ownpours at the start of the rainy season are routine, appearing and departing like the clicks of a clock ticking time. At three, the sky turns moody and darkens. At four, a downpour. By six, all is clear and the diesel thick air gets washed, the clouds hang, dripping pastel prettiness, just in time for visitors to take to sky bars and watch the sun dip into the horizon.
Several afternoons now, while writing at the Bitexco tower cafe, I have thought that the lights had been turned off, suspecting a power outage, but it was just the cafe’s floor to ceiling windows that had no more natural light to pass on. While I was looking at my screen, the sky had turned pitch black, auguring heavy downpours.
Locals tell me the rain in Saigon falls vigorously but wraps up quick. In my mother’s Da Lat, if rain falls, it comes from a grey sky standing still, like a permanently depressed friend, weeping gentle misty wetness throughout the day, never fully leaving. This differentiation aptly captures both cities’ temperaments. Mercurial Saigon, quick to anger but quick to forgive, fooling us into happiness, breaking up only to reunite a moment later. Gorgeously romantic Da Lat, perpetually wrapped in cool greyness, not a place to be in if one is single. Take a lover there, however, and the hilly city’s melancholic, persistent drizzle gives off a sweet sadness, redolent of first crush.
Some of my happiest childhood memories involve the monsoon season. On afternoons of downpours, my best friend Tu and I fancied ourselves travellers and cartographers, making new maps of a geography of potholes and marred slick pavements in our neighbourhood. Or, we were geologists visiting this newly formed, transient world, sounding out the depths of its pools, tracing the curvatures of water pouring into cracks in the cement. We toured islands and peninsulas, traversed long canals and rivers, intrepid explorers of new lands, not caring if we got slopping wet while doing field work.
We sometimes stuck sticks into bits of styrofoam, grafted banana leaves onto them for sails, and set them upon the wide seas of monsoon water, schooners and barques taking the wind. We cheered them on, eager to see which of our hand built crafts would make it across the long lakes first. Anxious cries if they wouldn’t float or got stuck on street debris; hoops and hollers when the wind gripped strong and tugged them on. The memory ripples gently in my mind now whenever the rains come, playing with other water reminiscences, just as the wind once ruffled the surface of those pothole lakes and lagoons long ago.
The skyline after a rain.