03 February 2007

My Hood

I took the bike out for a Sunday morning spin for the first time in ages. I used to be really good about walking in the evenings and bike riding on the weekends. I have lots of excuses as to why these activities have fallen to the wayside, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Where I live grows and changes by the day. If you miss a month of cruising the streets, you barely recognize things. When I moved out here a little less than a year and a half ago, there was one, less than stellar, supermarket. There are now two large ones, and lots of corner markets. New restaurants open up every day. In my block alone, there is now a gym, two flower shops, four new restaurants, two beauty salons, and a DVD shop. If I didn’t ever want to roam, I could live within a one block radius of my apartment building.

The gym, I find, is the funniest new development. Even with all the non-stop construction, I live in a very quiet part of HCMC. At night, one hears nothing but crickets and bull frogs, and that non-stop yapping little mutt the neighbors insist on tying up out front of the house across from me. Especially now with the dry season and cooler weather, walking in the mornings and evenings is fantastic. A light breeze, perfect temperatures, no cars to dodge, fairly clean air. Yet in the evening and morning, if you walk by the gym across the street, you will notice every walking machine occupied by some foreigner, power walking or jogging. And these people are paying US gym fees for the privilege. I just don’t get it, and apparently the Vietnamese people I talk to don’t either. They do have yoga classes but again, the price is more than I pay in California so I haven’t even bothered to try it out.

On today’s ride, I went up by the river where the beautiful, manmade, manicured, mini-river-walk is located. It used to be my favorite walk. To the right you could look over bulldozed land and to the river beyond. There is now a corrugated steel wall that blocks the view and the breeze and all I felt was claustrophobic. Just before you reach the walk, you pass the most humongous apartment building. They had just finished the first level about a year ago. I was shocked to see that it is basically completed. But they were working seven days a week, and until 10pm every night. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live in such a place. It is scary looking.

There still is a bit of natural wonder right along the road the boarders the river bank. One feels like one is in the back woods of Vietnam. You can hear the birds, smell the flowers, gaze out on boats motoring up and down the river. I really just wanted to camp out there for a few days. Some of the workers from neighboring building sites had swung hammocks between trees along the river back. It looked so inviting.

Eventually, I decided it was time to drop by a coffee shop for a drink. Many of the places out my way are foreign owned, over-priced, and lousy. But all I wanted was ice tea, so it didn’t really matter. Driving up to the place I sometimes go, where they have the best French pastries in town, but the worst coffee and service, I spotted a new café. I drove by and heard classical music, and saw that the outdoor tables were filled with Vietnamese. There actually are quite a few Vietnamese, up-scale coffee/restaurant places in my neighborhood, but I never feel comfortable dropping in. Which is absolutely stupid. These are the nicest, friendliest people in the world and would love to have my business. So this time I parked the bike and sat down at a table.

The Roadster, complete with a totally cherry, 1959 Chevrolet out front, opened yesterday. I talked to the owner and found out he is an audio consultant, programmer, or whatever. (I don’t really understand this stuff). The café is a new venture. I told him what snagged me was the music. We talked a little about music and music quality and he put one a special CD for me.

Although I wasn’t there to eat, I looked at the menu which, for my neighborhood, was incredibly inexpensive. This may be a new hang-out. Lovely ambience, quiet corner, soothing music, nice people. Definitely the find of the day.

I suppose today I felt a little saddened that all the nature around me will be gone in a few years time. On the positive side, it is proof that the economy is growing and the country is going to do very well in the future. And growth and nature can’t always coincide. I am part of that growth. I am part of the reason the farm land that my apartment sits on no longer exists. So I probably do not have the right to fell distressed at the loss.

The photos of are some of the very interesting architecture that is taking place out here. These are the really expensive houses that sit on two or three lots. Buildings like the one I live in are pretty boring in comparison.