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A Case of the Saigon Stomach

We awoke on our last morning at the Blue River Inn in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Scott was not feeling well. Wheeling, it seemed, would be out of the question. He was unable to eat much, and felt too delirious to mount a cycle. We lounged around our room giving Scott as much time to rest as we could; then it was checkout time.

We moved our stuff downstairs and stashed it behind the front desk. From there, we set out on foot, in hopes that a bit of gentle strolling would help Scott’s condition. We wandered around slowly, getting fairly lost, wandering into shops, eating more Pho, and eventually finding ourselves once again in a giant grocery store. There is something about being a foreigner in a grocery store that I find monumentally engrossing. Time just slips by you. Given this strange phenomenon, you would be not surprised to find that we exited the grocery store quite some time after entering.

We were laden with a great bag of snacks to eat on that night’s Reunification Express. We would be in the train for the next few days, so plenty of food seemed appropriate.

We were just sitting down to a cup of overly sweetened coffee at a little shop outside the grocery store when I decided to take a trip to the bathroom. As I walked toward the john, I found myself suddenly walking within a group of Vietnamese police officers. I looked around, but they all had very stern expressions on, and refused to make eye contact. I briefly considered aborting the mission to the bathroom, but such a mid-swing reversal seemed, perhaps, a suspicious move. After all, I had nothing to hide.

So I made my way inside and settled my business. I was about halfway back to Scott at the coffee shop when I heard a bunch of screaming. I snapped my head around to see a bunch of cops screaming and running. One of them knocked over a display advertising crock pots, and as it clattered onto the ground I felt the electric shock of adrenaline pour into my system. Was there a bomb? A man with a weapon? I dashed around a corner and sought cover behind a large display about exercise machines. I whirled my head around.

The people inside the shop were confused and looking around. The cops were running out the door. It seemed calm was returning. I called over to Scott, “What just happened?”

“A guy just ran out of the shop with something he’d stolen. The cops are after him.” A crowd had formed outside the shopping complex. People were now smiling, joking around, enjoying the return of a feeling of safety. I certainly didn’t need another cup of coffee, so we headed back toward the hotel.

We got there, and had about three hours to kill. Scott was drifting in and out of consciousness in a chair in the lobby, when the woman at the front desk offered him a free room to sleep in for a bit. If the Blue River had not already been in seal-of-approval territory, it certainly was now. Going for a bit of a stroll, we came across a Banh Mi sandwich stand and indulged in some quick dinner.

I worked on correspondence for you, dear reader, while fireworks went off all around us. It was Independence Day here in Vietnam, and the people of the city had poured into the streets to sing patriotic songs and celebrate the reunification of Vietnam. I took a break to watch the fireworks on the lobby television. Just as they were getting into the grand finale, a thunderstorm broke out in the city.

The rain kept falling, and was still doing so when it was time for us to head to the train station. Because of the rain, we decided to take a cab. It was our first time experiencing the streets of Saigon in a car. It certainly hammered home my previous observation that the automobile is merely tolerated, and not quite welcome here in Saigon. Motorcycles poured around us, cutting us off, and generally making our traversal difficult. Multiple times, our cab driver stopped to yell insults at the motorcyclists. They generally paid him no heed.

At the train station, we were forced to wait for some time as the train was late. This, we were told by the locals who were waiting with us on the platform is actually quite abnormal. By the time the train arrived, I had been standing for quite some time with my pack on and must have been quite the sweaty mess.

We finally got onto the sleeper, and I threw my bags down on the bed. We had gotten two opposing bottom bunks. The train was set up with three levels of bunks, separated by thin walls into six-person compartments. The cycles just barely fit under the beds, which were presumably communal luggage space. We were quite glad to find that our bunk mates arrived with minimal luggage and did not need the space. They were quite friendly, and spoke a tiny bit of English. The six of us chatted for a bit before turning off the light and letting the rhythm of the rails lull us to sleep.

Ah, trains. It had been so long since we had ridden one.

What a fine way to travel.


  1. Mark/Dad | June 20th, 2010 | 4:42 pm

    What is sold in the beautiful Rong Vang box?

    Those of us over about 45 remember seeing photos of a helicopter readying to take off from the roof of the US embassy (actually Pittman apartments, the internet tells me now) in Saigon 35 years ago–with a ridiculous crowd trying to board it.

  2. Woody Schneider | June 22nd, 2010 | 2:58 pm

    @ Mark/Dad

    It was a kind of sweet bean candy. Very crumbly. Kind of like a Vietnamese Halwa.

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