Got up early this morning, finished jamming everything into my two bags and two carry-ones, and took a last walk through the neighborhood. Many shops and restaurants are still closed for Tèt, so things are quieter than the last time I took this route. Many of the open-air (street) vendors are still open every day so the locals can purchase their fresh meat, vegetables, noodles, and other things. One of the great things about Việt Nam is that it's easy to shop every day for alive-yesterday or in-the-ground-yesterday foods.
Many of the restaurants get daily morning and sometimes afternoon deliveries of these items via moto and carried right through the front door.
I stopped for the final time (this trip) at my favorite phở shop for a standard Vietnamese breakfast that I've avoided for weeks in favor of Americanized breakfasts. It felt right. As I waited my Phở Gả, the tears started. I was able to maintain my composure for the most part, but it's crumbling again as I write this on my flight to Hong Kong.
What a contrast! After over two months of sitting on hard chairs and stools and eating (mostly) the simple, healthy food of Việt Nam, I just finished a Cathay Pacific Business Class lunch of poached salmon, al dente vegetables in a light cream sauce, a very good Shiraz (Zonte's Footstep Chocolate Factory Shiraz from Australia), and a personal-sized container of Hagen-Daas (sp?) Mixed Berry ice cream... and no-doubt as many calories as I consumed in any two days last week. Looking at my face in the mirror and in photos, I'm guessing I've lost at least 10, maybe 15 unneeded pounds since I last set foot in the U.S.
23 Jan 2014-- Hair is NOT dyed red, it's the lighting :)
Note: Later, in my Hong Kong hotel room, I used the bathroom scale to verify my weight loss. I'm down to 98.4 kilos (216 lb); the first time in decades that I've been under 220. Now to keep it there...
Yesterday, Sunday, my last full day in-country (Day 63 for those keeping score), started with an Americanized breakfast at The Dune Café. I followed that with a return to my favorite massage therapist/nail expert at Khả Hấn, 40 Nguyền Cư Trinh. A very nice and professional young lady gave me a great head and neck massage Saturday. As that massage ended, she offered an up-sell for a manicure instead of the additional private massage options often offered by others. I said yes, and my fingernails look as good as they ever have. My return this morning for a pedicure turned into a group session with three women working on me all at once--pedicure, ear hair trimming, and nose pore cleaning.
The most difficult part of my day was turning down the woman in the foreground when she offered a 50% discount on a four-women massage session... five times.
When you go to Khả Hấn or any massage house, be sure to tip well; I tip 150-200% of the fee taken by the House (of which, as I wrote in earlier posts, the women get zero).
Later in the afternoon, Bảo came over for a few hours. We wandered around for a bit on the moto, grabbed a last Vietnamese dinner of spring rolls, crab and asparagus soup, and pineapple fried rice served in a hollowed-out pineapple, and then strolled the streets. Later, still hungry, I searched Bùi Viên for some street-grilled octopus. After walking 1-1/2 lengths, I found what was probably the last serving for the night, combined with a bit of squid. The take-away box and I sat down at a street table outside the "ONE beer, ONE dollar!" bar, had a last Ba-Ba-Ba (333 beer), and watched the holiday-reduced crowds walk by. I love how almost all the street vendors now recognize me as a no-sale and saunter right by without stopping! The one who did stop earned herself a sale, though. While finishing my beer I realized that I wanted to get a replacement for the keychain that was sacrificed in my early December motorcycle slide down an HCMC street. When she stopped with her box of assorted goodies, I bought it, paying the 50,000 VND asking price and I think, based on her reaction, making her night better.
Here in my new key ring off the fob to show what the street slide did to the old one-- from two full thicknesses of metal to one-half of one...
Two months later I'm still impressed enough to carry it around.
When this trip was in the planning stage, a number of you asked me to send you emails and photos with updates as I travelled. You, my friends and others who are reading this are a huge part of the reason I kept this blog and took many of the photos I've shared. Thank you. Without this, a year or two from now I would have a few faded and many lost memories. Just writing down my experiences has locked them more securely in my memory.
Another benefit to keeping this blog is that I gave out a couple dozen cards with this URL to people I met throughout my journey so that they had an additional resource for their trip planning.
The last two months were an amazing experience! I just hope I said a proper goodbye to everyone...