My Seasons in Saigon (this blog, not the seasons themselves) went into a long hibernation these past 9 months.
The latter half of 2014 had its share of tragedies and near misses; the death of my partner’s father, the near fatal illness of my brother and in winter, the death of my mother. Writer’s block ensued and also a sense that I had no more stories to tell about the wonderful, frustrating, and always interesting land of Vietnam – a place I call – along with other places – “home”.
2015 began on a different note; the birth of Riley, my first grandchild, the engagement of my son, and back in America several blizzards of biblical proportion (if the Bible referenced snowfall) and then escape from the frigid Northeast US back to Vietnam.
Back in Saigon I arrived during TET, the Lunar New Year, where the roads are clogged with cars, buses, motorbikes as millions of Vietnamese flock to their hometowns or the beaches to celebrate. It’s a time I love because Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City becomes a smaller town again, shrunk by millions and walking (I still am addicted to my meandering from the outskirts to District 1) becomes safer (fewer motorbikes on the sidewalk to jostle with!) , the air fresher, and the vibe more tranquil.
Everything becomes strangely familiar, as if I did not take a long break from the city/ Shopkeepers recognize me and smile. The vendor selling coconuts outside the Reunification Palace spots me on my walk and takes his machete to open a fresh and cold coconut for me, knowing I won’t pay tourist prices. The eyeglass maker at My Tien greets me and since I have left my prescription glasses in New York makes me another pair in less than a day, at a special rate, knowing I have brought numerous US guests to his place.
I stop in Kim’s on Le Than Ton Street for my customary “back in Saigon shampooing”, savoring the hour long hairwashing, facial and shoulder massage with familiar hands since have been a customer for more than 4 years now. And, on Dong Khoi, which still radiates an old Saigon glow at sunset, my newspaper vendor, as he always does, spots me two blocks away, meets me on the corner brandishing the Economist, Time Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal, seemingly fresh off the press.
It’s while having a bahn mi in a local stand that I realize there there are more stories to tell – about Saigon, about Vietnam, about eternal truths, and quirky events. So the blog is back. One of the new “stories” is my relocate (I think) to DaNang, the hub of the central region of Vietnam and home to the university project many years in the making
I have visited DaNang as a tourist and on business dozens of timesear over a 14 year period but cannot say that I “know it”. It reminds me a little of California decades ago – beautiful long beaches, mountains. It’s streets are (by regional standards) orderly, tree lined, and traffic slow and bearable. It’s government is known to be efficient, progressive and forward thinking.
When I arrive for a meeting with my new colleagues and staff, one girl, with a Cal State education informs me she has read my blog – or maybe it’s my book of the same name. I smile but instinctively blush and wonder what she (and the nodding others think of it). I have not been shy about my affection for Vietnam, nor my observations about the challenges it faces and its blemishes.
So, the blog is back. Maybe I should recast it from Seasons in Saigon to Days in Danang? or Visits to Vietnam or some other alliteration? Regardless, the reader can expect more, from me soon