Life in Saigon

Life in Saigon. Crazy. Off the wall. Zany. Confusing. Congested. Frantic. Dirty. Exciting.

Video Courtesy of: Robert Whitworth

I find myself laughing everyday at this place I’ve been calling home the last 12 months. Do I actually live here? I can’t believe it most days! Why? Why do I find myself in shock that I live in Vietnam’s largest, most populated, ‘liberal’ city? Saigon is like your crazy uncle or cousin. The one that never follows the rules and the family just roll their eyes at, we’ve all got one.. and Saigon is just that. Vietnam’s crazy relative that lives life off the wall and breaks all of the rules. Compared to Grandfather Hanoi up in the North where all the rules come pounding down on the country.

  1. There are more motorbikes in Saigon than there are ants on this planet. Just try and picture the traffic. So, imagine the people on bikes function like a million ants that are taking over the city, crawling and zooming into every crevasse as they race to get from A to B. If there is something in their way like any ant the driver will either go over it, hit it, or flood around it with 20 other bikes taking over the other lane of traffic and causing chaos.
  2. Random Cheesy Pop Songs live on forever. Last Sunday at 8AM after a night of Saturday drinks my Vietnamese neighbors (they speak zero English) decided to CRANK Celine Dion’s Power of Love for everyone in Saigon and Hanoi to hear. Is that EVER necessary? I was in my room with the door shut, fast asleep, and it woke me from a grizzly bear slumber, pounding on my walls from across the alleyway.
  3. Motorbike car seats? Sure, they exist here too. An infant on a motorbike!? Yea of course, how else would they get home from the hospital? A car seat here is a tall chair that balances in between Mommy or Daddy’s legs on the bike. It’s the law for adults to where helmets but children 15 and under are allowed to stand up on the bike seat clutching to their parents neck as they zoom in and out of traffic, no helmet needed. OR a pillow is placed in front of their face so they don’t bang it on the gauges if they are standing up in the front of the bike.
  4. Abundance of the most exotic, most delicious tropical fruits sold practically on your door step for under $1.00. Mango, jack fruit, dragon fruit, papaya, watermelon, banana, pineapple… Vietnam’s got it all when it comes to fruit.
  5. Rolling Power cuts suck and are scheduled in almost every neighborhood. 100 degree sunny days with no fan or A/C in your apartment is just cruel and unusual punishment.
  6. Beer is 50 cents.
  7. If I go to a cafe and sit outside I never have to leave again. People come up selling cigarettes, lighters, glasses, shoe shines, gum, books, fruit, drinks, bar snacks, lottery tickets… anything and everything.
  8. Public toilets display signs that say “No standing on the toilet seat.” The ones with drawings showing the person using the toilet wrongly are the best.
  9. At home (in the USA) families go out and buy huge Minivans and trucks when they have kids. My parents swear they have to have a truck for those random times when they need to move random big things like furniture, or take a big load of trash to the dump… Motorbikes are trucks here. Families of 4 or 5 easily fit on ONE MOTORBIKE. People strap anything they need on the back of their bikes. Dressers, cow meat, water jugs, propane tanks, small couches.. you name it and it goes on the back of a bike. Motorbikes are built FORD tough.
  10. The city stops functioning and falls asleep from 11-1. Bank employees will pull out their blanket and sleep on the bank floor. Teachers & students sleep on classroom floors. Office workers sleep on their keyboards. Everyone takes a siesta as if someone pushed the power button while they were in the middle of working and they just shut down in mid thought.
  11. Monsoon Season. It rains everyday for a few hours, and when it rains here all hell falls down. Streets turn into flooded rivers.  People drive home from work or to work in ties, skirts, and business suits on a motorbike in rain that is coming down so hard you can’t see 3 feet in front of you. The rain is going sideways from the wind, arriving to work with PUDDLES in shoes, squishing through classes the rest of the day.
  12. A maid  cleans my apartment every week for $5.
  13.  Walking across the street is a real-life, live or die Frogger game.
  14. Flaunting fat is the new fad. Old men love to show off their big beer bellies, they pull up their shirt, and sit with their Buddha bellies hanging out, rubbing them their belly like it’s a magic lamp granting them a wish.
  15. Vietnam celebrates the Chinese New Year or Tet, and it is extremely important. My school gave me a pig’s leg with the foot still on it as a happy new year present! A card would have been fine.
  16. Everyday I see or hear something new like… live chickens clucking in the back of my taxi as I get dropped off across the city & all I can do is shake my head, laugh, and think.. Oh, Saigon!

PlayStations next big video game:

Driving in this insane city of motorbikes and honking horns should be turned into a PlayStation game. You have 10 minutes to get to work on the other side of the city, you are in a rush and need to get there in a flash. On the way to work “WATCH OUT” you’re dodging fruit carts, buses that are honking at you warning they’re about 5 seconds from running you over, road construction, corrupt police officers that want bribes, motorbike driving butt wipes going down a one way street the WRONG WAY, a motorbike balancing 8 beer crates on the back that you can’t see around, an old woman that has decided to walk out in front of you so you slam on your breaks to avoid smashing her to pieces, traffic circles that are in stand still jams, taxi drivers that hate motorbikes and try to hit you out of the way, the random stray animal in the street, kids on bicycles zigging and zagging across the road, men walking out in the street carelessly rubbing their bellies— all of this and you have 10 minutes to be at work standing in front of the class teaching. Funny thing is, I play this game every morning, every evening, every time I venture out.. here it’s called ‘REAL LIFE’!

I’ve been in Vietnam 12 months & been in Asia so long I didn’t think everyday would still provide me with a ‘wtf? really really?‘ kind of moments when all you can do is laugh & take it for what it is… I was so wrong!

3 Responses to “Life in Saigon”
  1. Phuong says:

    hi nicky,

    loved this story! the video at the start was fantastic! im a viet australian, and just came back from a holiday in vietnam, i totally miss the place already after a week back in australia, its just not the same.

    i emailed you some questions with regards to moving and living in vietnam, hope to get a reply!

    but hope you keep up the blogs, loved reading all the ones about vietnan

    take care and have fun!


  2. Amy Maranto says:

    Just wondering who the crazy Uncle or Cousin is Nicky? Love, Cousin-in-law Amy 🙂

  3. Nick says:

    I haven’t been back since i left in 1975 but you have given me a real good idea of what Saigon is like today. Very amusing writing.

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