anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Excerpt From My Travel Journal: Saigon

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This morning I realized that exactly one year ago I came home from my trip to Southeast Asia. This also means that it’s been a whole year since I’ve been out of the country (shocking, I know!) But in honor of that trip, I decided to post my favorite blog from that trip. I wrote it while in Saigon. Enjoy!

Zippo

I made the severe mistake today of sitting down at a café in the backpacker-full Pham Ngu Lao neighborhood. Well, sitting down at the café wasn’t the problem, it was the fact that I chose to consume my much needed refreshing lemon juice at the one table that sat on the sidewalk.

Sidewalks in Saigon tend to be covered in motor bikes, so enough space to fit a table and make it look nice was already surprising. I therefore took advantage. I managed to momentarily forget about the people that cruise the area selling their endless supply of wares: photo-copied Lonely Planet books, Zippo lighters, knock-off sunglasses, postcards, etc.

Within minutes of sitting down I was approached by a cyclo driver. Cyclos are the popular way of getting around Saigon for tourists; the driver sits on a bicycle in back and carts around someone in the chair-looking contraption built onto the front. The man walked right up to our table and opened up a magazine to the center-fold.

“City cyclo tour? I give best one. So good, I’m in magazine. Magazine comes by I wave and say hello and they take picture.”
Sure enough, there he was smiling brightly, smack dab in the center of a long article about cyclo city tours. When I told him no thank you very much, that obviously wasn’t good enough for an answer, so he proceeded to leaf through a small, worn book that he was carrying. He pulled out two plasticized 3×5 cards and laid them down on the table. They were consumer testimonials. He had many in his book, probably in over 10 languages, but he put down one in English and one in French for me.

“See, these are your people. They like me. They have good time with happy cyclo city tour. I give best one.”

A polite “no thank you” once again where I added that I had been in Saigon for over a week.

“Ah, you already see everything?”

That was apparently the key and he went on his way. My lemon juice came and I thought that I would get a moment of peace. Wrong.

“Want to buy a book? Travel book?” a small woman approached me briskly and asked. Like many other of her colleagues she was carrying a stack of books, maybe 3 or 4 feet high. The books were tied together by a long piece of white rope to keep the stack from falling over. The books that are sold are all English guidebooks or bestsellers, what their vendors don’t tell you, is that they are mostly photo-copied. Some are good photo-copies, but they are photo-copies nonetheless. Tourists bite at these books though as finding a large variety of English language books in Vietnam is difficult on account of the government’s censorship on foreign language imports.

I continued to shake my head now and gazed deeply into my lemon juice; if I personally look at the vendor they magically manage to put whatever they are selling in my hand and make me feel bad about buying it.

She finally went on her way to seek out a more promising prospect, only to leave another vendor in her trail; this time sunglasses.

“Madame, very nice sunglasses. Gucci, Dior.”

What is this? Just because I am sitting at a table on the sidewalk drinking a lemon juice it means that I want to purchase all of the possible tourist items?

“No thank you, I don’t want any sunglasses.”

I repeated it several times and he finally took off. My lemon juice was now only remnants of ice cubes and I decided it was time to save myself and make it back to the tranquility of my hotel room. I forked over the several thousand dong and made my way down the sidewalk. A man approached me with a lighter in his hand. He struck it several times before it lit.

“Zippo?”

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Written by Anna Brones

December 4, 2008 at 16:28

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