by Thu Anh
Food for thought
HCM City never sleeps. The residents like strolling around at night and eating in roadside food stalls when the cacophonic city quietens down after the hustle and bustle of day.
"My shop is busy late into the night," says Nguyeăn Minh Thang, owner of a cafe on Nguyeăn Traơi Street.
"We get 100 customers at night. Many singers and artists eat here. The locals are party people; they believe in having a good time."
Sidewalk stalls on Pasteur Street, where foetal duck eggs are boiled on a coal stove, are always popular.
"It is so nice to be able to chill out at places like this," says one Pasteur street regular.
"It is quieter at night and the air is fresher."
Perhaps the noisiest nighttime spots are the central food markets from where vegetables, meat, and fish are distributed to other markets.
"We work until morning to make a living," says Tran Van On, a labourer at Cau Muoi Market.
At the night markets are also street vendors and cheap shops that offer noodles and snacks.
"I like to drink a cup of wine and eat a noodle soup to feel warm before returning home," says a xe om driver from District 5.
Unlike the restaurants on main streets, where food becomes more expensive late at night, prices at most street stalls get lower.
Ba Beo, 62, a woman who runs a food stall at the Hang Xanh intersection in B́nh Thanh District says, "My customers are poor. I cut my prices at night but still make sure my food is tasty and hot."
She becomes philosophical: "People in the city don't care where they eat. They are happy anywhere so long as the food is good and they feel relaxed.
"Tomorrow they have to start another day of work."
Old is often gold
The market for second-hand books in busy HCM City may not be readily apparent, but there exists one, and it is far more popular than one might expect.
There are shops that not only buy and sell but also exchange old books.
Many old books are bought by a certain group of collectors.
Second-hand books are displayed in shops that have opened on many "book streets". Nguyeăn Tḥ Minh Khai Street has one of the busiest such markets.
The shops buy the old books mainly from scrap collectors. Some buy from families of wealthy people who have libraries after the owners pass away.
One can also find second-hand-book shops on Tran Huy Lieu, Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ly Chinh Thang and Dien Bien Phu streets.
Old books that should actually cost a small fortune are often sold for a few thousand dong by traders who are not aware of their true worth.
Of course, bargaining skills come in handy in these cases.
Antique books are usually expensive and many are bound in leather, bamboo, or silk. Many of the most valuable ones are those written in ancient Chinese or Vietnamese characters.
"Many families sell these antique books when their owners pass away and their children do not know their value," Nguyeăn Van D́nh, a seller in Ly Chinh Thang Street, says. — VNS