Reposting from my newsletter, so this vacation is actually last year's vacation.
I've been on vacation,
and you've been very patient about not demanding news from me, or is it
just me that feels like I've missed an appointment by not writing to
you? Either way, I've been on a Grand Odyssey around South East Asia,
and am currently in our Bangkok hotel, where I remain till tomorrow
night when we fly back to Delhi at an antisocial time, which was about
2000 rups cheaper than the regular flight and joke's on us, because we
will pay about that much to engage our hotel for the day tomorrow, not
wanting to be on the streets till midnight.
The Bangkok hotel is called Tim Mansion on the sign, but the wifi is Tim House,
so you wonder when they upgraded. It's not a “mansion,” well, I suppose
it's a large building with many rooms, but there's no silver tea
service or a butler to hand you warm damp towels after a day of
sightseeing, so I guess it's Tim House after all. My stories are many
and varied, so I'm going to cut this up into two or three parts (lucky
you, right?) and send them to you over the course of a few days, sooo if
hearing about travel stories is not really your thing, feel free to
ignore them and regular Delhi-based programming will return after these
when we got into Bangkok and unpacked, there was a strange driver's
license tucked into K's bag—it's a backpack so easy enough to open while
on the baggage conveyor, I guess—and it belonged to some dude from
Canada, but Pakistani origin. I know this because I looked him up on
Facebook, and while his name XYZ is pretty common, turned out that plus
the Canada province he was from made him only one of two people. One of
whom was posting excitedly about his trip to Hanoi and Bangkok. So
I messaged the guy, but he turned out to be, well, not the sharpest
tool in the shed, so despite my providing instructions and directions to
the hotel, he kept saying, “I don't know” and calling me “dear” and
“Meena” and I was almost glad
he lost his license, because if there's one thing worse than being
called “Meena” by someone I do not know (IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO TYPE OUT
MEENAKSHI) it is being called “dear.” At that last “dear” I gave up
trying to give him more instructions, and now he has left the city and
the mystery of how his license got into our bags will never be solved.
But I'm going backwards. Let's return to three weeks ago.
are no direct flights from Delhi to Vietnam yet. I believe one is
starting soon, but until then, you have to stop over in Kuala Lumpur (to
get to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as I'm going to call it from now on,
since I am also a person who says “Bombay” instead of “Mumbai”) or
Bangkok to get to Hanoi. We'd never been to Malaysia either, so we
decided to extend our stopover to two days so we could look around KL a
bit, get a feel for the city, etc. Plus I have a cousin there who
offered to put us up for a few nights, so everything worked out
a certain joy in hanging out with your cousins as an adult. I'm sure
people with siblings feel this way about them too, but with cousins, you
sort of drop in and out of their lives—you stay in touch for a bit
during college, ingrained with years of hanging out every summer, but
then, eventually you sort of scatter, like seeds in a pod. Depending on
how you are related, you will see each other at family gatherings, and
make an effort to get together if you're in the same city. But, you
know, life happens. On my mum's side, though, I've managed to stay relatively close to all my sibs-once-removed, we
have a Whatsapp group and everything. (On my dad's side is my
one-and-only female cousin, and that is a treat in itself.) Anyway, my
KL cousin was the perfect host, and told us lots about the city and
turned out to have the same approach to tourism as we did: it's best
experienced through putting things into your mouth, so we ate
is an interesting city. It's much more expensive than I imagined, like
fancy Delhi prices for eating and shopping, but the food is varied and
plentiful. I stayed away from biryani etc, though my cousin told me that
the Indian food in Malaysia is not quite like Indian food in India and
should be experienced at least once, but I rejected it in favour of
Chinese and traditional Malay curries, which are kinda amazing. Picture
me as a sort of Pac Man just opening my mouth and having food drop in,
and you'll picture what I did over the last three weeks.
course, I went to the Petronas towers and took a photo of it from right
underneath (check). Of course, we also went to the electronic mall and
bought K a new laptop battery, and me an SD card. (Check.) I also went
hoping to get a cheap deal on a phone I've been eyeing, but alas, the
prices were pretty much the same.
this reminds me of the First Day Abroad disaster. As some of you know,
we got married last year (that's not the disaster), and for our wedding,
we got some money in dollars as well (still not the disaster). The plan
was to use these dollars whilst a-travel, because the rupee keeps
crashing, better rates etc etc, BUT someone (me) very helpfully put all
the dollars into different pouches in her locked drawer, for
safekeeping? Or something? When we had our home invasion last year, the
burglars had unearthed one of the dollar pouches I had (what? Don't you
all have little baggies with a little foreign currency in it?) and left it on the floor (maybe they thought it was play money?)
and so that was added to my stash, plus another envelope with more
money, basically, long story short: instead of putting all the money
together, I put it in separate locations and only carried one of the
pouches with me, the Burglar one, so we had a lot less money than we
thought we were going to have. (There's your disaster.) Also I thought I
had somehow dropped the
money between home and the airport, and that was freaking me out so
much, I sat down at KL airport and wept. Anyhow, budget-schmudget, I
finally said, let's just have a good time.
that I am back in Delhi, I can tell you that the dollars are safe and
sound, and very unhelpfully, still in my locked drawer.)
The only research I have done for Vietnam is:
1) Recalled the Vietnammy bits in Forrest Gump.
2) Let K show me the first half of Apocalypse Now. (That movie is LONG.)
3) Watched the This Is Us Vietnam episode.
4) Watched the BoJack Vietnam episode.
5) Eaten a few meals at Little Saigon in Hauz Khas market, which I am pleased to report is pretty authentic.
so apart from those last two things, my Vietnam is mostly an American
construct, war and poverty and guns and all that, and war is not a super
interesting subject, says the child of peace times in her own country.
Unfortunately, it is for everyone else, so it was hard to get an idea of
the country that didn't involve the Great American War Lens of the '60s
just like, hanging over it.
Great American War Lens shattered as soon as we stepped out of the
airport. Hordes of screaming teenage girls were waiting for a K Pop
boyband, and since they were bored, they cheered for all of us, each
time we passed the automatic doors. Finally, in a bustle of pink and
glitter, the K Pop band emerged and walked swiftly past the fans, the
screams rose to an almost chant, and I got a video of it for my
Instagram stories, but we were in Saigon proper now.
We stayed at The Tripwriter Hotel, chosen primarily because of the hotel sign, The Tripwriter spelled
out in typewriter letters. Apart from that, it was a modest little
hotel, small rooms, but clean, very close to everything, and a free
breakfast in the morning, so can recommend if you're looking. The sign
was hidden behind some ivy though, so even though we were dropped off
right next to it, we spent another hour, walking with our backpacks
through the heat and past the zillions of scooter drivers who are
everywhere, even on the sidewalks, looking for the place, until we
looped back and found it.
(There are 4 million people in Saigon, and 2 million drive scooters. This is a true fact that a guide told us.)
in Saigon happens in District One. It is the Connaught Place of
districts, if Connaught Place was somehow also Hauz Khas Village and
Humayun's Tomb. We
were staying in the Pahargunj-y bit, and every night, there were rows
of bars, all competing with each other's sound systems, all with white
tourists, mostly young, sitting in clumps at the entrance, looking
somehow startled. Like, “Am I really in Saigon or just at my local with
my friends?” Or maybe I misinterpreted their expressions. Maybe they
were thinking, “Look at us here, now, so young, so unstoppable.” As you
walked your way to the end of the Long Road With The Bars, you started
seeing more local faces. Young Vietnamese also came to this part of town
to party, and they also parked themselves at the entrance, watching the
world go by, chattering at the tops of their voices. No murmurs for the
Vietnamese, by the way. They are a country that like to communicate at
the tops of the their voices, whether it's two in the afternoon or
midnight on a night bus when everyone's trying to sleep or six am, right
outside your hotel room. Even just passing a friend on the street.
I, on the
other hand, am far more tolerant about people talking really loudly when
I can't understand what they're saying. It's still annoying, but it's
just regular annoying, not annoying in the middle of my brain, where I
am woken up by my own head conveying to me what people are saying, you
to be continued!
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