Wednesday, 27 December 2017

SAIGON AGAIN

13th - 26th Dec 2017


Ho Ho Ho! Christmas Greetings!
Back to Ho Chi Minh City. Not much of the cityscape has changed here so I will not be adding many photos as I have already covered most sights of interest in previous blogs (Mar/Apr 2012, Dec/Jan 2015, Dec 2016).

Something I forgot to mention from the Phuket notes. The 'in' T shirt logos this season out here are 'Anti Social Social Club' (popular with the Japanese) and another I particularly like is; 'Adventure before Dementia'. I tried to find one of these, but failed. This would be a much more appropriate title for my journal.
Also the obligatory greeting of "yoowontaxee" at every street corner is usually followed up by "where you go?". However well meant, this, at first, would appear to be a rather intrusive enquiry. One's  initial reaction is to say "mind your own business", but on second thoughts it is perhaps a very pertinent philosophical question. Something I often ask myself in fact. I occasionally answered at great length  much to the bemusement and irritation of an eventually thoroughly bored taxi driver. They should be careful who they ask.

Regarding Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as it is still often called but which I take to refer to the original French city centre), there are always some ongoing changes, most noticeably the ever increasing number of cars, especially taxis, on the streets. This place is designed for scooters and bicycles, not cars, and as a result major traffic jams ensue. In conjunction with Japanese investors, a metro system is being built, east-west, across the city. This, when finished, will bring about a major improvement but in the meanwhile much of the centre is fenced off and under construction with resulting further traffic and pedestrian congestion.

They are also becoming much keener on the 'Christmas Model'. More and more polystyrene snow, Father Christmases, Christmas trees and tinsel are in evidence. 'We wiss yoo a Merrykeesmah', 'Frarsty the Snowman' amd 'Jinger Bens' are now loudly ringing out of every shop, hotel and restaurant. The staff in most hotels and restaurants all wear Santa Claus hats or reindeer antlers, even in the smartest places like the Sheraton Hotel (left). This is not 'Christmas' to them, it is one word 'merrykeesmah' which they all wish you at every opportunity, with gusto.


There is a Christian community in Vietnam, but most of the locals haven't the vaguest idea what Christmas is really all about and 99.9% have never even seen snow. A 'One Horse Open Sleigh' to them might just as well be a Mars Landing Vehicle and as for reindeer, wise men and 'decking halls with boughs of holly'; you might just as well be speaking in Martian. But who cares, it is a great excuse for a noisy party (and good business) which they so love. Trying to explain it all in a comprehensible way is like trying to explain the rules of cricket to an American. I have trouble understanding it myself sometimes! (not cricket, of course, at which we appear to be being soundly thrashed at the moment by the Aussies).






One of my favourite haunts was, and still is, the 'Saigon Saigon' rooftop bar in the Caravelle Hotel in Lam Son Square. It has always featured an excellent Cuban band with singers and dancers (six days a week; 9.00pm until 1.30am). The bands have changed over the years, but always Cuban with Salsa and Samba etc. and they manage to get lots of people up to dance. Not me, of course.
Left: This well dressed young lady Samba'd, and posed, amongst the customers with great panache.

Referring back to my Cuban blogs; I asked them how they managed to get out of Cuba. Restricted work permits, I was told...to advertise Cuba, and I think Vietnam has quite a cosy relationship with Cuba. And they do it rather well.






Right: An original design for a Christmas tree made out of peasant style Vietnamese hats.



Left: I hadn't seen this before, a large junk called The Eliza converted into a retaurant/hotel on the bank of the Saigon River.

Right: A 'Santa's Grotto' in the Caravelle. Taken late at night and Santa was off duty.

















I ate and drank merrily, if unwisely. Christmas eve was spent with friends at a top class French  restaurant in the south-eastern Tau Dien area. It is called 'Les Trois Gourmands' and is owned and run with a rod of iron by an old friend, Mme Phuong, who was married to the Frenchman, Gils Broux, a sommelier originally from Nice, who started it many years ago. Gils sadly died a couple of years ago but it has maintained his high standards of food and service. They have kept the same talented head chef, Sep, for at least 15 years They do a very comprehensive and delicious dinner menu. It is not cheap, but I mention it in case any of you happen to want a smart place to eat when visiting Saigon.
Talking of eating to excess and fitness, the Vietnamese take their exercise regime seriously. On the rare occasions I was up and about by 6.00am I saw the usual sight of parks filled with groups and individuals doing their 'exercises' before going to work. The parks are all kitted out with torturous looking exercise machinery and lots of groups doing Tai Chi and elaborate dance cum fighting drills with staves and imitation swords or, (right) fans. It is quite an impressive sight; not something that you would see in British parks!


So, having had a rather debauched time in Saigon I now go back to Thailand where I intend to head north to Chiang Mai for a more sensible period of healthy eating and a bit of exercise myself. My trousers are feeling very tight and I need to shift a few pounds. Here's hoping! 

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