ON OUR FIRST NIGHT in Vietnam, we wandered in the dark until we found the clam booths. Fresh clams dipped into fiery pepper sauce, for only 50 cents a dozen. Beers were a quarter. We ordered by pointing at what our neighbors were eating. It would stand to reason that shellfish harvested within the city limits would taste like, well, shit. But they were exquisite.

I think we were on our fourth platter when the police arrived. They confiscated all of the chairs and tables from the sidewalk and threw them into the police truck. We hadn't even paid for our food yet, and we rushed to find the proprietor. Oddly, she didn't seem too concerned about the raid. She was joking with one of her friends, counting through a wad of bills, setting a few aside for the bribes that would eventually convince the police to return her property.

In the morning Saigon was loud--first roosters, then motor scooters. Out on the street it was madness. Three-wheeled scooters hauled chickens, used lumber, mounds of plastic, thousands of cigarette lighters. Helmetless men rode their Hondas hunched forward, with one child in front and another on the back. Young women dressed in white silk rode their bicycles with perfect posture, white gloves up over their elbows to keep the sun off, handkerchiefs over their mouths to keep the air pollution out.

We tried to figure out how to cross the street. The only rules seemed to be 1. Never stop, 2. Do not slow down unless death seems imminent, and 3. If death does approach, calmly swerve to avoid it. Yet for all of the chaos, no one flipped anyone the bird or screamed obscenities or even glared at the idiots in their way.

They beeped their horns like crazy but the noise carried no malice. It was merely a message: I am two inches behind your left foot and a big truck is coming at us, and that woman with the stick over her shoulders balancing two buckets of God Knows What is going to be right in my path in 37 seconds, by my calculations, so what I'm going to do is turn in your direction, so please prepare yourself for this routine, life-threatening maneuver as I have no other option. Thank you.

The only way to cross the street was to walk straight into the current, and let it take you. Like a lot of things in Vietnam, it seemed crazy, but it worked.