Every year on February 14th we write notes,we buy flowers and chocolates and somehow try to find the right words to convey our love to those who are important to us. But what about the city who is the noisy backdrop, yet the silent witness, to these private moments between countless pairs of lovers nestled in the rollicking public energy of her bustling crowds? What about a love letter to you Saigon, the place which breathes life into all our secret moments?
Dear Sweet Saigon,
Those who call you home likely love you and hate you in almost equal measure. When it comes to you, there is so much, and then even more to begin to understand you. You’re always changing your look, the closure of a familiar road or the construction of a new one. New buildings spring up seemingly overnight. Sometimes it’s as if you can never truly be known. While you retain the look of an old, faded European city in places, you are constantly shifting and morphing into something new with a renewed capacity to be loved or simply re-discovered.
To some you are a cruel mistress, Saigon. Street kids, beggars missing an arm or a leg or those unfortunate souls who have fallen victim to the cycle of poverty can’t escape the clutches of your streets. But just as quickly you are the backdrop to moments of heart-stopping tenderness. A pair of lovers zoom by on a motorbike, her arms wrap tightly around his waist, his hand grazes her leg at a stoplight and for the duration of their commute they are one being, fused together, sharing one wild experience through your streets. Some say you are dirty, Saigon, but those who love you come to see past that. They see only the hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of street cleaners in blue uniforms and traditional rice hats. It’s so easy to look past them as they blend into your streets, almost becoming part of them, but they are the ones with the Herculean task in a city of more than nine million inhabitants. It is they who prune your trees and flowers, sweep the constant construction dust from your streets and pick up the endless garbage. They are your silent keepers, tending to you around the clock, day after day.
Some of your inhabitants have even come to love your rainy season and the tempestuous downpours that flood your streets, the sudden darkening of your skies and the deafening cracks of thunder. Rain comes down in droves, almost violently and people run for cover while the brave few simply throw on plastic ponchos and carry on incognito on motorbikes through your streets. Your beautiful downpours allow a reprieve from the crowds and an ability to enjoy rare moments of anonymity, wrapped from head to toe in rain ponchos, Inhabitants make their way through your streets, unbothered by sopping pant legs and shoes. Those who love you most will all agree that the best part comes once the storm has abated. Suddenly everyone emerges like it never happened and life goes on… It’s a quiet joy to watch the ladies in fancy dresses on motorbikes as they lift their high-heeled feet while riding through puddles that could pass for lakes.
Your web of small streets can feel like a labyrinth at times. Impossibly crowded, with vendors all competing for space, People move through them seemingly unbothered by one another. They push past each other laden down with baskets of fruit, vegetables and eggs. Motorcycles whip by at speeds far too fast for such small alleys, loud karaoke tunes blast from speakers in random houses and entire families cram around tiny plastic tables set up in your streets, an extension of their homes, to share a meal of hot pot and live the small but important moments of their lives outside.
At night you become a different creature all together, Saigon. Streets are lit up by colourful lights from the myriad of festivals celebrated by your inhabitants all year long. The hum of thousands of motorbike engines and constant car horns are your heartbeat. You buzz and pulse and positively vibrate with energy. From your grand boulevard with elegant hotels and opera house to your dingy corners and downright seedy bars, you have it all, Saigon.
From great heights, one could say, you even look beautiful. Quite frankly, we are sweet on you, Saigon. You and all your intricacies, your past and your present, your chaos and rare moments of calm are the backdrop to more than nine million stories all unfolding at the same time. It is you who is a constant presence in every happy, sad and breathtakingly beautiful moment in our everyday.
Today, you are our Valentine.