28.01.2007 - 04.02.2007 0 °F
Greetings from Viet Nam!
The French city design seems neverending in SE Asia. I guess the colonizers put the locals straight to work when they got here.
After cruising around Saigon I've come to the conclusion that traffic circles only add to the dangerous nature of urban motorbiking. Crossing the road between oncoming Hondas, driven by women covered from head-to-toe in a combination of silk and cotton, has become the norm here. I can't say my method is very complex. I look to the right or left, and just hope they don't hit me. Usually the men slow down to offer me a ride with the ubiquitous question "Where you go?". After a negative reply the driver cordially asks if I'd care for a prostitute or drugs. Apparently all white men are interested in only two things in life-getting laid and getting high. Ponder that thought and let me know its' validity.
Absolute chaos exists on all corners around my room, which is the 2nd floor of a silk shop. I can't go to bed until 3am, when the motorbikes and prostitutes dull down, and there are vendors hollering from 6 or 7 in the morning. Luckily I have Coltrane on the Ipod to put me back to sleep.
Yesterday I scoped out the city's attractions, which include a plethora of Ho Chin Minh statues and American War Museums. The pictures inside the main War Museum were absolutely striking-deformed babies, soldiers with limbs ripped off, forests destroyed by Agent Orange and of course, smiling portraits of the "culprits"-a succession of US Presidents, Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger.
A propaganda stunt precedes the goods of the museum, in which the "Prelude to War" is summarized to make the reader believe that the imperialist Americans were the first to take the Vietnamese land. The imperialist French and Japanese were almost completely overlooked, but I guess the main emphasis of the museum was the American War. A French guillotine was situated inside a fake torture room, which paled in comparison to the real detention center that the Khmer Rouge used in Phnom Penh. Without the work of countless photojournalists, including one skillful Japanese man (jozu desu ne!), this museum would be severely lacking. The American war vessels outside provide some real-life flair, but I believe Howard Zinn's chapter on Vietnam was more insightful than any message provided at the War Museum.
Upon entering Nam I decided to rent a motorbike for a few days and venture into the Mekong Delta. The rice bowl of Vietnam was full of picturesque landscapes-floating morning markets, women in conical hats next to shades of green vegetable crops and rice baking on the pavement. Green Mekong water was never far from the dirt roads I bumped over, and the smells always enticed my appetite. The rice-paper wraps with fresh veggies, meats and peanut sauce are just divine. The friendly nature of the Southern Vietnamese was a wonderful way to start my trip, especially considering the Saigon hawks are setting prices 10 times what they should be. Bargaining has lost much of its' entertainment value here, but I'm still up for a good-natured argument over a quarter. It's all about the 4000 dong.
Tomorrow I'm off to Dalat, an old French outpost situated in the mountains. Hopefully the cool air will provide some respite from the sweaty nights I've spent underneath countless fans. Life never gets boring on the road. There's always a new town to go to.