EDITOR’S NOTE: Spacing contributing editor Christopher DeWolf is now based in Hong Kong and will make occasional posts about his unique public space experiences abroad. Chris was also the driving force behind Spacing Montreal until he left Canada.
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HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM — Coffee is a big part of the social life of Saigon, a city that somehow manages to be both languid and relentlessly energetic in nearly equal measure. Hundreds of cafés and coffee stands dot the city: relaxed neighbourhood hangouts with a few plastic seats out front to watch the city go by; leafy park cafés where middle-aged women chat and men bring birdcages; multistoried cafés with elaborate fountains and gardens, oases hidden in unremarkable lanes. But even when there isn’t a café, it’s still easy to get coffee.
On a warm afternoon earlier this week, a few friends and I found ourselves in a small park in District 1, just around the corner from the Notre-Dame Basilica and Saigon’s tourist hub. Not long after we sat down, a woman came up to us and asked us if we wanted any coffee. We ordered three cà phàª sá»¯a Ä‘à¡ (iced coffee with condensed milk) and one black iced coffee. About five minutes later, a man on a motorbike arrived with the coffees in a wire tray and the woman brought them to us. We paid 26,000 dong (about $1.80) for the four drinks.
Somehow, the fact that the coffee woman was wearing a Parasuco t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Montréal, Québec, Canada” made the candy-sweet coffee even more delicious.