Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Day after Christmas: Day 14 in Vietnam

In my last blog entry about things people carry on mopeds in Vietnam, I forgot to include this bird-tastic picture:

Yes, it’s a bird pet shop on wheels. The three yellow cages look like they’re filled with dozens of birds all squished together, but I can’t be sure. It’s unnerving. And the three little cages on the bottom. *shivers*

Anyway, onto Day 14 of me being in Vietnam:

The first thing that my mom, my mom’s friend, my brother and I did after breakfast was go visit a house for blind/partially blind children because my mom wanted to show us that Vietnam is not all fun and games. Um, duh, mom. And here I thought this country was a visual paradise.

So we went to this house run by nuns where my mom (with some of my aunt’s money) made a hefty donation to the place. I felt sorry for the kids, but I wasn’t sure if this very large amount was going to the right people in charge (more on this later).

I felt guilty taking pictures but my mom said I should document this. Plus, she said, these blind kids couldn’t see me taking pictures anyway.

Here is one kid studying. Half of them are partially blind while the rest of them can’t see anything.

Most of them, however, are making trinkets to sell in the gift shop. Yes, there is a gift shop.

Remember a few entries back where my mom bought a beaded vase and asked if they were made by blind children? This is an authentic one:

This absolutely horrified me. These kids are blind and they are being forced to make souvenirs to sell to visitors. And this nun (above right) whom my mom said was “kind,” was telling the boy in the green shirt, “You’re doing the beading all wrong. The beads should go  under instead of over. Now I have to take it all apart and you have to do the whole thing again because it’s all wrong.” I was like, WTF? These children can’t even see.

So that made me really incredulous about the fact that my mom was making a huge donation to this place. It almost reminded me of that scene in “Slumdog Millionaire” where the guy uses poor kids to get money from tourists. In response, my mom said, “Look, there’s no welfare or government aid in this country. These kids were born blind and were abandoned by their parents. This place took them in, and well they have to earn their keep somehow.”

But I don’t know…one time my mom made me go to a fundraiser for blind, Vietnamese children and the host, in his imperfect English, said “blinded children” instead of “blind children” and I was like, “Yeah, I bet they were blinded.”…Wow, I’m a horrible person, aren’t I?

After that heaviness, my mom wanted to cheer us up by taking us to see something less disturbing and sad, so we made plans to go to a building down the road where children with nerve disorders were forced to lie in bed all day, paralyzed. But the breakfast I had that morning suddenly came back to thank me and give a massive stomachache.  And so I went back to the hotel while the rest of them went to the children’s place. So there’s no pictures or stories of the paralyzed children.

A few hours later, my brother and I met up with our cousin, Vivi, and we went shopping. Yes, nice transition there.

There were some nice decorations:

And we went to the street where the brand names had their real stores:

We also went to the Zen Building, which is a narrow, tall building that houses Tommy Hilfiger and a bunch of other expensive brands.

But in actuality, most Americanized stores in Vietnam are rip-offs:

There was even a big lingerie store we would often drive past called “Angel’s Secret” and right below would be a smaller sign saying, “We carry items from Victoria’s Secret.” Too bad I didn’t get a picture.

Then we went again to the Vincom Center, a high-end shopping mall that sounds suspiciously to me like “Viet Cong Center.”

Okay, after typing that, I’m kind of nervous about some shadowy Vietnamese organization trolling my blog.

Anyway, the Vincom Center’s bottom floor was composed of eateries, much like the Macy’s building in San Francisco.

You know what else reminded me of San Francisco?

Although honestly I have never actually seen a Bud’s ice cream shop in San Francisco.

Then we went home, got changed and met up with the rest of my aunt’s husband’s family at this:

“Nha Hang Ngon” means Delicious Restaurant, or Great-Tasting Restaurant. Clever name. Just in case you’re a tourist and you ask your taxi driver, “Take me to a great-tasting restaurant.”

I would say that over half of the patrons here are Westerners, and I can’t blame them. The place is clean and gorgeous, and it has multiple levels, even more palace-like than our former king’s palace. The restaurant had hundreds of seats and I think I saw four different kitchens.

Okay, I know those pictures are all out of focus and do not do any justice to the restaurant’s opulence.

The dishes here were not that expensive. The prices were average, which surprised me. Then when we got the food I understood why the prices were low–the portions are tiny! Even by Vietnamese standards. So most people had to order an extra portion.

And I know I should’ve taken pictures of the tiny portions but for some reason I just thought my iced tea was pretty so I took a picture of that:

Then after that, all of us who are in our twenties and teens went bowling at a place that ripped us off even more than the lanes in America. And I thought of taking pictures, but honestly, if you’ve seen one bowling alley, you’ve seen them all.

By the way, I just discovered that to change my blog’s fonts on WordPress, I have to pay $30 a year for the customization option. What the hell kind of shit is that? Sorry, excuse my language.

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$#!+ people carry on mopeds in Vietnam!

I’d like to take a break from writing day entries to show one of the many colorful activities in Vietnam.

Despite there being (Hyundai, BMW, Toyota) car dealerships everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City, most people here can’t afford cars because, well, duh.
So the average person has to depend on mopeds or motorcycles.

And oftentimes, these people will need to carry a large amount of random things and because they can’t rent U-Hauls or rent-a-trucks over here, they end up being creative on their two-wheel rides. I admit that I thought of the idea for these photos a little late, about 12 days into my trip, so I didn’t have much time to gather a lot, but here they are.

The most important cargo that every moped driver/rider carries are their children (and no, this does not count as $#!+, but I thought it was worth showing):

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Aside from that, most of these people have to work.

There’s the restaurant entrepreneur carrying her table on her moped. Work it, girl.

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There’s the paper salesman delivering his supplies:

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There goes the bird pet shop on wheels. An accident would result in a lot of angry beaks. Yikes.

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Below is your balloonist. According to the advanced physics I learned from watching Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” shouldn’t this moped be flying at least 10,000 feet into the air?:

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There’s your typical hardworking courier:

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Your capable construction crew:

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Notice how he is smoking a cigarette at the same time. Badass.

And I’m glad if I ever need a pane of glass in Vietnam, these two guys are only a hop, skip and 30 mph moped ride away:

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And last, but certainly not carrying the least, is your china shop clerk on a moped. This person is my hero:

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Video clip of downtown traffic that I shot

I shot a 2-minute clip of the typical, crazy interaction among pedestrians, riders, and drivers in downtown Ho Chi Minh City at night. To view it, click below:

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Christmas Day in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!

So for Christmas Day…

Well, the first thing my mom, my brother and I did that day was go to a hair salon/mini-spa. My brother had gotten his haircut at this place a few days earlier and he apparently didn’t get an infection, so off we went.

I got my hair cut, my brother got his ears cleaned (to cure his selective hearing I hoped), and my mom got her roots touched up.

The first interesting thing we noticed was there was no hairstylist present. There were only three women workers; two (one was the owner I think) did the regular hair and spa stuff, and the other was the shampoo girl. It turns out that there are two shops run by the same owner, and the hairstylists shuttle between the two shops when needed. That’s actually a really brilliant idea.

Anyway, so I waited and 5 minutes later, a guy hairstylist rode up on his moped, walked in, asked how I wanted my hair and started buzzing and cutting away! I was really impressed. I don’t expect there to be beauty colleges or wherever hairstylists go now to learn hairstyling skills, but this guy was fantastic and he was really nice too. (Later a grumpy, douchey customer came in, and the owner called a grumpy, douchey hairstylist to match.)

This was the procedure my brother had done:

I was really nervous watching it because this ear-cleaning procedure consisted of poking a bunch of a really long, sharp metal sticks down a person’s ear, and one slip or false move…eek.

My mom got her roots dyed:

With this:

I had to laugh because Revlon Colorsilk is the $3 haircolor that they sell at Walmart (I know from back in my hair-dyeing phase), and the brand that my mom has said she would never use because it’s cheap crap…. But when in Rome…or in this case, when in a Vietnamese salon where the best you can get is this, so you better shut the hell up or get out of the shop…

After my haircut was done, I was led into the shampoo room. Let me tell you, it was the most awesome experience. I’ve never been to a spa or mini-spa, but this shampoo woman, besides shampooing my hair, spent 20 minutes massaging my face with a gazillion cleansers and even put one of those cleansing masks on me. Although for a few minutes there I thought I was being waterboarded, the experience was amazing. Afterwards, my face never felt so soft and numb at the same time.

And all of this ended costing the three of us together $21 USD ($6 of it was in tips).

Then we got home, changed, and went to Christmas church.

Okay, so I didn’t actually take pictures inside the church during our mass because it’s kind of rude when you’re attending. But we later came back during during a different mass and I stood outside and made the most of my zoom lens:

Here is my mom in front of a painting of her one of her most favorite saints, St. Martin, who my sister named one of her sons after:

The outside was really pretty (not that I’m saying the inside was ugly or anything):

Look at how magical baby Jesus looks:

I made the offhand comment to my brother, “It’s interesting how the citizens here are so poor and starving, yet there are churches everywhere here that look like they’ve spared no expense,” which sparked a debate between him and I about whether churches are businesses. But I’m serious, this city is so poor, yet there’s four fancy, opulent churches within a 3-mile radius of our hotel.

Anyway, afterwards we went downtown because my brother wanted to do some shopping.

As I said before, there are a lot of stores that sell counterfeit clothes, like this fake Hollister Co. store:

And then there are some stores that are much classier and have their own labels:

…that mysteriously look a lot like American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch labels:

I felt like a sneaky spy getting these photos because as I said before, sales associates usually follow you around at every step.

And then we walked around downtown, then went home and went to bed. Oh and in between some of these activities we went out and ate but I didn’t take any pictures. Boo.

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