I've reached the time of year where my ladies leave me for spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountains majesty above the fruited plains-which gives me with a LOT of free time It's shocking how quiet my world gets without the girls. I wouldn't say I'm bored when I'm by myself, but if I had my druthers I'd be with those three and not sitting around reading about the casting of the new Spider-man movie and looking at Garfield Minus Garfield (check it out). With all the open time on my hands I decided to take a trip with some friends for the long July 4 weekend- to Saigon, Vietnam.
I got a few raised eyebrows at my decision to travel on Uncle Sam's birthday to the place long associated with his defeat. The cosmic irony of an American choosing to be in Vietnam on the Fourth of July when forty years ago it was the last place any American wanted to be was not lost on me. But I thought it would be interesting to see a place that had played such a vital part in America's history in the 20th century. And the round-trip airfare was a hundred bucks, so it had that going for it. I wasn't sure what to expect visiting a communist country. I knew I liked Vietnamese food, but I didn't know much more about the place beyond what I'd seen in Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Forrest Gump, etc. Vietnam surprised me in a good way.
I booked myself a room at the "My My Arthouse", a hostel I had found online. For those of you whose only exposure to hostels was Eli Roth's 2005 movie, take it from me that you can find some hostels that are just a step down from being full blown hotels and not dens of depraved torture. This place had wi-fi and breakfast included for only 16 bucks a night! Sure, I've only got one kidney now, but I had a lot more money to spend on souvenirs and beer.
My Vietnamese trip began with a cab ride to Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker/hostel area of Saigon. I'm looking for 219/8 Pham Ngu Lao. The address is like nothing I've seen before: 219 divided by 8? Is this a riddle? Is it the start of Robert Langdon adventure? Eventually I find myself at the entrance of a narrow alleyway, shades of HOSTEL flashing through my mind. I walk in and find 217 and 218 without too much problem, but 219 proves elusive. A few minutes of wandering around gets me on the right path but not before wandering past Vietnamese families sleeping/watching tv/cooking on the floors of their homes. The alleys are a vibrant place with houses crowded together, their front doors open directly into the living areas.
I find my hostel where I've reserved a room for three nights. I'm surprised to find that upon entering most homes/hostels, you remove your shoes. I walk barefoot to the staff of the hostel only to find them sleeping on the floor. These two women aren't just dozing; they appear to be in full on REM. It's only about 4PM, so I figure they won't mind if I wake them up so I can check-in. A gentle hello nudges them from their siesta. Turning on the charm I tell them I'd like to get my room. It doesn't take long for me to realize that they don't speak any English. Using a combination of hand gestures and broken English I manage to convey to them that I've reserved a room online (there was a computer nearby that I pointed at to drive this home). The two women nod, shuffle through some papers, talk to each other in Vietnamese, and then wander off without giving me a key. They start going about their business (sweeping the floor, washing windows), which 5 minutes before had been so important that they were asleep on the floor. I still don't have a room. Confused, I sit down and hope this is part of a Vietnamese welcome ritual.
After waiting a bit the owner of the hostel, an older Vietnamese woman, comes down stairs. She smiles at me and when I tell her I'd like to get my room she nods and tells me that the room I booked is still taken. What? I booked online! I booked weeks in advance! Then she tells me that because of the error, I get the triple bed room to myself until the next day when I can move into the room I reserved. Good enough. Two extra beds means more room for hookers. Joke lang!
After getting settled in, I head downstairs to meet one of my buddies so we can head out to explore Saigon.
Without anything in particular in mind, my friend and I decided we should sit down and come up with a battle plan. After a few of these, the adventure began.
Tomorrow- Episode II: Apocalypse Wow