February 2010
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A Memorable Tet Week

Sunset in Vung Tau

Sorry for the lack of updates of late….but I’ve been a bit out of sorts the past couple of weeks, and what was going to be a quick 1 day trip to Ba Ria turned into 3 days….including 2 days in Vung Tau.

As expected, our dog Mr. Pepper had to be put down about a week ago….so I was really depressed about that.  And my Aunt #4 and I have been getting on each others nerves.  I literally spent every waking moment the week before Tet in my room with the curtains drawn; except to eat and use the restroom.  I have been feeling extremely disenchanted with this grand experiment to change myself in Vietnam ever since returning from my trip to Gia Lai 3 weeks ago (btw I still need to finish writing that post)…and getting my helmet stolen twice and missing my family and my little girl Penny didn’t make me feel any better about being in Saigon.  I was seriously thinking about packing up my things and heading back home to Texas.  I know that hiding from your problems don’t make them go away….and I had promised a friend I was going to try to give Vietnam a chance for at least 1 year before calling it quits.

I was reacting the same way to disappointment as I usually did back home…by barricading myself from the rest of the world in my house/room; I know this wasn’t going to resolve anything.   I was determined to get myself out of this little funk and re-inspire myself….to try to reignite the feeling of excitement I had when I initially decided to come to this young, vibrant country.  First of all, I just needed to get out of the house.  Tet was over…and I was glad to be able to get back onto the streets again.

This guy caught me taking his picture while he was peeing

I had always wanted to meet Kevin Miller from Saigon Nezumi even before I ever arrived in Vietnam.  His blog is my favorite Vietnam blog and there are surprisingly a lot of excellent expat blogs in VN (see Expat Links on the right side bar).  Before coming to Saigon, I spent 2 days reading every post from Kevin’s blog from the last 5 years (he didn’t blog his first year)…which anyone coming to Saigon should also consider doing…there is a wealth of information that is extremely useful to newcomers.  Kevin was gracious enough to agree to meet me for lunch on Monday at Mimosa….an Italian restaurant on Bui Vien street in the backpacker area.  When I arrived, Kevin was already there with a couple of new expats, Pratik and his lovely wife Pulkit.  It was great meeting everyone and I didn’t realize how much I missed having a face to face conversation in English….it had been awhile.

Late Monday evening,  a woman I had met on my trip to Gia Lai called and invited me to come up to her house in Ba Ria on Tuesday.  Co Son had immediately taken a liking to me during our trip a few weeks before.  She wanted me to spend Tet with her family,  help me find a job in Vung Tau, and hook me up with a girl she called her daughter (although not blood related), etc….basically adopt me.  She was very nice but I was a little freaked out by how aggressive she was.  I politely declined all her offers…and intended to ignore any phone calls that I didn’t recognize via the Caller ID in the future….but I unthinkingly answered my phone that night and I knew the instant she spoke that I had put myself in an awkward situation.  I wasn’t prepared for her call so when she invited me again to come to her house…I didn’t have a ready excuse to use….and reluctantly accepted her invitation to Ba Ria.   I felt a little bit better when I found out that the “coconut leaf master” Ngoc Anh was also coming up.

Co Son's Internet Cafe

I had considered trying to drive to Ba Ria on my motorbike….but my Aunt convinced me that it wasn’t such a good idea.  As bad as Saigon traffic is…at least the congestion limits the speed that people drive.  The conditions on the freeways are much more unpredictable and dangerous….cars, buses and trucks alike travel at much faster speeds than in the city and they will try to pass each other in the motorbike lanes….without any consideration for where your bike might be.  You usually see at least one major freeway accident when traveling for any considerable distance.

I had my xe om guy drive me Tuesday morning to Mien Dong bus station.  Ba Ria is only about 20km from Vung Tau….you buy a ticket at the bus station for Vung Tau and the driver will drop you off in Ba Ria along the way.  Since it was the week of Tet, ticket prices were much higher than usual.  A ticket to Ba Ria/Vung Tau usually costs 55,000 Dong…but it was 75,000 Dong (about $4) this week.   As usual, I bought 2 seats….one for myself and one for my bag.  My Aunt was worried that with my limited Vietnamese I wouldn’t be able to buy a ticket, find the right bus, tell the bus driver where to stop, etc…..but I surprised even myself when I managed to do all the aforementioned….on my first try no less.  🙂  Yes, I was rather proud of myself.

Little kid diarrheaing all over the sidework

The bus dropped me off on the side of the road in Ba Ria…near the market area.  I called Co Son to have her pick me up on her motorbike.  During my wait I bought a refreshing glass of Nuoc Mia at a street-side stall.  It was delicious as usual and cheaper than in Saigon…..only 6000 Dong (about 30 cents).

Turns out that Co Son and her husband own an internet cafe in Ba Ria which also doubled as their home.  Neighborhood kids would come to the cafe to use the internet and play games on about 20 workstations.  Their internet cafe also sold snacks and drinks.  Co Son prepared a nice lunch for all of us and then we just hung around the cafe for an hour to relax before heading out to explore the town.

These 2 dogs licked up all the diarrhea

I’ve seen a lot of crazy/weird things in Vietnam during my almost 2 months here…but I usually don’t have my camera ready….on this trip I came prepared.  While sitting in the cafe…I saw a kid about 3 years old walk from his house next door completely pant-less….crouch down and took a diarrhea dump right on the sidewalk.  Having your camera ready during such a situation….priceless.  The poor kid made a nasty little brown puddle and when it started spreading behind him….he would just stand up and move a few steps and recommenced his business.  Two little dogs came by after he finished up and licked up all the crap.  Can you say BARF?!!  If you didn’t have a reason not to eat dog before…..now you do.


Soon after that disgusting scene, a couple of effeminate guys walked into the cafe and saw me with my camera.  One of them immediately started acting as if he was walking the catwalk at a modeling event and asked me to take pictures of him….which I of course was happy to do as he was quite the character.  After a few poses…he takes out his phone and tries to take pictures of me…I didn’t like it at all when the shoe was on the other foot.  🙂  He starts to totally hit on me and that was my cue to get the hell out of there.  I called Co Son, Ngoc Anh, and Co Son’s son and told them I was ready to leave.

This guy totally hit on me!!

The four of us took 2 motorbikes to Minh Dam Historic Relic….a site which was one of the bases for the revolutionary forces during the late stages of the Vietnam War.  Among the steep cliffs and boulders there are natural caves and deep crevices that could have been used to house personnel and supplies.  Ngoc Anh was like a human monkey….he would bound up the boulders with his long lanky legs and crawl into every hole that only a scrawny person would fit into.  He would inevitably manage to find all the hardest paths to take….and in trying to prove that my 38 year old body could keep up with him….I foolishly followed along.  During one climb in which we had to put our back against the wall and climb vertically up a deep dark crevice Ngoc Anh managed to find….my favorite pair of sunglasses unhooked from the front of my shirt and fell into the darkness below.  I spent 15 fruitless minutes searching the dark for them but I guess they were destined to be a part of Vietnam history.

Ngoc Anh crawling into another crevice

We spent a good 3 hours exploring the historic park and then headed out to the beautiful Long Hai Beach nearby.  The beach seemed much more scenic than Vung Tau, with big boulders sitting atop the beach….and large waves occasionally crashing upon them.  Around 6 pm we headed back into town and had a nice dinner at a local restaurant.  Co Son bought some fresh crab on our way back to her home/internet cafe….and quickly steamed them for an after dinner snack.  She offered to set up a room for me and Ngoc Anh to stay overnight but we both politely declined.  I was only about 20 minutes from Vung Tau and it was my 7th Uncle’s birthday in a couple of days so I wanted to surprise him.

My sunglasses are down there somewhere

My Aunt #4 had let my cousin know I was in Ba Ria….so he offered to drive from Vung Tau to pick me up and take me to my Uncle’s house.  Funny thing is that when we showed up to my Uncle’s house he wasn’t even home.  He had just driven back that afternoon to Saigon because he and his wife wanted to visit me.  Guess I should have told them I was coming.  I had my cousin  drop me off at a hotel nearby for me to stay overnight.

Long Hai Beach

My Uncle and Aunt returned to Vung Tau the next day and I spent the next couple of days just exploring the city and celebrating my Uncle’s birthday with him and his family.  The last time I was here I was just starting to learn how to drive a motorbike.  It was much nicer this time to be able to borrow a bike and drive around the city by myself.

I haven’t had a hair cut since I was last in Vung Tau…and my hair was longer than I’ve had it in years.  I had considered letting it grow out more so I wouldn’t stand out as much among the locals….but I just couldn’t stand it anymore and I found the very same barber shop I used last time.  The pimple faced kid was nowhere to be found…so I got a haircut from the owner….who seemed to be in his late 60’s.  He did a decent job…but it wasn’t as good as last time.  They also raised the price from 15,000 Dong to 20,000 Dong (about $1 Dollar).  Inflation continues to quickly rise in Vietnam.

I would never stay at a hotel with a name like this!

That was basically all I did this week.  It was a much needed respite from Saigon and I feel much more optimistic about things than before.  I also had a chance to bond a bit and become friends with Ngoc Anh and Co Son’s son.  Ngoc Anh also volunteers at a Saigon orphanage and he offered to bring me along so that I can perhaps teach English and play with these neglected kids.  Hopefully keeping busy and feeling productive will keep my mind away from all the negative thoughts that have been cropping up in my head.

I haven’t given up on Vietnam yet….I have at least 10 months left before I’ll allow myself to.  Thanks to all for the supportive comments and emails.

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8 comments to A Memorable Tet Week

  • For all that I love Viet Nam, I also get “bluesy” from time to time. It helps to take a breather. Getting together with other expats over coffee and speaking English helps, too. Don’t give up–stick with it, and you’ll see the value.

  • Benny

    Just be easy on yourself. Please (pretty please with a cherry on top) go out more. Solitude is almost never uplifting, unless you’re a contemplative Cistercian. TX misses you, but above all, we wish you happiness.

    Please also remember the novelty of your VN experiment will wane, and the mundane will come. So, CHILL, dude!!

  • Davidlime

    Omg, When You Where At Vung Tau Did You see Many Little Jelly Fish? It Was Really dirty When I Went Just Wondering If The Same Was For You . Have a Pleasant Trip, Ps . . . Just So You Can Check It Out, Cho Ba Dinh Is Being Demolished, To You Mind Getting some Pictures For Me ?? xD Thanks !!


    • odgnut

      Hey David, I only drove along the beach in Vung Tau…never actually went on the beach. The beach in VT always seems so dirty to me that I’ve never been inclined to swim in the water. Next time I go to VT I will try to get a pic of Cho Ba Dinh for you.

  • Thuy

    re the sunset picture–the coincidence of my request is too scary

    well at least you are staying for the remainder of the year

    effeminate? i thought about you!ahahahaha

  • Thuy

    re the sunset picture–the coincidence of my request is too scary

    well at least you are staying for the remainder of the year

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