Friday, March 27, 2009

Vietnam Day 1

Vietnam Day 1
We had big plans for our first day in Vietnam, which included going to the tailor, the market and a museum or two. As pre-port drags on, our neighbor Erin asks if she can tag along for the day, which we happily agree to. When they announce that the ship has been cleared we dash upstairs to get our shore passes (official documents issued by the Vietnamese government) before swiping out for the day.

SAS supplied a free shuttle from the port to the Rex Hotel, in the middle of downtown Ho Chi Minh City. We acquaint ourselves with the shuttle and hop on, ready for our first stop: the tailor.

I needed to get a top made for my sari (I already had the fabric), Brittany wanted to get a dress made and Erin wanted a suit. Vietnam is famous for cheap tailoring. We don’t have a particular shop in mind as we wander through the HCMC streets, walking a few blocks in the sweltering heat (a theme of our trip to Vietnam) before stumbling upon ‘Orchid Silk’, an air-conditioned storefront tailor. Greeting the cool air, I find a lady to help me with the top (I had a picture of exactly what I wanted) while Britt and Erin explore the colorful patterns. After a little haggling, I agree to pay 20$ for the handmade top (including the finishing touches on the sari fabric which needed to be stitched) and hangout, approving and denying B and E’s various outfit choices. They settle on their designs and we decide to start walking towards the “War Remnants Museum”.

On our way to the famed museum, we stumble upon the Ben Than Market and like any good tourists we decide to head in. The sights are overwhelming as we explore the tight, boiling hot aisles which are congested by shopkeepers calling out to us. They are more aggressive than many of our previous countries (less so than Morocco, though) and some even pat our shoulders or grab our arms to get our attention. Bargaining was also a little different as the general half price (half of the original quoted price is usually the right price) rule seemed null. Some vendors would drop the price radically, while others held strong to their original offers and would drop 2$ as if it were 20$.

I am determined to find a chopstick set for my new apartment and after a good deal of research (looking and bargaining with shopkeepers); I find the perfect set which contained sea shell holders! It will be great for our international homecoming party!!! Brittany and Erin also purchase chopstick sets and Buddhas. While exploring the huge market we run into two SAS boys who are eating Pho at one of the many counters in the center of the market. We ask them how it is and one of them offers for me to taste it- it was delicious! The three of us sit down and split one huge bowl of the hot noodle soup, sprinkling the various spices on top of it. For two dollars we enjoy the spicy soup and three waters! Yum!

The heat finally gets to us and we head out to catch a cyclo (it’s hard to describe, but picture a man peddling a baby carriage that you sit in). After some bargaining, they agree to take us for a dollar each. We all get into three different cyclos and clutch our cameras while taking many pictures as we glide through the crowded streets (HCMC is the motorbike capital of the world, there are about 4 million in the city limits alone!). We arrive at the museum only to find that it is closed for the following hour. We decide to explore the immediate area and stumble upon a beauty parlor. Upon our entrance we are served with a menu and figure out that a pedicure is only 4 USD (Vietnam takes dollars almost everywhere)! I can’t say that it was the best pedicure I’ve ever gotten, but for 4 dollars it was well worth it.

After our pedicures we decide to head back to the museum which we find open and alive with patrons. It was quite depressing as it chronicles (sometimes distorting) United States involvement in the Vietnam War (they call it the American War). I found some of the signs humorous as they referred to the South Vietnamese government in signage as the Puppet Government. However, much of the open air (and very hot) museum depicts the atrocities of Agent Orange and the destruction caused in part by the United States. It was very sobering indeed, but totally necessary when visiting Vietnam. I understand the reasoning behind United States involvement (our belief in The Domino Theory, our fight against communism, etc) but the whole thing seems totally misguided and unnecessary, after all after Saigon fell they went to war with China, the other communist country on their side of the continent. But, enough history, back to our adventures…

We decide to take cyclos back to the Rex and revisit the tailor so that Erin can explain some missing details of her suit. I really wanted to see some sort of cultural event while in Vietnam and when we walked past what looked like a theater I knew I had to investigate. After having some language difficulties with the women who was managing the desk, a man walked up and explained to us that it would be 6 USD for tickets that night, but that it was totally in Vietnamese. The three of us discuss the idea of going to a play totally in Vietnamese and after some pleas I manage to convince them to join me.

We stop for Vietnamese fast food on our way back to the Rex (Lotteria?) and then take the shuttle back home. We shower, take a little breather and eat dinner on the ship before heading back out (all dressed up!).

Before heading to the theater we stop in at an art shop which displays painted imitations of famous works from Matisse to Picasso. Brittany purchases a Klimt from the vendor while I check my email (they let me use their internet). From there we walk to the theater.

I make conversation with a Vietnamese family while we wait for the doors to open for the play. He repeatedly asks me why we are there (in a VERY nice, but quizzical manner) as we do not speak the language. I reply that we want to feel the culture and there is no better way than to immerse ourselves with the people (ok, so I said it in planner English than that, but you get the picture). The doors finally open and we are welcomed with Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, but more importantly by cold air-conditioning. The three of us take our seats in the fourth row next to a cheery young couple. The play starts a half hour late (the couple tells us that that is totally normal). The actors are very energized and the couple sporadically translates for us. The gist of the story (from what we could tell) is that there is a man searching for a wife. One women is too short, the other too young, yet another too old. It was quite entertaining, but a little confusing given we couldn’t understand what they were saying. The audience cackled often so the comedy was obviously very effective. We left at intermission, knowing that a good night of sleep was imperative before heading to the Mekong Delta. I was very happy that we had gone to theater as I feel that I grasped another aspect to their culture.

1 comment:

  1. I really think i would like to visit Vietnam, I saw a show on the travel channel last week, and in the town i saw all the designer stores and then of course the country that looks so beautiful. Hope you are able to post pics after you get back. I know you are having a wonderful time.