Small accomplishments

I know this might not seem a big deal to many people, but it was a small but significant milestone for me today. I haven’t really been out beyond the tourist places, so other than some serving platters and cups for my sushi and my rice wine that I got at an old guy’s china store on Bui Vien, I haven’t picked up any cutlery or anything. I didn’t even have a knife and I’ve been cutting my delicious dutch cheese with a pair of scissors. Hardly classy. Well, there’s a few things I wanted to get today. I wanted some more plates, for little things. Pickles and other preserves, kimchi, a little rice bowl, a big bowl for noodles, and I wanted a coffee maker and kettle.

I’m not allowed to cook in my apartment. House rules. But I can make stuff with boiling water of course, which covers plenty of good items. It might be ok for me to have a microwave, I don’t know. I presume the rule only applies to open flames or cook-tops. I’ll have to ask the landlady later.

Walking to the nearby District 5 Co-op was an important step for me. It was my first time going to a real supermarket since I got back here this year to buy proper groceries. By which I mean some cheese, tuna, biscuits, some noodles and other snacks like some pressed ham, oh and lots of Pepero of course !

There were some lovely china dinner sets at the Co-op. There was both melamine and china sets. Since it was a matter of about 30-50 cents for a melamine bowl or $1-1.50 for a china bowl depending on size, I opted for the china of course. I’m not exactly buying cutlery for a whole family and I only needed a few items. Some drink coasters (no sane person in Vietnam would ever put a drink down without a coaster), two different sized bowls and two saucers and a little twin serving dish (this was melamine. They didn’t have those sort in china) and a knife, big soup spoon, tea spoon, and the all important Vietnamese drip coffee maker and a kettle.

The kettle was a bit expensive. About $17 was the cheapest. I could have gotten one at the markets for $3, but of course I would have had to walk there and fight through crowds. And this was a lovely metal one with a warranty and stuff, and it ended up coming with a free 1.5L thermos so it was ok. I got a couple of small boxes of ground Trung Nguyen coffee and some local sweetened condensed milk. Oh, and some cheap, nasty Vietnamese ruou (rice wine). I did buy a bottle of the cheapest red wine from Da Lat, but I didn’t get it at the co-op because I’m not silly. I know it’s cheaper from the old lady who runs the little grocery shop from her house in the alley near me, so that’s where I got it later.

While I was in the co-op, I heard a thundering sound on the roof, and glancing outside, I realised it was raining heavily. That sucks. But it probably won’t last, and sure enough, after I paid for my groceries and went outside it had stopped raining, although the roads were very wet. Lots of motorbike guys yelled out, and they have some guys who work for the store with big baskets on the back to take your groceries home, but it was an important part of me going to this place that I could walk home with my groceries. Naturally, as I got out of District 5 and into District 1, tonnes of people thought they could offer me a lift, but ultimately it’s about 5 blocks at most from my apartment to the co-op and being able to walk there just mattered to me. It makes me comfortable knowing I can walk to the supermarket if I need to without relying on a motorbike guy or fighting through traffic.

So this afternoon, it was miserable and rainy and very windy outside, so I didn’t want to go out. I told Thao I might go out later for a beer and she could come meet me if she wanted, but when I got home and it was so miserable I commented on Skype that I didn’t want to go out, and she agreed. Especially since she is from Go Vap which is a long way away.

Because of the rain or some other issue, the ADSL has gone down, which is annoying. Even the 3G is pretty average tonight. But at least it works and I have options, which is more than I had in Australia. So firstly I have a lovely ca fe sua da (iced coffee with milk) and then I start the bath. The landlady had to battle with the weird spring-loaded mechanical bath plug that they commonly have in Asia, putting some WD-40 onto it and replacing a washer before it would stay popped down. She just finished up with it when I got home, while the young girl went through my rubbish looking for recyclables. Seriously, don’t put anything embarrassing in your rubbish in Vietnam, because first your landlord or other staff at your apartment will go through it, and then when it hits the street, someone else will go through it. Anyway mine was just full of bottles and packaging, and she took those and kept them for recycling.

Putting up with the hustle and bustle of Pham Ngu Lao requires your house to be a bit of a sanctuary at times. When you go for a walk down the road to get something to eat, or you go out for a beer, you get offered shoe-shines and sunglasses and cigarettes, and in the space of 400 meters on one street I must have been asked if I wanted marijuana, opium or cocaine at least 12 times. So my counter to that is that I try and keep my home this civilised little perfect world of peace and tranquility. Having the ability to make coffee, and having nice cutlery for my rice wine and food and stuff was a bit deal. I even have a tiny little bowl with cherry blossoms on it which just has a few salty plums (se moi) in it, so that I can wander past the fridge and have a little sip of rice wine and grab a salty plum. Here’s my little collection of some of my dinner and drink stuff with my coffee being made with the typical Vietnamese coffee drip. (Sorry Arnd, yours is still back in Australia. Blame Dutch customs !)

Making ca fe sua da at home.

So now that my bath plug was fixed, obviously I wanted to take advantage of it. It’s a miserable cold, windy and rainy night outside, so I want to stay in and be warm and watch movies and drink a little and have a nice warm bath. So, I grabbed some of my French Emmentaler cheese (Vietnam gets so many great French products, but if you don’t know, Emmentaler is just Swiss cheese, but this was a pretty nice French brand, and comparably priced to other cheeses here) on some Korean sweet and savoury crackers, a little bit of spiced, pressed Vietnamese ham, a bottle of Da Lat wine, and some Pepero… in the bathtub. Naturally I took my Galaxy Tab in with me and some portable speakers, but if you think I was listening to something Asian, then sorry to disappoint, but I wasn’t. I lay back in the tub listening to 1983 Australian folk album Redgum’s “Caught in the Act”. Luxury and relaxation in Saigon.

The bathroom is quite nice. Nothing too fancy, but it’s functional and clean. The bathtub is pretty new, and the hot water system adequate. There are some lovely decorative tiles and light fixtures in the room. The wall shown here has a lovely woman who might be Greek holding an urn. the opposite wall, amusingly, has a tile featuring a family of teddy bears.

Enjoying the nice things in life

The blanket on my bed also has teddy bears on the underside of it but I won’t show you that now, haha. Maybe it was one of the old lady’s children’s blankets from years ago, but it’s adequate for a single person in a king size bed at least. As I get out of the bath after my album has finished, I lay on the bed in the airconditioning and nibble some Pepero and wonder what to do tonight. I downloaded a bunch of Korean movies this week. I normally get a full 600k/s on torrents here on the ADSL which is awesome, but I cap it to 300k/s for the sake of politeness toward any other tenants who use the internet (though as far as I know, there is only one person who uses a Sony Viao. I saw it on the wifi client list on the router). Anyway, I got a few I was keen to see, but one in particular was My Sassy Girl.

My friend Karl from the USA (who is a big Kpop fan) is always insisting that I watch this because he considers it as great as the Japanese movie Koizora, but of course I have my doubts about that. I also have to watch Love Exposure or Medusa from the UK will kill me, because it’s another Korean movie and he’s always asking if I’ve seen it.

So tonight, My Sassy Girl and maybe tomorrow, Love Exposure. Shame I don’t have any soju, but they sell it at the convenience store at the end of the alley on the main street. But I feel so clean and comfortable laying inside on my bed listening to music that you couldn’t make get dressed and go outside in the sticky Saigon night air for quids. Not even for all the beer in Saigon. Ok, maybe for that.

That’s my civilised little life anyway. I’m not here to catch lots of busses and tour around the country taking photos. I just want to hide in the alleys like a slightly more cultured little Vietnamese rat and take baths and nibble cheese and sushi and drink rice wine and ice coffee. It keeps me sane in this busy city.

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