How do you feel when you talk about your relationship? I regularly have to deal with people raising their eyebrows, saying “Wow, and that works?” Well, it requires a short explanation. My boyfriend lives on the other side of the planet – not since last month, but since 2014.
Yes, I live in Berlin and he lives in Kuala Lumpur, and yes, we are still a happy couple. Despite of some problems that naturally arise when you live more than 10.000 kilometers apart, there are also some unexpected advantages. When I travel to Southeast Asia (which happens on a regular basis), I enter my second life. Our friends are spread around Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam – so it is easy for us to go on a plane and spontaneously fly to an exotic destination. Even better: Our local friends can show us around, keeping us far away from tourist traps and overrated spots. We breathe in the real vibe.
Well, that is why Daniel and I decided to go to Ho Chi Minh City for one weekend. It is the largest Vietnamese city. Ho Chi Minh was called “Saigon” until the reunion of North- and South Vietnam in 1976. Nowadays, it is an inspiring metropolis with more than eight million inhabitants.
When we arrived, we took a stroll in district one, which is the dizzying center with lots of restaurants, cafés and shops. You can find famous spots such as the city hall building, the statue of President Ho Chi Minh and the opera house there. Whenever you cross the street, there are dozens of motorbikes – it’s the most convenient transport vehicle since there is no subway (yet!) and most people cannot afford a car.
Although the traffic is crazy, there are almost no accidents. Vietnamese people are in a slow, harmonious flow and the cars on the streets are moving like unfixed pearls on a bracelet: They look loose and unstable, but they will never drop out of line.
When I was walking around the neighborhood with my Vietnamese friend Hoan, I also got a sense of the city’s fashion vibe. Hoan has been living there for twelve years and is an expert for beautiful things. Despite of her passion for art, she also owns the organic cosmetics label Poulo Condor. The product is SO organic, you are literally allowed to eat it.
With her individual and artsy style, Hoan was the perfect shopping host. There are boutiques from all international designers, from Aigner to Zegna, but also some inspiring local design houses. We stopped at her favourite shop LAM with the strong intention “only to try something on, but not to buy anything”. Of course we ended up with two pieces: Hoan got a black wrap dress with hand-sewn flowers in different pink tones. I fell in love with a high-waisted, white plissé skirt.
Our second stop was a one-of-a-kind local A-brand: Entering LAM GIA KHANG, I just looked at my friends and spoke the words “I am in heaven”. Imagine a Chanel-inspired collection in black-and-white, with lots of lace, fine embellishments and elegant ribbons. I tried four dresses and all of them were tailored on my body. I left the store with a white lace dress embellished with silver jewelry.
I love quality pieces that are not from the rack. It is better to buy a single unique piece than tons of clothes that you throw away after a season. This dress is so special, it might be the dress for my civil marriage in a couple of years.
© LAM GIA KHANG
Our male travel companions also indulged themselves, but they tried another drug: The Vietnamese “Banh mi” is a crispy small baguette and one of the most famous local dishes. You get a super-tasty mixture of roasted chicken, cucumber, chili pepper, carrots, coriander, mayonnaise or butter, wrapped in a sandwich. Even as a vegetarian this signature dish is delicious.
Vietnamese cuisine is a culinary experience: It is not only known for its nutritious noodle soups and spring rolls, but also for spicy combinations of rice, lemongrass, ginger, coriander and salad rolls.
As soon as the culinary fashion exploration was over, we dived into the local art scene. Strolling through the city center, we spotted small galleries and art places along the way. Although we were all sweaty after a 20-minute-walk, it was more than worth it. Slurping through the streets, you get lost between a few thousand motorbikes. You realize what Vietnam is all about: a keen interest in culture, a “laissez-faire” feeling mixed with joy and zest for life. “I would describe the city in three words: young, energetic and poetic”, says Hoan.
We visited Hoang Nam Viet in his studio, an emerging local artist. With a subtle feeling for shapes and forms he creates large oil paintings with a strong, emotional note. Looking at his artworks, you can feel the deepest emotions under the surface. Some of them are dark and mysterious, some of them are just a historic poem in an unknown, but somehow familiar language.
Art is about emotional movement: When you can feel something, you can work with the artpiece. The dust is blown away from your soul.
After this inspiring visit, we had a strong Vietnamese coffee in the artist’s coffee house Nguyen Thai Binh. It’s a cozy, warm location with a vintage flair. You can sit down and read a book, dream yourself into Hoang’s huge artworks and just relax for a while.
You can breathe in the artistic flair and enjoy all those fine details, such as the hand-drawn women on his coffee packages. You can smell the authentic scent of – I don’t know, what is this dusty, nostalgic scent?
In those moments, you are not in Saigon, not in Ho Chi Minh – and you realize that it doesn’t matter at all where you are on this planet. You are in the moment.
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