Why You Need a Guide in Vietnam: Back in Ho Chi Minh City, Susan and I were wandering the streets on our own for an afternoon and we came across a sweet little brown sign with pink letters that said in English: “Café and Lounge.” Since the buildings in HCMC are tall, many of the little shops are up a few levels, giving them a very expansive feeling as you shop and look out over the city. We imagined having our coffee in a quaint cafe, in a foreign land, seeing as far as the eye could see. The cute winding staircase called to us like the Pied Piper to a village child. On the pink walls, there were even pictures painted of women doing beauty parlor stuff; holding a blow dryer; in garters straddling a chair. Every wall of the tight winding staircase brought another cute painting of women at various stages of undress… Yes, you know where this is going, but for some unknown reason we didn’t. We got all the way to the top of the ninety-nine steps (my homage to Nancy Drew) before we finally realized that it was a brothel. So much for the meaning of the word “lounge. ” We practically raced back into the protective arms of Captain.
So here a few final thoughts and pictures:
Eat. The. PORK. Resistance is futile (that last part is for my Star Trek pals!)
I realize now that coffee has probably been ruined forever for me. Once we got to Singapore andwere in something that resembled “shopping” again, I noticed a Starbucks and practically wrinkled my nose up. Maybe it was the heat, or the surroundings, or the circumstances, but I don’t think anything will ever beat sitting on the crowded sidewalk in the horrible heat, sipping Café Suh Da, that strong thick, sweet bit of heaven on ice.
The least heavenly of these moments was sweating under a tree in the outskirts of Hue, watching Susan Feniger get her fortune told, surrounded by baby chicks scratching in the hard dirt. I could see Susan’s face as the old Vietnamese woman (who’d obviously had a hard life), told her she had two husbands and children somewhere, and I knew that Susan was not happy. She had been expecting a truly spiritual experience and this was falling far short. After all these years I can tell when Susan is hiding her displeasure, and I could see the stubbornness setting in. She wasn’t going to give the woman an inch. “You have two children, and you had another husband before.” Susan’s jaw barely tightened but I saw it. “No.” It was a battle of wills. The woman wasn’t giving up on the husband idea though. “You will soon meet someone to be your husband.” Susan started to shake her head “no.” Was she actually going to argue? Inwardly I screamed “For gods sakes, just say “yes” to everything so we can get the hell back in the air-conditioned van!” When Susan finally gave in and we were back in the van heading to town and the hotel, I helped her shake it off by re-telling her fortune the way she wanted it told.
On the plane, as we flew out of Vietnam for Singapore, I noticed something odd. There were a few American men in cotton tee shirts. They seemed to be comfortable enough. This led me to my NEW and final theory on heat and clothing in Southeast Asia: Cotton doesn’t kill Americans. Cotton kills American WOMEN. Wow. Had the salesman at REI only told me that in the first place, I could have saved myself an awful lot of trouble and stayed home.
By the way, I have to remember to be thankful for global warming. I’ll never complain about the cold temperatures in LA again!
Tam biet Vietnam!