If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Sai Gon is the city that never sleeps in. The place wakes at dawn, people are out on the street; working, cooking, shouting.
This is not to say that people go to bed early, in fact, I’ve been awake in this city at all strikes of the clock and there is rarely a time when there is noticeable reduction in the number of people out on the street. I’m not just talking about the tourist areas, in the actual residential areas too. There is always someone on the street selling drinks and food, demolishing buildings, parking motorcycles… just being outside.
You’ll see adults, children, and babies up and around at all hours during the weekdays. I’m not a parent, but I know what a godless, thankless task it is to get a sleepy child fed, dressed and out the door to school. Why would so many parents here, choose to inflict that waking nightmare on themselves? And why would they want to be exhausted themselves?
I played with the idea that there might have been some sort of night and day shifts. The city being so populated, maybe people job-shared, house-shared, or bed-shared, swapping everything with another person on a 12 hourly basis*, which I’ll admit now was pretty ignorant.
In fact, they’re all the same people; they just work extremely long hours. A street seller will wake up early, push their cart around the streets all day and go to bed late. This is the only way they can earn enough money to live. Taxi drivers, parking attendants, construction workers, etc. all work similar mind-numbing, punishingly long hours. The children are up with their parents or grandparents because there isn’t anyone else at home to look after them.
These people are exhausted and to make up for the lack of sleep during the night, they take naps during the day. They’d steal a bit of sleep during the day to offset their sleep-debt from the night before. You see people napping everywhere; curled up under their food stall, in hammocks strung from poles or trees, at their desk, laid out on seat and handlebars of their motorcycle taxis… I mean it – everywhere.**
Other reasons for lunch time napping are;
- the oppressive, southern Vietnamese heat that melts brains and muscles;
- two cups of rice for lunch can push even the strongest of us into a carb coma; and
- they can be damn refreshing, and help reset your brain for a long afternoon.
I can’t say that everyone in Sai Gon has an afternoon nap; it seems to occur on a needs basis. If you’re tired, then have a little sleepy. If not, then don’t. There is no judgement either way. From my own experience; I work in an office building with regular business hours and just after lunch, the computer screens and lights go off and some people slide back in their chairs and close their eyes. Other people go out, go for a walk or get a coffee and a cigarette. I quite like this enforced quiet time with no emails, no phone calls, and no meetings. Like the best things, you look forward to it and it doesn’t last long.
*If anyone is interested in entering into this sort of agreement with me, please contact. Be aware that as you would have to speak and act exactly the same as me during your shift, you will be required to undergo extensive training; brainwashing if you will.
**You’ll notice this post doesn’t have any examples of sleeping people; this is for a couple of reasons;
- I’m all about people’s privacy and I wouldn’t want some stranger taking a photo of me slumped over at my desk at work, let alone sharing it with the rest of the World.
- I think that people are so vulnerable when they’re sleeping and it would be too much of a violation. I’m happy to infringe the privacy of this dog though…