People, Places, and Things

BLOG POST: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 – 7:35 p.m. Ho Chi Minh City, VN

Lighting candles at Ba Thien Hau Temple

It’s 3:30 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday 2/13/19) and my body clock is operating in 2 different worlds. It’s seems to be the perfect metaphor to describe my first fully immersed day of experiences in this beautiful country. Let me attempt to assemble some cogent thoughts in this middle-of-the-night blog post.

I’ve travelled to many places and one of the most notable things I have observed is that wherever I go, people are welcoming when you are visiting their city or state or country. Moreover, they take great pride in sharing what makes their home special. Meeting people is what makes travel so special to me. We come from vastly different places yet share so much in common; health and wellbeing for self and family, prosperity (which I’ve come to learn is completely about perspective and expectation), and gratitude for what is present and adundant.

She’s been making these rice cakes for 32 years at this spot in the wholesale flower markets located in District 10.

We met up with our city guide and driver Tuesday morning. Ms. Daisy was booked through Xin Chao Tours (can’t recommend them enough) and she shared so much knowledge of the city and its people and the history. Starting in the wholesale flower markets in District 10 off of Ho Thi Ky Street, we toured the alleyways rich in the fragrant aroma of fresh roses, lotus flowers (national flower of Vietnam), and countless other varieties of blooms that painted the vibrant alleyways with color and life. We stopped at this corner with Ms. Daisy so she could buy some of these rice cakes from this vendor pictured here. Daisy stops here whenever she can to buy these treats to bring home to her family. Flavors include a savory cheese cake, raisin cake, and fresh fruit cakes. They were warm and wonderful!

A walk through the dizzying maze of alleys and streets got me very disoriented as one could truly lose their way with out much effort to stay the course. There is no land ownership in Vietnam, so while multi-generational families live in their privately owned homes, space is definitely at a premium. In a city inhabited by 8.4 million people, the density of the population is palpable. But even with this many people living so tightly together, there is a harmony that is resonant throughout the urban landscape.

A short jaunt from the alleyways of District 10 was our stop at the oldest Buddhist temple in HCMC located in District 5. Worth noting is that there is no numerical order to the districts. Ba Then Hau Temple is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess, Mazu, and upon walking in over the threshold, the mix of the smoke from the burning of papers (fake money presented as gifts) and the scents from those paying respect with incense made for a reverent experience. I have found that the Vietnamese people are deeply rooted in their beliefs and have a beautiful balance in tying together the past, present, and future.

Remembering our loved ones that have gone before us. The burning of incense; the conic coils hanging above burn for 10-days and the red paper tags contain the names of those loved ones that are remembered.

Next on our tour stop was the War Remnants Museum. Identified as the “American War”, I won’t spend a lot of time talking about this stop as it’s a complex subject that offers no winners or rights sides; only loss and extreme sadness for those affected. What I will mention is that the Vietnamese people have embraced the citizens of the United States. There is no ill-will towards the tens of thousands of Americans that come to Vietnam each year to visit, work, or return to learn about their history or their roots in the country that has seen it’s fare share of war and unrest. As a person that fits into 2 of the 3 categories, I had some slight reservations about how I’d be viewed as an Asian American that had direct overlap to the years of conflict. Those reservations were immediately put to rest; the people here are simply the most gracious and hospitable I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in my travels and look forward to many more visits.

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this many paragraphs into my post and am just now getting around to talking about a meal. Ms. Daisy brought us to a favorite for the locals. These non-touristy establishments are my favorite places to visit when I want to be fully immersed in a culture and Banh Khot Co Ba in District 3 was most certainly 2 thumbs UP! The Co Ba (savory pancake). We feasted like royalty, sharing the table with 2 other small groups which I love. There is something very tactile to the senses assembling your meal. The fresh lettuce/greens and fragrant herbs and vegetables where the perfect way to take in this lovely meal and it gives me ideas for making similar new menu offerings at home!

Ashley and Ms. Daisy approve of this amazing spread!

People and places, places and things. A country that has overcome its past and has welcomed in a world that has wanted to experience its rich culture and beauty first hand. First and foremost, it’s all about the people, for without the energy of the people, the allure would be lost. The places a person can visit could make the novice traveler feel overwhelmed. Yet, there places are so important to see to truly understand what makes HCMC the buzzing metropolis that just 40 short years ago was over the brink to being lost completely to war. To understand its past is the appreciate the present. The appreciate the present it to look with optimism to the future. The future for HCMC is blindingly bright and I will make sure I am a part of experiencing future HCMC/Saigon in my life yet to come.

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