Ivan's travels experiences... Vietnam, Siagon area

Monday 22nd September 2003.
after getting the newsletter away by e-mail I went out to have dinner, my stomach had been thinking my throat had been cut.

The first restaurant I went into, they had two prices, one before 8 clock had one almost double after eight o'clock, so Mac walked out of that one. The next one greeted very well at the doorway, walked on to the restaurant and stood, the staff stood looking at me as if they had never seen a European before, I said food, food, or sudden somebody snapped out of the frozen state and reached for a menu and passed to me, then we all stood there looking at each other again, English did not help, so I pointed towards a table, so again he came to life and let me to a table, said one, I said yes, so then he let me to the bar, then they handed me a drinks menu, I said food, food, she looked at me blankly at that point I decided to walk out.

So it was on my way to another restaurant and on the way there I was stopped by a pretty little girl on a motorbike, who asked me if I wanted a massage, in very broken English, words were something like this, "massage, massage, then you Fuxx,Fuxx me" in very broken English, and fact I think these were the only English words she could speak perhaps besides the dollar amount. I explained that I was rather go to the restaurant thank you very much and eat. She was persistent and follow me all the way to the restaurant, then she roared away along the footpath, on a motorbike to find another male walking by himself.

This restaurant was very well organised, very efficient, good staff, good food at reasonable prices. So I had a good meal, and then ventured back onto the footpath, my motorbike friend was there to greet me again, with the same broken English, with the same words, this time I wondered what this commodity would cost, so I said how much, reply 10 US dollars, so was correct that they could also talk money. I am not quite sure what sort of service was available for that money, as the English did not go that far, but I guess had I gone to the far off hotel I would have found out that that was the loss leader.

So I said no again, she me until she decided that was it the roared off, again along the footpath, and then the second division arrived, she was taught by the same teacher, and got the same answers, but then she decided that perhaps I could buy her a drink, so at that point I was passing a bar, a she says Tiger, Tiger, they had been called many things by women in the past, but none had ever told me a Tiger when they have just met me, then I realised she was talking about beer, I said no, then she said coffee, coffee. She had quite a range of English words this girl, again no and finally she roared off on her motorbike, for another prospect.

So back to the safety of the hotel, and its security, ready for a good night's sleep, and up for an early departure in the morning.

Up for an early departure, breakfast, out to meet the guide, and down to the Mekong Delta. The number of bicycles and motorbikes heading into the city are totally undescribable, they have 2 1/2 million motorbikes in the city so you can imagine totally tens of thousands of these on the road, or observing the road rule, that if you have two cross over an intersection, give away only if you have to, and if they are bigger then you.

Eventually we arrived at the boat departure point, the scenery on the road was just what I had come to expect from Vietnam, and apart from two rice planting photos that we could not stop for I could have slept.

It is interesting when you see a word that you don't use every day, you get a picture in your mind of the last time you saw that word used, and you expect to see that sort of thing. This happened with me earlier on the trip, when I was told I was going to visit a pagoda, now the last pagoda I saw that was called that was in China, it was way round tall building very ornate and as tall as a lighthouse. That the Burmese pagoda is just another temple. Normal construction, nothing different.

Now when I combined the two days into the one, I eliminated the "house on stilts" where I was going to do a homestay, but I still want to see it because I visualised a house up on high stilts, to prevent it from being flooded on high tides and floods. More later.

But the first thing on the boat trip was to visit a house that made rice paper to be used in oriental food preparation, it was interesting, interesting the conditions under which it was made, interesting the conditions under which they were dried, needless to say neither would have passed any health test anywhere in the West.

Then was on to another spot that made popped rice, popped corn, and popped rice noodles. No they did not use a microwave. They used a large wok over a fire that they used the waste product, the husks of the rice, and the shells of a fruit that they process. In this wok they have some sand which they heat until it is superhot, then make pour in the rice and with a loss of smoke and steam they soon have a wok full of popped rice. Then then put it through a sieve to remove the sand and the final product goes into a large bag.

It then is moved on to the next process, which is having caramel added, which they mix in an other area using their own mixture, when that has reached its proper temperature the wok that it is heated in, is moved over a metre, the popped rice poured in, and with two large paddles two men get to and mix it with vigour. Then it is poured into a large box, with their hands to fill the box, then roll with two rollers to compress it, then cut into the saleable size. No, no health certificate here. Fortunately I am a diabetic and so had a legitimate excuse for not trying the sample offered.

Then we were on to the tour proper, first going through the floating market, and again one thinks of the floating market in Thailand, and all the wonderful photographic opportunities there are there, but know this is large boats which you cruise by and cannot see inside or any of the trading.

So then it was a matter of cruising through the canals of the Mekong Delta, at this point I am pleased to say it that I compress the two days into one, there were one or two interesting spots on the cruise before we left the starting point with some of the houses and the living conditions, but once we got on the way the only a few boats that were interesting to look at or photograph. The rest was lush vegetation on each side of the canal, occasionally you would see a house or a boat tied up to a jetty, but not much else, when I commented to the guide, she says do not like a restful boat cruise, I kept my thoughts to myself, which were I don't have to pay this much money to get that.

Eventually we arrived at the house -- restaurant where I was to have my lunch, so we will walked in to the area for lunch, and I was led to a collection of bonsai trees and on to admire the rest of the garden! Eventually I was allowed to have my lunch, and then I had to meet the total family, see the snakes they kept in a cage, see the miniature monkey that they had as a pet in a cage, and a few other things before I had to pay for my water that I had for lunch, and we were away again to go quite a distance out of our way, to see the house on stilts that I had asked to see. Going there we were talking about it and I realised that it was not like what my imagination had suggested that just one on concrete piles probably a metre and a half out of the water. Been there, seen that.

I was then asked what I like to go down one of the narrow canals, making a decision that it was probably exactly the same as what we were doing bad and narrow piece of water, I asked the guide to confirm that, and she looked at me rather puzzled, and said of course. I said no thanks, again she looked puzzled.

In desperation she guided the boat to some sort of interesting houses built over the water, and that wok warranted a few photos, and then she said she would take me to a fishing village on the other side of the river. At this point the driver opened the throttle and we're about seeing through the waves, with about liquid they call water floating in a settling on one's skin, and remembering the case in 68 when someone was placed with water in Thailand and many any antibiotics to cure whatever it gave them, I said we will go back to the car.

He was then a walk-through market number seven of the tour, again a few interesting photographs, but thinking of this tour and previous tours to Asia probably 14 days is maximum when you are by yourself.

So was back towards Saigon, and two hours later we were in the middle of the Saigon traffic, which as I said earlier as an interesting experience.

The guide was stressing to me that if there were any problems on this part of the tour, I was to tell him immediately, as we pulled up outside the hotel he asked me if I had like to fill in the questionnaire, to which he received a negative.

Back into the hotel, download my e-mails, one from Buffalo tours, pointing out to me the fine print, which says, they were allowed to charge me for extras, but I am not entitled to any refunds whatsoever. Oh well…………..

Wednesday 24th

Today is a free day and I am to meet the Xpat, from Chicago, he has married a Vietnamese girl has been in Saigon for over 7 years, so he knew the city pretty well so he had a chat to me about life in Vietnam, then we went off to Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, and then he departed for home coming back this evening to take me out on the town. I carryed on wandering round and saw in a Gallery and delightful copy of “the letters to the Czar” the original is in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. They had 100 US dollars for it, which reflection and taking in to consideration the size, it was good value, I tried to go back, but do you think I could find the shop!

I went back to the hotel, sorted out my luggage for tomorrow, did a few letters, and before and you where I was it was 9 p.m. and I was due downstairs, Mike was running late, but arrived, and evidently the hotel was with the one city block of all the bars and nightclubs. Mike knew them all, so he had three girlie bars in mind to further the education of the old Kiwi. And further the education he did at the first bar, the bar was very small like all of the shops throughout Asia, a few stools around the bar and the moment you sat down a pretty little Vietnamese girl of about 20 came to inquire whether you would buy her a drink, the drink was coloured water at high-grade whisky prices.

Mike was very well-known to all of the girls in all of the bar's, he told me later that the eldest girl, of a poor Vietnamese family, was expected to go into the city to earn money for the rest of the family. Evidently they offered three levels of service, level one: being nice to the man at the bar, and tried to move them to level two or three. If they can't, they get paid by the client about 50,000 Dong for about half an hours company. Level two is a massage and level three's Fu##, Fu##, as they called it. Vietnam has a fairly high level of AIDS and personally that was too great a risk for this old Kiwi, but it appears as if they are not short of customers, I noted a lot of the clientele were middle aged men, although, many that looked older than the writer.

I am afraid to report, that this investigative reporter left without getting the full details of the real essence of this story, and I realise that my job as an investigative reporter is at risk through cowardice, or like running at first sight of enemy fire, just a second, when I stop and think, I don't think they were really the enemy, but trying to be friends, well it is too late now so I guess the story has just got to be padded out.

After about half an hour it was time to move on, pay the bar tab, pay little girl her 50,000 Dong, and a few steps to the next bar, we passed two on the way, and Mike says we won't go in there, on to the next bar where he was well-known again. This time I ugly girl asked me if I want to buy her a drink, I looked at her and said no, she was immediately replaced by a pretty girl, who set out to consume as much raspberry drink as I would buy her. Time up, time to move on, pay the bar, and the girl, a higher total cost then bar one, and on to bar three, for a repeat performance, of the other two bars. Total cost for the evenings entertainment was a total of about 75 American dollars, and as Mike put it, that is not bad for four people wandering round the bar's for an evening.

It was interesting to watch the Asian girls at work on a lot of the Australian and Kiwi guy's that were there, you could hear the accents easily, and this would appear as if Vietnam has joined with Thailand and other countries enjoy the same reputation, and why the various men that I have spoken to travel to this country several times a year.

I told Mike about the girls that that approached me on the motorbikes, and he told me that they were probably transvestites as that is their favourite means of transport and what they do. My comment was, well they were a lot prettier than any others that have seen on this trip. Interesting the seamy side of any large city. It appears in the sex industry in this country they totally rely on the condom for their sexual health, there are no sex clinics where they can have any VD or AIDS tests of any sort which I guess boils down to the Communist government thinking this sort of thing does not happen and their country, and could be the reason for the increase in the AIDS virus throughout this country, I do not know where the commies think the AIDS is comming from.

Well with all the excitement over, the rest of the trip was totally uneventful, out to the Saigon airport, through security, to the business lounge, passed a lot of Indians (from the country of India) camped as if it was, in the wide aisles that led to the lounge, some were asleep on mattresses, not quite sure what all why they were there, eventually it was time to board the plane, to the gate, but first pay the departure tax, the little Vietnamese girl that took the money said “nice colour hair”, I said would you like to touch it, leaned down and the little hand shot up and stroked my hair and said “Oh soft”! And I realise that most Asian hair is hard and coarse, so I have one admirer, I discovered, as I was leaving the country.

One hour 50 minutes later we were in Singapore for a five hour wait between planes, so I took the metro into the city and met my friend who bought my Leica, then back on the metro to the airport, and on to the plane for a seven-hour flight to Melbourne, and a four hour's sleep, and then a wait for the plane to Christchurch which was running one hour late, and I think I slept most of the way, or dozed, to Christchurch.

That was a long flight even for me, 24 hours of flying and waiting time and very little sleep included.

I cleared the "bone pipe" and some goods that needed duty paid on them, as I passed through customs, so spent possibly the next hour with customs, giving them almost a day by day description of my tour, in reply to their questions, and the agriculture people, were not really interested in the bone pipe, incidentally I was the only person left in the customs hall at this stage so when I finally emerged, Rose, who was collecting me, had departed, so she received my phone call just as she walked into her house, so five minutes later my taxi arrived back to take me to Sumner.

Reviewing the trip it seems like a very long time since I arrived in Kiev and without the Journal to prompt me the trip was so long it could be a job remembering some of the events.

A friend back in New Zealand, commenting on my fascination of the way in which the ladies of the Ukraine dressed, and the high heels they wore, asked did they have their own cars? I replied no. His comment was that back when most people in New Zealand did not have cars, and they use public transport, nobody would think of leaving their home in anything but good clothes, you did not want people to see you dressed any other away. Now, he said everybody has their own car, and they travel in a cocoon where they can dress as they like.

Yes, I realised, that is correct, how many times have we seen a woman, in a car, in her dressing gown. I remember reading, somewhere, that these women that dress so superbly at home, once they get to California, become indistinguishable from the rest of the sloppy dressed people in that state. So the obvious answer is to enjoy the way it looks in the Ukraine, because if you take it home in changes.

In all I arrived back with over 2300 images after editing out a lot every evening. Now comes the big job of extracting JPEG's, having them printed, and then to the final deletion and see how many I end up with. Then anyone would like a CD of these photos just drop me an e-mail and it ever gets into a format that I can produce one, I will send it to you for the cost of the CD and postage.

Vietnam memories that have not been recorded or need repeating.

All of the Chinese type temples that you get taken to which all look the same.
White European wedding dresses in shop windows throughout the country, evidently the majority of girls prefer these dresses as it shows they can afford to get married that way.
Because you have a white face or speak English, the price automatically goes up and as quoted in American dollars.
The number of beggars in the street, often war wounded or perhaps because of mines
the way in which Buffalo tours padded out a 10 or 12 day tour to 17 days because I was available for 17 days.
how similar the whole country was to China, which is not surprising since it was controlled by China for 1000 years.
all of the art shops selling copies of all of the old masters, and any other painting that they think the punters will buy, I saw a copy of the “ letter to the Czar” for $100, walked out of the shop and could not find it again. To me it will be worth while stopping off again to look for that painting!

Comment on airlines I flew with
the best business class was Singapore airlines and I would fly with them again any time, first choice.
The next was a tie between Air New Zealand and Lufthansa, good but Singapore left them wanting.
Thai airlines and Vietnam airlines were equal bottom. Neither of these airlines incidentally were as bad as when I flew on C.A.A.C. in China about 15 years ago.

All of the countries I visited I would return to, including Vietnam to look for copies of paintings, I'll definitely return to St Petersburg, and perhaps see more of that large country called Russia, I definitely need to see more of that country called Poland, the Greek islands of course any time for relaxation, I have yet to do Greece, but not on the hot weather thank you. My visit to Estonia was cut short and return there is mandatory, I would have liked to spend more time in Berlin, yes in essence I do the whole trip again and just cut out the boring parts that you first have to do to know they are boring.

Carry on luggage.

It was brought home to me at the beginning of the second part of my tour when my carry on was weighed and I realised how heavy it was and I had to split it into two. Since my return home I have weighed every item on an accurate set of scales and have reduced my basic carry on (camera, computer, power cords, charger, CD burner, etc) from 13 kg to 7 ½ kg any books I carry in this case of course will be extra as it would on my old case which I believe went up to 15 kilos at times.

To do this has meant I had to buy a new case, buy a new computer were I saved a third of a kilo, replace two of my lenses with one lens (28-300), (the lens test that I did on the Sigma should it was as good if not better than the Canon).

While I've been home now for over a week, and it has taken all that time to finish this newsletter, certainly while you are travelling you have more time because there are less distractions which is possibly different to what you would think. I have done well over 60,000 words and if you are still with me at this stage thank you for sticking in there and unless I hear from you otherwise you will be automatically on my mailing list for next year.

Well that is all for this year!