With the impending Tết holidays, work slowed down significantly the week leading up to the biggest holiday in Vietnam. This was very lucky, however, given that our two friends from high school were visiting from Canada and China respectively.
Stubbs and Xela arrived for a week’s stay with us on February 4! I picked them up from the airport and managed to successfully navigate the many, many, MANY shady cab companies that rob freshly-landed tourists blind (charging an insane fee upfront, using faulty metres, adding additional costs to the fare, etc). It’s yet another sign that I’m officially an established resident of HCMC.
We came back to our humble abode and fed the chicklets, spending hours at the kitchen table catching up. None of us had caught up in years so it was a really great (and necessary) start to the visit.
After relaxing for the afternoon, we decided to head out to the backpacker district for dinner and drinks. We actually took the girls to the restaurant Rhino took us to our first night in the city. It has a massive menu, delicious food and a beautiful vista from the rooftop dining area.
We continued our catch-up session over dinner and then proceeded to what I like to call “kiddie table drinks” AKA sixty-cent street beer at mini tables which are pretty much the bane of Bagheera’s 5’11” existence.
One of the best parts about kiddie table drinks is that when the night gets busy, the proprietors of these fine establishments will bring out as many tables and chairs as are necessary to keep the tourists coming to their spot. So many, in fact, that the furniture (if one can even call it that) spills out onto the street.
No, this is not allowed. Which is where the fun comes in. The police come around in intervals throughout the evening, sometimes frequently and sometimes not. If they catch any of these business owners with chairs on the street, they will simply kick people off their perches and throw whatever plastic furniture is not on the sidewalk into the back of their truck and drive off.
The owners are usually quicker than the police though. With the help of the regulars, everyone’s eyes are peeled for the stealthy police trucks and their ruthless tactics. It becomes a bit of a game when someone spots the cops as everyone hops up off their chairs and helps either explain to the dumbfounded tourists what’s going on or takes part in the lightening fast chair-stacking game that ensues.
I think we all feel a sense of responsibility to these shopkeepers who treat us so well and who are really only trying to make a living. If their chairs and tables are taken, so is their means of income.
When everyone’s bums were too numb to enjoy the experience any longer, we doddled our way up Bùi Viện to find some adult-sized chairs and table. After a lot, and I mean a LOT, of jostling, convincing and touching from some street flyerers, we ended up on a rooftop terrace with drink deals and some new British friends.
We ended the night on the ground floor of the bar with our dancing shoes on and pool cues in hand. After waiting nearly an hour for the absolute slowest game of billiards humanly possible to finally end, Xela showed the bar how Canadian girls win a game of pool.
In the meantime, Stubbs and I met a surprisingly young group of Swedish guys, showed them our wicked dance moves and stifled our laughter when they sang every single word to all the Spice Girls and ☆NSYNC songs that came on. All-in-all, it was a stellar start to the girls’ visit (and made for a very late night). I’m talking watched-the-sun-rise-from-our fourth-floor-balcony kind of late night.
The next morning consisted of a fresh fruit brunch chez nous. And that’s about as productive as our day got. Bagheera had to work that night so the girls and I ordered in some traditional Vietnamese noodles from my favourite takeout website, Eat.vn.
We got ready while B was at work and then hustled out the door upon her return to celebrate a ladies’ night at Lush nightclub. After one (almost) lost camera and an ensuing panic attack, a lot of dancing, a game of cab cat-and-mouse that resulted in a ridiculously high cab fare (for HCMC standards) our night ended in another sunrise.
After not nearly enough sleep, I undertook the task of feeding the girls with omelettes consisting of just about every vegetable and herb in the fridge in an attempt to erase the damage done to our bodies the night before.
We spent the afternoon going through photos of the girls’ trip so far. Stubbs works for a Canadian international high school in China which is where Xela met her three weeks before their arrival in HCMC to start their South East Asia tripping.
They began their trip in Wuhan, China and then made their way to Thailand for a little longer than intended due to a missed flight. So we checked out the stunning photographs of their visit to a Thai tiger reserve and shared in the reminiscing about the beautiful architecture of Singapore, their final stop before Vietnam.
We all had a hankering for sushi so we took the girls to our favourite melt-in-your-mouth sushi joint for a leisurely evening. Returning home at a reasonable hour, we popped in the film Pitch Perfect and proceeded to roll around laughing for the next two hours.
The following morning the girls went sightseeing and then we met up at home for lunch and then took them up to Phú Mỹ Hưng district, the clean air, popular-amongst-expats district where my Vietnam journey began three short months ago.
They wanted a day by the pool and an oasis day is what we got. We caught some rays and watched an international group of kids flip back-and-forth between three languages with such facility I couldn’t help but be insanely envious of their spongy minds that can retain languages that readily.
After squelching my feelings of inferiority, we headed back to our pad for a combination dinner of homemade fare and leftover sushi. Since Bagheera and I still hadn’t come down off the craziness of the previous weekend of work, we sent the girls out on their own that night to wreak havoc on this city.
Stubbs had a near wallet-snatching that night but thanks to her rapid-fast reflexes she managed to clamp down on the wallet and yank it out of the very surprised would-be thief’s hands. It was difficult to decide who was more shocked by the encounter: Xela or the scrawny Vietnamese man who expected to handily snag the wallet from an unsuspecting tourist’s hand. Little did he realise, should he have succeeded, Stubbs was a track star in high school and had already planned to hunt the poor sucker down if she ended up losing the tug-of-war.
The girls spent the following day at the Củ Chi tunnels, about an hour outside of the city. These underground tunnels were part of a larger network that was constructed during the war in the 1970s.
For their final night in the city, we met up with a couple of British friends they made in Thailand who happened to arrive in the city that day. We went to a burger place to catch up before meeting up with Rhino, Pistol and the boys on Bùi Viện.
In the spirit of small-world travels, Stubbs and I both went to school with Rhino and Xlea’s brothers went to school with the three of us so she also knew Rhino from home. Oh, and Notorious B.A.Y. is not that big. Everybody knows everybody. It was a great gathering of Notorious B.A.Yites.
My final day with the girls was spent lazing around the flat. Bagheera, Stubbs and Xela packed for their trip to Laos this week. I bid them farewell hardly able to believe how small this world continues to get. In the past month, we’ve had two visits from Canadians… in Vietnam of all places!
And the guests just keep rolling in as we welcome another travelling Canadian next week, upon Bagheera’s return from beautifully lush Laos.