Hello from Saigon

First an update on the last frantic post. I am pretty sure that the only thing getting into the room is the gecko that I saw scurry up the wall directly after I posted, and they do squeak at each other. But, I think there are rats or something outside the window because I can hear something making a scrabbling noise and geckos are usually pretty stealthy…..and we saw a rat today in broad daylight scurrying through a crowded market.
Other than the (maybe) rat issue, the Spring Hotel has been fantastic. Centrally located, clean, decent food, super friendly service and a bargain at $36 USD a night.
The hotel has given us a cot for Jessica to sleep in. It is a cradle that is just barely long enough for her, but she loves it and won’t hear of us changing it for anything. Of course, she thrashes around enough to wake the dead and ends up sleeping in our bed anyway.
So far we absolutely love Vietnam. Jessica is like a movie star here – people nudge their friends to look at her and everyone has to touch or say something. Everywhere we go, it’s “BABY BABY!!!!” At first she thought we were back in Fiji and called them “Bula people.” Then I told her they spoke a language called Vietnamese and that I didn’t know how to say hello in that language yet. (just off the plane & couldn’t find the phrase-book) I tried to ask our driver, but he didn’t speak any English. Jessica suggested that perhaps I should speak louder and he’d understand me. I told her that they spoke a different language and she got all upset and said: “how am I supposed to TALK to people then?”
The following day, on the way back from our tour to the tunnels, Jessica was listening to the bus driver and his friend talk to one another and she turns to me all exasperated: “Mommy, I just can’t UNDERSTAND these people!” So, I explained to her that she will need to learn a whole new language to speak to them. She’s learning some words now and she made us all laugh tonight at dinner when she brought the phrase book over to the waitress so she could have a conversation with her…and, of course, she can’t read. So, she opens it to a random page and just starts pointing at words. The flabbergasted waitress tries to explain that she’s pointing at words in Thai and it’s YET ANOTHER language! Poor kiddo. She’s so confused about language. Yesterday we were walking through an echoing hallway and Jessica announces: “Mommy! This echo speaks ENGLISH!”
The food thing will be an issue for sure. We managed to find a grocery store that had some familiar looking bread, goldfish crackers, and….PEANUT BUTTER!! So, the kid won’t starve, anyway. She’s doing a teeny bit better with trying things that aren’t quite familiar, so I’m hoping eventually she’ll come around. We’ve been seeing some pretty strange things on the menus ourselves.  But, generally, we’ve managed to find something that doesn’t involve insects, bone marrow, tendons, or “field rat” (I guess it’s bad form to eat city rats??)
The whole city is just an overwhelming assault on the senses. There’s just so much going on. Grant stood on the corner the first night for half an hour just to watch the traffic. The streets are overflowing with people. Much of daily life seems to be conducted on the sidewalk. There are people eating, selling stuff, kids sleeping, people packaging goods or building stuff, guys on the street corners with tire repair stalls…it’s just this amazing ebb and flow of human life that I never tire of watching.
It’s loud, and the traffic is nothing short of crazy with a billion or so people on scooters and bikes of all description. You see people carrying the most amazing things on the back of a scooter. Two guys holding a massive pane of glass between them, families with three small children, dogs, and produce of every possible description. There seems to be very few rules to the traffic, either. Generally, you drive on the right-ish. Unless there’s someone in your way – then just swerve into oncoming traffic they will move for you. Just honk your horn. If someone is in your way – no matter which direction you might be intending to move, or whether or not you are signaling, just honk and the road will be clear. So this amounts to this unbelievable mass of organized chaos, with everyone honking their horns at least every ten seconds at all hours.
The first night we were here, Grant decided he wanted a massage. The place down the street was closing, so I told him to ask our hotel to see if they had a service. They told him they could send someone up right away and he blushed and stammered that he would have to discuss it with his wife! I figured that I’d like one as well, and if Grant’s looked nice, I’d ask the girl for one too – or we’d split the hour – or something like that. Grant mentioned this when he phoned back to book. Unfortunately, they sent TWO women.
That was truly the weirdest experience ever. Picture this – small hotel room with a queen sized bed. Small child sleeping on the floor so it’s near to impossible to walk round that side of the bed and it’s also important to be quiet. Both of us lying on the bed in our knickers (me with a towel for modesty purposes, in case I have to flip over – thinking ahead, you know!) with two women alternately pulling and pounding and walking on us. Of course, MY woman was about forty pound heavier, too! We were twisted into all sorts of unnatural positions, made all the more embarrassing by the fact that the women had to both be on the bed with us at the same time, and weren’t shy about using whatever part of their anatomy was required to gain maximum leverage. Full body massage had become full body CONTACT massage. By the end of it, my towel had been cast aside and the woman had me in a full nelson and was whipping me about cracking my neck and back. I may never recover from the embarrassment. Thankfully we’re married, and the women truly were only there to give us a massage, and weren’t offering up anything extra.
We went to the Chu Chi tunnels and a temple yesterday which Jess really liked.  She was really good, considering the tour was about 12 hours of bus rides and walking, and the fact that we’d flown in the evening before after a quick one night layover in Singapore.
The temple was beautiful (entirely too lazy to look up the proper name of it) and we got to watch a service. Jess loved it and all the monks and nuns(?) ADORED her.
The tunnel tour was a bit disappointing, though. We didn’t really have enough time to explore properly. I was ok with that, as I’d pretty much seen enough at the end of an hour and a half, and I could understand the tour guide far better than Grant was able to. I would comment on stuff the tour guide had just finished saying and he’d be AMAZED at my wealth of knowledge. Jessica loved the tunnels, especially because she got to go in first and it was almost exactly her height. The guy behind us gave her a flashlight and she was off with the rest of us crawling through trying to keep up!
We got to fire an AK-47 while we were at the tunnel site. LIVE AMMO. Grant was SO excited. Jessica was scared of all the noise, and they didn’t have any ear protection so I couldn’t go down there and take his picture. I fired one of my five bullets and it was SO loud that I gave up. The guy couldn’t believe I wouldn’t finish off the bullets I’d purchased, and Grant was kind of bummed that he didn’t get to fire them himself.
Last night we stumbled on possibly the most expensive Vietnamese restaurant in the area. After spending only $5 USD on lunch, we were a bit gobsmacked when dinner was about $50! The place was really pretty ritzy and we rolled into it all exhausted and sweaty from our day tour, with boisterous three year old in tow! The resident businessmen were likely not impressed, but the meal was pretty good. Unfortunately, we were all so exhausted we didn’t really enjoy it properly. That and it wasn’t FIVE TIMES the going rate good! The tea they served was amazing, though. It was called flower tea and they bring it out in a clear pot with this weird flower in it. It looks sort of like a Russian thistle. When the flower blooms, the tea is ready. Very cool, and surprisingly tasty!
Today we managed to talk to Grandma and Grandpa face to face via MSN, which was great. We had breakfast in the hotel where I learned that either I can have my tea without sugar, or with teeny ants. Upon discovering that ants float, I opted for the sugar!
Then we headed out to the supermarket to pick up some stuff for Jessica and off to the market to do some souvenir shopping. Along the way, a lady offered us a brochure for a local salon so I decided to get a pedicure. She motioned for us to follow her and – wow – six blocks or so later we arrived at the salon which was actually tucked away upstairs in the back of a building. We never would have gone there on our own, and it was amusing to watch the parade of bemused tourists come through the door after having marched for miles when they thought they were going just round the corner!
Jessica decided that she would have a pedicure as well. At first she wanted ten different colors because there were so many to choose from and she DOES have ten toes. Eventually she settled on pink with sparkles for all ten toes. She sat SO still for the lady doing her toes and when she saw a woman working on my hands, she leaned over to her lady and said: “excuse me, I’d like my hands done, too.” So, fingers got done too. She sat perfectly still for that as well. Amazing. She never does that for me.
The women at the salon absolutely adored Jessica. She was an instant celebrity. Everyone cuddled her, several took her picture, and she was helping herself to their food. (I should HIRE these people who can get my child to eat, although it was only bread) She even got a free massage. The lady doing my hands was massaging my arms, so another woman asked Jessica if she would like one too. She sat Jessica on her lap and was massaging her legs, and Jess looked at her curiously and said: “Why are you squeezing me?” When told it was a massage she just said: “oh,” and sat there for more!
Once her ‘massage’ was finished she went over to examine the fingernail paint samples. She essentially had the run of the salon because I was held captive – literally – hand and foot, and Grant had abandoned me to do more shopping. She decided she’d like some designs done on her nails, so she ordered that up as well! The lady didn’t even look to me to approve the extra cost, just assumed the little madam could have whatever her heart desired! (Thankfully it was only $1) So, Jessica got a snowman painted on one of her nails and spent the rest of the day comparing her nails with every other woman she saw at the market who had hers done as well. She was even worried about taking a bath tonight because it might damage the nail polish. I had to promise we’d have it redone if there were any mishaps. I am raising a princess.
Once we finished at the salon, we took a cyclo over to a local market to see what was on offer there. Grant was on a mission to find a watch and I’d promised Jessica a purse so she could stash all the money she’s been conning out of Daddy. We taught Jessica how to bargain with the lady, which was pretty cute. I didn’t find the market as exhausting as somewhere like Tijuana, but Jessica was getting pretty sick of all the touching (she had started to hit and spit on people….) so, we figured we’d head out.
We grabbed another couple of cyclos to do a short city tour. A cyclo is basically a bicycle with a big basket on the front for people to sit in. There was much confusion and more than probably a little scamming going on about the price of both rides which got Grant all heated up…until I reminded him the difference in cost was only a few dollars! We took an hour long tour through the city on these to take in the major sights – Saigon River, Reunification Palace, Museum, Notre Dame, etc. The most impressive thing of all was witnessing these guys maneuver us through the traffic pandemonium. A bit dodgy without a helmet for Jessica, but what can you do? She promptly fell asleep on my lap throughout the entire tour and woke up for the last five minutes: “Hey, THIS is fun!”
For dinner we went to a local Irish pub – go figure – and I had lasagna that surpassed all my expectations of what lasagna in an Irish pub in Saigon would taste like! Superb! Once again Jessica charmed the waitresses and got her picture taken and was shown pictures of everyone’s small relatives. EVERYONE here has a mobile phone with a camera. Mobile phone and a scooter and you’re set!
Well, about bed time now. We’re off on a tour of the Mekong Delta tomorrow and the next day with the same company as the last day tour. Hopefully we will be better able to understand this guide as I don’t think our Vietnamese is progressing rapidly enough to be even remotely useful!

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