I knew that going to Vietnam during December would mean the embrace of all things wet, humid, and rainy. Starting our travel in Saigon up the country and ending in Hanoi would also mean a myriad of temperatures, ranging from high 50′s to mid 90′s. While this spoke of the beauty and variety of landscape and climate that my country had to offer, it also meant potentially a lot of clothes and a sizable luggage. I brought a light parka with a detachable fur hood (Zara) and a Long Champ foldable tote bag (in many colors here) that doubled as my carry-on to pair with a wrinkle-free neutral-colored dress (H&M). The only heavy item that I couldn’t sacrifice was these Burberry rain boots (also available here); the torrential downpour that we suffered in the Central region justified that decision completely.
Monthly Archives: January 2013
No one in their right travel-savvy mind will admit that they have a little bit of fear for street food, including myself. I will fight to the death of every food debate to insist that street food is the best sensory experience to exist in the Vietnam journey, without blinking a lash, while secretly packing away Pedialyte powder and enough Immodium to pacify the tummies of a small village.
It’s not a complete lie either to say that I will do anything for really good street food, including squatting in a short dress in 90+ degree weather, slurping on hot & spicy soup while perspiring enough sweat to add favor to the bite I’m swallowing. If you think that’s disgusting, I’m probably quietly judging you for not being an authentic street food lover.
There are times though, when squatting on the streets just isn’t ideal, like when you’re trying to catch up with childhood friends you haven’t seen for 20 years or when you’re trying to have a first romantic brunch with your Mr. in your home country. These are the times that I’m thankful for Saigon having restaurants like Quán Ngon.
The atmosphere of this eatery is beautiful, set inside an airy two-story villa-style property on the swanky avenue of Pasteur. Silk tents cascading over tables circle around a peaceful pond in the middle, it’s hard to believe there’s such an oasis in hectic Ho Chi Minh.
There are food stands all around the restaurant, replicating the street food experience with the safety of culinary gentrification and prices to match. The food is good and there are plenty of dishes too authentic for my Las Vegas chinatown to offer. I confess to love the air-conditioning, frugal but enough to enjoy my bún mắm. The Mr. claims the egg rolls are the best he’s ever had, the quality of the rice paper superb and the fillings are made of never-frozen-before meats and seafood. If you’re in District 1, it’s definitely worth a visit.
The last time I saw Saigon, I was thirteen. It was an emotional departure at Tân Sơn Nhất airport, filled with longing for a childhood and world that I knew was leaving forever. It has been exactly twenty years since, and my return to this home city, admittedly composed of more than just excitement. I was mostly nerves. The things I left behind were more than a city, it was a state of mind, a piece of soul, a bony pre-teen girl filled with dreams about a first world, dreams that were built from a place of pain but also hope.
A friend of mine gave me a really good piece of advice, “have fun and don’t be overtaken by your own past”. He, too, has had to get re-acquainted with this old lover, one who crafted a past relationship that dictated so much of our future. Two decades passed, and Saigon, at the moment, like the current locals say, is same same but different.
There are many aspects of Saigon that can make you uncomfortable, coming from the west. The traffic, the noise, the pollution, all enough to turn any city-savvy traveler shy from wandering into pockets of this place. And if you’d like, you can have a pleasant vacation just staying in your 5-star hotels and hiding in air-conditioned taxis from tourist spots to tourist spots. Saigon can be seen from that very exotified lens, with gorgeous girls floating along in their áo dài and our famously delicious and beautiful food.
When I grew up here, my parents had a small stand selling fabric in the bustling Bến Thành market, so it was among the first stops on our trip. My husband wanted to understand the various sceneries from which my childhood was composed, to further understand me, and this kind of setting, is at the very core of many Vietnamese. Here is where I first interacted with the outside world beyond my family, where I learned the costs of food and life, where I learned how to sum up strangers and price our products accordingly, where I learned the different shades between black and white.
I no longer have a lot of family in Vietnam, just a few cousins on my father’s side. Meeting the children of my cousins were a main fortune of this trip. Watching the youth of this country, playing with them and talking to them, was an experience that ultimately informed me so much about the Vietnamese bloodstream, what keeps us alive and what drives us. There is a constant presence in the way that these kids perceive the world, they learn at a much earlier age and at a much faster pace, where they fit into the world and how they move inside it. That formative experience of childhood, easier but perhaps more dazed in a first world, is likely coupled with an awareness of survival here.
The other scenes of Saigon often change quickly from pretty to ugly, clean to dirty, very rich to very poor. This juxtaposition is at the same time compelling and exhausting to me. I can’t stop looking, listening, tasting, and smelling. My home city is very much a developing place. It will look very different two years from now, and even more so five years from now. This is an undeniable difference of Saigon from cities in the US and Europe, which more or less have grown and will not change very much. Saigon constantly and resiliently shrugs off the pains of its complicated past to transform. My home city, is just being born, again.
My appetite, unlike the rest of my body, suffers no confusion of the circadian rhythm when flying east. In the city, I find myself often hungry early, very early. But brunch in NYC for non-locals is tricky business, most establishments near our favorite hotels are either too crowded, filled with hungover hipsters in too-tight jeans, or the food is simply not that good. That perfect combination of a tranquil atmosphere that serves delicious food to real people is rare.
Rumor has it that Gramercy Terrace is actually very trendy at night, frequented by models whose calorie intake consists mainly of alcohol & kale. Luckily, we came 8 hours late on a drowsy autumn morning. Still, I was a bit afraid of the hipster factor when I saw all the Damien Hirsts and Andy Warhols in the lounge area, but take a couple of steps outside and all that changes.
A green simple space filled with New Yorkers from many walks of life. A straight-forward menu that serves both classic comforts and healthy offers. The coffee is fresh, hot, and strong. There are no anorexics in sight. I eat my poached eggs and smoked salmon. The Mr. smiles. I’m happy.
It is my firm belief that January is the month of which most melancholic writing is produced. I’ve often wondered if many Sylvia Plath poems were born this month, along with the rest of my favorite woes-laden poetry, though beautifully crafted, nevertheless proceeds to send you straight into a mid-winter depression.
While the winter of Las Vegas is very mild, the suburban isolation gets terribly intensified during this month for me. I often suffer a considerable case of post-holiday-blues. With my favorite season (self-confessed Christmas addict) ending, taking with it all the excitement of irresponsible drinking, eating and shopping, I curl inward and crave for interior beauty and comfort.
This outfit alleviates my seasonal mood swings with luxurious textures of lace, silk, patent leather, and the surprisingly delicate vegan fur:
Club Monaco pants, Zara top & blazer, H&M faux fur collar, and Bebe mary-janes.