Bygones of Saigon

This bowl of Pho sitting in front of me. Well, it sucks. The young woman sitting across from me seems unperturbed by this subjective fact. Maybe I’m just accustomed to something slightly different. Something I remember from Saigon. 

The place was called Pho Hoa Pasteur. The big MSG-loaded concoction was enough to send Tom into a fit of shakes for several hours. The “vegetarian-friendly” option was just the same beef broth, minus the meat. The chilli jam condiment that the table came equipped with burned our mouths, and then our eyes, whenever a stray noodle splashed back into this mystical Indochinese potion. The only reprieve, the provided wet towelettes, were an entrepreneurial venture – the restaurant expected us to pay by the wipe. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. 

Saigon came with its own plethora of joys. The endless fleet of motorcycles that don’t believe in the mythos of “road laws”. The tropical climate keeps your brow glistening, and your shirt glued onto your lower back. The food culture makes it notoriously difficult to find a restaurant to eat at during the evenings. And it also meant going on runs with her. My lungs heaving in the sweltering humidity, my eyes stinging from the motor exhaust smog, my parched, splitting lips asking another question.

Melbourne felt like whiplash. The colour brought about by the simple joys in life drained away. Only a monotone sepia remained, nostalgic of a time that never was. Crossing the road isn’t a game of cat and mouse. The motorists have to follow the road laws, as many lack the common sense and reflexes to ignore them. The drier climate is a festering breeding ground for acne, and turns the smallest corner of exposed skin to red blisters. There are no reliable street food vendors for a nutritious, wholesome meal at any time of day – only soulless air-conditioned restaurants. Living in different parts of the city means sitting down with her over a terrible bowl of Pho, rather than going on a run.

Without the pants and gasping to accentuate every word. Without the elevated heart rate of intensive exercise. Without the city that gave meaning to life, I can see clearly now. The fresh basket of Asian herbs replaced with wilted, snap-frozen beansprouts of disappointment. My heart can never be her home – I left it behind in Saigon.

By Brandan Lapeyre

Header image via Tron Le, Unsplash

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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