Friday, July 24, 2015

Travel Stories You Will Not Read in Lonely Planet

Oil paintings for sale on the wall of The Swiss Hotel Singapore

I like some of the popular travel books. But you sure don’t read the really interesting things about traveling in “Lonely Planet”.
Last week I met an old friend Rich in Hanoi, Vietnam. Rich is a computer training consultant between projects; he is also a kind of gregarious roving gourmet. Rich travels quite a lot, speaks four languages and loves engaging folks around the world in conversations, especially about food and drink.
Accompanying Rich was Dan, an old farm boy from Tennessee. Dan is now also a consultant specialising in computer security. After spending a few days in his company, I was convinced the CIA is one of Dan’s clients. Dan, of course, would not confirm that.
From Hanoi we traveled south to Da Nang, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by many locals. Having come of age in the nineteen-sixties, the names of these places are evocative for me, stirring memories of a more turbulent time. The American War, as it is known in Vietnam, was a war fought over ideology: communism verses capitalism. It seems to me since we stopped fighting our two countries have blended some aspects of both ideologies into each culture.
The night before Rich, Dan and I were to go our separate ways, we met at a Sushi restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, in a part of town frequented by visiting Japanese businessmen. The waitresses were dressed in school-girl costumes. Rich speaks Japanese and made friends with a somewhat inebriated Japanese guy who bought us all a round of sake. First we made a Japanese toast, then an American toast.
“Wait”! Said I. “We are in Vietnam”.
Having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly four months, I considered myself the Vietnamese cultural expert in our group and taught them a Vietnamese toast.
“Mot, hai, ba (one, two, three) YO!
Our Vietnamese toast was met with approving laughter from the waitresses and a table nearby with two Vietnamese couples eating sushi. The Japanese guy bought the Vietnamese folks a round of sake as well.
So there we were: a computer consultant from Staten Island; a CIA spook; a drunk Japanese businessman; an old fireman from Brooklyn; and four Saigon locals out on a date surrounded by provocative waitresses in plaid, pleated miniskirts.
If Ho Chi Minh roles over in his grave we will hear about it. He is in Hanoi preserved and entombed under glass in one of those bizarre commie mausoleums that are open for viewing, like Lenin and Mao.

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