I received an email today from a friend I made in Bangkok. Bruce is the gentleman that explained to me the metamorphisis I was experiencing by transforming from a tourist to a traveller. He is a true gentleman and quickly supplied me the most useful information I would ever receive when I arrived in Bangkok. Geez, that seems so long ago. My friend, Bruce, is an inspiration. Bruce, if you’re reading this: I hope your return to New York is just a quick recharge and you’re back on the road again soon. Bruce, you may have 20 plus years on me, but you’re my inspiration, I can’t wait until the “old boy” rides again.
Bruce Fogel wrote:
Beyond the parks, palaces and pagodas…
Beyond the buffets, markets and temples…
Beyond viewing, visiting and photography…
Beyond eating, bargaining and meditating…
It has all blended into a blur, delightful, but a blur never the less after years of roaming around SE Asia The travel allure, and constant that keeps changing of course, is the street scene. During the past week in Saigon is a perfect example. Monday morning, an ancient wrinkled pushcart cabbage peddler with two adorable twin granddaughters (or even great granddaughters) about 2 years old, rumbles noisily down the street. One kid is using the weighing scale basket as her seat of choice, with the weight pointer bouncing around erratically; the other kid sleeps serenely on her crib of cabbages.
Tuesday noon, two Buddhist nuns in grey ankle length habits, doff conical straw hats from their shaved heads, to don motorcycle helmets as they sit sidesaddle on a motorbike taxi off on their mission…or where ever nuns go at lunchtime.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a blackened bicycle charcoal seller, picks up his young bespectacled son from nursery school, flinging a plastic poncho over his pristine white shirt and blue shorts, before popping him into the back of the charcoal wagon; where upon the kid opens a small plastic bag, removing a lidded plastic bowl and chopsticks…to finish his lunch noodles, Ben Hur alfresco style.
Thursday evening rush hour traffic, two very inebriated peanut vendors are wobbling erratically on their bicycle, and promptly fall off, spilling their trays of nuts all over the cycle lanes. Staggering frantically to hand sweep their peanuts from the roadway before having their nuts and livelihood crushed by the oncoming traffic. Mission successful, when traffic signal changed, crossed roadway…not a single peanut was lost.
On the first Friday of the month, Fanny, HCMC premium ice cream parlour hosts a $5.00, four hour ‘all you can eat’ dessert buffet, consisting of sour-sap foam, passion fruit punch, flans, crepes, fruit platters, oreos, wafers, and of course their 32 flavors of of ice cream with myriad toppings including splashes of Baileys and green creme de menthe. The event resembles a very laid-back (shorts and T-shirts) international cocktail party. Attracting 300/400, evenly divided, VN and tourists; most patrons stay an hour or so, til satiated…or sick. Favorites were the hot flan with toffee sauce topped with macadamia nut ice cream and a dab of hot chocolate; did manage to sample all the remaining 31 flavors.
Walking back to hotel, there was a gathering applauding a street performer wildly swinging two quart pails of water…attached to his eyelids! A sunny Saturday afternoon brought out a dozen or so young kids, along the shallows of the Saigon River with fish nets to ensnare minnows…and fallen leaves. Sport fishing? No, probably dinner. Every Sunday morning gathers a couple hundred boys and girls for their weekly scout troop activities at a sports park in back of the Reunification Palace. Knot tying, semaphore signaling and making ‘gimp’ lanyards are still practiced, along with relay, 3-legged races, jumping rope blindfolded and the usual unofficial games of head bopping, ass whacking and ‘nuggies.’ Refreshments served, for this occasion, stir-fried corn and crab apples.
The daily activities of people act as the thread that make up the fabric of life in a city…cute bridegrooms with ugly-as-sin brides, pose in the gardens of Notre Dame Cathedral…arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, marriages made in heaven, who knows? The ubiquitous itinerant lady ice tea vendors ply the parks, carrying recycling beyond the plastic cups and straws; the more mecurial even reconstituting the dregs of tea and ice into the next servings…keeps cost down, profit margin up. The teenager on crutches with withered legs drags himself up the swimming pool steps, eases into the water and propels himself gracefully with measured strokes using powerful shoulders and arms. The little guy who gets off his motor scooter each evening with propane hot plate, fry pan, bucket of eggs and cooking oil, sets up his business on a street corner sidewalk adjacent to a fire hydrant in front of a couple of bars, providing a much needed absorbent for drinkers or anyone else who cares to patronize this ‘sidewalk scrambler.’
Van Laach, a very upscale, innovative German shirt shop has recently appeared on the scene in the midst of the 5-star hotel district on Dong Khoi. Ready made start @ $200 US. Boniva, a great Belgium chocolate maker presents each piece individually on a gold tray like a rare jewel, has moved to the Ben Thanh Market neighborhood. There is a noticeable light sprinkling this year of Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maybach and Lamborghini motor cars that was not evident in previous years. Wonder what Uncle Ho would think of his progeny ‘tooling round’ in this fleet?
Leaving for a second visit to Phu Quoc Island, off the SW coast of VN in the Gulf of Thailand tomorrow…great sunsets and calamari…a few days later, China, and then homeward bound. Bruce, the old boy himself