Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

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Asian Rock and Metal

September 9, 2010

I initially intended to make one simple post about the music I picked up as I made my way through Asia. However, that proved impossible with the number of great artists I stumbled upon. Some of the Cds were picked up simply by walking into a music store and selecting 3 random Cds (usually in Korea and Thailand), others I asked for help (Taiwan). I’ve grown up listening to rock and metal and, as a result, I amassed quite a few discs from that genre. This post, then, is about the rock and metal discs I picked up. I don’t aim to give a complete overview of the rock and metal scene in Asia, only what I was able to pick up.

I’d like to note that I really appreciate artists who write their lyrics in their native tongue rather than in English. Typically, those artists (from non-English countries) who sing in English are trying to capture a larger market share. Their fear (or their record company’s fear) is that no one will understand them. Let’s consider two things: 1) At live shows, I find it very difficult to understand any lyrics, regardless of the artist’s language, especially in small bars; 2) what makes these artists think anyone will care any more about their causes if they sing in English than if they sing in their native tongue? To be fair, I guess when your vox are mostly growls, it doesn’t matter what language the lyrics are in. Lastly, in my opinion if a country is open enough to allow metal bands (such as those listed below) to play live, then the country probably has some open-minded tendencies. Now if I only understand the lyrics (:P)….

The crazy hair rock magazine, Cure, from Japan that included awesome punk/metal CD.

Artist: Various

Album: Japanese punk/metal mix CD

Country: Japan

Website: http://www.cure-net.com/pc/index.html

I stumbled across a Japanese rock fashion magazine while in Taipei and was pleasantly surprised to find a CD attached. I’m not saddened by the fact that I shelled out $30 for two issues of the magazine. Though I couldn’t make out which people were men or women in the magazine (it’s a trait of the Japanese rock scene), I could sometimes make out whether or not it was a male or female singer screaming at the top of their lungs. These two Cds had drive and energy and make me want to go to Japan if only to see these bands play live. Given the pictures in the magazine and the music I was hearing, I can only imagine what their live shows would be like. The drummers are spot on with their double kick work, the singers belching out notes that I didn’t even know existed, in addition to the regular guitar soloing and bass thumping. Notables include: “ヤマイ” by Zig + Zag, “umbrella” by BALLAD., “さとこ” by 幻妖怪麗見世物一座・芒命少年. I would write more, but the entire CD is pretty solid.

Maximum the Hormone. Punk rock/metal from Japan!

Artist: Maximum the Hormone (マキシマム ザ ホルモン)

Album: Rokimpo Goroshi (ロッキンポ殺し)

Country: Japan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/maximumthehormone

Website: http://www.55mth.com/open.html

My apologies if I have the artist and album mixed up, as I don’t know Japanese at all. Although I never made it to Japan while in Asia, a friend of mine went and brought me back a couple of Cds. This is one of them. I simply told her, bring back whatever is the craziest to you, and I’ll probably like it. And I liked this CD. The album cover alone tells me that this CD is about something inappropriate and lewd, two things that make great music. A driving punk rock band, it’s hard to tell what setting this band’s CD would be best played in. Possibly travel music, or, simply, see these guys live.

Black Infinity from Vietnam.

Artist: Black Infinity

Album: 666 Metal

Country: Vietnam

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/theblackinfinity

Website: http://666metal.net/

I was disappointed to find that their lyrics are written in English (and sung, too), but their mySpace page states they reside in LA, US and Saigon, Vietnam, so maybe that had something to do with it. Simply, they are the best metal band I’ve heard in quite a while. I’m thinking one of this band’s greatest influences was Dream Theater since they add a lot of keyboards and, most of all, their compositions are well-structured and dynamic. And a touch of Cradle of Filth. Especially take a listen to the use of the Vietnamese traditional instrument on “The Secret”. Brilliant. They even have a piano solo, track 7, “When Her Love On Fire”, which is really good and gives the CD an extra dynamic. This is followed by a piano intro to track 8, “Deathbed Illusion”, lasting for only 15 seconds or so, before launching into a full metal assault. Track 8 especially gives tribute to DT, if I’m right in making that claim at all. I found this CD to be great while travelling on the Vietnamese night buses.

Anthelion. Some hard and heavy metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Anthelion

Album: Bloodshed Rebefallen ( 沐血再臨)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/antheliontw

Website: wasn’t working Sept 9, 2010

I’ll admit it was the CD cover that caught my eye. I also had walked into the CD store and asked them to piont me to their metal section. They took me to one shelf lined with metal Cds. Awesome. This CD in particular was impressive. More speed metal than thrash, the band also serves up a short piano solo. There’s something about piano solos on metal albums that always attract my ear.

Alien Avenge. More metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Alien Avenge (異族亡魂)

Album: Tonatiuh (第五太陽紀)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/alienavengeband

Website: Not found

2010 CD. The artwork impressed me most of all, though the music itself left me kinda unsatisfied. The have some scary friends on mySpace though.

Chthonic. Death metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Chthonic (閃靈)

Album: Mirror of Retribution (十殿)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/chthonictw

Website: Not found.

Another impressive cardboard CD cover. I found this CD recommended in the Lonely Planet’s guide to Taiwan. No apologies full force heavy and pounding metal, but they just didn’t do it for me.

Prophecy. Good rock from Vietnam.

Artist: Prophecy

Album: Đôi Cánh Vô Hình

Country: Vietnam

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3gOhQZ5u1Y

Website: Not found

Debut album apparently. Solid rock band. Especially like track 3 “Ki Uc”. Track 6 “Muoi Ba” sounds like some sort of Josh Groban meets Linkin Park. Love the lead singer’s vocals. Maybe not for everybody, but if you want some rock music with some edge, this is it. Definitely great party music or background music for a travelling scene in a movie.

Kluay Thai. Awesome metal from Thailand, in Thai!

Artist: Kluay Thai

Album: Sib Song Sat

Country: Thailand

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/kluaythaiband

Website: http://www.kluaythai.net/

From the land of Muay Thai and Bangkok excess comes this admirable effort of Thai rock/metal. This band has apparently been around for about 10 years or so and have released numerous albums, which tells me that some amount of financial and artistic success have been achieved. The album has much of the anger of Western rock bands like Disturbed and Soil, but their creations are their own. Kudos to the band for including a set of cards that show some sort of zodiac. Good party music me thinks.

Roses Fall. Thai rock.

Artist: Roses Fall

Album: In My Time of Dying

Country: Thailand

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/rosesfallband

Website: http://rosesfallband.hi5.com

Decent. I write about them because you might like them. They have a bit more edge than majority of the pop rock available in North America, but I bet seeing these guys live would be better than hearing them on CD.

And if you want an even wider selection of metal from around the world, check out Sam Dunn’s documentary Global Metal.

lyrics

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

48 cities. 16 countries.

July 20, 2010

London (England)

Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice (Italy)

Vienna (Austria)

Prague (Czech Rep)

Berlin (Germany)

Amsterdam, Utretch, Rotterdam (Holland)

Brussells (Belgium)

Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Vancouver (Canada)

Cheong Un, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Andong, Okpo, Daejeon, Jeonju, Kyongju, Boreyong, Seoul (South Korea)

Kuala Lampur, Cameron Highlands, Georgetown, Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)

Singapore (Singapore)

Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchanabury (Thailand)

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaam Samnoor (Cambodia)

Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi (Vietnam)

Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang (Laos)

Taipei (Taiwan)

48 cities. 16 countries.

What a journey! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Although I was able to unpack my luggage for an extended period in Korea, it always hung over my head that, especially by month 7, I was going to be leaving. And, wow, who knew how much crap you can accumulate over a year?! Oh my! In any event, I’ve lived out of a couple cases of luggage for the last 1.5 years. I backpacked through Europe for a month before heading back to Canada to apply for my South Korean work visa, then jetted off to SoKo to teach English for a year. Deciding to stay in Asia for summer vacation, I travelled through Malaysia and Singapore before returning to SoKo, only to be quarantined at my apartment during the swine flu epidemic. Once my contract finished, I headed to Bangkok and, deciding that I no longer wanted to work there, I flew down to Phuket to do some Muay Thai training. After three weeks of intense training, I rested my shins (and possibly a broken thumb) as I bussed to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Volunteering in Cambodia for a month left me with a choice to go to Vietnam, which I took, and spent 2.5 weeks there before taking the cheap, but long, bus ride to Vientiane in Laos. Three cities in Laos and then it was back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading back to Bangkok to arrange my flight back to Canada. Not wanting to go back, I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week and absolutely loved it, I even started looking for jobs! But, it was time to return to Canada. Vancouver-bound, I stayed for a week with some friends and then booked my ticket back to my home town, Winnipeg.

Fascinating, that’s all I can say. I did that? I seriously travelled all those places?

Yep, says my bank account.

Yep, say the numerous self-portraits.

Yep, say the friends who politely smile when I ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Now I sit in Winnipeg putting some things together and meeting my family and friends. But I’ll leave that to another post at a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and remember the good times.

Vietnam Part 2: A girl, a dog, and some tea leaves

June 19, 2010

And the second part.

To finish up my eye-opening trip to Vietnam, once in Hanoi I met this “English student” around Ho Kiem Lake (maybe, but not likely a student). We’ll call her Doong. Doong was cute and knew all of the cute things us foreign guys like to see and hear (giggle at stupid jokes, ask what clothing items are in English, talk about family, and say that you have no boyfriend). I figured, “What the hell, let’s tag around this chick and see what happens. I don’t have much on me to steal.” So she takes me around the lake and it’s obvious she’s done this to others because she’s got her script in the little black book that she keeps showing me. Whatever, carry on. Doong mentions that he uncle’s house is nearby and that we could drop in to say “hi.” A few things run through my mind as this point: 1) this is where I should say “thank you” and move away because her uncle is member of the Vietnam Mafia. 2) I check my pockets for condoms. 3) Check the woman’s features in case I need to make a police report. So with those thoughts running through my mind, I decide to join her.

Finally, we come to Doong’s “uncle’s house”. For those of you thinking that this was a bad idea, well, yes, probably. Her uncle wasn’t around, but her cousin was. He was tending to the moto-renting business. We go into the garage and sit at the back behind the motos. He offers me something to drink (I’m waiting to get poisoned and robbed any minute here) and we get talking (well, he didn’t actually speak English, so this chick had to interpret). After a few minutes, he pulls up a bong from which he smokes Vietnamese tobacco. Me, having a Yes-Man moment, decide that it would be a GREAT idea to try this thing out. Holy fuck. Bong goes my head. And that was a small, improper toke. He’s so pleased by my ability to smoke, he invites me to dinner. We agree that I need to go shower and should return to his place around 6 pm. Doong doesn’t want to come back cause she doesn’t like to see me drinking and smoking (awww, what a wonderful girlfriend she would make! She’s concerned about me!!), but I convince her to join me because there’s no way I’m going to sit by myself in a moto-rental shop with her tokin’ cousin and a bunch of his friends.

6 pm, dinner time. He cooks up some pig, rice and some vegetables, pulls out some Bia Ha Noi, and invites a couple other friends over for the celebration. Doong doesn’t want to drink, but I’m all for it. Since I went back to the hotel, I emptied my pockets of everything worth stealing and only kept my insurance papers and some cash. After the beer’s finished, we drink the home made “Ro” (rice-whiskey, similar to lao-lao) and that fucks me up. In any event, after drinking so much, I gotta pee. Go to the toilet. Leave toilet, spook dog, dog bites my foot. FUCK! Now I’ve been bitten by a fucking dog in a developing country! If there’s one thing you HAVE to go to the doctor for, it’s getting bit by a dog. I sit down on the couch and let Doong spray some anti-septic on my foot and bandage me up while her cousin tells me that it’s not a “crazy dog.”

Bandaged and still eager to continue on, I take another hit of that bong. And BONG! again goes my head. This toke doesn’t sit right, and you know what happens when you feel that way. So up comes the good pig Doong’s cousin has cooked for us. Whoops.

But it doesn’t end there.

Not to be daunted by the dog bite or the up-chucking, I tell my man Ling or Lao or Lou or whatever his name was (Doong’s cousin’s friend who can speak English), that I’d like to see some live music, jazz specifically. So we get on his moto and find a jazz club. It’s swinging and a great time. No worries. I request Rollins, and the band yelled something back in Vietnamese. Unsure what they said. I applauded anyway. And now Ling wants to go to a night club.

We go and it’s not such a big deal. Hip hop mostly complete with choregraphed dancers on the bar tables. Kinda expensive, 500,000 VND but we have a good time (on my dollar, btw).

Drunk, bitten and in need of some sleep or a woman, I get Lao to drop me off somewhere close to my hotel. He dropped me off a block away from my hotel but SOMEHOW I got lost. So, what happens? Well, some dude pulls up on a moto bike and offers me some weed. I say “yea, that’d be a great idea” (it wasn’t). I ASK if he has change (Steve, you did what?) for a 500,000 bill (how much did you show him you had?). Which he grabbed from my hand and drove off (did you at least get the weed?). No weed, but some nicely packaged tea leaves.

Upset at being ripped off, I decide it’s a good idea to try to rob a moto driver (at this point, I thought of Vietnam as a collective organism committed to one thing, telling the world how horrible their history is and bilking all tourists of their money). Well, sheeit, the first guy who stops screams bloody murder and all of a sudden, the cops magically appear! WOW! Try to get that service anywhere else! The good Lord was above me then because I back off knowing that going at it with the cops would probably be a worse thing than the dog, the puking and losing $25… and much tougher to explain.

Maybe one day my opinion of Vietnam can change, but right now, I’m glad I’m out of there.

PS – Be careful of boom-boom, there may be more behind the abbreviation of the country’s currency than you think.

PPS – I did see one guy die on a bench by the lake. His friend was either trying resusitate him or kill him more by hitting and jumping on his chest. Kinda sickening, actually. Cops showed up and casually walked over to the bench and didn’t even touch the guy. Weird.

PPPS – It was on the way to Vietnam I created the following playlist. Not sure if it says something about my state of mind or if it’s just a series of good tunes to listen to.

So What – Metallica’s version

Fuel – Metallica

Breakin’ me Down – Soil

Halo – Soil

Garden of Eden – Guns N’ Roses

Die, Die my Darling – Metallica

Alconol – Ciaira’s tears

Vietnam Part 1: The Good and Bad

June 12, 2010

Well, I’ve waited to write this post for quite some time because I didn’t like the place. Then, I ended up writing so much that I have to cut it into two parts to make it more digestible. So, part 1 is about the positives and negatives of Vietnam. Part 2 is about an eventful day during my last week in the country.

Simply put, Vietnam would be better without the people. Let me clarify, it would be better without the people who work with tourists, especially the hawkers, the hotel managers with “Great suggestions”, persistent tuk-tuk and moto drivers (who, without a misstep in their English, go from offering rides on a motorcycle to rides from a woman to marijuana), and finally, the constant dread of getting ripped-off or robbed everywhere just because I am white and APPEAR to have the money to travel.

Didn’t like it.

To be fair, I’d heard about the annoyances in Vietnam before going, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. Since I’d been in Thailand and Cambodia, I thought I could handle Vietnam. The big problem, however, is that Vietnam, unlike neighbouring Cambodia, Laos or even Thailand, the price hardly budges on most things. If the seller says something is 50,000 Dong, then that’s the price and good luck trying to get it down. When you do, they whine and complain about the low price. It would be okay if the price were fair to begin with, but it often isn’t. They see a foreigner and they think “ATM! Let’s make a withdrawal!” It seemed as if Vietnamese folks are not friendly unless you have a wad of cash in your hand, or the look of a foreigner (who are supposed to have a wad of cash in his pocket).

There are some positives to Vietnam. Great scenery, amazing coffee, cheap suits, and a chance to learn some history from the non-American view. Personally, the day trip I took to the former DMZ was probably the best one. The scenery was gorgeous and the guide we had was very good at informing us at the current situation of Vietnam (it’s shit). Basically, under all that wonderful scenery lay about 10,000 unexploded ordinances, meaning if you step off the bus and wander into the bush to piss or fuck, you run the risk of losing a limb.

The coffee is simply great. It was hard to find great coffee in Bangkok and southern Thailand, except for the American brand names and Italian copies. The only coffee worth mentioning in Cambodia is at the FCC. But Vietnamese coffee is astounding in most places. Costing just over $1 per cup (and a very small cup), you don’t need the Starbucks grande dark roast to feel alive. Nope, one cup of Vietnamese coffee is sufficiently strong to get you going. Any more and you’re wondering how to use all of your energy (a few suggestions come to mind, none clean).

We’ll see how the suits hold up, but I bought a couple of suits in Hoi An. They looked great and were apparently made from “Italian” wool (is it really Italian?). I needed some suits for the next couple of years (yes, I don’t buy them often) and something that looks good. So, two 3-piece suits, shoes, ties, cufflinks, and 6 shirts later, I realize I now have to cut my southeast Asia trip a little short. Pinstrip, one is double-breasted which is damn hard to find these days in regular suit shops. It was great though, they have CATALOGUES of stuff to choose from. Pick what you want, fabric and they’ll have it made within 24 hours. They’ll even help you ship it home (mine have yet to arrive, and so I’ve got to thinking about the BRILLIANT scam it would be to operate a clothing business that then swipes the clothing from the post office and pays out only the maximum insurance of $500… I’ve been in Vietnam for too long.) I’ll let you know how those suits hold up.

Most of all, Vietnam was a two and a half week history lesson. Go to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon and you won’t hold the tears and disgust back. The pictures aren’t viewer-friendly, this is history as it happened. Complete with a box that holds two fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, a multitude of pictures showing body parts and other remains of dead people, the museum left an indelible mark on my mind. My experience at the War Remnants Museum was followed up about a week later in Hoi An when I took a day trip with a moto-driver who wouldn’t leave me alone during my morning breakfast. Finally agreeing to the price of $25 for him to take me around for the day, I talked to him about how many people are just barely scraping a living since property taxes are so high in Vietnam (which is why many of the buildings are tall and narrow, something to do with the frontage costs). To add to that sob story, I met an ex-American Ranger while on the moto ride. It was his 4th or 5th time that he’d back to the country, revisiting the places that he’d been as a soldier. He told me some stories and talked about the book he’s writing. The entire story was fascinating, and it was really interesting to be between two Vietnamese moto drivers whose fathers were probably maimed, wounded, or horribly scarred by the war, and this American military dude doing the rounds to come to terms with what he had done during the war. So, at the end of the day, I felt so bad about being a “well to-do tourist” that I gave the moto-driver an extra 100,000 VND (~$5).

And that sums up the good and bad of Vietnam. Next, I hope to share a laugh at my expense by sharing with you one of the events that happened to me during my last week in the country.


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