Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saigon-Life is easy!

by Saigon Charlie

Saigon-Saturday evening

It seems I did it again.

With no guide book, no maps, no advice, no cards, totally flying dumb and blind, I have managed to find a hotel in a neighborhood of Saigon, both of which I can only describe as fantastic!

Even as I write this I have no idea where I am in Saigon other than the facts that I am walking distance to the train station where I arrived in Saigon this morning and down the street there is the ‘Australian Vietnam International School”. Guess I should get a map huh?

It took me three attempts at finding a hotel that felt ‘just right’ as baby bear put it, but after a bit of a walk from the station, I stumbled down a street after asking a young security guard on a street corner ‘hotel?”. He responded by pointing down a side street.

As I walked down the street, I noticed many brightly colored tents on the sidewalk that I now see turn into a large street market that looks like something between Patpong in Bangkok and the street vendors on Sukhumvit. Later however I discovered that although the prices are incredibly cheap for the clothes, it would be extremely tough for any westerner to get in to them as the locals are anything but big.
Sometimes I look at the people and wonder where they put the organs and I sure as hell can't figure out where the babies are stored!

The hotel I stumbled into soaking wet from sweat is called the “Ngoc Chau” and for 200,000 Dong (less than 10Euro), I have ‘bedded down’ for the 1st time in weeks with a room with air conditioning! Wow! I also have Bloomberg as well as HBO, Discovery Channel and National Geographic! Wow oh wow! Isn’t life grand? Guess I can hang here for a few days and get some work done as I even got wireless.

What made me smile as I checked in is no one, and I mean no one, speaks a single word of English. The man who checked me in wrote the price on the paper and we managed to communicate the need for him to see my visa. I managed to communicate I needed my passport back. We also easily got over the hurdle that I needed my clothes washed and ironed with him making ‘ironing’ motions to indicated this was part of the few he held up of “7” to indicated that it was 7,000 Dong per piece. (which arrived in my room a few hours later). As I have said over and over and over, when people want to communicate, they will!

Also tested my overseas banking card from Germany to see if that sucker works here in Vietnam. Hit the magic numbers in an air-conditioned ATM kiosk and out popped the maximum 1,500,000 Dong. This fee however is only 20,000 Dong, or a Euro. Guess that is pretty reasonable as that is far less than the fees charged in Germany by other German banks in country for the same transaction.

Even when I strolled out on the streets in the late afternoon after a much needed ‘cleansing’ (2 showers), I couldn’t help but be struck with how genuinely friendly the people are. Old or young, people look at you and smile and the children are shyly running up to you saying ‘hello’ and run as you say ‘hello’ back to them. If you read guide books you are terrified to step out onto the streets of Saigon as every child is a street urchin and every street vendor trying to scam you. Can’t go through life living in fear, either from children in the streets or so called ‘terrorist’ but isn’t it funny how we believe what we are told….which I guess is one reason I keep pushing the envelope so to speak in discovering the ‘truth’.

Having just returned from a Vietnamese beer bar next to the hotel after a stroll around the neighborhood, I unbelievably come back to my hotel and as I turn on my TV am stunned to see the Miss Universe contest. Huhhhhh??? Talk about contrast.

Here I am in a city of youth, all aspiring for a Honda Wave, and I am watching the "best" that America turns out. What air heads. It makes my head spin.

The neighborhood I am is incredible. In one city block, I witnessed no less than 5 extravagant wedding parties. Yes, no less than 5 and every single one was extravagant to the extreme. Gowns, brides maids, decorations to the extreme, color everywhere. As in Cambodia, Vietnamese weddings are the event of a lifetime where going bankrupt is normal as 'face' is everything!!! (Something most coming here from the west in business just don't grasp). Although Miss Nevada on my TV looks considerably different than the women I saw this evening around my neighborhood here in Saigon, I can’t imagine the clothes cost less.

As I sat at my table, I was constantly being offered cigarettes in the most polite way. Food from tables of others. Cheers after cheers of beers from the tables around me. (super cheap with even a bottle of Tiger going for less than .50 Euro) Someone came by and even gave me a couple of coupons to the “Hoang Dieu 2 Massage Hotel’. Had to laugh as I looked down at the coupons and finally figured out what they were but was even more intrigued by the price, 50,000 Dong (a little over 2 Euro) for a 60 minute massage. Nothing is in English on the coupons but the words ‘massage’ and ‘hotel’. Wonder if that is also the words in Vietnamese? Guess so huh….

Also found out from Bloomberg TV that this weekend is Memorial Day in America. Guess that means a long weekend for the working classes there. Seems like a million years ago when I experienced such things although I remember it was a ‘super party’. I am and there you philosophical.