Ho Chi Minh City was actually fun! I had been here in April, 2008 for 27 hours and did not really care for it that much at all. This time, however, I really enjoyed it.
Did a LOT, A LOT of walking around aimlessly, checked out some computer stores (and, yeah, stuff at Fry's is about 25% cheaper than the same things here are), drank several pints, played some slot machines (and walked away $110 US Dollars happier), and finally caught up with my Viet Kieu buddy, Mai Thy,
I had worked with Mai Thy in the Bureau of Development Services for the City of Portland Government back in the Halcyon days. She was visiting family in Ho Chi Minh City thee same weekend that I was gonna be there.
Well, she FINALLY called me on Sunday because she had gotten deathly ill because of the pollution and excessive cigarette smoke ('cause she's used to Portlandia's clean air and Draconian anti-smoking laws) and was out of order forra week. Caught up with her, met her entire extended family and we all went out to celebrate International Woman's Day (which is a big deal here in Vietnam) at a posh restaurant with a mammoth hot pot feast befitting royalty! I had offered to pay, but Mai Thy's family would hear no such talk!
Her family told me that I talk and act “...like a Northerner....” I THINK thass a good thing.....I dunno.....I mean, I like Hai Phong, and what little Tieng Viet (Vietnamese language) I DO speak, I learn from my friends and “family” in Hai Phong.
Wish I coulda stayed in Ho Chi Minh City longer......my opinion of the place went from “sucks” in April 2008 to “kinda cool, actually....” in March 2009.
NOW, if only they could do something about the excessive heat here......
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When you feel that you did what you needed to do, didn't do drugs, kept your shit clean, and seeked out the middle-class American dream, and yet you never quite got there....mostly through no fault of your own....and when you run away during a brutal economic depression (whilst watching well-connected white guys steal money from people with no repercussions), like a rat deserting a sinking ship, and things are going wonderfully in your new ex-pat nation, then it becomes pretty easy to dis the United States........
When the family you live with treats you like a King, and worries about your every decision, you tend to grow to appreciate them and respect them and be glad that they're there for you.
My “mother”, Hang (you pronounce that “Haaahng”) is an absolute angel. A woman who will grab me and throw me down at the table whenever I come downstairs and make sure that have enough to eat (maybe not a good thing for me, but still....), do my laundry for me, etc. etc.
Well, I had gotten home from class one night and had decided to sit in the lobby of the Guesthouse that they own right next door to the main house where I reside. Ngoc and Hang were already there, chatting. Grabbed a couple pints and we began conversing.....
We then saw on TV during a news program this American guy who was being led away in handcuffs and surrounded buy all these Asian guys in uniforms. Ngoc explained to me that this guy had been busted in Thailand for attempting to obtain guns and smuggle 'em back into the US.
“Do people have guns in America?” Hang asked.
“Well, you CAN obtain a gun legally, but it's a huge pain in the ass. You hafta go before a Judge, get fingerprinted, and they REEEAALLLLY look you over good. If they are satisfied, then they issue you a slip of paper that lets you go buy a gun.” I answered. “But that is not how most people obtain guns in America.”
“If not thru Judge, then how?” asked Ngoc
“Errrmmm, they pretty much go to any street corner in any big city and just buy a gun from someone.....no paper, no questions!” I told her.
“Ah, I see. Do you have a gun in America?” Hang asked me.
“Me??!!? Oh fuck no!! I despise guns! But I know several people in America who do have a gun. Are people allowed to have guns in Vietnam?”
“No.....noooooo......if you have gun, you go prison for three years!!” Ngoc responded.
“Hmmm.....same as The States. Do your prisons here have Cable TV and conjugal visits?”
“Sorry?? I do not understand.”
“Nothing, Ngoc, bad joke. So, does Vietnam have the Death Penalty?”
“I do not know such thing, can you please tell me?”
I then explained to Hang and Ngoc that, in some parts of America, if you kill somebody, then go to trial, then are found guilty, the Government kills you.
“Oh. Wow......no, no, we do not do that here. A person goes to prison for 20 years, maybe more” said Ngoc.
“My mother love America!” Ngoc said. “I do too. It is so free! Do you love America?”
Now, this was a loaded question, even though it was never intended to be. But still, I was pretty sure that the PATRIOT Act did not extend overseas, so I spoke freely -
“Well, there are a lot of fucked up things about America and it's inhabitants......but it's not a bad place.....and it can only get better with President Obama now in office!”
“My mother tried to go to America.....”
“Oh? What happened? They turn her away at the border?”
“No, The Cong find her boat.......and bring her back to Viet Nam......”
“Squeeze me????!!!!” I shot back, as my jaw didn't hit the floor, but dropped straight through it!
“Yes, my mother did not make it. She leave Saigon in small boat when she was 20 years old (1975)......but The Cong get her boat. She still loves America as Number One, though!”
I sat there, dumbfounded. I literally could not say a word!! I mean, in grade school, we used to have these cheezy reading aid papers called “Weekly Readers” In one particular edition, there was a story about Vietnamese “boat people” who hopped into (literally) rowboats and tried to hop THOUSANDS of miles over to the U.S........many people died. But these people were stories in a school reading assignment! Then when I got older, these people were stories on the news on TV........
.......but to actually know somebody who risked death to make it to America.......THAT was different....it really personifies things......
Generally, the Vietnamese dislike displays of emotion, namely anger and sadness......I hadta go out into the alley for a few minutes.
It will really make me think before I slag off The U.S. again.....
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I had told Tam about a month ago that I''d like to chill at Ngoc and Hang's place for February, and then set off and find a place of my own. Tam had then explained how much they really like me, how much they truly enjoy having me around (I can LITERALLY count on one hand the number of people who feel that way about me), and that it would “....bring great sadness to them.....” if I took off.
Well, hell.....I had brought great sadness to a number of people back in America.......so now would be a good time to attempt to change my ways.
“To bring great sadness” in Vietnam is like the atomic bomb. It is thee last thing you use when you would like someone to do something. I had decided to give this a try when I got Ngoc and Hang hooked on black tea I had brought from Canada ('cause all that they drink here is that nasty-ass rot-gut green tea shit).
Ngoc had stated that she must go look for some and buy more!
I had told her that I have some more and I will give her some.
She was quite insistent that I do not.
I then told her that it would bring great sadness to me if she did not accept this tea that am giving her!
I mean, shit! All Robert McNamera hadta do was to go up to Ho Chi Minh and state - “We are really hurt by your incursions into the South of Vietnam. It brings us great sadness!” and we probably wouldn't have had a Vietnam War!