I hope there’s a dusty library somewhere overflowing with volumes that testify to the miracle of Tokyo legs.
Mr Harada advised me to make way for Tsukiji Market—the largest fish market in the world—to attend their famous tuna auction.
The Fodor’s guide lying around my friend’s house said the market closed to tourists after 6:30am. I set my alarm for 4:30 and was hopelessly lost in the subway system by five.
I was rescued by a kindly, cockeyed retiree who had just returned from a two-week trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
He described his former profession as “salaryman” as he rifled through a suitcase full of maps and history books.
“The Gettysburg Address is in the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s nice.”
“The Preamble was written by a young US Army Officer during the occupation,” he added.
“Oh,” I said again. “That’s not so nice.”
When I got to Tsukiji station, I followed a pair of pink Scandinavian teenagers marching purposefully towards the auction.
They stopped to check in with the police force charged with keeping foreigners out of the market.
“Sooooo sorry,” said an animated senior officer as he dropped a taped finger onto the warren of sushi shops and knick-knack stores outside the market. “Please eat delicious sushi. Sooooo good sushi.”
Undaunted, the pair snuck along the perimeter and ducked into an aisle of frenetic vendors hoping to penetrate the inner market.
The leader of our expedition, a plump 20 year-old, had been turned away once before, in January. These days, he said, they don’t let anyone in who doesn’t get in line between two and three in the morning.
The fishermen eyed us with disgust. One tossed a bucket of fish water in my general direction, letting out an anguished cry. I get it. They see no value in having 4,000 people photographing them as they work and disrupting their absurdly expensive tuna auction.
“Keep an eye out for the blue policemen,” my leader whispered. “If they catch us, they’ll kick us out.”
Just as the last words escaped his mouth, he crashed into one. After feigning ignorance and getting directions elsewhere, he darted into another loading dock.
I broke away and was quickly intercepted.
I sheepishly followed the friendly fish market Gestappo towards the sushi warren and got in line at a Hawaiian themed rice bowl restaurant.
It ended, for the better, with a delicious breakfast of toro, salmon roe and sea urchin.
How do you drive in Saigon? You just go.
When pressed for recommendations, all of my Tokyo contacts proved useless. They vaguely endorsed all food everywhere and urged me to just wander.
To test the theory, I walked to the closest open izakaya and pointed to mysterious characters.
What arrived was a perfectly grilled fish head and collar, accompanied by a bowl of tuna, raw egg and natto—my new go-to last meal.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a better meal if you’d held a gun to my head.
Saigon has been struck by a trà chanh epidemic.
Anyone with a bare plot of sidewalk has set out a few wooden stools, a chalkboard and a black light advertising cups of green tea infused with lime juice and plenty of sugar.
These spots also tend to sell fried cheese stocks and pork pie nuggets. I’d avoid any such snacks.
The tea is indescribably refreshing—the perfect antidote to the heat.
The one place I’m happy to see the police is wherever I’m eating.
Cops don’t make much money, they always drive around and their meals are the best part of their day.
I’ll take a cop’s recommendation over a food critic’s any day of the week.
I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again. One day most men are going to look back on the way we dressed during this time and be goddamned ashamed of ourselves. It won’t be funny or cute and no one will be nostalgic for it.
We’re all just going to lie and say we dressed like this guy—the same way all the French claim they were part of the underground resistance.
Before trusting a man in Vietnam, you must always have a look at his socks. Undercover cops and intelligence spooks sport green ones. Honest folk usually wear none at all.