Mỹ Tho seems like a small city at first, but it soon turns out that two weeks won’t be enough to explore it. Cross over one of the bridges and you’ll get to Chinatown, where they sell baby ducks in baskets, The Supermaket, as we’ve gotten used to calling it, and a few remarkable pagodas with giant Buddha statues and kitsch neons swirling around divinities.
On our side of the town, a blocky statue of Nguyen Huu Huan towers the riverfront, opening the way to a Paseo-style park with animal-shaped bins made out of aluminum and a few children rides with terrifying features.
Our spot is across the road from the statue, in a “Jazz” café that serves – like everywhere – a mysterious bland juice in overflowing glasses with lots of ice cubes that I may or may not be able to digest. It also serves Tiger beer for 35,000 dong, which is roughly the equivalent of $1.75.
From this spot, you can watch the incessant spectacle unfolding on the road, which curves to follow the river on the left. It’s impossible to guess what you’ll see – a man pulling a wheelbarrow with a pig in it, another disappearing behind a mountain of coconuts or of cages filled with chicken. But one thing is for sure: hundreds, or even thousands, of motorcycles will drive by.
On the first day at the spot, whilst my eyes tire and fade in awful Sunday afternoon memories of watching Formula 1 races on French television, we realize something. The man with the chicken cages appears again, then the fat man, then the family with stripy T-shirts. These people are not only driving by once or twice. They are making a night out of it, just cruising away in Mỹ Tho, flirting, chatting, spending family time within the warm purring of their leaky engines.
I want to continue watching this hypnotizing ballet but someone taps me on the shoulder.
“Hello, how are you?” says the young man with a large smile on his face.
He’s sitting just behind us, with a pretty girl who speaks with her hand in front of her mouth. Bad teeth insecurity is universal. The man, whose name I forget the moment he pronounces it, is wondering if we could please do him a favor.
“She is doing an interview in four days, can you help her with the questions?”
I’m not sure I understand, but I turn to her anyway as she slips on a pollution mask and starts talking about her qualifications for an air hostess job, I think. It seems she’s done the right schooling but I soon find myself asking the question that terrifies me the most: “why should I employ you?”
Thankfully, she doesn’t understand me and the two get back to conversing in Vietnamese after showering me with thank yous. Anyway, it’s getting late. And I know the woman selling sticky rice throughout the city will wake me up tomorrow at 6am with her recorded call-out on a loop. Time to go to bed.