Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Urban Still Life

10 December 2014

We saw a giant peanut M&M walking around the airport in KL.  People stopped and posed for selfies with him/her, but we skipped that.  We just watched this person who probably was melting inside that unmeltable shell, who was having difficulty walking in monster shoes.  It was just funny to watch everyone around the M&M.

Our hotel is very nice - we're in District 1, which is the area around the city center.  We have a nice room, and they served a really sumptuous breakfast.  Richard had the fresh omelet, bacon, potatoes, and the wonderful coffee.  I went with the beautiful baguette, such good French bread!  And we both had a good serving of the bright red watermelon, yum!  But there were also pancakes, cereals, a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes, and I don't remember what else.

So of course we had to walk off some of that food, and we walked down to the Ben Than market.  But we had to navigate the obstacle course that is the Saigon roads.  Or maybe they're more like motorized dodge ball.  There are nonstop cars, trucks, buses, taxis constantly blowing their horns, and as many motorcycles and motorscooters as there are other vehicles.  Plus a variety of bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, rolling carts with items for sale (my favorite being the friendly lady with a cart of plants).  

When I say nonstop vehicles, I mean it - the vehicles keep coming whether they have a red or green light.  They come from different directions, all at the same time.  And the pedestrians wait a moment and then just step out into all that traffic!  Take a few steps and let a motorcycle go by.  Several more steps and a car goes in front while a few motorcycles veer around.  It was like swimming through a school of fish who zip by, leaving fractions of inches around you.  I feel like I held my breath across every street, and even more in the traffic circle, where the traffic is multiplied by a factor of, oh, maybe 50!  Though the traffic circle did have lovely flower beds in the middle of the circle.  As well as a gas station.  In the middle of the intersection.

Anway!  We both like markets, and this was as crazy as they get!  Things were a bit mixed - several stalls of clothing, a few watches, some purses, then back to fabrics and clothes and repeat. Suddenly, we find coffee, tea, spices perfuming the air.  Fruits and vegs, always mosaics of color.  And then the wet market, meats and fish, rather gamey and where I try to avoid looking too closely.  Outside the market, at the other end, we found the flowers, always the most wonderful part - with huge flower arrangements, giant sprays of orchids and other exotics, wreathed with colorful tulle, and looking like they were designed for horse races or funerals, way too big for a hotel room, and just gorgeous!

Now, in amongst all the items for sale are the people who are selling the items.  And apparently Vietnamese vendors aren't shy or retiring.  No, everyone was smiling and friendly and pulling out items to wave at us saying "Look, madame, your size, buy my shirt.  Here, sir, tee shirt, baby shirt, clothes.  Buy my watch. I have a purse for you.  Look at....." with people trying to hold our arm or patting our shoulder.  I was looking at a framed centipede (just baby size, only about six inches long) and the lady came up and tickled my arm!  SO different from other places in SE Asia, where it is offensive to touch someone's head (Thailand), or don't touch someone's arm or shoulder (I don't remember where we read that).  Here, people seem to feel free to touch anyone in a friendly kind of way.  To the point that a woman selling ice cream patted my stomach this evening!!!  Seriously, a woman came by on a bicycle, selling ice cream, and I patted my stomach and said I had eaten dinner and didn't need the ice cream.  She laughed, patted my stomach, laughed again, and rode off.  Well what could I do but laugh too, it was just funny!  Weird, but funny!  (Okay, that's probably what pregnant women go through, right?  Never been there.  But it IS weird to have your space invaded like that.)

Anyway, we were good about saying "No, thank you, thank you, no, no no no no no."  It was a bit overwhelming, but again, that's part of the energy of  markets, and we kind of expect it.  Plus sometimes I start saying weird things - "No, can't buy a table cloth, don't have a table, don't have a house."  The woman in front of me turned around in surprise, and we had a brief conversation about how we're just travelling and don't have a home.  As I said, just the busy and crazy activity of a market.

We also found a great store near us selling new and old brass or bronze items - I particularly liked the Buddhas, all lined up and serene.

And the brooms, leaning on trees, made nice little urban still life scenes.

We'll explore more of Saigon over the next week, and figure out where else we want to visit in this very interesting country, which is as mysterious and mystical as the Buddha statues.

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