Like any great idea, the impetus to launch “Seven Million Bikes: A Saigon Podcast” came while doing the dishes. The podcast, hosted by Niall Mackay, offers a weekly look into the lives of creatives, entrepreneurs, and, broadly, people in Saigon who have a story to tell. “I started it all pretty quickly. I took out my phone, jotted down some notes, thought up a list of questions I’d want to ask every guest, and began recording the first season right in my apartment”.
Mackay, a Glasgow native who came to Saigon after living in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, had long been a fan of long form interviews before deciding to give the medium a shot of his own. The show’s guests hail from both Vietnam and abroad, featuring candid conversations about their lives, ventures, and, above all, why they choose to stay in Saigon. As a mainstay in the local comedy scene, a trivia host, and, professionally, a charity manager and former English teacher, Mackay has seen firsthand how quickly life can move here. Yet this question—that is, “why Saigon?”—is one the host himself has grappled with. “There have been times, especially in my first year here, where I thought, ‘I seriously can’t wait to get out of this place’. It was just incredibly difficult to adjust to life, and I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. But, over time, I slowly-but-surely grew to love the place, due in no small part to the incredibly interesting people I found myself encountering.” Over three years living in the city, Mackay caught more and more snippets of peoples’ lives, their passions, and the unique paths that brought them to the city (and kept them here). Eventually, he recounts with a laugh, “I realized, hey, not everybody’s an English teacher! And so many of my friends and colleagues who were, in fact, teachers also happened to have these amazing side projects, and just generally had a lot going on”.
The podcast began in May of 2019, with Mackay recording, producing, and marketing the show himself. As could be expected, due in no small part to Saigon’s inescapable hum of traffic and white noise, it took some getting used to the recording process and would require a few tweaks to get a clear sound. But the interviews unfolded naturally, with the initial sound check even turning into an episode all its own. Season 1 features interviews with the likes of JK Hobson, a thrash metal musician-turned Fulbright Scholar-turned standup comedian and writer, Mischa Smith, the sales director for Pasteur Street Brewing, and a slate of others. While the conversations remain open-ended and spontaneous, containing only a few constants—the closing questions Mackay wrote down while doing the dishes—, the interviews often take on a deeply personal narrative. “Seven Million Bikes” also offers snapshots of modern Vietnamese life, detailing the perspectives of locals who have lived and studied abroad to, in an especially wide-ranging episode, one man’s experience with what it means to live as openly gay in Saigon today and how attitudes differ between North and South Vietnam.