04 June 2006

Tourist Shopping

In a two weeks I will be jetting back to California, where I will spend almost a month freezing in the fog and feeling bummed in the gloomy, grey skies. I got a taste of those skies yesterday.

Now that the rainy season has returned in earnest, one must be sure to get to ones destination before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Otherwise you will get drenched, not be able to find a taxi, and be stuck in a location you would prefer not to be. The rains usually pass through in an hour or two, enabling you to get to the supermarket or take a walk.

Yesterday was different. I awoke to a grey, moderately cool morning, all things being relative. By 9am, it was back to just plain hot and humid, and the skies hadn’t cleared. By 10, the rains had started and continued all day, although they were fairly light. However, the ugly skies stayed ugly all day. I do not do well without sunlight. I feel horrible and tired and can’t think of one positive reason to do anything. Give me sunlight, and I can conquer the world. I have so many things to do before leaving, that loosing a day to despair is not what I needed.

Lucky for me that today, at 5am, the sun was blinding me and has continued to do so all day. I still had more Vietnamese souvenir shopping to do, so it was in to town a few hours later.

I went back to Ben Thanh Market, the place where everything is sold. I pretty much dislike the place because even though there are items you might want to purchase, the sales pitches and arm grabbing by vendors is quite off-putting. I have a few stalls that I frequent where they don’t harass you. After walking the gauntlet of young women throwing scarves on my shoulders while yelling, “Madam, buy scarves from me”, I got to where I was headed.

Since I had been there the week before I already knew what I wanted. And like the week before, as soon as I stopped at the stall, my olfactory senses were assaulted by the reek of durian. Durian is a fruit that is very popular in Asia. It also produces the most hideous odor know to mankind. Skunk takes a distant third to durian. Not only does it stink, but it gives me an instant headache.

I tried not to breathe through my mouth, but wasn’t completely successful. I bought a few things and really wanted to get away from the smell and the heat and the florescent lights, but I knew I had to persevere with my shopping trek.
An hour later, head exploding, eyes watering, I emerged into the lovely air of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

I stopped at a café to relax, re-group, (still had more purchases to make), and take in fluids. Sitting there I realized that I had made about half of my purchases using Vietnamese! I snuck in a little English, but with the older Vietnamese woman in one tiny stall, it was all in the local language. I was very pleased. Although I do well with my teacher, in our classes, at my house, I had yet to actually use Vietnamese in a situation other than giving taxi directions. When I get to California, I am going to have to get my toes done every week, just so that I can practice.

Hopefully, I will not have to return to Ben Thanh Market for quite some time. Although on the way out, thorough the food section, I passed a stall where they sell every spice in the world. Why hadn’t any of the people who have lived here for years known about this stall? I filed the shops card for future use.

As I look out my window, I can see the skies darkening. The rains should start in about an hour, which will be 4pm. I can handle that, especially after such a sunny day.

If you really want to get a whiff of durian, they usually sell it in Chinatown, at least in California.