Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gingerbread Castles, Glowing Arches, and Coffee Culture

21 December 2014

Our time in Saigon continues to be interesting.  Even the mundane becomes new and exciting in a different country or culture, so we enjoy exploring the city and just finding those little cultural anomalies.  

For example, holiday decorations.  Now, most Vietnamese do not celebrate Christmas.  But many tourists and travellers here do celebrate Christmas, so merchants have started decorating for the holidays.  With a Vietnamese flair, of course.

We walked by the arches over the streets one night, all nice and lit up and glowing in bright neon green and hot pink.  Hardly the usual holiday decorations, but wonderful in and of themselves.  I noticed that they now have cardboard cutout tropical flowers around the bottom edges, though they didn't show at night.  

A hotel and casino features magenta decorations, inside and out.  There's the tree formed from giant magenta glitter covered balls, shining in the sunlight.  (The glitter dust is slowly coming off and drifting into the sidewalk cracks, making a lovely secondary decoration.)  The interior of the hotel is decorated with matching magenta glass balls, magenta ribbons, and all kinds of decorations.  This hotel features gingerbread castles in the dining area - three huge castles with towers and arches and bridges linking them, all in gingerbread and icing - everything but flowing chocolate moats!  It really is incredible!

really like the café with golden reindeer in front, fleet (and red) of foot, penned in with a short white picket fence.  To keep them out of traffic?  Ready to fly next week?  We aren't sure.  I thought the fence was a nice touch, however.

And of course there are the random employees who are wearing Santa hats.  We encountered these two security guards who were happy to pose for a photo.  I know, the dude on the right doesn't look happy - but he agreed, and called his friend over to join in the photo.  Hardly looking like elves, but one of those wonderful mixed metaphor looks we encounter while travelling.

The winner in the cute department, though, was the Santa baby.  Really, we've seen several Santa babies - little girls in red dresses with fuzzy white trim, sometimes with a Santa hat.  But this child has more of the French Santa look, with her official Santa beret.  The parents happily allowed me to take the photo after I told them how cute their baby was, all dressed up.  Too adorable, right?  And she fits right in with the song!  (I've learned how to say "thank you" in Vietnamese - it sounds like you're saying "come on" but it's gam ung.  

Except sometimes I give it too much unggggg and people giggle at me.)  We've seen numerous baby Santas with their parents on motorscooters, but they zoom by too quickly to get a photo.

Both of us liked the peace dove tree, which almost looks more like a Chanukah bush.  Especially since it's Chanukah, and we're lighting our bright pink birthday Chanukah candles.  But the doves seem to remind us of the reunification of Vietnam, and how this country has been working on national peace.

Okay, enough holiday stuff.  We visited the history museum, which is to the east side of District 1.  The museum is located at the edge of the botanical gardens and the zoo, and is housed in a beautiful old building.  The artifacts date back to the Neolithic period, some 5000 or more years ago.  Vietnam is one of very few parts of the world where Neolithic remains have been uncovered.  So there were stone items (obviously, since Neolithic means the new stone age), early metal objects, all the way through to modern times.  It was all very interesting, both from the historic point of view (Richard) and the art point of view (me).  Here's the website for the museum, so you can see more about the museum and some of the artifact:

We both like the coffee culture in Vietnam.  There are all kinds of independent as well as local chain coffee shops, some with good food, others with amazing French pastry.  The in thing seems to be painting simple murals inside the cafés, so of course I stop and take photos to go with my tea and macarons, or the amazing chocolate tart.  

And when I found these two men having a pot of tea or coffee on the back of the motorscooter, well, I just had to get a photo.  It's a classic look!

Coffee is grown in the highlands here, and is a major product.  Hence the major coffee drinking in the midst of Asia, where it seems as if most of the people drink tea.  But in Vietnam, there are umpteen varieties of coffee, various ways of making the coffee, and even more kinds of coffee-based drinks.

We also found a pub, similar to the Aussie pubs we enjoyed in Australia.  Had a nice meal there, and watched two young teens playing pool.  So after I finished my lovely Greek salad, I tried to get Richard to play a game of pool with me.  He really didn't want to, so the 14 year old boy, the winner of the previous game, played with me.  We were pretty evenly matched, neither of us very good but not terrible either.  Well, the boy's mother is the chef, and as there were no other patrons she came up to hang with her kids and watch the game.  She cheered for me when I sank a ball.  She offered him advice on his shots.  And she laughed every time I missed a shot and groaned in my overly dramatic way.  She didn't speak much English, so she had the son translating between shots, and had him ask us where we're from, all that.  It was a great way to pass an hour, and to spend some time with a Vietnamese family.  Oh, and eventually I sank my last ball, missed the 8 ball, the boy sank his last ball, missed the 8, we went back and forth, and finally he got the 8 ball into a pocket.  Probably good that he won, but it was a close game, and as I said, fun!

Okay, one of my favorite things to see around Saigon - the flower delivery guys.  On motorscooter, of course.  Richard was buying a tee shirt, which took much negotiating, so I ran back and forth getting photos of the flower delivery guys from the flower part of the market.  And it takes quite a bit to tie the floral arrangements to the scooter so they are secure for the crazy weaving driving.  These are the huge arrangements that are on sort of a stick tripod or easel, with a large arrangement on the top and then a mini version on the base.  They always look sort of like the bride's bouquet and then the maid of honor to me, one a smaller version of the other.  But I just love to see a huge floral arrangement zooming down the road, mostly obscuring the driver as well as the scooter - just flying flowers!

Walking around, we see quite a bit of activity on the streets.  Of course there's the traffic, which is insane.  There are so many scooters, cars can't stay in their lanes and tend to drive back and forth across the dividing lines.  Scooters spill over onto the sidewalks.  And cross lanes of traffic, especially at intersections, so it seems as if no one is stopping for stop lights.

Road clean up crews, all dressed in orange, are out picking up trash and sweeping the roads.  By hand.  There are garbage trucks, but often we see the road crews out there with rolling dumpsters.  All in orange.

There are always food carts, some stationary, some mobile and rolling around the city.  Somehow most of the food cart people are wearing the conical hats, maintaining the very traditional look.

And the wires.  Electric wires, phone lines, TV cable, who knows what all.  The wires are bundled with ties and hang low between poles.  But on the poles, especially at cross streets, the wires go crazy!  They look like giant nests of prehistoric birds, or maybe some science fiction electrical birds.  Really, just huge round nests of wires and cables, with various transformer boxes or resisters or whatever hanging down!  Or wires that go nowhere, and are just capped with little tiny plastic balls, so that they look like some kind of electric weeds!  I know little about electrical systems, but these things look scary and unsafe and ready to blow at any moment.  They don't, and we haven't been without power yet, but seriously, don't they look like an electrician's nightmare?

Oh, young women tend to wear short skirts or dresses which don't work well with driving or riding on a motorscooter.  So the women carry long skirt-like blankets (or blanket-like skirts) which wrap and button, keeping their legs covered as well as keeping them warm.  And dry during drizzle.  Ingenious!

Our hotel staff hangs little garlands, almost bracelet sized, of sweet orange jasmine - one garland in each elevator, so the doors open and you smell the flowers.  Each front door also has a garland hanging, so with every entrance and exit you get a whiff of jasmine.  Just lovely.

Okay, I know this is long - last thing.  Around the corner from our hotel there are several shops selling beautiful wooden model boats, all kinds of galleons and junks and schooners and who knows what - just lovely replica ships with masts and sails.  Every afternoon there's a crew of young men out there sanding, painting, gluing, and assembling these masterpieces.  It's fascinating to watch them, they seem to know what part goes where and how it all fits together.  The shops don't sell kits, they assemble them there on the sidewalk out front.  No idea how anyone ships these things home, some of them are huge.  But all are gorgeous pieces, and we always stop and look and chat with a shop owner or two.

We have just a few more days in Saigon, and then we're heading to an island paradise for a week.  And of course you know we're going to have a great time on the beach!

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