My flight from LAX was at 11:10pm, so I worked a full day and planned to leave for the airport at 6pm. The last few hours of work were exciting as Neil Diamond was rehearsing outside. Jimmy Kimmel tapes his show a few doors down from our office building, and I have a good view of the outdoor stage from the window near my desk. The windows don't keep out the sound either, so a band rehearsal usually means no one gets any meaningful work done from 4pm-6pm. Neil was doing "Song Sung Blue" but as a result of discussing our favorite Neil songs I got "America" stuck in my head. Ah, the good old days of immigration.
Mike gave me a ride to LAX, and passing La Brea & Santa Monica I realized I'd forgotten to get the number for the Formosa Cafe. I wanted to call them from the Taipei airport just to tell them I was calling from the Isle of Formosa. That would have become my best Formosa Cafe story, supplanting the time I met Sydney Poitier (daughter of Sidney) in 1993 before she became a minor star.
At LAX I had Chinese food, the best option at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, even though I knew I'd be eating Asian food for the next week and a half. I continued to hum "America" to myself, amused by the irony that everyone around me was in fact leaving America.
I got stuck with aisle seats for both flights (LAX-TPE and TPE-SGN), but at least on the longer overnight flight I was in the last row of a section, with no kicking kid behind me. I dreamed so I must have slept for part of the 14.5-hour flight, despite some asshole sprawled out and snoring in an adjacent row all to himself. I still can't figure out snoring, only because it takes quite a bit of muscular exertion and mechanics to prop open one's mouth from the relaxed closed position. It's like part of the brain is active enough to work the mouth, but the rest is so comatose it can't be roused by the sound coming out of that same mouth that's louder than nearby jet engines. I'd contribute to stem-cell research if it could help solve the neurological mystery of snoring. Oh, I forgot, I am contributing. Thanks, California voters!
At Taipei's Chiang Kai Shek Airport, ancient works of art were on display at the terminal. Three in particular were labelled "Big Plate I", "Big Plate II" and "Big Plate III". A kid waiting for my flight really wanted a Coke from the machine. His mom tried to give him something else but he wouldn't stop screaming, like when Homer had the flashback about the corpse. Other passengers had a good laugh. I made a few phone calls while waiting, just to be able to mention the Isle of Formosa. There were no directories present, so I couldn't determine how many Chins really are in a Chinese phone book, or if Hao Long is listed. (Dad, that joke is timeless.)
On the flight to Saigon it became clear that native Chinese speakers making airplane announcements should not attempt to say "strictly prohibited". It could pose a danger because when passengers hear "stlictry" they laugh so hard that they miss the "prohibited" part. When they talked about the in-flight entertainment for some reason I expected to hear Julia Louis-Dreyfus announce "our movie today is Rhinestone". You know, from the "Jackson is a Reverend" Ed Grimley sketch. Midway through the flight I became aware that, among mostly Asian passengers, I probably had the biggest wang on the plane. Hey, it's not racist, it's just science. I'm assuming no one on the plane was actually named Wang. There were 4 white guys including me, and two were like 6'5" and 6'7" acromegalous freaks (all out of proportion), so the odds were in my favor. Although even on a plane full of "homie Gs", I'd still have to be a top contender. (Amy, you talked about your boobs so much on the tour, I can talk about my Johnson.)
On the arrival card you have to declare over US$10,000 or 300 g of gold. This is the first country I've been to that had a gold limit, and I'm sure it has something to do with Nguyen Van Thieu (former president of South Vietnam) fleeing the country in 1975 with suitcases full of gold.
As we were landing I tried to play "Ride of the Valkyries" in my head, but the houses were too colorful (mostly blue) to put me in a wartime mood.
After emerging from the Snake (Poodawg's term for the winding way out of the airport where all the people are holding up signs) I headed for the taxi stand, but another guy got to me first and led me to his taxi, which was suspiciously deep into the parking lot. I know how that works but I was tired, and the $15 fare (instead of $5 for the real taxis) was still cheaper than any other city. Ho Chi Minh City (I didn't hear anyone call it Saigon there) was comfortably hot and humid, and on the way to the hotel I found it similar to Bombay. Traffic was chaotic and constantly honking, the air smelled (it was a burning smell, not that India stank that stays on your clothes for days) and everything looked lush, tropical and dirty. Biggest difference was most of the traffic was motorcycles. Half the people I saw on the street were wearing those ridiculous cone hats! I didn't realize they were popular in the city. When we passed Reunification Palace the driver pointed and said "America...bye-bye!" I expressed recognition of the historical significance.
First photo: View from my room at the Thien Tung Hotel, looking to the left.
Looking to the right. I think these are generally facing southwest. The market etc. are in the other direction.
Notre Dame Cathedral. It was closed for lunch and the sign said it would reopen at 3pm. When I saw that I snapped my fingers like Charles Napier after he reads the ad for the Blues Brothers Rhythm & Blues Revue on the bathroom wall.
Every street crossing in HCMC is like "running the gauntlet" at the Arc de Triomphe. Cars and motorcycles don't stop for pedestrians. You just walk between them. I got the hang of it right away.
Major irritant so far: these guys who go after tourists on motorcycles and offer tours of the city. They're on the level but they're way too persistent. Two of them followed me for blocks even after I said I wanted to explore the city on foot. They reminded me of the camel riders at Giza.
I make my living
On a steel camel I ride
I'm Putro's (Putro's)
Saigon tour guide
After just 2 hours of walking around, my shirt was soaked with sweat. HCMC is brutally hot and humid, even in November. Maybe the motorcycle was the better idea.
This is the former site of the American Embassy, where the remaining Americans were famously evacuated by helicopter from the rooftop in April 1975. I wasn't sure if the building was still standing, but nothing in this shot looks like the 1975 photos. The tall white building is a hotel or commercial building. I confirmed after I got back that the old embassy was demolished a few years ago.
At this point a windy thunder storm suddenly arrived, so I quickly returned to the hotel. I slept all afternoon (catching up from the flight), got up and read for a few hours, then slept again at night. I actually didn't eat anything all day other than airplane food, but didn't get hungry. I think I had an excess of food in me but not enough hydration or sleep, and it took a day to balance everything out.