Sunday, April 26, 2015

Saigon's Newest Mall: SC VivoCity

       Living in Asia for the past few years have made me really appreciate gigantic malls. Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines have some serious mega mall action. On hot humid days, malls are my best friend. Hanoi is home to some massive complexes as well. Saigon has a few famous ones that most locals know by heart, such as the Vincom 1 and 2. The Diamond, Crescent Mall, Parksons, and
the new AEON Mall are just a few other popular places where people go to buy clean vegetables or
see a movie. Heck- the Bitexco Tower is kinda like a mall too. And more recently, enter SC VivoCity.

       What seemed like an overnight project finally culminated in the opening of Saigon’s newest and perhaps most beautiful mall. It’s home to the first IMAX theatre and a wide range of popular chains- including MOF, Kichi Kichi, Sumo BBQ, Starbucks, McDonalds, Phuc Long Coffee, Adidas, SkinFood, Harley Davidson, and so much more. There’s even a kid’s playground with some water fountain action and a Vuvuzuela Beer Club on the top level. The arcade looks pretty nice too, but no Street Fighter yet and the bowling alley will definitely be used by yours truly and OldBoy in a future video.

      When I walked in on opening day I was shocked to see just how many people were there. I was shocked. Where did they all come from? Did they commute all the way from the main districts just
to see a mall? A crowd of people gathered around a circle waiting for their pop singer idol probably did. There were many foreigners walking around. Plenty of Koreans and westerners- lots of interracial couples strolling around with babies. The shops looked oddly busy. Many places had special deals- for instance, Phu Long Coffee had a coupon for a free mug. The lines went out the door.

      The supermarket really impressed me. Everything was spotless clean- much cleaner than any supermarket in Little Saigon for sure. Civility. Shopping carts. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Dog food.
Air fresheners. Crafts. Rows and rows of toilet paper. It felt like I wasn’t in Vietnam anymore.
And briefly, I thought about all the vendors and street food dealers. All the men and women selling veggies off the streets and just how perishable they are. I’d buy a handful of water spinach – rau muon for 5,000 Dong and it’ll go bad in two days. How do those vendors who have to push their carts far from their homes even make break even? Here’s just more competition.

But supermarkets and convenience stores are nothing new to Vietnam. Major chains like Co.Op Mart, Lotte Mart, Metro, Circle K, and more have been in Vietnam for years. Do they really have a profound negative affect on street vendors? I don’t know. But, all I know is that you shouldn’t worry about Vietnam losing its charm. The majority of this country aren’t going to go to Starbucks to grab their coffee fix. The majority of this country will not go to McDonalds because mom is too busy to cook. Saigon and Hanoi are just two cities in this very large country. The people who actually go to malls often are even smaller. There’s nothing wrong with a modern mall in Vietnam. I welcome it. I’m quite happy because
now, I have more selection and options. You do too. All of you reading this right now, would appreciate a modern mall when it’s midday summer in Saigon. You won’t last long eating in the streets at 98 degrees and a 100% humidity. Options are great. Appreciate them. It’s a lot different when you live here, then when you’re visiting. If you live in Saigon for long, you’ll appreciate modernity when you can get it.  Vietnam has a lot of charming places- Saigon can easily have a mixture of both classic and new. When an old building is demolished in place of a skyscraper or mall, don’t weep- go and look for the many other vintage buildings out there.
Malls also provide a lot of opportunity for young people to have stable jobs.
     Malls and franchise chains in Vietnam are a great thing.
Check out the video below. I also eat a delicious BBQ beef buffet at the end.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The most difficult video that I've ever made.


Experiencing three days of a Vietnamese funeral was hard enough- imagine if you had to relive those moments again and again. That's exactly what I had to do for the past five days as I edited.

This video is no ways a tribute video to my grandfather. The only way I know how to pay him a tribute is if one day I get a chance to visit Paris. He went there when he was 34 and I have pictures of him next to some statues that I wonder are still there. I'd like to make it there one day and see the city that he loved so much.

Some videos take a lot more time to make than others. Keep in mind, that I have day time and evening commitments that pay the bills, so the only time I have to edit videos are nights and some weekend afternoons. That's why it took me so long to make this video.

Another reason why it took me a while was because I couldn't stop crying in certain scenes. Each time I hear my dad's words read by a woman or my scene with my grandfather in the hospital, I cry. It's an uncontrollable wave of tears that just flow. When you're crying and trying to edit, it's pretty impossible.

The overall sensitive subject matter also required me to do more thinking. I had to convey it in a way that didn't make me sound so whiny. I didn't want the video to be about all the gripes that I had, so I omitted most of my frustrations- especially when they weren't clear on film.

A lot of the footage didn't capture what really happened, because I was too busy experiencing them to capture. My rage with the monks wasn't captured. I didn't film the gamblers or the drunken people. I also didn't get a chance to film how many of my relatives laughed at me or said I didn't know anything when I spoke up at first. The argument you heard was just the ending and culmination, right before I left. I also took out the huge chunk of me talking to the taxi driver who saved me that night. the scene where I left was also cut short because I just simply didn't get enough footage because I was too afraid to use my camera in pitch darkness. It would have attracted unwanted attention.

Everything had to be done right, unfortunately, I just wish I had more time and patience when it comes to editing. It was difficult to select music. But luckily, Antti Luode is consistently brilliant and has done so much for my videos. Without his music, my videos wouldn't be as good and that's a fact.

I just wanted to use this moment and opportunity to thank every single person who has posted a comment of support on YouTube, on Facebook, and have sent me private messages on Facebook. (the only way to really contact me directly)
I can't filter through all the spam on YouTube, this blog, or Instagram, so you might not get a reply, so don't get hurt if you don't have Facebook. Either way, I just wanted to express gratitude and appreciation to all of you who have watched and continue to watch. I feel truly honored to make these videos for your enjoyment. It's great to have some sense of additional purpose in life. Thank you again.

If you haven't seen the video, here it is.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Complete Culture Crash: My Grandfather's Funeral.

       At around 9 AM on Sunday, my phone rang uncontrollably. My grandfather died.

I wasn't in shock because I knew it was bound to happen. And I remember the first call that I received and my subsequent reaction or lack of reaction. I couldn't just drop everything. I waited until when my commitments were over at 11:30 and I rode home in a frantic rush.

A car was already waiting for me because I had originally planned to rent a car and driver to visit him on this particular day anyways. I picked up my cousin, Hiep from Thu Duc, and by the time we made it to Trang Bom, it was already around 3 o'clock. Trang Bom is actually around 50 kilometers from Saigon, but the traffic was rather gruesome even during midday.

I had no idea the three day funeral would start on that day. I was embarrassed by the way I was dressed until I remembered and realized that everyone came in really casual daily clothes. The lack of communication between me and my family really started to show when I had no idea that was supposed to be the first day. I assumed that his body would need to be embalmed or medically checked to see the actual cause of death. But no. They just wrote it off as being old. He was 96 years old.

Basically, the people running and planning the funeral were my grandfather's nieces and nephews. My grandfather's children were not capable of anything because the three present are all hermits and recluses unfamiliar with the world. The uncle in Go Cong is currently terminally ill and he wasn't even present. And of course, my father already came back for a final visit two months earlier. He didn't have any intentions of returning again. There was a clear division between the neices/nephews and the children. They wouldn't even hang out together or sit at the same table.

I didn't know what kind of face to wear. I wasn't sad that my grandfather passed. He's lived a long and enduring life. Death is ultimately the end of it. The end of his suffering. So when I greeted relatives, I wasn't sure what kind of face to put on.

By 4 o'clock monks gathered and handed out the white garments for the family. Children and paternal grandchildren have to wear a complete outfit. Maternal grandchildren and every other relative only get a headband. Clear divisions and separation. And this is what exactly what made me mad and livid during my grandmother's funeral a few years prior.

Vietnamese funeral traditions made me angry last time. This time, they caused me to actually walk away from my own grandfather's funeral in tears.

Where do I even begin?

I am the only paternal grandson. I am the only person to pass on the Le family lineage. I'm aware of that. But it's ultimately a burden for me because I don't like seeing the maternal grandchildren / my cousins get treated like second class citizens. Grandchildren should all be equal. Don't elevate me. Don't praise me. I don't deserve it. I don't want the attention. The only focus at a funeral should be the deceased and not the living. And certainly not rituals based on superstitions.

My grandfather was a very scientific man. He had an amazing education that took him as far as Paris in his mid 30s. He wasn't a Buddhist. He didn't have any Buddha statues in his house. He only went to temples to appreciate the zen and beauty. He never prayed to Buddha. Why were there a handful of monks at his funeral? He would have never agreed to it. The set that the rental place brought in with Buddha had a Vietnamese Buddhist chant Nam mo ai... in blinking and flashing LED lights. I was completely against it. It looked like an advertisement. I repeatedly told people who I thought was in control that I didn't like something so cheesy and unnecessary. Nobody cared about my opinions.

And the ironic thing is that everyone was forcing me to participate in ritual kowtowing and racist looking garments while constantly reminding me how important I am because I am the only paternal grandchild. Yet the paternal grandchild has no say in something apart of his own grandfather's funeral.

I was also against the lamps by his coffin. They consisted of cloth flame looking things that look like they should be at a restaurant or a bar. Not a funeral. Once again, I asked my relatives to please have the company switch the lamps. They're not appropriate for my grandfather's funeral. Nobody cared.

4 o clock' it was time to put his body into the coffin. What should have been a somber and quiet moment, turned into a circus. My grandfather's body was actually placed inside of a plastic bag. I don't know about you, but placing a body inside of a plastic bag- the same type of bag that Dexter would use on his victims infuriated me. Is there no respect? Is this how his life ends? Closed off in a plastic bag? I understand that for the next few days the family does not want odors or smells, but it's inappropriate to place him in a bag. There has to be another way. There has to be some kind of embalming or something. I clearly remember my shocked face when I saw the bag. It was one of those WTF WTF moments.

When it was time to put the lid on, a layer of silicone applied using a caulking gun was used in the most ungraceful way. Slobs of silicone spewed out and people around attempted to spread it with their fingers. Why? Is there no other way to seal my grandfather's coffin? If that man caulked his bathroom like he caulked my grandfather's coffin he must have the ugliest bathroom in the world.  The man doing the task looked like he was in such a rush. Then he took out some nails and nailed the coffin shut. When he didn't finish his phone rang and he answered the phone. I literally almost dropped my camera. And inside I was a raging demon. I've never felt so mad (until the next day) at someone before. For a brief moment, the activities around me suspended in motion and I saw myself uppercutting that guy. But I stopped because nobody around seemed to mind that he was talking on the phone while preparing my grandfather. I stepped outside for a bit and decided it was time for me to take off because the culture and people were bothering me as more and more people came.

Most close family members stay all three days. I couldn't stay. There was no proper place to wash or sleep. I couldn't stay up all night long. The heat was difficult. I didn't bring my medication or extra clothes. And I felt useless just sitting there and not doing anything. So I left along with my cousin Hiep.

By the time I got back home to Saigon, it was already 10 o'clock or so.

The next day, I wasn't in a hurry to return. I didn't sleep most the night. I left my house at around 11 o clock and it was pouring rain. The first rain of the season. The heavens unleashed. When I got into a taxi, I was already soaking wet. Unfortunately, it was my driver's second day on the job. He didn't know how to defog his window. He wasn't sure the best way to go to Thu Duc. I had suggested for him to take the Thu Thiem Tunnel or Saigon Bridge, but he insisted that the Phu My Bridge was closer. I didn't want to argue with him because I was feeling extremely weak. There was a massive accident on the bridge. We spent over an hour just sitting there. As we got off the bridge, he somehow took a wrong turn and we were forced to go all the way down to Long Thanh. That's right, past Bien Hoa and all the way down before we could turn back. I mean, this guy got out of the car and started shouting at trucks that drove by. He even stopped up to a dude who was taking a leak on the side of the road. He went up to the toll booth and begged to turn around. After being denied, I had already racked up over a 1 million Dong in taxi fees. Of course, I wouldn't have for it. The trip to Long An on that road took an additional 90 minutes because I had to go back to Thu Duc to pick my cousin up. I've never had to navigate as much as I did. Long story short, I finally made it to my grandfather's house at around 6 o'clock due to the 4 o'clock crazy traffic leaving Saigon and out of Bien Hoa.

When I arrived I said hello to a few people. Nothing much different than the previous night- except there were more people cooking outside. The music tonight was especially loud. I walked outside and told them to tone it down because I couldn't talk to my relatives. Each time anyone came to kowtow to my grandfather ear bleeding annoying funeral music played. They never played any softer. At times they would stop playing and random people who came would get mad at them for not playing.
I just needed a break from the drums and the horns.

So I spent an hour outside - next to a thousand wing termites attracted to a light hanging from a tree. The termites attracted numerous toads and chubby frogs, which attracted me. This was the most peace and quiet I've ever had. I squatted down under the tree. I stood in the middle of the termites as they landed on my head and neck. And then I thought about my grandfather and our moments spent together- Through brief - but the past three years have been extremely memorable. I wished I had more time with him and even more moments, but I kept reminding myself it wouldn't be any good to feel remorse because at least I still have memories of certain occasions spent together.

When I decided to come back into the funeral I noticed a drunk man wandering out. I sat down next to Hiep who was outside and immediately noticed a crowd gathering and playing cards and bao cu ca cop- gambling. Gambling at a funeral. Liquor + Gambling... at a funeral. In fact, there was so much liquor that Aquafina bottles didn't contain water at all. The liquor and the gambling followed by cursing. I couldn't ignore it anymore. I wouldn't have it. So I came up to a pack of 20 young dudes who I've never seen before. They were in no ways related to me. I told them to please keep it down and play their games elsewhere because this is a funeral not a gambling den. They just ignored me.

So I thought talking to an older relative- an aunt or a second cousin might solve my problem. It didn't. In fact, it backfired. When I brought the fact that my grandfather hated gambling with a passion and that it wasn't right to get drunk at a funeral, most of my relatives who were too busy cutting carrots laughed at me. They said that's just how Vietnam is. That's just how the countryside does funerals. I didn't accept this. Sure, it's typical of Vietnamese countryside funerals to have games, but cursing and drunk dudes crossed the line. My relatives didn't agree. In fact, one largely vocal elder told me that I didn't know anything and that me telling people to leave would offend the family. it would bring dishonor because they were there to pay respects to my grandfather. I tried to argue with her that these were just teenagers from the neighborhood there to eat free food and get free booze. She snapped back at me and said that if there was no booze and gambling, people would leave and that the funeral would no longer be fun or "vui". Then it was my turn to snap. I asked her if they were really there for my grandfather then why would they leave if there was no booze or gambling. Maybe that's a clear connection that they're there for booze and games instead? Silence. She didn't have a response. She never thought anyone young would argue back at her.

With absolutely no help from my relatives, I decided that I had to leave before I humiliate myself or disrespect my grandfather by picking fights with my relatives. So I grabbed my bags and walked out with absolutely no plans whatsoever. There were no taxis around. I called Mai Linh and their response was if nobody called me in five minutes then I know what's up. I didn't blame them. His area was really really far away from everything. I trekked in mud and ruined my shoes just to get out to the main street and I was absolutely petrified at how dark everything was. I didn't dare use my camera or my phone much because any source of light would attract thieves. Highway 1 was completely empty of life. The occasional truck would drive by. The random young dude on a bike would cause me to tense up because I was a walking target with a backpack. It was almost midnight too. The nearest hotel or motel was quite far away and I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in them. Many moments later my phone rang and a taxi driver called me. He was about 20 kilometers away though, and I pleaded with him to pick me up. My phone battery was dying. I wasn't sure where I was. The taxi driver told me to hang around a specific intersection or landmark and to not walk because the area is full of drug users and thugs. I had no idea where I was.

And then for the first time after my grandfather died, I started to cry. I was so disappointed in my relatives. There I was, my grandfather's only paternal grandson- a role that they stressed so much the past few days- yet I didn't have a say in kicking out drunk gamblings at my own grandfather's funeral. Who cares if they leave. Family is all we need. Why couldn't we just sit together and talk about my grandfather's legacy? Why couldn't we just share stories about his life? Because those people had none. They were only there because they had to be there. They're taught to follow tradition and to not question it. I was there because I wanted to be. I wanted to be at my grandfather's funeral. They had to be there. My grandfather was so high on his nieces and nephews and their children. More so than his own children- who didn't support me either. They were too busy feuding with their cousins for power or too busy taking photos to care about drunk dudes and cursing gamblers at their own father's funeral. They had no say in anything. They were nothing but spectators. They were there because they had to be. I was there because I wanted to be. I cried because I was so disappointed in people who I once respected so much. Yes, the funeral was in the countryside, but we don't have to act backwards. Yes, Vietnamese funerals have gambling and liquor, but every family is different. There was none of that at my grandmother's funeral. I was angry that they constantly belittled me for not knowing the traditions or customs of pouring teas and kowtowing to strangers. I just flat out refused to kowtow to a stranger dressed in a T shirt to go to a funeral. I don't care about culture or countryside. I care about class. I also didn't want to kowtow or kneel down to a blinking LED light. That's not Buddhism. That's a lack of judgement.  I took heat from them for that. And the ironic thing was they were concerned about trivial traditions and formalities, but they forgot to respect the man in the coffin. And that's why I cried. I cried because I was so angry about Vietnamese tradition.

I placed myself in a dangerous situation because I believed in reasonable principles. My family on the other hand cared too much about praying and Buddha and following trivial superstitions. The paternal grandson who wanted to fight for his grandfather's last honors walked by himself on Highway 1, while drunk gamblers cursed and played into the night. So much for wanting to spend time with family.

A taxi did come. Heading back to Bien Hoa, which was the safest thing to do-  about 45 minutes away, I told the taxi driver my story and he agreed with me. In fact, the younger people there like Hiep agreed with me too, but they didn't believe in it as much as I did. They just wanted it to be over with. They had to be there so they didn't want to exert more energy and effort. I went to the same hotel that I stayed at when my grandmother died. Unfortunately, this time, there were used condoms all over the bathroom. I didn't shower that night.

In the morning, I took another taxi ride back to the funeral. When I arrived, monks and the hired pallbearers were all there. Music was heavier than usual. People lined the courtyard. All of my relatives were dressed in white already or had their forehead bands on. None of my relatives said anything to me. I came in and silently put on the white outfit as other cousins who weren't there last night came and helped me put the head peace on. And then I was on my knees for another ceremony.

I didn't want to cry. I tried so hard not to cry. But I cried. I don't know what it was. But I cried. I covered my face with the hooded piece on my head and I cried violently. None of my aunts or uncles were crying. None of the grandchildren were crying. I cried. I just wanted to be left alone.
I didn't want to be apart of more ceremonies. I sat with my legs crossed.
But I didn't kowtow as the monks told me to kowtow. Maybe it was because I was starving or maybe it was because I didn't sleep or maybe it was because I was grieving, but I was so angry at the monks. When I was clearly sobbing and trying to wipe my eyes, they pushed a bowl of rice and forced it on my head, and I glared back at them and let out a loud "Fuck. Dude, let me  mourn." I remembered being extremely overwhelmed with sadness and these dudes were shoving a bowl of rice to my face.  They didn't understand my outburst and probably thought I was talking about Buddha. There were three or four monks.They all looked too happy at times when they were just chilling. And too aggressive when they were chanting. They got even more upset when I didn't understand what to do with the bowl of rice that they handed me. When you lose a loved one, the last thing you want to do is hold a a bowl of rice over your head. 

When somebody read a message to the crowd from my father, I cried again when I heard his words in a woman's voice apologizing to his father. He spoke about sharing 10 days together two months ago. He apologized for the past. And he concluded the letter with USA. 

When it was time to proceed to bring the coffin to the cremation site, everything was really rushed. I wanted to take a moment to see the coffin as it was moved and to see my grandfather leave his house. Unfortunately, the monks were in a hurry and one of them even pushed me and told me simply, "DI". And then I lost it. I never ever wanted to beat up a monk in my entire life until that very moment. HADOUKEN!!!

I carried my grandfather's picture. My cousin Hiep, the oldest maternal grandson, carried the burning incense holder and my hermit Uncle Son carried some other paper thing.

As we walked on, I just wanted a moment of silence to reflect. But the music kept blaring. The snake charmer pipe guy followed me and played loudly. The monks stepped over the winged termites that were laying in a massive pile and dying on the ground. The fattest monk even laughed about something. Yeah. There was an incident when I walked past them because I didn't feel like these dudes deserved to walk in front of me, and one of them stuck his arm out and blocked me and told me to walk behind him. And then I lost it again. I glared at him as if I was going to just eat him alive. I grew up a Buddhist. I consider myself a Buddhist. But these monks are merely people who want to escape labor. They're not real Buddhist. I've experienced Buddhism in Myanmar and Thailand. Those were hardcore legit monks. These dudes were fat, used smartphones, drove automatic scooters, got to ride in a car that we had to rent for them, got paid 1 million Dong per day for working less than two hours and chanting some mumbo jumbo. I'm sorry, but my grandfather's not going to go to heaven or hell based off of some chanting. His actions when he was alive will decide that. These weren't real monks. These were the equivalent to wedding singers with a lot less talent. No offense to wedding singers.

I took a moment to see my grandfather placed into the hearse. But everyone was rushing me and yelling at me to go into the front seat. Even the monks were pointing at me to go in. I just wanted see my grandfather. Everyone was in a rush.

And that's the problem with having a three day funeral. By the last morning everyone is exhausted and in need of a shower. Everybody just wants it over with. I came in fresh because every night I went to the comforts of a bed even if I didn't sleep much, while everyone just slept on tables or on the ground. So by the last morning everyone was looking like zombies and feeling extra grouchy.

We took the long and bumpy ride to the cremation place. It was the third time that I've been there. I kept having flashbacks of my grandmother's funeral. My uncle Son sat with me and I asked him if he ever had any positive memories of his father. He said no he didn't. I asked him if he ever loved his father, and he said love is a burden. I wanted to talk to him and really share an intimate moment with an  uncle I barely knew. But instead, he just wanted to take about Buddhism and praying and about how my grandfather was a terrible man. So I just remained silent for most of the trip. Unfortunately, the hearse driver was in some crazy hurry spree and honked his way through the traffic. I just wanted some peace and quiet more than ever before.

The familiar funeral parlor. The quick ceremony again. The jumpsuit wearing funeral workers. The laying the flowers on the coffin. The descent of the coffin. The slam of the metal doors. The crowd moving over to watch the cremation on the small TV. The fatigued that finally set in. I wandered off holding my grandfather's picture. All the eyes that met mine looked away. Nobody came up to me to say anything. Nobody spoke to me.

Back at my grandfather's house most people left. Some neighbors remained. Half of my aunts and uncles were long gone. Some nieces remained, but the majority seemed like they wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I sat with a few relatives. We discussed about what happened. I let everything out that bothered me. They agreed with me. But it was too late. I'm glad I spoke with them. I still lost respect for most of them and will probably never talk to them again in my life. But, at least I'm no longer mad at them. Even as I'm writing this now, I'm just pretty indifferent about them. I got a chance to talk to the eldest niece and the one really in charge of the affairs and my grandfather's will. She's scientific and highly educated, unfortunately, the previous night, she wasn't there. She told me that if she was around, she wouldn't have let me leave. She agreed with everything I said, but told me that no matter what, the elders will always think they're right, because they don't know any other sides or any other way. So guys reading this now- Remember, if an adult tells you that something you think is wrong is right because of tradition, please challenge them. Don't accept rituals and superstitions as tradition. Respect the dead, don't respect the living who exploit the dead through frivolous superstitions. Culture needs to be questioned and challenged, especially at Vietnamese funerals.

I took home a small picture of my grandfather when he was 34 and in Paris. I feel inspired to make a trip there myself one day. Sooner than later.

I left behind the trinkets and little gifts that I bought him from my travels to India, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, etc. He kept everything.

Remember guys, tradition and cultural heritage are two things we should take pride in. But not everything should be adopted or practiced in today's classier world. Sure, the countryside has its interesting aspects, but the countryside does not control the person- the individual. Vietnamese countryside funeral traditions depressed me. The past three days have been culture shock to the extreme. At the final meal before I departed, I told my relatives that sometimes I wish I didn't understand any Vietnamese or had to follow Vietnamese culture because it can be so different and often times conflicting to what I know and value. This was an eye opener. I'm sorry mom and dad for all the worry that I've caused you the past few days. My relatives told me that everyone was worried that I wouldn't come in the morning. But of course I had to be there. I wouldn't miss it.

A video is coming.

And please call your grandparents before you don't have anymore like me.

For those of you wondering, I get no inheritance. My grandfather's house will be transferred to my father's name, but my grandfather's wish was to keep that residence as an ancestral worship house for our family. So it doesn't look like you'll see me on a Ducati anytime soon.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam Travel- day 2

Day two on Phu Quoc.
The night prior we arranged for a car to take us to explore the north side of the island for 8 hours. The entire time only cost 700,000 dong or around 35 dollars, which is an absolute bargain.

Phu Quoc often times feels like the Mekong Delta. When you’re on the road, you can’t tell sometimes that you’re on an island. You might occasionally see the hills and the beaches, but within the town or small little living areas, you’re quickly transformed back to Mien Tay or Southwestern Vietnam.

We stopped by a Phu Quoc dog racing grounds first. When the driver mentioned race, I immediately raised an eyebrow and started to feel suspicious. But I’m trying to be less cynical. It’s something Kim and I discussed when we traveled together and how we are different now than two years ago. I let nature take its course. When I stepped onto the grounds, I noticed right away that the Phu Quoc dogs there didn’t look all that great. Some of them might not have been Phu Quoc dogs. I mean, their cages were okay, some more crammed than others, surely PETA would throw a fit, but then again, these dogs might be considered lucky.

This place was meant to entertain local Vietnamese tourists. I wanted to see Phu Quoc Dog breeding grounds. This place was more like a circus/zoo, with hilarious Engrish signs that had us laughing for hours afterwards. The best dogs weren’t on displayed. The breed wasn’t featured in all of its glory. But the sad truth is, true Phu Quoc dog breeding areas aren’t for tourists. I couldn’t have just walked in and started filming. And that’s the sad truth about tourism and not so touristy places. The touristy places that attract tourists are accessible. The other places might not be.

The same thing was true for the pepper farm. When I brought up my disappointment about the dog facility, the taxi driver opted to take me to a random mom and pop pepper farm. When we pulled up, it looked more like someone’s back yard, and so for video purposes, it wasn’t grand enough. Then down the road, was a place where other tourists visit where you can actually buy the fresh pepper harvested in the fields behind the house. This was touristy, but beautiful and worth it. And there lies the problem. Something not touristy at all didn’t look good. Something touristy looked great, but… was touristy.

Tourism exists for a purpose.

After that, we were driven to some Phu Quoc National Park. The drive to the jungle walk area was beyond beautiful. But the walk into the jungle itself was disappointing and we just gave up after 15 minutes. Once again, all three of us have been really spoiled when it comes to traveling. We’ve seen so many jungles before and have gone incredibly deep. The weather was also extremely difficult and humid. So we insisted to go to the beach instead.

There aren’t that many known or popular beaches in the north of the island. But a few exists, we went to one near the channel from Cambodia. We could see Cambodia territory in the distance. I wanted to go over there, but the boat man that I had hired at the beach who waited for us to finish our expensive lunch, insisted that we couldn’t. Fine with me. Eventually, he took us behind some rocks not accessible on foot, and we explored around. When Kim and Andrew were snorkeling and gazing at the amazing corals, I ate the best baby rock oysters I’ve ever had in my entire life. The boat dude chopped them off with an old propeller and then cleaned them for me. I jacked some pepper and lime from the restaurant and the salt water made the little snacks truly spectacular. I’ve had so many oysters in my life, this had to be the best.

Oh, and when we landed in the snorkeling area, there was a Japanese dude and his very Vietnamese girlfriend already there. They needed a ride back to the main area and we offered them a lift for free. I don’t get how people who don’t speak the same language can be together. He spoke no Vietnamese and she spoke no Japanese. Everything was done by hand gestures.

As the afternoon wore on, we headed off to Vin Pearl Land to check out the outsides and pretended like we had money to even go inside. The road leading up to it with the golf course really surprised me. Phu Quoc is developing so rapidly. Construction and adding infrastructure is good. Lets just hope it maintains its national beauty in the process. That shouldn’t be a problem because most Vietnamese tourists aren’t into scuba diving or anything too adventurous. Vin Pearl is great for families.  Not so much for solo dudes.

As the day concluded, we wrapped things up at a fish sauce factory briefly. The smell was strong and gave me a major headache. Then back to the hotel we went, even though we were a little early. No worries, precious time to nap because at night we had squid fishing planned.

Now, it costs about 10 dollars a person if you’re going to join a night boat tour. We wanted our own boat and paid 60 dollars total. The boat had three crew members and the three of us. As we left the docks near the night market, Phu Quoc’s beautiful pier and lighthouse gave way to the sun setting in front of us. That was awesome to say the least. About 15 minutes later, the crew members actually caught three squids. We caught none. Then I got so sea sick that I knew I had to get off. I suggested that I pay for the boat instead. Kim and Andrew wanted to continue. I suggested that they come back to shore and then come out again for my friend’s sake. They would pay extra. Then I suggested that we would throw them to another boat nearby, but the waves were too strong. So we docked and I felt like I was going to pass out again. Last time in Indonesia I puked 18 times. This time, just three- but I had no few in my stomach because six hours had transpired after my last meal. We came back early and ate squid porridge on the boat as it was docked. I was a sweaty mess. My head was still spinning like someone spun me around hard.

There were three girls who got off the boat next to ours. One of them waved at us. When we got off, I said hello to them. When they left we sat near the entrance of the dock eating bo la lop. The cutest one turned around and looked in my direction. I wanted to go talk to her, but I knew that with her mother around it wouldn’t be right. So they walked off and I never thought I’d see them again. 15 minutes later, they appeared again In front of us. This time as they walked past, the cutest girl smiled and I saw a little diamond jewel stuck on her tooth. Immediately, I lost all interest. That was hideous and not classy at all. Then I completely forgot about her. Many minutes later as we were leaving, I stood in front of a fruit vendor and decided between my friends and I what we would buy. Phu Quoc has this circular tart orange thing that’s incredible and savory. The girls just rammed in front of us and started buying the same fruit. The mother came shortly after and whispered something along the lines of, “These guys see my beautiful daughter and they’re following us”. When I spoke Vietnamese she was quite surprised, especially since we weren’t following them. I actually spoke to the cute one and asked her where she was. Surprisingly, she lives close to me. But I didn’t pursue her because there was no point. It would be a big waste of time. I’m not into girls who glue fake diamonds on their tooth.

By 9ish, we were all tired and decided to call it a night.