Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sounds and Smells of Vietnam

First, let me first say, in Vietnam, even when you are not hungry, you are hungry. No matter what your stomach might say, when you smell the warm air filled with the aroma of freshly baked pastries or the scent of fried spring rolls, your brain says, "Let's Eat!"

One night, as I enjoyed dinner while sitting in child-sized red and blue plastic chairs on the sidewalk of a busy street, the constant buzz of mopeds created whirl of warm air that I couldn't help but notice was filled with the dirt and grit of the streets. However, I have to say the grit in the air was barely noticeable while enjoying the freshly prepared Vietnamese cuisine that even a small hole in the wall restaurant can offer.

A distant crackling sounds caught my attention, as I originally thought it was coming from the kitchen, but later found there were mass of power lines all attached to a single pole that was causing the noise. After dinner I walked the streets, partly to keep from falling asleep after a huge meal, and partly (coincidentally) to look for dessert.

I quickly found that casually crossing the street was a thing of the past. No one stops. Ever. Be it bicycles, mopeds, or cars. A red light is only reason for pause. Everyone is constantly moving, but somehow it all works out. So when crossing the road, I found it important to stay constantly moving. No quick or sudden dashes across the road, or you are bound to get hit. If your movement is constant all those on the road can predict where you will be when they arrive to the intersection and what they will need to do to avoid you. I found myself holding my breath each time we crossed the road and then breathing a dirt-filled sigh of relief that we made another successful trip across the road.

Peddling his dried fish on the busy streets

I settled on bubble tea, a smoothie with your choice of fruit and small balls of freshly-made tapioca at the bottom. The building was illuminated with neon boards that read "Vancouver" and "Beautiful British Columbia," which I found rather odd. Maybe Vancouver was their city of dreams.

I sat at a small glass-topped table with a rattan chair that I was hoping would hold my weight. The table tipped from side to side as I rested my arms. I chose strawberry. They took such great care in making the smoothies, carefully blending each drink with fresh berries and sealing the top. Then they popped a thick pointed straw into the sealed top. The smoothie was delightfully fresh and cool, the seeds making me feel as if I were enjoying a 'healthy' treat.

As I headed back to the hotel, I walked down a narrow sidewalk. Though it was late, the air was still warm and small business that lined the street were still open for business. To keep busy, proprietors would brush rubbish away from the area in front of their store with what appeared the be a handmade broom, in hopes of attracting more customers. It was a constant sound from all of the businesses, straw to the concrete sidewalk. Back and forth. Some with a rhythm. Always staying busy. Always moving. Always.