Friday, September 29, 2006

Last night in Vietnam

Originally uploaded by jaymce.
I leave for Kuala Lumpur tomorrow and I feel some trepidation, some relief, some sadness.
The last few days have reinforced my assertion that Vietnamese hospitality knows no bounds. I have been shown so much kindness here, from the TVU folks to my Tra Vinh landlady (who reimbursed my September rent and had a dress tailored for me as a going-away present) to the women on the bus to shared their fruit, gum and scented oils on my many trips to HCMC. People here have given me directions, translated for me, driven me around, carried my bags, given me free stuff and advised me on purchases. Once you get used to this place it can really grow on you. It has, of course, been tough going, as you all are well aware if you have been reading this blog, but it certainly isn't because people are unfriendly.
That being said, I am glad that I am going to have work soon, because as much as one might bemoan its trials, being without it is worse in many ways.
In KL I will stay with a former intern Michelle and her fiance while I look for a room to rent. It seems that is how to live affordably as an intern in that city, so it will be roommates for me once more.
First on the list will be to get a new SIM card for my phone, because as I learned in Cambodia, without it I feel like I have lost a limb. What can I say, I live for communication.
Wish me luck as I take the next, of what seems to be many, plunges into the unknown. What a year, and we still have a quarter left!

Monday, September 25, 2006


Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Originally uploaded by dcgreer.
Ever since I set out on this trip across the VN border I have had the Dead Kennedys song "Holiday in Cambodia" running through my mind.
Unlike in Vietnam where past violence has faded away from the feeling of the place, in Cambodia it hangs like a shadow in every corner. Or so it seems to me...
Cambodia and Vietnam have many similarities: the markets, the buildings, some cultural traits, but I definately feel like I am in a different and more edgy place. Chantal doesn't walk anywhere at night, and she tells me of acid attacks and murders, rampant prostitution and AIDS. Of course things like this exist in VIetnam but it is not on the surface by any stretch. The government has a firm control on things there, whereas here with all of the corruption and past chaos that is more difficult.
But really I am here to spend time with Chantal and see how she lives. Chantal is definately super-hosting me and she has a really nice 2-bedroom beautifully decorated place, and the area that she is living in is interesting because it looks like it is going through some change. New buildings are going up and you can see small wooden one-room houses alongside concrete buildings of several floors. Somewhat disconcerting is the shanty area nearby where Chantal tells me the construction workers live with their families. I wonder where they go when the construction is finished and how they access clean water etc.
Our two internship experiences could not be more different, as she is perhaps over-worked and over-directed, whereas I had no work and no direction at all. Either extreme is certainly problematic. Being here I am kind of just living life with her, meeting her friends and hanging out at her place, rather than going out to see the city much. This suits me fine, although I hope that Chantal will be able to get away from her work for a bit to show me around tomorrow. Then I can get a sense of this place in more solid terms.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rozee and I were joking the other day about my recent penchant for giving myself nicknames based on my location, so I need one to reflect status being AWOL and therefore not Tra Vincognito... MC-HCMC, HoChi-mamma? That is terrible I know but this is what happens when I am left to entertain myself for too long!
In any case tomorrow morning I am actually leaving this favorite city of mine to visit another intern (Chantal) in Cambodia. I am very excited and I think it is really time to shake things up a bit interms of my locale. I have spent so much time at this hotel in HCMC that even the xe om drivers and the street vendors know me here. That is saying something for an area that has so many foreign visitors (and really all white people look the same don't they?).
The trip from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh by the regular bus takes about 8 hours, but the express bus takes six... although the travel agency seemed to think that it was likely that the regular bus could make it in 7 hours... I felt a little bamboozeled and so I decided to go with the regular bus instead of paying twice as much for a difference in speed that I feel a bit skeptical of. I may regret that choice, only time in a rattling tin-can bus will tell.
Dave asked me what sights I was planning to see in Phnom Penh and what my touring itinerary was. To this question I had only one response: "Don't you know me by now?". First of all I am not much one for detailed planning ahead, secondly my style of travel usually includes a lot more people watching in coffee shops than seeing of sights. I am usually more interested in trying to get a taste for how people live. After all the time I have spent in HCMC I have gone to only two sights, the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. Maybe this is just an excuse for being lazy; you can draw your own conclusions!
I plan to stay in Cambodia until Wednesday when I hope to do the whole trip through to Tra Vinh from Phnom Penh so that I can pack up there, say my goodbyes and then be back in HCMC to fly out on Friday to Kuala Lumpur. But any of this could change at a moment's notice, a possibility I am prepared for these days! The security clearance has not come through yet for my new placement, but CAPI is hopeful that will happen soon.

Monday, September 18, 2006

So Street

Le Loi intersection HCMC
Originally uploaded by Flostyle.
"You look like an angel!"
A guy actually followed me down the street today repeating this phrase, interspersed with questions about my age, nationality, name etc.
Since I have gotten rather bored of being asked such questions all the time by people trying to sell me something, I have started throwing them back at the asker rather than responding. Smith, 32 from Togo was quite sure I was heaven-sent but I wasn't so sure about him. That being said, I am getting tired of being alone, so I chatted with him a bit, but stayed on my guard. After a few minutes, I went on my way and watched for a bit as he sought his next celestial being.

This leads me to think about other aspects of walking down a street in HCMC.

On the street here in the tourist district you find many people interested in selling you various forms of copy-right infringement, lottery tickets, zippos, postcards, gum, manicures, foreign newspapers, bobble-head dolls, hair clips, fans, Tin-tin t-shirts, sunglasses, massages, and even bras. Yes ladies, you can rummage through a baskets of bras carried about town on two poles in typical Vietnamese fashion. I have watched as women make their selections by holding the items up to themselves or putting the bra on over their shirts in the middle of the sidewalk. I am reminded of another WUSC volunteer telling me that she was even in a small store once to buy a bra and she asked the sales clerk if she could try it on. The clerk looked at her and agreed but just stood there and watched, waiting for her to try it on right there.

On the street in HCMC is also where I met one of the most fluent English speakers I have come across here. He looks about 10 years old, which probably means he is 13, and he wanted to sell me some postcards at first. This was on my first visit to the city and I actually wanted some and so I obliged. But as soon as I entered into the interaction with him he changed his objective and asked me if I would take him into a posh mall nearby to buy him some milk. At first I thought, well of course I could buy him some milk, he even said he wanted milk as payment for the postcards and I thought that would be great. But then he told me that the reason he wanted milk as payment was because the security guards wouldn't let him into the mall by himself to buy it. I asked him why and he told me it was because they thought he would steal something. This made me think twice and so I offered to go into the store and buy him some milk he could wait outside. He refused because he said that I couldn't possibly know what kind of milk he wants and so he would have to accompany me to the store. When I asked him to tell me and promised I would remember the exact kind of milk, he stuck to his story that he needed to come with me. Having myself been a kid who tried to get money from tourists and strangers I realized I was indeed dealing with a wily character so I gave him 10,000 Dong for the cards and wished him luck.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A quick update

HB Flo
Originally uploaded by Flostyle.
Ok things are kind of a mess still but they are a little clearer now. WUSC wants me to stay on but haven't really made it clear how anything will improve. The thought of going back into such a disorganized situation is really unappealing so I am hoping that the option of transferring works out.

It looks like it will be to Kuala Lumpur because the organization is in better situation to recieve me than the one in Chiang Mai. After being in Hoi An for the last couple of days, which is a bit of a backpacker town, I think I will be happier in KL. It is a big city, but I am used to that these days. I am still not sure that it will go ahead but it is likely and I may move by the end of the month.

My birthday was nice. Dave and Swee Lin took me to the ballet on Saturday night but they left the next morning, so I spent most of the day by myself. On a whim I decided to treat myself to a couple of Ao Dai, the beautiful traditional Vietnamese oufit. They are quite lovely and I hope I can figure out an appropriate occasion for them.
When I returned to my hotel after my final fitting, the hotel staff presented me with this bouquet of roses and note. Very sweet!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sorry for the distinct lack of posting going on here in Tra Vinh... I wish I could say that it is because things are going well at work. I have been busier because the other Canadian volunteers are here in an attempt to help me get this project off the ground, but unfortunately we have been blocked by higher-ups. Things have deteriorated to the point that CAPI has decided to move my internship to another organization.
They are looking at sending me to Chiang Mai or to Kuala Lumpur. Originally they were talking Bangkok but I think that now has been set aside.
I hope to have a bit more time this weekend to write, but I am going back to HCMC and the volunteers have invited me to the ballet for my birthday on Sunday.