This post is a reflection on our recent trip to Vietnam.
Our first trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was in 2007 during a world trip. The city seemed bigger now, but by how much I cannot really say. On this trip we arrived on the last day of Tết Nguyên Đán, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Celebration which translates as the Feast of the First Morning of the First Day. The city was noticeably less congested and frantic. A large portion of the population return home to family for the celebrations. It is now a new moon as I write this, so a month has passed and this is the first cycle of the moon since Tet.
I remembered the smell of Saigon from before. The warmth of the air like a soupy mix of dust, pollution, scooters honking, birds calling and the scent of food being cooked, or decaying. There was a very, very familiar smell that I picked up on as I lay on the banana lounge by the swimming pool, floors above the street. I recalled it and wondered what it actually was. It’s like the stench of rotting food stuffs or sewerage, or dank water, but it is toned down and kind of rides on the breeze in little ambiguous bursts. It’s not at all offensive, just different in an exotic kind of way. To be sure, it wasn’t Durian season either, which has a perfume some find offensive, as they were only just beginning to flower. I think of the quality of the air in the tropics as embalming you. It wraps around you and there is no escape. It has a life about it.
For most of our stay the air temp was high twenties to low thirties Celsius. Sitting around the 80’s Fahrenheit. I loved it.
We ventured further north of Ho Chi Minh City to the area around the Sông Lại Giang river in the Hoài Nhơn District. This is where my sister-in-laws family home is. As I recalled from my previous visit to Vietnam it was confirmed that they really do make good use of the land. Most house gardens were put to use growing something edible. In this particular area there were plantings of sweet potato, morning glory, coconut palms, taro, dragon fruit, lettuce, bananas, papayas, gauvas and cucumbers. Along the rice growing areas the fields were usually lined with coconut palms, though most house gardens had a variety of many different edible plants growing under shared canopies of coconut palms.
Most yards had chickens. Some with ducks. In the instance of our hosts yard there were both chickens and ducks along with two cows and a pig, a variety of fruit trees, forty year old coconut palms, papayas and bananas. I could not help but think that each house had created for itself its own little piece of paradise nestled amongst the fields of rice and taro surrounding the greater community.