Sunday, August 7, 2011

The month away (part 6)

Let me continue from where I left off a few days ago… Now where was I? Right, my adventures in Ho Chi Minh City. One thing that was sorely lacking there was good shopping—other than high-end stuff, there wasn’t really much street-shopping, night markets and cheap unique indie labels like in Bangkok—yet things are more expensive than in Thailand. How could that be?

By the way in Vietnam, Facebook is officially banned from being allowed to pass through all ISPs’ internet filters. I was told the reasons but it was not very straightforward and now I have forgotten what they were. But like all things IT, if it is on a network, it can be hacked and there were tons of ways to get around this “ban”. We were also upgraded from a twin room to a family unit (because of a (good) mistake) that had a Internet-enabled computer in it which made it really convenient.

The Poor-Yet-Expensive City

I have never seen a jackfruit tree with SO many fruits hanging so lowly. That ground must be super-fertile!

There is Singlish in Singapore and Japlish in Japan. So I guess this is Vietlish. Actually it's not that bad—the signs in China are much worse.

Have you seen a taxi meter that is more complicated than that? Having to compute back and forth between Vietnamese dong, US dollars and Australian dollars was already hard enough and now this! By the way we were taken on a joyride by a cabbie one day and on a separate occasion hopped on to a cab with a rigged meter that started off at an amount lower than other taxis but jumped in much bigger intervals. Here is a piece of golden advice to would-be Vietnam-travellers—always take taxis from the “Vinasun” company.

Communist posters, flags and banner galore in Ho Chin Minh City, not surprisingly so of course. In the top picture, somehow something important was going to happen on 22nd May 2011 but alas I don’t read Vietnamese. It could be some major election of some kind but that did not make sense at all—democracy in a communist country?

Truly a bicycle built for two... or three or even an entire family of two parents and four small kids—that was the record number of people I saw travelling on a single motorbike in Vietnam during my four-day trip. Simply amazing!

Animal encounter #2—it was actually quite heavy. Just think of wrapping a very long, spirally and sinewy handbag around your body and you will know how it feels like.

Vietnam is a very conservative country. Even in the bloody heat somewhere in the wilderness called Mekong Delta, we were told to put on our shirts at the table during lunch at the restaurant (I use the word "restaurant" very loosely here). Urgh. This guy in the picture was told to do so too—how unbelievably-ignorant of how he looked could he be?

There are two things I would like to point out here in this menu from a café called Highlands Coffee (this café was everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City—like Gloria Jean’s of Australia and USA’s Starbucks). First look at the prices of standard soft drinks sold at this run-of-the-mill café (34,000 Vietnamese dong = US$1.70). This is a third-world country yet it sells soft drinks at such prices, isn’t that seriously unbelievable? The second thing to point out is the sale of cigarettes at the café (indoor smoking is EVERYWHERE and it took me quite a while to get used to it) and look at the prices of a pack of cigarettes in comparison with soft drinks!!!

Street-eating in the most literal sense. On the left you can see people actually sitting by the side of the road eating food bought from a nearby vendor peddling on a motorbike. And what’s with the very low stools? The picture on the left was of a proper restaurant—surely that can’t be that comfortable right?

Night-life and night recreational activities in the city. Motorbikes and scooters doubled up as seats in a park as countless couples lined the lanes enjoying some cool (polluted, but still cool—compared only to daytime) air. Using a park is an extremely economical way of spending one’s leisure time and I am sure that was the reason why that really caught on there. The bottom picture was a little strange to me because this woman was playing badminton by the roadside with no lights and no net with I think was her husband. Mighty strange indeed.

At the Cu Chi Tunnels where guerrilla warfare at its finest was unleashed upon the Americans in the Vietnam War. As our tour group was large, the guide did not give us each the chance to get into the small little hole in the ground in the top picture (I so wanted to do that!) but we had a chance to walk through a narrow tunnel of 100m or so (the bottom picture shows me emerging at the other end). We were told the tunnels were increased in width by 50% twice to accommodate the fatter (read: obese) tourists—I already felt rather crammed (and extremely hot and bothered) in it, I really cannot imagine what the Viet Congs went through when the width of the real tunnels was a fraction of what I experienced.

These were the various traps the National Liberal Front used to ensnare its enemies. It is easy to look at them now as museum pieces but if you tried to imagine how they must have been effectively put to use, it does get kind of disturbing.

I have always thought that only those foreigners who did not go through army training can get so caught up and fascinated with guns and gun-firing. Big freaking deal! I have fired 25mm cannons and all sorts of small to heavy arms including RPGs and grenade launchers and I can no longer see them as nothing more than a chore to carry, install, maintain and store. But still hordes and hordes of silly tourists forked out great sums of money (US$2 for a single bullet!) at the Cu Chi Tunnels to fire a handful of weapons that were being offered. And don’t even get me started on America’s view of an example of a basic human right a.k.a. the right to bear arms.

The video below shows part of my 100m tunnel-walk and how claustrophobic and uncomfortable it was. Imagine having to carry weapons and army gear and still managing to traverse at light speeds in them—what a feat!

The last installment of my time in Vietnam will be posted in another few days’ time and I must say it can get quite taxing blogging vacation pictures especially when you must select the more interesting ones, edit them and think of witty captions!

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