Wednesday, December 8, 2010

{Saigon traffic} Rules are rules

No space on the road? Just ride on the footpath!

We're into week number two with our own car and driver.

At only 22 years old, our new driver Mr Long is just a baby but so far he has impressed me with his cautious attitude to driving.

Unlike many of the taxi drivers in this city he doesn't constantly sit on his horn (only using it to warn motorbike riders who stray into our path) or overtake in an aggressive manner i.e overtaking for no other reason than the need to be in front of someone else!

So tonight I was surprised when my housekeeper told me he was pulled over by the police and fined for a traffic infringement on the way to school this afternoon.

Oh no! I immediately thought my high opinion of Mr Long was going to be crushed. Was he only behaving while I was in the car?

When I learned he was fined 700,000VND (that's about USD36) for not using his indicator when changing lanes on the highway I was shocked!

Seriously? This is the city where motorbike riders travel on the footpath because they can't be bothered waiting in the peak hour traffic! Surely footpath driving endangers more lives than someone who forgets to indicate a lane change?

I am impressed that the police seem to be trying to make the roads safer (even though the cynic in me knows it's really just revenue raising and unfortunately, in many cases, an opportunity for individual police to line their own pockets).

Unfortunately for Mr Long, sitting on the highway and pulling over drivers who do the wrong thing is the easiest way for police to teach locals that flouting the rules has consequences (because obviously trying to do that in the District 1 peak hour traffic is just going to cause further road chaos).

Vietnam's reputation has been marred by stories of police on the take who shake down the drivers for cash and pocket bribes in order to let offenders go without a huge penalty.

Not sure whether Mr Long refused, or whether he was just lucky enough to get the new breed of policeman who knows that many drivers are unlikely to risk their job by paying a cash bribe.

Either way, this was one of those "official" fines where Mr Long will have to report to the police station next week and hand over the cash to get his licence back. 

As sad as I am for our driver (USD36 is a lot of money for his family) this is a good lesson for him to learn and a small step towards teaching the newest generation of Vietnamese drivers a hard lesson in road safety.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

{Saigon Snaps} A Team Somerville Xmas

The tree has been decorated...

The stockings hung...

And Georgia and Mackenzie have had their first Santa cuddle for 2010!

A cuddle with Santa at this morning's BIS Xmas Bazaar

We're ready for a Team Somerville Xmas in Saigon!

Friday, December 3, 2010

{Saigon Snacks} Ben Thanh Night Market

Tonight we played at being tourists.

Most people are shocked when I tell them I haven't been to Saigon's infamous Ben Thanh Markets - despite living here for 5 months.

Sadly, after almost 2 years in Vietnam, every market feels a bit "same, same" and the thought of visiting yet another tourist trap didn't hold much appeal.

After some prodding from my colleagues, who raved about the dining delights at the Ben Thanh Night Market, I decided that tonight was the night for me to shake off my apathy and behave like a newly arrived tourist.

The fact that we were dressed in our work gear must have looked slightly odd as we mixed with the sunburnt, shorts-wearing foreigners, but I must admit it was good fun!

Ben Thanh's Night Market is held on the two streets that run either side of Ben Thanh Market - a vast building that straddles the block between Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi Streets in District 1.

On recommendation we headed straight to Hai Lua - a streetside restaurant at the night market with plenty of plastic tables and chairs surrounding an open air kitchen.

Ben Thanh's Night Market
Hai Lua restaurant at the Ben Thanh Night Markets
 Hai Lua is a feast for the senses and it was fun to watch the tourists staring in wide-eyed amazement, mesmerised by the chefs preparing the food before grilling it on massive barbecues.

Interesting...all the barbecue chefs at Hai Lua are female!

If you can stomach it, wander to the far side of the kitchen to watch the chef pluck a live fish from a bucket of water and scale it while it flops around (in vain) on the chopping board. A wee bit cruel but nice to know the meals are fresh!

We ordered a barbecued whole red snapper, a plate of salt and spicy squid (a little thick and chewy), Cantonese fried rice and a few beers, all for under US$15. The fish was delicious. A little small and only 140,000VND - I'd recommend ordering one per person.

Delicious red snapper

Dining at Ben Thanh Night Markets
Tonight I learned a valuable lesson.

As a resident (albeit a temporary one) it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you'll get around to seeing the sights one day, or reaching the point where you become blase and bypass the local experience because it feels too touristy.

Tonight I discovered that, despite almost 2 years in Vietnam, I still actually enjoy behaving like a tourist!

To my surprise I also learned that I'm (thankfully) still not immune to the charms of the local hawker children touting their wares.

The staff at the Hai Lua restaurant do a great job of moving on the kids if they look like they're bothering the diners, but one young girl (around 7 years old) caught my attention.

With her olive complexion and gorgeous smile she tried to convince Rob to buy a hand held fan.

"You buy one from me?" she asked politely. Rob declined. "You sure you won't buy one from me?" she persisted. "How about I buy zero from you," Rob retorted (with a grin). "How about you eat zero then," she shot back (with a cheeky laugh!).

Clever girl. She had me. I found myself handing over 100,000VND for a packet of 3 hand held fans that I'll never use. They mean nothing to me, but a lot to her family.

After dinner we wandered the markets, drunkenly giggling at the tourists buying all manner of tack (realising we were once like them!) before making a snap, alcohol-fuelled decision to walk to the backpacker area on the edge of District 1.

Our destination was the very busy Bui Vien strip - a tourist area lined with heaps of bars, restaurants and shops for foreigners.

We were coaxed by the CO2 bar's roadside touts to pull up a plastic stool in front of the bar. A few too many dodgy wines and mojitos, but it was a fun (albeit unusual) Friday date night in Saigon!

The backpacker bar strip on Bui Vien
Roadside drinks at CO2 bar on Bui Vien

Here comes the hangover!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

{Saigon Snaps} Telecom Vietnam!

After almost 2 years in Vietnam, watching the locals fix power cables still gives me a giggle!

Of course I shouldn't laugh because it's clearly dangerous, but nobody seems to realise or care!

Snapped in Saigon: corner of Thi Sach Street at 4.20pm