I hate rain. That’s why I left Seattle before winter and after Vietnam’s rainy season. Ha. Ho Chi Minh must be turning into Seattle. And by that I mean that the rain is becoming unpredictable by time, day, OR month—let alone the so-called season! The weather was crazy during my stay in Ho Chi Minh City.
The best part was that Fridays, my only laundry day of the week, were often the ONLY day of the week when it would rain. Since I hung my things on the line, there were far too many times that thunder rushed me outside to take everything down in a hot, wet mess. And this was all the way through January, from October. I was awfully jealous of my housemate who seemed to manage to leave her laundry up all day long, every Thursday.
Turns out that the rainy season has been extending itself further into the fall and winter each year. That’s what my friends told me.
I lived in District Two for 3 months and the only time a foreigner on the street said a word to me was when we all found ourselves in nearly 2-3 feet of floodwater.
Not expecting much rain, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, I suppose. I stayed out in the center of the city, District One, until the rain began pouring like you wouldn’t believe.
Say hello to the 30+ minute motorbike ride back to my house.
I didn’t have a proper plastic raincoat, the proper rubber shoes, or even a helmet with a face shield. (Do keep in mind that I’d been in Vietnam for less than a week.)
Anyway, the drive took forever. When it rains, everyone in Ho Chi Minh loses their minds. The driving begins to get frantic. Traffic gets bogged down with drivers pulling over to pull on an ao mua for protection.
Seattlelites tend to do the same thing, but don’t have the same excuse. Seattle doesn’t deal with street flooding nearly as often as Ho Chi Minh does. If I was a Vietnamese daredevil, I’d probably drive like a madman to get home too.
But no, I’m a fearful foreigner who prefers to hitch a ride with Grab.
When we finally reached District Two, the end to our wet, torturous journey seemed near at hand.
The first, and shortest, route was flooded out. Actually, in retrospect it didn’t look so bad. Because my driver took a right and we went the long way round.
Plan B, including a full stretch of my main street, was just as flooded, if not worse.
Our bike was soon forced to join the rest of the motorbikes trying to navigate the sidewalks.
It was the first time I’d seen foreigners and locals truly collaborate. Foreigners pushing motorbikes onto the sidewalk, and the like. This temporary sort of cross-cultural unity was inspiring. It seemed we could get through this together!
Well, guess what. Finally, we reached a point where we could go no further, even on the sidewalk.
I knew when to quit. I told my driver I would walk, and he was kind enough not to charge me for the entire route.
So I set off in the dark, wet night.
I’d heard stories of these Vietnam street floods. The pollution in the water was supposed to be disgusting, and the stench worse.
It wasn’t so bad, actually. The worst part was how hard it was PHYSICALLY, to shuffle through that sheer amount of water.
My 20 minute walk home took (and felt) much further. (Usually it takes far less time for me to walk that stretch.)
I came to one hem, or alleyway, when a group of three foreigners were crossed my path. I was shocked when one of them spoke.
“Are you going that way?” one of the girls asked me, pointing down a hem to my right.
“No,” I said. I had to go straight.
“Oh, I was hoping you were so we could go together.”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but in short, it was the most I talked to a foreign stranger in District Two during my entire stay in Vietnam. (And I tried smiling at them until I gave up.) And that being the only day I experienced a street flood, that was the only occasion I witnessed foreigners and locals helping each other despite the rift of a language barrier.
That night, though months ago, is burned into my memory even now. It’s an eternal reminder to help others, set aside cultural pride, and keep smiling at strangers even when they don’t smile back.