Sunday, June 17, 2007


We are in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)!

Last night we met some people traveling our same Delta flight and connecting through to HCMC as well. Talked briefly, and bumped into them a couple times on the way through Incheon airport. (The were flying coach, so they couldn't get into the lounge, or we might have talked more; we needed someplace a little less hectic for a little while tho.) It was a party of 6 - we talked to one woman about our age who was really excited for us, and an older man and woman. The man said they were from Virginia, but was obviously mostly (or all) Vietnamese. He spoke with a very interesting accent that was half Vietnamese, half Virginia drawl... I'm guessing he learned English there. He warned us to be especially wary of the children when we were on the streets - many of the street children survive by picking pockets apparently. Kind of a stark reminder of one reason why we are doing this in the first place.

Clearing Immigration and Customs was unexpectedly efficient and uneventful. Immigration just typed the info from our forms into the computer, checked the photos on our passports about 4 times, and stamped us. Then we claimed luggage and they just x-rayed it. I think the lady running the x-ray was mostly asleep... The hotel representative was right on time, even though we had landed early and had cleared customs in about 10 minutes, so his driver was not expecting us for another 20 minutes at least. He was nearby, so we didn't even have to wait much for that tho.

Not sure what to make of the air quality yet; the HCMC airport was very bad (smelled like a full out smoking lounge all the way through, although they had separated smoking rooms). One we got outside and into the car, we didn't notice as much, although several moped drivers were wearing surgical masks or bandannas. Those were by far the minority, but were frequent enough to be notable. The hotel seems fine, and the hotel restaurant is non-smoking. I wasn't really expecting there to be any sort of designation actually.

The drive was an interesting experience - probably 60% of the passengers travel by moped, with 2-3 people on each (one even had 4!). Children get the front seat, and learn very early (like 2 apparently) to hang on. (Picture here.) Road rules don't apply to the mopeds (including lane markers and one way streets!), and don't apply much more to cars. Everyone watches out for everyone else, and doesn't expect any more space than what their vehicle physically occupies. Not many traffic controls; in a 20 minute trip I think there were only 4 stoplights. Everyone just keeps moving fairly smoothly, probably averaging about 20 MPH, which is actually not bad considering that you have very little wait time for stoplights (and when considered opposed to home where you average 30-40 when you are moving, but have to stop for a light every 5 feet.)

First night was pretty uneventful. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got into the room (about 11:00p). We both showered and were asleep by 11:30p. The streets are crowded and noisy here, so the city noises were similar to NYC several years ago before they started enforcing horn restrictions (incessant honking, although the honking means much closer to "I'm here, watch out" rather than cursing at each other). When I woke up about 4:30a, all was silent tho. I'm not sure if HCMC has a curfew or not, but it was almost eerie considering what we had fallen asleep too.

The sun came up about 5:30a and I was awake... All in all, I got about 9 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, so that's not actually all bad considering.

We haven't left the hotel yet, but the city from our room looks totally different under daylight than it did last night. Nguyen Hue Boulevard is a tree lined street without a huge amount of traffic. I understand that we are more/less in the tourist district. The people at breakfast seemed to be about half Western looking, half Asian looking, so that would corroborate with us being in the tourist area. Didn't notice anyone else speaking English as language in choice in the whole restaurant (caught some German, and another Germanic language that wasn't German), which was a little interesting as well.

Breakfast at the hotel is buffet style, with Asian and Western commingled right side-by-side. (One steam tray had fried rice and noodles, the next one had bacon and sausage.) They also had a person making omelets, right next to a person making a made-to-order Vietnamese soup of some kind. The mix of cultures is pretty interesting.

When we got back from breakfast (about 9:00 or 9:15) there was already a note from our co-facilitator with original copies of the individual pictures we already had, and letting us know that we would not be going to the orphanage until Tuesday. I'm guessing this is because there is another couple coming on on Monday that is going to Vung Tau as well, as they are trying to get us on the same schedule. While understandable, it's still disappointing, as it is one more day delay and one more day of waiting here. Hopefully we don't wind up needing that day in order to beat the upcoming Independence Day holiday.

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