Archive for Saigon Diary – Page 4

Kaci’s Birthday

Almost two years ago Marilynn and I chose an espresso place in the heart of Saigon for our morning lattes. We walk the two and a half blocks from the Hotel Rex gym, where we start the day, and we arrive right at 7am when they open the doors. Gloria Jean’s is an Australian chain and it’s hard for a Seattlite to say but I think they make the best tasting lattes on the planet. They are rich, thick, and very strong without being bitter. Tasty and long lasting.

But, the coffee is not the point here. Over the past two years we have made a number of new friends at Gloria Jean’s. The 7am crowd is very loyal and it took several months to break down the barriers but eventually we nodded and smiled and said hello often enough that we were able to start some conversations. The crowd is very eclectic and has changed a little over time: there’s Mike who does micro-loans and venture investing for Dragon Capital, Andrew, the vice provost at RMIT an Australian technology university, Nga, a Vietnamese business owner and single mom to 3 children, David, a San Francisco lawyer who splits his time between the Bay Area and HCMC, and Kaci, an ambitious, attractive, and very smart 28 year old who is starting an Executive MBA program at RMIT in January. Then there is the sidewalk newspaper vendor who saves us the Sat-Sun International Herald Tribune, the motorbike taxi guy right outside the front door who can’t keep his finger out of his nose, and the neighborhood sidewalk restaurant just across the alley. They are all part of our morning. read more

Saigon’s Moveable Feast

It’s been raining here the last two mornings. Normally, mornings are clear and the rain comes later. But these two mornings have highlighted a Saigon phenomenon. Rain or shine, morning in Saigon has a unique feature; it’s the breakfast cart brigade. These are the portable aluminum and glass carts on wheels that set up on sidewalks all over town. There must be 10 between my apartment and my office, a mere two and a half blocks.

The parade starts about 3 or 4am when they leave their overnight storage spots. Most of the carts are pushed by the women who operate them. It looks especially dreary in the rain, but they do it wet or dry. Once they get their spot the carts remain stationary for a few hours. Some of them make morning deliveries. Some of the goods are carried on foot (like those carried by this woman), but most of the activity involves rolling stock.
I don’t know where they keep the carts when they’re not in use. It’s got to be somewhere in their very small living spaces, but it’s hard to imagine. Some are very large. Some are small. Some have fire in the hole. You see the pots hanging from a passenger’s shoulder bar on a motorbike spitting flames and sparks. Some are shiny bright, some are dented and creased from long wear. The vendors themselves often sit on the sidewalk beside the cart waiting for customers. Some sell fresh fruit. Some sell banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette sandwiches. Some sell soft drinks. Some sell pho or noodles. Some sell things that can’t be described.
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Life Reports

This morning David Brooks of the New York Times asked his readers over 70 for a gift. He asked them/us to send him brief “life reports” on our lives so far, an evaluation of what we did well, of what we did not so well and what we learned along the way.

He plans to write a couple columns around Thanksgiving using the “gifts” that show up. I thought about it all morning and couldn’t resist the challenge. Here’s mine: read more

Shouldn’t You Be In School?

This girl is selling coconuts on the street near the Opera House in downtown Saigon. My guess is that she is 12 or 13. She’s there every day. I see kids like her all over town. Some are working in street cafes. Some are selling lottery tickets. Some are hawking postcards. Some want to shine my flip-flops. Some want me to buy Chiclets. The question that always comes to mind is “Why aren’t you in school?” The reason is simple; her family needs whatever she can make to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. read more

What’s with the Hoodie? It’s 90 degrees!!

Southern Vietnam has two seasons – hot and dry and hot and wet. We are supposed to be moving to the dry season in October but no one has told the gods and they are still punishing us with rain. Nevertheless, wet or dry, I like hot. It takes little adjustments sometimes, but I like it a lot more than being cold. Yesterday I played tennis at noon in 90/90 conditions (90 degrees and 90% humidity). I drank two bottles of Revive and a quart of water but the tennis was OK and it got me out from behind the computer screen. read more