Gettin’ jacked off in Ho Chi Minh

I don’t recall why I left the house, but I needed to get out and go for a walk. Maybe being cooped up was getting to me- I just needed some fresh air.

I hit the streets with the intent to explore. After getting off the main road, there are a few alleys and side streets that end up leading to the foreign district, Bieu Vien, a spot that’s always a veritable blast to the senses. Filled with fast-talking entrepreneurs that are hell bent on selling you sunglasses in the evening, to the barrage of do-it-yourself masseuses, to the extensive foot & motorbike traffic whizzing past fiery facades. The street can become a real nightmare to those with vices- though with one month under my belt, I slid through stealthy avoiding all lured attempts and traps.

No fun for the reader, but I live for myself, and not for arts sake.

I discovered a few new alleys and was further propositioned by a barrage of motorcyclist-cum-taxi drivers who are straight flabbergasted at the thought of someone walking for pleasure. It is obvious it is not a Vietnamese pastime. It seems as though everyone in this country is an entrepreneur, which I respect greatly. It is rather intimate putting yourself on display day in day out- facing reject, ridicule and worst-of-all the lack of acknowledgement. I have to give it to the Vietnamese for being scrupulous about making a buck, although their approach is in dire need of education. (This concept can & will be discussed in a whole other blog)

Each motorcycle taxi would approach me, either by waving, flagging me down, following me for blocks, or their most effective approach at winning clientele, grabbing my arm.  After I assure them that I am just out for a stroll and not interested, they change tones, and then ask if I’m looking for marijuana. Indeed I am, but not from some grabby dude, and especially not in a country where a little weed gets you locked up. Then in a last attempt to make a buck off of me, they ask if I am interested in sexy ladies.

So they went from transport enthusiasts to drug dealers to pimps. Not a bad area of expertise, but it lacks originality after the 20th person approaches you- then it becomes somewhat of an annoyance. And after skirting the city for more than two hours, it definitely was that.

Looking to remove myself from the spotlight, I slid down a back street to find some kids playing a made up game, a midnight produce market, a wrinkled lady taking a piss against a lamppost, a resting spot for tired cyclists, and a man getting a full on massage face down on a blanket on the sidewalk.  I left the street with two bags of groceries filled with peppers, onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce and the ever-popular dozen eggs.

Now in pursuit of home, I stayed true to the back roads and avoided all walks of life, that is until I reached Tran Hung Dao. Being the street my house is on…it’s kind of unavoidable. Out of the corner of my eye, I passed two girls on a motorbike- who out of my suspicion I immediately labeled as prostitutes, trick-turners if-you-will. Now I don’t usually go around stamping people whore or saint, but everyone has instincts and its normal to generalize- goddamnit it’s healthy. Having walked past the girls, the two slipped from my mind- twas just another normal sight of the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh.

With my house nay two blocks away, and my dogs foaming at the mouth, I was indeed already imagining my key in the slot. A little too soon perhaps, because the two women on the bike had followed me, looped around and we were now gazing in each other’s direction. “Massage” one said, trying to act all sweet and innocent, while the other went for the bullocks “sexy time… $20… room right over there” she said pointing. Then the other chimed back “massage… no sex… nice girl”. It was some sort of good whore/bad whore routine- thinking back now I can picture them practicing in front of the mirror, to each other and their friends.

Being a nice guy, perhaps naïve… ok definitely naïve, I apologized and just stuck to my no thank you’s and have a good night’s. I pushed on for home. The girls on the other hand looped around and hit back with the same barrage of sales techniques, everyone’s an entrepreneur like I said before, but this time one girl jumped off and starting grabbing me while spouting the same routine. I pushed off with the same response and pushed on.

This happened two more times before they finally understood that I wasn’t interested and sped off shouting, “Ok, bye-bye.” Watching them drive away I sighed relief, and, not even out of concern, I believe my hand grazed my pocket-an empty pocket. I checked my other. Keys. Then my back pockets. Both empty. Are you fucking kidding me? Then it sunk in. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Katie just took out three million dong ($150- $30 of which I spent throughout the day) for me because my bankcard had not been working. Then it really sunk in. Fuck my credit card. I burst into a full on sprint, rounded the corner, sped down the alley and even stirred the neighbour, as he popped his head from his shell.

It was the typical key fumbling entrance. I burst into the room out of breathe and explained the ordeal to Katie as I was simultaneously logging onto Skype and MasterCard’s website to get the number. Fortunately, it had not been tampered and they cancelled it on the spot (and received a replacement within 3 days).

Aside from the $130 dollars, I had removed my health card and drivers license from my wallet. Unfortunately my motorcycle registration papers were in there, which would be a hassle to sell my bike without. So I figured another loss of $200 on the back end. Trying to be positive, I told myself that it was only money, and although a pain in the ass, at least it wasn’t my passport, my laptop or backpack, and my wallet could have easily been carrying the $300 Katie owed me, but due to problems at the machine she only gave me half. Whatever makes me feel better, right?

The end. Lesson learned. It took 16 countries to finally get robbed, and I guess in some way I always knew it would happen. I am a traveller and it’s all part of the game. Hell, even taking everything into consideration and carrying my wallet differently and not letting someone invade my space- I’m sure it is going to happen again. As much as it’s easy to assume everyone is a thief- I can’t let this experience tarnish the values I place on the majority of mankind. I won’t let it. People are good. These two whores I’m sure are good people too. Something I would soon question.

Anyways, a week had passed and just yesterday I went to my gym to work out. I had taken a week off because I had gotten a tattoo and the maintenance required me to avoid sweating or getting wet, yah I know what you’re thinking, a week off the gym nice excuse. Anyways, I walk in, run on the treadmill, and then sit down in front of a fan because it’s just deadly hot. The owner behind the counter says something unknown to me, and I get up to humour our language barrier. On the counter in front of her is a wallet that looks strikingly like mine. She picks it up and hands it to me. It’s my wallet. The look on my face must have been priceless for she doesn’t know the story behind it. I open the wallet and the golden Sai Baba is staring me in the face… all I can do is smile. Lost for words I’m trying to piece everything together.

The owner points to my wallet and takes out my gym membership, which had the address on it, and through motions she explained she found it on the street in front of her gym. Baffled, I tried to weigh the situation. Did my thieves actually have the heart to return my wallet (cashless, but of course!) or was it completely a coincidence? You tell me! With the stunned look stamped on my face and my head in the clouds… I come back down to earth… and standing in front of me was the owner with her hand out, reward style. Was she in on it too? Who fucking knows! I’ll just have to chalk it all up as a $130 story.

Gettin’ Inked In Ho Chi Minh

I don’t know where the urge came from, but it started hitting me hard. Snapshots of globes, airplanes, bicycles, compass rose’s, pencils, sugar skulls and mountains all etched in black ink like an about page on my forearm. Some of you will call it ‘hipster’, but I’m assuming you’re saying that from behind a desk in some office, really living it upJ Honestly, I never thought of having a single visible tattoo and now I’m picturing sleeves, interwoven with random pieces of me permanently spackled saying “fuck your corporate suit & leisure Friday attire having asses.” Really, that’s not what its about, I just had a change of heart and wanted a tattoo.

The last tat I got I was 17 and my mother had to leave work to come sign consent for me at the parlour. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am sitting in Saigon Ink, Vietnam minutes away from being inked with a tribute to home I nostalgically created.

 

good ol' King Street

good ol’ King Street

The concept was to pay homage to Dundas. To be honest, after travelling the world and living/working abroad for over three years, I don’t think I have ever been this quite vulnerable of being home sick. And it’s not even to that degree. I have been analyzing the issue and why I think I miss home so much is because of the nature. Ho Chi Minh is undoubtedly a monstrous city, with a boasting a population of nine million and up, but the people aren’t the problem- the problem is that its flat and there the city planning hasn’t taken into account any green space.  The few parks in the city, though nice, leave me craving a park where I can kick off my shoes and run around tossing a Frisbee or ball, both of which you don’t see to much of around here. And to trump that, there isn’t a mountain in sight, unless you count climbing the steps of one of HCMC’s towering Saigon River skyscrapers, which I f*cking don’t.

But, back to the tattoo.  After strumming around the idea of tattooing the silhouette of a map on my forearm with the flight plans dotted to and fro the countries I’ve adjourned- I made it a little more personal and paid tribute to my home town of Dundas, Ontario.

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Dundas, now amalgamated with the town of Hamilton, is located in between Toronto and Niagara Falls. It’s about a 45-minute drive in both directions and sits at the apex of Lake Ontario, which snakes into Princess Point, which snakes into Cootes Paradise- a dipping point I used to drop in my canoe. Dundas is a quaint town that has pretty much two roads running in and out of town that are sandwiched in between a glacier sculpted escarpment. Its beautiful- you would love it! Heading West into Dundas, the Northern escarpment is home to Tew’s and Webster’s Falls and the Dundas Peak along with a snaking network of hiking and biking trails that peak out along bluffs that present wicked lookouts for stoners, photographers and nature enthusiasts.

On the south side of the escarpment you have the Dundas Conservation Area, home to meandering creeks, an ancient apple orchard, and an ample array of wildlife, flora and flowing hills.

The Dundas Conservation area sits across the street from two houses my family has spent the last 20 years in, and a five-minute drive from where I was born. To say it’s my second backyard would be on point, and my dog perhaps knows it just as well as I do, usually because she’s the one leading the way.

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The focus of my tattoo is actually from a spot that my dog leads me, it’s a creek that’s just off the John White trail, and when the path comes to a fork she’s in an all out sprint. By the time I get around the corner myself, she’s up to her neck in the cool water.

My dog Karma and this creek was the inspiration for my tattoo. Since I grew up and moved around, and perhaps my family will move again one day- I didn’t want to use their address as a home base- so I used the GPS coordinates of this peaceful refuge that holds a close spot in my heart. On top of the coordinates I had three small pine trees tattoos symbolizing the Dundas Conservation Area that the creek embodies

tattoo vietnam saigon ink

(i'm aware thats a pen in his hand)

Detailing some port tattoo touch-ups (i’m aware thats a pen in his hand)

If you care to check it up on a map, or perhaps make it there one day, this is where it lies- Now go play!

N 43 15’ 1.951”

W 79 59’ 11.63”

War Remnants Museum & Reunification Palace

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, neither of us knew a whole lot about the history of Vietnam and it was one of our goals to learn more about this country we were immersing ourselves into. We had heard a lot about the War Remnants Museum, and after being in the city about a week, we decided it was time. I had read about how heavy the contents of the museum were, and to go prepared for an emotional beating.

We paid our 15,000VND admission (about 75 cents), parked our newly acquired bikes in the secured Travel Vietnam War Memorialparking (about 3000VND each), and trooped on up. The front entrance on the main floor is covered in propaganda posters from countries all around the world supporting the Vietnamese and pressuring the United States army to evacuate Vietnam. I handed my camera to Louis, as I didn’t have the patience to take that many photos, and I didn’t think the museum was one I would want detailed in my photo history of Vietnam, it was incredibly upsetting.

After finishing the first floor (which had gotten incredibly packed once it started raining) we walked up to the second, already heavy-footed by the posters, not quite prepared for what was to come. Photos of Americans torturing Vietnamese men, women, and children, statistics about death, imprisonment, torture, bombings, etc, plastered the walls. Cases of bombs, shells, equipment, uniforms, mines, guns, and so on circled the rooms. There were stunning photo exhibits from war photographers who risked their lives (some of whom lost their lives) documenting atrocious and horrifying scenes of violence. Many of the photo placards are written in unintelligible English, but the photos speak for themselves. Some say a picture speaks a thousand words, but these photos asked a lifetime of unanswerable questions, the biggest one in my mind being “Why?”.

Comparative before & after Agent Orange

Before & after Agent Orange

The room dedicated to statistics and photographs about Agent Orange truly took my breath away. Photographs of Agent Orange victims, from the land to children born generations after the war, were unnerving. There are still people being born in the United States and Vietnam with birth defects from their parents’ and grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange during the war. After the war, between 1975 and 2002, there were 42,135 people killed by bombs and explosives that had been leftover from the war and 62,143 people wounded. This is AFTER the war, after the carnage was supposed to stop.

 

The tankers, fighter jets, and boats outside the museum were interesting to stroll through, but after the lethargic photos, stories, and statistics of the museum, I didn’t have much interest in seeing the heavy killing machinery.

Gunned up boats

Gunned up boats

Next up on our “history to see” museum list was Reunification Palace, or Independence Palace, depending on who you’re talking to. Let me say up front that if you’re interested in going here, make sure you get in on a free tour (walk in the front doors & there’s a “Tour Desk” – easy peasy!), or nothing makes sense. The tour was about 30 minutes, our tour guide spoke English (mostly), and there are NO signs in this place other than ones in Vietnamese telling you not to enter, and “The lift is only for the old, disabled and pregnant woman”. That is one woman in an unfortunate position that really wants to visit the Reunification Palace. Anyway, admission to this big old house that used to be home to the President of South Vietnam during the war is also 15,000VND and although not as mind-blowing as the War Remnants museum, it was worth the 75 cents and 45 minutes we took to tour it.
Travel Vietnam War Palace Louis

It is a significant part of Vietnam’s history as it was this location that the Vietnam war ended at the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 when a North Vietnamese army tank tore through the front gates. Without giving you a full history lesson, as Wikipedia has everything you’d want to know, the house was interesting enough and full of “this is where the President met his friends” and “this is where the President played with his children” type of rooms. One of our favourite spots was the winding tunnel of basement hallways and rooms containing war correspondence equipment and Vietnam maps. You could tell it was full of stories and secrets that no one but the people who spent hours and days down there during the war knew.

Basement communications equipment

Basement communications equipment

doin’ the zoo in (ho chi minh)

One of the top sights to see while enjoying a stay in Ho Chi Minh, is a quaint stroll about thesaigonzoo zoological gardens, my heavens I’m sorry, zoo, for the laymen folk. This zoo you see, happens to be, under some weight of confusion, somewhere within the top ten oldest in the world. Commissioned by the French in 1864, a veterinarian by the name of Louis Germain was appointed director and on February 17th 1869, it opened to the public.

Let’s plié 144 years, 5 months, and 12 days ahead to when Katie et moi marched up to the gates and paid the admission- something to the tune of 70 cents us both. Inside, after making a left, we found ourselves zoomgiraffebeing ogled by a stout pair of giraffes. Having an eidetic memory, I am easily able to describe the words that sprang to heart upon gracing these two altitudinous creatures, they were nothing more than awwww & they’re so fluffy!

Onward one must march to embrace all the spectacles of the zoo, and we ended up in a reptile district where it seemed each glassed-in room held perhaps the brother or sister of the reptile before it. It was the obvious; snakes, tortoises, gecko’s and lizards- all adorable nonetheless.

katlizard

Stricken by the call of wild, we carried on to the most pathetic bunch of elephants, which in the moment reminded me of a story about a rather normal boy administered to a psyche ward and within but a moments time, he too was acting in a similar manner as those that had been severely diagnosed. It was that awful swinging motion that tends to manipulate the body, out of boredom, out of stress, out of confinement. And it was that exact motion that I saw in the elephants. I carried on begrudgingly.

After sussing out an enormous pit of deer, fawns and elk alike- we embarked onto more serious of matters: MONKEYS! Having always been a fond of the monkey and all of its primate associates, I pushed my distaste of confinement away and went viewing with giddiness.

After watching one giant cage housing a solid twenty-or-so primates at play, I moved over to a cage beside which housed a howling yellow-cheeked gibbon, whom I soon befriended. Grabbing a shell from a discarded piece of fruit, he cocked back and threw it past the bars, which landed somewhere near my feet. In return I picked it up and threw it back to him- twenty minutes later and I felt like I was in my backyard tossing a ball around with my pops. With a crowd of enthusiasts gathered around, a Vietnamese man picked up some fruit shell and tossed it to the gibbon. The gibbon catching it, threw it directly on the ground below him, sparking a rage of laughter from the crowd.

During our game of catch, four little monkeys slipped past the bars from the cage beside and climbed a tree above our heads and played as monkeys do. Each monkey taking turns climbing a the top limbs extremity and with its weight used it spring itself onto an adjacent tree below. Flying through the air, free, cage less, it brought a smile to my face in their simple pleasure.

jailbird monkeys 3jailbird moneys 2jailbird monkeys

Having to carry on we passed some flamingo’s along a path that led to a railing resting at about knee height. One foot beside the railing sat a pool about ten feet squared, inside unknown to us at the moment, for it seemed empty, was a hippopotamus that you could reach out and touch, had you the guts to do so. At the time I imagined Canadian officials in their denim suits scrutinizing every detail with clipboard in hand, boasting all of the infractions that this exhibit has incurred- I say nay… for perhaps as much as Vietnam is aloof, Canadians are too uptight- and in that sense both are disastrous!

hippo love

The rest of the animals after that were either sleeping, being fed, or busy getting busy- so we missed out on a few gorillas, lions, gators and such. Although for its 35 cent price tag, I was left feeling like a kid again.

(Although I genuinely find zoo’s rather saddening, I have heard that the conditions at the Saigon zoo are increasingly becoming more up to date, and I am told that the elephants are walked around the entire zoo grounds prior to the zoo opening in the morning. It is not ideal- but at least it puts a heart on the matter.)

KT Edit: Louis was clearly reading some Oscar Wilde at the time he wrote this. We also enjoyed the botanical garden, full of pretty flowers and FAKE deer and FAKE birds, I guess in case you didn’t want to go see the real things. The state of the animals was disconcerting, though. 

Gettin’ Hogs in Ho Chi Minh

There’s nothing better than being a foreigner in a new land. Vietnam is no exception. It’s not that rules don’t apply to you- it’s just that ways and laws may be bent or broken to see fit that your stay is more enjoyable. Half the time pure ignorance just ends up fitting the bill and the other half perhaps you just roll with the punches. I see to it that I don’t take too much advantage of local laws, but when it comes to licenses, insurance, contracts; that kinda jazz, that’s where the life of a foreigner truly trumps that of being just another local at home.

The plan after getting our apartment was to pick up a couple of motorcycles. Well, a motorcycle for myself, and motorbike for the misses. After a couple of days on craigslist, expat blogs and forums- I deduced that the bike I was looking for was a Honda Win. I really don’t know much about the bike, aside from it being manually driven. It has four gears and is one of the more widely known bikes for touring the countryside and playing in the hills, swamps and beachfronts. Although the Honda Win is not a Vietnamese bike, there is such an abundance of them in Vietnam- parts and labour I would find out are readily available and mind-blowingly cheap.

Katie, being new to the bike world, opted for an automatic bike, the Yamaha Nuovo. With more horsepower than my bike, 115hp to my 100hp, it’s a nice bike to break her into feeling comfortable on two wheels and more importantly cruising the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh.

MOTOBOKO

Now back home in Canada, the process of acquiring a bike is I’m sure very similar to that of acquiring one in Vietnam. One would write a test or perhaps have a driving test along side that and once that was settled, you would pay a fee and get your drivers license. Then you would find a reputable, aka cheap, insurance company and sign a contract for a year (which is bullshit back home in Canada because the riding year is only good for 4-6 months, 8-10 if you’re ballsy) and then assuming you already have a bike picked out- you would register that and then pay taxes on top of everything. Sounds like a very worthwhile system… Uhhhh, no thank you! The whole ordeal of receiving my M license cost me a hundred dollars or so in tests, then plates and a license are another hundred or so, on top of $1400 /year insurance and then $3800+tax ($494 to get specific)… all in all costing me just over of $6000. Which is pricey, but, like all bikers, we all justify the cost because of that sweet rumble between our legs and the wind kissing our face…I’m taking about freedom- and sweet Jesus it is!

Now let’s say I skipped the insurance and skipped the license and just bought a bike… well that wouldn’t work in Canada because I would need plates. And then it’s over from the get go- but if I had plates and threw them on, lets say, well then perhaps I could get away with it, that is until a cop saw I had outdated stickers and bam… huge ticket, bike taken off the road, and so long freedom.

Hop on over to Vietnam, Xin Chao everybody, and lets pretend you are a foreigner. You want a motorcycle, what do you do? What I did was search all the websites until I found another foreigner looking to unload his bike. Usually foreigners travel from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi or vice versa and then sell their bikes before heading to another country. That’s the usual story. Along with your new purchase, not only do you get a license plate, but you should also receive the original papers to the bike (inscribed with original owners name), and if you are lucky, a couple of helmets, tie-downs, and a map.

But what happens if you get pulled over in Vietnam? Well, something that I have already witnessed in front of old presidential palace was a cop slipping a bribe into his shirt pocket. The going rate I have been told is $5 dollars for locals (100,000 dong) and upwards of $10 (200,000 dong) for foreigners. Hell, I could be pulled over 140 times back home and break even just on the insurance alone. What I have been told countless times from traveller’s is to not even show your papers and just play dumb. If the officer knows English… You do not. If you don’t know another language- try counting to ten in Spanish over and over again until they brush you off for the annoyance you are. If that doesn’t work, pull out a small bill- nothing large.

post bribe photobomb

post bribe photobomb

Now, I’m not saying any of this is ethical. No, I never said that. Nor do I condone my behavior- I’m aware I am taking advantage of the system. But honestly, I’m not going to stop. It feels too damn good to be above the law. Too damn good. I’m flying over here.

Well Jeeze Louise I’m so excited, I forgot to tell you the best part. So it took me a couple days to contact a seller- he was leaving in three days and needed to unload and he fortunately lived a ten-minute walk from my house. Katie and I walked over and met Raphael, a 22-year-old medical student from France who was on a volunteer/vacation in Vietnam.  I looked the bike over, hopped on and gave it a test drive. By no means is it a pretty bike. Oh, she’s beat up and abused- loved too much one might say, but she ran well and Raphael seemed like a good guy.  I ended up giving him $300 for the bike and the three of us went out for a couple beers to settle the deal. We did. We finished our beers, shook hands and parted ways. I didn’t even have time to be excited about being a new bike owner because Katie had made plans to meet a potential seller almost immediately after I wrapped up my deal.

lousbike_Fotor_Fotor

We walked across the street and there was this Thai bloke with the thickest UK accent- it really threw me for a loop. Tattooed up and dressed in a t-shirt that read ‘I fuck on the first date’ he was lined up to be a real salesman. KT Edit: I asked if I could consider this sale a date. He just laughed awkwardly. Damn! I jumped on the bike to give it a go- spinning through the Saigon streets and back. This bike was in much better running condition. So after a little bargaining he took 20 bucks off and she landed it for $420. A steal considering Katie could put 5-6000 km on it and then sell it for the same price to the next newbie.

katiesbike_Fotor_Fotor

We both hopped onto Katie’s new bike and doubled back to Raphael’s pad where the bike was still sitting, Raphael was there with a friend. Hopping onto my new bike he walked over and said ‘I think you paid me too much- I was asking 500,000,000 dong, that’s only $260’. Raphael then hands me $40 back and says ‘this will be incase you need to fix anything on the bike along your travels’. Marveled by my good fortune, I accepted and promised him I would keep him posted along the travels and be sure to put some good kilometers on the bike.

With new bikes under our asses and an unknown world that surrounds us, Katie and I explored the wild city, throwing ourselves front wheel first into oncoming traffic, it’s the only way to learn the streets and how the traffic works and what we have to do to stay alive on these wicked streets. We got home safe, parked our bikes on the inside of our house in a designated area that sits eight more for our household. I’m already getting antsy to get cruising. Perhaps we will take a look at a map tonight and be off before we know it.

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House Hunting – Ho Chi Minh City Style

For those of you who don’t know, Louis & I had thought we would settle down in Ho Chi Minh City for a while before motorbike trekking North through Vietnam and ending up in Hanoi. We not only wanted to be “in” a foreign culture, we wanted to be “part” of a foreign culture. What better way to do that then become residents?

So, our apartment search all started at the Manor 2. Well actually, it started back in Hamilton before we even left for Vietnam. “What do you want in an apartment?” Louis asked me casually one night. I wasn’t really sure. Safety? Somewhere I can be comfortable? No more student house? “I’ve never lived with anyone before…” “Me neither…”. Not only were we looking for somewhere to settle down for a short while in Ho Chi Minh City, we needed somewhere to please both of us, and a place where we could get away from each other if needed.

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Skip forward to Ho Chi Minh City. We had been crashing at Haider’s apartment for a few days when we decided it was time to find our own place. Haider was incredibly hospitable, setting us up in his spare room, letting us use his spare phone, and having us pick his brain a bunch about Ho Chi Minh City, but we didn’t want to outstay our welcome.

How does one (or two) go about apartment searching in a foreign city when they’ve hardly learned to cross the street? We started by walking down one street we had become familiar with, Le Than Ton – an interesting area full of Japanese restaurants and relatively close to downtown. We entered some buildings that looked like they might contain apartments and asked “Apartment? How much?” over and over. We quickly learned that Le Than Ton was out of our (jobless) price range. Now what? We buckled down at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee shop on Le Than Ton and decided to divide and conquer the online apartment ad world. One of us took Vietnam Craigslist while the other took expat-blog.com.

We started calling, texting, and emailing the places we were interested in. We repeatedly got the same response, they wouldn’t rent for only one month. Then Louis found what *seemed* to be the perfect living situation. $300/month plus electricity for a place with a balcony. But it *might* be shared kitchen and living room, we couldn’t tell from the ad.

The address was 258/37 Tran Hung Dao in District 1. We walked and walked and found what we thought was 258. The woman Louis talked to on the phone said the house was at the end of an alley. So we walked down a pitch black alley (it was 8PM by this point). At the end of the alley was a pool and a restaurant/bar and all around were doors that we assumed led to apartments. It felt a little eerie and the woman we were looking for wasn’t there. Something felt off. We finally saw her at the entrance to the alley. When we met her she was laughing and shaking her head – we were in the wrong alley. Whoops! We walked a bit further down Tran Hung Dao, past a construction site, down a couple more alleys, and stopped at the very last house at the very end. Louis and I were shooting each other unsure glances behind An’s back as we walked – what were we getting ourselves into?

Living Room #1

Living Room #1

An unlocked both doors for us and we were greeted with a front foyer with five motorbikes, a big plush couch and chair, Buddhist shrine found in most houses and businesses, a flat screen TV, a piano, and an elevator. It was all very modern and clean – much nicer than the student houses I had stayed in at home. So far so good. Walking up a few steps into the kitchen we met George, an Australian chef, and Tu, his Vietnamese girlfriend. George assured us he loved the place, after a few days you don’t notice the noise from the construction next door, and even though you share the kitchen with 5 other people, you hardly ever see them.

We started up the steps to view the bedroom, stepping over a cockroach…uhhhh…Another sitting room and the available bedroom were on the second floor. The bedroom was very spacious, containing a large bed, desk with a mirror, two

Partial view from apartment roof

Partial view from apartment roof

bedside tables, air con, fan, flat screen TV, mini fridge, and armoir. Connected to the bedroom was a pretty standard bathroom, nothing fancy but with all the essentials. After seeing the bedroom we climbed the four floors to the roof top terraces. They gave a stunning view of the city and we immediately started envisioning us working out up there, writing up there, and drinking a few cheap beers up there.

We took the elevator back down (an elevator! cool!) and An informed us we would get all that, plus maid/laundry service/security three times a week for $300. Neither of us cared too much about the maid/laundry service but after a quick discussion, Louis and I agreed and told An we would take it! She said we could move in the next morning.

We got back to Haider’s apartment that night excited to move into our new place. It had only taken one day! Then we got a text from An…she was sorry but her husband said no, he wanted a minimum three month commitment. Shit. Ok, well…so much for that! We were pretty bummed. We loved that place! But not enough to stay there for three months…shit! We decided to text An proposing to stay for two months. This seemed to please her husband as she agreed to that, and the next morning we moved in. The maid let us in and we met An later that day to fill out the Registration Form and sign the lease. In Vietnam you need to fill out a Registration Form even if you’re only staying one night (which we would find out the hard way on our long trip to Ba Dong Beach…). & just like that, we had maid service, laundry service, security (kind of…), and a super cozy place to settle in to.

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer's collection

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer’s collection

-Twisted KT

Pho-king Delicious

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on July 23rd, figured out a taxi to take us to where we were staying – an apartment in the Manor 2 with Louis’ friend from Korea (Pam)’s boyfriend Haider, snuck in around midnight, and crashed in the spare bedroom. Setting out on the first day of our adventure after a relatively long and unbroken sleep, we had no idea where to go or what to see first. We were Vietnam virgins in the purest sense, with not even a map as a guide. We left the Manor 2 in which we thought was District 7, with the sole purpose of exploration. We quickly got lost, but can one REALLY be lost if one has no specific destination, and one is never really “found” to begin with?

Our first order of business was breakfast. It was after 11AM, past Vietnamese breakfast time, but that wouldn’t stop us. The airplane and airport food of the past two days had left a lot to be desired. We kept seeing little plastic tables and little plastic stools set up all over the sidewalks with people of all ages stooped and slurping. Alright…so how does this work?? Should we just sit down and see what happens? Not speaking the language…this really was our only option.

So that’s what we did! We sat at a metal table on the sidewalk, lined on both sides with tiny plastic stools and covered in containers holding chopsticks, spoons, toilet-paper-cum-napkins, diced limes, various spices, and a number of things we couldn’t put a name to. A middle-aged woman smiled at us sweetly and got to putting together two bowls for us. How did she know what we wanted?? She didn’t. Didn’t we have some sort of menu or choice? We didn’t.
Travel Vietam Pho KT

This sweet lady brought over two bowls of Pho. Just like the pho restaurants at home, there was a plate full of fresh herbs in the middle to mix in with our noodle soup. One “herb” looked quite strange, and when I asked Louis about it he stated very matter-of-factly, “It’s not octopus”. With a shrug, I threw it all in my bowl, squirted lime like the lady was insisting, and slurped away, no more questions asked. And…it was great! Very much like the pho we have at home, but much better…assumingly because everything was the freshest of fresh, and maybe because we were starving. And also because we really couldn’t be sure what was involved in the making of the pho.

We dove head first into the food culture and were not disappointed. At a whopping 50,000VND (about $2.50CAD) for 2 meals, we’d say we got a great bang for our buck. At Pho Dau Bo in Hamilton, which is my favourite pho place back home, the same setup and meal for two people would have cost $14. All this, plus a little Vietnamese boy and his mother offered lively entertainment, wanting to take pictures and laugh with us. The boys mother informed us that the “not octopus” part was, indeed, dried squid. Whoops! Whodathunk the girl who gags at the thought of eating an olive would be munching squid on her first day in Vietnam? The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to eat, although Louis did give it a go, was something femur bone-looking, with the texture of tofu. I’m still unsure what it was, but my money is on something sausage related.

Travel Vietnam Lou

the WHY factor

Twisted Lou:

So the question on most people’s mind is why? You can probably guess how many times I’ve heard that from my parents and friends alone. But, it’s way more than that. Think about the phone company when you have to give the reason for cancelling. And the bank when you tell them there might be a few overseas transactions. And the chicken’s flown the coop once word hits Facebook. Hell, its hands-down the most asked question I’ve received when I told people “I’m moving to Vietnam.” And to be honest- I didn’t even know why at first.

At first I told myself it was to get a job. Although what kind of job I was unaware. Vietnam is rich in textiles (aka cheap labour) as well as coffee and cashews, but where do you really start? I had been an ESL teacher in South Korea from 2007-2009, and I knew that I didn’t want to go down that route again. But, all that aside… the answer still remained- Why Vietnam?

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

I think it had to stem from my love for Asia. I had a great dose of it over in S.K. and Vietnam sounded like it had everything Korea had to offer- but on a cheaper budget.Throw in beaches along a coast that runs 1000 miles, mountains just shy of 10,000 feet and a bowl of phó on the streets for $1- I guess Vietnam was just calling my name. It’s also a great stomping ground in S.E.A. to do a little country hopping. With Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China and the Philippines next-door, it’s almost as easy to cross the border, as it is to ask your neighbour for a bowl of phó.

I guess I knew the answer all along- it’s the adventure. The unknown. It’s about being able to walk down foreign streets with my head on a swivel in awe. It’s about meeting amazing people and being let into a slice of their life for the day. It’s about not understanding anything at all, and having it all slowly piece itself together.

It’s about being so unbelievably passionate about life that you can say good-bye to everything behind you, put on a backpack with the rain in your face and say where next. That’s why Vietnam. 

Costa Rica December 2012

Costa Rica December 2012

Twisted KT:

“Because you have to start somewhere…”
This was my clever little way of getting around the inevitable “Why Vietnam?” inquiry. The truth was that I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I wasn’t sure when or for how long, either. As I answered the who, the what, the where, and the when, I was still stuck on the why.

I always knew I would travel after finishing University. As my fellow classmates applied to post-graduate programs and started looking for “adult jobs”, I was making lists of places I wanted to visit, searching travel blogs and reading travel books. I joked that I wasn’t ready to start “real life” yet, I had other things to do. How could I commit to Hamilton when I hadn’t seen all the other places first? I love you Hamilton, but we need some time apart. I just wanted to get out, I needed something new.

Vietnam offered something that Canada didn’t – foreign food, faces, and feelings. While there is nothing specifically drawing me to Vietnam or making me obsessed with Vietnamese culture, it is a place to start. There are beaches and mountains to explore, bustling cities to get lost in, and rich history to learn about. There are religions to be inspired by, cultural customs to be baffled by, and insane traffic to master. There are neighbouring countries to navigate, a plethora of cafes to read in, and endless street-eats to experience.

Every journey needs a beginning, & for mine I chose Vietnam!
@kt_mllr