Oh Ho Chi Minh City, I don’t know what I find more troubling: that you could kick my ass, or that I might enjoy it.
Last night I arrive after wailing, gnashing of teeth, and debating interpretation of travel rules (since I’m an expert and airport security isn’t), I get modestly overcharged for a taxi to my hotel. Three-tenths of a km before arrival I hear and see a band covering Cranberries’ “Zombie” in the park. Now I know where I’m going after check-in.
Hit the night market, have a delicious beef and corn stew pita sandwich (I’m in Vietnam so it’s all Vietnamese food, if you think about it), allow grill smoke fill my eyes listen to more music--this is becoming almost routine. Not routine were some of the meats there (I debated snapping a pic of the skinned and roasted crocodile with head still green and almost smiling but even I have lines). Grab a couple more provisions at the Circle K (what 7-11 is to Thailand, it seems--I blame Napoleon) and take a shower, where I see just how efficient things can get in this world.
Now maybe they can do even better. Perhaps my hotel in Laos will have the bathtub in the actual toilet. Why not, it’s all pipes.
I’m in bed by midnight.
Know who else is in bed at midnight? Nobody in Ho Chi Minh. And so it remained at 1:30 a.m. and 2:30. By 4:00 the sounds had gone fainter but not totally away. A couple of times when I rise I go pee and my feet get wet from remains of the earlier shower and then feel something tickling my leghairs and remember cockroaches are drawn by standing water and run back to bed trying to think of nothing anymore.
At 5:45 the noise was nearly nil, but now the sun was out.
You might think going to sleep five times in the night sounds good--after all, that’s five times the sleeping, right?
Wrong. I’m not so good at math, certainly not when I keep getting awakened every couple of hours. But it's time for breakfast.
Even after, still groggy from sleeping in four separate sessions (you'd think that might be better but no). And while I could sleepwalk in Ayutthaya get only a cut toe, here it will get me killed. In each moment you are the hub, and 360 degrees of spokes are coming at you, going away from you. Circling. Direction can change and you best be watching. Even a green walk light just means fewer motorbikes darting your way. Most people go slow but it's still several hundred kilos of metal with hot exhaust manifolds--and anywhere from one to four people in tight concentric alignment. Knees, elbows and skulls. You can't win that battle.
Best practice I've found is pick your gap, commit, and maintain speed. Convey direction in body language so they know what you're doing. It takes trust. But like Reagan, verify--keep your head on and be ready to adjust if the situation warrants. And it certainly will at some point.
Ignore the horns-- Probably won't hear the one that gets you and there are far too many to discern your own special honk, the one made just for you. No, let them blend into the unyielding symphony of diesel revving and car alarms.
And don't think the sidewalks are a safe haven. That'd be your biggest mistake--letting your guard down for a moment in an in-name-only, pedestrian-only zone. Don't forget you have parkways in the states and last I checked you can't just park on one.
Within minutes I thought "it'll be nice to return to the tranquility and order of Bangkok”.
But a couple of more trips out and I get the flow. It becomes fun to swim among the motorbikes, moving at a slight angle as if in the beach tides. There’s a moment when a little child, 2 years or less and sitting between his father and the handlebars smiles up bright at me and waves. I grin and wave back, making the other three members of his family smile.
Think about that: 4 people, one scooter. And it wasn’t the first or last time I saw the configuration. I didn’t like fitting four people in my car--when I had a car, that is.
For lunch I had the best banh mi at least as delicious as anything in Eden Center--filling and only 20,000 dong ($0.88). And through the day, since Vietnam is all about coffee, I had several cups in various styles--Vietnamese, American/French/commercial mass market with a foam heart--never cost more than 50k: even in a place called $nob Coffee, which appeals to the decadent capitalist pig-dog in all of us. And the scenery, with more fender rubs than Darlington, could hold even my attention for hours.
It’s a nice distraction from things weighing on my mind.