A New Year

Four months since I posted anything on Saigonsays.

Ironically, most of that has time been spent freely moving around in Saigon, and beyond, and so perhaps these freedoms have taken over the reflections (and written musings) brought on by last year’s severe lockdown and confinements?

Over in Hong Kong and China, maddening periods of quarantine are still in place for visitors. Omicron spreads like wildfire elsewhere (and no doubt we’ll experience that soon enough).

Vietnam, meanwhile, has been pushing on with softening its restrictions since October, and has ensured a high percentage of the population is now triple vaxxed.

Borders are open for those of us with residency, and so 2022 is already, hands-down, considerably more of an exciting prospect than the ennui and helplessness curated by 2021.

Tet – Chinese New Year – is days away. The city is buzzing, and the locals’ smiles are as full as the moon will be next month.

Although the clear spring skies of December have morphed into a daily pea-soup mush of pre-Tet factory and construction pollution, the markets are thriving and the trees and flowers adorning the pavements are as brilliant as I’ve seen them.

It’s the turn of the Water Tiger in 2022. ‘Stability’ and ‘self-esteem’ being two of its fabled characteristics.

All I keep thinking is that I’ve only one more year left until we reach the Cat (my year) again, and I’ll have experienced the full circle of mystic connotations that these dozen animals embody, since landing in the country on February 28th 2011.

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Issy and me made it up to Dalat a few weeks ago. Flying on a plane for the first time in 7 months, and ambling around the hills and through the forests that encircle this sleepy town.

A crisp 12 degrees at dawn, we eagerly wrapped ourselves up in jackets and hats, long since discarded, and enjoyed the evening red wines all the more, sat by our hotel room heater.

On one of our outings up there we scooted out to the coffee plantations, and looked up the plot owned by K’ho Coffee, the suppliers of our coffee beans, for as many years now as I can remember.

I talk often about the places I’ve spent time in (as I type this I’m listening to a song that I first heard in Peru in 2013, and whose beats catapult me back to bus rides through winding roads out to Cusco, and the taste of pisco sours drank the evening before stepping up onto the plateaus of Machu Picchu) often, like now, I’m lost back in time, back in these moments.

When I finally leave Vietnam I know the recollection of buying the small yellow Tet tree, that I picked up this morning on my way home (balanced on my knee precariously as I wove along with other bikes in the midday sun) will be fresh, and will buoyantly re-kindle the image of the same tree perched, as it is now, on our garden table, waiting to bud, proudly sat to help me pay respect to this most celebrated of Vietnamese times of year.

I’ll recall, and will marvel, at the memories of all the Vietnamese dishes guzzled down regularly here. Of the close confines of local district life puttering about us, as we stroll down to our local bar for an aperitif, or to the curry house on our street where the chefs stoke open air tandoor ovens and the frangipani trees flop over their garden’s walls.

The Turkish shawarmas and to-die-for falafels, prepared but 400 metres from our house, the French galettes around the corner – christ, we’ve even got Union Jack’s, the fish and chip shop, run by a Brit and pushing out steak and kidney pies and jugs of gravy like we’re living in East London.

This truly international vibe in Saigon, in 2022, and in spite of the craziness brought on by the pandemic (and the exodus of foreigners as a result) is breathtaking. It somehow slots well into the groove of Vietnamese street-vended noodles and drip-coffee and the meshing of cultures seems to work most of the time. The beer halls are crammed full with locals inhaling IPAs and loaded fries; Korean bubble tea houses vie with Starbucks on every modern apartment block corner.

Even in Dalat we sat in the serene courtyard of a house specialising in stunning home-cooked Italian food and wine. The best I’ve had here.

What treats, what delights.

And yet, what a slim perspective, still, on this vast and ranging country, up and down which there remains still so much potential, so much development needed, and so much investment to support each province, and each household.

Saigon’s growth is striking.

But so, too, is the risk that many could be left behind in the melee for modernisation.

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