The GoGlobal Blog

“The dirtier you eat, the healthier you are.”

“The dirtier you eat, the healthier you are.”

Think of the following set of words: Dark, narrow, dirty, dead end, dangerous, service entry, garbage, crime

What comes to mind?

Now think of this set of words: Delicious, commercial, community, laundry, colorful, bubble tea, hang out, worship

Do you think these two places could be one and the same? Yes and No.

The word is the same, but the reality is different in Vietnam than in America.  The place is an alley, and the former is commonly associated with America and the latter with Vietnam.

In Chicago, I wouldn’t think about spending more than 5 minutes in an alley alone.  Feelings of isolation come to mind, and a strong urge to run away, like a child in a dark basement.  On the other hand, in Vietnam, I look forward to my time in the alley by the guesthouse.  At first glance it is just a place to get cheap food, but a farther look will reveal a special community where children play, neighbors wave and sometimes bicker.

But, life in an alley, what a strange concept?

In fact, I would argue that many necessities we believe are apart of life are found in the one block distance of the alley.  I realized this when I decided to sit down at the Take Away Coffee Shop to observe and sketch the alley.  In the alley you will find many homes, and many businesses on the first floor.  I eat Banh Coun for breakfast in a Vietnamese family of sisters’ home restaurant almost every day.  Shelter and food are obvious necessities. Another one can be found in several “convenience stores.” WATER.  Other beverages such as: tea, coffee, fresh squeezed juice, and smoothies are sold as well.  Home tailored clothing and shoe stores, open on Saturday and Sunday, have reasonable prices.  The laundry lady is centrally located on the left hand side.  Those who are Buddhist can pray in the small pagoda, found past the entrance on the right hand side.  Children can go to school just outside of the alley and return home in the afternoon to play with friends.  Over holidays, households host parties.  When a death in the family occurs, the family will host a 2-5 day mourning period and welcome others to drink or spend time together.  If someone needs to venture into the city, the bus stop is right there.  All good things are found in alley 18.

When I think more of the alley, I think of my suburban hometown.  Although an alley and an American suburb look different and are two vastly different sizes, they serve similar purposes.  When I expressed apprehension to eat in the alley back in August, my roommate, Oanh, gave me a little encouragement beyond “just DO IT.”  Oanh told me “the dirtier you eat, the healthier you are.”  I don’t know how much “healthier” I am, but I do enjoy the Vietnamese alley experience.   It is one of the quirks that makes my life Vietnam different than in Chicago.

Xin Chao,


Leave a Reply