Days 76-79: Twelve Saigon Memories

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Where I stayed
Ngoc Thao Guesthouse

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sooo, the general rundown of highlights. We spent Tuesday pagoda-hunting in Chinatown, Thursday at the Jade Pagoda and just kind of wandering around aimlessly, and Friday in a tacky failed amusement park with a great view on the outskirts of town. Wednesday was spent in the Mekong Delta and was talked about in the previous post. Anyhow, a bullet point list of memories from this glorious city, in no particular order:

1. $6 martinis in the top floor bar of the Sheraton Saigon, looking down over the neon city below with a murky overcast sunrise. I was silent through most of it, entranced by this one really trippy LG sign in the distance, near what I think was Ben Thanh market. Jeff jokingly tried to zap me out of the trance it put me in. "No Charles, no! Don't stare into the light!"

2. Mr. Bao, a nutty motorcycle driver who befriended us on our way to a jazz club one of the earlier nights. We were happy to make a sincere friend at first, but it soon became clear Mr Bao's social skills were not the greatest as he'd steer our conversation in endless circles, never pausing for a breath (or allowing us a non-rude escape.) We chatted deeply about China, the US, relations between Vietnam and the US, Vietnam's (bad) history with China, etc... Then he looped around and started talking about it again:

"We know! We know! My government know China government. That why they be America friend. America better than China. We know China, we not like China. My government know. They know! We try to be Europe's friend, America's friend. China bad. (he didn't much like China)" As I kept egging him on, trying to be social... little did I know that the hour was passing 11 and poor Jeff was no longer amused by this funny guy's nonstop yammering. The interaction somehow ended and our nightlife plans largely foiled. I told Jeff to nudge me on the shoulder the next time a conversation needed to end. We promised to call Bao and invite him to some beer and pool, we never called him.

One of the two final Saigon nights, we were enroute to the Apocalypse Now club and guess who rolls on up? Bao!
"Heeeyy friend, why you no call me for beer?"
Jeff and I exchanged "you've gotta be kidding me" glances and returned Mr Bao's greeting. He again started ranting about the evils of China when I received an expected nudge on my shoulder. I rammed my way into his ranting, asked if he could drive us to the club on his bike, and so he did. That was the last time we bumped into silly Mr Bao.

3. The Love Park. After getting off at the wrong bus stop enroute to the Jade Pagoda (it wouldn't be until Thursday that we'd make it there), we stopped in a local bakery to buy some pastries and sat down in the adjacent park. It seemed like this park was the only place in the city where PDA wasn't taboo, because every bench was occupied by young couples making out with each other. Where there wasn't love, there were late middle aged or elderly Saigonese men and women doing the same bizarre aerobics we saw in the Bangkok park. Jeff snapped a video of the funniest, a guy hopping along the pavement like a kangaroo, squatted as far as his legs would go. Some sort of hip-building exercise? Who knows.

4. Apocalypse Now. A thumping, raving, if not terribly large nightclub housing the most expensive beer of the trip. I had my best dancing-with-ladies luck in Charles History here, though none resulted in anything beyond dancing. Jeff also had similar luck, and also did not go beyond dancing due to no longer being "on the market." Have I mentioned how beautiful Vietnamese girls are? They are HOT. I must marry one. So let it be written, so let it be done...

5. The motorcycle ride back from the club, at the hands of two crazy college kids who decided this would be a good time to start racing each other to our hotel. My guy nearly scraped a corner curb at what must have been 60+ mph, almost killing both of us, and I'm sure the same or similar happened on Jeff's bike. Damn college kids.

6. The crazy demon old guy motorbike driver. We got caught in rain enroute to the riverfront and hired a motorcycle taxi to take us the rest of the way. The driver was a skinny old man who seemed sane at first, but as soon as he revved up that bike... wow. The bike zoomed at breakneck speed through the intersections, as this old guy literally cackled with sadistic glee and shouted at any other bike drivers getting in his way. Judging by the amount of yelling going on between bike drivers at the intersections, whole relationships must be born and burned while waiting for that red light to turn green...

7. Green tea milkshakes from Fannies... I think I gave Jeff a bazillion headaches each time I insisted we go back to this store.

8. The coffee house above our traffic circle and its server. At this coffee house, you were provided with a constant supply of some sort of cheap watery iced tea while you waited on or drank the drink you actually ordered. Think of it like the free glasses of tap water at American restaurants. After two glasses of this free tea, the server came along again to refill my cup. No longer wanting any, I gave him a very clear "no thanks," waving my hands around over the cup.

Long awkward silence.

The server slowly, silently tilted his pitcher, and without saying anything served me a third cup and walked away, still awkward.

9. The poster. Posted along one of the main streets near our guesthouse was an advertisement featuring the single hottest Asian model either of us had ever seen in our lives, clad in gym wear. We made sure to pass this poster at least twice a day and took a picture of it the final time to pass on to posterity.

10. The intrigued marijuana dealer. On a walk back from the club area late at night, we rejected yet another of the countless offers of weed we received. Upon rejecting, the tout stroked his chin and in an almost Samurai voice said to himself:

"White men tourist who do not want marijuana? Velly interestiiing..."

11. The t-shirt sellers try to trick Jeff again. Back in Ben Thanh market, Jeff was buying some t-shirts and needed a medium of a particular size. She, the seller, took the large he was holding out of view, and returned same shirt in hand, except the tag had been cut off and sloppily replaced with an "M" sticker. Jeff held the shirt up, noticed the huge size, and called her on her antics. So ensued another "Noooo it's the same size! ARGH!", half-joking argument which ended in Jeff not buying the shirt and the girl spanking him with a rolled up newspaper for being too smart. A slap on the shoulder or spank with an inanimate object is a usual sorta-flirty-but-not-really thing women of all ages here will do when interacting with you. It makes me snicker.

12. Whiskey Night. Anyone who needs to know this story probably already does. Heh.

HCMC overall: Bustling with tangible energy like no city I've ever seen, save for maybe NYC, filled with the quirkiest, funniest of people... Yet in all its chaos, it still manages to have this cozy, French Colonial air about it. Very few spots on the trip managed to make me feel at home at all, but this was one of those rare few. I missed it anytime we ventured out into the boondocks, and got that relaxed feeling one only gets at home almost right off the bat. I'll be back one day to meet my wife, just wait and see.

---Vital Signs---
Food Poisonings = Zero
Pho Bowls = Countless
Lethal Motorbikes Dodged = Too many
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