Thursday, 10 November 2016

Rattle and Snore V (or 8 hours in a train from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City)

NO PARDON for this turkey this Thanksgiving !
Recent events require a short rewind.  Flash back to last evening in Nha Trang.

What was the FIRST thing I did last night after learning that Dump is president elect?  

I finished the Quy Nhon blog post.

The SECOND thing?

I put the German border-crossing finger-under-the-nose picture back in this blog's header, you know the Fawlty Towers Adolf imitation thing.  After reading THIS, it seemed the natural thing to do.  Am I really the only seeing unbelievably close and scary parallels here?

The THIRD thing?  
I head down into the night streets because now I NEED more wine, LOL. 

And it's a good thing I go (May I call this the first profiteering of the Trump presidency? LOL), because otherwise I never would have heard the voice call "Cigarettes?". I look down and there is an old lady sitting on one of those tiny stools with a tray of cigarettes in front of her. Right next to her is woman in her early twenties.  It's the older lady who called.   Oh why not? I show her my brand and ask 'how much?'.  The old lady says "40".  The young woman next to her says "30". 

WTF?  I thought that the old lady was accompanied by her granddaughter but now I realize that they are both selling and that I just became witness to the younger one trying to underbid the old one.   

TsTsTs. 1st of all, that's NOT a nice thing for the younger one to do. 2nd of all, one is supposed to honour one's elders and personally I like to buy from people with character, i.e. NOT ones that underbid an old woman who is sitting right next to them.  And here is why sometimes those old sayings are true.  All these ethical considerations are nice and fine, but should they really lead to me buying from the seller with the higher price?  All these thoughts are going through my head and probably are visible in my face.

This old woman earns my respect right there and then.

In her wisdom she manages to cut cleanly through the very centre of the Gordian knot of my thoughts.   
She says  "One me, one her". 
Is it any wonder I don't sleep well?

What a brilliant darling !

She manages to increase sales 

Everyone involved is happy ! 

Never underestimate an old granny !

I go to bed early with the explicit aim of getting up EARLY, so that I will  be tired during today's train ride. 8 hours awake in a train is not something I am looking forward to !

3 am.  During yet another smoke on my balcony 12 stories above the street I hear Phantomesque Organ music rising from the depths below.  Talk about strange !

I'm trying to figure out where to go and what to do on the remaining 11 days of this journey and I think I have found something promising.   Maybe I should veg out for a few days.  And Sihanoukville looks just like the place to do it

Of course, there are probably similarly breathtaking pictures of Nha Trang in circulation, but I'm willing to check it out.  Yes, Yes, I know, I should put my money where my mouth is and not play LUXURY TOURIST, but just let me do some daydreaming at this early hour, O.K.?

4 am. Reading the news it seems like the world is in shock. They can't believe it.  I'm not really THAT surprised.  For weeks I have been spouting the line "I don't think they are THAT stupid.  On the other hand, they DID RE-elect Bush. Not Bush the Elder, but Bush the Idiot."  The sad part?   It's exactly those who voted for the new guy that don't have the imagination or inclination to leave the country to keep him and his cronies from fleecing their pockets. Ah well. On y va!

5 am. I wake up from an early morning nap.  Is it getting light outside? Oh.OH.Gotta go !

My original plan is just to head to the water, light some incense for a few very special departed, take some pictures, and watch the day arrive.

miss you !

If you saw this in Vancouver it would be a seal.  Here it is a swimmer ;-)

But so many other plans, this one gets altered. In a good way . When I see the vast numbers of Vietnamese walking, exercising, and swimming, I make a bundle of my shirt, smokes, sandals, and wristwatch. Then I just walk into the ocean. The air is a bit chilly this morning (LOL, I check afterwards and it is 25 Celsius with 79% humidity; I am READY for those BEACHES) so that the water feels even warmer than yesterday.   Gliding through the warm water with the waves all around me reflecting the early morning light is so very special.  When I come out and stand at the beach, with the 'cool' air giving me goose bumps while it slowly dries me, I feel like a new man. Something has changed during that dip, I can feel it. But I can't localize it yet. Ah well, time will tell, as it always does.

Even the picture taken in the elevator back to the room don't provide a clue. Except that I now have a lazy eye?  

This is what you will look like if you have wine for breakfast !
5:45 am I am back in my room.  I call Grandma using Skype.  A few reboots of Windows 10, and FINALLY both the microphone AND the speakers are working at the same time.  I'll be leaving Vietnam in 2 days for a place where my cell phone no longer works and at least now I have means to call her every day, unless MS comes up with another ingenious upgrade in the meantime.

I have to leave just after the rainbow arrived. DARNED.

7:30 am. I took a taxi from the front of the hotel to the train station. The receptionist asked me whether she should call one, but I just pointed at the street where there always is one waiting and she nodded.  The taxi ride to Ga Nha Trang cost 41,000 VND, so yesterday's guess about the real fare was pretty close.  And this was a car, not a scooter ;-)
I have a ticket for the 8 hour ride to SaiGon. That cost me 426,000 VND, just a few pennies over US $19.
7:35 am. I just got an e-mail from my hotel in Sai Gon.  My room is ready for me!  LOL, how is that for service?  I remember the Travel Lodge in North Vancouver CHARGING me CAD$ 30 extra to move into a room before official check-in time (2 pm), even though the room was already cleaned and ready.  LOL,that $30 early-check-in fee is the same amount I paid for my ROOM here last night!

7:50 am.  I have not had breakfast yet and my stomach is reminding me of that fact.   I see a stylishly dressed older Vietnamese lady munch on a Banh Mi.  I walk over, point at her sandwich, shrug my shoulders, and point to the outside.  She smiles and I head into the direction that her index finger indicates.

The sun is strong already, I can feel my skin whispering "Precious! Give us more of that Precious !". I find a Banh Mi stand not 50 meters from the waiting hall but I don't see any baguette.  I say Banh Mi to the Lady of the Cart, but just get a smile back.  Does that mean she's out of baguette?  Again I say Banh Mi, make an eating motion, indicate searching, and point at her cart.  Is it SO unusual that a Westerner buys a Banh Mi?   

She asks a railway employee or parking attendant or police officer (I can't figure out their multi-coloured uniforms) to intermediate.  I repeat "Banh Mi". He puts one finger up, I nod, and he relays to the Vietnamese woman that the Westerner would like one Banh Mi. WTF? Do I come from Mars?  I present a spread of currency bills to her and she pulls out a VND 10000 bill (US $0.45).

When I step back into the waiting hall, a tour bus has just unloaded a group of over 60 British tourists. Each of them carries a HUGE lunch box from Novotel Hotels.  I prefer my Banh Mi, which tastes absolutely amazing. Those peppers are doing the job that nature intended for them !

Warming my insides, I mean !

 I chat with a Brit couple for a few minutes and they like it here as much as I do and for the same reasons.  "It's the smiles" the woman says with a serene look. 
 They even have a guide with a flag and I'm wondering how much the trip (They'll be going to Siem Reap as well) is costing them. But who cares about the money; what is important is that they got off their arses and are living the dream !

Tired Traveler 

It's still moving !

The train leaves 25 minutes behind schedule.  I don't know how they do that. This train came all the way from Ha Noi (That is 1300 km over not the best of track) and it is ONLY 25 minutes behind schedule?  Incredible !

9:10 am.  Do I sleep right away or a little bit later?  Ah, maybe have another smoke and then do the sleep.

I wake up at noon.   I look out the window. WHAT are THESE?   The rice paddies of central Vietnam have given way to what looks like Aloe Vera plantations reaching as far as the horizon.  I guess all that stuff that goes into the anti-wrinkling lotion consumed in the West has to come from somewhere.

When I walk from the air-conditioned main train carriage into the carriage end containing the loo and the ashtray, I almost suffer from a heat stroke when I open the connecting door.  WOW. It's HOT in these parts !
WHAT could the purpose of the BBQ tongues on the left be???  My mind is REELING !
More napping .....  

2:15 pm.  O.K. That's enough sleep now. I simply can't sleep any more and grab one of my instant noodle soups and head to the hot water fountain.   It tastes even better than normal. Is that because I lucked out on the brand or because aside from my Banh Mi this morning I haven't eaten anything yet?  Except maybe a few bites of that strange platter cookie (Use some sticky edible substance to make peanuts and sesame seed stick to rice paper; not half bad !)

I forgot the exact time that the train is supposed to arrive at Ga Sai Gon and the departure delay makes things even worse.  I'm ready to de-train now.  The GPS of my cell phone seems to indicate that we're getting pretty close to Ho Chi Minh City, but the train also seems to rattle at a slower hum through these parts here.   Ah well, since Sai Gon is the terminal station, it doesn't matter, I can't miss my station.
 2:30 pm. I'm getting bored. I'm already making plans for when I get to Sai Gon, and even for tomorrow when I get to ..OOPS, gotta keep the element of suspense going (HINT: The kingdom is not Holland or Spain either).
2:45 pm. Cigarette break.  Again that heat at the end of the compartment.  Heat.  Is that why I spy sugar cane fields outside the window (NO picture)?  And could the mystery juice holding the peanuts on the rice paper be dried sugar cane juice?  

The closer we get to Sai Gon, the more the train seems to crawl through the landscape. But then even though we are still in the country here, there are a lot of houses built right by the railway track.

This, actually, are the outskirts of Sai Gon

Tbis is Monsoon country. Better be safe than wet !

Finally. I get to look at the thing from the Outside and no longer the Inside !

Finally, the train rolls into Ga Sai Gon.

I decide to walk. 

 It will be the last time I'm going to walk through Vietnam. 
 And I must realize that I did Sai Gon partially injustice in my rhetoric lashings.
 The tree-lined streets do remind me of Ha Noi. 

The name of the place?  Madame Fatty Fat. Fairytale Dining 
 But what I had mentioned before, the effect that tourists and prosperity have had and continue to have, is UNMISTAKABLE
See the difference? I used to know people who'd rather live in the building in the rear ! 
The smiling blond lady in blue on the RIGHT in the following picture probably realized the irony.  This photo came JUST too late to catch her waving at me.   She probably realized that her being carted around in a Rickshaw is much stranger than the strange city of Sai Gon and therefore worth a picture
I find a mini supermarket and buy a bottle of you know what.  120,000 VND instead of the 80,000 VND in Da Nang for exactly the same bottle.  See what I mean?
Reminding me of Hong Kong:  Serene parks right within the great bustle 
I FINALLY find my hotel. (The fact that the storefront is a foot massage parlour and that one has to look UP to see the hotel name is responsible).  The usual bunch of young gay foot massagers is present.  The room is below expectations (This is the most expensive room I have booked on this trip at CAD $60) but it has a nice balcony overlooking a HUGE market square. And even though the outside stalls cater mostly to tourists, once you head into the maze inside, the smell and sights of live fish and dead meat quickly tell you that this is a market by and for locals.

Then the troubles start.  They had sent me an e-mail this morning at 7 telling me that my room was 'ready'.  The fridge is STILL unplugged when I arrive.  There is no water kettle.  The internet does not work.  We try for 2 hours to get one of the many routers to work but to no avail.  The young male receptionist with the wide hips really really tries his best, and who can be angry at someone who shows up halfway through the troubles with a coupon for a free foot massage (tomorrow morning !) ?  Given that I slept all last night and all day in the train, I wouldn't be surprised if I went through a second bottle of wine tonight, LOL.  

Then I go out on the hunt for an ATM.   WTF.  The first 3 I find don't accept my card. It's HOT outside. So are all the young Viet men that pull out the folded-up and yet to set up stands of the Night Market out of bizarre tiny spaces in between buildings and are  pushing their merchandise locked in huge boxes with wheels over the stretes without their shirts on. The sight is driving me BONKERS.  (Who ever said that this is a G-rated? blog?)

One of them (A particular fine specimen) stops his box-pushing colleagues AND traffic to grab a pencil-selling blind man by the arm and guide him through the mayhem. 

OH, PLEASE! STOP torturing me here!  My heart is melting ! O.K, the picture really belongs to the web site of the Blue Chilli Bar in Phnom Penh (It happens to be literally around the corner from my hotel, LOL), so it has absolutely nothing to do with SaiGon, but I'm sure you get the idea ;-)

After 20 minutes of an unsuccessful hunt for a bank machine I run into the same blind man again  (without hot accompaniment though) and ask  a woman bystander to help me spend my LAST 10,000 VND on a pen I don't need.  I now have 2000 VND to my name (That happens to be LESS than US $ 0.09 !  I REALLY need to find a bank machine !

Back to the hotel.  The receptionist boy might be a bit too feminine for my taste (NO, that is NOT politically correct, YES, I'm an oppinonated bastard, I have lived long enough to have earned that, and last but by no means least, YES, this is MY blog and no-one is forcing you to read it ;-) but he knows where the next functioning ATM is! Cam On Nhieu!.

I walk over to a restaurant that I passed many times on my search for a bank machine. Why There? It says FREE WIFI and has yummy pictures of Viet food on the windows.  And I'm LUCKY to have chosen that.  NO, of course they don't understand my begging for Ruou Vang Do (I finally surrender and order a Bia Tiger 333 instead).  But they have Bun Cha Ha Noi, the same stuff I ate and almost went to heaven with in Ha Noi.  

Bun cha !
Of course, this being a proper restaurant instead of a street stall, it's NOT as good as in Ha Noi, but after I discover the little jar with chili/garlic mix, my taste buds are sending signals that can only be compared to those a brain receives when having consumed the finest of slightly illegal substances.

And the 'proper' tourists are here too. Aren't they always? SIGH! (Thank you for that inspirational word, Alan!).  'Can I have this BUT in Vegetarian and THIS, but with Rice noodle instead of regular noodle? No egg roll but spring roll!  You know? Change? '  I know I am going to say something really NASTY if any one of them dares say the word Gluten-Free !  But hey, they even brought a prepared written piece of paper with them !  I wonder what it says!  But I hope I'll never find out !  

At another table, there is a young Caucasian woman consuming a mixed drink while inspecting her cell phone with very tight lips.  That's o.k., she might still learn; I suffered from much worse issues at that age ;-)

Back to the hotel. The distance seems further now, probably due to the meandering caused by adding a Bia 333 Tiger to the Ruou Vang Do.  I get to walk through the 'Hollywood Nails' shop to the lobby and think "Hang on, that's the name of a Wifi network". I stop at the receptionist's office, have him type in the password for the foot-care router, and my internet connection now stands on solid ground (get it? pedicure ... stand...?).

9 pm. Yes, the Night Market outside my window is exclusively for tourists but I decide to check it out anyway.

I see a stand with really nice shirts.  I walk in, check one out, and inquire about the price. 240,000 Dong or CAD $ 14.50. Well worth paying for that shirt!  But I'm the type that likes to look around first.  That doesn't sit well with the woman.  "You buy now I give you discount"  I refuse. We both kill ourselves smiling while we play that game and I leave to walk around the market (without the shirt) but I promise her to be back within half an hour and I mean it.  I actually don't find a single night-market that is nearly as nice as the first one, so I'm back at the stand soon. Tourists must be a dishonest bunch (just the thing they accuse the vendors of) because the woman is surprised when I return.

She thinks the shirt is too small for me and after a long time she only manages to find that shirt one size larger in a colour that is almost the same,but not quite. I decide to get both shirts and I am granted a price of 300,000 for both (Remember, ONE was supposed to be 240,000)  Another woman is now standing there and says to me, nodding at the seller "She say you very nice".   WTF?  I treat people like human beings and I have a sense of humour.  If that is considered being "very nice" here, then the other tourists should REALLY GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER !

10:15 pm. I slept last night. I slept all day in the train. I'm exhausted AGAIN.  Is it all that running around?  Or is that 5 in my age showing its ugly face? But then that walk from the train station was barely 3 km.  Age it must be.

Half an hour later I finally get my currency conversion straight. It's probably all the alolol that is responsible for me having assumed that I paid CAD $30 for 2 nice shirts.  But I actually paid 18 bucks for the two of them. And I really don't care whether they're real Abercrombie & Fitch, as the labels indicate, or not LOL.

FINALLY,  I went the whole way by train  !   (I took the train to Lao Cai (Sa Pa) in the very North last December)

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