Those of you who have read or seen Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" (okay - I admit it - I have both read the book and seen the film) will understand the reference to "Attraversiamo" above. It's one of  Italophile Liz's favourite Italian words and, literally means, "let's cross over". It's a word which, for the author, epitomises some of the beautiful characteristics of the italian language: "the open sound A, the rolling R, the sweetening S". Of course it has more than a literal meaning for her and, by the end of the book/ film, she has made a crossing, to contentment and love, figuratively.

For me, thus far, "Attraversiamo" is my "Saigon word". Hardly appropriate as it is not Vietnamese but very appropriate because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CROSS THE ROAD IN SAIGON. This city is THE CRAZIEST city for traffic I have ever been to - EVER. I mean if you were to apply the Safe Cross Code which we Irish folk learnt in school here in Saigon (Remember 1: Look for a safe place, 2: Don't hurry stop and wait, 3.Look all around and listen before you cross the road, 4. Then let the traffic pass you, 5. Walking straight across you, 6, Keep watching that's the safe cross code. - Hmm..Just a little digression as I walked down memory lane there) you would be still standing at the side of the road trying to cross 24 hours later and the wait would go on. Maybe it's the lawyer in me but I do favour some kind of order and system to apply wherever possible - words which are the antithesis of the Saigon traffic scene. We were so exasperated after our first evening here that we googled how to cross the road! And got lots of tips. Which we've since applied. Basically, you don't wait for a break in the traffic, as there won't be one, you just venture slowly across giving the motorbikes enough time to see you and dodge you. Seriously - that's it. That's the tactic. We're getting better at it and I hope that by the end of our stay here we'll be able to do it without skipping a few heart beats in the process. I actually just tag right behind Phil and Luca - they go ahead together holding hands. I follow, holding my breath and hoping for the best. One of the upsides for us as cyclists though is that this is possibly one of the few cities where you are quite possibly safer on two wheels than two legs.

Saigon is undeniably hectic but we're really enjoying it thus far. We went exploring on foot yesterday and hit the Ho Chi Minh City Museum which houses exhibits which offer an insight into Vietnam's revolutionary struggle against foreign powers. Afterwards we retraced history's steps with a walk past Reunification Palace, once known as Independence Palace or the Presidential Palace, which was once the symbol of the South Vietnamese government which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of Americans died defending and trying to save. It's one of the top sights here and we're dying to explore it but had to content ourselves yesterday with a mere stroll by as it was then late afternoon and closing. But even that was emotional to be honest. I have always been interested in Vietnam. Ever since I was very young. And here I was, with my family, literally at the gateway of the building, the gates of which had been knocked down by the communist tanks on 30th April 1975 when they assumed power. I am looking forward to returning to explore it fully. We walked on, and on, and on, and on for ages afterwards looking for a cafe that sounded divine in our trusty Lonely Planet, but it's no longer there it seems as we couldn't find it. And trust me if Phil can't find it - it's not there. We walked on that is until Luca just stopped, stood absolutely still at the side of a road, and shouted "Taxi" at the top of his little voice before bursting into tears. I bent down and asked him what was wrong and he said that he was just really tired and that a taxi wouldn't stop to bring us back to our hotel. The poor little fella was just exhausted. He has never just burst into tears before at being sad like that out of sheer exhaustion that we can remember...We both just felt so sorry for him and, naturally, got a taxi straight back to our hotel. As we are self propelled on our trip, so to speak, we hardly ever get a taxi but this one was worth it for little Luca's comfort even if it cost us a few thousand....dong that is i.e. the equivalent of just €2. The money is another thing we've all yet to get comfortable with. Anyway once we into the taxi Luca instantly cheered up and back at our hotel we all had a nice rest and an early night.

Today we've focused our attentions on trying to find somewhere to stay in Saigon while we volunteer at Allambie Orphanage. We'd love a little apartment but the search continues as most of the places we've found have a minimum 3 month lease... fingers crossed something suitable will turn up. In the meantime we're off, on foot, to find somewhere to eat in this culinary heavyweight of a city. Which may mean crossing the road; I'm bracing myself.... Adiamo.. attraversiamo.


At June 8, 2011 at 1:15 PM Sarah said...

Lovely to read about your first days in Ho Chi Minh ( I had to check with Cillian on the name as I thought we'd been getting it wrong!!) - we visited all the places you mention. And believe me I know exactly what you mean about crossing the road - a hair raising experience indeed! And then just as you step on to the path and breathe a sigh of relief there someone waiting right there to sell you a picture !!
Poor Luca - I know that feeling very well.
Best of luck in the orphanage and can't wait to hear/read all about it.


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