I'd stay home if I could
... but I can't

  • The Mekong Delta

      • kaestel.dk
      • The Market in Vinh Long

    On my final day, I went on a one day tour of the Mekong Delta with Thao and a busload of tourists. We left the city at 7AM and drove for about 2 and a half hours west to a small town, in the midst of the Mekong Delta, called Cái Bè. Small means just about 300.000 inhabitants - which is funny coming from Denmark. Relativity in full effect.

    From Cái Bè a boat took us into the delta, to see a traditional floating market. Because the Mekong Delta is mostly rivers fruits, vegetables and other locally produced goods are still transported up and down the rivers in the traditional Vietnamese river boats and they meet in the floating markets to trade the goods. In other words, a floating market is simply a location where boats meet to trade by docking along side each other in the middle of the river.

    No reason to hide this was a tourist intended day-trip, and we were paraded through the all the classic point of sales locations, offered seriously overpriced locally produced goods, lightly spiced up with "this is how you make rice paper" and "Who wants to hold a giant Python" events, and finally a riverside lunch, which sadly marked the worst meal of my week. I pity the tourists among us who seemed impressed.

    Tourist crap aside, I felt privileged to get a ride out of the city, to observe the countryside landscape and the famous Mekong Delta first hand. I had a short glimpse of the local environment and even a local market in Vinh Long during the final "be back here in 45 minutes" off-leech session.

  • The end of a workweek

      • kaestel.dk
      • District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

    In 5 days I had 5 late evenings in the Synova office, in a mix of training, aiding on the ongoing projects and finishing documentation. I guess I foresaw this, after all I changed my tickets to minimize the consequences. None the less it doesn't leave much time for exploring the Vietnamese way. Or perhaps it is exactly that?

    I wanted to get close to living the life of a Vietnamese outsourcing developer while being here and in the spirit of extreme projection, I had tried to arrange for private accommodation with Thao or Thuyet, but in both cases it turned out impossible. In the case of Thao I would have had to marry her before being invited for a 6 day collegial sleep over or the repercussions from her mother would simply be too severe. A clear cultural clash with the relaxed inter-gender relationships known in Denmark. With Thuyet the other 8 people of the very limited space household also had a say in the matter and honestly I don't think they thought I could handle it - perhaps mixed with them not really knowing what to expect from having a privileged Dane hanging around for 6 days. Haha, I'll admit it might seem like a lot of work.

    Now, having sat there in the office with them late into the evening every day, it does appear I was indeed living their life, though I had a slightly shorter trip home, to the quiet and every day newly cleaned and above average hotel room, after work and late dinning out in Ho Chi Minh.

    I have found myself craving a cigarette, which sucks in the light of not having smoked for about a month by now. Possibly the sign of an imbalance in my working hours and stressful momentarily interchanging tasks. I don't feel any urge to start smoking again - it seems more like a re-awoken pattern of the past, given the similarity of circumstances.

    Thao has nicknamed me "Fat pig" and she never fails to punch me hard, whenever I make fun of her English skills. I think the exchange of rude remarks is a good indication of the sense of comfort - I honestly feared that would be impossible, granted the work task I am here to perform with her and Thuyet.

  • Saigoing in Ho Chi Minh City

      • kaestel.dk
      • District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

    What?

    Yes, it's spicy as hell and I love it. I am flowing, cluelessly. Letting the intense pace of the metropolis (and Thao) set the agenda and just try to suck in as much as possible in the process.

    I have found a glimpse of safety in repetition by getting my morning coffee from the Moto Cafe girls - an entirely scooter based coffee shop serving morning coffee to pedestrians close by the office.

    For lunch I explore the nearby neighborhood restaurants by foot, always safely guided by Thao in this myriad of scooter chaos with no clear recognition of "green light walk, red light stop". I eat weird fruits called Vu Sua for snacks and after work, I get on the back of Thao's or Thuyet's scooter and venture into the even more crazy rushhour traffic of inner city Ho Chi Minh, to end up idonnowhere. A small restaurant in a back alley or a street food joint for another laughably cheap culinary experience including intestines of various animals and always, always lots of chili. Most of the time I have no idea what I am eating and my chopstick skills have been seriously challenged - but the food is soo good and at this rate I'll gain at least 10kgs by the end of the week.

    I hardly understand a word of any conversation, but it doesn't matter because I am well fed and decently rested. I just smile and bow.

  • The end of a work day

      • kaestel.dk
      • The Synova Office, Ho Chi Minh City

    I woke up this morning, completely round-abouted, too early and too suddenly awake to just go back to sleep. I managed to pull off half a Yoga session before I feasted on "Breakfast included" and found my way to the office.

    I am here because my (soon to be former) employer is working with Synova on some projects and we are supposed to do a handover of the projects I made over the past year and a half.

    I had been told that the verbal English skill are generally limited but from my previous textual communication with Thao (my primary contact), I had been led to believe it wouldn't be as bad as it was presented beforehand. Ha! It is exactly as bad as the "skeptics" had announced but I have no doubt we'll get through it just fine anyway - one goes a long way with body language and good intentions.

    So far I managed to squeeze myself into Thao's lunch plans, and had a delicious and remarkably cheap (she paid) Vietnamese meal in a small and very simple local restaurant close to the office. Low table, kids chairs, rice, meat, sauce/soup, a bunch of different leaves, two sticks and a bowl. The name? Oh, I forgot. To be honest I had absolutely no idea how to go about eating the food we were served - but Thao just threw a bunch of stuff in my bowl and I tried my best.

    It's fun being here, though I hardly know where I am.

  • Goodnight Vietnam

      • kaestel.dk
      • District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

    Got all the way in five steps flat. Two steps in I notice one very clear difference - this is a communist country. Not that is shows practically, but the symbols are everywhere. In the flags, the uniforms and the posters using stereotype communist imagery and design. There is this obvious propaganda style to it. It's so iconic it cannot help but to impress.

    But once you're past that, this is a modern metropolis in all possible ways - and it sure is efficient. About an hour and a half after touchdown, I am now in my hotel room in the city center (District 1) getting ready to pass out. Considering my departure started this morning at 6.30, taking a fishing boat off Bantayan, showing up at 10 AM at the Synova office tomorrow morning seems very, very early.