My walk had taken me as far as the Saigon River and it was well into the night before I found myself heading back to the street where I thought the hotel was.
It was only then that I realised I had no clue as to where the hotel actually was or even what it looked like…………….
I tried using the GPS on the phone but as soon as I reached one end of the street it would tell me I needed to be at the other. After the third trip along the street, trying to avoid emptying my wallet for all the girls selling souvenirs, I finally stopped and asked a group of them if they could help me find it.
That was when my stay in Vietnam became an adventure to remember. These girls, Dung, Linh, Tinh and Russia, turned the search for my hotel into a quest and between us we hustled up and down the street having a blast. Although they couldn’t understand me, nor I them, we seemed to reach a level of communication that got us by. I was almost disappointed when we finally found the front door, hidden away and looking like any old shop front as if desperate to remain hidden from the maddening crowd.
Even at this late hour Kim was still on duty waiting to make sure all her guests were tucked away for the night.
I decided that, if I was to buy any souvenirs, I would only buy from these girls who had helped me out finding my hotel. I saw lot of them on the street over the next days and learned a little about their way of life. I learned that when sales were poor, they compensated by not eating and so, as I cruised the street checking out, first one, then another coffee shop, I would invite them in for a sandwich or drink should they pass by.
The group grew to include Hue and her sister Huong and spending time with these girls taught me so much about what it means to live and work on the streets of a city such as this. I realised that I live a privileged existence: like being inside a plastic bubble, where there is always a safety net to catch those of us who might fall. For the locals born of this city, life is a continuous battle for survival. Yet despite all of this, the people here were always friendly and ready with a quick smile. It is a way of life very different from that which I have grown up in but one that I felt had a reality that will remain with me. These girls made my holiday all the richer for knowing them. .
I gained their friendship and, I think, respect, for one night I was sitting in the middle of the street on the pavement chatting to them when another new girl arrived. I had not seen this new comer before but she had a very young toddler with her even though the hour was late.
She appeared to be having trouble with her phone, so I offered her mine to use. She promptly put her toddler on my lap and in that instant the atmosphere became quite tense. Hue, who was sitting behind me moved up very close and I felt a hand at the zip of my trouser pockets. I was all at once disappointed, for I had felt that we had built a friendship that was better than being pick-pocketed. Then I realised that the zipper was being closed and Hue then patted down my other pockets to make sure they were closed.
It turned out that the new comer used her child to pick the pockets of the unwary and Hue had moved in to protect me from becoming a victim. Such a small thing but it meant so much to me. It earned her a dinner out in a restaurant.
By the end of my time, the girls had asked if they could have a number so that they could keep in contact.
They have continued contact with me, even after I returned home to Australia, and often ask when I will return. One day soon I hope, for there is still so much to do and see there