I walk out of our apartment and onto the quiet, narrow street that houses the building that we live in. An elderly Vietnamese lady who is wearing her pyjamas is sat, legs up on a plastic stool, presumably enjoying the gentle evening breeze. I smile as I pass her and she looks back at me inquisitively.
As I exit our quiet side street, I’m as astonished as always at the contrast between the stillness that I’ve left behind me and the vivacious activity that’s taking place on the main road. Dozens upon dozens of motorbikes whizz past in a second, and the glaring neon lights from all the shops and hotels and coffee shops and restaurants vie for my attention.
I walk down the uneven pavements, dodging any dug up concrete slabs that I find along the way. Everywhere I look there are street food stalls, set up down nooks and crannies, spilling out onto the road. Here there are people in their droves, huddled over bowls of steaming soups and noodles, slurping and chomping the night away, while sitting on impossibly small plastic chairs. There are tables full of mugs of beer, and glasses of iced tea and tar-black Vietnamese coffee. Some people look my way, but the majority are too engrossed in their conversations to care about the street traffic.
I look up at the buildings and I enjoy the contrasts in architecture; stunning colonial buildings and decrepit old towers and modern skyscrapers. I then look to my right, and see a cute girl, no older than two, with her ink-black hair in pigtails, looking at me. She flashes a smile and says hello, and I say hello back, and she looks at whom I assume is her mum and bursts out in a fit of giggles.
Then a little further down the road, I almost get run down by a lady who is reversing her motorbike without looking behind her. In the past, this would have infuriated me, but I’m in Saigon, and I know that this is standard behaviour, so I dodge her and smile and carry on walking.
I get to the Benh Thanh night market, which is a ten-minute walk from our apartment. I welcome the smell of sweet sticky rice that’s coming from one of the food stalls, and make my way through the market, where all kinds of tourist tat is on sale: fake Adidas t-shirts and silk scarves and bowls made out of coconut shells and ties and Vietnamese coffee filters. I’m constantly asked “do you wanna buy?” as various things are shoved in front of me, but I smile and shake my head and walk on by.
I remember back to the first time that Ankit and I were at the market in May of last year – a holiday that turned out to be life changing. We fell in love with Vietnam, and most specifically, Saigon – the chaos, the food, the people, the crazy street activity, the cheeky market stall sellers, the old ladies wearing pyjamas on the streets, the aerobics in the park, the cute kids who want to speak English with you. We cooed over the idea of moving here, never taking it too seriously, never writing it off completely. And I think of how ironic it is that we’ve ended up back here, to where our journey began all those months ago.
We’ve only been in our apartment for four days, but we’ve already tracked down our local gym, a place where I can get my nails done, restaurants we want to try out, cute cafés that we want to work in. And for the first time in months we’ve properly unpacked our clothes and packed our backpacks away. Our apartment is all cozy and nice and homely, and it’s so nice to be able to cook again. It’s amazing how easy it is to settle back into a daily routine.
We’re not too sure where the next three months will lead us, but as I meander through the market and enjoy the sounds and smells and hustle and bustle, I realise that it’s nice to call this place home. Even if just for a while.