How did three weeks turn into eight months? It’s not as though Saigon—I’ve been calling it Ho Chi Minh City in these pages until now, but let’s give it the name and respect it deserves—is so captivating as to necessitate a near-permanent stay. Those bucket-list backpackers in town for two nights are hardly going to get to know the place properly, but one can hardly blame them for seeing the city’s handful of must-sees and striking out for more relaxing or exciting climes. It doesn’t especially warrant a long stay journalistically speaking, either, at least not anymore. But even after the one honest-to-god story the place threw my way during my tenure—the fortieth anniversary of the city’s fall, with its parades and fireworks and war correspondents’ reunions—I still stuck around. It would have made more sense to head north and find new angles on the country.
But to paraphrase Don Corleone, every time I thought I was out—such as when I visited Vietnam’s Central Highlands last month—Saigon pulled me back in. My knee-jerk reaction was to blame my finances, the ball-and-chain of any freelancer: I couldn’t leave until I had enough to pay my hotel what it was owed. But my fiancée did, so that excuse was bunk. Her English-teaching course was another go-to, but that ended nearly a month before we finally hit the road. My fiancée would blame—and not without reason—my unhealthy attachment to my local and the expatriates who frequented it. This rag-tag bunch of Americans, Brits and Europeans had become a kind of dysfunctional, alcoholic family, especially before my fiancée rocked up two months into my stay, and I’m not good at goodbyes at the best of times. In fact, my ever-lengthening stay was probably the result of all these things, and of the general truism that they all fed into: stay in a place long enough and that place will begin to feel like home, even if you don’t especially want it to.