arrived at Shauna and Randy’s place in District 3. Just like most other places in the city, their building was about 10 feet wide and a few stories tall. Land is expensive in Vietnam, so people make the best use of it they can. They welcomed us with some cold beers and delicious bowls of pho noodles from the soup lady right in front of their place. We had been dreaming about those noodles for hours and they didn’t disappoint. Our first meal definitely set the pace for the rest of our time in Saigon; good company and good food.
In fact, we don’t have too many pictures from our time in Saigon because mostly we just went out to eat and drink. It was great. One afternoon we played laser tag with some of Shauna and Randy’s expat friends. Although it was a blast playing laser tag like we were kids again, it was the type of place that makes you thankful for good old American safety standards. The dark laser tag room had low hanging walkways perfect for busting your head open, old planks of wood lying in the dark, slippery ramps, and more than a few rusty nails I’m sure. Randy ended up breaking a toe, Gina fell and tore a chunk out of her hip, and a couple other people got hurt as well.
We also spent an afternoon in the War Remnants Museum which was a surreal experience. To put it bluntly, as Americans we’re not usually in the ‘losers’ exhibit of war museums. However, that was obviously expected. What we didn’t expect was how harshly the South Vietnamese were depicted while there was little information on the North other than as helpless victims or heroes. Throughout our time in the country, we met a few older guys in the south that claimed (quite proudly I thought) to have fought alongside the Americans. Now they were also on the losing side, albeit within their own country. Even though Vietnam is now unified there are still deep divisions between the north and south. For example, I can’t remember hearing a single person call Saigon Ho Chi Minh City. This museum made it very clear that the winners write history.
We had a wonderful time in Saigon and we owe it all to Shauna and Randy’s hospitality. Over the course of our time in the south, we made a few overnight trips out to different cities while using Saigon as our hub. We’ll tell you about those other trips in our next blog posts.