My 6 am departure is no competition for Vietnamese early birds. They have been up long before I push the snooze button. When day breaks and streaks of pink and orange color the sky, you can make out little figures emerging from the shadows. The gardeners, ice workers, fisherman, street vendors, school kids and morning walkers. They have already caught their “worm”.  Or maybe,  they’ve  already been “shot” ( I learned this week that there is an execution site nearby, something to consider)… Anyway, for those not getting shot, waking up early is a smart thing to do.The air is cooler, the sun hasn’t come to full height forcing it’s hot rays on us.

By 11 things slow down. Hammocks are hung, taxi drivers doze in their cars, miniature outdoor chairs fill with  lingering “coffee sua da” drinkers. Construction workers squat in the shade to read the paper or play cards…The only people you really see scurrying about and sweating are the expats.  We haven’t caught on; we can’t or won’t slow down.

Life starts to hum again around 2 and is back in full swing by 4. It’s still hot but the earth has graciously turned her back on the sun’s harsh glare. By twilight cafes are jumping, makeshift movie houses are open, kids are running around and lovers young and old fill the parks and the bridges calling the moon up.

What does this have to do with why I’m out so early? Am I catching worms or dodging bullets? No, luckily I am not doing either activity.  I’m on my way to the  flower market with my photograph group.

The flower market is already bustling. Purples, pinks, reds and yellows a rainbow of colors all wrapped up and ready to go. Eager little carnations hoping to be picked, graceful gladiolas elegantly waiting, bossy roses knowing they will go first, patience lily’s promising to bloom. The sweet fragrances waft through the streets.

A group of women having breakfast greet us.  They want us to photograph one of their baby’s. He’s a cute little guy with a nice round Buddha belly. They hold him up tickle him and pinch his cheeks. It’s bath time; first in a green bucket then a red one. He laughs, we all fall in love,they are so proud.

The cafes begin to fill, steps get claimed, hammocks start swaying and we are feeling the heat. Time to join the others, have a cool drink and wait awhile. We meet an interesting man who tells us his story of escaping Cambodia and the horrors of  Pol Pot regime to come to Vietnam where then he was forced to flee to Thailand to escape the “American” war…

After our Soda Chanh (club soda with a fresh lime and syrup on the side) we decided to walk around a bit. We follow a side street, and mingle in with the neighbors. A guy shows up with pots and pans… a crowd of women gather haggling for the goods. Men sit on their steps with eyes closed, women gossip while they slowly peel vegetables, the ice guy cuts off huge chunks of ice and puts them into a very dangerous looking chopper. Pieces of ice fill the air, in a moment they melt and a few dogs gather to lick up the droplets.

A woman approaches me “Xin chao” she says. “Xin chao”, I say back, then she says “Parlez-vous Francis?”. Hmmm, I say …” khong, no francais, xin loi..only English” (good luck translating that). She tells me her English is bad.  Somehow we manage a five-minute chat. She too is from Cambodia and like the man before fled from Pol Pot only to be forced to flee Vietnam during the war.  She speaks French, Vietnamese, Thai and some English. This poor Asian woman with very little education speaks four languages! I speak one!! I feel so…..American. One of the other ladies who is German and speaks rusty french and our teacher who speaks some Vietnamese come over. This helps the conversation. Hua is so excited she can speak French with Kiki, Vietnamese with Michelle and a little English with me. She invites us into her home. We follow her down a skinny “hallway”. Her house is the size of a postage stamp. Seriously, it is Tiny, the size of most of our bathrooms. I’m talking about a small bathroom, not one with a walk in closest, his and her sinks and a jacuzzi tub.  In this space there is a kitchen (counter with hot plate), sewing machine, wash area, small refrigerator and one red plastic stool . Hua laughs when she tells us that’s her only chair. There’s a ladder in the corner.  “We have a TV upstairs” she say’s proudly. She lives there with her husband, another couple and a widow! When we leave a few neighbors gather around smiling and trying to talk with us. Michelle is pulled down another “hallway”-  5 families live there.  An older woman peers out. She wants to tell this white girl who speaks Vietnamese that their youngest son is “very handsome, and need wife”… the mom calls to her son. He sheepishly looks down from the ladder…  “Yes, very handsome but, unfortunately I am already married.. I will tell my friends!!” says Michelle.

We say our goodbyes and head back to the car. There’s a flurry of activity as the school kids in their blue and white uniforms burst from the gate. Morning lessons are over.  A few boys run by and shout “hello and how are you today?” in perfect text-book manner. One little boy cracks himself up as he says “I’m well today and you?” He bends over laughing and stumbles away.

I think to myself I am very well too, Thank you, and better for having gotten out so early this morning….even though I felt a little like the shot bird when my camera battery died an hour into the day and I missed some great shots like the ice chopper…Oh well there’s always tomorrow morning……..

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