A day at home

I stayed home today. Not literally. I’ve done that before once this week. I mean I just hung around my block, and went no further than the one adjacent. I got up really late today. Finally catching up on that missed sleep from the trip. I woke up and lay in bed and knew exactly what I wanted for my belated breakfast. Bo kho and ban mi. It’s beef soup with a breadroll from the 24 hour pho place on the corner nearby. It’s a bit over $2 for a bowl, and bit under a buck extra if you want a beer with it, but they’re open 24 hours and there’s always at least one table spare if you don’t want to eat out front on the bench as people sometimes do late at night.

I walked down to the middle of Do Quan Dau, where the old woman sells liquor. She’s a happy little chubby thing who sits around on the corner and sells alcohol in the street from outside her shop. She’s very cheap, and while she sells beer hot, she sells it by the can, at the same price you pay per can for a carton in the supermarket, which is currently 11,000 dong for an imported Tiger, which you really cannot beat. But I walked in looking for something different. The local “sell everything at rip-off prices” store in Bui Vien which normally sells this amazing Vietnamese Rhum for only 40,000 a bottle was, as usual, out of stock. So I dropped in here, and I walked straight inside and pointed to the one slightly dusty bottle of 9 Dragons and said “How much this one ? 9 Dragons ?”

The woman looked to the other woman, who said “This 220,000”. I said “Vang, Ok”. She said “You know this one ? This very good liquor”. I said “I know. 9 Dragons. Very good rum.” She grinned and said “Haha you know. Ok” and bagged it up for me. To be honest, I believe I paid 260,000 last time I bought it at the supermarket in District 8 last year, so 220,000 was a definitely not a bullshit price. It’s $11, but this rum is QUALITY. This is undoubtedly the finest rum in South East Asia and would sell for a shitload if they sold it back home.

I continued on to the corner to the old guy who sells the souvenirs. Most of the places in this area sell cheesy shit. T-shirts and hats and sandals and all sorts of stupid shit. But this guy sells nice things. Things people use. Like cutlery, tea sets, incense holders, and of course lots of ornaments and things. I’d already bought a rice wine set and serving platter off him because his prices are also definitely no tourist bullshit, and he’s just a lovely old guy who sits on the floor all day preparing his goods, which quite possibly he makes himself, and charges a couple of dollars per item or like 10 bucks for a whole tea serving set. I haven’t got the whole set of my design of stuff yet. I will get the tea set later, because I don’t drink tea much at the moment (mainly love my Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk in the mornings) but I will get it later. I love SO much stuff that he has there, but I’m not going to go in there and buy a heap of shit. So I just buy one or two things now and then.

Today I actually went twice. The first time, I went to buy a small ashtray. I found a nice white one with little blue flower patterns on it, but also something I have needed for a while is an incense holder. He had some other wooden box incense holders I’d seen before, but today I saw this beautiful little dolphin with a hole in its back, laying on a white bowl with more little blue flower patterns around it. I bought it, and later in the day I saw it replaced with a cute turtle which was equally beautiful. Also bought a little box. I saw a documentary on the making of these gold flake pictures in Osaka on NHK last week, where the artist would paint glue on a surface and drop tiny gold flakes all over the picture of different sizes, and then lacquer over them with a dark colour to make them show up different colours and textures and form a beautiful picture. Well, I saw one of these such boxes, made in Vietnam using the same style. It’s a picture of a person sitting on a river bank in the Mekong somewhere, fishing near a house. Later in the day I went back and bought a larger box, again with a felt interior and mirror on the bottom of the lid, but this time with a mother-of-pearl design inlaid of two Vietnamese women in traditional garb on their way to a building which looks to me like it could only be Cho Ben Thanh. Very beautiful stuff anyway, and I spent less than $10 there all up.

I walked around the corner and bought some sushi at the the mini-mart in Bui Vien and also a Korean taiyaki ice cream. I’ve always wanted to try the traditional baked treat in the shape of a sea bass full of sweet red beans known as taiyaki, but I’ve never found anywhere I could buy it at any Japanese sweets or bakery places, but this convenience store has a cheap Korean version containing ice cream. It’s not traditional taiyaki by any means, but it at least satisfies my desire to eat the real thing somewhat and it’s a tasty Korean ice cream anyway. I left, deftly avoiding all the vendors so that I could get further up the street where there was a woman who would write a phrase onto a painting for you in beautiful calligraphy, but I somehow walked straight past her place and ended up near the end of the street, so I turned left and walked up towards Huong Vy, where I haven’t been in almost a year, despite it being only a couple of blocks from me. On my right was a little store of “North Vietnamese Gifts” which I had seen before but never entered. I decided to look inside. It mostly had very sort of Australian-hippy, Indian-influenced type stuff, but there was clearly a strong influence of the Sapa area, with the bright vibrant colours and patterns on everything. There was a lot of nice things, but nothing I really wanted as it was mostly girl’s stuff. I did buy a small square bag, and it’s possible that if I need to I might use it at some point, but it’s not something I’d carry, so it’ll probably be a gift.

I didn’t really want anything else, but while she was trying to find change, I looked at one of the bags above me. I saw a lot of them piled up and I’d seen them before on people or in shops. they’re the sort of kid’s bag where it has a head and arms and legs of some animal coming out the back. Most of these ones from Northern Vietnam were sort of weird and had unusual sort of animals with odd faces, but this one hanging above me was this cute animal that looked like some small Australian marsupial. I knew they were 159,000 dong, or a bit under $7.50 each, and obviously some bullshit like that with Hello Kitty on it would sell for double that, and this was traditional North Vietnamese style designs, so I got that as well and very pretty. I dunno if I’ll get to give that to Suki before she’s too old to not be interested anymore, but if not, I can keep it for someone else.

I saw Tony in the street who sells newspapers and magazines and I bought a Vietnamese newspaper and sat down at Huong Vy for the first time in ages and had a big Tiger (which had gone up to a stunning 25,000 dong) while I read the paper and texted some people. A girl came along selling books. I didn’t want a book, but this girl was sorta special. She was anywhere from 12 to 16 years old and she was a little retarded. She had a speech impediment and she was a tiny bit spastic, but she liked talking to people and she I’d heard her at the next table having a long conversation with the people there before she sold one woman a book. She was sort of a charmer.

When she walked up, I said I didn’t want a book. I was buying other things today and so many people try and sell me books, but this girl was clearly different. She said “Ok, look. We’ll play a game. If I win, you buy a book, and if you win, I give you a book for free. Ok ?” I said “What sort of game ?” and she replied “Rock, scissors, paper. You know ?” I grinned and said “Janken. Ok, yes, let’s play”. I thought she would want to count each downward stroke for timing, so I tried to count off “mot, hai, ba” as I moved my arm down, but she did it really fast. We got the same, but I won the second time. She said best out of three, of course. We played again and got the same one, scissor or paper over and over until finally I won again. She won the next round and I won the final one but because our timing was off and she went really fast, I sorta came down late on the last one and she accused me of cheating and I said I wasn’t, but she was too fast and I didn’t mind and I would buy a book anyway.

She didn’t have heaps I really wanted, until near the end of the pile I spied Keruoac’s The Dharma Bums. A classic book if ever I saw one. I asked if it was 60,000 and she said no that it was 100,000 these days. I expressed shock, although I had heard people on the street say books WERE 100,000 though so I did sort of know, but I pretended to be upset that the price had gone up before I said “No, it’s ok. 100,000”. While photocopied, the book was nicely printed on the cover and came in a sealed plastic wrap and this girl had possibly been carrying it around for months and would surely be happy to be rid of it if not for the fact that when she went back to her boss, he would replace it with another, possibly thicker one. But the funny retarded girl earned a few dollars and I got a good laugh and played janken in the street with a funny Vietnamese girl.

I ran into Twe on the way home and said hello and bought a pair of scissors that I didn’t need, but they were only $1 and I had to buy something from Twe because it’s always a pleasure to see her and I feel like I’m doing my little bit for the street people without putting up with too much crap. After saying goodbye to her I returned up, contented with my days achievements. Just living a simple life, buying snacks and a few souvenirs but not really spending too much money or dining out or anything. Life in Pham Ngu Lao can be stressful if you let it be, but if you pick the right times and know how to avoid too many vendors, you can have a relaxing walk around, get a cheap beer and buy some lovely little things from the local people at good prices if you know where to go. It was a relaxing day and I came home feeling happy and not too frazzled from the heat at all.

Here are my recent acquisitions. The fans I have collected over a period of weeks, and I actually have a couple of others, but those are the three primary types which are available on the street here. The boxes were my favourite prize because things last forever, and the designs on them are just gorgeous. The bags from Sapa were the best gifts to buy though and I may even go back and buy more at some point because these are just fantastic to give to people as the fabric is so beautiful and unique to this part of the world.

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