Love in a time of Malaria

Sai Gon is for lovers.

You’ll see young couples sitting in parks, cuddling on the backs of motorcycles, holding hands while on two separate motorcycles (this is how I was almost clothes-lined riding down the street), generally just enjoying being in love and being together.

I happen to live just down the road from one of Sai Gon’s more popular date spots – Turtle Lake (Hồ Con Rùa).

Photograph by Gian Thanh Son
Turtle Lake from above, mosquitoes not pictured . Photograph by Gian Thanh Son*

Turtle Lake isn’t a lake, nor is it home to any turtles. It is a concrete pond in the middle of a giant traffic roundabout between districts one and three. The water is stagnant and it has to be cleaned regularly so the smell doesn’t overpower people. It is poorly lit at night, though some illumination is provided by the lamps and fires of the many food and drink vendors. In addition to couples, groups of friends and families with their children also gather to spend humid summer evenings around Turtle Lake. There is a near constant hum of conversation coming from the place. It is free to sit down, there is cheap food and drink and in spite of the crowds of people you can usually squeeze on one of the concert seats without too much difficulty. Mosquito mothers have found Turtle Lake to be the ideal place to raise their own 200 children, so getting bitten isn’t that uncommon.

Turtle Lake
Turtle Lake at night.

I’ll forgive you for thinking that Turtle Lake doesn’t sound like a great place for a date, but it is only because I haven’t given you context.

Vietnamese people still tend to live at home until they get married or move away for school and work. This is partly for economic reasons and because family is the centre of society, so you should stay with family until you’re ready to make a new family. Living at home into adulthood is slowly changing, but you’ll still meet lots of twenty-somethings living with their parents, grandparents, siblings, maybe some Aunties, Uncles, cousins in one house… The expectation of privacy is slim to none. Home is not the place to feel up your significant other on the couch, unless your family is waayyy more liberal than mine. Personally, I don’t think I could manage more than some light hand-holding if my grandmother was literally starring at my date and I, from across the room.

Couples wanting a little alone time isn’t strange or unexpected at all; it is completely normal and natural. If your living situation means that you can’t have that at home, then you’re going to go outside your home. Japan has ‘Love Hotels,’ Guatemala has ‘Autohotels.’ Australia has… I don’t know… beaches, bushland, any flat surface?

What are the young Saigonese people to do when they want some private time? They might go to places like Turtle Lake, whose darkness and overcrowding affords some anonymity.

If they want even more privacy they might take to darkened riverbanks and park lands (watersides seem to be a common theme). They bring a blanket, some drinks, an umbrella perhaps, and settle in for some alone time. One night, I was once walking over a bridge to a club in district four and I noticed a little boat underneath me was bobbing more vigorously than the boats moored around it. A quick glance informed me that the occupants of boat, underneath a blanket, were the reason for the rocking, I moved on quickly.

So yes, spending a significant amount of time next to stagnant bodies of water probably means they get eaten alive by mosquitoes, but sometimes love requires a sacrifice. A blood sacrifice, as it where.

*http://www.thanhniennews.com/education-youth/japanese-activist-shares-greenliving-dreams-with-saigon-youths-47528.html

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6 thoughts on “Love in a time of Malaria

  1. Cool article. I can add my two cents about young love in Singapore. They also stay home until they have the money to buy a government housing flat (HDB). the waiting line is much shorter for married couples. So the marriage proposal goes like this: “honey, shall we apply for a flat?” Meanwhile they apply for permits to pitch their tent in the busy East Coast Park and stay there for whole weekends. Quite a sight! Ahhh, young love…

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    1. Tent permits for a dirty weekend? That sounds very organised, very Singaporean.

      You’re not allowed to even walk on the grass in Sai Gon’s public parks, guards with whistles run you off pretty quickly if you stray from the paths. I don’t see anyone being able to pitch a tent there for a whole weekend.

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  2. ” One night, I was once walking over a bridge to a club in district four and I noticed a little boat underneath me was bobbing more vigorously than the boats moored around it. A quick glance informed me that the occupants of boat, underneath a blanket, were the reason for the rocking, I moved on quickly.” -Interesting haha. Is that Khanh Hoi bridge and the club is Cargo?

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    1. I don’t know the name of the bridge, but I was definitely on my way to Cargo (all foreigners go there right?) An Australian band from my childhood playing.

      Have you seen anything similar down there?

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      1. I haven’t seen such thing, that’s why I was surprised. I once dated somebody under the bridge haha

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      2. I was surprised too, it isn’t a very hidden area, there were people around.
        Those dark, quiet riversides are more usual places for some loving time (not that I’ve gone looking).

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