Best travel quote: ‘All cities are mad; all cities are beautiful’

When it comes to Travel Inspiration boards on Pinterest, this quote by Christopher Morley will be repinned by me every time:

“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim.”

~ Christopher Morley

District one Ho Chi Minh Vietnam motorbike traffic
District One in Ho Chi Minh City

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Each city is like a different food. Each has its own flavor, texture, and scent. More than a few have a bit of a bite. Not every city is to everyone’s taste, but that’s okay. All cities, and all people, are beautiful in their own way.

As I walk the streets of Vietnam, I have to remind myself of that. I’ve experienced very bad things in Vietnam that I’d like to forget. I’ve also had amazing experiences that I will treasure forever.

The best way I can illustrate this is by telling the story of the first (and hopefully the last) time I have seen something get snatched from someone. This happened to a friend of mine, when I was with them, three years ago in Ho Chi Minh City.

Madness

We were asking for it, really. In a district where foreigners stand out like a sore thumb, crossing the street while eating a snack, flashing our electronics around–we were too easy of a target.

That’s why, as we crossed the row of motorbikes waiting out the red light, one motorbike suddenly jumped forward. There were two men on the bike–one driving, the other holding on to the driver for dear life. Why? Because the second guy’s job was to grab my friend’s bag as the bike zoomed off into the distance.

We were stunned. I felt dizzy, even though I’d been at least 10 feet from my friend when it happened. Our entire group was stunned, but I’d been so startled I couldn’t even tell whose bag had been stolen.

What a bold move. The snatching took place one minute from the police station. Snatching from foreigners is not looked too kindly upon by the Vietnamese government. Those two men had seen an opportunity and taken it, even knowing the possible consequences.

Beauty

When the light turned green, not one motorbike moved. Everyone who saw what happened waited to ask if we were okay. Those two men on the motorbike may not have cared, but these people did. In a city where the traffic never stops, they stopped for us. I found this very touching.

This story, I hope, conveys to you the true nature of Vietnam. Yes, the snatching is a very real threat, and is far too common. Yes, Vietnam is a difficult place to live in for foreigners. Yes, you may not like it here.

But if you come here, whether to travel or to work, I hope that you will find beauty in the small things. The caring and generosity of the Vietnamese people, especially. Many would give the shirt off their back to show you hospitality. If you go to Vietnam, mention your trip to any Vietnamese friend and they’ll write down their family’s address so you can go stay and eat with them. If you don’t, the family will be mighty offended.

I’ve met so many kindhearted Vietnamese everywhere I go, and they deserve our respect. As anyone does. It breaks my heart to hear fellow tourists speak condescendingly about Vietnam and the people here.

My view is, the traffic here may be mad but the motorbiking is gallant; the people here are beautiful but a few ruin it for the rest.

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