After landing in Ho Chi Minh City 11 days ago, I headed to Flamingo Travel to say hello. Terance is now the unofficial manager, handling most of the paperwork and helping get things organized. Owner Hung is in Hà Nôi most of the time and although mechanic Chong's English is pretty good, there is a huge plus in having a native English-speaker in the office most of the time. He and I talked for a bit and he asked me to help with slow-speed riding instruction for novice riders. Almost two weeks later, I've helped a number of people increase their low speed stability and turning skills.
It's constantly amazing to me how many people (99.5% of the people to whom I am referring here pee standing up) come to Việnt Nam, see thousands upon thousands of motorbikes ridden by everyone from 12 to 120, sometimes balancing gods-know-what quite precariously, and think, "Hell, if they can do it, so can I!" and go out and buy or rent a motorbike to ride 1800 kilometers (1100 miles) from Hà Nôi to Ho Chi Minh City or the opposite. I researched and prepared for MONTHS and was unprepared for everything I encountered!
It must be that Ego and Testosterone cocktail I wrote about a while back...
In the time I've been back in HCMC, I've done a lot of things and have managed to stay off motos and motorcycles... for the most part. My lower back is almost back to normal, though I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend and chiropractor Bob on a professional level the first weekday I'm back!
What follows is a non-sequential summary of my second visit to the former Saigon...
There's a Spa across the street from one of the bar girl bars and a very nice young woman named Dep stands out front on tile for 10-12 hours every afternoon through night in black flip flops that couldn't've cost US$2. She is there 7 days a week handing out flyers and very nicely soliciting customers for the various massages offered. I've been there twice and the massages are about average with no boom-boom offered or on the menu. My point is, Dep is extremely outgoing and each evening a number of us old Westerners stop by throughout the evening to say hello and chat a bit. If I were hiring a salesperson in HCMC, she would be my first pick.
Upon my return, I was reminded that since the thief discussed in an early post never returned my iPhone, her jacket, a pair of fancy high heels, and non-Smart phone were still awaiting either me or my stolen phone. I took the items to Dep, explained why I had them, and asked if she could use them. I wish you could've seen the look on her face! She is from a a poor Mekong Delta family (writing that, it feels redundant) and had no dressy "girl shoes"!!! I can still see the HUGE smile on her face and the tears welling up in her eyes... For days she thanked me every time I walked past.
WOW! I just got my US$400+ worth!
The day after I arrived I went to the Thai Consulate and got my visa. The woman tried to talk me out of it, saying that the rules had just changed and Americans arriving by air can now stay for 30 days without one. I insisted, mainly because I want the souvenir, but also--as I told her--the rules could easily change again.
Now, 10 days later, I've rarely left my comfortable little neighborhood. I know I've been here a while, because some of the touts have stopped asking me to buy sunglasses, wallets, maps, key chains, gum, cigarettes, and every other little thing thing they might be able to make a dong or three on. If you do come here and need something they have, please pay the asking price. Yes, you may be able to save 2,000 or 5,000 VND (a US dime or quarter) by walking into one of the Circle K stores that are as plentiful here as Starbucks are (it's both singular and plural like 'deer', right?) in your town, but they need the money a hell of a lot more than you or whatever multinational corporate trough you're feeding at Circle K. While you're at it, drop 20,000 in more beggars' bowls than you ignore. At a minimum, it's US$1 worth of good karma.
Hell, I've even taken Western-looking strangers to task for negotiating amounts under US$1. If you can afford to get here from whatever over-privileged nation you live in, pony up and pay the flippin' buck, ya cheap bastard! No, that's not what I say... though I'm sure it's coming.
Maybe it really is "a small world"? Oh, yeah... the blog.
They invite me to join them, and we spent a nice 20 minutes or so catching each other up. They've been joined by another guy from their hometown, so there are now five. This time, I actually asked their names: Tobias Wirthensohm, Alexander Schele, Bernard Ihler, Reinhard Reischmann, and Marcus Leutner. They are each very friendly and I'd imagine this will be only one of many adventures they have had/will have together. I hope to run into them again one day.
I made a note to mention luggage, but I am clueless as to why. They say the memory is the second thing to go...
Next: Phần Ba (Part 3)