Interesting pastime played in the parks – Keepy Uppy video here.
After two 7-hour flights from Manchester we arrived in Saigon (no one seems to call it Ho Chi Minh City) late on Thursday. It was warm and noisy so we had to go to the bar.
We’ve been here a few days now so it’s time for some first impressions. Generally, it’s good; the Vietnamese are very sweet – they actually smile at you. This is quite disconcerting for us, still coming down from Russia. The overwhelming sense-attack is one of thousands of motorbikes and horn-honking. It’s hard to walk along the path as the bikes occupy almost every inch of space. Every building is a shop/restaurant.
On our second night we arranged to meet an old TEFL friend of ours, Shish, who had just done the ‘Top Gear’ motorcycle run. (For non-Brits, ‘Top Gear’ is a very popular TV program about cars. The three guys spent a few weeks riding motorbikes the length of Vietnam a couple of years ago. See excerpt here:
We met at a bar on a very busy but well-known street, Bui Vien, full of imbibing foreigners. The bar staff goad and stuff you in somehow, creating space in the midst of the already-sardined revellers like on the beach at Torremolinos. If more people come, the waiters create a space by simply spilling further out on to the street. Sitting on chairs designed for munchkins, we nevertheless had a great evening, meeting a bunch of new dudes. Beer was 10,000 dong (fifty cents) a bottle. This was also my first introduction to a local, men’s bog (sorry, ‘Rest Room’ for my sensitive US friends!). The urinal pot has no outflow pipe – you simply end up peeing all over your sandal-clad feet! Moving to the hand wash basin, you get the same equipment. At least you have the opportunity to wash your lower legs whilst washing your hands! We hit the sack at about 4 in the morning and had a long lie-in. The following day I had the cheek to hang the ‘Please Make Up The Room’ sign on the door at about 5pm and, when we returned to our room a couple of hours later, it was made up. Fabulous hotel service.
Yes, we’re millionaires again! Everything is in thousands and only notes are used. The higher-value notes are like the Ozzy ones – made of plastic.
Crossing the street is an art; you just have to go for it and expect the bikes to go round you. You’d never cross otherwise. Fortunately, we’d had some experience of this in China but it does take a certain amount of blind faith. Street sellers can be a bit pushy: yesterday we bought a book from one lady but moments later, when approached by another book-seller, Helen politely gave the standard ‘maybe tomorrow’ brush-off. Well, half an hour later we were sat at a bar and eventually I gave in to another book-seller after a war of attrition and, would you believe it, the spurned book-seller had been watching and came over to give Helen a mouthful. Thankfully, she was able to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of her profligate and heartless husband. At the same bar, twice I was approached by shoe-shine guys – I was wearing sandals! What’s that all about?
The main market is a riot. Walking through the narrow aisles I was constantly being grabbed and implored to buy some item or produce. Helen doesn’t mind this but I find it quite bothersome. I finally solved the matter by walking down the women’s clothing and haberdashery aisles only: relaxing but utterly pointless.
Yesterday morning we were awakened at 5am by a street-marching band which had somehow managed to find its way into our bathroom for its practice session. Or so it seemed: it was actually outside but the cacophony lasted for a good 20 minutes before they marched off. Later that day we visited the ‘Museum of The American War’. Interesting perspective moment: just like in Russia with the ‘Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945’, the ‘Vietnam War’ is called ‘The American War’. Obvious, I suppose. As you can imagine, many of the photos showed US atrocities in graphic detail; it was rather over-the-top and not for the squeamish. Interestingly, the American tourists here behave exactly as normal: shouting and assuming everyone in a 100-meter radius is interested in what they are saying. You’d think this would be one of the few places where keeping shtum would be advisable. Just stupid, I suppose.
Today, we visited some Buddhist pagodas in the Cholon district. One word of advice if you visit a temple: you may come across bottles of liquid for sale with the sign ‘Chai’. You’ll recognise this word as meaning ‘tea’ in many parts of the world. Well, Helen was thirsty and bought some, had a swig and offered it to me saying I wouldn’t like this. Naturally, I was up for a challenge and had a gulp. It turned out to be some kind of oil and should have been poured into an incense vat, rather like lighting a candle. The woman ‘temple-keeper’ could hardly contain herself at our stupidity and the resulting ‘What the **** is this stuff?’ look on our faces.
Tomorrow we’re off to the Mekong Delta on a day trip. We’re going to spend a week here then decamp up north to Hanoi to check that out. There are too many westerners here for our liking. We met an Australian guy yesterday at a bar and he gave us lots of good advice about the place. I’ll write more from there.