Ho Chi Minh City Day 3

Thu, 29 May 2008 13:23:10 +0000

Ho Chi Minh City Day 2 Index To Perth

Major objective for today: this time, properly, make it to the history museum. If I have to crawl there on my hands and knees. And it almost came to that too. This time I took a moto, and to ensure there were no misunderstandings, I pointed to where I wanted to go on the map. What happened? The guy drove me to the war remnants museum, the exact same place as yesterday. This is beyond a joke.

I think the game this time was that I was supposed to say, "hey, this is the wrong place", he would claim a misunderstanding, and I'd have to pay an extra fare to get to where I really wanted to go. What I should have done is say "hey, this is the wrong place" and walked away without paying anything. But he would have followed me, and quite possibly attracted a mob of fellow moto-drivers to help harrass me. Could get ugly. So I paid him and walked.

Anyway, how was the history museum when I eventually got there? Not great, I'd have to say, although I wasn't expecting much. The most interesting exhibit is a massive bronze drum from prehistoric times, which has been extraordinarily intricately patterned and decorated. But I only know that because I later looked it up on Wikipedia - the caption itself just said it was a big bronze drum. Instead, most of the captions were dedicated to explaining how a) Vietnam has always been a single country for thousands of years and b) whenever it was occupied by a foreign power, the people have risen up and waged guerilla war until they left. Which I can't help feeling might have more to do with someone's political agenda than the attempt to objectively explore a country's history. But hey, an entertaining way to pass some time.

So then I had to get back across town to the hotel. Damned if I was going to take a moto again. Let's make this clear: I hate moto drivers, and tuk-tuk drivers too. I understand that they're usually poor rural immigrants and the income disparity between them and me is nothing short of criminal, but all of that can't beat the visceral hatred generated when they leave you in completely the wrong place and you have to walk through the heat and humidity to where you really wanted to go. I hate having to haggle over the fare before I leave, and I really, really hate being constantly harrassed as a I walk down the street by people who think that's a good way to attract customers. It's this last one that really had me on the verge of hitting one of the bastards.

Now, sensible advice would be to "just ignore them", and like most sensible advice, it's incredibly stupid. You can't consciously ignore something: by definition, if you're conscious of something, you failed to ignore it, and if that thing is an annoying thing, you've just been annoyed. I can't ignore the moto drivers. But what I can do is pretend to ignore them.

The game I invented for myself goes like this. You walk along, pretending that you simply haven't noticed the moto driver frantically waving his arms around and yelling at you. You pretend that this is because you're exactly the kind of absent-minded, slightly stupid tourist who may well drop ten US dollars on a short hop across town, and thus are a fare that's well worth spending several minutes making a prat of yourself in an attempt to catch. And you just keep on walking, straight past. If that was me, I don't think anything would be more irritating.

Keen observers may note that this is utterly obnoxious behaviour characteristic of the worst kind of asshole. I acknowledge that. But an asshole is just someone who's noticed that the world keeps giving him shit and there's nothing he can do about it. I spent a good 20 minutes playing this game today, and found it extremely therapeutic. And no moto driver got punched. So I'md call it a win-win. But in the end I got sick of the heat and hailed a passing cab instead. Who put on the meter and took me exactly where I wanted to go in air-conditioned comfort. They say change is as good as a holiday.

I still had the task of finding some replacement t-shirts, but decided that on balance the bargains in the market weren't good enough to justify the effort. Instead I bought a t-shirt from the cafe with the charity. That cost about seven euro, which is still cheap, but now I have a souvenir shirt that says something more interesting than what kind of beer they drink in some south east asian country. Oh, and it probably helps the kids, I guess. To be honest, I didn't really look too closely at what the charity actually does. The charity serves me coffee. That's gotta be worth seven euros.

I also then realised that there is actually a bus system in Ho Chi Minh City, and if I was too late to use it to avoid the moto drivers, I could at least use it to get to the airport tomorrow. Which implies scouting out the bus station to figure out how the system works. I'm very glad I did too, it's hellishly confusing. There's a very nice, clear sign that shows a complete plan of the bus depot and precisely where each bus will arrive, but after carefully correlating it with the movements of the actual buses, I eventually realised it must in fact have been installed in 1974 to thwart Viet Cong infiltrators. It bears no relation whatsoever to reality.

Instead I drew a picture of an aeroplane on my notepad and showed it to someone official-looking, who found it highly amusing and pointed me in the right direction. I call that a success.

I had dinner in a rather grubby restaurant with incongruously elegantly-dressed waitresses where they have cheap beer, free wifi, and good vietnamese food. And rats. If the waitresses would only dress down a little it would be pretty much the most perfect place in the entire world that I could possibly be.

On the way back I noticed a hawker selling durian, and thought I'd have another go. This durian wasn't nearly as good as the stuff I had in Hat Yai, being rather firm and not so sweet. Clearly I'm going to have to experiment with durian some more. But I think I've done my dash on this trip, so it'll have to wait until some other time.

Ho Chi Minh City Day 2 Index To Perth