Moving to Da Nang

On Friday night I put my lovely Hayate and 450kg of luggage on the train to sunny Da Nang. It was a reasonably trying but somewhat comical experience. The station staff in the cargo area there speak absolutely no English at all, and they were dumbfounded and amazed that a white guy was speaking Vietnamese to them while the deaf Vietnamese girl travelling with him (That’s Mi) couldn’t speak anything at all. We struggled through the language barriers and communicated what needed to be said and they laughed heartily and we just blushed and took it on the chin.

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We went out for beers at Huong Vy first to see some friends. Grant commented on the beautiful reflection of the skyline down Hem 175 Pham Ngu Lao in Mi’s glasses sitting beside her fresh coconut and I took a picture of it.

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Before I left Saigon there was someone special I had to say goodbye to. Having lived there for five years with the majority of it spent living right in Bui Vien beside Ba Sau’s bia hoi place she was someone I had to say goodbye to personally.

I remember way back in 2011 my girlfriend taking a photo of Ba Sau that was really special and because I was so fond of seeing her smile, I took the photo to a Kodak shop and had it enlarged and framed and I took it back and presented it to her. This isn’t the photo, but I sort of like this one.

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A couple of years later, I asked my friend to come along as translator to help me interview her for a magazine. He said “She’s an old lady. She won’t want to tell you about her life”, but he didn’t know Ba Sau like I did. She was happy to sit down with us and smile and laugh and tell me all about her life running the only bia hoi place in Bui Vien for over 15 years. But Ba Sau hadn’t been around recently. At 86 years old she was getting on and standing up to shuffle chairs around and pour beer was becoming too much for her so she hadn’t been visiting except very rarely and I hadn’t seen her for a good six months. So when I had to say my goodbyes to everyone in Saigon, and especially at Bia Hoi, 102 Bui Vien, the person I most wanted to thank for 5 years of the best times of my life was Ba Sau. So I went out to the flower markets in District 10 yesterday and I bought an enormous flower arrangement and I got a pop-up card with the Da Nang dragon bridge on it (because I’m moving to Da Nang) and wrote this on the card…”Tạm biệt bà sáu. Tôi đang di chuyển đến Đà Nẵng. Cảm ơn bạn đã 5 năm của những kỷ niệm đẹp – David Lyonz”In English it meant “Goodbye Grandma six. I’m moving to Da Nang. Thank you for 5 years of beautiful memories”Everyone in the area watched me as I walked down the alleys carrying it out to 102 Bui Vien where Van greeted me and took me to their house and got Ba Sau to come out so that I could present it to her. I was very grateful to get to say that goodbye. When I went back to Bia Hoi 102, many of my friends were there and we all drank and since Hoa was absent that night I led the cheers with the “Everybody MotherF-in Yo ! Mot Hai Ba YOOOO !” and one person said it was the best toast they’d ever heard there but I knew it wasn’t because no one leads the crowd in Bui Vien like Hoa does. He’s an icon in that are and he must personally account for thousands of extra beers drunk every year just by toasting everyone (sometimes on both sides of the street !) and getting them to drink up. He’s a drinking buddy that will be sorely missed.

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Naturally Toan was there and we drank hard but I deliberately chose a much younger photo of him to make him look like a kid in front of the beer tap. No, I’m just kidding buddy, I didn’t do that. This was just my favourite photo of you at bia hoi. I remember when I first turned up in 2011 and you were serving and I used to call you “anh” because I thought all guys were called anh and you turned to me one time and said in perfect English “Why do you keep calling me anh ? You make me feel like an old man. I’m younger than you. You should call me em” and I apologised and thanked you for one of the first of many Vietnamese lessons I was to get in my time in Vietnam.

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When it came time to clear out and get to the train station, I was glad I was drunk so that the goodbyes weren’t teary. Van bought me a Saigon Special and made me sit down and drink it with them before I left and then I took photos with the staff and hugged everyone goodbye and thanked them for being such great friends over the years.

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We somehow got onto the train on time despite me being pretty wasted. Mi wasn’t much help but I was still self-aware enough to get onto the right carriage in the right bed and show our tickets when requested. Waking up to beautiful green rice paddies on one side and breathtaking ocean views on the other as we approach Nha Trang, you would have to try very hard to convince me that the train is not the most beautiful way to see Vietnam

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Space is cramped in these six berth sleepers, but there’s still room for a good night’s sleep, using a laptop, and snacking on boiled eggs in the morning :)

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A chicken curry for lunch, beer, Pocky and even some artificial flowers on the windowsill as the beautiful countryside passes by. Oh how I’ve missed travelling

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After arriving, we rested for a day and then we drank with my new boss and his family at an amazing little place just near his house (and ours) called the Minsk Bar which was a sort of communist, revolutionary bar full of old motorbikes, Che Guevera posters and reggae tunes and…

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… puppies and kittens for some reason, so we took lots of photos of those and played with them while chatting.

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The next morning we went out for a morning walk. We got caught in the rain, but thankfully we were right opposite Chợ Bắc Mỹ An, our local market in Đà Nẵng. We waited for it to open (things open much later in Da Nang than in Saigon) and then had breakfast and joked around with some store keepers. Despite speaking only in Vietnamese to them, most of them were pretty wary of us and didn’t want to give a really good price on clothes, but I still bought a lovely dress for Mi for $9 but we were being quoted so much for the price of children’s clothes. It was my daughter Suki Mae’s 7th birthday that day so I really wanted to buy her a nice dress, but there was nothing in her size that appealed to me in the markets. We decided to leave and go for a walk around the area.

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We stopped out of the rain outside a clothes shop for a while to drink our ice tea and we commented on the few children’s dresses they had hanging up and when I finished my tea I walked in and said “Chi oi. Ao nay, mau den va trang. Bao nhieu tien ?” (means “Hello sister. That dress black and white colour. How much money ?” and she looked at me and said “Hai tram roi” (250.000 .. $12 USD) and I sort of nodded and she got it down from the wall and asked “Nam tuoi ?” (“How many years old ?”) and I said “Bay tuoi” (7 years) and she asked “Bao nhieu kilo ?” (How many kilograms ?) and I said “Khong biet. Con gai cua toi song o Uc. Hom nay la sinh nhat” (“I don’t know. My daughter lives in Australia. Today is her birthday”) and I pulled out my phone and showed her the photo on the lock screen of my phone. You could see her heart melt by the look on her face and she went “Awwwwwwwwwww. Dep quaaaaa. Sinh nhat hom nay ? Duoc roi. Mot tram roi !” (“So beautiful ! Her birthday today ? Ok. Only 150.000” .. $7)

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Boom! That’s what I’m talking about. I didn’t even need to say a word about the price. One look at my daughter and her heart melted and the price dropped $5 for her birthday gift.

After the markets this morning, our stuff was ready to be picked up from the train station. We were so tired of moving and convincing taxi drivers to load our stuff (most wouldn’t when they take a look at how much we have and would just shake their heads and drive off) so we got my boss’ assistant (who is Vietnamese) to order us a small truck and a couple of guys to move it all for $15. It was so funny when we got there and showed one of the guys the manifest because he reacted exactly the same as the guys in Saigon. He just read “21” in the “number of items” column and motioned like a deaf person and went “OMG !” and waved his arms in the air. Yes… THAT big-ass 450kg load of shit. My motorbike was well packed and ready to go after they broke it out of the casing and unwrapped it. We just had to buy an olive oil bottle full of petrol at 3 times the street price (because they empty out all the petrol before transporting them on the train) and we were off home and the guys unloaded everything downstairs.

After that we went for a cruise around the city. We had a rented bike yesterday but it was some pissy little city bike, that despite being a 150cc (mine’s a 125), it could barely get to 70k/h going over the bridge. Mine’s a late 2014 fuel injected Suzuki, it screams… when we went to Da Lat I’m sure we must have been doing 100k/h+ on the highway with both of us and luggage, but I couldn’t tell because my speedo broke last week. I’m going to get it fixed tomorrow. So we checked out the location of all the big English Language Centres that I knew of and I photographed the addresses so I could go back out tomorrow (after a good hair-cut and a change of clothes) and apply for more work.

We went up to the headland on the north side of the bay where the largest Buddha statue stands on the headland (there’s a few, but this is the one that overlooks the ocean. Unlike Vung Tau and the south which have a lot of Christian monuments, the north is strictly Buddhist, which is one of the primary reasons for the war… to drive the capitalist Christians out of South Vietnam even though Ho Chi Minh insisted on religious freedom for all).

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Then we took some breathtaking photos of Da Nang from the headland (yes, those really are my photos, and I took them with my Nokia Lumia 1020 phone camera, although obviously I post-processed them a tiny bit as it was actually raining when I took these !

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Then we rode back down to the north end of town where all the cheap beer and seafood and bbq places are. We stopped in at a big seaside place and bought half a kg of clams (which were way more delicious than I expected), half a kg of deep fried squid, and half a kg of the most amazingly seasoned little oysters with spring onions and peanuts that you’ve ever tasted though really they were clams too, but they actually brought us the “Vinglish” menu, which was Google Translated from Vietnamese and mentioned things like “Fried frog discharge”, though fortunately I’d seen all these mistranslations before so I still ordered in Vietnamese despite the silly menu, though the oysters were not oysters which is written “hau”, though apparently some other molluscs must also be called hau because they translated it as oysters, but it was amazingly good anyway. I’m not a huge fan of that type of seafood but this was awesome and with 4 beers that came to $16.

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Now that our stuff has arrived we will try and cook at home after we hit up the markets again tomorrow for some meat and veges. We’re not allowed to cook in our room because we don’t have a balcony and it’s illegal anyway, but the hotel has a nicely equipped kitchen downstairs that we can use because they’re sort of geared to long-term tenants.

Anyway, so today was getting our stuff, eating clams and squid under Buddha’s gaze in one of the most beautiful and non-touristy beach locations in the country with all the modern facilities. We have fibre internet at the hotel. The Novotel here is so big you’d think it touches the clouds, and the bridges here are all practically Golden Gate style monuments. We didn’t get out to see the dragon bridge breathe fire at 9pm last night because we were tired from moving, but we’ll save it for next week and do it properly. Being a once-a-week event, many families go out every Sunday night to see the dragon bridge breathe fire at 9pm and the bridge shuts down for the ferris wheel to start at midnight, so obviously it’s really busy since this is a city of one million people and this is just a LITTLE bit cooler than what they have at South Bank in Brisbane… these guys really know how to do up a city and Da Nang just has so much money from shipping and high tech industry like programming (my boss employs 300 people but I only have to teach English to about 30 of them) so this place is just stunning. Parks, gardens, skyscrapers, a beach that just goes on and on and on with huge statues and incredible bridges and river-side stadiums and amusement parks. It’s like if you took the Gold Coast and added a huge port (hey… maybe it’s not such a bad idea !!) and then brought in all the money that a city three times its size normally has, that’d be Da Nang. In fact, while Pullman have the hugest resort complex that I’ve seen in this country (though it’s just one of many luxury apartment complexes in town), there’s a chain of apartments called “The Gold Coast”, so that’s apparently where we live now… the Gold Coast of Vietnam.

We left the dirty slums of Darlinghurst road Kings Cross (Bui Vien street in Saigon) to move to the corner of Cavill Ave and The Esplanade on The Gold Coast (corner of Trần Văn Dư and Võ Nguyên Giáp in Đà Nẵng) except in a city with twice the population and money and paying half the price in rent. I’ve included a Google Earth picture of Da Nang bay and city with all the locations marked on it. Try not to get too excited. It costs a whole $200/month to live here beside the beach in one of the most beautiful locations in South East Asia ! :D

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