It’s raining in Saigon. Again. We’re supposed to be out of the rainy season, but I don’t mind it. December seems to be a few degrees cooler than the other months, and the rain brings the temperature down a bit more.
Tonight, while walking back from dinner through the streets of Đa Kao, it was pleasant enough for me to wear a sweater (not a heavy one, but at least something long sleeved), and the rain misted down gently as I circumnavigated some of the near-empty side streets and hẻms on my way home. In high school, one of my great friends was a kid named Andrew who lived with his mom on Quai de Bourbon on the Ile Saint Louis, in two rooms with uneven flooring, high ceilings and hand-painted support beams. The stone stairs on the way up to the apartment were polished to a shine and worn down by the thousands of feet that scampered up and down them over the centuries. I never met Andrew’s mom; she seemed to be away on business trips a lot, so a few of us would gather at his place in the evenings to get stoned, lean back on the couch cushions, and watch the lights from the passing Bateaux Mouches flicker off the colorful ceiling. I remember one particular evening emerging from the humid and sultry Pont Marie métro station into the cold misty rain, pulling the lapels of my oversized and massively shoulder-padded green Loden coat more snugly around me (this was the late 80s; oversized and shoulder-padded came with the territory). The streets were deserted and I wore sunglasses even though night had fallen hours earlier, sunglasses in the rain because I thought it might be a fun thing to do. It was.
I like walking around at night. You see everyday objects and landmarks in a whole new light. Things seem more mysterious. Trees and leaves on the bushes appear more vibrant, more alive, as though they would come to life in the shadows when you turned away, as if they bore secrets. Walking through Đa Kao, I notice more French Colonial structures normally hidden and unseen by loud and colorful daytime commerce. Sidewalks are once again accessible for walking since the motorbikes normally parked every which way have gone home with their respective owners. The smell of fried shallots wafts across the street from a tiny restaurant, and the open-fronted cafés are sparsely populated with young people. I walk slowly through the mist with my massive black golf umbrella, seeing flickering lights in windows, wondering what people are watching on their televisions. I could walk these streets all night, except I’m tired from a bout of insomnia brought on by a celebration with too much wine with a good friend last night. I need to go home and lie down.