IF MARCEL PROUST WAS STRAIGHT AND WAS TRAVELLING IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA, I AM SURE HE WOULD HAVE ENDED UP IN SAIGON (OTHERWISE KNOWN AS HO CHI MINH CITY). That's not to say I wasn't open to possibilities... it had been nearly a year since I had spilt with my Japanese girlfriend C. at our Tokyo shack, and I was getting restless. C. and I had breezed through Ho Chi Minh City in a 9-hour layover a few years earlier, in 2005, and I had been astounded by the changes that were visible (it must be noted: we were in transit, and my glimpse of 21st century Vietnam was limited to inside the airport. Watching Vietnamese TV, however, it was obvious this country had changed a lot since my last visit...)
For some reason I have always seemed to have good fortune in Vietnam. Telfer back at the end of 1996, they were playing MC Hammer on the decks.) Later, way past midnight, we got a team cyclo ride home through the rotten yellow streets, back to our hotel... no, scrub that, Apocalypse Now! has never been on water. I must be thinking of some other place (perhaps the bar on the old Australian boat?) So, it seems I have never been to Apocalypse Now, which might well be a good thing. Apparently the place, named after the famous phim, is run by a Vietnamese-American. It costs some 150,000 Dong just to get in the door, which presumably puts off many Vietnamese.
Leave that to the Nigerians! No, Vietnamese girls are not too sophisticated, but they are upfront, they are direct, and they are honest. Perhaps that comes from their background, the long years of seclusion from the rest of the world, shelter from the cynicism of the west. Thai girls may be cynical, but I don't find Vietnamese girls to be so. On the other hand, they won't hold back from telling you how they feel. I once had a Vietnamese girl call my cell number after reading this website, and ask me point blank: "You like Vi'tn to by a stranger. One thing for sure is that Vietnamese girls are interested in foreign men, and they are looking for marriage rather than something more casual. They are not out just to play, not like the Th who calls herself Phar 2 Juicy, in a chaotic Khao San Road nightclub!) They make for good girlfriends, and good lovers. If hooking up with tasty singles is more your thing, you might want to head to Japan rather than Vietnam. But that's just my opinion -- others might have more to say about it than me.
This seems to be one of the most popular sites in Vietnam at the moment devoted to photos of gorgeous girls. There are galleries of Vietnamese women posing in rice paddies, at beach resorts, or splayed across sports cars or colorful mopeds in the middle of the city. Girl xinh means "pretty girl" in Vietnamese. Anh means picture or photograph.
Though openly ridiculed in the west, international beauty pageants are a big deal in Vietnam. It was here that Miss Trinidad/Tobago and Miss Japan and some photographer called Wyatt Gallery got it on in their infamous home video, according to one rumor at least. Vietnam is a country which thinks it wins international esteem for holding a Miss Universe pageant. At this popular site, you can see a lot of photos of Vietnamese models and beauty pageant winners (and their boyfriends). The photo above gets introduced as: "Miss Teen Quỳnh Chi 'hẹn hò' hot boy mới" ("Miss Teen Quynh Chi with her new Hot Boy") There are a lot of celebrity style photos like this here, and Vespa's feature as well.
excited about my Vietnam stopover because it was one of the first Asian countries I ever visited, and I made two tours there. I remember I had quite a crush on the place back in the mid 1990s, even though my holidays there had invariably turned to disaster (paralysed with culture shock and hiding in my room like a timid mouse the first time, trapped with a babe who considered me a creep the second.) But Vietnam had come a long way since the mid 1990s, and I had matured too. This time around, I was going to do Vietnam like a man, rather than a cowering rodent.
As is my wont these days, I did plenty of research before the trip. One sunny Sunday morning, I read a story on the Internet, a very old (by Net standards) story written by this guy called
Ted Guhl, about his experience with Vietnam girls. It had a strange resonance with me. Little did I know at the time, that I would soon be living the story, or at least a story parallel to it. Parallel but not touching. But unlike Ted, I decided not to be a pussy, but pursue the opportunity offered to the end, just to see what happens. And I decided that this page, and the threads which sprout from it, would be the story which recorded it.
There was an Aussie guy in the bar dressed like Crocodile Dundee (I later discovered he worked on an oil rig. He spent half the year working out in the middle of the ocean, earning huge dollars, and then pissed the other half away on whores and booze in Ho Chi Minh City).
Within minutes I was registered, assured that the required notification with the authorities would be handled by the management, and escorted with smiling efficiency to my modern air-conditioned room on the third floor. There was no elevator; however the stairs were wide with large windows on each landing, like those of an elegant European house.
"I unpacked, cleaned up a bit, and went for a walk. Upon leaving the hotel I was approached by a cyclo driver.
If you were buying a car, you wouldn't settle for the first car the salesman showed you. If you are looking for a wife, you don't settle for the first girl you kiss. That's just a recipe for later regret. But I only had four days in Ho Chi Minh City, so I didn't really have time to go prowling; I didn't have my game on at this stage anyway, and the realization of the X Factor was still four years down the track. On later trips backs to Vietnam, however, I began to notice that there are a lot of attractive Vietnamese women looking for western men, and there are tonnes of places to meet them. You could go to an Irish bar... or you could just go to a barber and have your hair cut. Come again?The Experience of a Lifetime writes: "If you have never had the pleasure of visiting one of Saigon's barber shops, this is one for your bucket list. These shops mainly cater to men, although it is not what you might think. You might have heard that these barber shops are a front for houses of prostitution, and I have read that in the past they may have been. This is certainly not the case today in Ho Chi Minh City. If you come across a barber shop in Saigon that is filled with 10-20 beautiful young girls wearing uniforms and looking like airline hostesses, I suggest that you go in and investigate. The girls are very friendly and they treat you like a rock star (no they are not prostitutes). You can have a shave or a haircut, a manicure, pedicure, and I would recommend finishing off with the massage. This might sound a little expensive, you would be amazed at how affordable it is to be pampered by beautiful women in Saigon. This kind of royal treatment in your home country is probably normally reserved for the rich and famous, or professional athletes and rock stars!"
Barber shops are known as "hot toc" in Vietnamese
, beyond some rather strongly worded warnings about unwashed fruit and unboiled water, what the guidebooks had said about this. Finally I ended up eating some fast food chicken from a place called California Fried Chicken. It was dreadful and served me right for being so fearful.
"Feeling dislocated, I returned to the Rex Hotel, where my driver found me immediately and gestured for me to get into the cyclo. "You want go eat?" he asked.
"'I eat already,' I replied, as we headed down the street away from the plaza.
"'Want go to nightclub?'
"I said nothing for a moment, trying to decide if a beer or two would feel right, or if I should return to the hotel. Part of my mind was warning me that I should watch out where I let myself be taken in this indecisive and somewhat uneasy mood.
"'You want meet girl?'
"'No. Maybe a beer.'
"Okay. I know good place. Cheap." And off we went, east on Le Loi Boulevard and south down Deng Khoi Street again. Good lord, I thought, he's taking me to one of the tourist bars..."
POLYCHRONISTIC VERSUS MONOCHRONISTIC TIME: CULTURE SHOCK IN VIET NAM!
My parents were due to fly in from Australia with their friends, whom I affectionately call Auntie Heather and Uncle Phil, on a Monday evening; I arrived, from Tokyo via Bangkok, around mid-morning the same day. I had enjoyed a near allnight bender in the hectic and hedonistic surrounds of Khao San Road, the backpacker capital of Thailand, and had managed to snatch only three hours sleep before it was time to taxi out, dazed and still drunk, to the brandnew airport at Suvarnabhumi. Where I proceeded to spend a couple of hours sitting waiting around for my flight to leave, bored and hung over, in those vast concrete halls. Naturally, my flight had been delayed... if only they had given me some warning, I could have slept an extra couple of hours in my concrete Khao San Road room, and recovered my wits somewhat. I am not a morning's person! However, it was a golden ride once we did depart, the sky a sea of fluffed up clouds, and I managed to snooze a few minutes against the warm window. Outside, some of the clouds we sailed past looked like Thai elephants. The stewards and stewardesses came around serving noodles for breakfast, or maybe it was eggs, I can't quite remember. It was golden and blue in Ho Chi Minh City when I touched down, gorgeous weather really. N. might have been angry I was late, but I was just glad to be back in Vietnam, for my latest Tour of Duty! We got a taxi to the Sunflowers Hotel in District 1, a place I had never stayed before, and a step up in luxury from my usual standards. The hotel is situated on Bui Thị Xuan Street, Bui Thị Xuan being a famous female revolutionary (or so I have heard). I was somewhat surprised by this change in accommodation, since on our previous two get-togethers, N. and I had stayed at the Hoang H-something Hotel, set almost directly across the road, right next to the Persian restaurant run by one Seil Sepoor Hamid (manager). I thought we would be staying at the Hoang H. on this visit as well, and had given my Mum and Dad the hotel's name and address, in case we weren't able to find them at the airport when they flew in. Anyway, we checked into the Sunflowers Hotel, I surrendered my passport at the desk, and then it was time to relax and recharge in the clean white-tiled room. It was so relaxing I began to wish that I could stay put, but I knew I would have to shortly return to the airport to pick up my folks. I had a shower, dozed off perhaps for a while, but soon woke up again. It was nice readjusting to Vietnamese time, and the bed was super soft. There were some crappy Australian shows on TV, which made me a little depressed. I was worried my folks were going to come in and spoil this alternative life I had built up, alternating between the mattresses and rice paddies of South Vietnam, and the concrete canyons of Tokyo! My Mum is always at me to give up on Asia and return to the dull suburbs of south-east Australia, and settle down. Who knows, perhaps she had planned this Vietnamese trip just as an excuse to convince N. and I to get married, and return Down Under with her? That question probably wasn't as paranoid as it sounded.
So much for the stress-free welcome to Vietnam I had been hoping for. What I was beginning to realise, was that Vietnamese like N. have a polychronistic approach to life, and a liberal attitude to showing up late.
where they never used to sell anything, although I liked sneaking out there for a beer. The Hoang H's bag carrying services are carried out by one man who claims to have a passion for collecting foreign currencies, my Mum and Dad and their friends would come to call him Manuel. A tribute to the Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
In his classic tale of hot tropical love which never had the chance to bud, Ted Guhl wrote (Situation background -- He is still getting carted around by the cyclo driver who befriended him at the start of the story, having made that fundamental tourist mistake, of ever giving those vultures the time of day): "Half way back to my hotel, a motor bike pulled up alongside and slowed to match our pace. On it were two attractive young women, perhaps in their twenties. The driver had a charming smile, full of playful energy. The rider, who looked a bit younger, was willowy, with dark hair and deep, searching eyes.
"'Hello,' the driver shouted, 'where you come from?'
"'USA', I shouted back.
"'America. You want massage? Make love, good?'
"Speechless, I smiled, looked away, then looked back. I shrugged.
"'Where you going?'
"'We give good massage, good make love, yes?'
"Rallying, I replied, 'You young girls, I'm old man.'
"'Make love us, you feel like young man.'
"They were laughing and so was I.
"'Hotel no let you come in.' I said, trying to regain some control over the situation.
"'You come us, we take good care you,' the driver said. She really seemed to be enjoying this.
"'How much?' I asked, out of curiosity I hoped.
"Shit, I thought, what do I say now. What did I want? I was certainly enjoying this conversation. And suddenly the somewhat fragile feeling I had had all evening disappeared.
"'I give you ten dollars. Just massage.'
"Her smile disappeared. I could see that she was sizing up this new suggestion and that she didn't believe me.
"'Twenty dollars, massage, make love, two hours.'
"Suddenly, I didn't want this to end here.
"'Listen, I give fifteen dollars, but just massage, no make love.'
"I could see that this offer was tempting from a monetary point of view but that somehow it didn't feel right to her. I believe she thought I was being cheap. There was no smile. Suddenly the motor bike veered off and turned around and was gone. I sighed. Welcome to Saigon..."