The soundtrack of our lives.

On the day I took my first walk down the streets of central Saigon, I instinctively felt that this was the beating heart of Vietnam’s burning ambitions.

Its sister, Hanoi, is more refined, elegant and mysterious. She sits in the shade on sultry days to preserve her beauty and, like a Mandarin’s daughter, she surrounds herself with the cultural elite and the entire nation’s most influential people.

Saigon, on the other hand, is a farmer’s son who has come to the city to make his fortune. He is working tirelessly to carve his name in the 21st century. This boy is easy to get along with and doesn’t care who you are or where you are from – he just wants to know if you can help him build that brilliant future as quickly as is humanly possible.

The spirit of enterprise is almost tangible in Saigon. Everyone is rushing around, carrying, collecting, delivering, selling, buying, building, demolishing, shouting, waving, making, mending, recycling, sweeping and, above all… smiling and laughing. People who have lived here over 10 years talk about how much the city has changed and grown. Today, it is one of the busiest boomtowns in all of Asia.

Saigon has an energy I have never encountered before. Someone once said that you should “do something every day that scares you.” Saigon will provide that daily ‘scare’ without even trying! If you have driven, cycled or just walked its streets, you will know exactly what
I mean.

This city has a distinct sound – sometimes like jazz or rap, occasionally a concerto. In the early morning, an almost inaudible chanting and a sigh of resonant bells awakens the suburbs and city cloisters. The chatter of city birds and the echoing calls of rainforest species are pierced by the occasional buzz of an early moped.

The next overtone is of warbling bus horns and the gentle ting ting of neighbors clattering plates as they make breakfast. The volume gently builds as they shout goodbyes on their way to school and work. Gradually, the hum of traffic builds up in the distance and it comes rumbling slowly towards you like a herd of buffalo until 7am, where it takes residence as the backbeat to another hot, busy day. At about the same hour, the thunderous percussion of construction commences with its ringing of pneumatic drills, clanging of scaffold poles and the roaring engines of big machinery. And so the city sounds until after rush hour as the sun begins to go down.

While the sun sets, the noise of the building sites subsides and we are left with the background accompaniment of motorbikes until the last late shift worker buzzes off into the distance. In the neighborhood, the swifts crackle as they speed after flies just before dusk, and the daily composition closes with the last yowl of a distant cat being chased to bed by a neighborhood dog. All that is left is a rustling whisper of the bamboo on the last breath of breeze.

The city center, of course, hardly takes pause for breath. The farmer’s son works hard and barely seems to sleep. Music winds its way out of city doorways, and conversations continue in the alleyways and emerge from the echoey interiors of balconied rooms above the streets.

This enigmatic, exotic, energetic city gets under your skin, and its daily symphony is one of the most enduring memories you will carry with you always.

A professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An, Bridget March specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and small town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget is currently offering art classes and sketching tours in Hoi An until the summer. For more of Bridget’s work including news of her upcoming book visit brushwithasia.blogspot.com.