[Wednesday 22 February 2017]
Saigon, Vietnam–Hanoi, Vietnam
Golden Central Hotel, 140 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Saigon
20:00–22:10 Vietnam Airlines VN276 Saigon–Hanoi
Because nothing was scheduled today till 5.30pm (the pickup from the hotel to the airport), we had a lie-in this morning. We went up for breakfast ca.9.15am. I had the unwelcomely sweetened corn flakes again. There was a pink liquid filled with crushed ice labelled “tomato juice”, but on tasting it I found it too thin to drink; I chose the putative “orange juice” instead, which was in fact highly coloured diluted orange squash with only, I suspect, a small percentage of actual orange juice in it. I had some leathery bacon shreds and some tiny so-called sausages. The coffee, though strange-tasting, was not unpleasant and was acceptably strong. Janet wanted to have her hair washed and dried, so she asked at reception whether the hotel had a hairdresser. She was told it didn’t, but was pointed to one across the road. We both waited for a lull in the cars and mopeds passing and braved the crossing of the street. It would be ₫170,000; and they told her she could have it done immediately. So I left her there, re-crossed the street, went up to the room, and got my wallet out of the safe; then I went back again. Janet was in the back room, having her hair washed; so after popping my head round the door, I withdrew and took a seat in the main salon. There was only one customer in there; so four or five petite, pretty hairdressers with long, black hair, wearing tight, black, short dresses, having nothing else to do, were preening themselves or trimming each other’s hair. It was quite a show! Then Janet was brought into the salon to be seated while her haired was blow-dried. They did a very good job. Janet tells me they gave her a head massage as well; and I saw the girl doing a shoulder massage during the blow-drying. We gave them ₫200,000 (ca.$9 or ca.£7). We went back to our room, and Janet did the packing; then some minutes before the 12 o’clock deadline we called reception, and they sent a porter up to kelp us to our late-checkout room, down from the 9th floor to the 6th. It was directly opposite the lift; and opening the door revealed a tiny, windowless cell with a single bed. Admittedly, there was a wet room containing a WC and shower off to the right; but we weren’t at all content with this arrangement, which was costing us $40. “Is there a safe?” we asked the porter before he left. “Yes,” he replied; but there wasn’t! What’s more, it felt stifling in there. We turned on the air-conditioning; there was the slight sound of a fan from the grille above, but this stopped almost immediately afterwards. We informed the housekeeper; she came in, and switched it off then on again, with the same result; then she picked up the phone, said a few words to someone, and left. She came back some minutes later, and, presumably seeing that nothing had been done, picked up the phone, spoke a few words, and left. Janet went downstairs to reception to ask about leaving valuables, and was told they could be left there. She perhaps also mentioned the air-conditioning (or lack of it!). Two men, one with a step-ladder, came in; the one with the ladder set it up, mounted it, removed a panel from the ceiling, and took out a large rectangular filter. It appeared to be full of dust and debris. He handed it to the other, who took it away, brought it back after a few minutes cleaned, and handed it to the first man; this one put it back, replaced the panel, and folded his ladder; and they departed. So we, having checked that air-conditioning was indeed restored, went down to reception, handed over Janet’s satchel in exchange for a receipt, and went out ca.¾-hour later than we’d intended. We went first to the FamilyMart convenience store for some bread rolls and bananas, then to the Lamenda Café on the nearby street-corner, where I had two cans of 333 (“ba-ba-ba” in Vietnamese) brand beer, and Janet two cans of soda water with slices of lime.
Thursday 23 February 2017 — 12:44:32
Drinks in the Lamenda Café, District 1, Saigon
Then we went to the Street Food Market, where I had beef with noodles, and a San Miguel beer. That the paper pack contained not two but three disposable wooden chopsticks nearly blew my mind! — or that’s what I pretended when I tried to work out how one might hold and use three of them. Janet had a soda water with slices of lime.
Thursday 23 February 2017 — 13:51:36
Lunch in the Street Food Market
After that, we walked a block or two to the Culture Park. “It was too hot to go too far,” Janet wrote. We found a bench to sit on, which, though not completely in the shade, was in the way of a cooling breeze. I got up to try to photograph a squirrel, but it was too quick for me. It appeared to have bushy red whiskers sticking out on either side of its head; but on seeing other squirrels unadorned in this way, I concluded that it must have been carrying something in its mouth. A shoeshiner persuaded me to have my shoes done. “How much?” “No problem, no problem!” he replied. I should have seen through that straight away and told him to piss off, especially when I asked again, “How much?” — “No problem, no problem!” — but I allowed him to do them. He then asked for ₫200,000. The shoeshine lad the other day had asked for $2 up front and been given that; so I proposed “$2.” “No dollar, no dollar!” I ended up giving him ₫100,000 (ca.$4.40 or ca.£3.50). He continued to hold out his hand, but I refused; and he went away not long after that.
Thursday 23 February 2017 — 14:43:36
Culture Park, District 1, Saigon
Thursday 23 February 2017 — 15:02:58
T‘ai-chi posturing in the Culture Park
Thursday 23 February 2017 — 15:03:50
T‘ai-chi posturing in the Culture Park
I continued to try to photograph squirrels, but they all either eluded me, or the photos were unacceptably blurred and I deleted them. There were grey-coloured squirrels; and tiny grey ones, which were either the young of the first ones or a different species; and others, slightly larger than these latter, but still very small, which had yellow and dark stripes along their backs.[i] Then a bird the size of a large starling, with chestnut back, white breast and crest, and black-masked lores,[ii] landed with a loud squeak, and they darted away. This bird strutted about, and didn’t seem to want any other creature around him, squirrel or bird. He repeated his squeak from time to time, and there were other similar calls from trees around.
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