Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saigon Part 1 - A City A Few Years Ahead Of The Rest (Well In Vietnam Anyway)

Jenni and I reached Ho Chi Minh city, more commonly referred to as Saigon in Vietnam, around lunch time. Pot luck would have it that our bus terminated right next to the street that our accommodation was on, so we were able to get into our cool air-conditioned room within minutes of arriving in the city. 

The first thing that we noticed about this city is that it seems more like the cities we visited in China than the cities we have visited in Vietnam. I don't think that we have mentioned this yet on our blog, but the cities in China were nothing like what we expected. We were expecting the cities to have poor infrastructure and for there to be very few modern facilities such as convenience stores, ATMs and shopping malls. We were instead rather surprised to see that the cities that we visited in China were pretty much on par with most modern western cities. The cities in Vietnam have been more like what we expected; poor road infrastructure, poor plumbing, very few convenience stores, no metropolitan train lines, etc, etc. Even though Saigon does not have a metropolitan train system (although we have heard that they have started making plans to build one over the next few years), it seems to have all of the modern characteristics of the Chinese cities that we visited earlier on in the trip. I would say that the facilities and infrastructure in Saigon would be nearly 10 to 20 years ahead of the other cities in Vietnam.

Still feeling tired from having to get up really early to catch our bus to Saigon, we didn't get up to much for the rest of the day and spent most of it just lazing around in our room. Our accommodation was in the backpackers' area of Saigon, so there were restaurants and bars in every direction. That evening I ventured over to one of the pubs that had a couple of nice big flat screen TVs that we had spotted earlier that day. Being the backpackers' area, I was expecting this place to be chockers with people from all parts of the world, watching the Spain v. Switzerland world cup match. To my disappointment, there was only myself and a couple of other people watching it, but I stayed anyway and enjoyed a beer while watching the game. 

The following day was spent organising an itinerary for the next week while were were in Saigon and booking a couple of sight seeing tours through the travel agent that was conveniently located at the base of our hostel. That afternoon we indulged in visiting a nice cafe in one of the fancy shopping malls where we could sit and read our books while enjoying a coffee. After that we visited a supermarket (the first we have come across in over one month) to stock up on toiletries that we were running low on. In the mall with the supermarket, Jenni purchased a new fancy pants camera to replace her one that mysteriously went missing somewhere between Nha Trang and Mui Ne. We are not sure if Jenni just misplaced it or if it was actually stolen as we only really noticed that it was missing when we got to Mui Ne. Anyway, either way it happened, we are sure the outcome was the same; Jenni ended up without a camera and someone else has ended up with hers. In the end we figured that a camera is replaceable and we glad to have taken off most of the photos before the camera went missing as these would have been irreplaceable.

After the previous evening poor attendance to watch the worked cup match, I had been on the look out all day for a sports bar or something similar where there would more likely be a better crowd to watch the football. When I discovered that there was a football themed pub only ten meters to the right of our hotel, I cursed myself for walking in the opposite direction the night before. That evening Jenni and I visited the pub for dinner and to watch the Argentina v. South Korea match. After the match finished, Jenni felt that she had already had enough football for one night and elected to go back to the hotel while I stayed on to watch the Greece v. Nigeria match. While there, I listened to an English ex-pat tell myself and his fellow ex-pats of his ordeal of being involved in a motor bike crash only 2 weeks prior. After hearing his harrowing story, coupled with seeing the dead body on the road on the way back from Halong Bay as well as hopping over the large smear of blood and accompanying helmet in Da Lat, Jenni and I have been all the more wary of jumping on a motorcycle here in Vietnam.

On our third day in Saigon, we went to see the History Museum and the War Museum. The History Museum had excellent artifacts on display and good exhibits, but it was let down by its lack of information in regards to what was on display. More often than not, we would see an exhibit where the only thing on the plaque was something like "arrow head". We aren't idiots, we can tell it is an arrow head! We want to know how old it is, who used it, what for, etc etc. The rear of the museum had an excellent collection of stone statues (the large stone penis collection was particularly impressive), but again, were let down by the lack of information regarding them. One dark room housed a creepy looking mummy. The mummy was a woman's corpse who died during the 1800s (sorry I cannot remember the exact date, nor have I been able to track it down on the internet). Upon excavation, archaeologists found the mummy submerged in some sort of red goop, which caused the mummification of the corpse. I imagine the archaeologists would have been scared out of their wits when they found this thing as the red goop we saw in the photo looked like a whole pile of fresh blood and guts, making the excavation scene look like it was straight out of a horror movie.

The Saigon War Museum was setup shortly after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. Today it is called the "War Remnants Museum", but I think that its original name of the "Museum of American War Crimes" better describes its content. Aside from the spectacular collection of tanks, fighter jets, bombers, helicopters and artillery guns at the front of the museum, all of the exhibits within focused primarily on the atrocities that the Americans committed against the Vietnamese during the war. The extensive collection of photos on display showing the victims of Agent Orange (the collection of chemical weapons used by the Americans during the war) were very disturbing. We saw many horrible photos of adults and children with various types of deformities, caused either by direct expose to the chemicals, or in many cases, passed down through multiple generations in the form of birth defects. After seeing these photos, it is not a wonder that there was such a backlash against the Americans during the war. During our trip to the Saigon markets a few days after, we saw a young man who we presume is a victim of agent orange as his spine was buckled, resulting in him being unable to straighten his body and leaving him to only be able to move around on all fours in a similar fashion to a monkey. Other photos included scenes of soldiers dragging dead bodies behind vehicles, torturing Vietnamese prisoners of war, civilians being burnt by Napalm and many other horrible scenes from during the war. An outdoor exhibit showed many photos and harrowing descriptions of what went on in POW camps. One device which stood out in particular was the inhumane "tiger cages", tiny barbed wire cages, used to contain prisoners by forcing them to lie completely still in the dirt to avoid risking tearing their flesh on the barbed spikes. I am glad that Jenni and I took the time to read a much more objective view on the history behind the Vietnam War as I felt that much of the history explained in this museum was solely from the North Vietnamese point of view. Many plaques used words such as "genocide" and also included phrases which indicated that the Americans only killed civilians. I cannot recall any mention of any wrong doing by the North Vietnamese Army or Viet Cong guerrilla fighters throughout the museum. That being said, after seeing these exhibits, it really did seem like the technology used by the American forces during the Vietnam War conflict was completely over the top, the utilization of chemical weapons in particular was completely inexcusable. 

That evening we decided not to watch any of the football matches on that night because we knew that we would be having a big night out, watching the Australia v. Ghana match. We had dinner on the 2nd floor of one of the restaurant / bars in the backpacker area near our hotel. On this floor, we found ourselves at eye-level with the power lines that line the streets. I feel really sorry for the poor sparkie that would have to patch a new cable into that mass!

On our 4th day in Saigon, we went to arrange our accommodation and transport to our planned destination after Saigon, Phu Quoc island. Unfortunately, due to it being school holidays here in Saigon and Phu Quoc island being a popular holiday destination, we were unable to get suitable transport to and from the island during the dates that we wished to go there. To cut a long story short, we ended up completely rearranging our travel plans so that we would have to split our stay in Saigon into two separate stays and leave the following day to go on a tour that would end up getting us to Phu Quoc island. 

That day we had originally planned to go to the Dam Sen water park, but with half the day already being spent rearranging our travel plans, we elected to save that for our second stay in Saigon and visit the markets instead. After spending over one month in China and nearly one and a half months in Vietnam, you would expect us to be seasoned bargainers by now, but alas, Jenni and I are far too nice and not nearly cheeky enough to weasel ourselves a good deal. Fortunately, the markets in Saigon are much easier to barter in, so we actually managed to go a whole day without feeling like we were ripped off. True, if we were better at bartering, we could have probably got better deals on most of our purchases, but we definitely feel that we got some really good stuff for good prices. One of the best purchases we made was the 100% silk (apparently 100% silk...) thick dressing gowns. Jenni picked hers up for $16 US and mine was a bit dearer at $25 US (although mine is a higher quality one with embroided patterns on both the outside and the inside). I also picked up some really cool (well I think they are really cool... I'm such a nerd!) statues of the aliens from the "Aliens" and "Predator" movies. The statues are made of scrap motor bike parts, making them look really unique. I wish I took a photo of them to show them off on the blog before I packaged them up to be shipped back home. If I spot them again in the markets on our second stay in Saigon, I'll sneak a photo and post it on here. 

We had been looking forward to that evening for the past couple of weeks. It would be Australia's first game in the FIFA World Cup that was on at a reasonable time for us to find a pub filled with fellow Aussies that we could watch the game with. Earlier that day, we scoured the internet to find a popular Australian bar or sports bar in Saigon. To our luck, we stumbled across a perfect candidate, an Australian themed sports bar called "The Blue Gecko". It's Vietnamese manager's name is Lamb, but because he loves the Aussies (we both think that deep down he really wants to be one himself), he calls himself "Simon" and speaks English with a thick Aussie accent. The entire pub was decked out with Australian flags, big TV's playing AFL, AFL guernseys, posters with Australian sayings and many wall mounts dedicated to the Richmond Tigers, Simon's favourite team in the AFL. On the subject of AFL... was the hell is going on over there!?! Jenni and I leave the country for a couple of months and EVERYTHING is a mess! The Dockers are near the top of the AFL ladder, there are mud slides in Kings Park, huge hail storms, female Prime Ministers, Perth getting extended trading hours (not that there is anything wrong with the last two!)..... c'mon people what's going on over there! In regards to the Dockers, perhaps everyone in Australia has forgotten one little fact in our absence... the Dockers are rubbish! May I suggest that someone informs the rest of the teams in the AFL of this so they may resume the week-in week-out demolishing of them!?!

Getting back to the night of our watching Australia play in the world cup... There was probably about 20 other fellow Australians in the pub watching the game with us. When Australia scored the first goal, everyone was so excited that I was amazed that everyone managed to restrain themselves from jumping up and down naked on the tables! Fifteen minutes later when Harry "waste of space" Kewell gave away a penalty, got himself sent off to leave Australia a man down, essentially gifting Ghana the match, the mood quickly turned solemn. Later in the second half an American bloke unknowingly walked into the bar wearing a Ghana football shirt. When he started cheering for Ghana, I quietly informed him that he was not currently in the best choice of establishment to be supporting Ghana and that he may want to keep his cheering down as to avoid getting dirty looks, followed by a black eye compliments of the 20 grumpy Aussies downing their 20th pint of beer for the night. He seemed friendly enough and joined us for a drink, apologising for his indiscretion and embraced the Aussie themed bar by learning about Ned Kelly. We had a bit of a hard time trying to come up with a good explanation to why Australians consider a person who went around killing police officers and robbing banks a national hero. We made sure not to stay too late after the game as we needed to get some sleep before waking early the next morning to go on our Mekong delta tour.

*** Warning: The entire next paragraph is a rant about how rubbish Harry Kewell is and that he shouldn't even be playing in the squad. I won't blame you if you decide to skip it if you are not a crazy football fan like myself :) 

Why Kewell was playing in that game is beyond me. I believe that the ONLY reason he was on the squad was because bloody Pim (the imbecile manager of the Socceroos who will now be referred to as "The Pimbecile") felt that he needed to bow down to the Australian publics outcry of "why wasn't he playing in the first game". The Pimbecile knew that after a such a big defeat at the hands of Germany that if he didn't do something to please the Australian public, they would lynch him when he got back to Australia. So... the Pimbecile played him. What drives me nuts, is why the hell would a professional football manager listen to the Australian public about football. The Australian public knows SQUAT about it! If the Australian public knew anything at about football, then they would know that Harry Kewell is about 5 years past his due date, has only played TWENTY MINUTES of professional football over the past 12 months and is actually not a football god... he doesn't even compare to Australia's best player, Tim Cahill and even he isn't comparable to the football greats! If they knew that, then MAYBE they would have kept their uninformed, stupid ass, big mouths shut and MAYBE the Pimbecile wouldn't have felt the need to play a sub-standard player AND MAYBE AUSTRALIA MIGHT JUST HAVE WON THAT MATCH!!!! AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenni and Michael
    I haven't looked at your Blog in quite a while so thought I'd better catch up, wow you guys have coverede some ground and had many adventures!
    Interesting that you've been to what I recall as The American War Atrocities Museum (did you see the deformed fetuses in a jar??), but War Crimes is possibly what it was (have the pamphlet somewhere). Long time ago, we had the tour by fluoro torch.
    Looking forward to reading about what you get up to next, but can't comment on the footy! You're missed at work Jenni!