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Poke in the ribs

Phnom Phen, Cambodia->HCMC, Vietnam
12/4/07

Alex & I woke up before the crack of dawn to catch our bus. Downstairs, we woke up everyone working at the Sunday guesthouse since they all slept on the floor or couches in the lobby. As they opened the gate for us, we were able to buy bread for our breakfast from 1 of the vendors selling to the guesthouse. A small shuttle bus picked us up and drove to a few other guesthouses to pick up other guests.

Alex per usual was worried about having food. He forgets there is always someone selling food. As we got out of the shuttle bus to hop on the bus we were swarmed with women selling baguettes, juice, coffee and water. Coffee? Water? Yes, please! Along the way, our bus provided water and yogurt drinks. I still was carrying the oranges we bought from the morning market in Aranyaprathet the previous day. There was no chance of starvation.

The paved road to Vietnam was a stark contrast to the previous day. The landscape was more green & less dust. At one point, we had to cross a river by ferry. The river was not extremely wide, half the width of the Mississippi. There could have been easily a bridge constructed here. The craziest part of the ride was the ferry it transported 2 buses, a semi-truck, 10 cars and several motorbikes on a built out barge. For those of you wonder why there are signs in buildings, elevators, etc about capacity, this is a good reason why the faux ferry was overloaded. The crossing took less than 5 minutes. It took much longer to onboard and offload.

The saddest part of the crossing was when I tried to get off the bus to stretch my legs and take in the view. I was poked in the ribs by a little beggar girl who had stumps instead of hands. Obviously, she had fallen victim to one of many UXO (unexploded ordinances) still strewn about the country. This freaked me out. I jumped back on the bus and returned to my seat. As I looked out the window, the girl was sadly looking at me. I felt like a horrible person for not giving her any money. Soon I realized she was not looking at me but she was looking at her reflection. As she looked at herself, she started fixing her hair using her stumps. The girl was really pretty but her beauty was overshadowed by her melancholy. As the vehicles started to offload, I could not help but give the girl a few dollars and the barrette Angela gave to me.

Seeing the begging children, beautiful little stumped girl, mixed with reading about Cambodia and Vietnam’s history made me angry. While September 11th was tragic, it makes me sick to think it was used to justify 2 wars. What would be the total cost of life and destruction? People in power nor those urging the leaders to take military action think of the consequences of declaring war on a distant land. Innocent people including children pay the price years to come.

The crossing into Vietnam was swift. Our bus “concierge” collected our passports and paperwork. He handled everything for us. All we had to do was get off the bus with our bags, put them through the x-ray and then hop back on. It was much more efficient than our Malaysia-Singapore crossing.

Like yesterday, I was amazed how much difference a border can make. The scenery changed almost instantly upon entering Vietnam. There was no more trash. The highways were more orderly, comparatively speaking. All the signs were now Vietnamese.

Ho Chi Mihn City aka Saigon was totally different than what I had pictured but not dramatically different from other places travelled thus far in Asia. The keys differences was seeing Roman script again and more French influenced elements. Saigon reminded me of Paris, DC and Tokyo but with more grit.

Getting off the bus, plenty of touts tried to get us into their taxis. One guy kindly offered to put the meter on or charge us the equivalent of $10. Alex generously offered to pay him $2. The man walked off. Our target guesthouse was only a few blocks away. A persistent cyclo driver tried to guess where I was from. It took him 15 guesses. How is it that no one seems to guess I am from The States? He then showed us his resume, a journal with other tourist’s testimonials to try to get us to hire him for the following day. When that did not work, he tried to use the war as a sympathy card. We said goodbye and kept walking. Son, our new friend, followed us and took his post next to our guesthouse.

We checked out a few places before checking into Yellow House. The room was large with high ceilings with a bathroom, refrigerator, TV and a balcony overlooking the street below. For the price, we were getting way more than what we did in Thailand.

Both of us were exhausted. We tried our 1st cup of Vietnamese coffee. Despite getting in a shot of java, within 20 minutes I crashed into a serious power nap.

At sunset, Alex & I explored. It was rush hour or perhaps the traffic is ridiculous all the time. Like Cambodia, scooters were everywhere but they kept off the sidewalks. The night market was just setting up as we made our 1st pass through it. A few blocks from the market, we found a place serving noodle soup. I was happy until I discovered it was made with entrails.

Despite the chaotic traffic, it felt like we were walking the streets of Paris. Enormous trees lined the roads looking as though they had been around for the past 100 years. The rings of trees can tell the age. I wondered what stories the trees would tell if they could speak considering all the conflict they’ve made it through.

Our 2nd pass through the market was bustling with activity. We found a lady selling durian and had a few pieces for dessert. Time to call it a night. Well, after drinking 2 Bia Saigon beers on our balcony.

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