Wednesday, May 27, 2015

That Time I Was In 'Nam

Five weeks seems about as long of a build up as I can create without writing another blog post.  Be forewarned, like the hype over every major movie you've ever seen, you will be disappointed.  But, for the single digits of you that haven't heard of my adventures through Viet Nam and Tokyo earlier this month, well then...






Back at the beginning of this month, I met up with some friends, old and new, in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.  The city, formerly known as Saigon, in the country, formerly thought to be spelled Vietnam.  Ho Chi Minh City, from here on referred to as HCMC, is an ever sprawling metropolis in south east Asia.  While I'm not sure what the big economic boom was created from in that part of the world, I do know that it's relatively new.  Less than 20 years ago, this was one of the poorest countries in the world, a fact the U.S. surely attributed to the follies of communism.  While I continue to bleed white and blue along with my normal red, I have to say, that seeing modern skyscrapers go up all around me, and very few of what I would classify as homeless people anywhere in the city, communism might not be as catastrophic of an experiment that we have always been told it is.





But before you go thinking I'm some lefty pinko over here (and please ignore the communist propaganda posters I brought back with me), let's just move on to some of the highlights of my trip. 

First and foremost, I stayed in the Renaissance, just like any good culture immersing traveler would do.  And just like the locals, I had 24/7 concierge service that included free booze all. day. long.  Coffee made to order, and a fantastic rooftop swimming pool.  Oh those locals have it good.  And of course, the benefits of being Platinum were extended to my wayward traveling companions, Tim and Swarana, as platinum adjacent, who after months of spending nights in small beds in ramshackle slums, finally got to spend a week in a small bed in a spectacular hotel!


 Tim, I and some joker who spent his whole trip watching Star Trek episodes on his lap top enjoying lounge snacks
 Some observations about the city.  Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, we were out and about the city for hours on end....although the call of the air conditioned concierge lounge was a siren's call at all times of the day.  Our first stop on this trip was to the famed Ben Tranh Market.  A huge indoor market with stall after stall of clothing, coffee, food stalls, and other sundry items, it's almost as oppressive as the heat.  The worst part is right in the back of the market, where stalls selling durian overtake your olfactory senses with a stench that I could only describe as "decomposing dog".  But if you are brave enough to get passed the death by durian vendors, you emerge into a mecca of delicious Vietnamese food, which I will from now on refer to as "food."



The market isn't confined by its 4 walls either.  Many vendors who I assume can't afford the 35 cents a month lease (I think that equates to like 18 million dong) have stands set up on several streets just outside.  It was along one of these streets that I found a wonderful tailor, who made me two fantastic cashmere suits.  Start to finish it took him about 3 days.  I should have requested a discount for it taking so long.  But you can't argue with the end product.  I also just realized that I don't have a picture of my suits, so I guess you can argue with the end product until you see one.

Another interesting aspect about HCMC is the traffic.  The majority of the roads don't have traffic lights, and pedestrian crosswalks are basically a feat of bravery to cross.  The trick, we soon learned is to walk at a normal pace as if there AREN'T 7000 motorbikes careening towards you at 90 Km per hour (I think that equates to 18 million MPH....I don't know the math.)  Walk too fast and you're a pancake.  Walk to slow, and you've caused a 200 bike pile up that will make the evening news.  And don't think because you've made it across the sidewalk (that's American for pavement) that you're home free.  The motorbikes will hop a curb and drive the wrong way down the sidewalk because....why not?  Here's a glimpse of one of our many rides through the city

Oh yeah, we found UBER there!  They've taken over the world and I'm so ok with that.

Of course I have to talk about the food.  Pretty much every 3 feet, we'd find another food stall selling one or two specialty items at a laughable cost.  I was paying $1.75 for a bowl of pho, $0.50 for a banh mi.  And this was for fresh cooked to order (not that I could order...I just pointed...) food made right in front of you.







I don't know if I actually met any Vietnamese people on this trip....except the tailor, if that counts.  But we did have some interesting encounters.  One evening, we went to see this Malaysian lady sing Top 40 American pop songs at a bar in the back packer's area (also may have been Chinatown...).  While there, we ran into another Indian fellow who was staying at our hotel, and was interested in us ever since he overheard us talking about people's rights to consummate with animals.  In fact that was his opening line when he met us.  Obviously, we were too drunk to consider the red flags of that situation and pretty much shut the bar down with him and his female employee / girlfriend / escort.  I have no clue who she was.  She just kept saying things like, "NO DAHHHLING, SONG WILL PAY FOR THAT DAHLING."  Yeah that's guy's name was Song or something.  I have no clue.  Anyways, we ended up taxiing back to the hotel with them and also this other guy named Sang.  Seriously, I swear these were different people.  We never saw them again despite making loose plans to basically spend the rest of the week with them.





Song?
Sang?
 In addition to meeting some random folks, we also got to spend some time with Tim and Swarana's friends who were also drifting about Viet Nam.  One night we spent time with these friends, from all corners of the world, and other more local people that they knew.  How's this for 6 Degrees of Separation.  On one evening, I, my friend Swarana, her fiancee Tim, his friends John and Erica (who's from Morrison!), their traveling companion Ant, his friend who's name I forgot but she lives in Ho Chi Minh, and her friend who's name I also forget because I'm probably racist, all went out together to a hidden brewery in some dark back alley.  Oh and PS, the brewer spent like 5 years in Denver.  And the owner is from Tennessee.  So strange.  World's colliding....or imploding...
The whole gang
The brewer is standing next to that weird Indian guy

This menu is where I first grew suspicious that there was a Denver influence here...

Steps to secret hidden brewery.  (Ignore that sign...)



Oh yeah we also took a cooking class in HCMC.  That was probably one of  the best parts of the trip actually.  The class was 3 hours, and the food was amazing.  I'd recommend anybody traveling abroad to take a cooking class.









 Also, apparently there was some kind of war in Viet Nam, not sure if you heard about it.  These are pictures of stuff about that war that I don't intend on explaining.












Also, I went to Tokyo for like 4 hours.  That's not an exaggeration.  I was there in the city for literally 4 hours.  I'd tell you about it but there's no way you're still reading this.