31 December 2010. Saigon, Ho Chi Minh city, on the last day of the year.
My plan is to spend the day on an exercise of self-indulgence, consciously giving myself that ounce of extra attention. A way of nicely rounding up the year and looking forward to new times with some extra layers of nail polish to ward off any apprehensions.
It turns out to be a really nice day….
I start out before noon, taking a taxi from Spring hotel in District 1, to the Vietnamese Traditional Massage Institute at 185 D Cong Quynh. I pay my ticket and I am led to a small room where I remove my clothes, put on a blooming gown and lay down on the massage table.
When looking at the old, cracked walls I realise that they are only visible to me; the personnel is blind. The otherwise quite straightforward and simple treatment becomes a peephole to a different sensory dimension where vision is ostracised.
When I am back in my clothes, I cross the street and Yên Stylist Beauty Salon appears in front of me. I step in, agree on a price and off we go. Shampoo is applied on my hair while I am still sitting upright on the salon chair. With my hair whisked up in cappuccino mode, I am taken to another room in the back. On top of a very thorough hair-wash, I get a neck and shoulder massage – the bliss…
The best part of the experience however, is the hairdresser. Simply the most talented one I’ve ever come across. He explains something about a local female artist who is singing on the TV screen. In a very determined way he sculpts my hair into a very becoming shape.
I sport my new haircut at the Ben Thanh Market, one of the bustling covered Saigonese markets where you can practice haggling skills, marvel at the colourful display of merchandise and stop for a bite or a drink.
I am amazed at how well people use space in this country. People are small built, alright, but they also manage to neatly stack their stuff in small stalls in a very orderly and organised way. To buy myself a set of white and blue porcelain mugs I have to first gently wake up the lean woman who is taking a nap curved on the floor of her tiny narrow booth.
Impromptu naps and pedicure seem to be the, female at least, panacea for long and tiring working days. Everywhere sales women can be spotted napping or trimming their feet.
And that is exactly the focus of my next stop. My feet are going to get some tender love and care.
A pair of happier feet take me to Cafe Sozo, a social entreprise that trains and employs disadvantaged youth. As usual, Vietnamese coffee tastes great and I get the boost I need for the rest of the day.
After several kilometres of walking, my solo tour of Saigon comes to an end. It is time for a break at the hotel followed by a New Year’s eve dinner.
Celebrations culminate in a club hidden somewhere in a back alley. Getting there means cutting into honking hordes of vespas all very determined to go somewhere.
The night-club is dark, the crowd is enthusiastic, the eighties’ music concert is uplifting, but the show comes to an early end.
So we head back to our neighbourhood and walk up and down the main street, scouting for a place that is still open after midnight.
We end up at Bernie’s bar & grill on Thai Van Lung Street. Live guitar music in the background and a delicious fruit-shake in front of me.
Pampered and in perfect company, in a bar in South East Asia, in the realm of a new year.
Life at its best.