Tuesday, 8 February 2011

And so begins Typhoon Taylor's tour of Southeast Asia - Vietnam Part 1...


And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Team Taylor is back from Vietnam, all I can say is WOW - Southeast Asia is another world. But I get ahead of myself. Let's just say that a) so much happens in 1 day here that you almost have to do a day-by-day retelling of events, and b) I really, really don't think anyone will be disappointed by the stories.

But first, 2 points of order:

1. A lot of you have expressed concern about my recent i-Tunes debacle and inability to download Katy Perry's Teenage Dream album. I am THRILLED to report that, thanks to the magical fingers of an Indian dude named Balaji (who was ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED to help me resolve my issue), I am now back up and running, and even have "Raise Your Glass" by Pink to show for it. Balaji was, in short, THE DEFINITION of customer service. Some of his best quotes (in our 4 email exchange):

1. "Mr. Taylor, I am so sorry for this. Like you, one of the most frustrating parts of my life is when I cannot download the music I want when I want it. Please accept my apology on behalf of i-Tunes."

2. "Mr. Taylor, I sincerely apologize, as I realize there is nothing in life more disappointing than not being able to select and purchase your favorite music. However, I have been forced to escalate this to our fraud team."

3. "Mr. Taylor, I am SO PLEASED to report that you are back up and running. It is wonderful to hear that everything is working for you. Please email me any time you need anything, and I hope that I have resolved this matter to your satisfaction."

Seriously - that cat was DA HOOK UP. Diggity.

2. I would like to formally welcome the newest member of the blog readership, Evelyn Kang, to the family. A Singapore citizen and office resident, Evelyn is a teammate of mine and almost solely responsible for 2 things: a) teaching me EVERYTHING I KNOW about Benefits in Asia and b) keeping me from the twin terror fates of being caned and/or deported. Should you have questions about the marriage of the mice, what the word "lah" means, or the real translation of "Ang mo," she's the person to go to.

And now, without further ado, Team Taylor presents the first installment of Vietnam - the land of communism, 678 billion motor scooters, cheap beer, and one VERY lousy tour guide.

Thursday: It's Tet the holy day! Yay!!!!! And to welcome you - we close EVERYTHING

So the day started early - a 4:15 wake-up call for a 5 AM cab to the airport. Which Terminal, you ask? Well, not Terminals 1, 2, or 3 associated with Changi airport. Oh no - the cheap ass jokers fly out of a BOMB SHELTER about 10 minutes away known OFFICIALLY as "the budget terminal." Translation: "You are too cheap to fly Singapore air, so we will put you in a warehouse formerly reserved for lepers.

However, who can complain when, at 5 AM, you are chomping down on a McGriddle, baby!!!! OH YEAH!!!!! Fake egg, cat sausage, corn syrup - give this guy the works.

The flight, I must confess, was very smooth. Tiger Airways was VERY professional and VERY on-time. And in keeping with this, the on-line visa was MONEY BALL 5000. Seriously cheap and easy. All in all - full marks. But then, as things must do, the experience starts to turn.

So JT and I are about to rock up to immigration when this crazy ass Thai dude stops us. Instantly my brain thinks "BROKEDOWN PALACE - COCKROACH IN EAR!" and I panic. However, we soon learn that, whilst he can speak (about 7 words of) English, he can't read it, meaning he has NO IDEA how to fill out the customs form. So Muffin and I take turns helping this cat spell his name, write his nationality, etc, until he says:

Sketchball Thai Dude (STD - no pun intended): "I hear visiting friend. I no known name. Can I write your hotel?"

Team Taylor: (Simultaneously) "Um, No."

STD: "I no know what to say!" (starts laughing)

Team Taylor: (Simultaneously) "Write his name."

STD: "You help?"

Team Taylor: (Simultaneously) "Goodbye!"

Sure enough, we see this cat 10 minutes later whilst waiting for a cab.

STD: "I no know how call friend. You have phone?"

Team Taylor: (Simultaneously) "No."

STD: "Maybe you help find?" (starts laughing)

Team Taylor: (Simultaneously) "No."

That pretty much ended that friendship/drug scam. And speaking of getting picked up, we cleared arrivals, walked into the NINETY DEGREE HEAT, and walked through the MAZE of screaming people, only to find that NO ONE had a sign that said "Samwise Taylor." However, upon a second walk through, we DID notice the ONE CAT who was not actually HOLDING HIS SIGN OUTWARD but staring at it as though it contained the truth behind the Celestine Prophecy whilst talking on his mobile phone from 1961 (like I have any room to talk - at least he wasn't in plaid). I leaned over him, saw our name, shook him out of his coma, and 10 minutes later we were en route.

Now I will describe traffic in future blogs because, well, IT IS EPIC IN VIETNAM. For now, I'll just stick to describing one aspect of road life in Vietnam - MOTOR SCOOTERS. Some key points:

1. All of these scooters are smaller than the "Big Wheel" you rode when you were 4 years old. Then again, odds are you were taller than most of these folks when you were 4 years old.

2. If you are riding on a scooter, the following is MANDATORY:
a. You are wearing a mask over your face.
b. You have gloves on.
c. You are wearing socks and sandals (Jill Hewitt style).
e. NO ONE can ride a scooter alone. You must be accompanied by 14 pieces of luggage, 27 children (standing up and tied to daddy), at least 1 dog, 4 cases of beer, your wife (sitting side-saddle) and some appliance.
f. Helmets are required. After all - safety first!

You would just have to see it to belive it - I'm NOT joking.

The hotel was great, and things were going swimmingly until we cracked open the guidebook that noted "Don't visit Saigon during Tet, as EVERYTHING will be closed." AWESOME.

That being said, we were soon out the door and roaming around District 1. This section, which was the heart of the government quarter and the true HQ for American forces and the South Vietnamese Government during the war, has some AMAZING achitecture. Case in point - check out City Hall (with the statue of Ho Chi Minh in front, saving the children, of course). As fate would have it, this year was a rare one in which "National Day" (which celebrates the anniversary of the communist party) falls on the same day as Tet (the Vietnamese New Year). Consequently, I was right at home with my fellow workers of the world, fighting against the West in the ultimate struggle against capitalism!!!!

In all honestly, EVERYONE was looking at Whitey when I took this photo. Some were laughing. Most weren't. Let's just say we didn't stick around too long under the hammer and the sickle. Hitman - I must confess - I took this one for you. Has your fence been painted yet? Just curious...

National was cool, and there were lights, colors, and flags everywhere. Ho Chi Minh's face is ALL OVER THIS CITY, which I guess is appropriate since it's called Ho Chi Minh City. However, the locals still call it Saigon and refuse to say anything else.

After celebrating the struggle of the proletariat, we walked over to a large park where Sammy the Bull crossed off one of life's to do's - A FISH PEDICURE, BABY!!!! Okay, so for those of you that don't know, here's how this works: you put your NASTY ASS FEET in a tub of dirty water with OTHER nasty ass feet, surrounded by about a thousand fish. You let your feet settle and quit moving, and then the magic happens.

Suddenly TONS of fish latch on to you and start eating the dead skin off your body. I was clearly nasty as HELL, because they COULDN'T GET ENOUGH OF ME. I mean, check out the action my dogs were seeing! It should be noted that Muffin Puffin tried this as well, and it was pretty much her own version of Hell. She screamed about 589 times, jerked her feet out of the water 314, and pretty much looked like she wanted to annul the marriage right then and there. Luckily 75 cents only bought you 15 minutes, so I was home free.

After the fish feast, we rolled over to the Reunification Palace, only to find out that it was closed (it actually wasn't we later discovered - they just close for lunch). Consequently we rolled over to the War Remnants Museum, which is dedicated to "the struggle for Vietnamese Independence and freedom against the oppressive tyranny of the American and French armies." It was, in a word, interesting.

Now obviously I try to keep this blog very light, but that's obviously tough given a) some of our history in Vietnam and b) some of the images on display in the museum. Members of my own family commented "Who in the world vacations in Vietnam?", and I realize that a lot of people would have trouble visiting here for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the memory of the Vietnam war and the images/recollections associated with it. Rather than wax philosophical one way or the other, I'll just say that a) I'm glad I've been, b) I'll never go back, c) I think it would be an IMPOSSIBLE museum to go through if you were a veteran, and d) when it was over, I REALLY needed a beer. But on a much lighter note, I got a really kick off photo in front of this helicopter (as well as a few by fighter jets and tanks - good times).

After the museum, we walked over to the Jade Pagoda, which was OUT OF CONTROL. You see, during the first 3 days of Tet, you are supposed to go to the temple to pray and remember the spirits of your ancestors. What that really means is:

1. You and 19 BAGILLION of your closest friends go into a pitch black temple build for about 11 people.

2. You get run over by the 483,000 motor bikes that are parking in the pavillion.

3. You light 4700 incense sticks and practically set yourself and everyone else on fire.

4. You stand around a goldfish pond FILLED with dead fish, whilst some dude keeps fishing them out of this all green pond. Rinse-repeat CONSTANTLY day-in and day-out.

5. You get so much smoke in your eyes that you feel you're sky-diving through the atmosphere of Venus.

Needless to say, after that we were bushed, and so we walked back towards the hotel stopping en route for som
e TWO DOLLAR BEER, BABY!!!! Local stuff - Bia 333. It was basically Miller Lite...but still slightly better. Oh, and we did get this photo of the power grid - AMAZING.

After a shower and watching some Badmitton (Yang S defeated Yang Y, for the record - to quote Schill Dog: "The shuttlecock can move at speeds of over 200 mph - the GAME HAS MERIT!" - Randy - your best line EVER...after the train to Dublin...just sayin'...), we hit the Rex Hotel's rooftop garden bar for some delicious mojitos and a view of the CRAZY New Year's crowd's and celebrations. I have NEVER SEEN SO MANY PEOPLE AND SO MANY SCOOTERS in a constant stream for so long - OUT OF CONTROL.
After some street good on the way home (different kinds of colored - AND UBER TASTY - rice), Team Taylor sacked out around 11, a GREAT first day in the books.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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