Friday, December 28, 2012

Day 4 - Return to Civilization

My day began bright and early attempting to charter a boat down the Mekong River to see the floating markets of Cai Rang. After my midnight voyage to my hotel yesterday, I'm harboring blood blisters on the bottoms of my feet, so my patience to seek out the right boat is wearing thin. It's also especially difficult as a solo traveler, but I manage, even though its a more expensive option.

So I'm on my boat, all alone, with my boat driver who is chain-smoking cigarettes and throwing the refuse in the river. I see people living, sleeping on tiny skiffs that are being tossed about by the waves, barge dogs yawning as their owners ise heavy machinery to unload several tons-worth of dirt from their ships, locals readying for their own trip down river, balancing on the ridges of their boats on their tiptoes, veritable shanty towns lining the river, made of particle board and tin siding, with these eventually giving way to full-on tent cities growing up out of the dirt.

The actual market is fascinating, in its own right. The boats range in size from tiny skiffs operated by a glorified weed whacker to full-on house boats, with children and puppies weaving amongst the produce to be sold or traded. There are two types of sellers - those geared toward the tourists and those geared toward the locals. The tourist boats hawk drinks, some food. I saw one boat's operator cooking chicken satay over an open flame. The local boats have all kinds of produce, meant to be sold or traded in bulk. Pineapples, durian, onions, watermelon, and many whose shapes and sizes I've never seen before.

Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures, but while I was floating through this place, I got to thinking and watching all those tourists with their giant telescopic lenses, and only hoping that the money I "overspent" will get returned to the local economy here so that these people might not be exploited as curios from "The Orient."

I was somewhat in a rush to get back to Ho Chi Minh City. Can Tho, while beautiful and exotic, was like Thebes, as portrayed in my favorite Disney movie of all time, Hercules - before Herc shows up and goes all "Who Put the Glad in Gladiator" on everybody and their mythic monsters. So I bought my ticket dirt cheap through Can Tho Tourist, which happened to be right next to my budget hotel (read: dirt cheap) and they provided transport to the bus station.

Even though I've found such matters to always be chaotic, I was much more at ease this time around because I knew what to expect. I must've shown it, too, because a woman nearby was asking if anyone spoke English. I told her I did, even though my knowledge of Vietnamese matters is woeful.

"Where are you headed?"
"Saigon," I say.
"What's going on, is this where we wait for the bus?" She asked me.
"Oh, yeah, the bus will pull up right here, it'll be orange and it'll say 'Can Tho to Saigon' on the side. You won't be able to miss it."
(It was just lucky that I turned out to be right, considering this was neither the same bus station I got dropped off nor the same organization I bought my ticket through, but see, what's important here is I was right.)

So the bus shows up, as predicted. Everyone gets on, all the foreigners, too, but not me because my agency booked me the bus fifteen minutes later. The woman's husband, who seems to be putting off boarding until the last possible moment, sidles up to me and asks where I'm from.
"Arizona," I tell him. "But I'm living in Korea right now."
"You really seem to know your way around Asia," he says in what is the biggest compliment ever considering I know, like, nothing. He hopped on his bus, I hopped on mine and got to enjoy four hours of sitar-playing, Vietpop and the ever-present honking of my bus' horn.

Once we arrived in Saigon, predictably all the moto and taxi drivers started shouting at me, trying to get a fare. I approach one guy, who quotes me five times the regular price. I try to negotiate with his, but we're not exactly speaking the same language here. Someone comes along to help. He says "100," I say it's to expensive. So then he jumps down to twenty, which is the usual asking price, so I jump on it.

Before getting on the bike, he insists on carrying my shoulder back with him. It makes me uneasy that he's just going to drive off with it, and although there's no money in the bag, it has my winter coat. And like, I am REALLy going to be needing that winter coat once I get to Korea. So I'm uneasy this whole time. And once it's time to get dropped off, I figure out why. He says I owe him 80. Instead of arguing the point, I let it go. It's four bucks and I'm not exactly starving here.

Then it's time to find my hotel! Oh, the Ly. I walked in and I was happiness! Cheap, small but cool and QUIET rooms. You have no idea what a relief it was to find this place. After that, I zonked, waking up in time do some serious shopping damage at the night market.


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