If Only Graham Greene Were Here With Me …

But I don’t think he would recognize the Saigon I’m coming to know.

So, I’ve been here three days and a few odd hours, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I’ve experienced of Ho Chi Minh City a.ka. Saigon. I’ve tried a couple of times now, but there is just too much going on — the food, the history, the people (both the lovely, amazing Vietnamese and the 20-something backpacker crowd, not to mention the assorted goofy tourists), the sing-song language (which I find alternately soothing and fetching when women speak it and amusingly odd sounding when men speak it), the omnipresent motorbikes, the city that’s awake and partying to the wee hours and yet awake and moving before the sun — it’s too much to absorb and elucidate effectively in such a short time.

We should also bear in mind that I arrived on the weekend of celebrations for the calendar New Year (Tet, the lunar new year celebration here, isn’t for a month or too yet). In short, I landed in the middle of a huge party/circus. At least that is what it felt like. Or perhaps I fell through Hunter S. Thompson’s looking glass (this is what it felt like my first night here, wandering around). Furthermore, I know that what I’ve seen of Saigon so far — District 1, essentially — is not representative of the city as a whole, much less of Viet Nam (from what I gather Hanoi, for example, is very different — as much as Atlanta is from New York, or LA from San Francisco, for example).

So I guess for now I’ll stick to an interior monologue for now. Getting ready to come here was even more overwhelming than what I found on upon arrival; who would have thought getting rid of all of one’s worldly possessions would be so hard? It turned out to be exceedingly difficult, and even involved getting screwed over by a charitable organization (not to mention T-Mobile). For the rest of my life I’m going to do my best not to acquire anything more than what I can carry on my person. Stuff = complication, one way or the other. No baggage of either the physical or mental variety is my motto for life.

But it was good to get on the plane feeling unfettered and untethered, for the most part. But the anticipation of my travels was not without trepidation; in fact I was a little more anxious than I would have anticipated. This was different than previous trips. After all, I had no immediate plans to come back; my flights were all one way (although I could easily buy a ticket and return home if I had to). There was no translator waiting for me to run around with me, this time around — no expense account and business class hotels.

That bit of anxiety went away the moment I set foot outside the Saigon airport — arriving planes still taxi past fortified hangars left over from the American War (as it’s call here), incidentally. I don’t know what it is, but I feel at home in a throng of people that don’t look like me and speak a language I don’t understand. Not sure why that is; it just makes me happy in a way that nothing else does. Like sex, it is a  feeling I suspect will never get old for me, no matter how many times I experience it.

The last three days I’ve caught myself many times randomly smiling for no apparent reason. And trust me, I’m not one for spontaneous smiles. I guess I just like the experience of being in a foreign land — it’s a huge challenge, a colossal mind fuck, an enormous riddle to be solved, grokking a foreign culture, one that is enormous amounts of fun. That’s why I love to travel, ultimately, I suppose. It’s a unique high that nothing else provides.

Then there is the larger issue of me becoming a teacher; I know myself well enough to know that I may crank out the CELTA certification class only to realize this isn’t what I want to do (*cough* raft guiding *cough*). Only time will tell on that score. But after just three short days, I can say this: I’m so glad I’m finally here, doing this and making it happen, after dreaming of it for more than four years. I can’t recall the last time I felt this happy and excited about life — I think the last time I felt something like this was watching my parents drive away after they dropped me off on my first day at college — there’s a whole new world laid out at my feet, waiting for me to explore.