Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Vietnam Valentine's

So, Matt decided to take me to Vietnam for Valentine's day.  What a husband!

Some market delights.
We hadn't been to any of the markets in Ho Chi Minh and were still waiting to hear from Pedro, so we decided to find our way to the Ben Thanh market in the heart of the city.  After breakfast on the ship with Tom Chi and his wife, Lucille, we disembarked and caught the free shuttle downtown.

The bus dropped us off at the Rex hotel, and it was a quick walk to the Ben Thanh market.  From the outside, the building is pretty non-descript.  It really doesn't seem like anything is going on around there, but when we found a single open garage door, we entered into a land of trinkets and food stuffs.

My favorite part of the Vietnamese market is haggling with the sellers.  I'm pretty good at walking away, and having them chase me down and give me a better price.  "I give you good price!" they would shout.  I found a wooden chopstick holder that was very ornate and beautiful.  I fell in love, but I didn't tell them that.  The first little booth had it for 500,000 dong which is the equivalent of about $25. About what I would expect to pay in the U.S., but being in Vietnam, I didn't have to take that!

I walked to another seller who had the same one for 450,000 dong.  I picked around it, and she showed me some scarves, then I picked up the thing I desired and asked how much.  I acted appalled at the price, and put it down.  She handed me a calculator.  "You name price," she said.  I had decided at this point that I didn't want to pay that much for it, so I was about to give up.  She forced my little finger to the keys, so I plugged in 200,000. (About $10)  It was her turn to throw her arms in the air.  I motioned that it was okay, and started to put down the box, and she typed in 350,000.  I shook my head.  250,000, she typed in.  I pointed to the set of chopsticks made of bone and wood and asked if they were included.  "No, no.  Extra."  I walked away and she cut me off, typed in 250,000 and stuck the matching chopsticks in the box.

Me + Rambutan = Love
Done.  I opened my purse and gave her the 250,000 dong (about $12.50), and she wrapped it up with a smile.  We shook hands and parted ways, both very happy campers.  I love Vietnam.

We wandered to the part of the market where the food sellers were and found a woman selling rambutans - our new favorite fruit.  I was so happy to have my mouth full of that delicate little fruit again, that I posed for a reunion photo. (see picture to the right)

Matt, Danny and I wandered the market taking photos of the random sleeping cats, piles of fishy smelling, gut-looking foods, and fun trinkets made for haggling.  Once we finished our bag of rambutans, we found another woman selling coffee and weird puffed corn - like corn nuts.  We tasted a couple, and they had a light coating of sugar that made for a delicious snack.  We bought 250 grams and left the indoor market with our loot.

Danny wanted to check out the shoes, and we found the shoe district on a leg of the market.  Tons and tons of name-brand and knock-off shoes that cost a fraction of what they would in America.  I found some Tevas for 250,000 dong, but decided against it since we were running low on our cash and still needed to find some lunch.  Maybe tomorrow...

Our hunger led us to the Barbecue Garden, and outdoor restaurant with a high tent covering nice-looking tables.  We checked out the menu, and it was decently priced and had some fun things to try and headed in.

It turns out that each table had a little propane tank and barbecue grill in the middle where you would cook all of the raw, marinated meat that you order from the menu.  We got some spring rolls, steamed rice, a lamb skewer, wild boar with five spices and a large portion of beef wrapped sugar cane skewers.  Uh-mazing!  So, so delicious.

We finished off the meal with mango and coconut ice-cream, then parted ways with Danny so that he could go see the war remnants museum and we could follow through with our Valentine's day plans.

Lunch cooking in the middle of the table.
Matt and I were full, tired and very hot, so instead of heading directly to our evening's events, we decided to grab a nap on the air-conditioned ship and wait until the sun went down to venture back out into the city.  It was the perfect idea because I conked out, and two hours went by without me even realizing it.

At 6:00pm, we went to the gangway only to find Pedro running his girfriend's luggage through the ship's security system.  He was wearing his shirt from the day we left him and a pink-ribboned Vietnamese straw hat around his neck.  This was our first clue that he hadn't found his luggage from the cab snafu on Tuesday.  It was so good to see him, and we found out that he had worked out with the researchers to go to the mangroves on Saturday morning to complete the Vietnam research for his company.  He sent us to go visit with Bianca (his girlfriend) who was waiting by the cab this time, while he grabbed some clothes.

She's such a lovely person, and it was fun to see her again since our brief meeting at the airport.  They were headed to the Cambodia border for more adventure.  We started to say good-bye when we heard a ruckus from the gangway.  Pedro was back at the ship's open side yelling for Bianca to come through.  He had found Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the ship and wanted to introduce him to Bianca.

They had the cutest encounter and got a photo taken together, then Arch headed back on the ship.  We all laughed at the idea of Pedro running throughout the shipping in search of Arch, getting him to exit and then head back on for the sake of introducing his girlfriend.  This, my friends, is true love.

Matt and I walked to the city center enjoying the cooler evening air on our way to our Valentine event: an hour-long, Vietnamese massage.  We had been told about a little place called My Nhi, and were making a b-line to their front stoop.  If we hadn't been briefed about it, I wouldn't have entered this place thinking that we'd be robbed blind and left to die.

Matt and I in the shoe market.
We found the address which was an open art gallery and souvenir shop.  A little woman came running out with a massage flyer, and we recognized the name, so we followed her through the paintings to a staircase.  The stairs led us up two floors where there were three glass doors.  She led us through the middle one and had us sit down on little stools where our shoes were immediately removed.
We pointed to the $10 60-minute full body massage, and they led us over to a maze of curtains with massage tables in the middle.  The two tiny women began undressing us.  (We had been told about this, so we weren't too freaked out.)  We were stripped down to just our underwear and put on the tables under warm towels.

A Vietnamese massage is a full contact sport where the little woman uses her full body weight and any extremities she deems fit.  At one point, she was walked on the back of my legs.  At another point, she had climbed up on the table and was using her elbows on my back.  It was wonderful!

After a surreal 60 minutes, we were washed with a hot, wet washcloth to get the majority of the massage oil off of us, then the two women insisted on dressing us.  That part got a little weird since they wouldn't let us get off the tables.  Much giggling ensued from both parties when it came to the pant zippers.  Ooooh, Vietnam.

We got a free bottle of water (unsealed in front of us - which is a good sign), and they put back on our socks and shoes and tied them up tightly.

In a magical, floaty way, we headed down through the art gallery an onto the streets where we ran straight into Danny who had just finished dinner.  What a chance encounter!

We went and found a Pho soup place together since Matt and I hadn't eaten yet, and talked through what we wanted to shoot for our final b-roll day in Vietnam.  We're in search of some Mekong Delta footage with rice fields and a rural village, but the best place we could find was a 4-hour bus ride.  It really would have been epic to head out to the Cambodian border to Sam Mountain and see the temples and rice fields and hike to the top where we could chill in hammocks, but with the constraint of needing to be back at the ship for our next Pedro adventure on Saturday morning, there just wouldn't be enough time to get a bus back.  It should have been an overnight trip, but we wanted to stay available for Pedro's story.  Next time!

We decided to call it an early night (which is a relative term on this trip), and get some shut eye.  Tomorrow, we're going to bring Matt's 10-foot jib out into the middle of Ho Chi Minh City and see how long we can evade the authorities while we get epic b-roll of motorcycles, gardens and markets.