Things that I can’t wait to do when Saigon reopens

As a famous saying goes, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” We Saigon residents are going through an unprecedented time, coping with the rapid spread of a deadly public infection as well as the suffocating days of movement restrictions.

However, we’ll need to find a glass half-full way to look at it, lest we allow ourselves to succumb to despair and hopelessness.

Until Saigon reopens, let’s add fresh hope and zing to our restrictive lives by starting to plan our post-pandemic activities.

Here are 11 of mine:

1. Make an ordinary grocery trip to my favorite mall

When it’s safe and lawful to travel again, I’d love to travel to my favorite mall, regardless of how far it is from my home, to buy groceries. 

I will joyfully sit on a shuttle for 1 hour to travel from District 1 to Aeon Mall in Tân Phú District just to feast my eyes with Japanese food items that look as amazingly accurate as in pictures. I will also hit up Korean Town to buy gochujang, kimchi, tteokbokki, and those instant noodles in Korean dramas that I’ve been binging for the past 2 months. 

Even when I can’t travel out of my neighborhood, I’ll simply make a trip to the mall everyday, buy just enough for the day, and return at any time if I have a craving for snacks. 

Yup. You heard it right! A carefree daily grocery trip is definitely on my bucket list before Christmas hits.

For those who don’t know, we who live in Saigon these days shop with grocery stamps as if we were in the 80s. 

Every household is given a grocery stamp that dictates the two days of the week when they can hit the grocery store and convenience mart. These days are usually spaced out, meaning that if you go to the mall on Monday, you’ll have to buy enough food for Tuesday and Wednesday as well because you can’t go there again until Thursday. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly turned me into a financially savvy and forward-thinking grocery shopper. However, I sincerely pray for an end to these mind-bending essential trips and hope for stamp-free shopping pretty soon. 

2. Put on makeup and workwear again

The moment I can show up in public without a mask again, I’ll put on makeup, high heels, and wear workwear again.

I used to dread the daily routine of putting on makeup, picking out glam yet not-so-comfy workwear outfits, and wearing high heels for at least 8 hours a day. With my fully made-up face, I sweat like a Pepsi can on a rooftop amid the heat of Saigon as I navigated the streets on my stiletto heels to meetings with clients.

Nonetheless, these days of 24/7 casual clothes and a non-filter face has made me nostalgic for those days and the good hormones that kick in once my makeup is ready. I also miss the professional vibe and confidence that high heels gave me, even when I wore them to just run after cabs.

Overall, I miss the working life and strict dress code that gave me a valid reason to dress to the nines.

Because of Covid-19, I now stand in front of a wardrobe of glamorous workwear items and can’t find a reason to put any of them on.    

3. Hit up a bar and socialize with people

When Saigon is fully reopened, I’ll go to a fun place and socialize with people.

I was never a crowd-loving person, and I tended to shy away from socializing with strangers in bars, beer fests, or public events. 

Nonetheless, the pandemic has made me grieve those times of physical connections and possibilities of making new relations more than ever.

From attending birthday parties to hanging out at a book fair, all activities that are anchored in togetherness have been disrupted because of the pandemic.

The moment Saigon leaders lift the ban and all nightlife hubs reopen, I’ll go to my favorite bar or any bar that still opens.

I’ll order a tequila, strike up conversations with other loners, join a chess game with strangers, and simply enjoy being part of a crowd. 

4. Buy a book at the Book Street 

When Saigon reopens, I’ll visit the Book Street in District 1

I will slowly feast my eyes on a plethora of books and immerse myself in the serene atmosphere of this local paradise for book lovers. If I come across a book that I genuinely want to possess, I’ll buy it and hang the cost.  

I’m a procrastinator in every sense of the word. That flaw of mine shows perfectly every time I hit the Book Street, home to nothing but books.

I’m the kind of person who’d take a very long time, perhaps years, to really finish a book. My house is filled with books that I haven’t even touched. On top of that, I’m also a cheapskate when it comes to buying books. 

Everytime I spot a book on the shelf that I want to buy, I’d check first if it’s available online for free or cheaper if bought on TIKI. I can’t remember how many times I’ve convinced myself, “I’ll come back later for this book if it’s not available on TIKI or cheaper.” every time I came across a book that I really liked. 

5. Ride a bus around Saigon

Image credit: @emily8103

When I can take public transportation again, I’ll embark on a trip around Saigon by bus

I rarely ride buses in Saigon, partly because I don’t like the crowds. However, I frequently use the bus for rides to and fro Tan Son Nhat International Airport, because they are very affordable and the service is up to par.

Image credit: Kim Hanh Do

These days, the longest journey I can take is between my home and the nearest grocery store. Once, as I was on my way home with both hands carrying bags of groceries, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d never taken a bus around Saigon. 

I regret never having given this a try, moving from one district to another leisurely and beholding the streets from my seat. On top of that, I can explore the city for as long as I want while resting assured that the bus rides are as low as VND5,000 (~USD0.22) for the first 15KM. 

6. Reunite with friends

Once the restrictive ban on dining in is lifted, I’ll fulfill my promises of meeting my friends for a coffee.

I hate to admit this, but the Covid-19 pandemic has brought me and many of my long-lost friends and colleagues together. I have been receiving messages from my old friends, probably more now than ever before, with whom I’d lost touch with for years. 

These messages centre around our health conditions, vaccination statuses, and promises of hanging out for a coffee the moment the ban is lifted. I could feel that these promises don’t escape my friends’ lips just for the sake of vanity, but they are sincere and provide us all a hope of normalcy to anchor ourselves in in the future.

Suffering can bring out the tribal nature of people and create a bond between the sufferers. For those who are stranded in or who choose to stay in Saigon these days, the prospect of hanging out with our friends for a cup of coffee again is what keeps our hopes alive and minds sane.

7. Buy a ticket and go to a real concert or see a play

Image credit: PHỤNG HOÀNG BAN

Once the mobility restrictions end, I’ll buy a ticket to the first physical concert or play that takes place.

Even before the pandemic, I was the kind of person who didn’t like spending money on movie or theatrical tickets, even though I’m a big fan of classical music. Before making a purchase, I would keep asking myself, “Am I ready to commit my time and money to this? The price for this ticket can get me 10 pizzas instead.”

Because of my hesitancy, I kept missing out on entertainment activities that might have afforded me unforgettable memories. 

Image credit: PHỤNG HOÀNG BAN

Today, theaters and cinemas are an increasingly distant memory to many of us. Every sort of entertainment now occurs online, from watching movies to attending concerts. As comfortable and more affordable as digital entertainment is, it can’t hold a candle to the physical version.

I miss the palpable excitement of the audience when the curtains are lifted, the realistic sound effects, the incomparable visual impact of a large screen or engaging stage design, and the moment everyone giggles at a witty line or goes “aww” at a romantic part.

Image credit: PHỤNG HOÀNG BAN 

I equally miss the part when artists bid adieu with graceful bows and the audience responds with applause and standing ovations to show their appreciation. That’s way more satisfying than hitting the Like button or dropping an emoji.

8. Eat street food

Once Saigon resumes normalcy, I’ll stroll around the city for a gastronomic tour

I’ll visit Chợ Lớn for some juicy yet dirt-cheap har gow, Hà Tôn Quyền for a steaming bowl of wonton from a stall that’s older than me, and Bùi Viện for wok-fried snails with a bottle of beer.

Before the pandemic, the streets of Saigon were always teeming with vendors and thick with food aromas. 

Saigonese residents’ passion for food and pride in their culinary heritage are beautifully manifested in their vibrant street food culture. From a penniless student to a celebrity, they all share the table at their favorite street food cart. 

Many street eateries in Saigon have been visited by renowned chefs from all over the world, including Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay.  

9. Check in at Thuận Kiều Plaza

Image credit: Cafebiz

The moment Saigon’s F&B establishments are given the nod to reopen, the first place that I’ll check in for dine-in and entertainment is Garden Mall, then Thuận Kiều Plaza.

If you’ve been following The Smart Local Vietnam, you might have come across several of our articles about Thuận Kiều Plaza, one of Saigon’s most famous haunted grounds. I’ve heard so many stories about this iconic place and even written about its ghost stories, but I’ve never checked in there. 

Image credit: The Garden Mall

Ever since Thuận Kieu Plaza became a Covid-19 hospital, this place has been making headlines again and stories about it keep resurfacing on the Internet.  

Image credit: The Garden Mall

Once we return to normalcy, I’ll surely go there and behold this living legend with my own eyes. I’ll buy myself a sumptuous Cantonese meal and watch a play in its theatre. 

Image credit: The Garden Mall

10. Go to church

Once religious establishments are given the nod to reopen, I’ll put on my best ao dai and go to church

Make no mistake, I’m not a God-fearing believer who prays the rosary every day and attends online mass every Sunday. Even before the pandemic swept Vietnam, I skipped church pretty often.

However, the pandemic has ignited in me a desire to go to church. 

Image credit: Sandip Roy

I miss the dazzling display of age-old stained glasses, the nostalgic smell of bibles inside enclosed boxes at the pews, and the serene vibe that envelopes the whole space. 

On top of that, I miss the sound of the church bells ringing and the Gregorian chant singing by the choir that always filled my heart with peace.

Sadly, I had the tendency to overlook these tiny details and simple practices. Only when I no longer have access to participatory worship and my sense of religious belonging is fractured, I realize how significant these elements are to my mental and spiritual well-being.  

11. Take chances and express my feelings

Image credit: Pexels/Anete Lusina

Once the crisis passes and the fear of death is no longer on everyone’s lips, I’ll start pursuing a romantic relationship.

In an ideal world, we confess our attraction to those that we are attracted to. However, many of us just can’t help but keep waiting for the other party to make the move first. We keep telling ourselves that the timing is not ideal and we’ll save it for another day. However, the pandemic has proved to us that tomorrow is not always promised and missed opportunities cannot always be redeemed. 

One of the most heart-breaking scenes that we all witness on a daily basis these days is separation. There are many words that remain unsaid, and they might have been the ones that meant the most.

Picture for illustration purpose only
Image credit: Tony Pham

Social isolation and drastic changes have taught me that anything can happen, and we’re all living on borrowed time. From the last Zalo call I didn’t take to a message that I drafted yet never sent because of my Everest-high ego, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret not doing the right things when I could. 

Among these things is to express my feelings sincerely, wholeheartedly, and unreservedly.

When Saigon reopens, I’ll look at my everyday life with a newfound appreciation

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many lives, physically, financially, and emotionally. On the other hand, it has also given me a newfound appreciation and eagerness for the mundane moments that were once part of my everyday life. 

Even though a return to normalcy is nowhere in sight yet, we still need to look forward with hope and plans. 

Hopefully, our increasing vaccination rate will build up our herd immunity and slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Until Saigon reopens, let’s start making our post-Covid-19 bucket lists to keep our spirits up, while staying safe. 

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Cover image adapted from: The Smart Local Vietnam

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