First Day Back

As much as small things have changed each time I come back to Saigon — roads laid with gravel now paved, broadband Internet now almost commonplace, newer, taller and more gleaming high rises towering over old construction — the city is basically the same as it was when I first returned here eight years ago. Undeterred by progress, it remains a mess of human traffic, diesel exhaust and unkempt and unregulated commerce everywhere.

I can’t resist it. Its disjointed clicks and whirrs are in sync with a romantic idea of home that I nurse very tenderly: so too the omnipresent and melodic sound of spoken Vietnamese — nasal, drawling, bearing hurt and satisfaction at once.

I was born here but I left when I was three and a half. So just being back, in the midst of the quotidian and the unremarkable, is profound in a very private, intimate way. It’s more than just being a visitor to a place one cherishes; it’s like playing tourist in another course of events, sightseeing the attractions of a life I might have led if it weren’t for, you know, global politics and war and all. Everywhere and everything is a could-have-been for me, superficially strange and foreign but, in an emotional way, also deeply familiar. It’s weird, it’s fun, and the food is amazing.

Right: Walking home. A schoolgirl along a busy Saigon street. More photos at Flickr.
  1. Nice to see pictures from there Khoi. Makes me think about pictures my brother is sending to me since he is living in Thailand (both Bangkok & northern countryside), these crowded roads, commerces everywhere on the streets, mopeds, etc.

  2. I love photos from Asia. They have a timelessness to them that’s beguiling – it seems as if it could be the 60’s or 70’s all over again, and then a sign or item from present day intrudes and dispels the illusion.

    Can you speak Vietnamese? Sadly, I’m about as third-generation as you can get – I can swear, compliment women on their various body parts, and ask for beer in Chinese, and that’s pretty much it. I’ve never been able to figure out why my parents insisted on not teaching me the language *except* for those things…

  3. I have a halting, rudimentary working knowledge of Vietnamese, which is to say I barely know it. Sadly, my parents decided not to teach it to me when I was a kid, too. I still wonder why, but by God, I’m old enough and salaried enough to learn it with a tutor — if only I wasn’t so damn lazy. It’s embarrassing now, to be in my thirties, and to have less command of my native tongue than my cousin’s little girl, who’s all of four years old.

  4. Anyone who’s anyone is blogging from here, didn’t you know? 😉 Jason and I tried to meet up, but it turns out I have to travel to Dalat tomorrow morning so I don’t think it’s going to happen.

  5. I was born in Vietnam also but was adopted at 11 months. My first time back there was in 1998. One of the main reasons I decided to go was the fact that I was living in Germany and had heard so many good things about the country. This was in sharp contrast to growing up in the USA…

    Needless to say I loved it. I documented my travels on this site:

  6. I’m so glad that so many bloggers are heading to Vietnam. Although I was born and raised in Canada (Calgary), my parents were one of the many “boat people” that left all of their belongings and lives for a chance at peace in a new found country. They didn’t make it very far , landed in Indonesia somewhere and that’s when the Canadian government started a sponsorship program.

    A single couple sponsored and took care of my entire family (30+) of us. God bless their souls.

    However I’ve always had a sense of attraction to Vietnam. So I went back there 2 summers ago for 6 weeks. Stayed near the Mekong delta the entire time, in the countryside with my grandparents. I was blown away by the sights that I saw, but stupid me, I forgot my media card reader back home. But I made the shots that I had count (

    Anyways, hope you’re having a blast over there. Can’t wait to read more about your travels.

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