Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saigon - taking it easy in the tropics

Mostly I photograph what I see as we walk around vs. "the sights." Photo: the food court area at Binh Thanh Market - Action! Saigon photos are here

We had an inauspicious start to Saigon (and a sweet ending): At the airport, long a notorious den of taxi cheats (notorious even for SE Asia), we were caught up in the new dispatch system. Still a cheat, but only for a few dollars; even so, there's an ill taste to being cheated. Through the rain and insanely crowded streets to the “backpacker alley” where our hotel (Kim Hotel - $20/night) is – too narrow for cars, so we got out at the entrance to the alley. I waited with our luggage under an awning and Leslie went down the alley and pretty soon here came the two young women who've helped us before and down the alley to the hotel we went, splashing through the water.

Checked in, bought water, went looking for something

to eat. We met a promoter and d-j who recommended a place. It was okay, but a little over-priced like a lot of places on this alley, which is on a steady march to mid-prices in food and lodging.

Photo: al fresco dining on Bui Vien Street

The next day we went to the alley where the people sell stellar pork chop and egg on rice with some vegetables. A great breakfast with more and more powerful coffee – WooHoo! From there to a bus place to get tickets to Phnom Penh. The buses are so full that we couldn't get seats together, so took what we could get. Lots of foreigners headed out of town as most of Saigon closes down for Tet.

One of the things that's happened with both of us in aging is that we remember less and less of our night dreams. More often than not all either of us can remember is that there were dreams. Now, in Vietnam, both of us are dreaming more and remembering more. Last night Leslie dreamed this (from an email she sent to David and copied to me): “I had a wonderful dream about you last night. When it began, you were your current age/appearance, but after a nap, you were a beautiful baby boy again (wasn't a surprise at all in the dream). I wrapped you in a soft blanket and took you for a walk in your stroller, held you, etc. and it was incredibly happy and serene. I sat and watched your sweet

little face, especially your mouth, while you slept - just wonderful.

It was a rare gift to have the dream and to be able to remember it in great detail; both of us are so happy you're our son.”

That was a nice one to hear about!

Photo: pork chop and egg on rice, with vegetable and coffee for breakfast

Back to the Kim for a lazy hazy tropical afternoon. This from email to Jessica from Atrium Obscurum: Back out to the streets, Leslie and I walking around – going a way we hadn't gone before, through labyrinth alleys and passageways, just digging being there, stopping in at the "bauty shop" to get my beard trimmed (everyone having a good time with that). Stopped at a street vendor for noodles with vegetables, chillies, and garlic +

cha gio and cooold Saigon beer for dinner (little blue stools and metal table on the sidewalk of course). The Vietnamese variation on chilli oil is knocking me out! It's hot here, after Hanoi and Hue - Ahh, Hue. Now back in the room listening to Solar Fields, feeling good.

Photo above: flower vendors and customers in the rain - talk about sweet!

On to Binh Thanh Market. To get there you walk through a big park which is currently filled with flower and bonsai vendors in the most amazing display I've ever seen – and I've seen a few flower shows. We wandered through the flowers for awhile, then to the market where we got pretty much over-heated. Binh Thanh is the main tourist market in Saigon, so in addition to areas set up for locals, there are many stalls selling the same old stuff for tourists. Since this is Tet season, there are quite a few Viet Khieu (overseas Vietnamese) in town and the joint was jumping. I had decent Bun bo Hue, but Leslie was so over-heated she didn't eat.

Photo below: Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area of Saigon

The next morning it was more pork chop and egg on rice, more coffee, more coffee, talking with the old lady who's always sitting in the alley – not that we could understand much of what either of us could say. She walks (assisted) up from wherever she lives down the alley, sits in one of the three chairs

with a back, the coffee lady brings her a glass of coffee, she has a cigarette, someone sits with her, talking, drinking coffee, smoking together. The good life.

Photo: flower delivery

More flower market, more food court, this time for bun thit nuong, banh cuon, and fried bread with whole shrimp in it (I gave a pass to the heads). Back to the room for a nap and later for a walk, this time to a different part of the park, where we watched guys playing an amazing fast hacky-sack kind of kick game with a shuttlecock.

Photo: who wouldn't love a Vietnamese girl on a moto, with her mask, her gloves

Then an exercise class led by a compact, muscular woman and then a different exercise class that was pretty sexy. Then along a street past the “open tour” buses, and on to the same place as last night for more noodle, cha gio, and beer. This place, by the way, was where last year when we were walking to catch the early morning bus to Phnom Penh, there was a huge dead rat about six feet from where we were eating this trip.

But that was then, this is now.

Photo: lots of women and girls posing for photos at the flower show.

Really, once again, it's just being here. I don't think there many of the “sights” we've missed over the past seven years. Here's a big event for us: Today the woman who makes the banh cuon at Binh Thanh market came out from her stand and cuddled Leslie. Saigon travelers will know what an unbelievable thing this is like anyone

ever got affection from one of the food women here. Sweet. So that was the high point of the day in our exciting life.

Tomorrow we catch the bus to Phnom Penh. On the road again. Just can't wait to get on the road again.

Photo: this is the woman who came around the counter to snuggle Leslie - uninvited, unexpected, such a beautiful thing to happen.