My first few days in Saigon

Trip Start Jan 07, 2008
Trip End Mar 12, 2008

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

I finally have begun to feel a little more settled after moving to my old house to stay with my cousin's family, in district 3. For the first 2 days, I stayed with Nghi (my sister) and Phi (her fiancÚ) at an apartment they rent near my grandparents' old house on Ngo Quyen's street, in District 10. Today is the second full day I am in Vietnam. We got to Vietnam late afternoon on Tuesday, and for the first time, I met Phi's mother and sister. We all went out for clear noodle chicken soup with Phi's cousins. His mom was very nice. She bought us fruit shakes (sinh to^/) and dried, roasted squid afterward. Very yummy! When I was a little kid, dried squid was a night time delicacy-snack. Just take time to chew on the tough meat and taste the delicious sweetness in your mouth. Just talking about it now make my mouth water! It can easily be addicted, especially with some alcohol. That's what many Vietnamese men would do when they hang out around small tables at a street vendor. That concluded our first night back in the city named after uncle Ho\.

The next day, I got up quite early, and I thought I already got used to the time change, but before I knew it, around two o'clock I was dead sleepy, so I gave in to it and took a long nap. For that day, there was a lot of unpacking and reorganizing the things in the luggage beside eating and sleeping. We had ba/nh canh cua (thick rice noodle in crab soup), bu/n bo\ hue^/ (Hue's specialty beef soup with rice noodles) for brunch, and yellow rice with deep fried chicken (oddly enough! It must have been a new fad, picking up from the fast food chain) for dinner. Our visit to the local market was delightful. It was fun to browse the market and bargain for a discount. I got a nice pairs of sandal-shoes for less than $10, which would have cost a few times more. I also got some cute little things for the altar for the New Year.

Today, as usual, I got up around 6:30am. I spent most of the time having a long talk with my sister about relationship. Her fiancÚ was attending a pre-wedding ceremony of one of his friends. We went out for brunch, and again when he got back before dinner for a snack in the market. Then I moved to my cousin's place. Oh, it's so nice to be here, especially, I have my own little space in the back of the house, where my parents used to sleep. For the first time, I can have some quiet time for myself with a clear and peaceful mind to sit down and type something.

Still trying to feel out things while I was at Ngo Quyen place, I have note yet taken any pictures. Will go back and do so just for the memory of it. I have recently heard that there has been an increase number of incidences of snatching of cellular phones by passerby while in use in public, even while using on a moving motor bike. The same thing goes for digital cameras and even shoulder bags. So I am a little weary of video-digiting the busy, crowded streets, especially at intersections. I continue to be amazed at the incredibly highly skilled motor bike drivers as they weave through the thick traffic with confidence, mastery and with ease.

The plane ride did not seem that long although it took 15 hours to get to Hong Kong from JFK. We were sitting in the middle section of the plane with three seats. I would have preferred to sit by the window so I could look outside anytime I wanted to see the ever changing canvas of the sky, a different world, above the earth. Tried to look out for E.T but didn't see any! ;) Between sleeping and eating, Nghi and I were watching series Chinese movies about imperial Qing dynasty, and me hanging out by the window by the restroom at times to watch the sky and the earth from above. I love the moving map on the TV showing us where we were passing through below. I always feel so privileged to be able to see the beautiful earth from up there. It is truly alive and pulsing with love. It was exciting to be able to trace the contour of the earth in association with the cities and places of the passing by country, mainly China. At one point, Beijing was on our left, later, Najing and Shanghai with Chong qing and Xian on the right. I couldn't see them, but could imagine them lie beyond the horizon. At another point, short mountain ranges were in view, magnificent with layers of mystic clouds floating around their tops, just like those Chinese "mountain-water" paintings seen in history books. Further down the way, one could see alpha figure railroad lines as darkened black curves winding through mountainous land, scattered with clusters of communities. Outside the little double layered glass window sill, tiny snow flakes were formed at the bottom edges, so clearly defined, sharp and elegant.

When we got to HongKong, I suddenly felt so "home-sick" of the old time years ago, and wished I had considered visiting HK before getting into Vietnam. The new airport was built right on Lantau Island, where Chimawan detention center for boat people used to be located, on the other side of the current airport site. I felt so close to the place where I used to live for almost three years. As we walked to another gate for our next flight to Vietnam, I saw the beautiful bluish gray mountains through the glass wall set against the background of the cloudy sky. I noticed how different the mountains were from the ones I saw in America and Europe. To me, they looked more mysterious and lustrous, perhaps because they are in a tropical place.

It took as another 2 hours or so to get to Vietnam from HongKong. One of the things that impressed me as a pleasant surprise was the newly expanded section of the airport, which was spacious and clean that fit the international standards for international airport. Even the luggage carts were available for free. There seemed to be more immigration gates, so the lines moved pretty fast. But the corruption at the custom gate was still active. My sister offered to carry a new laptop into Vietnam from the U.S for a friend. She innocently claimed when asked that the laptop would not be coming back out with her. So they said she needed to pay tax on the it, but if we gave them some cash, they would let us go without paying tax! Clearly demanded like that! We were not sure about the law so we gave them $20. Two other Vietnamese with dyed blond-brown hair, who were going through the custom at the same time we were questioned, later told us they purposedfully spoke English simply to avoid exactly this annoyance! So I felt cheated and a little mad! ;) But a good lesson learned. The friend whom the computer was for later told us of a trick to avoid the corrupted fee. The computer should have been reported to be for personal use and would be leaving with us as we leave Vietnam. Then, during our stay in Vietnam, report it as loss at a local government with a piece of stamped paper to be shown at the custom.

Vietnam has changed so much since I last were here. Now, there are advertisements everywhere with colorful neon lights that lid up the city at nights. Some streets have been made wider with the compensation of houses losing space in the front portion of the properties. As the taxi that carried us made its way through the crowded avenue leading from the airport to the heart of the city, I felt as if I was re-entering the womb of my birth place, cuddled with an energy of immediate acceptance and love. For some moments, my past memories came back with images of my mom riding in the taxi with me. I was coming home, except this time, my mom is not here.

It felt a little disoriented when we got to this rented space, at least for me; and for the first two days I was kind of spacy until I found my home again. It's amazing to be back at this place. I will take some more pictures and send them soon.

Today (Friday, Jan 11th, 2008), my cousin's wife took me to a Vietnamese TCM doctor in the Chinese district. He volunteers for this local government clinic, which offers acupuncture free of charge to people. I got a treatment for $20,000 dong, which is equivalent to about 1.50 US dollars (I guess it's b/c he knows I come back from America)! He's been practicing for almost 20 years. He has an assistant with him and both of them are very nice. I could come to watch and learn with them. Tomorrow, they will go to Binh Duong, about 2 hours on the bus ride from Saigon, to offer free acupuncture/herbal treatments to the local people there, and they said I am welcome to go and participate when I aksed if I could do that. So, this will be my first trip out side of HCM city. It's going to be a two day weekend work. I will see if I can find someone to go with me.
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woodworks on

Hen gap lai....
I love Vietnam. Miss it so much there.

It is one of the most beautiful, kind, loving, inspiring places I have ever been and I think more people should make the effort to go.

It is somewhat off of most western people's radar, but those who make the trip usually have lots of amazing, heart-felt stories to tell their friends and family when hey retun.

Have a great time, Linh.


Habernero Harry on

Nice Blog - Please see mine at

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