Ho Chi Minh city, earlier known as Saigon used to be a French colony for about a century until 1954 when it marched into freedom led by it’s communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The influence of the colonisation simply cannot be missed since the city still retains most of the beautiful buildings built in those times. There are also a few ugly glass facade buildings that seem out of place at first but then what city today can truly do away with that. Although it is a strongly communist country and you will see traces of this everywhere, apart from taxi drivers providing very diligent receipts, I didn’t feel the effects of a strong national political opinion unlike in Jakarta, where the strong religious influence leaves you with a bit of an aftertaste.
I ran into a tiny street side restaurant and settled down to gorge on a “Pho Ga” as it rained cats and dogs outside. Rainy afternoons seem like a usual affair here in Saigon as it has rained heavily for a short while every afternoon in the last one week. As I quietly savoured my pho, a guy sitting at the next table waved at me and asked if I spoke English. His accent was American but his face was Asian. Without wasting much time at all, he asked if I’d like to go dancing with him and I just sheepishly thanked him but declined the offer. I was almost about to feel flattered for it’s not very common that other Asians find Indians exotic, when he announced he was 21 (Yes, 21!! well, it’s hard to guess an East Asian’s age) at which point the rain had stopped. So, I picked up my things and left.
While it was clear outside, I decided to walk up until the Saigon Opera house to see if I can watch the much recommended AO show. This show that depicts the life in Saigon is a combination of a musical and a circus – kind of like a Vietnamese version of the cirque du soleil. When you look at the Opera house filled with foreigners (tourists) and the mere ticket price of the show, you start wondering if this has anything to do with “real” local saigon culture and if it’s just a tourist trap. But the show was simply breathtaking. As each act led to another, I could find my brain being hijacked by the performance with absolutely no bandwidth for distractions. The movements are swift, the stage is small enough for one to be able to look at most things at once and so, you don’t have a choice but to devote your full attention to happenings on the stage. To me, this represented how we submit our thoughts to wander with little control.
Towards the second half, the transitions from one act to another slow down a little bit and that’s when I became conscious of having lost control of my attention to the show. The performers move about as a crabs, flamencos and little bug like creatures using woven baskets as props to the sounds of the sea sprinkled with oriental music. The part that seems a bit disappointing yet interesting is this one act that depicts modern day urban life in Ho Chi Minh city which seems out of place at first but then you realise that’s the part this generation associates with and is most proud of.
After having paid homage to Spanish food the previous night, I had to get my Indian food fix and hence headed straight to “Ganesh – Fine Indian cuisine”, a popular chain of restaurants across Vietnam owned by a Nepalese. The menu included both North Indian and South Indians dishes but I suppose one needs to eat the south indian dishes with an extra pinch of salt given that it’s in Vietnam and it’s run by a non-south Indian. However, this is the part that makes Ho Chi Minh a tad bit cooler than any other city I’ve ever travelled to. It’s welcoming of the whole world yet has it’s own culture. It reminds me of Bangalore in that sense.
I tried my best to keep away from the “Masala dose” but I think I might just give in after all tonight. It’s been way too long!