On May 12 Tien and I got an early breakfast and decided to walk down to the river. It looked nicer on the map than it actually was, due to construction and heavy traffic, but it was nice all the same. We ran into an Australian couple and asked them to take our picture, then chatted about traveling Vietnam for a while. They said they were staying at the foot of a very large, impressive skyscraper that was being built nearby that I'd been talking about with Tien earlier. It's a financial tower, and I was talking about how its presence will definitely change the surrounding areas, which were already showing a heavy western influence.
We found a cafe and sat for a while, watching Hero, drinking smoothies and playing with the iPad. The walk back to the hotel was longer than I'd remembered, and by the time we got there it was time for lunch. We went back to the restaurant we'd eaten lunch at the day before and this time I took time to scrutinize the menu a bit more. It had some very interesting things, to say the least... Sauted [sic] noodle w. 3 special objects, Cow marrow ommelette [sic], Sauted [sic] ox pennis [sic] w. Satay, Grilled bloody clam w. fat & green onion, and Grilled crocodile file [sic] w. fish sauce were some of the highlights.
We watched a movie, then went out for doughnuts. They gave us a receipt.
On the way back I saw a lingerie store with two half naked mannequins in the front window. A sign read "50% off." Indeed.
As we entered the hotel the man at the front desk lowered his cell phone, which he was holding facing the door, and greeted us. It was interesting because I'd seen him do that before and thought he might be taking our picture. Also of note was that nobody at the hotel was familiar. Tien had gotten to know the staff before and they recognized us every time, but this time nobody knew us, and here was some guy doing something potentially creepy. It weirded me out and I mentioned it to Tien in the elevator.
On May 13 we headed to our usual breakfast spot and sat upstairs looking down on the intersection. I watched all the different people passing by and thought about all the different ways of life in Saigon, and the world in general. I wondered which of my friends would enjoy coming to Saigon and which would have a hard time adjusting. Tien and I talked a lot about cultural differences and how hard it is to give people insight into what a foreign place is actually like, and I said I couldn't really think of much to show her what American culture would be like.
The original plan was for us to take off to Vung Tau, Mui Ne or Nha Trang for a while, but we decided to go back to her hometown and then go off to Ha Tien beach instead, so we booked a bus home and headed out. The bus driver was really fast and we expected the trip to only last 4.5 hours. The music was loud and there was an intermittent sound of one of those really irritating alarm clocks. We also passed the scene of a motorbike wreck that had just happened. Fluids were still flowing across the highway from the mangled wreckage and a bleeding man was in the arms of another man on the back of a motorbike that was just taking off down the highway.
When we came upon the wreck, Tien had been in the middle of telling me a joke, which she told like this...
It took us 2 hours to get to the other side of the big bridge in Tan Hoa, something I'd never timed before but wanted to do because it always seems to take forever to get from there to Saigon. There was a cute little kid sitting ahead of us that I'd been playing with from time to time. He was really shy, but he warmed up to me and began playing little games with me. Then he began spitting, and all the sudden he wasn't cute at all anymore. He was just a rude little bastard that I wanted to smack. I didn't though, and eventually his mom did so for me and made him behave.
Right as we left Long Xuyen heading for Binh Hoa it began to rain heavily. We passed two people on a motorbike and sprayed them with water, and to top it off, one of the employees on the bus opened his window, pointed at them and laughed at their misfortune. I found this doubly hilarious.
I started adjusting my things to get ready to get off the bus, when I noticed that my wallet was missing all of the US dollars that had been in it. When they were in it, I don't remember, but they were missing then. All that I knew was that my wallet had been in my pocket since we left the hotel, and that meant that somebody at the Ruby Star had been the one who took it. Maybe that creep with the cell phone, maybe the cleaning staff, I'll probably never find out. I'll probably never go back to the Ruby Star either.
It was right as soon as I settled on that when we realized the bus had missed the stop in Binh Hoa and was crossing over the bridge into the neighborhood on the other side of the river. Tien argued a little with the bus folks and they ended up dropping us off on the other side of the bridge where rain water was flooding a business at the side of the road. We crossed to a cafe on the drier side of the road and got some coffee. Tien's sister was busy fighting a leak in the roof of her new house and said she'd come get us when the rain stopped.
Tien and I sat and talked a while with the family who owned the shop. They wanted to talk to me and asked a lot of questions about where I was from, how we knew each other, and said I was handsome. This tends to be the standard set of interaction between Tien, me and interested strangers. She thinks it's remarkable how everybody says I'm handsome, but I think it's probably just custom.
There was also a family next door to the coffee shop who knew Tiens family, so we went over there and visited for a few minutes before Tien's brother and sister showed up on two motorbikes to take us back to the village.
We arrived at Thu's house, which I had never seen before, and relaxed with the family, finally home. We ate some doughnuts that we'd bought in Saigon, and some chocolate I had brought from America, and tried to find batteries for a remote controlled helicopter that I'd brought as a joking gift for Tien that stemmed from a conversation we'd had online about flying over the puddles. The helicopter ended up being a lot of fun though and I'm glad I brought it. It wasn't nearly as entertaining as the Wii that I brought though. Tien said she doesn't know anybody in Vietnam who has a Wii, and had never seen one before I showed it to her online a few weeks back.