Cheated Or Fair Trade?
25.05.2008 - 26.05.2008
We're now in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon after almost 19 hours on the train. The train ride itself was pretty nice. Well this round we got one top bunk and one lower bunk, so Tan, being the lighter one, took the upper one (Duh... Can you imagine the bunk falling on some poor fellow in the middle of the night?) She promptly fell asleep and was almost never heard from again till the end of the train ride. Or maybe she was reading her book the whole time. Either way, she seemed pretty content in her little corner up in the echelons of oblivion.
As a social animal, I got into a conversation with the lady below Tan. Nice old lady, on her way to Nha Trang. She really likes Changi Airport (12 years ago), she kept going on and on about how clean it is, how nice it is, how there's always a cleaner in the toilet waiting to clean up after you etc etc etc. Somewhere along the way, 3 kids came up the train too, all sharing one berth. Very sweet kids, 1 teenage gal, 1 8-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. They had been visiting their grandparents over the weekend, and were on their way back home. Their parents, being the gan cheong spider type, keep calling every 2 hours or so, and once, the oldest one passed the phone to the boy to talk to his mother, and then he started crying because he missed his mummy. Oh, and the two younger ones always found a reason to fight, particularly when it was time to sleep (over the pillow, of all things). They reminded me of a certain pair of siblings with the same age gap (hmmmm, I wonder who they are.........).
Back in Hoi An, we heard plenty of stories about how busy / crazy HCMC; some of those moving northwards even told us that Hoi An was the least busy place they had been to so far. First impression out of the train station: doesn't look that bad. Impression after the taxi left the station: OH NO!
After we settled in our hotel room and rested for a while (yes, hotel, only USD13, with air-con, satellite TV, warm shower, refridgerator!), we went for a nice brunch of beef soup around the corner. Yummy! There were these guys outside the shop who kept trying to get our attention to ride their cyclos, and well, since our guide said that the cyclo was a dying trade and an interesting way to get around, we figured, alright, why not? The initial plan was to just go to the army surplus market and have a look around, and then return to the hotel. They quoted us 100,000 dong. Considering that we had quite some money left, we figured it was alright. After all, it was going to be hard work biking us around.
The cyclo ride was MAD. Basically,you, the passenger, sits in front, while the driver cycles behind you. So you get a completely unhindered view of the traffic in the city. NOT funny. Travelling around the city on non-organic vehicles (i.e., not on foot) is an art here in HCMC, a specialized skill native to the locals. Just watching the motorbikes alone makes it clear that driving here is a"NO RULES" affair.
The army market turned out to be quite a disappointment; there were lots of US army surplus stuff (uniforms, bags, etc.) as well as lots of wires, nuts, bolts, screws, and a whole other assortment of tools, but other than that, there was really nothing to see. Within 15 minutes, we were out. The cyclo guys offered to bring us to Cho Lon market instead (Chinatown), but there it was all factory made goods, and after Hoi An, Cho Lon was really not appealing to either of us. In the end, all I got was a 45-litre North Face backpack, rejected because one of the buckles was sewn on the wrong side of the bag. It only costed me about S$10!
After Cho Lon, we were off to the War Remnants Museum, previously named the American War Crimes Museum. The degree of desensitization and dehumanization that must have occurred in the minds of the American side was evident in the displays; for a soldier to pick up the remains of a blown up enemy by the hair and smile for the camera suggests a serious dehumanization of the enemy, below even the level of an animal. Despite knowing the effects of Agent Orange on the human body, the use of Agent Orange was considered to a defoliant to aid conventional warfare, rather than recognizing it for what it really was: chemical warfare. I was pretty much sick to the stomach, and was in no mood to take any pictures. But as far as I am concerned, if fighting for an ideology in another country means this much death and destruction, and effects that last through generations and negatively affecting millions, then I say, even if you win the physical war, you've lost everything else, not least your international reputation, and your standing in the eyes of the locals.
On the way back from the museum, the cyclo guys brought us to some place to eat, where the owners spoke Cantonese. There they asked us to pay them, as it would be impossible for them to stop that long in front of our hotel. The total cost, according to them, was 800,000 dong each, about USD50 per person! I almost fell out of my chair lah. Considering where we were (somewhere in the middle of the city, we had no idea where), we decided to just pay what they asked.
On one hand, the price we paid could be considered reasonable, since it cost them considerable amount of energy and time, and after all, they did provide good service. on the other hand, USD100 is pretty steep for a pair of almost-22-year-olds, 1 freshly graduated and 1 still in school. Anyways, that has set us back quite a bit, since now we only have slightly more than 700,000 dong to last us the rest of the trip.