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good morning, vietnam!
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cyclo vs. moped
Dec 17:
ha long bay & cat ba island
Dec 18:
hanoi low down
Dec 21:
food, glorious food
Dec 22:
vung tau
  Dec 26:
ho chi minh low down
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Halong Bay
Vietnam, Dec 17, 2004

ambassador colonel sanders

the ambassador himself

Sometimes being in a foreign place can overload one’s senses – the new sounds, strange smells, exciting sights, confusing streets, the feeble attempts to carry on a simple conversation or order food – once in a while it all gets to be a bit much. The first time I witnessed this I was in Spain with a group of friends for 3 weeks. We’d been having a great time learning the culture and language and consuming copious amounts of delicious food and wine. One night during our last week we were walking through a very crowded square full of Spanish locals when in the distance behind me I could hear our friend letting out a slow and exasperated scream, the result of several weeks’ bottled up frustration, “Whyyy is ev-er-y-one speaking Espanooool? Speeeaak Ingleeeees!” He’d obviously reached his limit (he hadn’t traveled much previously) and although he wasn’t laughing at the time, the rest of us had a good chuckle. He was ready to go home.

Well, today it happened to me. Don’t worry; I’m not ready to go home yet, but I did need a break. We had set out from our hotel to go to Binh Tay Market in Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown. The Chinese population had long since been forcibly removed (in 1975), and I was interested in seeing what affect this had on this part of the city. Plus, we had heard that we could get some delicious and cheap Chinese/Vietnamese food there, and I’m always a sucker for a good meal (see vietnam: food, glorious food!). We hopped in a taxi and began our normal routine of trying to convey our desired destination to the driver, and then trying to figure out whether he’d take us on the more “scenic” (read “expensive”) route or not. After showing him the name of the market, pointing at a map and some consultation between him and another cab driver, he punched the meter and we were off - good start.

We drove a few meters and Grace fell asleep (which is often the case). This meant that I was solely responsible for keeping an eye on the cabbie. Well, the cabbie wasn’t doing so well. He drove in circles for a bit and kept pulling over to ask people where this market was. If he was trying to con us out of a few bucks by faking being lost, I was convinced. After a few more kilometers he said (somewhat randomly, it seemed) that it would be another 6 kilometers to the market. That made me suspicious since the whole city is really not that big. At that moment Grace woke up and we turned down a half dirt/half-cement road jammed up with big piles of dirt, motorbikes and a cement truck. Our meter was running up and I didn’t have a good feeling about the situation so we paid and got out.

partaking of the ambassador's
fine nectar

We walked down the street for a bit, supposedly in the direction of the market, even though we couldn’t find our location on our map. I turned to Grace and said, “Toto, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.” There were no tourists, no taxies and no cars in sight. I wondered if we would be able to get home. The rocky road had led us to a small, gritty market (not the one we were aiming for) selling animals and grains to locals. Luckily we had learned to say the name of our target market in Vietnamese from the cabbie and some reluctant locals pointed us in the direction we were already going. So, we kept walking. We passed through a depressing street market along a polluted canal where short piles of candies and notebooks were stacked neatly on the dirt. The stalls were covered in blue tarp, barely wide enough to walk through and not tall enough to stand up in. The heat generated from the sun and the people inside was stifling. These living conditions for the people here were bad. After navigating through the market and a few (even smaller) streets we finally stumbled onto what we guessed was the market we were aiming for. By this time we were sweaty and dirty. I was exhausted and a bit shaken by what we had seen, but we had finally reached our destination so we plunged in. Bad idea - I was instantly overwhelmed by the billions of vendors yelling at me, the convoluted maze of aisles and the strange, pungent smells. I had to get out. I felt trapped. But, as usual, we were lost inside and we weaved back and forth between vendors desperately trying to find a way out. We finally emerged out on to the street and into the daylight – me inordinately harried and Grace somewhat alarmed by my state. He asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Where do you want to go?” I didn’t know what I was looking for either, but after quickly surveying the bustling street, the answer came to me in a flash of red, white and blue and I shouted, “KFC!” (that’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, for those in other parts of the world that might not know). Grace responded, “Seriously?” I was already making my way across the street and up the stairs. Inside, the familiar smell of fried chicken warmed my heart and I walked up to the English speaking counter person and ordered the biggest 7-up they served. I sat down looking on to the street (from above – this was a deluxe 2-story joint) and felt like I was in a safe haven. I think I just temporarily needed a familiar environment, even if it was a fast food restaurant. I don’t actually eat at KFC back home nor do I particularly like it but I’ll never look at it the same way again. 20 minutes and 2 large sodas later I felt rejuvenated. I bid the life-size plastic Colonel adieu and headed back into the wild, crazy world, knowing that from now on, he’d always have a special place in my heart.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Love the KFC story!! I have to say, your breakdown was pretty tame & even classy. Good for you for maintaining your composure. Who knew you'd be saying, "Thank God for the Colonel!" eh?

--Vicki (Windsor, Ontario, Canada); Aug 4, 2005