Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tuesday March 10, 2016

Had a nice day in Saigon yesterday. It was another early start/full day tour. Upon seeing our group Russell reported to me that we had a good one (lots of people we knew and liked) but unfortunately with the early start most everyone was in a poor mood. Not us -- of course -- but everyone else! 

The bus ride into Saigon was long -- one hour and fifteen minutes but it could have been much longer if we had encountered traffic (which we did not). Traffic in Saigon consists largely of scooters/motorbikes. Never in my life have I seen so many. Again the rules of the road seemed to involve preventative beeping of the horn (though not as frequently as further north) plus the absence of full stops (which I have also commented on before). Our bus was uniquely decorated with purple brocade seat covers and royal blue box pleat curtains complete with ornate trim.

Our bus' unique decor 
That's a lot of motorbikes!
And again

Our first stop was the History Museum. This was a good stop as the collection included many artifacts dating back to the hunter/gatherer stage plus numerous artifacts relating to more recent periods. At the museum I was separated from Russell for a brief period. Then I heard a commotion in the other room. R is surrounded by young Vietnamese soldiers in uniform. They are all laughing and posing for pictures. R has given his baseball hat to one of the kids and he is wearing one of their army hats. Amazing. I leave the guy alone for two minutes and ... 
History Museum
Russell exchanges hats with one of his new friends

Our second stop was at a main square where there is a Catholic Church and a Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel. The church wasn't much but the Post Office was interesting. It has not changed much since it was built (ca. 1890) therefore it included things like wooden telephone booths and clocks with the time in major international cities displayed. We found an interesting souvenir here in the form of a book of photographs of motorbikes piled high with stuff that should never, ever be transported by motorbike. Like fifty dozen eggs or two 6 feet high ceramic vases, a giant picture frame and enough produce to stock a restaurant for a week. The book is funny because it is so true. You wouldn't believe some of things we've seen on motorbikes. 

Catholic Church
Post Office with Bride and Groom

At any rate, our third stop was the Saigon Skydeck. This observation area is located on the fiftieth floor of the highest building in Saigon and as you can well imagine the view of the city is amazing. The city stretches out for miles and miles. Twelve million people I think we were told. Now that's a big city!

After the Skydeck we visited a local market. We just walked through but market areas are always interesting as they provide an unvarnished glimpse into the local life. This time I saw a woman getting a manicure right on the street. Oh and I saw this guy repairing sneakers on the street. We also saw (during one of our trips from here to there by bus) a fellow getting his haircut right on the street. The "barber" just hung a mirror on the fence in front of him and voila he's in business. It's a very entrepreneurial culture for a "communist" country. We saw no street people or beggars and our bus was followed by a group of vendors who, once we stopped to get off, would race up to to us and offer their goods for sale. Then we would see them again at the next stop. As I said, very entrepreneurial.

Manicure right on the street
Did you know there was that many different kinds of rice?

After walking the market, we returned to the Skydeck building and while we were waiting for our bus I spied a pair of very colorful sneakers at the Adidas shop which I popped in and bought before the bus arrived. Now that's what I call power-shopping. I had to do some of that at the Skydeck gift shop earlier as well because before we got on the bus I spilled coffee all over myself. So annoying. And, what was worse was that I didn't know whether I had enough time to run to the room and change. I had a fabulous bright pink polo shirt with electric blue walking shorts on. It was a really sharp outfit but not with a big coffee stain all over it. Well, it turns out that I probably did have enough time to change but I didn't want to chance it so off I went with this huge coffe stain ruining my whole look. I felt like I had the scarlet letter on me. I mean there was no way people were not noticing this stain. It was all you could see. And I just hate that. I am sure they were wondering -- "Why doesn't he change his shirt?" and "Do you suppose the rest of him is as filthy and unkempt?" Well, I needn't tell you it was difficult for me but when we were on the Skydeck I noticed a pretty cool T-shirt which I purchased and put on. Mission accomplished. Sort of. Only problem was that the T-shirt was maroon and pretty soon my sweat was showing, here, there and everywhere! Now I just looked like a gross, overweight, out-of-shape American tourist with a sweating problem! Not much of an improvement. Oh well. What can you do but bust out your fan and fan away furiously while also pulling at your shirt repeatedly to get some air in there so that you whole shirt doesn't get completely water logged.

Now just imagine that shirt and those shorts without the disturbingly gecko-like coffee stain (also without the sweat stain to its right)

Back to our tour. Lunch was at a buffet restaurant filled it seemed with just about everyone from our ship. As dire a situation as this promised to be, fear not -- the buffet was better than it had to be with plenty of selections for non-meat eaters. After lunch, we headed to the Palace of Reunification. Don't ask me why they call it this because it has nothing to do with Reunification. It really was the Presidential Palace for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Therefore, it was the sight of some historic meetings. The building itself is quite elegant I thought. It is fifties modern in style with furnishings that display an Asian flair. It also features an indoor/outdoor feeling especially since it is no longer air conditioned! The basement is a large bunker that you can visit. It includes secret staircases to access it and numerous communications rooms amongst other things.

Former Presidential Palace
Reception room

When we were through with the former Presidential Palace it was back on the bus for the long ride to the ship. Our tour guide serenaded us with a Vietnamese song before we took our leave of him and once again it was a most pleasant day spent in Vietnam.

Today was a busy day for a one spent "at sea". We did our usual needlepointing this morning but then at lunchtime we had a special "going away" party for Renee, a member of our stitching group from the beginning. She was quite pleased, I think, with the festivities that included a rousing rendition of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" which we sang as, "For She's a Jolly Good Spinner" (Renee is a very talented all-around crafts person but she is particularly talented at spinning which she did on several of the days at sea using a drop spindle).

Renee with another member of our group, Ken
Guess who

Later today, after I worked out, we had a little get-together in our room to decorate for the party we are having the day after tomorrow. The party is for people traveling to India with us. There are, I believe, almost forty people doing the India excursion and because it is a five day trip we thought it would be good for everyone to meet one another prior to departure. Mary, another member of our sewing circle, took the job of decorating for the party very seriously and she managed to wrangle up a mishmash of of stuff including Chinese lanterns, Indonesian kites, Mardi Gras beads and an Indian sari. I am making it sound worse than it is because it looks very nice but I am now writing to you while sitting on the bed in front of turquoise sari and underneath a dragon kite and four Chinese lanterns. It was so nice if her to go to such effort and the "decorating committee" had a fine time transforming our space into "Little India."

The Decorating Committee without Russell who is taking the picture:(

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