Monday, 9 April 2012

Getting swore by a local - The real local experience

I took an overnight bus from Nha Trang and reach Saigon at 6am. This is my last day in Saigon which I reserved for any last minute souvenir shopping.

So I check in to my guesthouse where I am greeted with some tea and fruits and suggestions for a nice breakfast. I love this place already. I rest for a couple of hours and leave for some random wandering. I meet my friendly shop keeper at her department store, eat some yummy food, and just stroll around the streets.

I then go to Ben Than Market to buy some souvenirs for friends. I only have $50 on me and I need to pay for airport pick up, my hotel and keep some money aside while transiting in Singapore airport. So I budget carefully.

Now in Ben Than Market, there are millions of shops on top of each other selling the exact same products but are priced slightly differently. I wanted to buy some freshly ground coffee so I was scanning through each shop and I came to shop where a young lady was sitting.

She is so eager to sell that she starts shoving each blend of coffee beans into my nose for me to smell the freshness & the blend. I have lost my sense of smell by then and finally decide on a particular blend. I tell her I need 200gms and she quotes a price. After the usual haggling we decide on a final price and she runs to get 200gms from another shop. I give her the money and she stares at me. Turns out, the price she quoted was for 100gms and not 200gms. I don't want to spend double the amount so I tell her she misunderstood what I said and turn to start walking.

She slaps at my wrist, (Ouch!) (here's the best bit) and on top of her voice, shouts something that sounds like "Fat queue" in her Vietnamese accent. I turn back again thinking, "WHAT!!! did she just say THAT??? I surely heard "You".....Oh my god she actually said it...she swore at me". Every tourist there has stopped their shopping and is looking at me probably thinking "God knows how much this girl must have haggled with the poor shopkeeper in a country where things are already cheap".

I cant even get out as it is pouring outside and I am trapped in the market. I pick my phone with a flat battery and pretend to read texts and call someone while the nosy tourists are still looking at me. Should I tell them the story and convince them that I am like a cuddly teddy bear and I have a heart of gold??? Oh, stuff it!

It stops raining after a while so I run out of the market. I walk around the streets that I might have missed before. I go to the temple to meet my Indian friend. He suggests that we catch up for dinner. So I head back to my hotel and pack my things to leave for Melbourne next morning. He comes to my hostel and picks me up and we go to an Indian restaurant.

The chef of this Indian restaurant was apparently the chef of the Indian governor general. Hmmm OK, I can totally picture the price of the food.

So as we sit at the Restaurant and scroll through the menu, my eyes automatically scan for the cheapest item on the menu. Great, I've found something for $2 - Masala Poppadums. Hmmm... I am going to starve. By then my Indian friend tells me, the dinner is on him as I am his guest. I tell him convincingly that I have to treat him hoping he wont say yes. We order some food and as the bill arrives I stare into my wallet for 2 minutes thinking how the hell I am going to pay for this, but he quickly snatches the bill and pays. Awww, I feel bad. We talk for a bit and he drops me back at my hostel again.

I have a couple of hours in the morning next day before I leave for the airport so I decide to buy something for him. With the limited money I have, I buy some apples (the most expensive fruit in Vietnam) and go to the temple. He's not there yet, so I write a nice note for him & his family and leave it with the apples.

I come back to my hostel and my taxi is ready to pick me up. As I get on the taxi, I get a text from my Indian friend saying the apples and the note are the most heartfelt gifts he's received so far. Awww I'm touched :)

I get to the airport and wait in the line to check in while joyfully reminiscing the last two weeks, the adventures, the encounters, the good, the bad and most importantly the friends I've made, the Jetstar guy at the check in counter oh-so-sublimely brings me back to reality by saying I'd have to be detained in Vietnam as the Australian Immigration wont give me permission to board. w-t-f! Seriously, WTF! He asks me to wait while checking in other passengers as my issue is taking time to resolve. He contacts his boss who is trying to contact the immigration. Anyway, after 15 minutes of confusion, helplessness and extreme prayers to all gods,  he tells me its all good. Turns out the Dept. of Immigration dint have my updated records. Phew, I hate you Immigration!

I finally land in Melbourne. Ohhh, how awesome & quick were the last 2 weeks!

Yes, I backpacked alone. I cant believe I did it!
As Mark Twain rightly puts it, "...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people"

I feel like a new person......until I go to my room to lie on my bed. Oh crap, I have to clean it first, its so messy.  Damn I wish I was traveling!

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