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On Vietnam

April 28, 2007

I arrived on Friday, a bit later than I planned, but then I am leaving a similar amount of time later today so i guess it all worked out. When I got to the airport I was told I just missed check-in time. Yeah, even though every sign in the Kuala Lumpur airport mentions a crazy 10 minute limit, I was subjected to a more internationally accepted 45 minute limit. So I had to change the ticket…100 Euros. OK, no big deal, except the average Malay seems to be paying one tenth that for an entire round trip ticket. So I change the ticket and get ready to wait an extra 6 hours in the airport.

Waiting that long was especially tough as I have had such little sleep the past week while working the Captaris International Partner Conference. Its all over now and my vacation starts with a 6 hour layover. I took some pictures of the airport, then hunkered down in a lounge for the wait. At boarding time I was joined by a few dozen Korean teens on some sort of school trip. As soon as they saw the security line at checkin open, they created this Great Wall of bodies, interconnected chest to back for 30 feet. It wasn’t until their chaperone interceded that I had a way through to the metal detectors.

Inside the waiting area, I watched these kids keep themselves amused. They all had different variations of messy Bruce Lee haircuts and a few were bigger and possibly older than the others. You could see that everyone took their lead. These leaders were the best at the “flick a playing card with two fingers and send it flying across the room” skill and all the others were trying their best to achieve their results. There were cards hovering all over the place. When a card nearly hit me, everyone huddled to figure out who would have to get it. Eventually one sheepishly approached, apologized profusely, grabbed the card and crept back to his group. I felt like asking him to show me how to flick the card like that, but then boarding time was called and the rush to the plane began.

The flight itself was uneventful and after an hour and a half we reached Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The humidity oozed into the plane and I was sweating almost before I could get out of the cabin. The airport is a simple one. Exit the plane and join either the line for transfers to Cambodia and other places, or join the one for immigration. Both lines were within 50 feet of the plane. So I went to immigration. After waiting quite a while in line, my immigration agent looked over my passport very carefully. All his concentration went to figuring out why I might be a bad guy and should not be admitted to the country. The one thing that broke his focus, along with all the other agents, was the American woman with the almost see-thru top walking past. It was like a line of 10 smiling bobbleheads turning to follow her. Eventually she passed and I was allowed to leave. I got a cab into town and arrived at my hotel: The Sheraton Saigon.

Although the name of the city officially changed to Ho Chi Minh, everything here geared towards tourists seems to be named for Saigon. It certainly rolls off the tongue a bit more easily. The first thing I noticed was that drivers here rely on three car features more than any others: the accelerator, the steering wheel, and the car horn. And the horn needs to be easily activated with a single thumb since it will be used so much. As you enter an intersection, come across another obstacle, or simply every 20 feet, you honk. Its just the thing to do apparently if you want to survive a trip. Everyone is honking…constantly. And all driving rules appear to be merely suggestions. A one way sign means it is suggested that all traffic go in a single direction as indicated by the arrow. There are plenty of cars that ignore this suggestion and everyone gets out of the rogue driver’s way. A red light is a suggestion to stop, but plenty of cars speed on through, knowing that a honk is good enough to guarantee safety. I am amazed that anyone survives, but after 2 days I have yet to see an accident.

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