Moving to a new country, you find that your old habits have been turned on their head. The place where you once enjoyed a break from work has got to be replaced with something new. A favorite place to go meet friends has got to be found again just as new friends have got to be made again. There are very few things I miss from China. Just about everything I once enjoys can replace is a better, fresher, and better priced version here in Vietnam.
A cup of watery coffee at my favorite cafe had once cost about $5 (100,000VND or 28RMB). In Vietnam, incredibly strong and slow drip coffee costs about $0.75 (15,000VND or 5RMB). Lunch for two at a clean restaurant cost two people about $10 (200,000VND or 60 RMB) In Vietnam a lunch of fresh herbs, fish and vegetables cost two people $6 or about (120,000VND or 36RMB).
There is nothing that remotely resembles a coconut smoothie in China. The way that food is treated and the cost of doing work seems to have made fresh fruit smoothies cost prohibitive. A milk tea drink made from powders and tapioca which has been revealed to be rubber in disguise, fit the Chinese consumers expectation for what is worth 15 RMB (2.50 USD).
Also, finding a place to sit and watch the world fly by is one of those simple pleasures that I have quickly grow accustomed to in Vietnam. In China, there were not really such places. Besides the air being so dirty that particles would certain speckle your coconut smoothie before too long, the actual sidewalk, where the tables and chairs would be set up, were caked with grease and filth. There may not have been garbage strewn everythere , as street cleaners were pretty good about sweeping away litter, but that didn’t change the Chinese atmosphere which is often compared to a nuclear winter. The extent of the problems of China's environment, from what I saw with my own eyes, made the efforts of the street cleaners seem futile.
Inside wasn’t much better. Cigarette smoke not only irritated non-smokers but also masked the putrid fumes coming through the walls of another businesses septic pipe. Perhaps a truth that no one wants to talk about is that cigarette smoke is tolerated in China simply because the toxic fumes of the cigarette serve this second function. The other remedy homeowners and businesses use were air purification systems. They work to a limited extent. When they were effective though you mostly noticed how much you appreciated them as soon as you step out into the street to face the awful smelling air.
This is what I sometimes catch myself remembering while I sit in the open air cafe, in the shade, facing the sunbaked street, drinking a coconut smoothie, and sipping on strong iced coffee.
Situated on the corner of Ngo Duc Ke and Nguyen Na Ninh Roads, the cafe Thanh Ha has view of the traffic. Motorist riding three to a bike, babies in high chairs being used as motorbike "car" seats, men texting as if they were invincible, women in conical hats pedaling as they transport the goods the are peddling. Seeing everyone with somewhere to go makes sitting in the shade feel even more relaxing.
Customers sit together discussing the matters close to them, not just over coffee but over a Campari pink energy drink called Sting.
A good 15 minutes pass before out coconut smoothies arrive. They are made from fresh coconut and served with a glass of the coconut water. The waitress who always serves us enjoys taking pictures with us and shares her Facebook page with Xenia.
The pleasure of coffee, for me, has always been in taking time slowly. Coffee in the late morning/afternoon has always felt like a luxury. I have never understood to-go cups. Sipping coffee from a plastic top robs you of the smells as would a feeding tube do for food.
Vietnamese coffee demands from the drinker a little more patience as the perfected water slowly drips through the metal filter. More time to notice the sharp line between the clouds and the sky. More time to notice the people on their motorbikes. More time to reflect of where I used to be and feel a flood of gratitude for recognizing where I am.
Although some people feign annoyance at my habit of taking photos, I know it is all in jest. I know that looking back these visits are an essential part of my experience in Vietnam and Cafe Thanh Ha is one my favorite places in Vung Tau
Definitely the best place for coconut smoothies.