Vietnam by Vespa
My desk is covered in trinkets. It’s tradition here at GeoEx to return from your travels bearing small gifts for the rest of your team. I must have every Asian knickknack that was ever created. In fact, as I look around, I see four embroidered coin purses within arm’s reach.
On my recent trip to Vietnam, I wanted to find the quintessential souvenir for my teammates. “What says ‘Vietnam’?” I asked my fiancé, as we crossed the street.
“Scooter!” he shouted, yanking me onto the sidewalk.
He was right. Scooters are the ultimate Vietnamese accessory. They are everywhere, but especially prevalent in the major cities, where many drivers don’t even disembark to do their shopping. Along the wide boulevards or through narrow alley markets, people cruise the aisles on scooters, gathering groceries. Commuters even wear designer face masks to avoid breathing the exhaust, creating a fashion one might call “Hannibal Lecter chic.”
During our travels, we saw scooters convey families of five, stacked crates of live roosters, even a whole (dead) buffalo. We saw scooters used as beds, benches, and barber stations.
In Saigon, we decided to join the craze and embarked on a nighttime Vespa tour. Riding pillion behind our drivers, we were swept into the stream of traffic. It seemed like everybody was along for the ride—I could reach out and touch the person next to me. From the back of a bike, the everyday traffic took on a whole new perspective, a fluid choreography. We flowed through the darkened streets in a current, like blood rushing through the city’s arteries.
At first, I sat rigid, clutching the back of my driver’s seat. I’d never been on a motorbike before and I was intimidated. But soon my nerves gave way to exhilaration. The night air was cool on my face. The city’s buzz was electric, and I was thrilled to be out in it, coasting along through the neon streets.
Throughout the evening we wound through the districts, stopping at intervals to sample the city’s food and drink. I was introduced to banh xeo, a crispy Vietnamese pancake, and Bia Saigon, the local brew.
We also peeked into hidden neighborhood hot spots—a candlelit concert tucked away in a nondescript warehouse, and a raucous nightclub (where we were treated to a spirited rendition of “YMCA”).
We had a fantastic time cruising the city, glimpsing the nighttime faces of the neighborhoods we’d explored on foot by day. By the end of the night, I was riding a Vespa like I’d been born to it.
And I’d come up with the perfect souvenir for my co-workers.
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