Sunday, March 15, 2009

5 Days in 1: Local Dive and Viking Fiesta...

So I missed a few days and have to catch up. Sorry for the long post, a lot happened this weekend...

What started as a great Wednesday at Ky Kuang took a turn for the worse in the afternoon. I took the bus straight from Ky Quang to the Green Bamboo Shelter at 11 and went with the kids to play soccer at 12. A couple of scottish guys met us there with the ball and they led the warmups and organized the teams. I asked how it was funded, because we were playing on an expensive fenced in field with nice grass, and they informed me that a sponsor from England paid for the pitch, the taxi, and water for the kids every week, which I think is pretty cool. 

Anyway, after half an hour of playing I shot a ball funny and hurt my ankle. It got really swollen and was painful the rest of the day. It was particularly upsetting because on Thursday volunteer soccer team had its first match in the university league and I couldn't play. Hopefully it will be healed for next week. 

After soccer we went back to the orphanage and hung out for a bit until it was dinner time. I helped the kids make eggs and stir fried vegetables, then left because my ankle hurt so much. At night I iced it and watched a movie. 

Thursday I slept in again because I was really tired and needed the rest, then went to the boys shelter at 1. Nina, one of the volunteers from another organization, left to go back to the states that evening so I spent some time with her talking about her plans for the next couple of months, then I watched Katrine play chess with the boys. They got really rowdy and wrestled for a while, then got tuckered out and took a nap. 

Pic: The boys wrestling
I had plans to meet up with an American couple named Maya and Ian, friends of a colleague of my dad, who work at an international school in HCMC, so I ate dinner with the kids then walked to the ferry stop. They are from the bay area, but for the past 8 years have been teaching internationally, 4 of which in HCMC. 

Maya and Ian live in the Riverside Luxury Apartment complex up the saigon river in District 2. It took about 30 minutes on the boat and they met me at the dock. We walked over to a local restaurant and lounge called The Deck, where their friend was DJing for the night. They told me a lot about what it is like to live here and gave me advice about where to travel to and where to avoid. I also met a lot of their friends and colleagues who come from all over the world and are a pretty interesting bunch. The last bus back to downtown was at 8:30 so I went home and iced my ankle for the rest of the night.

Pic: Maya, Ian, and I at The Deck

Friday I went to Ky Kuang in the morning and then Thi Nghe in the afternoon. Maybe it was because it was Friday the 13th, but I had a really bad day. The kids at Ky Quang were fighting a lot with each other and weren't listening to me, the kid I fed was crying and being really difficult, then at Thi Nghe I fell off my stool while feeding a kid and dropped the bowl of food on the ground.

In the evening, however, my mood got much, much better. I met up with Emma and Mikaela at the PH and we took a cab to the Rex Hotel. This time we made it for sunset, however it wasn't a very good one, and the expensive drinks were mediocre and definitely overpriced. A few nights earlier the girls coincidentally ran into a couple of their schoolmates from Sweden who met up with us at the Rex. While discussing what to do for the evening the guys mentioned that the previous night they had met a German man who married a Vietnamese woman, and the couple took them to her cousins restaurant in District 2. They said that they had a great time and that they were invited back again so we all decided to go. 

Pic: The rooftop at the Rex Hotel

It turned out to be a great, or even epic, night. We arrived there by taxi at 7 and saw that the "restaurant" was really a hole in the wall with a grill out front. After greeting us, the owner grabbed a folding table and a halogen light and took us across the street. Then he grabbed 3 cases of beer and brought them over two us and went to get some ice at a store down the block. He sat down with us and his kids came over as well, and for the next 5 hours we drank, played with the kids, and had great conversations. We never asked for any specific foods, but his wife kept bring over plates of food ranging from skewered pork to bbq shrimp and stir fried string beans with garlic. The food was delicious. 

Pic: From Left- Mikaela, Ludwig, the owner, Gus, and I. Notice the halogen light and folding metal table. Amazing

The owner is a martial arts teacher for the military by day, a restaurant owner in the evening, and has roosters that he takes cock fighting at night. He drives a hog instead of the little mopeds like everyone else, and has an amazing goatee. Other friends of his came and hung out as well. 

Pic: The Owner. 

Oh, and the most, um, interesting part of my night: I ate duck fetus. Thats right BVEC, I'm venturing into whole new culinary horizons. The Swedish guys said that they ate it the previous night and dared me to do the same. One of the daughters of the owner was selling them on the side of the road, and she boiled the egg for a couple minutes then gave it to me with chili-salt and lime. There was still a yoke in the shell, but surrounding it were feathers and veins, it was really weird looking- but surprisingly tasty. I definitely am not a vegetarian anymore....

Pics: Duck fetus anyone?

We left at 11 and went to a karaoke bar near our house, then went dancing at a club down the block. The clientele consisted of 50 bar girls (prostitutes) and 30 or so business men. We felt really out of place, so after an hour we called it a night and went home.

The next morning we woke up at 11 because we had to meet Segmund, a friend of Emma's father, in front of his office in District 1 at 12. We were told that he was having a Viking party, but that was it. We didn't know where it was going to be, how many people were invited, what time it started or went till, or what the heck a Viking party was going to be like. Bernard, a Norwegian guy that is working for Segmund, met us there and shortly after we were picked up by Segmund's driver and Segmund. 

We drove up towards the same area where Maya and Ian lived, and after 30 minutes we got to a beautiful country club right on the Saigon river. There were people setting up a stage, putting a pig and chickens on a spit, putting up banners all over the place, and generally setting up for what looked to be a huge party. He told us that we were going to be handing out the Viking hats and garments when guests got to the dock downtown, then they would get on 4 big wooden boats that Segmund chartered. 

After having a really fancy lunch at the country club's restaurant (I ate my first fresh shrimp, they were brought to our table alive and cooked in front of us) we got on a speedboat that took us to the dock in district one. 400 guest showed up, about half Scandinavian and half Asian. We passed out all of the hats then got on the last boat. Even the boats were fancy. Also, the sunset from the boat was incredible, I've never seen anything like it. 

When we got there people were already hitting the buffet, so we ate as well. We were sitting at a table with 4 Americans, two of which we had coincidentally met at the Rex Hotel the night before- small city... We ended up hanging out with them for the whole night, they were really fun. One of them works for George Lucas' visual effects production company and was on the team that won the academy award for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, another is an architect that moved out to HCMC 6 months ago to design a casino for the beach town Vung Tau that I went to last week. Job opportunity? Maybe... 

After eating the band started to play and everyone danced. The band was Philippino and played Abba hits and Latin American music. It was so random. Then Segmund got on stage and told everyone to gather up for the traditional Viking activity: Tug of War. Everyone was split up into teams of 12 and we had a tournament. My team didn't win, which is unfortunate, because there was a drawing held of the participants of the winning team for a $2,500 gift certificate to a resort in Thailand. He brought Emma on stage to draw the winner. 

Then a group of professional dancers and singers came out and performed for an hour. Mikaela pushed me out onto the dance floor and I ended up dancing with one of them for a little bit. We were so hot after a few hours that we stripped down to our undies and jumped in the pool to cool off. 

The only bad part of the night: After I got out of the pool and dried myself off Mikaela, Emma, and Bernard started pushing each other back into the pool. I put on my clothes and walked to the edge to talk to the Swedes and some random Danish guy thought he would get in on the fun and push me in- I had my camera and wallet in my pocket. The camera got soaked and doesn't work now. Fortunately the memory card still works so I was able to salvage the 300 pictures I took over the past week, but the camera is done for. There goes 200 bucks. 

We went back into town with the other Americans, but we were so tired that we went home at 12. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, although not really restful... Sunday I am going to the Cu Chi tunnels (where the Viet Cong hid from and attacked the Americans) with Jack, Defne, and Katrine. Should be fun!

1. One of the 4 boats that took us up the Saigon. 
2. Mikaela and I on the last boat. 
3. The sunset from the boat- most amazing I have seen. Like a postcard. 
4. Mikaela giving the outfit a test run
5. Emma and Mikaela with Segmund
6. Tug of War
7. Me dancing with the performer
8. Mikaela and I minutes before jumping in the pool
9. Emma on stage with Segmund drawing the winner of the prize 

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