From The Calm to The City

by Andrew Stein

Getting into Saigon was a shock after my time in central Vietnam. The paddy fields were replaced with buildings and the rivers with roads. However, the bustle of the city was made more manageable as I toured around with my new friend, Hoa on her motorbike. She showed me the post office with its elaborate French architecture, we toured the South Vietnam wartime headquarters, and she helped me haggle my way through the night market of District 1. Saigon is a young vibrant city with parks full of activity and a busy nightlife. Unfortunately, part of the youngness of the city is the fault of the American War in that much of a generation died within those years.

Learning Hoa’s university student perspective on Saigon was a perfect way to end my Vietnam tour. Similar to the other Vietnamese I met, she was both proud of the culture and excited to share it. The perfect example of this was with traditional Vietnamese food. Hoa brought me a special dish along with some ca phe (Vietnamese coffee), which I had ordered at any and every opportunity. In short, the big city of Saigon felt smaller and friendlier thanks to Hoa.

Hoa and me

Later that evening, Hoa and I went to listen to Anh Tuyet sing Trinh Cong Son in a concert to remember this famous composer’s death 10 years ago. The concert was relaxing and I enjoyed listening to Hoa and the others around me sing along with some of the more famous tunes. As a change of pace from the last week, the culture I experienced in Saigon was less of the old traditional Vietnamese culture, and more of the current and live arts culture. Interestingly, at the end of the performance, everyone sang a song recognizing the unification and cooperation of the Vietnamese people. When trying to compare this experience to something in U.S., my first thought was that of my school’s fight song that plays after the performances leading up to our big rivalry football game, the only difference being that our fight song ironically has less of a marching feel.

Attempting to cross the street in Saigon

Again, I thank Hoa and all of the friendly Vietnamese I have met that made me feel so welcome. As I mentioned before, especially in situations such as these, I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences and to have met the people that I did.