I had forgotten how loud Saigon is.
The deep-throated rumble of the motorcycles that rule its streets makes sidewalk conversation all but impossible. At morning and evening rush hours that purposeful hum would literally shake the floors of our District 1 house (now, curiously, a trendy creperie).
It's the kind of racket that rattles the bones, the sound of a city on the move from work to home to play and of a populace rushing from present to future. It's exciting, exhilerating, electrifying.
Until, all at once, it's not.
Narrow alleys offer respite for those in need of one bloody minute's peace.
Pick a passageway barely wide enough to accomodate two motorbikes. Enter and walk, then turn a corner and go a bit further. Suddenly homogenous din is replaced by distinguishable sounds of daily life: the swish of a bicycle, the wail of a baby, the thwack of cleaver on chopping block, the clatter of cutlery against plate, the sales cry of an ambulatory vendor.
In spite of Saigon's headlong rush to 'modernization' men and women selling snacks from carts on wheels and baskets suspended from shoulder poles are still very much a part of the urban landscape.
This woman peddles creme caramel and thach (cool jellies made with agar-agar) from a glass and steel cart. She's been in business twelve years and typically puts in twelve-hour days on the hoof.
She keeps her sweets cool the old-fashioned way, with a single block of ice. As the day wears on the ice gradually melts onto the bowls of jelly underneath. Not a problem - their smooth, uncracked surfaces are impermeable to water.
Her coffee jelly strikes a pitch-perfect note on this muggy afternoon. Silky and cool, it soothes as it slides down our exhaust fume-coated throats. Coffee and coconut flavors are true and clean, unmarred by excessive sweetness. Refreshing, in a word.