We left our friend’s house and headed to the tourist area in district 1 to buy our bus tickets. We took a cab, but had to cross 10 lanes or so of motor scooter traffic. There are no lights, but there are ironic seemingly crosswalks painted everywhere. The flow never stops. Crossing the wide and loud street looks deadly at first, but you just look for gaps. As soon as you see one, you have to seize that opportunity and step off the curb. The gap will be filled momentarily. You will panic and you will be tempted to rush across the street. This is a mistake. You have to walk slowly and calmly, allowing the gaps to align, and you pass straight through what looks like an impassable wall. You must be aware of your surroundings, but usually you will be okay if you keep a steady pace and look for the gaps. There is something zen about it; a feeling; a rush. You wade through the mechanical river. It is like slowly walking over a waterfall or a set of rapids, along the stepping stones that jut out of the water.
The cabi took us from District 10 to District 1 for about 100,000 dong (5USD, for quite a long trip, refreshing after 60$ cabs in Canada). District 1 is the tourist area in Saigon, and the sight of the only tall buildings in the city. As we swam through the Saigon traffic in the taxi, I took a mental snapshot of what I now think of as an icon of the city; A beautiful woman in a short pink cocktail dress casually riding the back of a motor scooter sidesaddle in eight lanes of traffic. She had her legs crossed elegantly and she was smoking a cigarette and looking cool, probably heading out for a night on the town with her boyfriend. That image seems to stuck in my memory for some reason, like one iconic frame on a movie reel.
In District 1, we got our bus tickets quickly (and inexpensively) and headed to the night market, which is supposed to be an important tourist attraction. I was with my Aunt and her sons, my cousins. They are 8 year-old blond identical twins. People constantly pointed and kept coming up to them and touching their heads or hugging them. From the broken English I understood, they are apparently good luck. It reminded me of back when I was around their age, with my white blond hair in Egypt. Old ladies kept coming to me, smiling, touching my head. I was such an anomaly.
We eventually got to the market after passing through a park full of young Vietnamese couples on bikes and many more dangerous, yet zen, street crossings. People in Saigon seem to speak more English than people in Phu Cuoq, but seemingly only for solicitation. The market was full of stalls selling identical sets of knockoff clothing. I needed some clothes, for mine were practically encrusted with sweat, so I bargained. The woman poked at me and we exchanged numbers on a calculator, with excuses and jokes and compliments on both sides. I ended up paying too much but bought a few t-shirts and headed back to my friends house.
Practically every part of central Saigon (particularly District 1) is like a mix of the neon lights of St Catherines street and the advertising of Times Square. Asian media, however, is very different from that of the western world. Advertisements are not yet confusing, “artistic,” “professional” or full of lizards and dogs, but overenthusiastic and smiley. There are thousands of far-from-candid looking happy expressions and smiling faces holding cellphones staring at you from Saigons tall and skinny buildings in District 1. Everything is overenthusiastic and in awkward english like “enjoy your relax time” or “phone make happy.” One of my favourites was a billboard for a drink called “Collagen,” with three awkward looking men in white lab coats (doctors, I guess) smiling enthusiastically and giving the product the thumbs up. The billboard was a shining example of funny Asian advertising.
Tomorrow we are going to another market in Mekong Delta, this time a floating one, with stalls on little rafts.