To Saigon, and a Mistaken Money Worker

Busy Road - Saigon

While traveling through Vietnam, it is puzzling, if not interesting, to note the many times you will see Ho Chi Minh City referred to as Saigon, and the other way round. It’s as if the city can’t shackle off it’s colonial past or get used to its present-day status as the second major city in the socialist state. Until 1861, the Vietnamese called it ‘Gia Dinh,’ until the French dubbed it Sai Gon, which means ‘fire,’ or ‘cotton stick.’ In 1975, the city lost all these names once it fell to the invading Communist forces. Officially, the city centre is named after the socialist founder, although District 1 and other places retain the name, Saigon.
I finished packing my belongings and went downstairs to wait for the bus that was supposed to arrive promptly at 8 a.m. I talked to the son of the guesthouse owner who spends most of his time in the one-time Cochin-China capital.
“How long have you been in Vietnam?” he asked.
“About two weeks.”
“Two weeks.” He dragged on a cigarette. The subject tapered off. He had studied a business course in Canada, so his English is quite good.
“You’re going to Saigon today?”
“Be careful with your money because it’s crowded.”
“My money’s in the smaller pouch.”
“Put it beneath your shirt.” I did as he suggested.
“Do you like it here?” He shook his head.
“It’s too boring. I’m only here to help my mom.”
They are nice family. He is really pleasant, polite and courteous. His mom is easy going. She was helping to keep her grandson occupied by letting him ride in a toy jeep on the side of the road. She used to rent out bungalows further down the resort road, but sold the business and now does the dormitory.
I talked to the Dane about some scuba diving I once did off Hainan Island, and then about the fishing industry in Vietnam and depleting fish stocks.
“I don’t think it’s just a question about Vietnam. The Chinese also love their fish, too, as do the Japanese. The Vietnamese certainly relish and cherish it in a big way.” The myriad of fishing boats along the bay said as much, and the South China Sea is certainly suffering from a depleting industry made worse by acquired taste syndrome like shark fin soup.
He gave me his email and I said I would send the link to this blog once I had finished it.
There is nothing much worth noting to capture one’s attention from the window, unless one is interested in all things Asian: architecture, sometimes drab, buildings, geometric bridges, other infrastructure, and projects left unfinished. Bricks were randomly discarded like emptied sacks of potatoes, others blocked neatly as though leggo had been played, piles of neglected sand and gravel. Guys were lying in hammocks sucking nicotine. Maybe the heat was stifling any building work, or the forthcoming Tet festival was dominating people’s minds.
Saigon is indeed hot and cluttered as the bus dropped me at the backpacker Main Street and alleyway area. I settled on a single room for 8 Dollars half way up a dingy narrow winding staircase. The hotel sat at the back of an avenue of narrow enclosed thoroughfares. People were burning jock sticks, sitting outside talking nineteen to the dozen and revving motorbike engines; noise that filled the streets to a crescendo.
As I didn’t have to be back in Wenzhou until next week, I decided I’d have enough time to take the slow way, so I booked a two-day train journey to Hanoi starting the night after tomorrow from a nearby agency. I didn’t want to be back too soon.

Flower Market - Saigon

I was told what the main attractions are in the city: Notre Dame-style Cathedral, Liberation Palace, a park area and a war museum. I first used a street map to find the ‘Bien Thenn’ Indoor Market. I could hardly walk through it – I’ve never seen so many concentrated goods in one place.
I stopped at one food stall and asked for a plate of rice and chicken. It wasn’t long before a thin elderly woman with short gray hair came along begging for money. Thinking she was a worker at the stall, I gave her a 50,000 Dong bill. I waited…and waited…No change.
The owners of the stall guessed what was going on after I’d indicated my concern and flew into a panic. One woman gesticulated, how that woman is a beggar who constantly goes around the market pestering for money.
They found the woman. I got my 50,000 Dong returned and paid the right people and got the right amount of change. I also gave the woman 2,000 Dong. The stall workers had a good laugh at the episode as I left.
There’s a first time for everything, it seemed.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s