The car left the high street, made a few turns and entered a smaller street, which seemed dustier and less well lit by streetlights. The car was slowing down and I could feel the bumpy road and the wheel crunching the gravels. On the two sides of the street instead of imposing buildings there were now lines of and small shops and houses: cafeteria, DVD shop, barber shop with neon lights, some hotels with giant price boards of 100 K VND/hour or 200 K VND/night at the entrances. The hotels were still half open; I could see inside some rows of motorcycles. No one was at the reception; on the counter there was just a small cylinder in green colour, from where we can buy some chewing gums or other things needed for the stay in the hotels.
The car made a gentle turn to leave the street and stopped completely at a big open square space. We were now at the town market’s plaza, the heart of every town in the South of Vietnam.
The plaza was in the middle of four streets and surrounded by buildings of different heights, most of them two or three floors with narrow surfaces. The car parked before a building that extruded to the road with a dark glass facade going from the first floor to the top, which looked very much like a Karaoke restaurant or some kind of office building. Next to it was another high rise building, so high that I couldn’t see its top, but could only tell that it is a jewellery shop thanks to the white board in front with Vietnamese and Chinese mingling letters in red.
At the corner of the plaza was a large two floor house, an old French architecture house. The balcony of the house was in rugged cement and painted in white, not as other house nearby where the balconies were all in metal. There were different types of vegetation that cover all the width of the balcony on the first floor. The house hosted a tailor shop. There was a board at the front with an elegant old style letters “Tailor Lan Huong” and below some smaller ones “Fashion Western and American”. The letters were painted so gracefully that they caught my eyes a few seconds. Lan Huong or Fragrance of Orchid, what a romantic and illusory name. Is it the name of a woman, the wife of the owner, or his daughter? The shop was obviously close; otherwise I would have got in to meet with its owner. Or I could come back tomorrow morning.
All the buildings were built differently and did not have anything in common in style. They were spotted at the front by tall lamp posts, which in turn bore on them big bunches of black and twisted electrical wires. Separately the buildings seemed so chaotic and disordered but put together they went on very well. They looked so pleasing, full of charm, and most of all very natural and intimate.
“Let’s make a breath of air outside guys!” Trung said. I woke up my my friend, Trong, and we all got out of the car.
“That’s it. Here we are in the heart of the town, of the market. Have you ever been to a town market’s plaza in the South of Vietnam?”
“Guy, I grew up in Soc Trang.” I replied. We were heading to some eating places still open late to the night in the middle of the plaza. I could see the smoke coming from a cart, there could be some sticky rice or rice porridge there.