Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 2 or "Rob rides a motorbike thru Saigon" or "Longs Birthday"

9 pm saturday nite - a great day today! woke at the crack of dawn to roosters crowing to each other all up and down the river. Some old beatup boats (sort of like chinese junks?) go up and down the river all day carrying raw materials or picking them up.

Sue and I walked around the neighborhood in the morning. The neighborhood is not a "good neighborhood". In gereral it is quite slum-like with wretched poverty everywhere. Longs family house and the one we are staying at are river-front, but apparently here many river-front houses (shacks) are for the poor people-living next to the smelly polluted river. The neighborhood is many small alley-streets very crowded w a lot of activity - wild alley dogs roam around and many people just sitting in front of their houses watching the street traffic. Street vendors push or pedal their bicycles while selling various stuff.

I was sitting in the front people watching and saw a street vendor several houses down surrounded by children very excited to buy what she was selling. I figured it was ice-cream and candy, but I walked over and turns out she is making sweet white corn! She has a bunch of raw corn and stir-fries it in a little pan w butter and a bunch of seasonings. I bought a "large bowl" for 5000 dong (local currency...settle down Jeff) which is about 25 cents. It was really good and I ate it all up! How funny! Can you imagine a bunch of american kids gathered around a street vendor waiting for their delicious bowl of corn? I didn't think you could.

Then around noon, Long, Sue and I took motorbikes into the city. This is a lot more impressive than it sounds. Long and Sue on one bike, me following. Frickin Crazy Insane Thank God I made it. There are maybe 10 motorbikes per car and like I mentioned before the bikes are more like swarms of bees going every direction at once. I just tried to stay close to Long and not wobble at all. The traffic circles were the most insane - at one point Long turned left but I wasn't in the correct "swarm" so I ended up having to go straight. After a few minutes I was able to make a u-turn (much more impressive than it sounds) and we ended up at a local outdoor market/mall where we had a fantastic lunch of barbeque beef and pork over rice-noodles w some delicious spicy fish sauce over it. I also had a vn soda (sort of like dr pepper). The total for all 3 of us was over 75,000 dong!! oh wait, that's only about $4.00 US! We then scootered to a nice coffee shop and stopped and had some vn ice-coffee, which I didn't think I would like but it turns out to be absolutely delicious - really tastes more like a jasmin-mocha shake- very very good w all the heat and humidty. Then back home for a quick shower, quick read, and a very nice several hour nap in my little air-conditioned room. We are very fortunate to have that luxury and it makes a huge difference.

Today was cloudy so that eased the heat just a bit, but 100% humidity is still tough. Being able to recuperate in ac room and/or ac cars really helps.

After the nap, there were big plans to celebrate Longs birthday at his (adopted) brother's 4 story spectacular "mansion". Very odd still because many rich vietnamese buildup their current homes in the same slummy alley. So you have this amazing mix on the same alley/street where you might have a single decrepit one-story shack right next to this relative mansion. You can't really buy land or move I guess so you just build up and up and up. Richer you are the more stories you have and the more amenities you have inside. But one step out of your home and you're back in this very crowded filthy alley.

Anyway, this mansion belongs to the same guy (Thanh) who gave up his regular house next to Long's for us to stay in. The mansion inside is all italian tile, mahagony spiral staircase that just goes straight up to each floor and yields a nice view of the city - slums, shacks, hotels, office buildings, and lots and lots of small commercial businesses run out of most people's homes.

Thanh and his wife prepared a great meal for everyone and we had a nice cake and sang Happy Birthday to Long, who clearly was very very happy being home surrounded by his family - and I think he like having me there too! Altho the eel and snails looked very appetizing, I had to pass and instead had delicious homemade eggrolls, and steak and vegetables barbequed hibachi style on the floor which is where we all ate. Add a couple of ice-cold Heinekens and it was a very nice time for all.

Taxi ride home in time for the world cup match which is now at halftime. God I hope germany doesn't win.

I am looking forward to a similar day tomorrow, walking around the neighborhood watching pretty much everyone we pass look at me w a huge smile on their face. Long says the people in this very small village are not used to seeing foreigners so I am quite an attraction. I think they may also be smiling at me thinking to themselves "Look at that 10 foot tall freak! It must be so hard being so tall. Let's watch him smack his head on the rafters." (which I often do!) Probably go on another scooter ride, so if this is my last post you can find me in the middle of a crowded street in downtown Saigon, waiting for a break in traffic so I can scooter to safety. Sue and Long say crossing the street in Saigon is like a human game of Frogger, which I can now totally relate to.

more to come...