Dominoes and Decisions in a Saigon Beer Garden

Candace Rose Rardon is an American writer, photographer and artist who recently returned to the United States after ten months living and traveling in Asia. She sketches as she travels, and these sketches, combined with the stories behind them, charmingly capture those fleeting, layered moments that are the stepping stones of travel. Wanderlust will be presenting her on-the-road sketches-and-stories -- her sketchbook of serendipities -- in the months to come.


I’m on my way to Saigon’s Ben Thanh Night Market when I see them: my beloved red lanterns, three even rows of them, strung across the courtyard of the Bier Garden.

It isn’t something I would ordinarily stop to sketch – a restaurant, and a foreigner-dominated restaurant at that, with dance music (a la Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Usher) pulsing overhead.

But these red paper lanterns, so beautifully aglow, have come to yield a strong pull on me, and almost against my will I’m sitting down at a table, ordering a draft Tiger beer, and getting to work.

The gold tassels hanging from each lantern sway in the listless breeze. The expats behind me discuss the relative merits of living in Singapore vs. Sydney vs. Saigon, while outside the gate a shoe shiner stops to work, pulling out tools from the little wooden box they each carry.

He takes one tennis shoe and then the other, scrubbing each to a gleaming white perfection, and then he leaves, box once again hung from the crook of his elbow.

And what’s going through my mind is this: I wasn’t supposed to be here. Not only was I meant to be in India until now, but even once this sketching trip initially came together, Vietnam was nowhere on the itinerary.

But thanks to a question from an editor – are you going to Ho Chi Minh City soon? – I am here, each decision having led to the next like a series of dominoes, as surely as one lantern leads to another on the rows now swaying above my head.

So that’s what I’m feeling for the thousandth time on this journey – grateful for the world, for each culture that forms a part of it, and for the chance to dip my toes in each new way of life.

While I keep waiting for an encounter or an epiphany to occur, tonight it is enough to sketch alone beneath the glow of seventeen red lanterns.


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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at [email protected]

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