Wednesday, January 8, 2020 – Today we will travel on to Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, yesterday walking around towards the downtown park and the Buddhist temple. The Buddhist temple closed so we walked around the markets in the streets. Hot city. You can see why there is global warming. Hundreds of thousands of motorbikes in their small cycle engines whirling by. As I walk through the streets I feel the heat and find it difficult to breathe from the smog.Saigon is big, ugly, crowded, broken walkways. But the girls, are lovely. Ah, in the eyes of the “mature” nothing so sublime as the sexiness of youth. But, a few older Vietnamese woman I’ve seen in the streets, my age, worn by work and life, scrawny, bent over from labor, and they look at me and give me a toothless smile. Ah, a warm beautiful smile. I think some of my best drawings are the beautiful “mature” woman with such character and life in their faces.
The thing that is most compelling is the apparent ease and grace that people have in connecting with one another. In the few days that I’ve been here, I’ve seen people very easily and graciously interacting with one another. I don’t understand a word of Vietnamese, but the overall graciousness and gentleness of people interacting and playing with each other at all levels is very pleasant. I don’t see any anger, pushing, shoving like you would see in New York City on a daily basis.
Even in the crowded marketplaces where people are selling clothes and trying to make a living, it is assertive, but very friendly. There is a widespread underemployment. So many people seem like they are eking out a living of a few cents here and there by selling some raffle tickets or trinkets. This seems to me to be so cruel. The cruelty of people struggling to make a living out of selling something so trivial and small. A man is without legs sitting on a piece of cardboard on the corner selling what looks like raffle tickets. But there doesn’t seem to be a sense of anger or aggression.
There are very few people that are our age mid-sixties. We look great compared to many other senior citizens here. This is the privilege of a middle-class income in Western society. I can only imagine how enormously difficult it was for many people here both during the war and in the postwar years. Despite the glimmer and gloss of huge skyscrapers in the shiny glimmering of modernity, it is fair to say that most people I see in the markets and in the streets around me are barely surviving. Yet, unlike in the USA, no one is sleeping in the streets. Yes, there are people in rickshaws stretched out for a nap or stretched out on top of their motorcycle as if they were taking a nap on a full-size bed. It is a culture where people have survived with so little for so long, that a little bit of space, a little bit of luxury a little bit of money seems like a fortune. There are women and men grilling meat, cooking vegetables and rice on the side-walks. Barely a few feet of space and they have a complete “restaurant” set up. For rice, meat and vegetables it is probably about 50cents or less for a plate. Though everyone is thin, I suspect no one goes hungry. I think if someone did not have money they will still be given something to eat. I am a blind man going through this new land. The smells of meat grilling and cooking fill the air as I walk on the streets. No one really paying attention to the old white guy. Smiling and nodding their heads, but generally, we are just part of the flow of traffic and humanity. However, we are conscious that even with our modest income we must be seen as the super-rich. We are super-rich even though we live on modest pensions and social security. (There will be another section in the future on the retirement scene in Vietnam. Americans can live quite comfortable here on their social security. That will follow in the section “Sweet Home Hanoi.” Sung to Sweet Home Alabama.)
Yes, there are women begging in the streets with their children. Last night I passed a woman with a hydroencephilitic baby, I’ve seen a lot of horrendous things as a medical provider, but that scene was enough to break your heart. This is a theme that I keep in the back of my head as we are walking around the downtown markets. I know there is poverty that is even far greater than here even though that is difficult to imagine. But seeing someone on a street corner selling some little paper toy for a few cents and that is their livelihood is depressing and it seems like a cruel way to make your living. The level of entrepreneurship is extraordinary. Anybody can set up a little fruit or vegetable baskets for sale. I have no idea how people are able to make a living by selling so little. This is the cruelty of capitalism