We'd forgotten how it rains in Saigon. And rains and rains and rains. This time of year, there's no waiting out a downpour. If it catches you unprepared, get prepared - to get very wet.
We got caught at the extreme edge of District 3, near the corner of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Nguyen Thien Thuat streets. The neighborhood is an interesting grid of food stall-lined lanes, and we were wandering after a late lunch, scoping out dinner possibilities for later in the week. In retrospect, the steadily graying sky and distant rumbles of thunder interspersed with the occasional jagged slash of lightning should have been signal enough that it was time to catch a cab and head back to our hotel.
Instead we ducked down an alley for a little refreshment.
(I should point out that we'd vowed to consume at least 4 fruit shakes a day each for the duration of our stay - they're not so easy to come by in Kuala Lumpur, and certainly not for the equivalent of 75 US cents. We were just trying to stay on track.)
Then it started raining.
We'll wait it out, we thought. Our table sat under a wide umbrella, and it was actually kind of cool to sit there all cozy and juiced/caffeinated up and watch alley life go by.
Then it got a little darker, and started to rain a little harder.
Our umbrella started to leak. The ladies running the juice stand kindly waved us into their kitchen, where we perched on stools and watched them stomp on the roaches that ran in to escape the rising waters. They seemed to know something we didn't, because they fitted a plank at the base of their door frame.
A half hour later, still raining. Hard.
The juice ladies ushered us out of their kitchen and across the alley, where a neighbor generously offered her stoop. As she and her son and her mother hung about the dining table watching TV we hunkered in their doorway, watching the water rise.
From just barely enough to reach the top of the foot,
to much, much higher.
For two and a half hours we sat there, as the rain teasingly slowed before the sky let loose again full force two, maybe three times. (We finally gave up and got soaked walking back to our hotel.)
A lot of time to think on that stoop, watching the rain, and the juice ladies across the way push that plank down to the base of their door frame and hold it there with their weight as the water rose, before finally giving up and retreating with their kids to the second floor when it rushed over the top and into their house. Black, nasty water with bits of trash floating in it, water that I shuddered to plunge my Teva-clad feet into. That water was calf-deep in their kitchen, their living and dining room.
Do you know how many times a rainy season it rains like that, in Saigon?
Sitting on that stoop, I was reminded of Shanghai in the late nineties: all gloss and glitter on the surface, not quite so shiny underneath. Saigon at night on the back of a motorbike is like a stroll up Nanjing Road to the Bund - Neon! Hubbub! Buzz! Locals riding the wave of growth and prosperity! The new, improved, modern [fill in city name here]!
Every bit the fabulous. But, for some, not quite the whole picture.