Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Ho Chi Minh City Excursion // Dayshots

The week before Tet, I went to Ho Chi Minh City. I went mostly to see my friend David, but also to spend some time by myself, without family nearby for the first time in weeks and weeks. 
I rode the Mekong Express bus to get there. Hopped out as we crossed the Mekong River.
The Mekong.
I wonder what the river will be like after the mega-dam is built.
We had a dusty stop just before crossing the border on National Road 1.
Exchanged USD into VND and became a millionaire.
Most countries' money is prettier than the USD.
Com tam is my favorite.
David had a snazzy, fixed up Honda Super Cub. Saigon is lovely to ride around in at night. Unlike in Cambodia where only the driver has to wear a helmet, passengers also have to wear them in Vietnam. You can see both helmets dangling at David's knee.
I splurged and stayed at Song Anh Hotel, right in downtown. Traveling alone, and feeling very soft from so long in the cozy embrace of my family, I decided to forgo the backpacker area.
The hotel employees thought I was weird for taking stairs instead of the elevator to my 5th floor room.
Saw this on my last day. But heard it over and over again throughout my trip.
Mostly, I roamed around the city on foot, drinking papaya smoothies, munching on street snacks, and sitting in the shade in the many lovely parks in the city. The French colonial influence is much more apparent in HCMC than in Phnom Penh. I felt like I was in the Paris of Southeast Asia.
General Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel.
It was so different than being in Phnom Penh; though traffic was still quite congested, the streets were not as dusty, and I wasn't worried about hygiene at the streetside food stands. Though, I was not so concerned in Phnom Penh, either. Within month two of my stay, I was drinking the tap water at my aunt's house and having ice in beverages with abandon. I figured I'd acclimated enough at that point, and I was tired of boiling the water; I figured most of the harm would come from chemicals moreso than bacteria, and boiling would just concentrate them. That logic might be flawed. Another part of it was being tired of the stream of plastic water bottles that kept coming my way. And whether it makes sense or not, it made me feel closer to Cambodia to drink the water. There are people drinking out of muddy streams and wells with arsenic in the water. I figured I could handle the municipal tap. And I'm okay (not that I'm recommending others to so). 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was sitting by the Saigon River sipping coffee with David on my second night. We talked about Los Angeles, and what it's like to move from one town to another, and how Southeast Asia is quickly adopting the hurried pace of Western civilization. It seems that people don't really make time for one another-- spending time together is just a part of life. But now there are gated communities popping up, and the nuclear-family-based culture is increasingly taking hold, and I think about how lucky I was to grow up in a multi-generational home, without any distinction between "family" and "extended family."

I'm rambling. I'm sitting in a cafe in Little Saigon. It feels good to be home. So many things to do. So many places still to go. I have a loose timeline. I have a little cash. I have a lot of loved ones. I feel lucky.

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