Our first full day in Ho Chi Minh City brought about soul searching and unhappiness. But we’ll get to that.
Before I say anything else, I want to apologize for not using tonal markers anywhere in this blog post. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to write them. We did try to learn some Vietnamese today, and it turns out that tones can be the difference between things like “ghost”, “rice paddy”, and “lemon.” So… I guess I’m apologizing for being from North America. Sorry!
First off, we woke up, walked to Ben Thanh Marketplace, and had some soups for breakfast. They were pho-like, but not exactly pho… anyway they were overpriced (even for the tourist area), and we had our first angry run-in with a shopowner. We used some wet wipes that she offered to us at the end of the meal, and then she tried to charge us for them, 5000 dong each! That’s only 25 cents US, but the soups themselves were only 40,000 dong ($2), and we felt that she had slighted us and was lying that they cost anything. So we walked out. (We didn’t hear from her again, so apparently she wasn’t too upset.)
From there we went to a series of museums: the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the Independence Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The City museum included a lot of stories about how HCMC is an important place to Vietnam, and how it used to be (people making various kinds of tools to farm, etc.). It was located in the former house of an official, and as such it included a basement secure room in which he could hide during the war. There were also many artifacts from the Vietnam war, but not really of the sort you would expect. There was a mortar and pestle which were labelled as having been used by the resistance to make cake frosting for important occasions. The collection of objects was just so strange, and they were so oddly labelled, that Evan and I had a difficult time figuring out what the larger story of the museum was supposed to be. A few boards gave two-paragraph settings of the history of the objects in the room, but mostly we had to puzzle it out for ourselves using labels like “The microphone used by Ho Chi Minh to declare independence on September 2, 1954 (replica)”.
The palace had some old tanks and fighter jets displayed on the lawn, and they offered guided tours. Due to a mishap of clock-setting, we didn’t get to do any of the tours, but instead had lunch. Thusly bummed, we played on some of the fascinating playground equipment (think of those big twirling circular swing rides at fairs, but with balls on ropes instead of swings) to cheer ourselves up.
We wandered down to the zoo, decided we didn’t really want to see it, and happened across a free geological museum. We poked through their samples, then headed on our way to the Ho Chi Minh museum, which is about the life of Ho Chi Minh (former president of Vietnam, the man for whom HCMC is named).
It was deliciously propagandous, and we enjoyed reeling from culture shock. Every exhibit was either about how Ho Chi Minh and his peers had worked to bring the light of Communism to Vietnam or about how nice a guy he was (here’s Ho Chi Minh with second-graders, here’s Ho Chi Minh feeding the poor, here’s Ho Chi Minh taking out trash for senior citizens). We again became depressed about our trip, and how it seems to so far be us being shuttled around to different touristic destinations and fed information about countries.
This hasn’t at all been our bike trip! We don’t have the freedom to go where we want; instead we’re stuck waiting on timetables and flights and the like, and the prices we’re charged are dependent wholly on how kind the city centres are. We decided that the only cure is to get ourselves some kind of agency in this whole process, a way to move around : a motorbike! Thus resolved, we set out from the museum, flying past the last exhibits, and home to rinse off (we rinse off 3x a day here, just because we are seemingly eternally sweaty).
We had dinner at a vegetarian place recommended by Wikitravel, which was delicious, and headed out to the honorary Czech consulate—a brewery called Hoa Vien. Before we made it, we strolled through the park near our hotel, and we saw some kind of martial arts club practicing. Their fabulous push ups, dive rolls, and general athleticism made us feel our growing pudge ashamedly, and we vowed to get back on the horse and start exercising in earnest again.
We did eventually make it to Hoa Vien, after convincing ourselves to go down an alleyway. It looked sketchy at first glance, but upon discovering that there was a BMW parked down it, we decided that it was probably just fine to walk there.Hoa Vien’s dark beer was really tasty, and the owner came out to thank us for stopping by and ask how we liked the beer. It didn’t seem to be the kind of place frequented by big dumb white people. We told him that we loved it, and he gave us some keychains.
Tomorrow, our last touristic things in Vietnam. The next day, a scooter!