As I scouted for a place to eat, I saw Western style places luring tourists and Vietnamese style places that offered their customers child-sized plastic outdoor seats, which seemed to be the local favorite. There were overpriced coffee shops, nature food stores, and places to buy north-face jackets, which although they seemed out of place, were probably manufactured not far from there. Finally, I made a loop, nervously crossed a few streets through whizzing motorbike traffic, and found a Vietnamese style place with adult sized seats.
I ordered a beer and a steaming bowl of noodles. (I am not sure they cook anything else). Sweating and nose dripping, I pondered the locals who ran the restaurant. Certainly they see Western tourists often, but I wondered how often they saw women traveling alone. My guide book assured me that many women travel alone through Vietnam every year and enjoy relative freedoms. Most Vietnamese women work and are bound by less social constraints than other developing countries. Even still it is a new concept to me, and I pondered the adventures I would have over the next month.
Wandering back through the park, I sat to watch the children throwing flashing multicolored disks in the air. Their parents were scattered on the outskirts of the square at the edge of one of the largest traffic circles in Saigon. I assumed or hoped anyway, that they were acting as a human wall to separate the children from the traffic. As I looked around at what seemed to be a Vietnamese version of Times Square, with the lights of giant billboards, the laughing of the children, drowned out by the buzzing vehicles, for the first time I seemed to disappear. The darkness hid my obvious Western identity, and just for an instant I was an observer of a Saigon moment. Suddenly, I realized not only would I survive traveling alone, I might even enjoy it.