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Chapter 15: Sights and Sounds

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 23 January 2008 | Views [1059] | Comments [1]

Felix anxiously looks at his watch again... the sleeper bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang is half an hour late. A sleeper bus had driven past about 10 minutes ago but the attendant assured them ‘it’s not the correct bus’ … “nothing ever seems to be on-time” Felix mutters to himself. Steph starts to get antsy too and steps out onto the sidewalk in anticipation of the buses arrival. Felix takes comfort in the fact that there are others waiting at the café who seem to be waiting for the same bus. Suddenly a bus arrives… but it is not the sleeper bus that Felix and Steph were expecting. “Shit… scammed again!” Felix thought. The people around them start boarding the bus. Felix gives the attendant a quizzical look…. “Not this one!” the attendant replied. Eventually, everyone boards the bus, leaving only Felix and Steph standing at the café on the bustling street.

Many more agonizing minutes pass when suddenly, an ear-splitting honk of a horn blares loudly…BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! The sleeper bus finally pulls up but the honking persists. BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! Felix and Steph gather their packs and head towards the bus. The honking gets even louder as they approach it. “We hear you already!!”

Just then, a big hairy European man runs into the street from nowhere, his face puffed red with rage. He points at the driver yelling and screaming in some foreign language while flipping him the bird. It is obvious that he wants the driver to stop the honking but it just continues. The driver then jumps out of the bus ready to confront the European, screaming in Vietnamese. Felix was sure a fight was going to break out but then the attendant jumps in between the two men and manages to diffuse the situation. “This is going to be a long night…”

Felix and Steph settle in on the bus… fairly cramped but cozy enough. The bus driver gets back in and pulls away.

Very quickly, everyone realizes that this driver has a serious passion for the horn. Every 5 seconds, he has his hand pressed on it to warn the world, that he is “COMING THROUGH! BEEP BEEP BEEP!!!” The honking was loud enough from outside of the bus but from the inside, it was bone-shattering. Steph looks across at Felix and rolls her eyes! She starts thinking… oh why, OH WHY didn’t I pack my ear plugs! To make matters worse, the driver sticks in a Vietnamese variety show in the DVD player with the volume on LOUD! Obviously, none of the tourists on the bus understand what’s going on but the locals seemed to get a kick out of it… Steph is quickly starting to regret not taking the sleeper train… even though there was the off chance of another rat attack! The ‘MacGyver’ in Stephanie takes tissue paper… rolls them up into little buds… and shoves them in her ears, hoping and praying they will muffle the jarring sounds.

As the journey continues, suddenly, out of the blue, Felix’s ears perk up. That tune… it’s so familiar! “What is it???” The realization slowly sinks in…. they are doing a horrible, Vietnamese rendition of “Ooops I Did It Again!” Even Felix had to chuckle! There is no McDonalds, No KFC… but even dear Britney is popular here….

Many days and another sleeper bus ride later…

Steph and Felix find themselves sitting on a rickety wooden boat in a muddy river somewhere near the Mekong Delta…. Two other passengers are with them… a Canadian and an Israeli. Propelling them along this river was a 5 foot, 80 lbs tiny little Vietnamese woman who spoke no words of English. The ride goes on for over a half hour in the 30 degree heat and the poor woman struggles to keep the boat moving. At one point, the water was so shallow that she had to jump into the waist high muddy water and push the boat forward. The picture of this poor woman pushing this boat with 4 foreigners on it screams “Asshole Tourists” – a term Felix adopted after reading an interesting blog from another fellow traveler (http://journals.worldnomads.com/hotnoodle/post/13945.aspx).

Felix and the Israeli grab the oars, and help with moving the boat. Together, they manage to move the boat forward and eventually reach their destination. The woman is clearly exhausted and walks to a nearby hose to wash all the mud off her legs. Other foreigners arrive shortly afterwards in their own boats, each one being pushed from behind by a poor Vietnamese villager trudging through the mud... Of all the boats that arrived, only a handful had foreigners helping the villager with moving the boat forward. The majority of the foreigners just sat there while the villager struggled from behind… ‘Asshole Tourists’...

Pham Ngu Lao – HCMC…

The boy was no older than 10… “Hey! Hey!”… he was trying to get the attention of the foreigners sitting at the dingy bar set in the backpacking district. “Hey! Hey!” He looks like just another street kid, begging for money. But suddenly, he pulls out three batons and lights them with fire. He then starts to juggle them… the flames narrowly missing his face with each toss. His act also includes fire breathing, flame swallowing and putting what looks like a piece of burning coal into his mouth. Despite his greatest efforts, none of the foreigners even gave him a second glance. “Hey! Hey!” He then pulls out a string from his pockets. He starts to slowly insert the string into his nostril, and then slowly pulls it through from his mouth….. he gives it a pull, back and forth, see-sawing it through his mouth and nose. Still no reaction from the crowd, not even an inkling of interest. His last and final act, he pulls out a volleyball, and he starts to spin it on one finger, faster, and faster. “Hey! Hey!” No one even looks at him. He then moves forward to the foreigners in the bar, from one table to the next, asking for a donation. Of the 15-odd people there, only one table acknowledges him and gives him some money. Dejected, the boy packs his stuff and walks off to the next bar where he’ll try his luck again. On his way out he mutters something under his breath… most likely something to the nature of ‘Asshole Tourists’…

Tags: Adventures



Nice blog entry Felix! =)

  Jaime Feb 19, 2008 2:22 PM

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