So, it’s been a month since I’ve been back in Viet Nam. Did I make the right decision to leave Thailand ahead of schedule to return here? Most definitely. I’m still digesting it all, but I’m starting to draw some conclusions about my experiences in Thailand. But that is still another topic for another time; let it suffice to say that life is much better here. It is not without its problems and challenges; Biên Hòa, Viet Nam is no Shangrila. But the situation I’m in here is much, much preferable to the one in which I found myself in Suphanburi, Thailand, in no small number of ways.
But then I knew I made the right decision before I ever left Thailand – I was given nothing less than a SIGN. As I took a taxi from Mo Chit bus station into central Bangkok – the bus having delivered me for the last time from Suphanburi – the skies greeted me with a double rainbow (forgive the craptacular quality of the photo above; it was taken with my phone — click it to big it). A sign from the Heavens? Buddha? A rather common result of the time of day coupled with the fact that it’s the rainy season? Make of it what you will; I took it for a favorable omen. And I certainly had fun in Bangers for the next week, while I arranged and waited for my Vietnamese visa to be processed. Bangkok is a great city in which to have nothing to do for six days.
Redshirts? What About the Fatshirts?
One observation I will offer up for now, though, about the Thais: they are fatist. Okay, not really, or at least not anymore so than any other culture (actually probably less so than most Western cultures). And to be honest, I tend to loathe political correctness. Maybe that’s why I found this poster that was hung in a hallway of the school where I taught in Thailand to be rather amusing. It’s a poster discussing Buddhist precepts and good behavior vs. bad behavior. Note that the “good” kid is a skinny with a conservative haircut; the “bad” kid is fat and has an 80s British New Wave/New Romantics haircut. Every time I walked by this poster I couldn’t help but a) say to myself, “Hey! I resemble that remark!” or, b) start humming Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” to myself. Yes, I know the poster is not a “remark” per se, but if I have to explain my bon mot, then it’s no longer funny, so if you don’t get it, resign yourself to ignorance and move on.
Here are some more curious odds and ends to wrap up the move from Thailand and introduce the return to Viet Nam. First up: Essence of Chicken.
In Thailand it’s pretty common for students and parents to bring teachers gifts of food. One of the packages I received contained two jars of Essence of Chicken. Chicken juice in a jar. This is what I love about the culinary aspect of traveling in Asia; just when you think it can’t get any weirder by narrow Western standards, it does. And I confess, my usual gastric courage failed me; I passed on Essence of Chicken. Big-ass fried bugs from an Isaan (Isan, Issan, whatever) food stall? No problem. Fish head soup? Eat it up, yum. Chicken juice in a jar? Er … even I have my limits.
Speaking of big ass bugs, there are a lot of these in Southeast Asia. Here are two examples from my current residence, the lovely (in a backpacker/no-tell motel/short-time-fun kind of way) Sao Mai Hotel in scenic downtown Biên Hòa. First up, a spider nearly as wide as my foot greeted me in the hallway one evening. I wish I had had my DSLR handy; this spider was a beauty. As it was, I was stuck with my phone. I love my Nokia 5800, but it’s image sensor is crap in any but ideal lighting conditions. Anyway, I’ll take spiders over roaches any day, particularly in this part of the world (where the roaches are many, varied, and even fly about as a matter of routine), as spiders eat other annoying bugs, of which there are a lot here.
Tower, This Is Delta-One-Niner-Mike-Oscar-Tango-Hotel Requesting clearance for Takeoff
Next up is this supersonic-looking moth-like thingy (as seen below; click it to big it). I’m not sure what this little guy was, other than a case of natural and mechanical verisimilitude. I spied it on a windowsill in the stairwell of the Sao Mai the other day (I’ve rotated the picture to make it easier to look at); he was a good two inches long from nose to tail. I say moth like, because it looks like a moth, but when it flew away it made a loud buzzing sound, almost like a beetle would (almost as if it was prop-driven, as opposed to the fighter jet it resembles). Of course what struck me was the resemblance to some delta-winged fighter aircraft, replete with two-finned tail assembly. And you thought all those engineers at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Hughes, EADS and whatnot came up with their own ideas – they were just borrowing from Mother Nature.
It’s All About the Size of Your Dong
Last but not least, although it has nothing to do with food or bugs (which are sometimes the same thing in this part of the world, as I noted previously) is Vietnamese cash. This is something that is naturally confusing to a Western traveler here, particularly one of my own breed (Fatuous Americanus). Denominations of American money are all the same size and color, true, but we have different dead guys on each denomination, which makes them fairly easy to distinguish. Plus, in our every-day lives, we typically only have to deal with bills with one zero on them.
Both the Thais and Vietnamese like to put the same guy on all their money – the Thai’s their venerable current king, and the Vietnamese have Ho Chi Minh, naturally. Thai denominations tend to differ considerably though, and even use different portraits of the king. But denominations of Vietnamese dong – yeah, the “dong” jokes just never get old for me – all use the exact same portrait of Uncle Ho. Granted, they are generally easy to distinguish, thanks to different colors and sizes, with the exception of the 10,000 dong notes (not quite 50 cents American) and the 100,000 dong notes (about $5). My Vietnamese friends point out that they are indeed different colors, and even different sizes; the 10,000 is admittedly slightly smaller. However, I maintain that in dim lighting, in one’s wallet or purse, with all those zeros, it is easy to confuse the two. Here, judge for yourself:
Not a huge difference. Of course, I’ve confused big denominations for small ones twice (that I know of), both times, the server/cashier involved pointed out my monetary faux pas immediately. In fact, this happened on my second day in Viet Nam.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I have to go home, get cleaned up and prepare for tonight’s classes.
P.S. As I was posting this, I realized there was one more photo I wanted to throw in here. You don’t see a lot of graffiti in either Thailand or Viet Nam (at least not in the places I’ve been). The only graffiti I ever saw in Sai Gon (Andre the Giant stickers don’t count) was the word “graffiti” misspelled “grafirti.” I have seen a bit of more artistic, Western-style tags here in Biên Hòa, but the Thais seem to be a little bit ahead of the Viets in the graffiti-as-art category. To wit: wall tags in a vacant lot outside the Phloen Chit skytrain station (click it to big it). Again, sorry for the craptacular phone-cam quality.