Time to do a bit of catching up... there are so many things to do and see; so many restaurants and cafés to experience; so many people to watch and talk with (though I avoid Westerners as much as I can outside of the occasional endorsement of a restaurant they are considering as I walk by); and so many narrow alleyways to explore...
During my time here, I'm working on learning words and short phrases in Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). My progress is significantly slower than I'd like, and I certainly could be spending more time on it. I'm committed to learning the language of the country in which I will live. That means it's back to the flawed audio lessons I studied prior to my first visit and, as soon as I get back, taking formal Tiếng Việt lessons. One of the things that is holding me back is the reaction I get from most native speakers when I try to speak even a few words in their tiếng... a blank stare... though I think I've finally figured out the cause. When a native-speaker sees my white, Western face, he/she expects that the language coming out of my mouth is English—or at least NOT Tiếng Việt. For example, the Vietnamese word for milk is "sưa", pronounced suu-a with a downward accent on the first syllable and I often order tea with milk at breakfast. The universally available tea here is a yellow-label Lipton (I know), so I used to order tràliptonsữa. Unfortunately, because the hard-g sound is difficult for the Vietnamese-speaker's palate, so their pronunciation of the English word "sugar" is amazingly close to my pronunciation of "sưa". Guess what I get when I order "tràliptonsữa." Yup! Tea with sugar. Since I don't like sugar in my tea or anything (except for the pinch that makes an avocado smoothy VERY good), I now order " tràliptonmilk."
Am I over-thinking these things? :-D
The main reason I came here now is to check out the rainy season. This was the view from the Terrace Cafe on 24 June:
The warning warble you hear in the clip is the noise public buses make when their turn signals are on. Even better, they do actually use them. When you are on a motorbike and hear that sound, you know that the bus is changing lanes and could very well be headed your way. With everything else going on on the street, without that warble you could easily be toast (or maybe a pancake). Although most of the time it's just humid, there are now rain- and sometimes thunder-showers every afternoon lasting from five to 20 minutes. Then it pretty much clears up... a lot like in South Florida. The storms are usually less intense, though I've seen more than one of these.
Driving/Riding in Sài Gòn
I've written before about riding in the cities... imagine riding a motorbike or driving a car in this traffic:
Now add four wheels (cars, trucks, and buses) driving in the middle and third lanes and two wheels (motorbikes) EVERYWHERE... with turns made per these signs:
(traffic sign on a one-way street approaching the intersection of another one-way street)
Yes, that's right! Here vehicles turn left from the left lane (and sometimes the middle and right lanes) and all vehicles, both two and four wheels, turn left from the middle lane... while other vehicles are going straight through from the left lane. When turning assume there is always someone between you and the curb; because there often is. A few nights ago, sitting almost next to the curb at a street restaurant, we saw a taxi passenger open her curbside door and take out a guy on a motorbike--just like the Three Stooges, except that it was real. The guy was a bit miffed, maybe because his head missed a light pole my centimeters; the passenger was a bit embarrassed; the taxi driver was upset; and the diners sitting within spitting distance looked up at the THUNK and then continued their meals and conversations. No one got up to see if the man was okay; no one that I saw took a photo--the one to have, of course, was already history; and no one seemed to give it much thought. Since it wasn't the first time I've seen something similar and I was again the only Westerner I saw in the area, I'm thinking it was, to them, a non-event. Even the guy on/off the motorbike climbed back on and rode away within two minutes. The lesson: NEVER ride a motorbike between a stopped four-wheel vehicle and the curb. And yes, it has to be said... A day after I wrote that long description of turning I saw turn markings on the street that were significantly intriguing that I did a 360 (you do NOT want to know) and backtracked to take a photo of the sign on a pole:
Yes again! You can turn left or right from either lane... and, amazingly enough, it usually works!
"The Edge of Tomorrow"
Although I'm not much of a Tom Cruise fan, I do recommend that you see "The Edge of
Tomorrow." It's surprising and rather well done. Is that two surprises?
When you dine at one of the street restaurants and many of the sit-down cafés, you will find that the napkins look a LOT like toilet paper because they are. There are plastic containers designed for holding a roll with the open end of the tube (if there were one, which there isn't) facing up. They work just fine...
The container on the left is the omnipresent toothpick dispenser.
Herbal Sleep Aid
Many years ago I joined the group of humans for which pulling an all-nighter means not getting up at least once to pee. In recent years, I started waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. with little to no chance of getting back to sleep. The only thing I've found that works in keeping me down all night is Ambien CR; it has some pretty negative side effects and my doctor is pushing back pretty hard on my request for it. A couple weeks ago I stopped at the pharmacy across the street from my hotel and asked the pharmacist what she recommends. She gave (sold) me a 60mg herbal called rotundin that costs 120,000 VND (US$6) for 100 tablets... and it works quite well if I take one or two in the middle of the night. I'm bringing 200 tablets home to get me through my remaining time in the U.S. I mention it here because I know that a number of you reading this have the same challenge and have yet to find a solution.
Found Restaurants and Cafés
Đà LạtPhố, 306Nguyễn ThịMinhKai Street—a nice, quiet café with choice of indoor or outdoor seating; outside features nice waterfalls and their wonderful sounds. Tokyo Deli Sushi—various locations; very good sushi for two for under US$25. View Café, 2A Troung Quoc Dung Street, Phu Nhuan District (near the airport)—I wandered about 100 meters down a side street and happened on this restaurant/café. After leaving the motorbike with security, I walked up a flight of stairs to two tables on a terrace... and an elevator with only two buttons floors; the one I was on and "9".
The ninth and top floor is another indoor/outdoor venue with a panoramic view of Sài Gòn.
What a find! I called my friend to rave about it and found that its existence was even a surprise to someone who lives a few blocks away.
Lang Van Café, 182/1Nguyễn Trọng Tuyển Street, Phu Nhuan District—this is where I met the above-mentioned friend for coffee and it's a couple blocks from the View Café. Another café with the wonderful sounds of waterfalls and a choice of inside or outside seating. There is also an upstairs terrace that I plan to explore on my next visit. MINH ĐỨC, 35 Tôn Thất Tùng Street, District 1—okay food, but high prices; skip this one.
During my HCMC to Ha Noi adventure, I may'be mentioned that the railroad crossings in the countryside consist of a manually-operated gate that is literally pulled across the road by a person who either arrives before the train or is stationed there all day. I did not stay around long enough to research which it is. I was very surprised to see that it is the same in Ho Chi Minh City, population 7-point-something million:
There are many places in HCMC to get away from the noisy city. One such oasis is on Trường Sa Street, just meters from one of the major thoroughfares:
Until next time (did you notice that I've stopped promising Mr. Rot's Secret Tour is next? I do promise that I will get to it ;)...
A few months before I returned to Việt Nam, I read an on-line article that talked about and showed examples of how Time magazine frequently has a different cover and cover story in the United States than it does in the rest of the world. In nearly every case, the U.S. cover was fluffy and shallow while the cover for the rest of the world was newsworthy.
I normally shun Time because, like 90% of the rest of American media, it leans far right (as in -wing, as opposed to correct) and I refuse to support such publications. Last week I bought the 16 June 2014 international issue of Time. In checking the Time web site I was unable to find the US cover, so I do not know whether or not it is different this week.In any case, I have to show you, my readers, how low these bastards have fallen:
WHAT THE FCUK???
Think about the message this cover sends to the world; the very terrorists that the wingnut far-right über-conservative clowns pee their pants about daily; and, most importantly, the Americans who are on the front line and who daily risk becoming the next hostage.
It doesn't matter what the article inside actually says or concludes; this cover is the main stream American media telling every single member of the U.S. armed forces that the "leave no man behind" credo that has been a cornerstone of the U.S. military for over 200 years may or may not apply to you depending on if we approve of what you are alleged to have done prior to or during your captivity.
Nothing Sgt. Bergdahl could do or not do while wearing the uniform makes him unworthy to bring home. NOTHING!
The chicken-hawks (those who never served a day in the military and have never seen a war they didn't want others to fight) led the cheers for the illegal, immoral, and unnecessary military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they have their panties in a wad about the possibility that in Sgt. Bergdahl's five-year nightmarish attempt to stay alive, he may have done something of which they disapprove. He may have done something for which he should now be held accountable... and he may have done what he needed to survive an unimaginably horrific five years held by people who cut off captives' heads live on the Internet. We will not know until it gets sorted out. If it ever gets sorted out. Were Sgt. Bergdahl not returned to the U.S., he would never get the chance to defend his actions—if they even need defending.
What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?
The chicken-hawks also cast dispersions on his father because, in solidarity with his son's captivity, the elder Bergdahl grew a long bushy beard that the chicken-hawks say may mean that he's also a terrorist.
Yes, they are that ridiculous/pathetic.
Whatever Sgt. Bergdahl may or may not have done, he deserves repatriation. The military justice system will later determine if he committed any offenses.
To even raise the question as to whether or not Sgt. Bergdahl was "worth it", undermines the moral of every person wearing the uniform of the U.S. military and the moral of the American people.
YES, HE WAS WORTH IT!
If and when another U.S. soldier, sailor, or Marine is taken prisoner, let's see if the captors will take war criminals Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice,Wolfowitz, Yee, et al in exchange. Or maybe chicken-hawks Rush, Hannity, Colmes, O'Reilly, Scarborough, Will, Graham, and Kristol. Then we'll see what those assholes think about repatriation.
I'll even pay for their transportation one-way to the sand...
On my first day in Đà Lạt I was introduced to an amazing acupuncture doctor (see previous post). During a conversation with her and my new friend and translator Vy, she told me that the house to which her practice is attached and where her son and his family are currently living, will probably be available for rental in late summer or early fall... and that she would be very happy to rent it to me if I'd like. She gave me a tour; it has a living room, kitchen, and full bathroom downstairs and two bedrooms, a full bath, and a small balcony upstairs. There is a lockable gate on the driveway, a secure place to store the motorbikes, and empty lots on either side. It's a nice place and definitely a contender, though I am not committing to anything yet. While thinking about this place, I've come up with a few questions that I'll have to answer for any rental property:
Will it be okay to have Sofie live with me? (deal breaker)
What is the neighborhood like?
Is it secure?
How do I get mail?
Do they have delivery of 5 gallon bottled water?
The pluses of this place:
5 minutes to the lake; 10 minutes to town
Rent includes once-a-week housecleaning
The small balcony is mostly obstructed by the additional building on the front that houses the doctor's practice
There are five HUGE and UGLY condominiums about 70 meters away that seem to be mostly vacant--if they fill up, the neighborhood vibe will change for the worse.
While in Đà Lạt, my new good friend Thu took me to a place that I highly recommend... Đà Lạt Night Café. It's on a small, easily missed road and a bit difficult to find. It is also worth getting lost a few times. I suggest that you take a taxi--or if you're on a tight budget, hail a taxi, show the driver the address, follow him on your rental motorbike, and pay his fare. Then you save the fare back to your hotel/hostel because you're on the motorbike. I was the only Westerner in a full house (possibly because I am unable to find a single mention of it on the Internet) the night we were there, and we were late enough to miss out on the coveted window seats. For me, the main attraction of DLNC is not the good entertainment (singers with guitar and piano accompaniment); it is the beautiful panoramic view of the city through the windows of one entire wall. You can even see Đà Lạt's scaled-down Eiffel Tower on the horizon...
Sorry, no photos. You'll just have to go yourself. I'll take you if you come to town after I'm a Đà Lạt resident.
If you are anywhere near Đà Lạt after dark, head for Đà Lạt Night Café (04 Đống Đa Street, Đà Lạt City).
Next: Mr. Rot's Secret Tour begins with 10 km of MUD
I am a HUGE fan of Salvador Dali and Antoni Gaudi. There are two Dali museums in the world--one in his hometown of Figueres, Spain and the other in St. Petersburg, Florida. I've been to both. In 1999 I spent a week of 1999 admiring Gaudi's many works in Barcelona. All were amazing and well worth the time and travel.
While preparing for my initial visit last year, I read about a place called Crazy House and put it on my "I want to see..." list. During our brief stop in Đà Lạt last December, Annika and Philine and I were unable to find Crazy House--although we didn't try all that hard... This trip, I found it.
As is commonly said, Crazy House looks a collaboration between Dali and Gaudi... and it's a collection of connected buildings in the middle of normal Vietnamese housing where one could easily drive within 50 meters and never realize it.
I spent quite a while wandering through and in and out and up and down and...
There's a staircase that goes OVER one of the gables;
Notice the "tree trunks" and "vines" that act as handrails...
There are many sitting rooms and bedrooms; I hear that you can even stay overnight, though I've not yet verified that.
The "wood" floor, steps, and tree are actually man-made. My guess is concrete.
You probably saw the mirror on the ceiling; did you notice the one on the wall? Although it was not a conscious search, this was the only so-accessorized bedroom that I saw.
While at Crazy House, I got a little carried away with gift shop purchased--and struck up a conversation with a very nice young woman named Lien. When I mentioned that I am moving to Đà Lạt, she offered to keep in touch and, along with Vy, help in whatever way she could. We have since exchanged a couple emails and in one of them she said that I remind her of her father--and asked if she can call me Papa. WOW! What a compliment!!! Absolutely!
I look forward to getting to know Lien, her husband, and her friends once I live there (Đà Lạt, not Crazy House... though if it comes up for sale, I'm interested :)
Note to Annika and Philine: I'm sorry I didn't insist we search harder for Crazy House. Please come visit me in Đà Lạt in 2015 and I will take you there. Next: Mr. Rot's Secret Tour and Đà Lạt Night Café
Picture the Pacific Northwest (US) with coffee plantations, narrow two lane roads, 99 motor scooters for every four-wheeled vehicle, and dogs on the menu.
I guess cats are safe. For now...
One of the things I learned very early in my travels to experience other cultures is to refrain from judging by my or Western standards. That said, I'm sticking with the more conventional foods... like Hù tiếu mì thập cẩm (Assorted pig's innards with rice noodles or egg noodles).
While in HCMC, I met with Eoin (pronounced Owen--I had to ask) Bassett of www.internationalliving.com. He's the Editor, and was in-town as part of his whirlwind tour of SE Asia. Headquartered in Ireland, they (internationalliving.com) send out free daily emails that offer hints and tips for those who are considering the ex-pat life. Their market is America, though they do have subscribers elsewhere.
Just before I left on this trip I read a note in one of the emails that Eoin would be in Việt Nam at the same time as I, so I sent him an email asking if he'd like to meet in HCMC. We met my second Monday in-country, just after he left Đà Lạt. We talked for a bit and he asked me to write a few first-person and informational articles for the magazine that IL puts out every month, both on-line and hard copy, for its paid subscribers. I agreed, of course!
Eoin also told me about his experience in Đà Lạt, gave me the name and contact information of a young woman who had volunteered to act as a guide for his writers, and suggested a hotel. In return, I told him to disregard the signs above SGN airport security (international terminal) directing passengers to security screening based on their gate number because all gates are accessible from both screening areas. He later emailed me that this tip saved him a lot of time.
Upon arrival in Đà Lạt, I took a taxi into town. Before getting in the taxi, I asked how much and he said "Ba." Three, as in 300,000 (US$15). I got in. The drive was about 30 minutes and when we arrived at the hotel, the meter said 527,000. I gave him the agreed-upon 300k and he was happy... though not as happy as I was that I'd asked the price up-front! My happiness was somewhat dampened when I saw taxis with "Airport 220,000" on them. It's only $4 less, so I didn't lose any sleep.
The Villa Pink House is great! It's a family-run operation and son Ron checked me in. He told me about the hotel, the surroundings, the free breakfast every morning (note: "Banana Bread" here is two bananas and a small baguette, not what every Westerner expects when we see those two words together), and Mr. Rot's Secret Tour. He also secured my extra cash in the safe and carried my bag up to my room.
The rest of Day One in Đà Lạt was spent wandering on-foot through the city of roughly 210,000. By comparison, Ho Chi Minh City has 7.4 million people--what a difference a divisor of 37 makes!!!
I also met with Eoin's (and now my) friend Vy (pronounced Vee) over tea and she asked how she might make my trip to Đà Lạt better. Vy is a student who was studying and taking her university entrance exams while I was there and still found time to meet twice with me AND work at her part-time job at a Reflexology business. We decided that the most value for me would be if she found two or three quiet neighborhoods to show me so that I could get a feel for Đà Lạt and whether it offered what I'm looking for in a home--some of which, of course, are intangibles.
After Vy went home to study, I walked around a bit more, stopping for lunch at one of the dozens of small, family-run restaurants that line most of the streets in the city center... and it was good. What did I have? No idea. I just point to something on the menu and they bring it.
Đà Lạt Day Two: What involves gel, a hair dryer, 24 needles, electrodes, and 100,000 VND?
I rented a moto from the hotel and stuck out again across the city, this time in search of the acupuncture doctor recommended by Vy's reflexology employer. Late the previous afternoon I had a reflexology treatment and the practitioner suggested that I try acupuncture for my neck pain. For the past few weeks I've been going to an ex-pat chiropractor in HCMC, but on my last visit he popped one of my ribs OUT of place. I am NOT going back to the American Chiropractic in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Pink House has a very good map that they give to all guests, but like all maps, it is limited. As I learned during my first trip here, the map apps for iPhone and iPad are worthless in Việt Nam... and until now--a week later--I did not think to take my new Garmin Zumo GPS. If I had taken it, I would have missed the 35-minute adventure that comes with realizing you are headed the wrong way; asking directions by showing a small piece of paper with the doctor's name and address; following the pointed finger/arm; realizing again you are headed the wrong way; asking additional directions and following them; realizing that AGAIN you are going the wrong way; searching for someone to ask for help because you're out in the lightly-populated area; discovering that the address for which you search is one of five identical soulless apartment buildings surrounded by concrete AND that the security guard has never heard of the doctor; asking a fifth time (yes, if you're counting I left one out above :-P) and having the woman walk away quickly as you start to talk; and, finally, finding the woman who nodded yes and climbed on the back of my motorbike (sans helmet) to direct me to the correct house/clinic only 50 meters away around the corner and a 15-minute motorbike ride from the hotel.
The doctor was very nice, a great practitioner, and someone with whom I am sure I will continue my two-a-day visits soon after my return to Đà Lạt. As you probably surmised a bit back, the answer to the "what involves..." question is acupuncture.
On the way to the doctor, I passed a still-smoking, huge French-style structure that I at first thought was a church-related building. As it turned out, it was a Vietnamese army map storage facility that had burned overnight. I was unable to find an English-language newspaper during my visit--probably because my two favorite newspaper saleswomen, Sài Gòn-based sisters Lan and Ca, were not there to find me and sell me my daily paper.
The structure itself appeared intact, though the roof on the northern half of the building was completely gone. Police and firefighters were still on-scene and it was interesting to note their uniforms and protective gear. As with any departure from what passes for normal, there were also plenty of onlookers and moto riders willing to stop in the middle of the street to gawk at the partial destruction of an interesting piece of architecture. Notice the smoke...
Between my first and second acupuncture visits, I headed out to find a seamstress. At the suggestion of a couple locals, I headed over to Đà Lạt Center to again wander, ask, and wander and ask some more until I again encountered a woman willing to walk me to a man with a sewing machine, talent, and a sense of humor. I needed someone with talent and a sense of humor because a few sewing machine operators had already told me that what I asked was impossible.
The weekend prior to my departure from the U.S., I met with new friend Mike to ride our Victory motorcycles together to what was supposed to be my first meeting of the Cascade Victory Motorcycle Club. As we rode through the Gray's Harbor County countryside and into a downhill curve, my wheels slide out from under me and I found myself lying on my side with the bike on top of me, pinning down my left leg. Were it not for the gravel underneath me, I'm sure I would have been unable to lift the bike enough to free myself. Needless to say, my new-to-me Victory Kingpin sustained some damage, though if I do the work myself, I'll be able to keep it under $2000.
The reason for mentioning this at further injury to my ego, is that it explains the two holes burnt into the left arm of my armored jacket. Because I was in full armor/helmet/boots, only "things" were permanently damaged. The best part is that I didn't even notice the jacket's burn holes until I was already in Việt Nam! I know I'll buy a new jacket when I return to the US, but for now it would be nice to have one that is intact. After trying a few options in HCMC, I had almost given up. Then the owner of the Hà Vy Hotel (where I stay when I'm in-town) offered to sew a patch on them for me. I ran upstairs and grabbed a Việt Nam flag patch that I'd brought with me, and she sewed it on to cover the larger of the two holes. There was still a smaller hole, so while in Da Lat, I found the previously-mentioned guy at Da Lat Center who charged me 50,000 VND (US$2.50) to repair the two holes and sew the flags of the countries I've ridden a motorcycle in so far (US, Việt Nam, and Cambodia) on the sleeve to both cover the repairs and give me a unique jacket.
Soon: Crazy House, Đà Lạt Night Café , and Mr. Rot's Secret Tour...