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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Conquer This

I conquered one of my Southeast Asia phobias both last night and today...!!

Before I go any further, I have to explain because, of course, this is my first trip to Southeast Asian, so why should I have any phobias? I shock even myself.

A few years ago, an old friend of mine went to Thailand with her two sisters.  Now, by NO means are ANY of them large women... but they aren't size -0 either.  All three of them are well endowed in the derrière, but all have very small waists. As the story goes... they all walked in to a clothing stop together and the lady working at the time immediately started shooing them out, all the while yelling "We no fat clothes!  You GO!  No fat clothes here!" They weren't so much horrified, but found it one of the funniest moments of their trip - and continue to use the saying with each other to this very day. Since booking my vacation to Vietnam, this scenario has played havoc in the back of my mind and it became my utmost goal to lose weight.  Like most dreams though, they die a slow, painful death, as did my delusion of sauntering in to Vietnam at a solid 95lb, soaking wet, oozing with fabulous.  In my defence though, I do enjoy wine, cheese and bread... a lot.

So it's not really my fault.

Fears be damned though, last night I walked right in to that teeny tiny clothing shop... and then I did it again today!  It was liberating... yet sobering at the same time. Is this my official conquering of my fear of shopping in Southeast Asian countries?  Probably not... I will admit that I did have to fight off the urge to just randomly announce to everyone that I was shopping for my very tiny daughter. Last night I bought nothing... today I bought a pair of shorts, a shirt (that is more than likely a dress for someone much more petite) and a casual patterned dress (nightie).  To be fair, there was this amazing pair of cotton pants that were just a smidge bit too small around the waist... disappointing... but no one yelled at me to get out of the store because of it. his place that I keep speaking about is Bui Vien Street- the ultimate party street of Ho Chi Minh City... and party it was... and busy! Holy cow, busy.  

Every inch of it was pumping- pumping with celebration, neon, loud music, hustle bustle, and all this amid the backdrop of vibrant and flashy colour.  Everywhere you looked, there were tourists, backpackers, locals, street food vendors, lottery sellers, beggars, dancers, children, drug dealers, drunks, hookers, scammers, military, undercover police... you name it- they were there! And me.. desperately clutching my belongings and trying to avoid death by plummeting face first in to a high speed on-coming scooter. The entire street was glowing... seriously- illuminated with bright, colourful lights and lanterns - pubs, clubs, restaurants, breweries, and shops lined the street - along with massage parlours, souvenir shops, rooftop pools, travel agents, hotels, hostels... I kept walking by all these street tables with massive bongs on them and wondering if they were some kind of particular table incense, traditional to the area... but no, it was marijuana.  Shows my naivety. They call it a 'walking street' but to be honest... it's very difficult to actually walk because there is so much going on.  Mopeds and other assorted motorized vehicles aggressively pushing their way through... and don't forget the bicycles and the rickshaws! Basically... just Beware!

It was surreal.

Too much information?I actually looked it up to see some reviews and I found this one particularly interesting.  This is how one journalist described it."Bui Vien is a spectacle of vice that makes for some of the best entertainment you can buy. For others, it's a testament to all that is depraved and ugly in humanity."

For the morning, I arranged to visit the  Chu Chi Tunnels.  This is a series of underground tunnels, north of Ho Chi Minh City, that were used by the Viet-Cong during the war.  Although we only saw a small part of them in this district, they are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of Vietnam.

Took us about 2 & 1/2 hours to get to the tunnels and although it was fascinating and very impressive, I'm not so sure I would highly recommend the trip for a half day excursion.  It was a very long drive and I found the tunnels a little too glamorized or commercialized... as most things are now a days... in true tourist fashion.  Does that make sense? The video we watched was a black & white film from 1967, which seemed to be shot with a hand-held primal device... difficult to concentrate on and even harder to understand.  The two gift shops were colossal and they really did try to push Paint Ball on us.  I expected much more of a museum-type setting... and the assorted store front mannequins dressed up in uniforms just didn't cut it for me. I have to admit that I have not been feeling 100% since being here.  It's like I have constant nausea and my stomach has been doing flip-flops.  An internet medical self-diagnosis done this morning concludes that I either have Gastroparesis, Crones or I need to take a really big poo. All I've done is inundate myself with water.  I didn't eat a thing... although my breakfast buffet this morning was sporting some delicious looking pork & cilantro Bahn Mi...... insert yucky face...

I did get to experience the secret tunnel entrance and exit. These were definitely structured for people 4 feet tall and 85 pounds and my greatest fear was that I was going to get my gut stuck.  But as luck should have it, turns out I'm not as fat as I originally thought... I managed to fit... thought I'm fairly confident I'd be last one picked for front-line military recruitment.

I was slightly concerned about potential claustrophobia kicking it.  Now- to be honest, I never EVER thought I was claustrophobic at all... until I almost passed out twice, attempting to do the underground Edinburgh vault & tunnel tours a few years ago.  I just thought it was some kind of bad timing, nauseas, mind-altering, unusual flu-bug that happened to hit me in the middle of the tour... twice. When I experienced sudden recovery from these symptoms upon immediately exiting the vaults,  I convinced myself that perhaps I was a corrupt executioner in a previous life, responsible for thousands of deaths... and now the trapped underground spirits were warning me to steer clear.  I was NOT welcome in those vaults. Sensationalism at its best.

Turns out that I was just claustrophobic.

I took it easy on the tunnel tour though. The longest underground I let myself endure was 5 metres and I high-fived myself after that one to as a congratulations on bravery. Most of the others took the 30 metre and 60 metre challenge.  Not me. The last thing I needed was to be hyperventilating and passing out 6 feet under... in a jungle. So... time to complain... you know those moments when you're just not at your best... and you are forced to pay attention to something that is driving you insane?  And it just won't go away, no matter how much you will it?  Today was that day for me. Don't get me wrong... our tour guide... she was lovely.  She asked us to call her Miss Gabby, though her name was neither Miss nor Gabby.  She was cute and sweet and really tried hard.

And on a scale of who can speak Vietnamese AND English, she was definitely in the lead. But... it was hard.  Real hard. I've included a clip... mind you... ONLY a clip...

This is what I had to tolerate for 7 hours... the entire time, with a smile on my face.  I just could NOT handle the rolling words / sentences of the accent or the repetition in phonetics. This girl needs a Hooked on Phonics book!

To try and ease my pain, money can be sent in lieu of flowers...

Ignore me... On another note, I've come to the conclusion that I have to start showering first thing in the morning, as opposed to in the evening, like I've been doing.  This slept-in-wet-hair-dried-on-the-pillow-go-anywhere style is not doing wonders for my self esteem.  The girl that was on the bus next to me spent almost the entire journey editing pictures of herself in her bikini, frolicking in the waves.

Hmmmm.... Takes me back to the last time I was 'frolicking' in the waves.... ugh... I came back the hotel after the tour and decided to fight off my jet lag by staying out of bed.  In fact, I had a whole plan laid out about what I was going to do... written down on paper and everything.  It listed 9 things... ending with a tour up the Bitexco Tower to see the light of the city.

1. Take picture of insane electricity wires in the city.  Done 2. Go to the Bien Vi clothing store and buy dress and shorts. Done 3. Buy laxatives... .... and this is where everything fell apart...

BECAUSE... instead of dealing with a burdensome and somewhat crippling constipation problem...

Wait for it... Wait for it...

I went for a pedicure, which turned in to a foot wrapping and scrubbing... which turned in to a foot and leg massage... which turned in to another full hour massage! Guess there is no mistaking where my priorities lay...

Undeniably sucked in... and LOVED IT! And that's how I met my new friend, Paul! Paul sat right beside me- in what can only be described as a broom closet, as I had all the dead skin scrapped off my delicate, bloated & sore feet.  He's originally from New Zealand, but now a civil engineer in the Army, living in Istanbul.  Ho Chi Minh City has become his 'stop' on his way back to visit his parents, so he bought a place here.  We had a lot of laughs sitting there talking. Funny too, because after we got our feet done, we said our goodbyes and he was taken away to another room to have a massage... and I waited for my toes to dry- and then opted for the neck, back and head massage.  Turns out, we ended up in the same room together, separated by a curtain, both getting the shit kicked out of us.  At one point, my massage guy was crouching on me like a frog... digging his heals in to my lower back while he pounded the crap out of my shoulders! The stereo system from the early 80's left something to be desired and as much as they kept going over and hitting it, it kept short-circuiting,.. which was actually OK considering it was another rendition of the loud screeching traditional noise that I've come to adore.  

At one point, Paul said to me through the curtain,"Next time we bump in to each other at a massage parlour, can we listen to my music? Because this is neither good nor zen."

When we had both been sufficiently beaten up... and paid for it... we headed back in to the chaos of Bui Vien to get a couple drinks.  I ordered the red wine.. and this effervescent cold light-red liquid showed up in front of me! Not quite sure exactly what it was... maybe Boones??  

Similar anyway...

BUT... it certainly did the trick.

No need to head back out looking for laxatives....

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