While the cà phê sữa đá is an undisputed cornerstone of Vietnamese life and part of everyone's introduction to Vietnam, the cheaper cà phê nóngs are where the richer experiences are to be had. A cà phê nóng, essentially 'hot coffee', has a consistency most closely resembling tar and a spicy kind of warmth most closely reminiscent of Christmas. Or being hugged at Christmas. In a warm jumper. Whilst standing in front of a fire. And if none of this sounds appealing in 34°c heat then you'd be forgiven for thinking so. However, the seductive nature of this pure-spiced-rocket-fuel-infused-blackstuff as it rolls along the side of the glass is powerful. It's lazy and slothful and obstinate and, importantly, delicious. The coffee teases as it drips from its metallic home into the glass, as reluctant to move as you are impatient to drink. But the waiting is part of the fun. Once you manage to coax it out of its home the results are both pleasurable and confusing. One is imbued with an incredible energy and a need to do something and at the same time confounded by the heat and realisation that there is really nothing to do. The processs is over in a matter of minutes and, like most things in Saigon, creates feelings of being both relaxation and hypertension simultaneously.
The art of driving slow in Vietnam is hard learned but even more handsomely rewarded. The temptation is always to drive fast in Saigon. Always to fill the gap. Always to keep on moving. It's easy to get yourself into the mindset that you must do so, given the frantic pace of the city, but this will only ever lead to a sense of dissatisfaction. If you feel like you should always be moving fast, then you are going to spend the majority of your time feeling like you've been done some sort of serious injustice. There is simply not enough space to do so. Driving in the city is all acceleration and hard breaking; all gaps missed and lights changing from green to red. That is, until you realise there is another way. Take a trip with one of the local Old Boys and you'll immediately be served another perspective on Saigon. Their snail-like pace and general refusal to indulge in any sort of mania seems maddening at first, but once you try it for yourself, you soon see that this is the only way to drive around the city. Then, Saigon moves at your pace. Then, you are in control.
The uncertainty of driving in Saigon is not due to the number of other drivers - which is fixed and uncontrollable - but rather one's mood which is fickle and, unfortunately, also uncontrollable. There are times when it can seem like you're moving through the traffic as if the whole thing has been preordained; where the world feels knitted together as you flow along the at once obvious and incomprehensible 'path'. And then there are others when even the mildest of jerks of the bike beside you can feel like an clear and unquestionable threat to your very being. Given this unpredictability, it's easier to imagine the whole process as a hyper-realistic video game than something that is actually happening in your physical world. Then, the city comes one big biking all-terrain course equipped with bonus points for curb hops and gold stars for dodging banh mi ladies. This may seem personally irresponsible and generally disrespectful towards Gods of the Roads in Saigon, but then any rational assessment of the safety of driving in this city would only serve to paralyze those attempting to do so and hence make their endeavor even more dangerous.