While sitting on top of one of the Angkor temples in Cambodia watching the sunset last week, Jeff and I chatted with a group of travelers that had just arrived from bike riding through Vietnam. They said the city streets in Saigon are filled with more scooters than you imagine. There are no street lines, there are no rules. The smaller and more agile you are within traffic, the better. So the roads are choaked with great masses of swift, honking, noisy scooters. You’ll be shocked, they said. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Now I’m sitting in a two story corner cafe in Saigon watching the chaos of scooters below me in the intersection. They were right. It really is like nothing I’ve ever seen. This tangled dance of traffic could entertain me for hours. In fact, I have to keep re-focusing myself on my laptop instead of staring out the floor to ceiling windows at the frenzy below. Somehow hundreds of scooters are able to barely miss each other while zooming left, right, and sideways all at once. This place is worlds away from home. It’s dirty, but it doesn’t smell. It’s friendly, but has an edge. It’s crumbling, and yet brand new highrises are reaching toward the sky. I think I’m falling in love with this city.
Its been a few days since Jeff and I have blogged. Every morning I wake up in a hotel bed and calculate the time difference between us and home, wondering when and where I should blog next. When a few days pass, I start itching to write. I get a little congested. But in that same moment of waking up, I realize that we are somewhere completely new and completely fascinating, so if the blog has to wait another day, it’ll be ok. After all, what are we going to write about if we don’t actually do anything?
And that’s the thing about traveling. You have to do things. You have look up at the freakishly tall Buddhist temple in Cambodia, pray to your non-Buddhist God that you’ll survive to see sunset in fifteen minutes, and start scaling the hundred or so tiny stairs that are barely wider that your toe and so steep that you’re pretty much climbing the side of a rock face instead of walking up a set of temple stairs (and then you have to climb down – that part is interesting). You have to take a deep breath and step out into the middle of a four lane highway in Saigon with scooters, busses and cars coming at you from both directions and somehow dodge through traffic in order to cross the street (it actually becomes a really fun game – trust me). You have to talk to the people and hear their stories of childhood, wars, peace, and government. You have to try new food. And then you have to remember how to say thank-you and pay for that food with strange currency while calculating the exchange rate and wondering if you’re supposed to tip all at the same time. And ladies, you have to learn how to squat over toilets.
But as with everything, you just have to sit down and remember it all before moving on to the next thing. And I’m not just talking about traveling. There’s a two-story corner cafe somewhere near all of us. Whether you know it as Starbucks or your living room couch, there’s a place to sit down and remember life right now as it is. And then you can move on to the next thing.
This image is actually a street outside of Little India in Singapore. At least there are few places in life that are clear about what direction you’re supposed to go…