A couple of days ago, I got a friend request from this fairly attractive guy on the facebook. Soon I realized he was one those people who just added strangers. Fast forward... he invited me to go to a cafe.
I was getting bored in my Saigon home and decided to take that risk. Ironically, we chatted about not trusting Saigon boys earlier that day.
When he picked me up, he wasn't very talkative. He drove his motorbike down an alley and I paniced. "Um.. so is this where you live?"
"No, this is Cafe Nep. There's no other place in Saigon like this..."
He spoke to me in broken English, I spoke to him in broken Vietnamese. The hidden treasure had no sign and people who walk pass would immediately dismiss it. When we entered, I was in another world. The room was dim, the ceiling was high, the floor was checkerboard, there was air conditioning and about 30-40 people sitting at tables talking quietly (very UNvietnamesey). The room itself was small and divided into two sections. There was a piano, a violinist and a guitarist. People order drinks while they waited for the program to start.
"I know the owner," he said proudly. He had connections, you usually have to make reservations. "People come here when they want to get away from the busy life of Saigon. This is the place to relax and to think about nothing."
This adorable lady in her late 20s came out with a black dress with her shoulder exposed. She began to talk. I understood what she was saying...most of it. She talked about random things, she had charm. I felt like I was in San Francisco.
"...I am a tough owner... I lose a lot of waiters. But with every strict teacher comes a stronger student"
She began to sing a Vietnamese song and I fell in love. I was sitting very close to her. It was as if she were singing to me. I told the boy that I love her and in between songs he told her that I love her.
"well he needs to write his name down! You know, I am married, but that doesn't matter! There are all kinds of love!" Her charism was astounding. She talked to the audience as if she were speaking to them one on one.
She sang a couple of English songs: "Woman in Love" and a couple of others. Her prounciation was very good.
This place was romantic. This place was where I would fall in love. I talked to the boy about random things. He was growing on me even though he was a complete stranger.
"There's three types of attraction. 1. The type where you meet... you give them everything for one night and you never talk to them again. 2. The type where you love to look at them, but you're not their best friend. 3. The type where you want to be with them every second of everyday... the last one is real love."
I was suprised that I was capable of maintaining an intelligent converstaion.
"No one knows about me in Saigon. Only five people. You can't be so easy to expose yourself. Just give them a small percentage of who you are."
"That's my problem, I'm too trusting.. that's why I came out tonight.. I trust you."
"Well, you should only trust those who you really think are trustworthy."
His words began to become scripted and contradictory.
"When you go out, you shouldn't be so quick to pay. In Saigon, if someone asks you to go out... you let them pay because they invited you." Well he had no problem with me paying for our drinks at the cafe. In fact, he didn't even mention it. Even though he was the one who invited me. Maybe he was subtly pointing out my foolishness.
"A lot of girls like me. A lot of boys like me too. I'm very popular."
Yeah... The more he talked the less I liked him. He was playing a game with me. He had a motive.
I asked him if he had a boyfriend.
"I haven't found him yet, but when I talk to him... I will know."
"I don't believe in that... you have to get to know them first"
"...are you getting to know me? Do you like me?"
"...............uh....i don't know yet."
He was clearly playing a game. He was clearly saying things that people like to hear. He was telling me to be careful and not to trust anyone so that I think that he cares about me and I would easily give my trust to him. He was telling me he was very desirable to make me desire him too.
He was cunning.
He took me home and we agreed to meet again anyway. Why not? My cousin grilled me while I was on the toliet. WHO WAS THAT!? WHERED YOU MEET HIM!??!?! ON CHAT!?!?! DID HE PICK YOUR POCKET?!?!
I could only respond with... "Please stop yelling at me, I'm trying to shit."
I was getting annoyed, but my cousin was right. I could have gotten mugged or beaten up or left stranded. But I was thirsty for some sort of excitement.... danger.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
A couple of days ago, I got a friend request from this fairly attractive guy on the facebook. Soon I realized he was one those people who just added strangers. Fast forward... he invited me to go to a cafe.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I got a great haircut for 2 bucks. Sources tell me it's still too high. Psh. The guy was good.
I bought 3 dress shirts for 6 bucks total.
I found a decent pool!! And an awesome swim suit to go with it! Time to work the gut!
I experienced a flooding after a storm! A lot of the motorbikes shut off because the flooding, this caused a lot of traffic. Despite that, I ate GREAT pho in an alley way while I was ankle deep in dirty water.
I exchanged another $100 for VND at jewelry store (the rates are much better than at a hotel.) But I lost 33cents because it was an old bill. Apparent money loses value...
It finally happened!
I went to one of my great aunties place, the poorest one of the bunch and ate some food. She was talking about using old lady perfume to mask body odor on clothes. She even suggested using it on face cloths to feel refreshed. When I send gifts, I'm bringing Febreeze. OMG.
She offered me some green tea. She handed me a bottle. I got worried when I noticed the seal had already been broken. SHIT this is what my parents warned me about. But for SOME reason I drank it anyway. "Oh don't worry, we cook our own green tea." That's what I was scared of.
Okay, it was like clock work. In a matter of 2 minutes my body screamed bloody mary. That tea needed to go!!! I was in agony, but I was eating lunch and my great auntie keep putting food in my bowl. "We are like cars, we need a lot of gas to run." I responded, "but if you put too much it'd explode." I was quite rude to be frank, but my body would have none of it.
Finally, I asked for the bathroom.
Okay. So this bathroom, makes my cousin's electric chair toliet seem like a throne. First, they had three scary dogs jumping on the door trying to get in while I was trying to release. Second, there was no toliet seat, third the dirt ground was very wet. Fourth... I don't know it was just terrible. I made a video.
But I felt so much better and ate two more bowls to compensate for my rudeness.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I am overwhelmed.
The opportunities are endless in Vietnam. I did a facebook search on Berkeley kids in Vietnam and found some cool kids and HOT HOT resources!
Check this article out:
Younger, Nimbler, Cheaper: 'Halfpats' Are the New Expats
"Companies are basically saying to up-and-coming employees that they value international experience and young people are much more open-minded about it than in the past," says GMAC's Scott Sullivan. "In fact, they are often aggressively pursuing these opportunities, sometimes even at cost to themselves, or at least accepting much lower expat packages. They see it as a way to get experience and become more marketable."
The GMAC survey only reflects people who have actually been moved abroad by employers, but there is also an exploding population of "halfpats" -- people who travel on their own. Many of them end up getting onto a career track, even if they arrive overseas initially as students, interns or even backpackers.
Salaries record highest rise in five years
This is from the September 13, 2008 edition of The Saigon Times
Navigos Group, the leading recruiting and integrated human resource solutions provider in Vietnam, has released preliminary results of it Vietnam Salary Survery 2008 showing the average salaries this year have grown 19.5%, a five-year high.
The growth in salaries is much higher then in 2006 and 2007 when Vietnam's economy was rapidly growing but salaries increased by only 9% and 12.6% respectively.
The survey identifies that a number of companies have revised up salaries two to three times within a year to help their employees cope with high inflation and to retain them.
It results were based on the analysis of data gathered from more than 180 companies representing 15 major industries from April 2007 to March 2008. The tracked industries include manufacturing, finance, information technology, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), construction and engineering, hospitality and tourism, pharmaceutical, and chemical.
Navigos Group will organize a seminar on "How Competitive is Your Compensation Strategy?" for participants to discuss relevant issues, current trends and analysis from the final salary survey on September 23 in HCM City and September 25 in Hanoi.
Last month, the marketing and research firm TNS Vietnam released the Consumer Trends 2008 findings, showing that up to 95% of the consumers in Vietnam have been impacted by inflation but only one-third of them have seen their salaries rise. Ralf Matthaes, managing director of TNS Vietnam, said that the percentage of higher salary beneficiaries remained low but was understandable as most companies did salary reviews at the end or beginning of each year.
Am I being too ambitious? Am I too young and inexperienced? Would I be leaving too much behind if I persue this path?
What if I DO want to stay for a longer period of time? My plane ticket won't allow it, my Visa expires in Dec 20. WTF do i do?! Maybe take another break Nov.-Dec. and buy another plane ticket back in January?!
With an opening door comes more questions, concerns.... excitement.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
The internet is working and I'm going to take advantage of it by blogging a lot.
Nhau is awesome. Drink and eat!!! It's brilliant.
I tried new foods. Duck tongue, fried pig intestines and snail (Snell is a street by my house) in tamarind sauce!
Let's read the menu together:
My cousin's friends are hillarious!! This place is so ghetto! and by the dirty river. Oh man.
I'm starting to like iced Heineken. Remember kids, there is no drinking age!
You're not allowed to sip the beer by yourself. You must drink together and the amount you drink is by percentage. For instance, "I'm only going to drink 50%!!!" "No BITCH! DRINK 100% like all of us!!" Etc.
This girl was selling gum. She was so cute, but instead of buying her gum I told her to go to sleep and study hard. Is that cruel? Since she probably can't afford to go to school. Oops.
"Only in Vietnam."
A lot of the foreigners refer to shoddy craftsmanship, dangerously exposed electric cables or ghetto and illogical way of doing things as... "so Vietnamese."
Last night, when I was trying to turn on the light, I got electrocuted. Not badly, but enough to scare the shit out of me. There was a thunderstorm and I idiotically took a shower. 3 feet away from my body was an outlet. And in that outlet was a light bulb... sometimes it turns off when it "gets too wet." Something is wrong with this picture.
I took a popping class with my cousin and his friend last night at a community center. When I got off the bike before starting the class, I burnt my leg on the exhaust pipe. My cousin's friend referred this as my "Vietnamese mark."
The community center was "so Vietnamese." The hip hop classes/ballroom classes were held in this old French building that hasn't been renovated since the 70's; it was really run down- broken windows, chipped paint, water damage... like an abandoned building... but not abandoned at all. Though the tennis courts seemed brand new. In one room, there were break dancers and two hip hop classes. Three ghetto speakers were playing, 3 different song at the same time. I joked that maybe that's the reason why Vietnamese people can't find rhythm, but I soon ate my works when the breakers and poppers started to groove.
To my excitement, I found a pool and a cute shirtless boy to go with it. He told me that I could go swimming from 6am to 7pm for 65cent a day! My cousin advised against it, but I need to work out my body. I'm obese compared to everyone else; though the term "fat" seems to be embraced as a positive thing.
Things don't seem to last here. Fans, clothes, buildings... because they are poorly made or because of the conditions; everything seems to break down. That gets annoying.
It's only been a week and I've almost spent $100. Hmmm. On underwear, a bookbag, drinking, food, dance class, shirts, and gas. DANG! And I thought $100 was going to last me!
I guess I like to consume... and that's so Vietnamese.
I had dinner with an Italian expat. He teaches English at night and works on his business during the day. He's trying to get some Italian investors to come to Vietnam.
I was impressed when he ordered food. The waiter managed to understand the sounds made by the Italian's stiff tongue.
I like how foreigners are opened to making new friends. A new friend is a new resource. He gave me the HR contact for a school. I could become an substitute English teacher, but I'm not inspired. I'd rather tutor or teach swim lessons and my internship is full time. I could request part time, but this is very important to me.
After dinner I wandered the streets. All shops were opened.
"Labor is cheap and Vietnamese people like to be served..." stated my cousin.
In all clothing stores customers get approached, "what are you looking for?"
"I'm just looking around" the girl stared at the clothes I scanned. She stood one foot from my body. It's like every customer gets their own little servant girl.
"We have a lot of colors for that shirt" I nodded
Back in 2006, I hated it. I felt like they were watching me and I couldn't shop comfortably. But now I embrace the service.
I grabbed a shirt and put it against my body.
"That's very cute"
"thanks, could you fold this and put it away?" I handed the girl the shirt to distract her so that she doesn't say anything else.
she pulled out a shirt and said, "this one is REALLY CUTE!"
"UGH, THATS FREAKING UGLY!!"
And then I walked out of the store.
I did this to 6 different clothing stores.
Same thing over and over. They greet me, suggest something and I always end with: THAT'S UGLY! And walk out of the store without buying anything chuckling to myself. And they are. the things they pick out are really disgusting.
Sometimes, I find a girl that I like. They ask me none shopping questions like "where are you from?" I end up flirting with them. This one girl said my Vietnamese was cute. And I ended up buying a shirt from her. HAH!
At the end of the night I got three shirts: two giraffe shirts and a shirt for Mony. Aw.
I realized that if I like it, I should buy it right away because I may not be able to find it again.
Real stores: I went into a Converse store and they had American prices. It looked like a converse store.
Fake stores: A couple of stores sold American Eagle, Hollister, AH-BuH-Cuh-Bi and Fitch. Everything was at least 6 dollars, no more than 10. They looked/felt real, but who knows.
Vietnamese Brand Stores: Vietnamese clothing lines were also 6-10 dollars. The brands were alien to me, but the are common: NinoMax, Blue Exchange, Viet Thy, Sea are a couple of the big name brands that are scattered around the city. The rest are re-salers of other brands.
And then of course the market. (Think flee market. Where there are no price tags or dressing rooms, just piles of neatly folded clothes.) Each merchandiser gets about 5x5 feet of space, maybe more. From there, they stack it high! It is here that you have to bargain and the prices always double; triple if you don't look Vietnamese. Fuck that, I'm tired of bargaining even though I have yet to do it. Bargaining seems to be a tourist thing now. How exciting for them right? Locals know better. They too are tired of that shit.
But as more stores with price tags pop up, bargaining seems to be dying out... at the same time, it's a treasured custom, at least to foreigners.
There is no ONE place to shop. This is hard to explain. Think about your local downtown. Downtown Campbell, downtown Willow Glen, downtown Berkeley, Palo Alto. All those cute mom and pop shops that everyone loves. Yeah. Okay, now COVER the entire city with those shops and you have Saigon. I fuck you not.
If you live facing the street, you have a shop, otherwise you live in an alley. If you're not an entrepreneur, you rent out your space. I can start from my cousin's house and walk to the airport for 5 hours and do endless shopping/eating. It's ridiculous, they have EVERYTHING.
Seriously EVERYTHING, it's just a manner of looking. If you were to do a YELP for Saigon.. yeah there would be 203472380423048723807 entries.
But there is some organization. Some streets specialize in certain things. These are the streets I saw:
-Korean/Japanese Food (touristy area)
Why would you chose one store over another. Because you know the owner and can get a good price.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Today I had my interview with an international marketing, PR and brand development firm.
I was blown away when the boss described the internship, it was too good to be true. I will be working on a large project: a consumer study of the market place in Saigon. I will be researching who shops, why they shop and what they shop for.
The boss repeatedly told me that he was very interested in me because of the type of study that I did at Cal: Consumer Research.
If I perform well, if I enjoy the work and if they are hiring, I may extend my stay in Vietnam.
.... You don't understand how shocked I am.
I don't want to jinx it... at least not until i start working,(they have me working 9-6 in the downtown) but I think found something...
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Last night my cousin Hoa invited me to go Nhau.
Nhau is where you gather with your friends to drink beer (bia) and talk. Often you are eating random foods until early in the morning. Men are the one's who usually nhau while their wives are at home.
What they took me to was a Disco. A night club called Now, this is where I experienced the biggest culture shock ever! No pictures were allowed in the club, so we took some pictures outside. I've noticed that Vietnamese people, maybe Asian people like to include feet in their pictures. When we left, I took pictures with the cute doorman.
Inside there were about 30 waiters and waitresses eager to serve you in the impressively upscale nightclub. Maybe too eager. You are assigned a tall table and asked to order. Actually you were required to order. I just went with the flow and Hoa and his friends ordered 10 bottles of heiniken to split amoung four... because you get two free.. and it was actually the cheapest thing on the menu. OR we could buy a $60 bottle of something and split it. WTF! How can you afford this!?!
5 glasses were placed on the table with ice. I was confused and soon realized that the fifth glass was for the waiter. Apparently you invite your waiter friend to drink with you. This waiter was all up in our space as if we were best friends. We order a large fruit dish to eat with chili salt and Heineken and I must say, it was a brilliant combination. The waiter would take tooth picks and hand them to us. He might as well have feed them to me. Every time I took a sip from my iced beer, the waiter would refill it. If there was room, he would add more ice. I began to realize that he was our servant waiter. Unlike the US, customer service is a part of their job, not influenced by tips. Not tipping won't get you angry looks, but it seems like tipping, like expensive alcohol, are customs that are becoming norms in a country that's way ahead of itself.
I noticed the place start to get crowded around 10pm and a lot of people smoke inside. Large groups of youth popped in and started to dance to the international house music. I wasn't there to complain about the music, but I enjoyed it. The DJ was pretty good actually. At random moments the group of waiters would yell. "HEY!" to the beat of the song. It was ugly and amusing
My cousin Huy informed me that girls at a bar or night club would approach guys and talk to them.. dance with them, whatever. At the end of the night, the guys would give them money. They were paying for a good time. According to Huy, this is better than in the states because girls in the states take advantage of you, get a drink from you and then bounce. In Vietnam, it's systematic, you know what you're getting, there is no confusion, heart break... pride lost.
One of the waiters asked me if I was gay. Great. Can I not be in another country and be straight for once? I don't get it. Even in Vietnam they can smell me out. What is it!? But I think because my cousin probably is gay and the waiter thought I was gay with him. If homosexuality is genetic... I've learned that it runs down my mom's side. My cousin is into fashion.
According to Huy, gay people are aggressive. In fact, straight guys are scared of them. My cousin, who is tall and has a korean movie star look always gets hit on while he dances or walks at any bar. He thinks it's the most annoying thing ever. Heh, I guess I am no longer an aggressive manhunter in this country. Guys dance and touch each other because they are good friends... so it's really hard to tell gay people a part. Until they whisper naughty shit into your ear.
I danced with one of my cousin's girl friends between the tall tables in our section of the room and she got low. I was impressed. Vietnam learns quick... freaking is not a strange custom. I taught them how to get hyphy... now that was strange to them. I was checking out the boys. Some were cute, but then their teeth looked like a crooked fence that's about to fall down. I realized that I once was annoyed by "FOBBY People," but not so much in Vietnam because the roles have switched. Fobby people are now just people and I am now the FOB, the stranger from a different shore butchering a language. People can hear it when I talk.. immediately, I wonder if they find me annoying.
After finishing 12 bottles of bia and a fruit place, we bounced to go nhau for real. We had hot pot by the nasty river and I realized that my family isn't really low class. They are low middle class... with expensive phones and the occassional going out. But you can never tell with the living conditions.
This place was full of youth. Eating and talking. Drunk and sober. It was like a Vietnamese Denny's and HOTPOT with noodles and quail eggs was on the menu! We bounced around midnight, but it was apparent that this place runs into the morning!
Last night, I used the bathroom at my aunt's house. In the dark I did my number two. There was no toliet paper so I used this stray thing... ... ... and shot the ceiling and walls. Dang, I guess it has to be powerful to be able to clean you. I felt very unsanitary so I walked two feet to the shower head and just rinsed my body. I used the shower to brush my teeth and spit my toothpaste into the toilet. By the time I was done the whole room was wet. I almost got electrocuted because the light bulb was close to the shower head.
I will never get used to this restroom, but at least it's a western toilet. No way can I squat!
And when I was done with the bathroom, I hopped on my cousin's new HP laptop to use their high speed internet. WTF?!?!?
I am thinking about writing an anthropological paper on youth consumers in Vietnam. Essentially rewriting my thesis with first account examples. I still haven't covered shopping, working and food yet.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Last night I followed my Cousin Huy to hip hop and salsa classes.
(Huy is my cousin from Texas who went to Vietnam for a month and has been here for a year, his Vietnamese is equally terrible, but he's a programmer and that's an international language)
The hip hop class is in this run down community center and is taught by locals.
They divided the classes into: street hip hop, music video hip hop and clubbing hip hop. I have yet to tell the difference. I was impressed with the tennis courts at the community center because they looked brand new, while the building is a shit hole. "This is great! Pho! You need to lower your standards, you're in Vietnam. Look, there's wood floor!" My cousin Huy was optimistic. I am confused to how Vietnam prioritizes its construction.
I watched Huy do Salsa. It looked very difficult and was taught by an authentic Cuban dancer. Actually, I think it was more of Cuban dance than salsa. But anyway, it was taught at the back of La Habana, an expensive Tapas bar where foreigners talk business.
My body began to shut down so i took a walk in the streets around 9pm until Huy was done. I noticed a lot of Korean and Japanese restaurants near this Latin place. Once again I was approached by contradiction. I found a KFC, comfort food for foreigners and a Pizza Hut which was more of a upper class, fine dining place. The sushi and korean places had American prices and the lounges were full of drunk out-of-towners. This one place was western themed.
Down the street, the sidewalk was being repaved in the dark. A lot of broken concrete made pedestrians walk in the streets. I caught a glimpse of this very muscular worker and observed what his team was doing at night. They were picking up the heavy cement pieces one by one and throwing them into a truck. The pile was enormous. I guess, if you have the "man-power," you don't need to invest in expensive efficient machines.
I felt safe, yet cautious wandering the streets and alleys of downtown. I was accosted by the guy on a motor bike who offered me beautiful ladies. I replied, "khong" which means... no. I didn't feel like giving more than a one word response.
Huy drove me home and I crashed, my body finally took over my mind.
I have decided to stay with Co Xuan. After her stroke, here mom is bedridden in a cot in the kitchen area. I can stay where she used to sleep in a crawl space area between the upstairs and the downstairs.
I decided to live with Co Xuan because she really wants me to stay with her. Like really badly. And she loves to take care of me. Even though the space is small and i'd have no privacy, at least I'd be with family. AND I will be living like a true local: NO Air Conditioning!! I hope I can do it! If not, I can just rent out the place.. it's only a couple of blocks away!
Between dance classes, I bought dress shoes for 20 bucks. I can really feel the LOW quality, but I need them and they look nice for now. My interview got pushed back to Friday! I hope I get part time and then I can also teach English and get some spending cash.
I noticed that there are more traffic lights than in 2006 and people obey them. Huy told me that traffic has gotten SO bad that people started to realize that they better work together to make it work. Huy explained that a couple of years ago, they needed to have cops stand by the traffic lights to explain what people needed to do when the lights turned red! And they were still confused.
I was told that you were required to drink when you go to night clubs. I asked my cousin's friends about drunk driving. "Oh, it's legal to drive drunk, but when you crash... that's what you'll be paying for."
For 100 do-la (US dollar) I got 1665000 dong (VND). Can you imagine? One million, six hundred, sixty five thousand!?! What a terrible currency.Blogger: letopho - Edit Post "Saigon is a Go Get 'Em Place"
So each of those green notes is about 6 dollars. Essentially I can get 4 bowls of pho with one green note.
I didn't bring my credit card. FACK THAT!
My dad's been sending me emails about what I shouldn't consume in Vietnam. So far it's un-bottled water, candy and milk.
How about man-ladies walking down the street. Is that okay dad?
Apparently my youtube videos are banned. Oh communism.
Someone please download the video: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=NONGVNFO
And tell me if it works.
-Sleep in the crawl space at my other cousin's place to see if I can actually live there.
-Maybe ride a mo-ped? Scary