it looks like my strategy for saigon is going to be that whenever i see the beaten path, to beat it. the LP guidebook (which i heard someone unsarcastically call The Bible) says most tourists never make it out of sectors 1, 3, and 5, so i took the 20-minute stroll to the river and across, into sector 4, where something between adventure and abduction beckoned...
along the way, vicarious gastronomes, i thought i'd take my GI tract for a workout at the heavy bag with some roadside snails and clams, wolfed down on the most disreputable alley i've seen yet (it literally took only 4 minutes to escape all honky-ville and emerge into narrow unpaved streets hung with laundry and teeming with pregnant dogs. haven't seen scenes like these since india)
also stopped for this intricately spiced fried fish -- utterly incredible (the clams, by the way, were very delicate, as were the smaller white with brown boxes snails; the slightly larger ones less exciting, and none living up to the giant snails that were on the Balthazar shellfish Babel that jeremy -- shout out, homie -- treated his all-beef moving crew to back in the day.
i sat down to eat the fish but got no laughs for my travails with the raw chilis i hoped to use as a cultural icebreaker/shibboleth. still, the endorphin spike was nice. then i noticed that the whole back of the dingy dark frontless space i was in was filled with women packing what looked to be tourist=trap salesman kits. i started writing in my journal about the fish, and i think the proprietor thought i was writing about the women and sat at the stool next to me and gave me the evil eye. i tried to show that i was writing about the food, then i said i was a "teacher" and he took up my vietnamese/english book and we both practiced pronunciation (don't ever attempt to say their word for "help"), and all was well.
the alien then crossed the bridge, watching a skiff propelled by foot-oars trace over the muddy eddies.
i was in the provinces.
a group of boys called out Hello to me and punched each other when i responded, clearly embarrassed. this was a "The Weird Guy Spoke Back" thing, which i've experienced before (like in high school). now i'm getting continuous eyeballs from nearly everyone, somewhat suspicious but still friendly. i'm walking through a long sidewalk market of shockingly diverse beautiful fruits and greens. (conner, i could deviate from my daily kale here...) until i saw and approached a cart with big heaping bowls of pickled shredded evil-chili-laden salad looking things, very colorful. my interest and bafflement drew a communal whoop from the women nearby. eventually i explained that i wanted to try them (the salads), but couldn't get across that i only wanted a little (as they seemingly sold them by the kilo), until i took a small bag from my bag and pinched off the corner. now a crowd has formed and i get my salad and start to eat it and it's good but not great (the way all the side dishes are at the broome st bahn mi). then, however there was some confusion because a fruitseller is asking me some questions, and i have no idea, and am just trying to say that i like the salad (though my friggin phrasebook doesn't include such esoteric lexography as "good" or "delicious" -- presumably because it's for brits and aussies who only eat pasta when they're abroad). so i'm saying what i can say, and it turns out that they're not talking about the food, they're talking about the coffee vendor, a woman in her late 40s. i figure it out when someone says, You boy, She girl, and then quickly find the "i'm here with my girlfriend" line in the book (which i had originally wondered why they bothered...), pointed to my ring finger (though vacant), translated We are here on holiday, and scampered off and away from all the laughter.
in retrospect, and considering how good the coffee here is, i might have missed the love of my life.
long nap. then the quest for bia hoi, "fresh beer," the one-day-shelf-life low-alcohol slightly fruity less-than-a-buck-a-liter beerish stuff my bro said i must find and consume with abandon. all the bars with palefaces made me nervous, so i zip again into my secret saigon but only find a place to have bottled beer and stir-fried beef (delicious). i sit down alongside gangsters with their heinekens, me with my saigon (i've long wondered why southeast asian gangsters always drink heineken -- no joke. anyone know? that's market cornering!)
finally back to my hood and the one bia hoi place i'd seen, very crowded, half local half white, and i sit and drink a liter ultimately getting into a conversation with a pair of 60yrold brit travelers, the kind who trek for a year at a time to places like Goa. They were sweet and we talked a lot about books (they prompted but then were gracious even after my predictable excoriations of kerouac, orwell, and ouellebecq). nice to speak a bit, and nice to go to sleep a little tipsy. maybe i will dodge jet lag completely.
a fine first day all around
love, the b-c b