Adventures as Miss Saigon

Archive for November 2010

I met my mother in the elevator of my apartment yesterday…let me clarify…if my mom were to brave the heat, humidity, and ridiculously long plane ride and come to Vietnam, she would be the twin to the woman I met in the elevator yesterday (also assuming that once here, my mom would leave the air conditioned apartment…not likely).

Running late to get to work yesterday afternoon, I jumped onto the elevator when the doors opened at my floor. Already in the elevator was a woman with red cheeks, and sweat dripping from her face. She was so flustered that she couldn’t even form complete sentences. Our conversation went something like this…

Woman: “Where do I…my daughter said…how do I…so hot in this country…not this floor…there’s stairs…where are the…so hot…outside.”

Me: speechless, trying to figure out if she’s speaking English or Vietnamese.

Eventually, I pointed her in the direction of the great, hot outdoors, and this encounter left a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon!

In other news…did some exploring on Saturday. Went to the Fine Arts Museum, did some shopping in D1, met up with Wendy and went to the War Remnants Museum (incredibly eye opening…images will haunt me for life…had to walk away from the photo displays on several occasions as I felt like I had been punched in the stomach…check out Wendy’s blog for a great description and some photos from the War Remnants Museum).

Update from Canada…my sister was in a car accident last night. Thankfully she’s smart and has amazing reflexes and was able to minimize the damage that was likely as a car ran a red light, headed straight for her. She’s in one piece, off to the chiropractor, and waiting to hear what the next step is. I’m sitting here wondering when enough is enough and when my breaking point will come, causing me to get on the next plane headed towards home. I need my family to be in one piece when I get home…

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This post should likely wait until morning for a variety of reasons, but oh well!

Last Friday saw Wendy and I hiding in the back of a bar in Hanoi. Tonight, we indulged in a bottle of wine and hit the town (well, our neck of the woods anyways). A delicious dinner, followed by some drinks in the Banana Bar (which, funnily enough didn’t have bananas for the banana daiquiri that I tried to order). A round of drinks on the house (due to it being Teacher’s day in Vietnam, and Wendy and I being “teachers”), Wendy being promised free Domino’s pizza for life (or at least one free delivery), and some wild dancing were the essential components to our evening!

Let’s see what next Friday brings… 😀

On Friday night, Wendy and I raced around after work to make it to the airport in time for our flight to Hanoi. The Vietnam Airlines flight was a huge step up from our budget Jetstar flight to Singapore a few weeks back, and included a meal and TVs in the back of each seat (although mine didn’t work and they didn’t hand out headsets). We had arranged for a private car to take us to our hostel, as we had been warned that taxi scams were quite ridiculous in Hanoi, and considering we were arriving at 10:30pm on a Friday night, we wanted everything to go smoothly. We were welcomed to Hanoi with a pleasant, cool breeze, and amused when our driver turned the heat on in the car. The drive to the hostel was uneventful, but Wendy and I both commented on how different traffic was from chaotic HCMC.

We checked into our $6USD/night hostel, and were shown to our bunks – on the 5th floor of a hostel that of course had no lift! This ensured that there would be no wild night of drinking for me! We did, however, venture across the street to a bar to have a $1USD “big beer”. At around 12:15am, Wendy and I were just finishing up our drinks, when all of a sudden the bar staff turned off the lights and quickly shut the garage door style door at the front of the bar. As the door was coming down, guys from the street were diving under the door, beers in hand, like a scene from a movie. We were all quickly “shhhushed” by the bar staff, and soon after, there was a loud pounding on the metal door. The local police were outside, ensuring the midnight curfew that is apparently in place in Hanoi, and here we were, caught in the middle of it! The 10 or so bar patrons were ushered into the back of the bar to hide. I’m not sure what happened up front, or what would have happened if the police had gotten in, but as soon as the coast was clear, Wendy and I decided to call it a night and go back to our hostel.

The next day, Wendy and I did some sightseeing around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. We visited Ngoc Son Temple (which is on a little island in the middle of Hoan Kiem lake), did some window shopping, and stopped for a drink at a rooftop cafe. From there we decided to take a taxi just outside of the city center to Pho Nghi Tam, a street with a 1km-long stretch of restaurants serving thit cho, or dog meat in English. Wendy’s a vegetarian, and after living in Vietnam for 2 months, I’m practically one myself (not to mention my serious love for furry friends, especially my dog at home), so we certainly weren’t in the market for a meal – this venture out of the city was more about accepting the way life is in Vietnam and embracing the culture around us. I’m not sure how many dog meat restaurants we passed (upon re-reading Lonely Planet Vietnam, it turns out Hanoians believe eating dog meat in the first half of the month brings bad luck), but we also stumbled upon another Pagoda, and just enjoyed being away from the touristy areas. On our way back, we decided to try and find the remains of a plane that had been shot down in the war and was still submerged in a lake. Laura had stumbled across this plane on a previous trip to Hanoi, and we were determined to find it. After walking around a huge lake and through residential areas, we stopped for lunch. No plane, but we did see the lake where John McCain’s plane was shot down during the war.

puppy on a motorbike

Old Quarter in Hanoi

Ngoc Son Temple

Old Quarter in Hanoi

random pagoda

random pagoda

spotted on our walk around the lake

the lake

swan ride anyone?

a wheelchair accessable motorbike...amazing!

Later that afternoon, Wendy and I met up with Laura and her friend Terah (who had just arrived the night before from the USA). Together, we went to the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house and the Presidential Palace, and the Temple of Literature, before stopping for coffee and then dinner, followed by (early) drinks at a bar near our hostel. We ended up going to bed fairly early, as Wendy and I had plans to get up at 5:30am.

One Pillar Pagoda

Presidential Palace

on the grounds of the Presidental Palace

Uncle Ho's stilt house

Uncle Ho loved him some Pepsi...so it's always available!

across from the Temple of Literature, this lady had a bike full of flowers to sell

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

The next morning at 6am, Wendy and I headed to St Joseph’s Cathedral (just down the street from our hostel) to sit in on part of the early morning Vietnamese Catholic mass. We then indulged in a Western-style breakfast (ca phe sua das and omelettes) before heading to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.

St Joseph's Cathedral at 6am

inside the cathedral

outside the cathedral

In preparation for the mausoleum, Wendy and I had both worn long pants, and closed toe shoes. Security is tight at the mausoleum, and we were forced to walk a long distance around the mausoleum to enter, instead of cutting across the grass. (We tried, and got whistled at repeatedly by the uniformed guards.) After surrendering our cameras and passing our bags through the xray machine, we were finally permitted access. We lined up, 2 by 2, with the other visitors, and made sure not to talk or move our hands from our sides. Our time inside the mausoleum was brief, but it was something I don’t think either of us will forget. In a dimly lit room, surrounded by uniformed (and armed) guards posted at intervals of five paces, and despite his desire for a simple cremation, Uncle Ho’s frail, embalmed body lay peacefully for anyone to see. Only two words were expressed by Wendy and I when we were finally outside of the mausoleum and able to speak freely again – “wow” and “weird”.

the mausoleum

The rest of our morning and early afternoon were spent at the Fine Arts Museum, and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Hoa Lo Prison (nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by US POWs during the war) was built in 1896, and was the site of beheadings, escaped prisoners, and US prisoners of war (including John McCain). Another delicious meal was had, and then we went to the airport to wait for our flight home.

pretend prisoners at the "Hanoi Hilton"

picture of John McCain being pulled to shore in the lake we previously saw

Hanoi was a wonderful break from life in HCMC! It was great to remain in the country, but have such a different experience from our day to day life here. Now, Wendy and I are counting down the days to Singapore!

This just in…

The package that I mailed home at the end of October arrived at my mom’s house in Ontario yesterday!!! Just over a week in transit – crazy!!! Apparently shipping packages is cheaper (based on the cost of mailing my last set of cards home) and faster than mailing letters and postcards!

Merry Christmas! (My elf sister, Carly, has items to deliver!)

Saturday we went out for sushi in D1 to celebrate Laura’s birthday! Sadly, the birthday girl couldn’t join us with birthday drinks, but I do believe she managed to have a great night anyway! She seemed to love her birthday present from us – a gift certificate for the soon-to-open rock climbing gym near our apartments, and after dinner, Laura danced the night away at the tavern. Definitely an amazing evening, celebrating an amazing girl!

birthday girl Laura sure knows how to party!

Earlier Saturday afternoon, Wendy, Laura and I met at the salon for some pre-celebration pampering. I was in need of a hair cut and colour, but hey, if you’re there for one thing, you might as well keep going! While one of the guys was cutting my hair, one of the girls was giving me a pedi. I then had 2 guys applying hair colour. While the hair colour was setting in, the girl was back giving me an upper body massage (she did pause to make fun of me for almost falling asleep). When the time was up, she took me to the shampoo room, washed my hair and put a treatment on it. Then I got a facial massage and face mask – so relaxing! To finish it off, two more guys blow dried my hair! And the grand total for the 3.5 hours I spent at the salon was approximately $60USD ($45USD of that was for the hair colour alone). So crazy!

my new hair do

Yesterday (Sunday) morning, I woke up with a cold…nothing major, but seriously Asia – I’m getting a little tired of all of these illnesses! I haven’t even been here for 2 whole months yet, and to recap, I’ve had tummy troubles, tonsillitis, food poisoning, and now a cold…enough already!

I arrived home from work about half an hour ago. My xe om driver came back last week, so he was waiting for me when I came down from my family’s apartment. It was lightly raining, so I was a bit surprised to see him as I usually end up in a car taxi if it looks like it’s going to rain. I was, however, thankful he was there as getting a car taxi home from the apartment can be tricky! (There’s no taxi stand nearby, so I usually end up walking 10 minutes to the closest store where I know there will be taxis. Walking in Vietnam deserves a whole post itself, as this country is not designed for pedestrians. In short, “sidewalks” are uneven, used as parking for motorbikes, are home to chairs and tables from the cafes, and if traffic is busy on the road, watch out for motorbikes who decide that driving on the sidewalk is much faster.) About halfway to my apartment, the rain became much heavier than expected, so we pulled over in hopes of finding a rain poncho in the seat of the motorbike. There was no poncho to be found, so we climbed back on the bike and continued on our way. I don’t know what logic he was using, but he somehow decided that going faster in the rain was the best solution. Wet busy streets, and us speeding past other motorbikes was not the way I wanted to get home, but we arrived safe, sound and soaking wet!

Nothing too exciting planned for the rest of this week…Wendy and I leave for Hanoi (in north Vietnam) on Friday night after work, and Laura and her friend are joining us there on Saturday. Expect a blog post early next week after our weekend away!

leaving on a jet plane...we'll be back again on Sunday!

I’ve lost the whole month of October…I can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly and now we’re already done the first week of November as well! Christmas will be here before I know it, and I’ll be lying on a beach in Vietnam or Cambodia…counting down the days!

Last weekend started with a wee visitor to my apartment…minutes before heading out the door to meet Laura, I spotted a gecko, about an inch and a half long, hanging out on my living room floor! Startled with my uninvited guest and rushing to go out, I somehow managed to trap him under a bowl and forgot about him for the next few hours. When I returned home, after a spontaneous night of drinking at the tavern with Laura and Wendy (that ended with us not having enough money to pay our bar tab!), I realized I had to set the little guy free. Apparently geckos are good flatmates to keep, as they eat the mosquitoes, but I couldn’t take the risk of waking up one morning with a gecko on the pillow next to me. Trying not to freak out too loudly, I managed to slide the bowl to the door of my apartment and free my little friend into the hallway. Hopefully he doesn’t return!

the gecko prior to being trapped under a bowl

Saturday morning was spent at work with one of my supervisors, and following that, Wendy, Laura, Zuzana and I all headed down to District 1 (downtown) to take care of things on our to do lists. For my fellow Canuck, Wendy, and I, our mission was to buy a few remaining Christmas presents and get them sent home to our families. After filling out form after form after form at the post office, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I wasn’t going to be broke after sending home my packages. It felt great to get this mission accomplished (and hopefully it shows up before Christmas) and definitely gave me the sense that I live here, in Viet-effing-nam!

This week has turned out to be all about the to do lists. Tuesday was Laura’s birthday, and to celebrate I joined her and Zuzana at the gym! We’re also going out tomorrow night (Saturday) to properly celebrate her birthday, with dinner and drinks (and hopefully some dancing) downtown! Wednesday and Thursday I had bills to pay. They were my first set of bills, so I set out to find the correct places to pay them. To give you an idea of the cost of living here, this is what I paid…

My biggest bill this month was my hydro bill…I was kind of careless upon my arrival here and had my two air cons running almost frequently in order to avoid melting in this tropical heat. My hydro for about a month and a half came to 1,570,470VND, which is roughly $75USD. Next was my monthly apartment maintenance fee for 205,000VND (approximately $10USD), and my water bill for 6 weeks was 58,065VND (almost $3USD…my pedi cost more!). Two months worth of cable TV totaled 240,615VND (approximately $12USD, or $6USD/month) and my internet was 158,667VND (almost $8USD). All in all, it seems a little ridiculous compared to prices at home. I didn’t pay utilities at my apartment in Ontario, but know cable and internet cost A LOT more than what they do here!

Also accomplished this week was getting bedding for my spare bedroom. Not having my spare room set up and functional was starting to get to me, but the bedding I had seen was going to cost me a fortune! Thankfully on my walk back from paying some of my bills on Wednesday, I stopped in at a grocery type store and they happened to have bedding on sale. A fitted sheet, pillow cases and thin comforter type blanket cost around $30USD, which seemed more than reasonable! I also picked up a few more pillows and some more towels…so now I’m all set for visitors! Let’s see who will be the first! 🙂

my spare room...who wants to come visit??

Thursday night, the girls and I were invited to a buffet by the pool at my boss’s apartment in celebration of his wife’s birth. It was a great evening with delicious food, and the lovely Trang even got a birthday cake!

Tony and Trang cutting the cake

Tonight (Friday), Laura, Wendy and I made an after work trip to District 1 for a quick trip to the post office and a little bit of shopping. If you’re one of the lucky ones that got a letter from me this trip to the post office, have a good laugh at all the stamps on the envelope! I think I was grossly overcharged for stamps, and each envelope is covered with 7 or 8 stamps! After dinner back in District 7, I came home with the intentions of cleaning my apartment…the only thing I’ve accomplished so far is this blog and some laundry! Tomorrow I’m meeting Wendy and Laura at the salon, where I’m going to get my hair cut and coloured, as well as another pedi, before we head out for Laura’s birthday extravaganza! Just wait till you see the design I have in mind for my pedi…pictures to come!