My hotel, the Cau Vong (Rainbow Hotel) is nestled in an alleyway, or lane, behind the main thoroughfare of Pham Ngu Lao on District 1, on which sits, also, a park, called 23-9 ( or so I'm told). There must be a long-form name for it, so I must find out what it is. Ho Chi Minh City is full of such little alleyways that run parallel to bigger roads, and they are often crowded and sometimes picturesque little enclaves of hotels, private houses and other kinds of businesses.
The Cau Vong is one of the most picturesque of these alleyways. It is a secluded microcosm that has two exits and entrances – one that goes under a "tunnel" formed by the upper floors of two buildings that front the Pham Ngu Lao and the other the end of the alleyway onto a side street that is a hive of local business and tourist activity. Here, as everywhere else in Vietnam, life is lived on the street, in the open. Work, trade and recreation are almost always carried on outdoors. My hosts sit on chairs on their front entrance, just as all other Vietnamese do. They talk, the relax, they watch life go by, they interact with family and neighbours, and they are always available to their guests or to potential new ones looking for a place to stay. People here can be as engaged or as disengaged as they wish, even though they live literally cheek by jowl.
There is a lot of activity, but there is also an awful lot of just sitting around, in what seems like a time bubble – a personal, wrap-around time warp – in a city as manically energetic and outright frenetic as Ho Chi Minh City. People zone in and out at will. I envy them.