Monday, July 15, 2013

Saigon. I'm Still only in Saigon

And a big thank you to new readers from Indonesia, Estonia and Ukraine.

Apocalypse Now     Sai Gon

Sai Gon

Saigon. I'm still only in Saigon. Every day I'm here I get softer and every day Charlie is in the jungle, he gets stronger. The opening words. Apocalypse Now

You do get soft here. But for all the right reasons. Sure Sai Gon is all rush and pell mell industry but carried out in an heroic way. Human endeavour carried in good spirits. It's what I found anyway. No question. I spent some weeks in Sai Gon but encountered no aggression. In fact you meet people here very easily. Another great boon. People are friendly in a way I have not experienced at another point on the globe so far.

Local people still call Ho Chi Minh City Saigon. Saigon is essentially the old French quarter, now known as District One or Dong Khoi. It's an invigorating place to say the least.

After exiting the Galaxy movie theatre in Tan Dao Park after Star Trek: Into Darkness I wandered south towards my hotel illuminated by an inundation of scooter headlights. I was overwhelmed by happiness and joy. It just rose up out of a sense of being in the right place somehow. Felt the same in Varkala, Kerala and Dali in China.

This a great city. It is speeding but people are kind, and sweet. Philosophical. Busy trying to do difficult things. Carrying 6 foot filing cabinets on their bike. Grilling clams and cockles down the tiniest alley. And people like wearing their pyjamas in the street along with a straw coolie hat. A lot of humanity smiling. In themselves.

Children marching. Honouring Uncle Ho on his birthday. 

The Workers' Club Lido

Surprising beverages corner.

Drink 1
Looked like an iced energy drink to me. What the fug? White fungus jelly beverage. Jelly dominant. Utterly unable to describe the flavour. Root beer that has had a nervous breakdown in a vat of ultra-condensed Indochinese agricultural history slurry.

Drink 2
Umm. Chilled blueberry gatorade. No. Try again. Fugging 'urban juice' made from unidentified root vegetable. Eyewateringly strange.

Drink 3
Yum ice cream soda. Wrong. Try sugar cane drink. Mouthwash with a hint of rubbish dump.

Drink 4
Never mind! Ice cold yellow banana milk shake will assuage my dehydrating carcass. It's only 40C in the shade. Ready? Pop the cap. You have crossed Saigon's entire metropolitan zone for this. Forget it! That's sweetcorn juice. To me? Fermented from the boiled testicles of the Jolly Green Giant.

Drink 5
Pineapple with ginseng. Came out a fluorescent green colour like ectoplasm from Men in Black. Tasted like young wood.

Drink 6
Is there no limit to the ghastly flavours on offer? Kumquat and salted, sour plum. I ordered this wierd but good salt after a long cycle. Lovely pink colour.

Drinks 5 and 6 bought in Da Lat. Horrible value for money there. More on Dalat soon. I think the town appeals because it is a hill station and nice and cool. Relatively. Still hot in the day 80 degrees. This town, alongside Phnom Penh holds the record for overcharging. The cool breeze coming through the window is very nice however.

Suspicious Vietnamese mum on Uncle Ho's birthday

Swish French colonial villa bar and restaurant in the upmarket Dong Hoi area.

V for Victory

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Young girls carrying out army like drills.

All the above was done with amazing precision for anyone let alone 10 year olds. The pride, the gravity of the occasion. the sweat coming of the cadet leader. Vietnam has something extra special about it. It is said the French preferred Viet labour to Laos or Khmer workers. More vigourous. The feel is Chinese here. Of course the two neighbours don't get on. But the similarities are there. The difference is that one is a Socialist Oriented Market Economy (Vietnam) and the other, China, is a Socialist Market economy.

I have read many blogs that malign Saigon for having terrible traffic. But it is all scooter traffic and even at rush hour you can get through it pretty quickly. Especially on a scooter. I love this city. It is the most exciting city I have ever spent time in. Three weeks so far. The people here are so friendly. Unlike India and Cambodia the streets aren't buildings positioned in rubble. Everyone tries to please and hawkers are easily discouraged.

My favourite part of Sai Gon. The roundabout at the end of Ly Tu Trong. 

Some advice. The tourist ghetto around Pham Ngu Lao is particularly horrible. I quickly moved out to The Golden Rose in District 3. Tree-lined roads, street vendors, mixed with cinema, sports facilities, glam restaurants buried in shady umbrage. People just couldn't stop smiling in that locale.

Sai Gon
In a park off Pham Ngu Lao a woman chatting to me but begging really. She gets her dong. Goes away. I walk for a kilometre, towards the swimming pool. Almost there. Another woman approaches, at the double. What does she want? I brace myself.
‘Hello. Where are you going?’ She says. There is no cleavage showing on this woman.
‘To the swimming pool.’
‘How do you know about that?’ She says. ‘Tourists don’t often know about that.’
‘I do my research,’ is what I say. I don’t like the arrogant, stupid sound of my words. I add I like swimming. ‘I am a researcher.’ I say. Her face open and happy.
‘I am a teacher. I teach English.’ She says.
‘Wow. Me too. Before.’ I say.
‘I hope you like Ho Chi Minh City.’
‘Thanks. Nice to talk to you.’
And she was gone along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.


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