Life Lessons

Around 15 years ago, I was sitting on a park bench in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Sensing I was a tourist, a young girl of maybe 13 or 14 years old, in school uniform, approached me. I was initially apprehensive as there was always a kid peddling something on the streets at that time. She spoke very good English.

She: Which country are you from Sir, if I may ask?

Me: I am from Kuala Lumpur. Do you know where that is?

She: Malaysia! I like geography.

She: What is your country’s GDP last year?

Me: [Coughs] What??? I honestly don’t know as it changes every year. So sorry.

Me: Why are you asking strangers all these tough questions?

She: I come from a very poor family and I know I will never afford to travel. Meeting foreigners and asking questions is my way to travel.

[An awwww moment that brought tears to my eyes]

Me: Wait. Please sit here and wait for me. I’ll be back.

She: OK. Don’t be scared as I won’t ask you any more tough questions.

I dashed across the street to a bookshop visible from where I was sitting. Wanted to buy her a coffee table book of my country but couldn’t find one I like. It got me thinking, I should carry a lightweight paperback on Malaysia in my backpack when I travel. It may be the best souvenir or memento to give someone genuinely interested in my country. Unfortunately, she had no internet access then or I would have given her my blog or website address where she she can see thousands of pics.

I went back to Saigon subsequently in 2008 and later years. Happy to see the country developing and progressing tremendously in economic terms. I saw this dog and many pet shops. Pet shops and pedigree breeds are an indication of how affluent a society has become. I am sure the school girl got her chance to travel. Lessons for me: Always be curious but humble and be grateful because we can afford or have the chance to travel.

I was just talking via WhatsApp to my Cambodian friend who traveled by bus with me to Saigon from Phnom Penh. I wanted to know the name of the hotel we stayed in as it had a PC in the room for internet access. Great for editing your pics on the go.

Since he also suffered from amnesia, we made some surprising headway. At least, he remembered the street in between sips of Angkor Beer. It was the Khmer New Year.

The hotel was on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street where the cross-country bus stopped. There are like a million hotels on that street now.

#travel #saigon #vietnam #hcmc

Learning Human Reproduction In Vietnam

I took a random tricycle bike tour of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City at one time. At one street, I saw the strangest sight. I asked my cyclo (trishaw) driver who are all these people sitting by the roadside, all with a single, shiny VCD disc at their feet?

Selling “Human Reproduction Videos”, he explained, perhaps embarrassed.

I told him we buy human reproduction videos at night markets back home. They have catalogs. Also we are more practical, we just call them blue or sum kap, I mumbled to myself, not sure if he can hear me through the traffic din.

Boss, can we pull over and see if they have classic human reproduction titles like Debbie Does Dallas, Deep Throat, Devil In Miss Jones, Buttman’s European Vacation and those movie parodies like Saving Ryan’s Privates, Pulp Friction, Good Will Humping and Tiger’s Wood? They were all VHS titles and are collector’s items now. Cyclo man: VHS?! Your country not very advance(d).

Technology allows newer discs to leapfrogged old technology such as VHS and Betamax tapes from an era when women will claim the “story” in adult titles is essential. The practical guys just want to fast forward to the action.

Similarly, many developing countries such as some in Indo China never experienced land lines as mobile or wireless networks leap frogged connectivity without the massive cost and time needed to wire a nation.

My budget hotel in Saigon had a desk with a PC and LCD monitor setup in ever room. They were more advanced. So much trouble just to get free wi-fi in any hotel those days.

If you are planning to go to Saigon, remember to book a room from my Agoda affiliate page at http://www.mycen.my/agoda/

Search for Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC or Saigon where Agoda will list over 1000 hotels in the city alone, many with low flash rates.

Cholon Is Saigon’s Oldest Surviving Chinatown

It was the Thean Hou Temple in Cholon Chinatown, Saigon I photographed and its history dates back to 1778. Loved the spiral incense coils inside the temple.

It was a bittersweet experience when I met an elderly and kindly local Chinese man outside the temple. We conversed in Cantonese. Finding out that I am from Malaysia, he asked me whether the Chinese are treated fairly. Surprised by the question, I didn’t really know how to reply to it and I told him: “We will survive, just like how your community did in Vietnam” He smiled and nodded his head in agreement. Coincidentally, an old Chinese man in Jakarta asked me the same thing. So did a Chinese man in Manila Chinatown.

For a lone traveler, it was a comforting yet an awkward experience meeting a concerned member of the far flung diaspora.

#temple #saigon #hcmc #vietnam #chinesetemple #chinese #diaspora