About a week into my stay here, it dawned on me that several of my cherished tools—phrasebook, guidebook, and so on—have been failing me somewhat. For example, my guidebook focuses lots of attention on Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon’s glamorous District 1, where most foreigners hang out, and many locals prefer to avoid because of the high prices. But it focuses almost no attention on the Tan Binh district—where I’m staying—which starts at about a 15-20 minute drive west from District 1. Even District 11, the home of the Baha’i Centre, just south of Tan Binh, is underrepresented. It dawned on me that these books were written for regular foreigners, those on business or simply pleasure-seekers on their way through Southeastern Asia—and that I was not one of those regular foreigners. I think I realized something was amiss when I saw the string of European and American tourists being promenaded throughout the streets outside HCMC’s famed Post Office building on pedal-powered rickshaws—cyclos—on an evening’s visit to District 1. I can’t really explain just what I felt as I watched them from the curb, besides the distinct feeling that I was not one of them. It was partly satisfying, I suppose, and partly spooky, as if I was standing beside myself, looking on quietly.
All that being said, I guess you could say it’s fairly obvious: I’m not your average traveller. Although I’m experiencing many of the same feelings as a regular traveller—disorientation, wonderment, anxiety, curiosity, excitement—regular travellers can’t always go to a faraway country and find people—like the Baha’is—who can welcome them with open arms, as if they were family. for the privilege of being here, in close contact with people, sharing the same space and eating the same food, I am so very grateful. for the chance to give back something to those who have welcomed me so warmly into their midst and into their hearts—be it a website or helping them practice a little bit of English—I am equally grateful.