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Running away from Home

Would you have gotten in that cab?

VIETNAM | Thursday, 8 April 2010 | Views [385]

I was so disappointed to find out that overnight train travel in Vietnam is out of my price range. Even a short stretch overnight runs about $24. I have only been in Ho Chi Minh City for 15 hours, but I can’t afford to stay too long. I got up early so that I could fit a lot of sights in today. Perhaps it is odd that the first thing that I photographed was a cathedral, but it made for a good photo subject in the morning sun. The two things that impress me most about HCMC is the traffic and the parks. Fortunately, the Vietnamese have left a few green areas in this concrete jungle, and I was out early enough to see some locals doing T’ai Chi. The traffic is pure chaos. The drivers/riders have the same “anything goes” attitude as the Cambodians. Some of the guesthouses rent bicycles, but I wouldn’t dare pedal around this city. I have a hard enough time as a pedestrian. After the cathedral, I strolled past the Reunification Palace on my way to the War Remnants Museum. I was eager to get out of the sun and into an air-conditioned museum, but it turns out this museum doesn’t have the a/c. I sweated buckets while I looked at exhibits of the damage the war did to this country. Between the heat and the brutal images, my stomach hurt when I left an hour later.

I cut through one of the parks to return to my hotel. I was stopped by a man that recognized me as being American. After the open accusations of crimes against humanity on behalf of the Americans, my first impulse was to say, “it wasn’t me, I wasn’t even alive!” He was a nice Filipino fellow who was so fascinated to meet an American from the Midwest. Ecstatic is a more proper word. He asked questions and didn’t allow me to answer before he asked the next one. He told me that his sister was interested in taking a job in KC, but his family was worried about her moving to the U.S. on her own. He wanted to take me to meet his sister and mother and I wasn’t comfortable with this. He practically begged me. Finally, I agreed to meet him and his sister later at the park. Neutral territory.

My room at the guesthouse has air conditioning and I sought the cool refuge after a full morning of running around the city. It also had a refrigerator, but I couldn’t use it because when opened, it smelled of rotten shellfish. I am glad that I paid extra for the air-con because this city is so noisy there is no way I could have gotten to sleep last night with the windows open. The drivers in Vietnam use their horn continuously as a defensive driving technique. During the ride up from the delta, the bus driver used the horn to such an extent that it sounded like the thing was getting worn out.

I had a little trouble finding my way back to the park, but I was only a few minutes late. The Filipino fellow was by himself and I asked him where his sister was. He told me that we would go in a cab to meet them. Communication breakdown! I told him that I was not getting into a cab with a strange man. He implored me. He showed me his passport, guaranteed my safety 200% and when that didn’t work he tried guilt. “My mother is an old woman. I cannot bring her out here.” He told me that they even cooked some food for me. I wonder. If it was so important, why didn’t he just bring his sister along with him? I apologized repeatedly, but I didn’t go with him. He was disappointed, but he respected my decision. More than likely this guy was on the level, and I could have met some really nice people and had pork in adobo sauce. But a woman traveling around Asia on her own just can’t afford to take chances.

I felt guilty about the Filipino fellow and his family, but I wanted to tour the History Museum and I had plans for tomorrow. This museum has exhibits from all periods of Vietnamese history, from prehistory to the establishment as an independent state. Thankfully, nothing about the Vietnam war. I couldn’t handle any more of that today. About 20 minutes into the tour, my pack started to feel really heavy on my shoulders. The heat and exercise had taken it’s toll on me, and I still had a long walk back to my guesthouse. If it weren’t for this, I would have enjoyed the museum a lot more.

My shoulders were screaming at me by the time I reached my guesthouse and I was so tired that the potent kick of Vietnamese coffee couldn’t restore my pep. If I want to get through Vietnam in two weeks, then I am going to have many more days like this. I get tired just thinking about it.

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