Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

That time of day

After you live in a city a for a significant amount of time you begin to understand what makes the people tick. If you're really observant you notice certain behaviors become patterns that represent each stage in ones' day. In Chicago, people work. So much so that one of its nick names is "The City that Works." But since Chicagoans work soo much, you can't tell the time of day by the traffic. Traffic jams can happen at 7 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, even 11 pm, Monday, Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday, and even on any given Sunday, especially during football season. 24/7 365, Chicago has traffic. However, one distinct pattern of life in Chicago are its seasonal events. You know it's summertime in the city when you smell barbeque down the street. You know it's spring time when the digital Crown fountain is up and running again, and teenagers stalk the streets of Michigan Avenue for the perfect prom dress. You know summer is here when you see Grant Park full of dancers and live musicians on the Summer Dance stage. You know when summer has come to an end when the air force puts on their sky show over Lake Shore Drive, or when the south side residents fill the streets to watch their friends and family perform in the Bud Billiken Back-to-School Parade. I would say the life of a Chicagoan is marked by seasons, not the times of day.

However on the other side of the world, in an impoverished city, stricken by rounds of wars from more prominent governments, the people move to a different beat. First of all, Saigon sits 10° 45' N, 106° 40' E and is 1,090 miles south of Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam. That distance is slightly less than the miles it takes to get from Chicago, IL to Miami, FL. Since Saigon sits closer to the equator than Miami, our seasons are tropical and not temperate. So we have two distinct seasons of dry and wet. The sun rises ad sets at the same time everyday, no need for daylight savings and spring forwards. Regardless if the rain is pelting you like a paint gun or if the sun is shining bright, there are certain things that happen during a Saigonites day: morning, noon and night that revolve around food. 

In the morning most Vietnamese families get up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast. They eat either pho (noodle soup) or ban mi opla (bread and eggs). Then as the clock turns 12, they are eating again. This time, a rice dish with some type of protein either fish, chicken or pork and for vegetarians, tofu. Noon time is also the time of day when the fruit ladies stop through. Not only in front of the school but through out the city you will find them between 10-2 pm pushing their carts of large ice blocks, with cut fruit sitting on top. Some ladies stay out all day. The fruit lady who stops by the school always has fresh pineapple, papaya, watermelon and waterapples. She takes a slice of papaya, cuts it into smaller pieces and puts it in a bag. She knows better than to add salt to mine :-) As the day rolls on and kids get out of school, about 3 or 4 pm, it's time for the doughnut ladies. Yes doughnuts. Well some are more like beignets, accept no powdered sugar. Instead the beignets by my apartment are topped with sesame seeds. My doughnut lady also makes beignets of small quail eggs and minced meat with onion. Other doughnut ladies actually make round doughnuts that Americans know of, with the hole in the middle and covered in sugar. I saw a lady sell these late at night around the backpackers district, but I've only seen this once. There are also lots of doughnut/bakery shops in Saigon. If the place is really good and popular parents take their children there after dinner hours, or to the local ice cream shop, most likely Swensen. Dinner is at fairly late. The Vietnamese family I lived with ate dinner around 7 or 8 pm, whenever the husband came home. I've also noticed that late into the night, certain com xanh (broken rice) restaurants stay open till 11 pm, 12 am and beyond. Long story short, us Saigonites like food. Even with the heat, the Vietnamese love to eat!

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