It all started with Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and it looks like my expedition to Vietnam will end in Ho Chi Minh City. I will stay here till the 14th. Then I will fly to Thailand.
I will recover from these debaucheries on Phuket – where I will be a good boy spending my time at the beaches and eating at the night markets – which will give me the time and peace of mind to reflect on all the aspects of my experiences in Vietnam, many of which I have not even mentioned on this blog as it would have made me spend most of my time in front of the computer writing – instead of being out there with the people…
In the morning I had a long breakfast, starting with a Pho noodle soup, continuing with rice cakes, pork with vegetables, springrolls – then moving to the Western side with coffee and OJ, French bred with butter, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes with bacon, sausages…finishing sweetly with pancakes with honey, a fried banana – and a small assortment of fruit (rambutan, mango, dragon fruit and these teeny, weeny lovely bananas…)
Then I posted the previous blog entry. And headed for the Coop Supermarket. A little further away than I had expected – and when I arrived I was drenched in sweat. My light cotton shirt was dripping – as was the sweat from my head along my hair – dripping from above onto my ears! Uzhas!
I spent half a million Dong – on extravavaganzas like Gillette razor blades, French baguette, some Vietnamese meat snacks, milk, chocolates – and the best toothpicks I ever came across in my life!
These toothpicks – I came across them first on the farm…
Tooth-picking is an integral part of Vietnamese life. Even the most primitive restaurant will have tooth picks on its plastic tables. Whether out and about or at home, after every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever) every Vietnamese (old, young, male, female) will engage in tooth picking – without any shyness, on the contrary. After all, clean teeth are a valuable asset No wonder, they are the masters of tooth-picks
On the way back from the Coop, passing the ex-presidential palace for the umpteenth time (my hotel is just around the corner from it) – and after fending off all those riksha and motorbike-taxi guys that see me melting away and think if there was ever a victim for them it was me – I had to stop for an ice coffee – “ca phe den da” in the parallel street to my hotel. Next to the old French era law court that is not listed in any tourist guide but is one of the few originally maintained colonial buildings (still in use).
The locals also like this very much and, as you can see, spend their Sunday mornings here:After returning to my hotel, showering for the second time at 11 am and changing rooms I have started with CL (Cuba Libre) exactly at noon (58 minutes ago) and after writing this I am out of coke now.
The drawback is that about 10 minutes ago a torrential rain set in that makes the idea of leaving the room look absurd. But once it stops it will take about 15 minutes to evaporate all the water on the streets…
Anyway, now at 1pm only tourists, idiots and young people in love would venture out into this tropical humid heat that makes New York in summer feel like a very dry place…
So, maybe, to open a bag of snacks:
…and then to have a nap or so. I am hesitant to eat that stuff, though. I had such things, wrapped in banana leaves and plain newspaper, homemade in a small “zech” (workshop), in the village where the farm was. Simply delicious. This, however, is from a supermarket and is probably fake…
Later I am planning to find some laundry service. Because I have very few clean things left to wear. I have been washing my underwear by hand so far – and my shirts a few times. But for the “bigger” things like trousers and polo shirts I have used laundry services. And that’s what I want to do today. To have things washed in the hotel is out of the questions. The polo shirts will cost me more than what I paid for them in Thailand some years ago. Other laundry services charge per kg. These are my guys.
And there is an area where all the “backpackers” that are flooding Vietnam (of whom I have seen many in the cities – fortunately from a distance – but amazingly few in the real countryside) stay in cheap hostels – and where such inexpensive laundry services supposedly abound. And this area is rather close by. But still a 15 minute walk that will make all the juices flow out of my body! And then I should go there again tomorrow (or the day after) to pick up the ready laundry.
Or shall I just make do with what I have and have everything laundered in Thailand (where I am sure to pay a higher price but will have the comfort of my air-conditioned rental car) ?
Life is tough. And “Free Cuba” (Cuba Libre) is only a nice concept as long as both (Cuban) rum and (American) coke combine and flow freely…and here in my hotel room the balance has collapsed due to lack of coke. Also the rain has stopped. So I will pack a plastic bag with things to launder and wait for my chance to go out and get things done. On the way I might be forced to have some ice coffee, however…
It helps to talk to the people. When I told the reception staff that the hotel’s laundry services are too expensive for me they pointed me to another hotel across the street
In my hotel I would pay per item, e.g. trousers 35,000 washing, 20,000 ironing; Shirt 30,000 washing, 15,000 ironing. In my case: 2 trousers, 4 shirts, 3 T-shirts: 195,000 washing plus 145,000 ironing: 340,000 Dong (17$ or 25.50 Leva) In the place opposite my hotel I pay per weight (2.40kg x 25,000= 60,000) plus 8,000 per item for ironing shirts and trousers (48,000)= 108,000 Dong! (5$ or 8.30 Leva. ) Maybe this sounds very avaricious to you. OK. As I tell my Bulgarian friends all the time: you do not get rich from spending
Why should I pay more money when I can get one and the same thing cheaper? Especially when there is no personal relation involved.
So, that’s the good side. I saved money. And a lot of sweating since I only had to cross the street
The bad side is that I still decided to have an iced coffee and I walked around the block. And sat next to an elderly couple from New Zealand. And ordered an iced coffee from the young girl serving there. And received a bottle of beer and a glass with ice in it!!! NO ONE has misunderstood me so far when I ordered an ice coffee – and not only in Saigon. This gives me the confidence that it was not my rotten pronunciation but the lack of brain on the girl’s side that caused this misunderstanding. Anyway, being in the “happy Buddha mood” I settled for the iced beer
After a nice chat with the Kiwis (cultivated people, both working at the Auckland university and very familiar with Europe) I strolled back to my hotel checking out the shops.
Before my trip to the Mekong I had seen this little chocolate shop around the corner. So, since I had time I said, let’s have a look what they have to offer.”Boniva” is the name.
Big mistake! They produce pralinées, not chocolate bars.
Prices for these rare delicacies (we are not talking about rough Belgian pralines here – which I detest for being so peasant-like) were nearly the same here like elsewhere where there are people capable and willing enough to go through the immense trouble of producing such delicate cochonneries for connoisseurs. But how could I resist? After reading about ingredients like durian, lemon grass, mango and many other things no French patissier used to have in his repertoire – not even Lenotre. I had to order at least a small selection of not more than a dozen pralinées that set me back the price of a gourmet dinner
…I won’t show you the second layer But, amongst us pious people, after trying the first two of those sin-carriers: I consider myself lucky that I will stay here only another three days. Otherwise I might ruin myself either financially or morally (or both) with these chocolates )))))))) The next step would be to find one of my favourite French Cognacs (Otard XO would do the trick) as I have a real weakness for the combination of cognac and pralinées…and I would be back in the old spiral immediately. How could you possibly have the finest brandy on the planet with chocolate that “shovels out” endorphins without complementing it (OK, OK you women, without “topping it off”) with the finest sex that can bring two people together?! You could not! Or, maybe, you could but I couldn’t…
Goodness, it’s only 4:30 pm on this lovely afternoon in Saigon. But time flies. So I better shut up now and do some planning and arranging for tonight