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    Randy Alfred’s Trip to Southeast Asia

    Book Street, Ho Chi Minh City

    San Francisco Bay Times founding news editor Randy Alfred went on a tour of Southeast Asia this month. “Going to temple for Hanukkah,” he told us, “has a different meaning when the temple is Angkor Wat, Cambodia.”

    He also sent us an image from Ho Chi Minh City with an accompanying observation:

    “Book Street is a full pedestrian block of independent bookstores, cafés, and kids’ activity areas in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Ho Chi Minh City has many sidewalk cafés, but none are quiet sidewalk cafés. At most, the roar of vehicle traffic is omnipresent.”
    “Here on Book Street,” he added, “the cafés are filled with the musical gab of a thousand voices in half a dozen languages. On weekdays, schools bring the youngest kids to experience reading and learning as play. They bring the older kids to try their English out on U.S., U.K., New Zealand, and Aussie tourists.”
    “On my last full day in Ho Chi Minh City,” he continued, “I returned to this eminently humane urbanity for a third visit. On Friday, I was swarmed by eager young learners. Twice, I had teachers google my 2012 book Mad Science and I became an instant celebrity among the excited youngsters on Book Street.”

    Randy Alfred at Angkor Wat, Cambodia (2023)

    He hopes that San Francisco and other U.S. cities will emulate the positive aspects of Book Street in creating their own areas to foster reading, community gatherings, and much more for both tourists and locals alike.

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