I am one of those lucky people who had the opportunity to live in Seville, Spain once upon a time. For four years, I observed the Sevillanos, and I thought they took their siesta seriously. But that was before I moved to Saigon, where I found out that nap time in Vietnam is not just a habit, but an art-form. The Vietnamese can nod off literally ANYWHERE, as I plan to show you in a future post. They can sleep in hammocks, on concrete floors, under trees, next to strangers, and on top of motorcycles. Whether they are lying down, sitting, or standing, they are professional nappers. Sorry, Spain, Vietnam’s got you beaten in this regard. (Don’t worry, you’re still better at soccer!)
One of my favorite things about nap-time in Vietnam is that the pace of life in Ho Chi Minh City slows waaaay down. When you live in a densely packed Asian city of 6.5 million people, things can feel a tad bit rushed, to say the least. Just after lunch though, we arrive at the time of day when things slow down enough to take a closer look at the city I’ve called home for almost 3 years.
With a population this immense, the WHOLE city can’t sleep. Let’s take a look at what some people are up to while their friends and families snooze away.
Preparing for the evening crowds
Seafood restaurants and carts dot the streets of Saigon and are popular late-night hang outs for the young and the not so young. Cheap and delicious, this fabulous street-fare is one of the reasons I love living in Vietnam. Somebody has to get it ready for the nightly crowds though, and this woman is working hard cleaning basketfuls of shellfish during the sleepy lull after lunchtime.
Also pre-prepared daily are all the herbs that go into Vietnam’s many soups and salads.
Transporting goods while the traffic is light
Vietnam boasts infamously dense traffic. With buses, trucks, and about 5 million motorbikes in Saigon alone, it’s a tough city to transport goods in. Some wise workers get this work done while the rest of the city sleeps. Nap-time is definitely when I try to get things done myself, like going shopping, running other errands, or teaching friends how to drive a scooter in this madness.
Battling traffic in the streets is not the only means of transportation though. For towns in the Mekong Delta, the Saigon river is a much more preferable, (and sometimes the only) option.
The city has recently begun to keep the riverside and its infinite number of canals nice and clean (at least in comparison with how they used to be) and although some street-cleaners sneak a nap under the trees, these ladies are hard at work sweeping the cobbles.
Of course, not everybody who’s not sleeping is working. Some people manage to make time to hang out with their friends
These men enjoy iced tea and a game of Chinese Chess while their wives rest. Chinese chess is a popular game in Vietnam, especially among the men, who sometimes carry a special collapsible table under their arms, but often simply place the game board on the sidewalk and squat around it.
Other men work too far from home to go there for lunch, so they grab a bite and then find some shade to sit with their buddies, have a cigarette and read the newspaper next to their ever-present motorbikes.
Not everybody is sleeping during nap time in Vietnam
Of course, a few people don’t have anything to do or anywhere to be. With their families sleeping inside, or busy preparing for the busy evening, some young ones take advantage of their freedom and sneak out to talk to the funny foreigners with the camera.
A beautiful time of day
During nap time in Vietnam the streets are almost free of the buzzing of motorbikes, the shouting of street vendors, and the beeping of horns. It’s a great time of day for exploring, and for seeing the city working at a different pace. Finally, it’s the only time of day when taking a walk (a walk, imagine!) is logistically possible, though you’ll still have the sticky heat to contend with.