Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gold trading, gambling and being stupid in Saigon

by Saigon Charlie

Doing my morning coffee/Internet thing at Highlands Coffee here at the Saigon Centre. It is Sunday morning and it was a loonnnggggg night that topped off a very busy day. Gambling, playing Blackjack with snots and idiots, gold dealing, discussions about Camus, existentialism, American politics and Vietnam’s business climate…just another normal day in Saigon!

I guess I have to start and explain I like to play Blackjack and have done so from Costa Rica to the Canary Islands, from Macau to Baden-Baden and now Saigon, but here it was like no other experience ever.

I guess I should also explain that I thought it might be wise to sell a spot of gold that I always carry with me (100 grams) and see how easy or difficult it might be here. Ok..go ahead and laugh. Gold?

Everyone who has lived or worked in this part of the world knows exactly what I am talking about; especially if they were in Thailand when the Baht went to 50% of what it was or can remember that the $ was 1:1 with the Euro not so long ago, and is now 35% less (I feel real sorry for the poor saps being paid in USD). Yes, go ahead and laugh all you want….

But anyway, I took my gold and went into a local gold shop and without even a blink of an eye, they said they would happily buy it from me. 100 grams, .9999 pure…..calculator…..care for a coconut??….yes thank you….and as I sipped on my delicacy, twenty one, $100 bills magically appeared. Hmmmmm….I like this. No electronic trails. No limits. Gold to cash, cash to gold. Life is simple and I like simple.

OK….now I got the cash and now it is time to hit the town’s casino I heard about in the Sheraton although nowhere do signs calls it a ‘casino’. Being a polite and politically correct town Saigon; they call it a ‘private club”.

I stroll into the Sheraton and look for the establishment. Hmmmm…no signs once again but signs for a place on what I, as an American call the ‘2nd floor’. Of course if you are European, that would be the ‘1st floor’ for you. And if you work for Siemens in Germany, the ‘3rd floor’; go figure how something so simple gets so complex around the world.

Seems there is no dress code as I arrive at 2PM (14:00 for you military and European types) and saunter in. Hmmmm….loads of whirling, noise making, spinning, and flashing machines but what are these tables with people around them? Where are the cards? Chips?

You guessed it. All electronic with the tables being large ‘touch screens’ and what appeared after a bit of watching a very rigged, electronic theft going on.

But you are right, as anyone with a brain knows, a fool and his money are soon parted…but as I also like to say, ‘knowledge has a price!” Yes, gambling and stupidity runs in my family…..

But being removed one generation from the extreme stupidity, I laid only $200 of the newly obtained ‘gold money’ on the table. This was quickly gobbled up after a comment from the tart behind the table that “not a $1,000”, and a $200 credit appeared on the screen beneath me. She is putting here English to good use.

The guy to my left had a $2,000 credit on his part of the ‘screen/table’ but having watched him for a good 10 minutes before I set down, it wasn’t from winning, as he was asking for hits with 14, 15 and even 16 showing! Silly me, I never hit with 13 or more.

So the game begins. I quickly lost $130 of the $200 as you have to make a minimum $20 bet. I screwed up several times the amount I placed as I couldn’t get the feel of how much I was dragging to the top of the screen in ‘chips’ which are displayed in units of $2, $10 or $50 (...why not $20???).

I quickly learned that since the minimum bet was $20, the computer moved $20 to the top of the screen automatically even though the chips themselves were $10 units. Man am I stupid!

The hands went by and the idiot next to me (I was the idiot to the right of him) was down to $800 while I had worked my way back to $200. My rule is bet to loose or win 10 hands, and walk if you loose.

OK. Back up to $200 and I am sitting on a pair of Kings. Twenty. Not bad. House deals a 10, and then a face card. Shit! Push. Not a good sign of things to come and I was right as the next 10 cards the dealer drew on each additional hand was either a 10 or a face card (ten). Eleven cards in a row with the same value??!! And noone at the table even blinks? Everyone looses that many hands and everyone acts like their money is monsoon rain water.

I asked how many decks the ‘electronic shoe’ was and was informed ‘six’ but there was no way to know what was what and my strategy changes as the shoe size decreases but as my dear ole mother use to say, “in for a penny, in for a pound’.

Yeah, you are right. I lost and walked with $12 and I honestly think the nasty bitch behind the table expected me to tip her that! The guy next to me was obviously a ‘marker’ there to draw people to the table. The other two guys at the table might as well have gone to the head and flushed their money down the toilet as their chances of winning was zero, nil, nada…..

I ended up the evening at the ‘Eden Club’ (not to be confused with the Eden Club in Bangkok ;>)))). A way cool place with lots of ‘beautiful people’ which translates to tons of white girl backpackers in extremely short skirts and dresses along with English teachers wearing ties (I kid you not!) at 7PM on a Saigon Saturday night. Dancing started around 11PM, but unlike Cambodia, the large breasted ‘ladies’ managed to keep their tops on…at least until I left this time....

The place has a pretty cool drink menu with a selection of tropical smoothies with multiple libations to parch your quench for only 25,000 dong which is followed up as the evening progresses with free, rot gut, shooters. Mix in a few tequilas along with a very long conversation with a young lad from L.A. about existentialism and American politics and the next thing you know, the night is gone and the morning has come.

“Wasted days and wasted nights” could be a good theme song for Saigon.

Breakfast was from 7-10AM at my hotel….I missed my breakfast.

Good night Vietnam!