After Da Lat we moved to Mui Ne on the coast (delightful road journey, over the hills) and now we’re back in the bustle and madness that’s HCMC. Last night we went back to the first boozer we came to 3 months ago on Bui Vien, the backpackers’ street to sink a few Saigon Reds and reminisce.
Mui Ne is a holiday resort that goes on for miles. It has a lovely sea front, famous sand dunes, lots of marijuana and loads of restaurants and hotels. A large section of the place has its signs in Cyrillic for the enormous influx of Russians who come here, many of whom are setting up businesses and upsetting the locals. On our last day there we took two ‘Xe oms’, motorbike taxis, 15 kilometres to the amazing market in the nearby city of Phan Thiet. On the way back to the hotel, they took a different route and I thought the Parkin curse factor had kicked in again and we were going to be turned over in some remote region and relieved of our final salaries. I was preparing myself: I was sure I could overpower my guy but Helen’s rider looked like a Mexican drug baron and would have taken all my cunning and martial art skills to get the better of him. It turned out they were only showing us a fantastic sight of the resort from high ground. How bizarre! We weren’t taken to the cleaners!
Before we left, we got chatting to two Vietnamese American tourists who were kind enough to fill us in on their recent, two-week trip to Europe (‘It’s Tuesday so it must be Rome’!) When we said we were from England, she responded: ‘Oh yeah, that place with the river and the bridge with towers, I remember’. She had London confused with England. So I said: ‘Oh, you’re from California, do you know Bud from Los Angeles?’
Our original plan of moving on to Cambodia has been superseded; we had gruelling, hour-long interviews with the British Council a couple of days ago and may get positions with them in Egypt – we won’t know for another week or so. Our return flights to UK are this Sunday so, instead of paying a fortune to change them, we decided to use them to return. If we don’t get the Egypt jobs (quite likely as we didn’t use enough vacuous buzz-phrases and meaningless jargon in the interviews) we’ll go somewhere else from Blighty.
Almost everyone we spoke to raved about Vietnam and we were hooked after seeing the Top Gear TV special. This is often a recipe for disappointment: it’ll never live up to the hype. The jury’s out on Vietnam for me but Helen enjoyed it so we’ll probably come back some day, maybe when we’re retired and can afford to do some voluntary work. So, we had a final meal at our boss’s restaurant (he kept that quiet!) and left.
Here are my last impressions of this country:
The people: generally very pleasant, and happy, particularly those involved in the service industries (compare with my last blog from Russia).
For the first time in my teaching career I came across students who simply refused to do things. I was shocked when a student said: ‘No, I won’t’ when I asked him to read something. This happened more than once. After speaking to our colleague Jolanda, whose husband has a business here and employs locals, I discovered this is not an isolated trait. Occasionally, his employees say ‘No’ when he asks them to do something. Weird!
Something that I feel compelled to comment on (perhaps I’ll expand on my GOB blog) is the clear disparity in fairness in lives here, compared to the ‘Western World’. So many young people we’ve met in this country are highly educated, articulate and hard-working and yet, receive so little reward for their efforts. But, don’t get me started on that one.
The language: I simply could not bring myself to learning the language beyond the essentials. The women, boy, do they shriek! But phrases like ‘Rong dong’ are always guaranteed to make you laugh. In our Lonely Planet phrasebook, a useful phrase for me was ‘I’m a vegetarian’, phonetically translated as ‘Doy un jay’. This never worked; it turns out that the correct pronunciation of the last word is ‘chai’ (rhyming with ‘lie’) and I was simply announcing to the waiter that I was a jerk, information seldom useful when ordering a meal.
General: we didn’t see any real poverty. The real smart places are the pagodas and churches: this is where the money is. If you see ‘Hot toc’ signs this means hairdresser. I had a haircut in Da lat and this is always fun in a foreign country. I was initially concerned, waiting for my turn, seeing the punters in front having extensive ear-penetration work. I don’t know about you, but I go to the hairdressers to get my hair cut. I politely declined this option, having learned from my experience in Istanbul when I got the ‘flaming cotton bud’ treatment; it scared the crap out of me.
Karaoke bars and massages are everywhere.
Tipping is not expected.
One last thing: if you like sitting at an outside table at a restaurant, make a huge sign (preferably in Vietnamese) with the words ‘I don’t want to buy anything’ emblazoned on it unless, of course, you often get the urge to buy that painting, postcard, pair of sunglasses, tat, etc. when you eat.
10.11.12, Saigon, Vietnam.
More pictures of Dalat, school, etc.: https://picasaweb.google.com/100342402825089704103/20121103DaLatSchool