Xin Chào! Hello! My name is Hanh and I am from Vietnam. I came to Portland State in 2016 to pursue my degree in Supply Chain and Logistics Management. I am also getting a minor in Graphic Design to explore my passion for art. Having been in Portland, Oregon for almost 5 years, I have to admit that I am loving the city vibe here, especially downtown Portland where I usually take a stroll down the Pearl district and explore downtown by streetcar. The reason why I enjoy being in downtown is that it makes me feel like I am in the bustling and busy, crowded streets of Vietnam. In this post, I will take you through the streets of Saigon and Portland where I find many interesting differences between the two cultures and street life in both cities.
I was born in Saigon which is the most populous city in southern Vietnam. However, I was raised and lived most of my life in Buon Ma Thuot city – a much smaller city in the Central Highland of Vietnam that is famous for its coffee. Last summer, I had a chance to stay in Saigon for a few weeks to visit my relatives who I hadn’t seen for a very long time.
My first impression of Saigon was the vivid and dynamic sound of motorbikes honking rapidly and the voice of multiple vendors offering to buy their goods ( I was staying in District 3, near Chợ Vườn Chuối – literally means Banana Garden market in English – however, it doesn’t only sell bananas). Here is the picture of the street that I took on an early morning where there were not many bicycles and people on Vườn Chuối street.
And this is a picture that pretty much captures the essence of district 3 (courtesy of tonemanblog.com) where you can find different types of vehicles trying to find their way in and out of the narrow streets. Here you can see all types of shops and food stalls being offered and cooked right on the street where it kind of resembles the street of Portland – the food carts.
Another interesting thing that I found during my stay was the hidden alleyways in Saigon. Since Saigon is a metro city, a lot of big buildings and infrastructures are being built and that is so obvious to the eyes. Existing along these changes are the hidden small houses, complex and communities that seem to live in a different beat paralleling the hustle and busy city life. Alleyways are where we can take a step closer to observe and sense the local life of Saigon people. With houses next to houses that are facing each other in a narrow street, almost every resident in the community knows each other very well. We can spot their children hanging out and watch out for each other, the lady selling beverages is whom we can come to for news in the area (it’s quite true), the elders play chess while drinking beers… I remember when I was in 4th grade, I came to Saigon to stay with my aunt during summer break. Every morning, my aunt would take me to the entrance of the alley to prepare for the dessert stall that she had been running for 12 years. My job was simple enough: crushing ice and eating chè (sweet dessert soup). The whole alley seemed to brighten just by the cooking sounds of the food stalls and chatting voices of local vendors.
Life in the alleyways was slower and quieter and it just takes a few steps to walk out to the city life where you can find yourself blend into vigorous and rushed city beat. When I first arrived in Oregon, I noticed that there were hardly any houses, neighbors nested in an alley like the ones in Saigon where locals go out and socialize and eat with each other on the streets (exclude the eatery or shops that have outdoor seating). This would make sense since the United States is considered as an individualistic culture where people value privacy and independence (Rosenbaum, 2018).
As much as I enjoy the energetic and dynamic street life in Saigon, the alleyways are where I can come to explore and connect to the authentic local life which brings me back the memories of childhood and have peace of mind from the city. Much like life in Oregon, where I can find myself enjoying the vibe of downtown Portland and always come back to my house for a retreat and relaxing moment. Streetlife in Saigon and Portland have their own uniqueness that can’t be put on a scale of rating. For me, observing street life is a great way to learn more about the cultures that we might or might not familiar with, and what are you waiting for? Are you ready to take a walk with me?
Rosenbaum, Ava et al. “Personal Space And American Individualism – Brown Political Review”. Brown Political Review, 2018, http://brownpoliticalreview.org/2018/10/personal-space-american-individualism/.ew.org/2018/10/personal-space-american-individualism/
“Saigon Food Tour – Stop #3 – Cambodian Market And Banh Phong Nuong”. Tonemanblog, 2019, https://tonemanblog.com/2019/04/03/saigon-food-tour-stop-3-cambodian-market-and-banh-phong-nuong/.
University, Viking. “Portland State University Conferences & More | Unique Venues”. Uniquevenues.Com, 2018, https://www.uniquevenues.com/Portland-State-University.
“Saigon Street Food: Che (Vietnamese Sweet Soup)”. Cmego Travel Guide, 2019, https://guide.cmego.com/vietnamese-sweet-soup-che/.
Roth, Sam. “Hẻm Hào Sĩ Phường: Exploring Saigon’s 100-Year-Old Alley”. Culture Trip, 2018, https://theculturetrip.com/asia/vietnam/articles/hem-hao-si-phuong-exploring-saigons-100-year-old-alley/.
Rudzitsky, Zelda. “[Photos] 12 Rare Images Of Saigon From Above | Saigoneer”. Saigoneer.Com, 2015, https://saigoneer.com/saigon-music-art/4703-photos-12-rare-images-of-saigon-from-above.
“Downtown Portland: Your Home For The Holidays”. Portland Monthly, 2017, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2017/11/3/downtown-portland-your-home-for-the-holidays.