Friday 11 January 2008

Day 13: The Final Day

I slept in a bit today. Apparently my last English class is canceled? Oh, well, it's bittersweet. After feeding the kids at the orphanage, I said my goodbyes and got pictures with my favorites (Tran and Minh!) and then headed back into town.

Tran and Minh! My absolute favorites

Tip: When buying clothes, one should go to Saigon Square as it's much cheaper than Banh Than.

After seeing advertisements everywhere, I decided to treat myself on my last day to a Vietnamese massage! At the Foot Club, massages go for only $15US for a full ninety minutes head-to-toe! The experience was unbelievable.

1) You receive Loctus tea
and all-you-can-eat watermelon. I went to change and decided to go ahead and undress all the way - why the heck not? The dark, towel blankets were quite warm.

2) After traditional cucumbers on your face (Not on your eyes, but on your FACE), your feet are put in a hot water tub with rose petals floating around.

3) The massuiest started with my feet working all the way up. The technique is quite surprising as they'll tell you to sit up and then will stretch your back by throwing you between their
legs! Crazy!

4) Your arms will be lifted and your body will be swung from side to side! Then every once in a while when your masseuist
feels like it, she will hit you! Be prepared.

5) The coconut oil will feel quite good and the masseuist will always make sure you are warm. Every five feet, someone would tell me where to go. I was definitely treated like royalty at the Foot Club! Even when I went to the back to use the bathroom, people were told to "Shh!" Before I even got to the door, someone had already opened it for me. Wonderful!
The Foot Club - What a fantastic massage!

Walking back in my relaxed state, I bought coconut juice for 8,000Dong from a kid that I saw at least three times on the trip so far. He greatly appreciated it! I also witnessed the side street vendors putting away their products in under ten seconds when the police came - it resembled the same scene I saw in Florence, but this time people went inside their stores instead of plain running. I helped a little local jaywalk - making me feel more at home on my last day.

Of course my sandal breaks on the last and tape, anyone?

I made my rounds saying goodbye to the guy at T.M. Brothers Cafe, Tao at the travel agency, and Chi, Sebastian's friends from the guesthouse. I made my way to the bus station where I finally got my Bahn Bot Loc (so good!) that I waited for only costing me 8,000Dong. After enjoying it at the park, I went I can't wait until I go back to my real home!

Thursday 10 January 2008

Day 12: A Look into My Past and an Elephant Spitting in My Eye

Had a little Banh Mi sandwich for breakfast and set forth on a mission to see some history museums. The Ho Chi Minh History Museum was actually not quite worth the trip. Quite small, it was completely biased towards Communism (obviously). It did; however, provide some good pictures of the Saigon Port which handles about 35 million metric tons of cargo a year. After eating at Pho 2000, I hopped on a cyclo to the History Museum - negotiated the driver from 50,000Dong down to 15,000Dong.
My happy-go-lucky cyclo driver

Tip: When negotiating in touristy parts of Saigon and you think they may be giving you a "tourist price," divide the original amount by a third to a half and go from there!

At the History Museum, I found my ancestors at Exhibit #9! I'll save the history, but if you go back about half-a-dozen greats and a few hundred years, I'm related to the Nguyen dynasty that once ruled Vietnam (No details written due to the blog's focus on the travel instead of the boredom the reader will receive from hearing about the author's life).
Now THIS was worth the visit.

My family in the Saigon History Museum

As no one stopped me as I walked out (perhaps because of my ethnicity), I first took pictures of the pagoda behind the Museum and then ended up at the Saigon Zoo! I found a cute elephant and debated whether to feed it or not. As I was deciding, the bastard elephant spat in my eye! No food or love for him.
The notorious elephant that spat in my eye

There were twists and turns everywhere, so I spent a good two hours just walking around. Leopards, Golden Cats, etc. Great zoo. Went home to quickly eat some mego and rice and then headed back into town to meet Jay at the GO2 bar on the corner of De Tham and Bui Ven. A mostly touristy hang-out, it is a good place for people watching and meeting other travelers. Be warned: all they play is American music, including Carrie Underwood and more appropriately, Guns 'N Roses! We met up with a Nigerian and three English folk in which I proceeded to have another Tiger beer. Could I be developing a taste for beer now?

All of a sudden, a little local boy roughly six years old, came over to play Paper-Rock-Scissors with the Nigerian. He then stood up on his thighs and danced! Hilarious!
San at the travel agency gave me a ride home again. So nice!

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Day 11: A Good Day to Unwind

It really hit me today that my time here in Vietnam was really ending. Didn't I just get here?

Business as usual - checked the internet at De Tham Brothers Cafe and the ladies at the orphanage continued their bitching. :) A nice surprise came as I met two Orange County locals - hopefully I'll see them on Friday!

Class was canceled today as the children needed to help clean, so my only option was to go shopping! I walked down Bahn Thanh where I bought a case for a deck of cards (50,000Dong from the original 90,000Dong) and a wooden turtle. Too bad one of the turtles was marked 60,000Dong and when I asked for the price, the woman said 45,000Dong (shady). I bargained to get it down to 35,000Dong and then traversed to the Saigon Center for more shopping.

Tip: Beyond the travel agencies, see the Tourist Information offices too! They offer free internet and are great resources for spas! :) A great one lies at the intersection of Le Loi/Nguyen Hu.

Ao dai - Traditional Vietnamese dress!

Had beef pho for 2,000Dong and met Jay from New Hampshire who was trying to get a Vietnamese tattoo. To his disappointment, I had to explain that Vietnamese used Roman letters and the "symbol" he saw on a menu was just a Chinese symbol. I had a great experience watching the water puppet show! Múa rối nước literally means "puppets that dance on water." The tradition of having wooden puppets dance in a waist-deep pool dates back to the 10th century. My interest laid in the puppet's intricate movements in the water as well as the movements to the traditional music - the music really makes the show!

Múa rối nước - Water puppet show!

San (the motorbike driver) drove me home and didn't even take my tip! Nice guy. Unfortunately, my night ended with the crazy grandma walking in on me in the shower after slapping me a few days earlier for not knowing Vietnamese. Oh, geez!

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Day 10: A Day in the Life

Normal day today. I went to buy water from a stand on Pham Ngu Lao as it's only 7000Dong compared to my usual baker's 9000Dong (that's a whole bus ride!) Checked the internet at T.M. Brothers Cafe.

Tip: Travel agencies are plentiful in Vietnam and internet is free there!

At the orphanage, I fed the children and ate lunch with the female workers. I'm pretty sure they were talking about me, but hey, at least one of them is nice. I took my first nap for a good hour from 12PM onwards. It was nice! Headed off to the Lotteria to apply my makeup and went straight to the School for Disadvantaged Youths at 1:30PM.

After using the internet for a good two hours, I taught my third class the possessive/present simple of have got. There were only four kids, two of whom were really smart. NOTE: They were NOT lazy like the mean school teacher said! The lesson finished by playing hangman of course!

I went back to De Tham where Thao works to use the internet (I know, I know. I'm addicted). The guy here definitely has a crush on me. :) Thao helped me buy tickets to a water puppet show and I met Jerimiah from New Hampshire. It was a chill night, but where does the time go?

Monday 7 January 2008

Day 9: Simple Stuff, Simple Day

Worked at the orphanage this morning and ate lunch with the ladies. I tried going to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum and History Museum, but both were closed on Mondays. Hence, I went to the University to check higher learning in Saigon.

Chalkboard? But suddenly it seems that the more I travel, the less differences I see, but rather the more similarities there exist between cultures

At the corner of Bui Vien and De Than, I bought a doll for Mom and a wooden soccer statue for the Dad. Much cheaper than Bahn Thanh! Walking down Le Loi brought upon good surprises. Always wanting to see "Ratatoille," I negotiated the DVD for 10,000Dong (about $.62). A shopping center appeared at the corner of Nguyen Do and Le Loi. The prices were comparable to cheap vendors, cheaper than Banh Thanh.

I got a great Municipal Theater pic and headed home.

Municipal Theater (Saigon Opera House) built in 1897

Surprisingly, four locals appeared at the door looking for me! My coordinator had told them an American was in town and they wanted to come practice their English! Two of them had even cycled for over an hour to come see me (she actually borrowed her friend's bike because she could not afford her own). We spent three hours talking about the United States, differences, and had a fantastic conversation! Who knew my pictures from back home would be so interesting?

They literally journeyed to come see me!

It was a simple, but good day!

Sunday 6 January 2008

Day 8: Củ Chi Tunnels...Shooting Targets

Needed a mirror to put on eyeliner today...sorry, lady, I'm really not paying you to use the bathroom, so don't yell at me.

I met back up with Andres today to tour the Củ Chi Tunnels, the base of operations for the 1968 Tet Offensive of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam. An important location for the Vietnam War, the Củ Chi Tunnels served as an underground network of tunnels utilized for combat, communication and supply routes, etc.

Secret trapped door! You couldn't even tell!

Before we reached the tunnels, we stopped by Handicapped Handicrafts-an organization that allows handicapped individuals to build business through artistic means. They are able to utilize their talent for crafts for their own survival. Fantastic!

My favorite included taking egg shells and breaking them into a piece of artwork

Our tour guide sang the two hours up to Củ Chi. He showed up secret traps, while we all explored the terrain. Being a Vietnamese-American gives you quite a different perspective on the Vietnam War as being there tears you in every way. Such a tragedy.

On top of the tunnels and on top of a tank

For the first time, I tried my hands on an AK-47. It has quite a kickback with lots of power, but I assume all machine guns do.

Ak-47 style!

We walked through 60 meters of tunnels--it was so hot! Men lived down in these tunnels for days at a time! We could barely do thirty minutes without needed to get fresh air.

Grown men could barely fit through the tunnels!

Andres and I departed while I explored Banh Thanh Market a bit more. I bought a coconut bowl for 50 US cents and utensils bargained down to 75 cents a piece. It's cheap, but the streets around the market (Lo Lai Street, De Than, etc.) are actually cheaper. Walked down Lo Lai and headed home. Good weekend!

Traditional way of carrying your supplies and food!

Saturday 5 January 2008

Day 7: The Mekong River and Coconut Candy with Friends

Had a 6AM wake up to get to Brother's Cafe. Because there was no traffic, I actually got there about an hour early. I sent some e-mails after walking around the local park near Cho Banh Thanh-badminton is big here on Saturday mornings!

Always a fan of double checking, I asked to make sure I was on the bus to the Mekong Delta 1-Day Tour. I ended up spending the day with Noelle, a Seattle-raised, 24-year-old world traveller. Seated next to me was another world traveller from England, Andres. After the 1.5 hour bus ride, we took a boat/ferry to Ben Thuc.

Andres was only in Vietnam for two days because of an expiring visa.

The boats then took us to Ben The where we sampled honey and drank some wine. Rowing boats took us to lunch in a village where we ate some pork and rice and relaxed in the delta.

Rowing in the Mekong Delta

Tip: You must try the coconut candy and you must try it warm!

Warm home-baked coconut candy at Ben Thuc!

We had the opportunity to watch some Traditional Vietnamese songs and dance (feels like I'm back home in Garden Grove!) We had some fruit tasting while listening to the instruments and singing before the boat took us back to My Thoc.

As we all jumped on the shuttle, Noelle grabbed her backpack and headed off to Cambodia. I hope she meets up with Sebastian!

Back in Saigon, I said hello to Thao at the travel agency and told her I'd return again. I introduced Andres to pho (spicy beef) and I enjoyed traditional meatball (20,000Dong).

Working with Thao!

Tip: Pho is like the spaghetti of Vietnamese foods. If you're a first-timer, go with the meatball!

Friday 4 January 2008

Day 6: Relaxing Day Tour in the City

Started the morning feeding the babies in the orphanage. I have an absolute favorite named Minh. He's a thirteen-year-old who's always full of smiles and constantly waves at me. So cute!

Minh! Thirteen-year-old I couldn't help but favor! :)

It's hitting me as it's hard to wake up so early! Ahh, the life of a student...not only was I tired, but I actually fell asleep by the Saigon River! Jaywalking this proved quite difficult--I'm pretty sure the locals don't actually jaywalk through a traffic jam, but I guess I'm just that hardcore.

Some local kids were doing flips and tricks into the of the sights you don't get as a typical tourist. It was nice.

By the Saigon River. These kids were full of life!

The Fine Arts Museum was a nice treat, but I almost got hustled by the lady at the souvenir shop. Wanting a poster, I asked them to be careful rolling it up--she wasn't (of course), bent it, and still wanted me to pay. I ate some pho at Kim's Cafe and took the bus home. I had an encounter with the crazy bus worker who yelled at me, but this time had a legitimate ticket.

Tip: Always get the bus worker to drop you about 30 seconds in reach of your actual location. Otherwise, you'll have alot of walking to do as they tend to overshoot.

A pleasent surprise occured tonight: James Do showed up at my door! We took a walk down the street before he went to see the rest of his family.

It's been good, but I'm not going to lie...I miss home.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Day 5: A Good Day in the City

I spent the morning shaking baby rattles with the children and discovered another volunteer from Cali! We spent the morning bitching about our unorganized volunteer programs (disappointing to hear ELI!). It was great just to find someone who could empathize. I helped to serve lunch and then made my way to Lotteria again. Miss Kelly Clarkson was playing on the radio as I ate and relaxed.

After the morning rest, I went back to the School for Disadvantaged Youths. The kids I had today were smart and oh, so respectful! I stood at the front of the class as the students walked in and once they realized I was their substitute teacher, they just stood up and waited for me to tell them it was alright for them to sit. Oh, the power!

The kids still thought I was cute, but they learned fast (we went through two lessons), so it's all good. At the end of class, I told them they could all go home and they blankly stared at me. Believing they didn't understand, I repeated it, motioned, and tried to say it in Vietnamese. More blank stares. Hence I packed my stuff up and left--once I left, then they were apparently allowed to. Why don't we show this much respect in the States?

Went to Brothers Cafe, a great price travel agency in District 1, to use their internet while waiting for Sebastian. The great thing about about other countries that they know news in the U.S. He asked me about the whole Countrywide debacle for goodness sake!

After our business talk, I met Sebastian at Cho Banh Thanh and we headed off to Jade Pagoda. Trying to tell me it was 60,000Dong both ways, I told the driver no more than 30,000Dong. No hustling from me! He was a great driver though teaching me how to say Happy New Year in Vietnamese as well as teaching me the difference between "ga" and "gai."

Awesome motobiker driver!

Jade Emperor Pagoda. Apparently the best in Vietnam!

We went back to Sebastian's guesthouse, so he could grab stuff to mail at the Postoffice. While waiting for him, I got a beautiful pic of the Notre Dame at night!

The Notre Dame looked gorgeous!

There, a cute girl, around 7-years-old tried to sell Sebastian a flower. As he refused, the girl yelled, "Sir, buy a flower, you monkey!" I offered 10,000Dong for just a picture, but she was intent on just selling her flower. I hope she makes it okay.

"Sir, you're a monkey!" She wouldn't let me take a picture!

We walked down Le Loi, a gorgeous street with its Christmas lights still up, and Sebastian bought his tickets to Cambodia.

Le Loi during xmas time...

We had dinner at shady, little restaurant, where again, I was mistaken for a prostitute. "I know a man, I can get you $200 American dollars." "I am an American" "That's okay, you look Vietnamese!" Grr! Whatever...I think something was mentally wrong with him too.

Overall, it was a really good day (relative to the rest of the trip of course).

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Day 4: A Bittersweet Day

The way the buses work in Saigon is that there are not really any set stops. You just kind of walk outside of your house and flag one down like a taxi. Inside, there's the bus driver and then a worker who collects the tickets/money. My volunteer organization had provided me with a book of tickets, but they had apparently expired in 2007.

So I started the morning with the bus worker yelling at me. She was yelling at everybody, but bitchiest to me. I originally thought I tore the ticket wrong, so I gave her another one. More bitchy yelling. Tried explaining that I didn't understand, but oh, man, just more bitchy yelling. I finally figured it out, but refused to pay and kept pretending not to understand. A sweet boy then paid for me. I hate her.

At the orphanage, the kids had school, so I just sat in the classroom with them while they learned. Lunch came around and I helped served. SO many kids.

James from UCLA came by and I had some street vendor food with him. They say to stay away from street vendor food, but as long as it's cooked and you can see how they make it, you should be fine.

The volunteer organization decided to surprise me and have me teach English to disadvantaged kids next door. They gave me a lesson plan and off I went! I had a group of high school students, all of whom thought I was hot. We played Hangman because apparently they enjoyed games. Gave the winners some books and stickers.

One of the troublemakers in my class. Thanks for posing though!

After my bad day of volunteering, I met up with Sebastian at Banh Than Market (miss those days when cell phones didn't exist and you could just tell someone to meet you somewhere and they'd be on time. LOVE life without a cell!). We haggled and I really learned that sometimes in a third world country, you should just shove out the extra dollar. Bought my first Abercrombie & Fitch crops for about $4USD and a new professional purse for $6USD.

The night proved a happy change of ending. We walked down Main Street with the lights still up for xmas. Instead of bowling, we ended up at the Sax N' Art Jazz Club on Le Loi. This cozy club was voted best Jazz Club in HCMC 2004 and 2005 by the Vietnam Economic Times and The Guide Magazine. That night, there was a bomb New Yorker busting out some blues as well!
Sax 'N Art Jazz Club!

I feel Saigon/Vietnamese jazz is more mellow than other cities. It's really focused on the soulfulness of the singer, so you get lost in her voice. Very nice!

Enjoying our drinks!

We enjoyed some Pina Coladas and oh, what a fabulous night to turn things around!

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Day 3: New Year's Day

As I had the day off from the orphanage, I spent it sightseeing in the city. I took the 19 bus into town and walked to the Reunification Palace (formerly Independence Palace). Originally the workplace of the President of South Vietnam, it served as the site of the official handover of power after the Vietnam War.

Reunification Palace a.k.a. Reunification Hall formerly Independence Palace

Rooftop. Pilot Nguyễn Thành Trung bombed the red circle in 1975

I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, established by the French colonists in the 1800s. With its Neo-Romanesque architecture, the church has two 40m high square towers that are tipped with iron spires.

Notre Dame Cathedral. Gorgeous!

Next to the Notre Dame lies the Central Post Office. Albeit the proximity to the Cathedral, the huge hall serves as a tourist attraction in itself.

Central Post Office during Christmas time

Homestate vs. where I'll be studying in the fall. Coincidence, no?

Had some good pho again before heading off to the War Remnants Museum. Originally called "The American Crimes Museum," it changed its name due to the offending of the American tourists. I could only take one picture there due to the emotion and intensity of all the pictures. Everything was so graphic-with portraits of the effect of Agent Orange on children victims and the killings of war.

What a gift...

Being a Vietnamese-American in this museum tears you in every way. All I know is that sometimes I just wish world peace were the answer.

I went back to the Notre Dame to get some pics of the inside and on the way there, I had a motorbiker yell at me in Vietnamese , "Do you need a ride?" Another one yelled at him, "Why do you talk to her in Vietnamese? She's American!" Oh, boy. How I confuse this country.

I went home for dinner and played Dominoes with the host family. Exhausted, I took a nap at 7PM and went to bed at 9PM. Perhaps the jet lag is setting in.

Nhu! Six-year-old apart of my host family. Boy, does she love Dominoes!