Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Heat is on in Saigon

For anyone who was ever in a highschool production of "Miss Saigon", the real thing is not quite the same. And since the war ended, it's "Miss Ho Chi Minh City" anyway. I spent almost a week here, split up with a trip to Cambodia to get a new visa.
-I'd read The Quiet American at Brendan's suggestion so it was fun to see landmarks from the book, like rue Catinat (now Dong Khoi) and the piers in Cholon.
-Cholon, a.k.a. District 5, a.k.a. Chinatown, is the absolute coolest for my money. I rode down there one evening from District 1 where I was staying (along with all the twentysomethings of Europe) and found a small and generous Chinese vegetarian restaurant which pretty much blew me away. Why?
-I had three recurring annoyances in Vietnam.
a) I couldn't speak the language (I hate that)
b) Unlike Chengdu, it seems to be an unavoidable Vietnamese custom to swindle tourists for all they're worth.
c) Where was all the vegetarian food?
So this restaurant was the answer to my prayers. Vegetarian delights, everyone spoke Chinese, and when they found out I did too, they straight up took away the English menu (complete with english prices) and gave me the real deal. Wonder of wonders, I was in District 5 heaven.
-Beautiful mazes of alleyways. Particularly in Cholon. you can walk in and just twist and turn past doorways in a meter-wide passage without hitting a real street for 10 minutes. I did though, get eventually kicked out by a Vietnamese guy (from Philadelphia but visiting family) who told me (in Philadelphia terms) that it wasn't exactly safe to be back there.
-I played some guitar with a lot of street vendor kids, which was great (picture). They weren't too disciplined, and preferred posing with it, but they were as enthusiastic as you could ask for. Later one evening, they saw me and offered me some of the snack they were eating, but the woman that sold it wouldn't sell it to me for the same price, so we left, and ran around the corner, and tried to send one kid back with some money to buy a piece. She saw through the ruse and yelled at him, though. Finally, they sent their sister and she pulled it off perfectly. Discount snack!

The pictures here are, in order: Benh Thanh Market by night. Barbers by a wall in District 3. The old Cathedral Duc Ba next to the new "Diamond Plaza". Street scene near rue Dong Khoi.

1 comment:

laura said...

the third picture looks unreal! like an architecture student dreamed it up, or something. but they're all beautiful. and i'm very happy to finally hear more stories from vietnam.