Pray for the Rain, Gotta Deal with Mud Too
From chaotic traffic to browbeating negotiations, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam serves as a whirlwind of hustle and bustle. The city leaves no room for indecisiveness, and I have developed a strong appreciation for the blurred lines faintly scribbled between work and life. Much of that appreciation stems from a reflective perspective. My life is evolving into an ambiguous blob of activities consisting of work, social gatherings, adventure, and personal space. As a result, I realize that rigid schedules that compartmentalize different aspects of my life are no longer welcomed. In fact, a routine lifestyle can’t even get a knock at the door let alone a seat at the table. Yet, experiencing those ‘normal’ day-to-day events, both the good and the bad, is what I have grown to admire most. And thus, my experience in HCMC so far begins.
Oh I Think They Like Me
I’m black. It’s pretty obvious. Especially here. Now before all my people with lighter pigmentation get riled up, let me finish. While I know some people do not like the occasional (actually very frequent) request for a photo from a Vietnamese bystander, I actually couldn’t care less. Honestly, it’s lowkey hella hot out here in these Nam streets, so it ain’t really a problem if a few fans wave my way. Plus, I’m use to people crossing to the other side of the street when I approach on the sidewalk, so the switch up isn’t too shabby. I’ve even had a Vietnamese young lady tell me that my skin has a goldish glow in the sun. Oh word?? Well cash me outside how bout dat!
On the other hand, when people stare and follow you around, you really can’t help but to internalize and debate the situation. Yet, I cannot wholeheartedly attribute the not-so-subtle infatuation to just the color of my skin. Because while I am conditioned by America to be defined by what I am (i.e. black man with southern drawl), here I am more so identified by what I am not (i.e. not being Vietnamese for my slower thinkers). This realization surfaces at many points during the day whether that be through conversation or even regular day-to-day activities.
For example, all things traffic related might as well be considered a death sentence out here. Seriously, I have been skydiving and I have eaten a meal while suspended several hundreds of feet above the ground. In both of those instances, my life felt significantly much more secure than each time I put my foot onto the pavement or ride a motorbike. Hence, it’s against the law to ride any motorbike as a passenger or driver without a secure helmet. Not a big deal right?
Negative. As I said before, I am black; and therefore, I have black hair. When you are fresh out of the shower, and your hair is glistening from an infusion of biotin-based conditioner and organic coconut oil extract, your swag is set for the day. The last thing you need is a helmet that is two heads too small, compacting all that greatness and hard work. A petty example yes, but matted hair is a real thing folks and should be treated as such. Vietnam…help a brother out with these helmets big dawg.
Back to the Topic: LukasDatAss
Sticking to the theme of embracing simplicity, I recently spent an entire day with a born and raised HCMC local named Luke (shoutout to Marino for being the plug). Let me tell you about Luke. Retired tattoo artist turned digital marketer, he’s the coolest cat ever with the most terrifying automotive skills. Now, I just vented to y’all about how these motorbike helmets got my head looking like a used Q-tip dipped in castor oil. In addition to my hair struggle, Luke’s navigational techniques include traversing heavily occupied sidewalk terrains, busting a u-ey at major intersections during peak hours, and damn near clipping pedestrians while semi smirking afterwards. On top of that, homie be riding around, getting it with his gas tank on E like a real OG.
I have much love and appreciation for Luke. He sacrificed his time to show me hospitality on par with that of the dirty south (U.S.). The best part is that we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. From amazing authentic pho suggestions to hanging at a Vietnamese coffee shop, Luke’s friendship has definitely been a highlight of my trip thus far. We even went shoe shopping because my black Sperrys have raised the white flag and can no longer take the abuse.
After that, we wrapped up the day by hanging at a Chicano-influenced Vietnamese barbershop, and I got a chance to get a nice taper by a Frenchman named James (ole lying ass. I know that’s not your real name bruh. I peeped it on IG). To say the least, Luke is the homie, and although he almost got me killed zipping around the streets of Saigon, it’s an experience that I asked for and for which I am humbly grateful. I like to think that it is the people that you meet who create the most impactful memories, not necessarily the places that you visit.
Baba Moment: Money Talk
So as y’all saw from the picture, I was in dire need of new shoes. Luke and I attempted to find a pair at the mall in District 1 of Saigon. However, every store that we visited either laughed at the shoe size that I was requesting or was ridiculously over priced. So the next day I decided to mob solo dolo to the local markets, suffocating with fake merchandise for great prices. If you are looking to shop at the Ben Thanh Market, I can only offer a few pieces of advice.
Don’t claim the United States.
I must admit it is easier to renounce my American heritage when traveling abroad due to the recent presidential switch. At these markets, Americans (and most likely tourists in general) are seen as a gold mine for overcharging customers.
Use ignorance to your advantage.
Where my American side under performs, my Nigerian side flourishes. I know Nigerians have a bad reputation of being scam artists, and while I don’t condone such a highly erroneous stereotype…game recognize game playa. You not about to catch me slipping and gyp me on these prices.
A pair of Yeezys caught my eye as I strolled up and down the maze of vendors. When the vendor asked where I was from, I said Nigeria and slyly displayed an ID with my full, government given Naija name printed. Once he realize I was legitimately African, he said and I quote “must be your first pair of shoes in a while.” -_- Woosah Baba…Woosah. Buddy had jokes. But it’s all good because my psychology at that point had already set in.
Visit 2 or 3 other vendors selling the same merchandise and disappear for a half an hour. This will surely make them sweat. Also try to get to the market early because vendors are more willing to negotiate in the morning, as the first purchase is a sign of good luck…so I was told.
Always Get the Cheaper Price.
Said vendor originally quoted me 2.8 million dong for a pair of fake Yeezys. That’s around $120. A pair of Yeezy Boosts easily run for $220 retail price in the states, so $100 off isn’t too bad. But Baba is an overachiever, and if you don’t know, now you know (insert expletive term here) . By the time I finished running my routine on Ole Buck, I walked away from his vendor stand with 2 pairs for $30. Even if these shoes are as fake as extensions, I will rock these suckas with pride and no regret.