Sunday, September 11, 2016

rainy season.

Street art. I believe that sign says something along the lines of making sure you lock up your vehicle lest it gets stolen. Or something like that.


Streetwise.

Arrived at my new client’s, dropped off my grocery bags in the kitchen and told him I still had a few more errands to run for dinner that night. “That’s fine”, he said. “Our housekeeper can take you on her bike if you want so you don’t have to go on foot”.  He asked Mrs. Lien if she wouldn’t mind driving me to the markets. “Ham Nghi?”, she asked (Ham Nghi street is where the two international stores are located. “Yes”, I said, “And around the corner on Ton That Dam to the street market for vegetables”. “Ok, we go now”.  

Though I’ve lived in Saigon for one year, I am still too chickenshit to get behind the handlebars of a motorbike. Which is pretty stupid, I’ll admit. Most of my expat friends drive. After all, I learned how to drive in France, and from what I gather there’s not much difference in the way the Vietnamese and French drive.  I drove my mom’s car four years ago on a two lane road along the Mediterranean, and though there were some hairy moments (I’d forgotten that there are no stop signs in France so people merge willy nilly and flip you off for not letting them cut in front of you), I managed just fine.  And in Vietnam, sure, there are laws and rules, but few follow them. Cops waving you down mean nothing; just smile and keep driving, is what a Vietnamese friend told me. After all, they’re not going to come after you (unless they're the cops dressed in all black - those are the serious Take No Prisoners/Take No Shit cops; you do what they say).  Sidewalks are not meant for pedestrians, they’re for motorbike riding and parking. One way streets? No such thing to some drivers, even if that sign says you can’t drive in that direction.  Wrong way drivers tend to hug the curb, so if you’re on foot crossing a one way street, always look in both directions or you’ll get plowed down.  But on the plus side, most of the time your glare will be reciprocated with a smile and a “Sorry!” in English. 

So I hopped on the back of Mrs Lien’s bike and she was off… and immediately scooted at top speed down a sidewalk, pedestrians jumping out of her way. Next onto a one way street going the opposite direction, with a bus headed straight for us and various honking taxis. Rain hit me hard in the face and I got scared. My arms tensed as I reached back and attempted to grip the seat behind me and hoped for the best. Somehow or another, Mrs Lien managed to dexterously maneuver her machine through rainy day traffic, and blatantly ignore the honking and other drivers.  At one point on our adventure, she came across a wall of motorbike drivers, all driving the proper direction. When our way was blocked, she stopped her bike and proceeded to loudly berate one of the drivers (at least, that’s what I think she was doing) until he sheepishly backed his bike out of our way and let us through. I’ve never been so fucking scared in my life as she raced right smack down the middle of the street, ignoring a bus headed straight for us, horn honking so loudly that I went deaf for a minute. I have no idea how she managed to skirt around the bus without smashing into it into head on. When she finally came to a stop back at our client’s place, she was laughing. Jesus, I thought, did she do that on purpose to scare me?

In the hands of the Motorbike Gods.


Tricky tiles.

Saigon’s sidewalks are for the most part paved with one kind of tile. There are exceptions, like granite in some of the high tourist areas, and I noticed a few streets in Go Vap when I lived there where the tile was different; but I’d wager a guess to say that 90% of the sidewalk tiles that i’ve seen in the city are the same and manufactured by the same company. Whoever owns that company must make bank. Due to my firsthand knowledge that sidewalks are alternate routes for motorbike drivers, I've noticed the tiles are often broken.  No sidewalk is flat (this also has to do with tree roots growing underneath).  Sometimes the tiles get fixed, though not as quickly as we’d like. There was an article a few months back stating that a lot of main thoroughfares in District 1 would have their sidewalks repaved starting in the next month or two; my street was on that list.  It’s now mid-September and I’ve yet to see any construction.  During rainy season, water gets underneath the broken tiles, so if you walk everywhere (like I do), occasionally you’ll come across one in your travels and once you step on it, the water gushes upwards and splashes your leg.  I ruined a good pair of heels this way (lesson learned: never wear heels on the sidewalks here, also see above about them not being level and with me being a klutz, I’ve tripped and fallen quite a bit).  I call these tiles “tricky tiles”.  On familiar walks, I know exactly where the tricky tile is and I try to avoid it, but sometimes one must accept Tricky Tile Fate because I hit at least one new one per day.

Rainy day in Saigon. Is that a sidewalk, you ask? No. It's a BOOBY TRAP.


Lazy rainy Sundays.

There's a growing craft beer movement in Saigon, which is pretty exciting for us residents.  Not that there is anything wrong with the local Bia Saigon (or Bia Hanoi, or Tiger, or Larue, etc).  Sometimes you just want a taste of home, like a good hoppy IPA.  A half dozen or so craft breweries have popped up here in the past year or two, creating American-style beers using local ingredients.  BiaCraft, a taproom, showcases all of the brands including their own brews.  Up until now, BiaCraft's only location was in District 2, but this week they opened a new location in District 3 near my house.  So while I started a big vat of chicken stock not to be disturbed on the stove for a few hours, I went to check out the new place.  Ensconced on the patio with a cold beverage watching the rain come down, I watched two guys pull up on a motorbike, one of them balancing two kegs on his knees.  Turns out they're the brewmasters from LAC Brewing, two guys from Portland, Oregon named Michael and Lucas, come to deliver more of their Devil's Lake IPA since BiaCraft had already run out at the new location (and it's only been opened for 4 days). 

I love this town.

Delivering the goods.