01 November 2007


When I first moved into my neighborhood two years ago, there wasn’t much here other than apartments and houses and lots of construction. The one supermarket was housed in a small building, with crowded aisles and sloping, cracked floors. You could never let go of your shopping cart because it would take off and either run into another customer or smash into the tomatoes. Restaurants were few, overpriced and served questionable fare. There were a few little shops that were combinations of real estate agents and something else, like a dry cleaners or lamp shades. They generally disappeared after a few months. The part I really did like was walking up to the river and along the beautiful landscaped walkway, where It was like being in the country.

All that has now changed; some for the better, some for the worse. The bitty supermarket turned into a massive place. Originally, the stock was about the same, just more of each item and spread out. I am not really sure if the stock has, in fact, increased, or if it is just that I have gotten used to what is an is not available in Vietnam. In addition, another big supermarket opened, and a connivance store sprung up right in front of my apartment building. Do keep in mind that “big” supermarket is relative. It is large for Vietnam, where the majority of folks still go to the fresh markets every morning at the crack of dawn.

The first month or so that I was here, I also went to the market on Saturday morning. But it became too much of a hassle. It really isn’t within walking distance, and I no longer had the desire to make the sojourn on my weekend mornings. I can get produce in the supermarkets, but it is no where near the quality or selection that one gets at the fresh markets.

Of the other shops that open and close, not much is of interest. There are now about four flower shops selling both fake and real flowers. Their selection is limited and two to three times the price of flowers in town. I still haven’t figured out who shops at the clothing boutiques. Weird clothes, usually one of each item and outrageously priced. I prefer my supermarket which has really good buys on tops and pants.

There was a stationary store at one point, but it disappeared. What I really want is someplace I can buy light bulbs. The dry cleaner cum hardware store, (actually just a few odd items), closed eight months ago. Eventually, as the area grows, all these things will become available but, for now, it is hit or miss for what is on sale on any particular day.

Several weeks ago I was riding my bike up by the river. All the monster buildings that were either in foundation stage, or still empty lots two years ago, now tower over the area, blocking sun and air. The beautiful landscaped walkway is now hemmed in by hideous, fifteen story, apartment buildings. I can never walk there again.

Fortunately, the area right along the river is still the way it always was. It is the nursery for the gardens in this area. I ride my bike along the gravel paths, through rows of baby plants and gardeners, and I am transported into a different world. There are always a bunch of gardeners who are generally surprised to see me bumping along on the red bike, but who always wave back and smile.

However, there is one good addition to the nasty buildings. Along the bottom of one of them, directly across from the river, there are now six or seven new restaurants. They are all branches of well known establishments in town.

One day, after my tour through the river gardens, I was in need of refreshment. I noticed, for the first time, that these restaurants were being installed and that one was already opened. It looked lovely, with outside tables, under umbrellas. I parked and went up the stairs and sat in a big, cushiony sofa-thing. I spoke to the owner who explained that this was the first of the restaurants to open, and that the others were soon to follow. I only wanted to drink something cold, but took a look at the menu and was pleased to see that the prices were quite reasonable. I commented on the beautiful view of the river and that I was worried that it would suffer the fate of everything else around and be turned into a concrete jungle. He assured me that the river would stay and that on the other side of said river, they were building a golf course.

In the coming weeks, I was back there several times to either eat or drink coffee. A few weeks ago, the rest of the places opened. There is a lovely chain coffee shop which has fantastic seating, but the coffee is shockingly priced and sucks. Vietnam has the best coffee, especially the ice coffee, which one can’t really mess up. But this place, Gloria Jean’s does. I knew from my experience with them in Malaysia, that they were not good. Even worse than Starbucks coffee. But I thought I would give them a try. My Ice coffee was at least three times the average price, and it was horrid! Unfortunately, I doubt I will ever go back, even if they do have the most comfortable chairs.

Last week, while stopping off with my bike, I saw that they were setting up huge banquet tables all along the front of four restaurants, getting ready for a big event. I talked to a man who looked to be in charge, and he said that that evening was the grand opening. He invited me and said that it was open, and free, to all. So at 7pm that evening, all dressed up for the grand affair, I arrived. One of the managers and the owner I had spoken to several times, came rushing over to greet me, looking quite surprised at my attire and commenting on how nice I looked. Later I realized that I had only ever spoken to them after jumping off the bike, sweaty and bedraggled.

It was quite the event. I wandered from place to place, walking in a looking at the décor of each eating establishment. They are all beautiful. The free food was good, and the live jazz band was great. The rain held off, it was a full moon, and I felt like I was on vacation in a new city.

So finally, after two years of no options other than cooking for myself, I now have quite a few choices. I am quite pleased. Little pleasures are these.
(the pretty pictures are from Hoi An)