11. To Be Independent

19 January 2019, 19:21

Up at six, downstairs for a devotional with fried eggs and coffee on the side. Rhett & Link, seasonal drinks, and science experiments. A banana, then sunscreen on skin reflected by a bathroom mirror.

Left turn, follow the paper map towards the market. Get stopped by a local on a bike who wants to take your money in exchange for showing you the city. He names his price in broken English, you think it sounds fair, and you put on his helmet and mount his bike. He takes you places, waiting while you go inside for pictures or whatever. He doesn’t care; he just waits and smokes. His father died in the war, and now he lives on tourism. He is old and weathered.

First stop, the War Remnants Museum, where you’ll find tiger cages and pictures of blown up and bloated people. The effects of napalm and American war-mongering. You’ll think back to what you might have learned in high school history, realizing you know very little of the war except that we clearly lost and likely didn’t have a good reason to be there in the first place. So much death, but peace in the end.

Then the Post Office, where you can send a card to someone far away for 23.000 Viet Dong. Not too bad. You send one to your parents and one to your grandma and grandpa. They will be glad for it and miss you.

Unfortunately, the Notre Dame cathedral is undergoing restoration, and you cannot enter. So Han, the moto-taxi driver, takes you past the opera house, and you snap a quick picture. Then to the Saigon River, dirty and brown with barges and boats for hire.

Next is the Independence Palace. You are getting close to Han’s three-hour limit, so you ask how much you owe. “Fifteen hundred,” he says, which after some clarification you learn means 1.500.000 (or about $64). You are caught off guard because that’s not the price you heard when you agreed to his service, and you don’t have that much cash on you, nor do you consider it a fair price. A complete rip-off, to be frank. You hand him what cash you do have and apologize, feeling sorry, angry, and confused all at the same time. He shakes his head at you and rides away.

Back to the Palace. Water fountain, red-carpeted stairs, modern design, national security council chamber, a presidential office, meeting room, meeting room, dining room, meeting room. Rich. Living quarters and a greenery. Flocks of tourists. The president’s bedroom, the rooftop meditation-room-turned-dance-hall, and a camouflage helicopter. Cinema, gaming room, brown wooden grand piano, and another dining room. A library. Kitchen in the basement.

Final stop is the Ben Thanh market. It reminds you of the market in Querétaro your teacher took you to in the Spring of 2016, except this time, you don’t know the language, and the vendors know a bit of yours. English, the language of commerce, especially when there are tourists involved. You look for a necklace because that’s all you want, besides food. You learn that jade is not just green but also can be red. Then you find the food and walk back to your hostel.

Dinh Độc Lập

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