A Saigon state of mind

Talk about a contrasting couple of days. 

Yesterday I was on a bus heading to Ho Chi Minh City and worried about what I would find. I would end the day feeling very optimistic about what was to come. 

Then as I write this at the end of the next day, I feel that I have reached the low point of the entire journey.

Ho Chi Minh is a surprisingly green city. Its roads are wide, as are the pavements.

The roads however are completely clogged with scooters and thousands will pass by you in just a few minutes. The traffic here is truely something else, and there is no point in waiting for a suitable gap to begin crossing (Note: In Europe I would say to cross. Here in Asia you’ll never get a gap long enough to make it all the way across). Instead no matter how busy; you must inch your way out and keep going. 

Unless there is a bus coming, in which case you get out of its way no matter what.

Its not as nerve wracking as it sounds. In fact provided there are no more than a couple of you, its fairly simple. In a large group however its a bloody nightmare as people stop randomly, or the first lot reach the other side and just stand there leaving anyone still in the road stranded.

We walked around the city centre. It is more attractive than I imagined it to be and it is also more obvious that there is more money in this country than Cambodia. Just a peek at some of the names of some of the fashion houses hoisted atop expensive looking boutiques can tell you that.

I’m also surprised how many modern Vespas are here. They aren’t a cheap scooter even at home, so to see so many on the roads so far from Europe is surprising.

As we walked I was delighted to realise how little hassle I was getting. There were still the odd pitches – flexible sunglasses seem to be the big thing they are trying to shift. But a polite ‘No thanks’ was enough to have them move on.

We all went out in the evening for our last meal as a group. We ended up at a place that did a combination of local and Mexican food. 

I had enchiladas!

Then a couple of us went out for a farewell cocktail with Thou before finally saying goodbye.

So what changed today?

Its a combination of things. I think it was probably not helped by the early morning phonecall asking what time I would be checking out. My first chance of a lie in in ages blown. It was completely blown an hour or so later when the drilling started.

But fear not, because today I was transferring over to a new hotel. An apparently better hotel.

Is it bollocks.

It took over 40 minutes to check in. The room is OK, but I appear to be next to some kind of utility room and the staff are in and out every couple of minutes. Even now at 11pm, I can hear them banging about.

The lift is an impressive bit of work as well. It reads the floors incorrectly, stopping at the 1st floor when it thinks its the ground floor, 9th floor for the 7th etc. It can only hold a couple of people at a time as well and takes an age. I got back from luch tonight, took one look at the people waiting and walked up to my room. Its on the 7th floor, so its 14 flights of stairs. 

I still beat the lift.

The internet doesn’t work either. There is a wi-fi signal, but it isn’t connected to the net.

But a dodgy lift and lack of net access shouldn’t have soured the entire day.

No what did that was actually leaving the hotel and going for a walk. 

The hotel I’m in now isn’t all that far from the last one so it was an easy walk even with my backpack. One the way I passed a laundry, and I made this my first stop. There I was greeted by a scowling woman who told me that she would not take my clothes. I asked why and again she said “not your clothes’. With a strong emphasis on your. Then she appeared to change her mind and said she would do them but only in three days.

Amazingly this appears to be the only laundry in this part of Ho Chi Minh. Everywhere else I’ve been you practically trip over them.

Oh well, thats why I carry sachets of washing liquid with me.

But again, a minor annoyance.

No what got me riled was walking around the market. 

Not since I went clubbing in a knocking shop in Nairobi have I been manhandled so much. No wait, just remembered that massage a couple of weeks ago. 

Not since a really creepy massage a couple of weeks ago have I been so manhandled. 

I would walk past stalls. At first, a the stallholders would hold out t-shirts with ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ written on them and shout about how they have big man sizes. Then it got a bit more physical. Instead of just calling to me, they would grab my arm and try pulling me into their stalls. When others saw this, they would grab my other side and try to pull me into their stall. 

I’d just walk on, keeping an extra grip on my bag in case it was some kind of distraction where the strap could be slashed. I hate even thinking like that, even though I was just being pulled left right and centre. In that situation, grabbing your bag is the exact right thing to do and not excessive paranoia. 

But the best was yet to come. One woman stallholder then grabbed my shirt and attempted to lift it over my head. She was saying something along the lines of ‘I make you copy of your big t-shirt’. I know its possible for them to copy pretty much anything here. But I never thought that they’d try and instigate that business transaction by literally taking the clothes from your back.

The final insult came when I was walking down the street. A young boy was watering down the pavement next to a flower stall. This is something a lot of places do as it prevents dust from flying around. I stepped into the street to give a wide berth, and as I passed the fucker lifted the hose and aimed straight at my fucking feet. 

And you know what, right now I don’t feel welcome here and right now I don’t want to be here.

I met the new group this evening. I’m apprehensive. The make up of it is far older than the last couple of groups and the introduction meeting bored the tits of me. It was like attending a telling off from a teacher on a Friday afternoon and went on for nearly 90 minutes.

The entire thing boiled down to “some people can be dicks and will try to rip you off. Be wary and pay attention. Remember you are responsible for yourself’. That took an hour and a half to say.

I came away from it with the genuine realisation that at this moment I couldn’t give a shit any more. I could quite happily walk away and cut my loses. Some things I can cancel and only lose the deposit on. Others I’d have to write off. 

But I can’t and all of a sudden I feel trapped. 

I still have a burning desire to see Austrailia and New Zealand; even though I am worried about the cost. I’m really not fussed about Chile, but it leads to Peru so fair enough. Peru, I do want to do but it is something I can get my money back on. Same with Mexico. 

But to walk away from all that would be crazy. But right now I don’t think walking away from Vietnam would be given my current state of unhappiness. The issue is where would I go, and how much would it cost to get and stay there. I’ve travel and accommodation booked and paid for here until the 29th. After that I have flights booked and paid for. 

If I leave this trip, I’d have to get out of here for my sanity. Leaving a tour of Vietnam to stay in Ho Chi Minh would be insane. So I’d need to fly somewhere that is cheap, quiet and an easy journey to Singapore to catch my flight to Australia. 

You know what would have been useful? Being able to go on the internet and have a search for somewhere. What a shame I’ve got fuck all net access beyond the limited data I can use with my mobile. 

I’ve actually no idea where I’d go anyway. Which leads me to think that maybe I should just stick with the tour and if we visit somewhere that I really like, I can look into staying on there and then getting a train to Hanoi to catch my flights. It would certainly be the cheapest thing to do beside sticking to the original plan. 

Of course if I find the new group to be not my cup of tea that could prove awkward.

So thats why I feel trapped, even though I have more freedom to do what I want, when I want than I ever have before.

I can actually draw a comparison between how I feel right now and how I felt in my last few months at work. I’d reached a point where I desperately wanted to get out, but knew that whilst I had the freedom to do so, failing to hold on that extra couple of months would mean the loss of a redundancy package. I now have the freedom to leave, but not holding out just 27 more days could cost me a lot of money.

There is of course another side of this to consider and that is my mental health. If I stand back and look at it dispassionately then I know that I’ve dealt with worse before. So why is it having an impact now? I’ve described it as reaching my limit with Asia, and I still think that is the majority of it. But I can also see the truth staring me in the face that this is another depressive episode. Its been a while, but I’m going to have to face it that I am depressed. Question is whether its just a down cycle that will pass soon, or is it a more serious episode. 

Well one way to find out is to change my environment from what I feel is having a negative impact on me to something more positive. Now I’m on a bloody tour, so the physical environment will change every day. Whilst I know where I’m going by name, I don’t know if they are sufficiently removed from whats been bugging me about Asia to make a difference.

Which brings us all the way back to getting out of here early.

I’m going to ‘go with the flow’ for the moment. Give the group and the country a chance to pick me up. Worst case scenario I suppose is that I have a really shitty couple of weeks and then head down to Oz. Best case it that the people and the country blow my mind and make even the thought of leaving early look foolish.

How utterly insane this is.

This is really where I could do with a travel partner. Someone to pick me up when I’m feeling like this. To bounce ideas and concerns off of, and to give me encouragement when its needed.

Instead, I write these posts – half information, half thinking out loud. Possibly a little too personal, but then this is supposed to be an account of my experiences and not a glossy travel brochure.

So if you’ve made it this far down; thanks for reading and I’ll be sure to get a couple of galleries up when I can.

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