Bicycling in a city of Scooters..

So my bike came with me. The other half purchased a battered second hand 10 quid hard case from some bloke in London via the medium of Ebay. One of our friends kindly collected it en route to somewhere she was going. Wheels & a lock were installed, bike was dismantled & packed around the bike were various soft things carefully weighed to ensure we didn’t exceed the maximum (we did – very slightly – nice man at the airport let us off) weight per individual item. The remainder of the excess baggage allowance my employer gave me was used for the safe passage of my beloved Mango bike.

The case arrived in HCMC airport missing 2 wheels, but otherwise generally intact. It was far too large to put through the manual x-ray machine so instead the security checks consisted of us opening the case, the lady rummaging a bit:
lady – ‘this bike new?’
me – ‘no look at the mud on it’
lady – *giggles* ‘OK’
We do the case up & that’s it – she made it – my bike made it!

I think it was a day or so later when she was fully re-assembled and ready to go. I took her for a quick little jaunt around the block & waited for JJ’s departure until I braved proper roads, traffic etc.

In the beginning I was slightly terrified. I started off just before Tet so the traffic was massively decreased in volume, & I was beginning to gain confidence. I had progressed from little rides round the block & had decided to go to the cash machine to get the money to pay the estate agent. This was the last working day before the Tet holiday and it was busy, really busy. After trying 3 separate cash machines (they put a cap on the amount you can withdraw around Tet because of all of this crime I keep hearing about) I managed to draw out enough money & was back on the road. Lights are red so I stop; I cannot tell you what the rule is that means that at some lights people actually stop & at some they are more for decoration, fear of death perhaps? Who knows – but these lights are the proper sort, so I stopped in line with everyone else. The man behind on his scooter starts to bib & I am wondering where exactly he expects me to move to as I am sandwiched in between two other scooters with one directly in front of me, he continues with his irritating bibbing & I am not sure what inside of my brain told me it was acceptable, but I started to gently nudge the lady in front of me with my wheel, just very gently, but nudge nudge, sure enough she moved forward nudging the person in front of her & the lights changed and we were all off. Then afterwards I was thinking about it & thinking actually that’s not ok though is it? I mean if you were in a car in England, you wouldn’t just gently nudge the one in front of you would you? That’s actually really quite naughty. Now as I was having a nice ride, deep in thought, I decided to extend it (as I often do) & this was a poor decision because somewhere between dropping off the money & making this decision I gained a puncture & had to dismount to sadly walk the 4km home praying to the bicycle gods that this was just a flat somehow. I pumped up the flat tyre to find it deflated again almost immediately. A bloody puncture. What brilliant timing, everything is shut for Tet & I have no puncture repair kit…. GRRRRRRRR!!!! I feel almost certain this is somehow that bibbing assholes fault. He did it, he punctured my baby 😦

The boyfriend dutifully repaired the puncture when he arrived for the Tet break, we ordered some Gatorskins they have Kevlar in them to help protect against punctures on these somewhat treacherous roads & I did a trial run to work. That feels like a lifetime ago!!

Now I ride my bike to and from work every day. On the way to work I am yet to have a day where some idiot doesn’t cut in front of me and force me to break on the hill I dream of coasting down. On the way home I have to brave cycling into the path of oncoming traffic for a few hundred metres, which is always a bit tricky but you get used to it. I have bought myself a bunch of disposable face masks because I prefer not to have a mouth full of grit & insects. The security guard at work gets worried/upset/confused if I ever arrived not on my bike. It took around 17minutes the first few times, I can make it in 12 now, a lot of it hinges on traffic lights.

So far I have been bumped several times always in the front wheel & I find it extremely disappointing to write this, but always by women. Not one single man, & I know gender is irrelevant in this exhilarating, terrifying, semi dangerous race to & from the office, but I do feel a little let down by my fellow females. The most common bumpage is when someone cuts in front of me underestimating the pace at which I am going so have to go faster than they expected then slam their brakes on as they are cutting in & again underestimate that a bicycle wheel is considerably bigger than a scooter wheel & bump me in the wheel. Thankfully they have only been pretty gentle bumps, but I glared so hard & they knew, they could tell through my mask I was glaring.

I have started to ride to CrossFit, I am still yet to work out how to get there to avoid crossing the road of doom, which is an uber busy fast moving 4 lane road. I know there is a way to avoid it, I just haven’t sussed it out yet, it is such a challenging road to cross that when it is clear I let out an audible sigh of relief. My ride home is much less harrowing.

I have in fact started to ride to most places. HCMC is a very flat city, so riding your bike around is not particularly taxing energy wise. Being vigilant & having a grasp on how the traffic is flowing, spacial awareness & peripheral vision are things I can thank roller derby for because I have a head start on most people here & that’s what you need all of your energy for really, actually peddling is the easy part.

So ingrained into my life has cycling become that I insisted on JJ purchasing a bicycle so we could go on adventures together, we went out for a test ride, I got a bit carried away & 42km later I had to cycle the poor dying other half home, forgetting he is not used to the climate, or riding bikes for quite a long way..

It got me thinking though. 42km felt like nothing at all, it felt as though I could have gone further, I wasn’t tired. I had started to look at routes this guy ‘Dong Mad Mal’ had been posting on Endomondo of 50, 60, 70km & I felt like this wasn’t something that was completely unattainable. The morning JJ went back off to the UK this last trip I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, got dressed into some probably quite inappropriate cycling attire, jumped on my bike & peddled. I overtook many very professional looking cyclists in fancy outfits, went past other groups sat eating their breakfast noodles in cafes, & was fascinated by this cycling subculture I knew nothing about.

I was determined to follow the path of the river, I had dreams of lush green, deserted roads & instead (so painfully obviously) I found myself in district 1, slap bang in the middle of Saigon. Peddling around trying to remember the way all the Ubers & Grabs had taken me, failing. Luckily enough it was super early so instead of the total insanity of the traffic, it was only mild chaos. I cycled round 1, 3, 8, 10 maybe not in that order, I found Ben Thanh market & managed to navigate myself back to Phu My Hung. I think that was around 30km & I suddenly thought maybe I was feeling a bit thirsty so I stopped at Annam bought some fizzy pop & water, sat down for a bit, drank them, it was hot, I must remember to drink, I thought.

I realised that I wasn’t tired or worn out just thirsty. Got back on my bike and vowed I would cycle 50km. I mean why not, it’s not so far really in the grand scheme of things. So I went straight down the big road (I know no road names here except my own – still – they are just soooo hard) keeping an eye on my Tom Tom spark, watching the KM rack up & when I got far enough that I knew I would have done the 50 on arrival home, I turned to head back, stopping off to take photo’s of waterlilies feeling pretty damn pleased with myself.

51.91km is what I actually did. I felt a little tired after that, but that could be because I had just cycled over 50km on around 3 hours sleep.
Today I went out to my employers factory. It’s a bit further than the furthest I have cycled, perhaps another 10km or so. It was only on the way back when I was watching the scenery change & noticing landmarks I remember from my cycling – the waterlilies for example, I realised that 50km is in fact quite a long way & I had managed to do that on my 3 gear road bike, with 3 hours sleep, a can of diet irn bru & a bottle of water.

Having my bicycle here is freedom. Being able to clock up distances of over 50km is the ultimate in freedom – there are a lot of other places you can get to when you start to get over the 50km mark, & that makes a lot more of Vietnam a lot more accessible. It really made me start to think. What if I plan my journey properly, get some sleep, eat some food & drink sensible drinks – where could I go? How far could I go? Cycling has never felt like a chore to me, it makes me feel like a 5 year old, big cheesy grin, I love riding my bike. I am not a brilliant bike rider, I can’t do any tricks or anything, I just like it & it’s  a great mode of transport too which is a bonus. No matter what has happened in the day or how bad I feel when I wake up I jump on my bike & whizz around peddling like fury & I am cured. It’s the simplest fixer. I saw a great quote the other day which really summed it all up & I am kicking myself for not saving it but when I find it again I will put it here. For now though I am out; bedtime.

Night world x

Hello Remember Me?

Yes it’s me – the person that set up this blog to document my new life in this strange and exotic land. Ok yes so I am failing hard, failing hard at one of my resolutions, and that resolution was to blog once a week. I am probably failing at a few of them actually, because I over optimistically set somewhere in the realms of 10, maybe 15; not sure the list kept growing. I don’t even know where the list is. Somewhere safe I would assume. I am a terrible goal setter, because I live in this dream world where everything is open and accessible all the time, and each day is about 73 hours long. You would think at the age of 38 I would have got to grips with 24 hour days and opening times but alas no and now I live in this confusing land of opportunity and flexible rules – super perplexing as some of my dream world has become a reality. So please forgive me my friends it’s not because I have forgotten about you, it’s because I have been busy, busy living in this new world of mine. Now it’s been such a long time again and so many things have happened I don’t even know where to start.

Lets go with a quick run down yes? I have had visitors, friends, boyfriend and rather excitingly my dear mother, who after a little coaxing quickly adapted to the laid back meandering pace of leafy Phu My Hung, filling her time with pottering and lots of nice iced coffee in one of the multiple Highlands chains scattered all over the place.

Perhaps this was all a little too much for my brain and body to take because somewhere in between the end of my mothers trip & the beginning of JJ’s I got sick. Really sick. Kicking off with a horrific vertigo attack that was so extended it had me head on desk for 30 mins before finally caving and staggering out of the office to pathetically hail a taxi, abandoning my poor bicycle (under the watchful & confused eyes of the security team) and tucking myself up in bed in a dark freezing room until my worried mother arrived home to check on me. The vertigo developed into sinusitis and it felt like I had been ill for ever until the weekend just past where I began to feel almost human again.

So asides from that and this is the very abbreviated version – I have soooooooo much to tell you all – I have been riding my bike all over the place, getting braver (because the traffic right – did I mention the traffic) and more confident with every little adventure, everyone thinks I am mad, but I feel free and liberated and sometimes slightly terrified but normally this subsides into relief followed by accomplishment. I have been successfully growing things, my tomato plants now look more like trees. I took part in the CrossFit Open for the first time ever, that’s a whole other topic to write about. I have been given my own beautiful creative space at work, and here I am sat on a flight to Hong Kong on my way to a materials show with a couple of hours to spare for an update.

It has been quite the whirlwind these last 6 months. Time here seems to move so much quicker than anywhere else I have been. I don’t know if it’s because of the transient nature of the city, but it feels like people are on a quest to fit in as much as possible in case, well I guess in case they run out of time, or it changes and they miss it. It’s hard to have commitments here, regular activities, a routine; it’s very much a city of spontaneity. When people ask me if I miss my life in England and yes of course there are elements I miss, humans, cats, food, funny things you might not think about until you move to the other side of the world, but I have been busy. I haven’t spent all that much time sitting around missing things because lets face it that would neither be a sensible or productive use of my time, nor a positive way to adapt to this mad place in which I now live. That would in fact just be plain silly. So now I have given you this little update, I feel like a have broken the seal on a billion other things I need to share with you, and I shall endeavor to do so when I am not adventuring somewhere..

Money money Monday

I leave work early on Monday to attempt to get this emergency cash which has gone from being an exciting adventure to a somewhat tedious. I ask my colleague if they can explain to the taxi driver where I want to go & assume after quite a long & drawn out conversation that this has been done. I think we have made it maybe 100 metres before the taxi driver turns to me saying something in Vietnamese. I have learnt quickly that this is pretty standard; I get in, say where you want to go, the driver appears to understand but what actually happens is that then I spend the trip directing using a mixture of broken Vietnamese & google maps. This journey was no different, except surprisingly I managed to navigate all the way there without any google map help. (And as a side note – apart from the time google maps tried to take me through a swamp & lake it has been pretty indispensable at helping me to get around)

I arrive at the bank go in, have no idea what I am supposed to do, thankfully a nice security man pulls a ticket out of a machine – like the kind you get on the deli counter in the supermarket, then rushes over offering it to me, whilst gesturing to sit down. I sit down with the other people waiting, there are screens that tell you which numbers are being served just like Argos I am thinking, when a woman walks in completely ignoring all of this orderly, organised, structured, somewhat British system and confidently bypasses the security guard & ticket, marching straight to the desk of her choice, with absolutely no challenge from anyone. I am sure I grumble out loud..

It takes a really long time before it gets to my number, I anxiously approach the counter & explain to the lady that I need to collect a Western Money transfer. She looks up at me & says ‘sorry’ not as a question just that one singular word – ‘sorry’ and I think oh God they don’t do it, why is she sorry, what is she sorry for, but before this has a chance to escalate to total meltdown status she has asked me for all my details.

2 forms, several photocopies and a series of questioning that would be satisfactory for the likes of MI5, and I have been ushered over to the cashier to collect my money. She comes over with me, it feels like she is keeping an eye and making sure it’s all proper and correct. Needless to say the man in front of me has drawn out what seems like BILLIONS of Dong and is counting every single note, still, I feel less anxious knowing I have made it through all of the tests and all I have to do is wait to collect my money. Soon enough it’s my turn, the machine counts out the money, she then hands it to me and asks me to count it again, I do. I put it in a bag inside a bag, and as I get up to leave she says ‘be careful….. thank you, have a nice day’ I suppose $500 of Dong is quite a lot of money to walking around with in a country where that is more than enough to survive on very comfortable for a month, I think…. and promptly walk straight into the glass door so hard that it rebounds me a good metre backwards across the bank to gasps of horror. I think I shake my head in the recoil, take a deep breathe and attempt the door again. After all of the excitement of the last few days, I am not going to let a door ruin my adventures, so I pull the handle this time, and I am FREE, free from the bank, with some money in my pocket, all of which I managed to sort out by myself with a little help from Jessica in Miami, Florida……

Covert Operation Collect Cash..

So Saturday arrives and I drag myself out of bed and begin the pottering that I have now become accustomed to since my life is not filled with roller derby and CrossFit. I am making the most of this aforementioned pottering and I suspect I have become rather excellent at the art of procrastination in spite of having no television and very limited other time wasting devices.

It has rained torrentially and steadily since I woke up this morning & in the back of my mind & one of the reasons behind my reluctancy to do anything proper is because of the mission that awaits me – collecting my emergency Western Union money transfer. I am sort of hoping that the rain stops, or at least dies down, but in the very short time that I have lived here I have soon learnt that often it doesn’t.

I map out my route noting that it is only a 10 minute walk, the bank is open (according to this website) until 3:30pm I have managed to accomplish pretty much nothing up until this point so decide it’s time to spring.. yes SPRING into action. So I gather my passport my scrap of paper with everything I need written on it, obligatory backpack for stuff I might need to buy, bumbag with phone for music – headphones also for music. I then decide I need to re-write the scrap of paper so it’s legible in case anyone else needs to see it. Yes that’s better now it’s very neat. Flip flops are on, music is on, rain mac on, umbrella up and off we go….

See it’s not so bad, just a little gloomy & wet. Always warm too, so it’s not so bad getting wet when it’s still nice & toasty. I find the bank that’s website promised me it would still be open. It looks very closed, I can see a security guard inside but that looks about it. I try calling them, it rings & rings. I summise that this bank is shut, but as I have now established that I appear to be in some sort of financial area there are many banks. Many banks that are all closed.. Hmmm. I am about to give up when I see one that is open – the door is open – the workers are sat around eating their lunch with a security guy. HOORAY I found one, I walk in beaming ready to get all my money, & am met with gasps of horror followed by the security shoeing me out whilst telling me they are closed. AGHHHH.

That’s it I am defeated. The banks are shut my money will have to wait. I try an assortment of credit cards in numerous cash machines (it’s a bit of a luck of the draw as to which cash machines will dispense money to you at any given time) until I manage to successfully get myself millions of dong, then go & buy some completely unessential nonsense in the supermarket so it doesn’t feel like a totally wasted trip. Then I flip flop my way back across the river thinking how it sounded a lot more exciting when I spoke to Jessica in Miami. I suppose the excitement will have to wait until Monday now.

Stupidity in foreign countries…

Week 2 and my confidence is strong. I have joined a CrossFit box, can direct a taxi to the castle & have located a nail shop less than 7 minutes walk from aforementioned castle. Not 5, not 10… 7, things are going well.

And then… BOOM. It’s not there.

I have searched everything drunk, sober, everywhere… I think back to the storm.. I left the COOP and bravely decided to get my shopping delivered. On arrival at the area where you arrange this I note the trolleys and bags strewn everywhere and wonder if this is normal. ‘Sorry madam so busy, the rain’ the earliest they can deliver is tomorrow, I look at the disorderly mass of other peoples shopping and think that is seems quite probably this will end in disaster, so after some Tetris style repacking utilising every bag I have available to me I drag the shopping to the taxi rank, where one of the security men rushes over to help me with my hundreds of bags, umbrella and god knows what else, jump into  a taxi and thank my lucky stars I was able to get the shopping to it. On arrival at the castle, the taxi driver helps me to unload and we both hear a noise, it’s dark, we obviously both think something has been dropped and scurry around searching the floor of the taxi, the floor floor and finding nothing, conclude it was indeed nothing.

Until NOW. NOW I REALISE WHAT THAT NOISE WAS, THAT WAS MY BANK CARD.. OH GOD…

I speak to HR on the extremely unlikely off chance that maybe they can hunt it down, I speak to the bank, they tell me cancel cancel. I give it a day, the ringing around has been done, the card is gone.

NOW WHAT?!*

I call the bank, I am put through to a man who speaks perfect english with a thick American accent. ‘Welcome to Visa Emergency Services’….. He asks me a lot of questions, tells me I can have emergency cash, I say yes please. He says how much. I say 500 us dollars. There is a long pause.

‘Can you repeat that please?’

‘yeah sure, 500 us dollars’

‘You realise this is a 1 time thing, you can’t repeat it, we advise people to ask for as much as they can afford’

I am sure my brow furrowed right at this point, but seriously, 500 us dollars in this country is and inordinate amount of money, I really don’t need any more than that.

‘Then ok, if you are sure – 500 – is it ok for someone to call you anytime?’

‘Yeah of course’

I go to bed, I am furious with my stupidity, my card is stopped so for now and until I have sorted this mess I am going to have to use my credit cards, I hate having to use credit cards. I must have passed out as I am awoken by the phone ringing:

‘hi my name is Jessica, I am calling from visa emergency services in Miami, Florida – it’s important you remember that as you might need to quote it, you should probably write that down’

Another painful series of questions and I am told that they have made the transfer and I can collect the money from any Western Union Affiliate and just need the reference number she has given me & my passport. I investigate and find out that there are loads of Western Union places really close to my house, several of which are open on a Saturday. I go back to sleep relieved…..

 

Supermarkets – giver of extreme happiness…..

And so, when you move to a different country, and let’s not miss out the fact it is a country in Asia, and that this country is not Hong Kong, you realise that you are getting irrationally excited about ridiculous things. I thought the novelty value of these numerous situations would eventually wear off, but alas no, in fact thinking about this logically I feel like it is gaining momentum.. But let us start from the beginning…

So on my maiden voyage to Vietnam my bosses long suffering, kind and tolerant husband took us to the supermarket to show us, well to show us what was in it, where it was, that sort of thing. The fruit and vegetable section is the first thing you reach after bread, which I am not so bothered about, but actually I should digress just very briefly as I have now stumbled across another phenomenon just by the order in which the supermarket is set out…

BREAD…. Now I LOVE LOVE LOVE bread, I can eat an entire baguette before I reach the checkout, like nothing better than dunking almost an entire loaf of granary into a thimble of soup, but my body is not designed to eat bread, so I eat it as a special treat fully aware of the consequences of my actions. People here talk about bread a LOT, and to be clear, this is all people, from all backgrounds, cultures, countries, everyone. They all unite in this one simple common love, the love of bread. They get really excited about a good bakery, which bread stays freshest the longest, the different varieties.. I have even stood there aghast whilst someone has given me the run down on all of the types of breads available in the Paris Baguette bakery and how it is the best one, but extremely expensive so she only goes there for treats. Curious hey, the basic, fundamental food of the UK/Europe/France – so very expensive that it is a treat. After much discussion I have concluded that bread is the replacement for weather, because here there are two weathers – 1. HOT, 2.HOT + RAINY, that’s it, not much of a conversation is it? So here, and I could be wrong, but I feel like it’s a practical assumption, and still feels rather British or French, your conversation starter, or ice breaker is to talk about the bread!

So yes the fruit and veg section. Dragon fruit is quite possibly the most striking and exotic fruit in my opinion, they look so pretty and taste so delicious, so we didn’t get very far before I was cooing over one, it was taken to be weighed and put in my trolley. Next we had a run down on soya milk and milk with and without sugar, then I think perhaps we had got to the coffee isle and our guide had that look in his eye of total and utter despair and left to run errands. About 60 seconds later we realised we were pretty jet lagged and departed with beer and the dragon fruit.

This is one of my local supermarkets, I say one, as after a week or so you realise different supermarkets are good at different things, nothing keeps very long, so when you are here by yourself your life turns into a series of daily trips to different supermarkets where you ran out of something, or it went off, or you forgot something OR they didn’t have it.

The first 2 things I became inordinately excited about were really small limes which are sort of orange in the middle and taste like a mix between a lime and an orange. You are always taking a chance here with what you buy until you understand the language. The other was rice noodles in a bag. I particularly loved this as it reminded me of the pack ups that Henah has left on my windowsill in Belgrave from time to time…

Other things about supermarkets are free things. I can’t be sure but I think it’s worth noting that things always come with random free things. So for example my bug spray came with free washing up liquid. My healthy bacteria breakfast drinks came with a free spoon. Beer with free beer glasses. Pasta with a free canvas shopper, and a transparent shopper. You do gravitate towards the things with the free things, but I had to talk myself out of a toilet duck the other day because I didn’t need a random pink plastic basket, and I got a free umbrella somewhere else, which will come in handy yes, but did I need it? Not really..

I am sure a long time ago I saw a program where someone was trying to live from the free food you get in a supermarket. Never have I had such an extreme experience of this as here on a Saturday, in D7. I could have had: cheese, cheese & meat, yoghurt, ice cream (took that), fish, fish & cheese, noodles, rice (took that), desert I couldn’t distinguish, some sort of potent alcohol, and it is aggressive they want you to have the samples..

What happens when you come across someone of your cultural heritage? It can go either way. I was stood in the cheese section trying to work out how much this block of parmesan cost, when a large hairy American man, said ‘decisions, decisions’ so naturally being British and polite I responded with ‘I am just trying to work out if this block of parmesan really costs 9gbp’ I hadn’t even finished my sentence and he had bolted, bizarre, then in complete contrast I had a couple ask me if I was vegetarian having assessed my shopping and come to this conclusion… also bizarre..

Anyway, you cannot write a list, go to the shop and buy everything on it. It’s kind of like we have seasonal in the UK, well it’s a daily seasonal here, you can only plan ahead with things you have frozen, so when you stumble across something like DILL it provokes such a totally and utterly ridiculous reaction it takes all your strength to get it weighed and put in a bag before your eyes start to leak uncontrollably.

There is a whole nother separate post about the things you win – yes WIN at the supermarket, sit tight for that exciting adventure. In the meantime, look at how good I am getting at this – NATIVE!

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