I’m on to my second week in Saigon and starting to feel more and more at home– I have an apartment (well actually an entire townhouse), I’m job hunting, and am already finding my favorite nooks and crannies in Saigon’s hidden alleyways. I’m currently listening to the daily cracks of thunder inform me that yes it is 4:30 pm (thunderstorms during the afternoons are a daily experience here) and that the day is beginning to wind down (if there is such a thing in Saigon).
This city, despite its daily predictable thunderstorms, is saturated with secrets hidden in every corner. You never know what you’ll find walking as one alley suddenly leads to another, which leads to another and before you know it – you’re traversing through this incredible maze. The deeper into the maze you get, the more personal the things you find. On the outskirts of these hidden alleyways lies the vendors, fruit stands and playing children. However, as you wind your way through, the “real” Vietnam is exposed as most people in this bustling city live amongst one of these hidden passages and you catch glimpses of people’s everyday lives. The offerings they are giving, the meals they are cooking on the ground floor, the father playing with the baby. These are all the images I caught as I was walking through one of these alleyways the other day walking to one of my student’s homes.
One of our students invited the LanguageCorps teachers to his house for a home cooked Vietnamese dinner – which was absolutely delicious. He failed to mention that we weren’t
the only ones coming for dinner; in fact his entire extended family was present for the occasion. In one tiny room sat no less than 25 Vietnamese family members and five drastically out of place Americans just attempting to soak up the whole scene. In a tiny little kitchen, four women worked vigorously to prepare a celebratory meal for 30 (no big deal) plus a little extra for the ancestors, because a sample of everything served to the family must first be offered to the deceased ancestors. The food was displayed grandly on the mantle in front of the deceased grandparents’ photographs.
I loved this experience – I felt as though I got to experience my senior thesis first hand (I wrote about Vietnamese immigrants and food culture). I was able to pick out the rituals that my subjects talked about in my interviews (such as the food offering) and the separation of gender in the kitchen . . . and then there was the post dinner karaoke concert… All in all the generosity of these people is outstanding and incredibly humbling – we were accepted with open arms and lots and lots of food.