15 January 2011

Back in HCMC

Yesterday I finally had to use the internet to figure out that it was actually Saturday and not Friday. This is one of the minor hassles of losing a day when you fly half-way around the world. Not only am I now on the right time and the right hour, my body is also starting to recognize the change.

I never can sleep on a plane but since I was flying EVA airlines and had upgraded to Economy Deluxe, I wasn’t overly concerned. When I last flew back from Vietnam, nearly three years ago, the price difference between Economy and Eco Deluxe was only $100 each way. Totally worth it when you get wide seats with plenty of leg room and your own personal movies-on-demand screen. Unfortunately, that price has now doubled. More unfortunately, I flew on one of their more shabby planes.

It wasn’t until I had spoken to a travel agent, (and after I had already bought the ticket), that I found out that EVA uses well-worn 747’s three days a week and brand-spanking-new 777’s on other days. Prior to knowing this I had been mesmerized by the beautiful look of the “New Eco Deluxe” seats that EVA kept emailing to me.

Yes, the seats on the 747 are far wider and more comfortable than in economy, but the movie screens are old school. You do get your own private screen but you are at the mercy of whatever is currently playing; no pause, no rewind, not options other than channel 1, 2, or 3.

On one of my frequent strolls around the plane, a woman asked what was wrong with my knee. (your basic middle-aged joint problem). Then she kneeled down and started working on the knee, massaging and probing and hitting all the right spots. She told me she was a Thai masseuse, going home to visit family. She worked absolute wonders on my knee and then again gave me a treatment shortly before we landed in Taipei.

At least the three hour flight from Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City was on one of those new 777’s; shear luxury. When I fly back, I will make sure I get on a 777 for those 14 hours back to California.
Pure euphoria is how I would describe my emotional state as I walked out of the airport and into a taxi, headed for a hotel in the neighborhood where I used to live. I could not stop grinning and trying to talk to the driver. I was warm, it was chaotic, it was Vietnam. It wasn’t quite the feeling one often gets when returning home after many years, but very close. I was just so happy to be on a new adventure.

I mentioned “trying” to converse to the taxi driver because I had forgotten all my very basic Vietnamese while in California. I had big plans of taking out my language books so that I could at least try to refresh my market/restaurant/taxi vocabulary, but just never got around to it. But the most amazing thing has happened; it is all coming back. I’ll be walking down the street and a phrase will just pop into my head. Or I’ll be at the supermarket and turn to a clerk to ask a question and the words just fly out. We’re not talking anything other than basic survival language, but it is still there. The mind truly is amazing.

The first thing I did when I got to my hotel was to take a shower, unpack a few things, then went out to run errands. Water was the first priority. I drink copious amounts and the cheapest way to get a large, clean water supply is to have a 19 liter/5 gallon bottle delivered to your house. I walked a few short blocks to the little shop that had been my supplier in the past. Right away all the delivery guys recognized me and even remembered my apt/street address, which I had forgotten. I paid and arranged for the water to be delivered in an hour.

Next I went to my old apartment building in hopes of seeing a favorite neighbor. I wasn’t sure if he was even alive as he had been in his mid-80’s and getting a bit frail when I’d last seen him. Much to my great pleasure, not only was he alive and kicking but in better health than 3 years ago. We had a lovely chat before I went back to the hotel to wait for the water.

4pm is the witching hour for me when I have crossed too many time zones and datelines. It’s like someone has shot me with morphine although it doesn’t really feel anywhere near that pleasant. In fact not pleasant at all. I can’t move, can’t keep my eyes open and finally just lie down. The hours are all a big mess to me, but I think I got up at 3am and left the hotel at 6am looking for food.

When I moved to this part of town in 2005, it was quite deserted. A lot of apartment complexes had gone up, and there was construction on every block, but that was about it. One supermarket existed and it was rather dismal. A few tiny eateries, that I would never dine in were scattered here and there, and I don’t think there was one hotel. What I did like is that there was very little traffic, even on the main highway that ran through the middle of this new part of town. Oh my gosh; things have change.

Restaurants and supermarkets and hotels abound. That has its advantages. But the traffic is unbelievable. I have no idea where all these people are coming from or going to. It’s not like downtown Ho Chi Minh City, but one does have to be extremely cautious when crossing a street.

I’ve spent the past few days visiting friends and have been into town twice. Today I am staying in. I do have a mini-fridge in the room which is nice except you have to remember that the electricity cuts off when you leave the room, so what you store has to be limited to non-very-perishables. I was able to find regular light bulbs to replace the florescent bedside lights. (this only took two days and about 5 hours of walking around the entire city to find.)

I’ve managed to get over my initial fear of using my costly, brand new, DSLR camera. I’m still having a bit of trouble figuring out where I have stored the photos on my computer. I’m still questioning if lugging around a high-dollar camera was a smart move. I can’t just whip it out of my bag and throw it back in. I haven’t yet figured out exactly how to walk around town with it. Do I keep it in my shoulder bag which is really not comfortable or do I put it in a back pack which is really not as safe? Did I spend a fortune on an impractical piece of equipment, or is it really the apparatus that I have been dreaming about owning for years? I’m hoping it is the latter.