It’s been a sticky, restless night, punctuated by hourly alarm calls from the neighbourhood cockerel and relentless street noise, conversations that sound like arguments and angry wasp scooters. We are five to one room, with mattresses on the floor and a mouldy ensuite which has a window looking straight into the house next door. Our room has aircon but the only way to cut through the humidity is to freeze, and we’ve just got sheets. They are more grey than white, with stains, but I try not to think too deeply about that. Needless to say we wake up hot and grumpy and not in love with Saigon.
We emerge into the soupy early morning in search of breakfast. Down the narrow alleyway, past the offending cockerel and row of travel agents, one with a golden retriever flopped on the pathway outside. The cafe has tables on one side of the alley and a kitchen in a tiny shed on the other. We sit at a table and watch coffee being made across the path. It’s thick and black, the cafe man pours it through a butterfly net contraption into tall glasses. He adds ice, and a good slug of condensed milk. Sugar? No thank you. He stirs vigorously.
It’s cold and sweet, so strong that I can feel the connections in my brain buzz and whirr, a speeded up time lapse film of traffic in a city. Suddenly the air doesn’t feel so soupy and Saigon seems a little less exhausting. We seize the day.
Recently, a friend brought me some Vietnamese coffee. It tastes different to the coffee that we buy here, sweeter, though I don’t think it’s sweetened, chocolatey, it smells as warming as apples and cinnamon. When we had the heatwave a few weeks ago, I was dreaming of that Saigon alley coffee and had a brainwave. Ice lollies! So I made a small jug of very strong Vietnamese coffee, added a good slug of condensed milk and topped up with a little cows’ milk, poured into appropriately shaped rocket moulds and hey presto, the most refreshing, delicious, energy fuelling mid-morning snack ever. *bows*