The joy and splendor of travel lost on one man

Halfway Around the World in 33 Hours

The Vietnamese are clearly a people who cherish their privacy. Why else would they put their country so far out of the way?

We left Ouray Tuesday morning at 4:30 and arrived at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday morning at 2:30. It was a long, mostly uneventful, haul. After United Airlines took a crap on our original flight plans, they eventually got us back to even. Our seats weren’t together on the flights from San Francisco to Hong Kong to HCMC, but some kind folks on the plane traded with us.The good news is that I’m now at least 13 hours ahead of most of you, so if you want to know how the Dow did today, just email me. We’ll make a killing.

While the women folk were sleeping this morning, I went for a stroll around the neighborhood. We’re in District 1, which is the main economic hub of the city. We’re maybe half a mile from the touristy shopping areas, the fancy hotels, etc. When we arrived at 2:30am, not a soul was stirring.

Well, everyone’s alarm clock apparently went off this morning. Holy shit, it’s crowded around here.

I almost got flattened four different times by people on motos–while I was on the sidewalk. As I am approximately six inches taller than everyone in this country and the glare from my shaved head rivals the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, it’s hard to believe they didn’t see me. At some point you have to start taking it personally.

The congestion is worse than I remember it being last time. The streets are a swirling pool of motos, cabs and the occasional bus that just plows straight ahead, mowing down everything and everyone in its path like Jim Brown in a Pee Wee football game. The whole scene reminds me of Grand Central Station at rush hour, except everyone is on a moto going 15mph.

“One Way” signs are a hot item of debate here. Traffic lights may as well be lava lamps for all the attention they’re paid. And lane designations? Waste. Of. Paint.

Crossing the street in HCMC is a topic worthy of its own blog post, so I’ll deal with that later. Let me just say that there’s a breakfast place directly across the street from our hotel…and I seriously contemplated taking a taxi to it. Or better yet, a bus.

All right. I should go wake everybody up so the jet lag doesn’t keep crushing us all. 

Before I go, here are a few interesting notes about international travel:

1. Hong Kong is busy cracking down on people who try to smuggle that “China White” powder that all the kids are hooked on these days. I’m talking, of course, about powdered baby formula. As of March 2013, you can receive two years in a jail and $64,000 fine for transporting powdered baby formula if you’re child is 36 months or older. They were announcing it over the intercom in the HK airport during our layover.

I thought it was some kind of drug thing. Turns out it’s far worse. In a nutshell, Chinese baby formula is so full of lead, sawdust and old Toyota engine parts that no one in mainland China wants to use it. So they pay a pretty penny for the tasty imported stuff. And thus, the booming baby formula black market.

I know, I know. It sounded like bullshit to me, too. But I looked it up, and the Interwebs don’t lie. The Chinese are hoarding so much foreign baby formula that Australia and Hong Kong are talking about rationing it so their own kids have something to eat. 

2. Who the fuck buys a $50,900 Tag Heuer watch at an airport gift shop? Ain’t no Sbarros and Hudson News at the Hong Kong Airport, my friend. Asian businessmen were buying ties by the armload at the Hermès store because the men’s room ran out of toilet paper.

3. People in Vietnam don’t form lines. It’s a cultural thing. They just don’t line up. Instead, they form a giant flash mob in front of, oh I don’t know, every damn place I need to go and just mill around. It happened at the airport when we arrived. I needed to get our visas. Everyone mobbed the teller window and jostled each other around until they got their turn. If you don’t start swinging elbows at least to some degree, you’ll never get anything done here.

I remember this from last time we visited. It’s never violent or angry. It’s just the way things are done here. It can be unsettling if you’re not expecting it, though. Take your basic mook from the Bronx and let 50 Vietnamese guys start shoving him around at a beer line in Yankee’s Stadium and you’ll see what I mean.

4 Responses to “Halfway Around the World in 33 Hours”

  1. Annette Kroll

    Hello Nick,Pam, and Rae:
    I enjoyed your observations and of Viet Nam. I also enjoyed the pictures of the country and your family as well. My love to all of you.

    • Nick

      The picture of Gate #67B is in the glove compartment of your Ferrari.

      (Craig is referencing an earlier conversation we had in which I mentioned that the HK airport also has a Ferrari store. They sell clothing and luggage with their logo all over it, though I’m sure I could probably order a car if I wanted. A car for myself, that is. Craig will get nothing…and like it!)


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