Archive | August, 2013

Vietnam Post 2: Ho Chi Minh Nights: Vietnam Harder With a Vengeance

27 Aug

Alright, so, a couple new things to write down before bed. Perhaps when this is all over I will try to wrap everything up into something resembling a narrative, and not the half-formed thoughts of a sleep-deprived, mildly sun-stroked idiot suffering from an electric-chair level of culture shock.

As per the last post, Donovan and I just arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), and repeated our behaviour from the last city we arrived in by drinking a bunch of beer named after it. This is a necessary measure to dull the sensory overload of this country.

Getting here. The flight to get here was on a hilariously small plane. Later, I will post a picture of Donovan (imagine a Ginger Hagrid) doing his best to order a coffee from a menu that is longer than the space between his chest and the seat in front of him. He’s like Gulliver, if Gulliver spent less time being a disquieting metaphor for colonialism, and more time being friendly to people and worrying about offending them.

The City. If Hanoi is a mad, beautiful, inky scribble of a city, Ho Chi Minh is practiced, formal illustration. Traffic is still a lunatic rush, but there are more traffic lights, wider roads, less obligatory honking. Even outside of the “backpacker’s district” where we’re staying, which more Western than a can of baked beans with Clint Eastwood’s face on the label, the architecture and patterns of urban design all seem much more familiar. But different. More thoughts when we explore tomorrow, I’m sure.

Oh right, before we left we played pool in a sketchy Hanoian billiards club we found by wandering down a back alley. The attendant was trying to learn English, and was pumped to have a couple sweaty foreigners to practice on. Pretty sure we got bilked on the price, but whatever, it was fun. Don’t tell my mom.

Our new friend! Donovan struck up a conversation with a random person at the airport who turned out to be a very fun puppet designer from Spain. She’s here building Vietnamese Water puppets, which sounds like an incredibly intricate process. In a half-remembered approximation of her words, “the puppet is based on a person who is based on a puppet.” In practice, this means that she travels around the rural areas, taking pictures of people who fit certain archetypes from the plays, and building puppets based on their portraits. She was also carrying around a mysterious, cellophane-wrapped package with her. When I asked what it was, she told me that she found a “puppet cemetery” behind one of the theatres in Hanoi and it made her sad so she took one. It was her birthday at the time, so I think that’s legit. I’m trying to get my hands on some of her photos, which she showed us on her camera. If she says it’s alright, I’ll share them.

Agg! It’s so late now! No time to go back and add more dumb jokes. Sorry! I need to be able to get up early to do dumb tourist stuff. I will start making sense of all this later.

Som’ writin’ ’bout ‘nam

26 Aug

Okay, so nothing intense, but a few quick things I wanted to jot down about Hanoi before I fell into the delirious, hilarious sleep of someone who has been washing down malaria medication with cheap beer and street pho for the past two days.

Anyway. I am currently in Vietnam with my friend Donovan. We are leaving Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh tomorrow. That should be enough for this.

A traffic thing. It’s the first thing I noticed about the city, and one of the most typifying. People surge through the narrow streets on mopeds, roller blades, cars, busses and rickshaws. If there are road rules anyone actually follows, I can’t discern them. The important one seems to be: If I can get in front of you, not killing both of us is now your problem. From the sky, the cars must look like bags of confetti blowing at a crosswinds.

Six and a half million people live here, and every single one of them is in a hurry to get somewhere else.

Horns bleat constantly. The sounds are all shrill and surprising, but somehow not accusatory. There’s more courtesy and obligation in it than menace. Kind of like a bicycle bell, I guess. But the net effect is an incessant, squeaky din of gameshow-buzzer-like noises. It’s like being trapped at a spelling bee for dumb kids.

And the only thing more dangerous than driving in Hanoi is walking. Similar to Italy (*adjusts beret, takes whiff of own farts from crystal decanter shaped like David Sedaris*), crossing the streets here is like like playing a reality TV version of Frogger. At best, you feel like the traffic is actively trying to kill you. At worst, you think you are a cartoon frog, because you are pretty drunk may be having some anti-malarial-induced visions.

A funny thing. The first time Donovan and I crossed a busy street, we celebrated by yelling “nailed it!” and pumping our fists into the air, because we adults. And then this little middle-aged dude in the standard-issue double-breast-pocketed button down t-shrt turns around and says:

“Yes, hello? I am Nailed It.”

We weren’t sure what he meant, but we walked away wondering if something that sounds like “Nailed It” is a common Vietnamese name, or if we had just been hell-of trolled (i.e. found the Vietnamese Ian Wallace).

A food thing. It’s so good, you guys.