travel writing: impressions of saigon

my notes from vietnam in 2009.

v1the streets of saigon.

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mekong river.

P1060843 copybamboos on the mekong.

v7traditional place of worship, just a few hours away from the capital.

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vietnamese pagoda, saigon.

The wind blew hard as we exited the Ho Chi Minh International Airport, but I didn’t feel it. I felt the looks of the strangers standing in the heat; sweat dripping from their faces. From afar, a smell touched my nose. It was a smell I knew very well, but couldn’t identify. Warm air hugged me and from that point, all my thoughts were to be focused on a non-existent cold swimming pool. For the rest of the trip the most frequent indulgence would be a steaming bowl of pho.

Rice-paper making, coconut tasting and riding across the Mekong River are only a few of my favorite experiences. I loved walking around Saigon during free hours, alone, enjoying the sounds of the streets and its potential dangers of hundreds of motorbikes and small number of Vespas. It became a hobby trying to spot them in the busy traffic flow.

Poverty and simplicity of Vietnamese people’s lives is heart-breaking and silencing. It does not allow for complaints and cries when in need of something. Children living less than for $2 a day. Hundreds of them. Lack of hygiene and luxurious towers contrasted by streets shops selling original French baguettes. Complex Chinese characters were replaced by Latin alphabet and six indicators of tones generations ago. I spent three days out of a week with children from the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. This experience allowed for a new perspective to be put in my eyes and mind, with realisation what it means to be stripped off of life-enriching possibilities, which I, as an international student, am served on silver plates every day.

It was joyful to spend a day with orphanages at local water park. For a whole afternoon I allowed myself to be a part of something greater than my insignificant life, as I held a child by hand and helped him to climb up a ladder. Being with children made me go back to my own childhoods and enjoy myself in silly games with balls and water pistols. Buying a lunch for someone whose name I can’t pronounce felt only natural and nobody stopped for a second to think about it. Giving gifts, no longer wanted, to them was the biggest gift of all. No matter how irrelevant and uninteresting it felt to everyone.

The hardest and the longest hours seemed to have been with visually impaired children where the touch and sound were only means of communication. But looking at it now, it comes to me that those moments were the ones I will remember the most. They were rare and new. Never before have I met a group of people more willing to learn from me than the children who could not see.

Each day brought us harsh moments as well as refreshing ones, which made me wish to stay in Vietnam for a lifetime. Each experience pushed forward and motivated me in stretching my full potential even further. I would like to be able to go back in a few years and enjoy Vietnam as a more developed country than what it is now.

all rights reserved 2009 (c) sara tomovic.