Never Get Out Of The Boat: Pt 1
Shit, Saigon; I'm back in Saigon. I just arrived at 11pm after 5 hours on the road. Exhausted, dirty - I've been in these clothes two days now after an unexpected decision to stay overnight. OK, I'm about over Vietnam now, too.
[Addendum: next morning I read that a cholera epidemic? episode? in the North has spread to Saigon now. Time to move on.]
Last night I was in Can Tho, a few clicks up the Mekong.
We have been in several other places that I can't remember, or was it because I was not told? I flew to the furtherest Mekong province of Ca Mau on 5;50AM flight from Saigon. I had to be at the airport at 5;15, which means getting up at 4:15AM. This is E@L here, remember - I often don't get HOME until 4:15! Get up so early, ridiculous!
Today we have visited three clinics in towns and one-road villages spread across the delta as we drive all the way back to Saigon (12hrs in the car after the 1hr flight down). We go by ferries across weed thickened rivers and in taxis down nightmarishly crowded bumpy roads along by shrimp canals. We toot-toot at bicycles and mopeds, cars and oncoming speeding trucks on the 1.5 car -width road, how we avoid collisions is totally beyond me - is there some magic in the sound of the horn? And pedestrians. Pedestrians like the untended three year olds who run out from the front room of their thatched huts - built on stilts over the shrimp canal - and DIRECTLY onto the road, as dad swings on his hammock, mom squats inside watching TV… This is worse that I have seen in country India, in back-roads China, Cambodia, anywhere. Afraid of what's coming, I look to the side.
The shrimp nets hang high on suspension rigs of timber poles. Various types of walkways arch over the canals to huts on the far side of the canal, some with concrete supports, many just poles and slats of wood to walk on, some not much more than balancing beams.
Everywhere we drive, the roads and bridges are terrible. Vietnam just can't put the two together; every approach and leaving of every bridge, in the city or in the country, is a spine-shuddering, suspension-testing, sump-scraping test of endurance. The bridges are built way up here, the roads down there, and the bits between are just wrongly done with sudden steep changes in gradient and material. Often we approach them at an angle to protect the cars underbelly.
A note of change. All motorcyclists are wearing helmets. Last year, this time, they were the exception, now they are the rule. An opportunity for helmet importation and sales that I missed. The women who "traditionally" wear large floppy brimmed hats tied down with a scarf while motorcycling have developed a variety of colorful cloth brim to sit out on the base of the helmets and provide shade.
[Photo to come if I could work out how get pictures off my iPhone ("see instructions", say the instructions - it's out the window any freaking minute, the most annoying phone I have ever had!) or indeed even get my copy of ACDSee to work now that the iPhone has screwed it over completely…]
Insert iPhone fucked photo here
Yesterday however was one of my least pleasant days. After scanning a few patients in a clinic in some village 2 hours drive from the Ca Mau airport, we head out for lunch at 11:30am with the Mekong Medical and Alcoholics Society. It is stinking hot.
A meal of "fighting" chicken (the loser no doubt) soup is unimpressive, bubbling on the naptha-fuelled burner on our table-top. Some salt-encrusted un-scaled, un-gutted muddy tasting river fish has been grilled. Reasonable, but not great. I loved the fresh crusty bread of course. The terrapin bits, beer-boiled in their own shells, not so much. The smell of the cindering shell flows at me no matter where I move my chair.
Insert another photo of terrapin stew here!
Terrapin? You'd better believe it - you know what a tortoise is? Same thing. Only cuter, only more of a pet. I resist the offer of the knobbled liver, the puffy tubes of loaded intestines and the strands of fatty omentum. Why not have a semi-formed egg or two? asks one Doctor, toothing his way around the neck of one the reptiles. I smile and rub my tummy - I'm full on those two half-sucked pieces of un-chewable chicken I attempted, cam ôn (thanks).
Insert another photo of semi-formed eggs
Beer keeps coming, big mugs of warm Heineken chilled with coarsely chopped chunks of ice, placed with casual dexterity in each mug the instant it melts beyond some critical level by a pock-marked chubby-faced girl.
Here be dragons if you think all Vietnamese girls are cute.
We buy 10 cobs of strangely steamed/boiled corn (the kernels have gone smoky translucent) from a pleasantly laughing peasant lady who comes right into the restaurant selling her wares. She has a badly repaired bilateral cleft lip, the resultant broad flat nose over prominent scars and her breathy open-palated speech impediment are a shame. But this is Vietnam, one of the worlds poorest countries and she would have been growing up during the American War, skilled plastic surgery was not a priority.
To be continued...
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
A little more practice with the pig organ soup whilst in Singapore might have suitably prepared your intestines.
But if you will eat in those swanky Mohamed Sultan Rd. restaurants......
Pigs' liver and kidney - CAN! Turtle ovaries, not so much.
Yes, I should have paid more attention to my 'Ulysses' CDs-- "Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls."