And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, before I get to the next phase of Vietnam (don't worry - I'll sum up this week on Friday's blog, as today has some GREAT moments), I simply must relate two highlights from today:
1. Sammy's visit to the gym - okay, so 2 things to mention here:
a. I get to the locker room, and this dude beside me with mane of hair halfway down his back steps to the locker beside me. The only word that keeps popping in my head is "Tonto," and I'm pretty sure he's fresh off the set of "Legends of the Fall Part 2 - Fall Harder."
Anyhoo, it's not the hair (or the FORTY FIVE MINUTES HE SPENT BRUSHING IT) that amazed me - it's the fact that HE WORKED OUT IN A DENIM SKIRT. Really? REALLY? Someone please explain that cultural phenomenon to me.
b. So I go to the bathroom, step into a stall, and there's an advertisement on the door. Now granted, this is common for dudes, right? There's always the "Enlarge your member," "Win a Corvette," or "Buy Superbowl Tikets" add on the back of the door. Not in Singapore, however. Oh now, in the Sing, what's the ad for? FULL PRICE ADVANCE TICKETS TO THE BALLET OF ROMEO AND JULIET with the caption: "Fall in love again." I mean, for the sake of all that's holy...ARE THEY SERIOUS?
2. CNY fact of the day: So today, the halfway point of CNY, is "The Birthday of Mankind." However, as I can't ever remember that, I just call it "Everybody's birthday." And the lovely and talented Evelyn Kang gave me the tip today that, on this day, you are supposed to buy long pants, as the longer the pants are, the quicker you'll become rich. Whilst fascinating, there is a fundamental problem here. I'm just about the third tallest person on this island, and all of the pants in the stores look like clam diggers on me. The longest pants I can buy MIGHT cover my calf. Oh well, good thing I'm a cheap bastard.
And so, let's kick off Vietnam Part 2 - our first day tour of the country...
So we woke up about 7:45 on Friday and were picked up by our guid for an all-day excursion to Cai Dao and Cu Chi. Cai Dao is this religious sect that has their HQ near Saigon, and Cu Chi is the location where the Vietcong had lots of underground tunnels during the war. And whilst the experiences were VASTLY different, there was one thing in commong - THE MISERABLE DRIVE TO EACH LOCATION.
So when I booked this trip, I reasoned that it would be a lot of time at each site. After all, it was only 49 miles to Cai Dao, and then you come 25 miles closer to get to Cu Chi. OH NO, BABY. That's not how traffic rolls in Saigon. A few key points:
1. Even if you had a Maseratti, the speed limit ON THE INTERSTATE is 50 km (31 mph) an hour. That's going FLAT OUT.
2. You can never GO FLAT OUT because there are only 2 lanes - one for oversized buses that are all breaking down, and one for the 145 BILLION MOTOR SCOOTERS ON THE ROAD.
3. The lanes don't really exist. There is a white strip on the ground, but no one has any idea what it's for.
4. Side note - the seats in this bus were built for elves, and since Jenny and I got picked up last, we didn't even get to sit together. Translation - I WAS LAYING ON TOP OF SOME THAI CHICK WHO SPOKE NO ENGLISH FOR ABOUT 12 HOURS. Good times...
So our tour guide spoke reasonable English, which is why I heard him say "Our 60 mile drive will take 3 hours today, but you'll get to the church in time to see service. Services start tomorrow."
Totally confused, I look at Jenny with the face that she recognizes as "Sam just spent money to see a church service that isn't happening - he might kill this dude." However, we soon realized that he got his English words confused and meant "Services started yesterday." Lucky him...
He also had the classic statement of "We will make a bathroom break so you can release your trouble." We all chuckled. But then he followed it up with "After you make peepee, we continue on." Really? Did you learn English from a teletubby video?
So Cai Dao was, in a word, bizarre. For starters, it was billed as "the most colorful celebration in Vietnam." If that's the case, they might want to invest in more crayons. I mean, yes - there were some dudes and chicks dressed in red, yellow, and blue, but most cats were in white. All the same, it was cool to watch them process in chanting whilst some cat in the front pounded on a gong like it was his job (which, in retrospect, I guess it was, so good for him).
The service isn't too impressive. They all sit on the floor chanting whilst a small group of cats in the back does some singing. It was weird because all these tourists were just gathered in the row above snapping photos, which I have to think these guys and gals found annoying. The worst instance was when one of the worshippers was sitting on the floor prior to going into the temple only to have some DONKEY American put his camera right in his face and say,"Hello!?! HE-LLO!!!!!" The worshipper finally looked up, only to be blinded by the flash from the man's camera. We're nothing if not a classy nation.
The service took about 30 minutes, and I am glad that we went. The decorations were cool, and hearing the music was very interesting. But I simply must comment about their beliefs. Now, I know that I believe in some crazy stuff (translation - ROSWELL DID HAPPEN! Trust me, mom!), but the 3 saints of this religion? It's an interesting list:
1. Sun Yat Zen - Yes, the same cat who wrote "The Art of War." Interesting...
2. Victor Hugo - YES, the SAME CAT WHO WROTE LES MISERABLES. Incidentally, he's the patron saint of creative missions abroad. Not really sure what else to say about that one, other than WOW.
3. Some Vietnamese Poet - that one I can get behind, so I guess 1 out of 3 ain't bad.
After the service, we rolled over to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which was one of the neater things that we did the entire trip. Now again, not too wax philosophical, but I think this place would be VERY difficult to walk through if you'd actually fought here. Not only is the propaganda THICK all over the place, but the National Defense Sport Shooting Range is located here, and so the ENTIRE TIME you're walking through this forest, you hear shooting in the background. And we're not talking pellet guns. We're talking AK-47 (FULL...METAL...JACKET...), M-160 machine guns, the works. And NO - in case anyone's curious, I did NOT fire anything. After all, Hitman - bullets are normally cheaper than animals, but not in this case!
So you start the tour with a video from 1967 sponsored by the Russians, performed by the Vietnamese, and for the English speaking world. It shows the VC who fought in the tunnels, giving their backstory. Again, it was pretty ANTI-AMERICAN. Case in point (this is pretty much word for word):
"This is Lee Liu. She is 16, but she always fights with the men. The American enemy killed her father, and so she is now fighting the American enemy. She has won 3 medals, including":
1. Killing soldiers of the American enemy
2. Destroying tanks of the American enemy
3. Fighting back against the American enemy (not sure how that's NOT already covered in 1 and 2, but whatever)
This went on for about 15 minutes, and it was...interesting. I will say that the tunnels themselves were FASCINATING. They were 3 levels deep, complete with kitchens, hospitals, and even an underwater exit. It really was amazing. As to the size of the openings? Check out this photo. Tell me that muffin puffin isn't the cutest thing EVER in her little hideout?
We also saw some of the traps (quite viscious), and as a highlight - we actually got to go through one of the tunnels! KO - you were right - those things were PITCH BLACK for 100 meters, and my back and knees were pretty much broken. Honestly, it was about 16 TRILLION degrees down there, and when I found out that they'd actually WIDENED them for Western visitors, I was shocked. Seriously, you just can't imagine how tiny these were. I mean, check me out trying to fit in (I made it, for the record - but just barely...)
After the tunnels, we rolled home, where we found an AMAZING place to eat. MAD PROPS to Perfect Pumpkin for finding this place. Here's the deal:
1. You pick your meat, which comes out RAW, rubbed in garlic, and marinated in soy sauce. We picked beef, ostrich, and crocodile (just like the kind Lynda Grimshaw buys in the supermarket in South Africa).
2. They bring a flaming BBQ stand to your table, and you go CRAZY cooking.
3. You wash it all down with...wait for it...wait for it...FIFTY CENT BEERS, BABY!!!!! BOOYAH!!!!! It was heaven in a 12 ounce bottle! WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!! I have no lie to tell - we put on a CLINIC, and they never knew what hit 'em.
We then wandered down the main square, where we climbed this MEGA PYRAMID OF FLOWERS, offering a GREAT view of City Hall. True, we were the only cats without children on the walk, but hey - details...
Lastly, we hit up a cafe for 3 dollar mojitos (I managed a Long Island as well) - MAN, how have I missed cheap booze (don't worry mom - no Tubes to worry about :-)).
After that it was lights out, as we had another early call. THAT, however, will just have to wait until tomorrow.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny