Time races forward, and we have found ourselves already immersed in Bangkok with Vietnam seemingly a distant memory. Though we left only yesterday, this city of 8 million (plus 14 million in the surrounding metropolitan area) has got us in its grips, in a good way. More on that later.
Our last 9 days in Vietnam comprised mostly of relaxing at Riverside, our resortish, expatish digs outside of Saigon. We visited with some of my old friends and enjoyed a few fun activities with the kids. I am glad we scaled back our itinerary and just hung around Saigon for our final days. We needed it and left satisfied.
Downtown Saigon has a few fantastic parks, complete with tall, lush trees, interesting landscaping and awesome playgrounds. These were great places the kids could be kids and we could just sit and relax.
Two special outings for the kids were bowling at Diamond Plaza and going to a traditional water puppet performance. Both were huge hits and are still talked about. Luckily, we already found a bowling spot here in Bangkok that also offers a handy ramp/ ball launcher for kids.
Luckily, we were in Saigon for Tet Trung Thu or the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a time to celebrate the full moon, the harvest and children. Common highlights of this particular festival are lion and dragon dances, eating moon cakes, and lighting lanterns. Riverside included us in their outdoor party for the resident families, which included a lavish buffet dinner, lanterns for the kids, toy making, cyclo rides, taiko drumming, and some fabulously entertaining lion dances. By the end, Mathilda and Merle definitely went to where the wild things are.
We had some good food while in Vietnam, yet played it real safe on account of the kids. It was actually Merle who truly wanted to try fried scorpion, and at only a $1.50, I could not see why not! Chris went for it too, a real man.
It was so great to reconnect with old friends. Anh Toan was very gracious during our entire stay and Madame Son, the mother I lived with in 1998 treated us to a splendid, authentic meal at her home. We even secured a baby sitter for one evening, so Chris and I for once felt like real adults, and I could catch up on old Saigon gossip. I even tracked down Mr. Quy, one of my first contacts in Saigon, who is a well known English professor. Without him, I would not have been able to support myself, as he hooked me up with lots of interesting teaching jobs back in the day.
And I would like to express particular thanks to Noah’s Club, a sweet, little pre-school near Riverside who took Merle and Mathilda for 2 days. This enabled us to have a much needed break. A special thanks goes to Ms. An for her generosity and thoughtfulness. The kids loved being here, and moaned each time they had to leave.
I have said goodbye to Vietnam many times now and wonder what my relationship with it holds in the future. Somehow, my affection for this place runs deep, despite the flaws and frustrations. I am saddened to see the rampant development with seemingly little care for aesthetics, history, or the environment. At the same time, I am happy to see less poverty, and people enjoying more opportunities in travel, leisure and education. One can’t be too sentimental about old Saigon. It is changing like time lapse photography right before your eyes, too fast to even comprehend, to feel. Everyone is left to just accept the new, and get on with it. Beneath its grimy, smoking, crowded surface is an undying tenacious, generous and kind spirit which will always remain close to my heart.