back to Viet Nam

Loic sent me an e-mail from France and commented that I must be equally excited and apprehensive about returning to Viet Nam. As he is currently experiencing his own reverse culture shock he is in a good position to evaluate how I might feel and he is completely right.

Actually I have been putting off going back and making all sorts of excuses for doing so. Oh you know I need to finish this bit of research, or this draft of my statement of intent needs to progress, or I need to get a haircut, or my socks need washing. All avoidance techniques, but why is it so?

Well, the truth is that I have become so comfortable here in such a short space of time and I just know what it is going to be like when I arrive at T?n Son Nh?t, walk out into the stifling humidity and face the chaos that exists there. I have become so used to quiet, calm and orderly behaviour again here in Brisbane that I’m unsure how I am going to tolerate the push and shove and frenetic pace that epitomises S?i G?n.

Actually, the chaos will begin before I even disembark from the aircraft as there seems to be this predilection amongst passengers that as soon as the aircraft wheels have touched the tarmac, the seat belts are released, cell phones turned on and the mad scramble to retrieve luggage from the overhead lockers begins, all this while the aircraft is still making its way off the main runway. Now I know that this happens on many flights and its something that I can’t really fathom, why jostle to be the first to stand, usually in a cramped position with your head at a weird angle under the luggage racks when you know that everybody must wait for the doors to open and then there will still be the wait at the luggage carousel. But you haven’t seen anything until you have experienced this phenomenon on a flight full of Vietnamese people anxious to get back on home soil and see their loved ones.

Of course going through customs is an experience also, but I have to admit that it is far less taxing now than it was 3 years ago. So, on to the luggage carousel where some dear soul will have whipped the bags off the machine and thrown them at crazy drunken angles in a pile on the floor. Then there is the final push shove and line jumping where all the luggage must be x-rayed once again before you can get outside and face the waiting throngs.

Why do so many people stand in a huge mass around the arrival gates at T?n Son Nh?t airport? The same thing doesn’t occur at the airport outside Ha Noi, but then we are really speaking about two totally different types of people aren’t we? I have been at T?n Son Nh?t at all times of the day and night and there are always hundreds of people standing, sitting, straining to see around the flimsy barrier that gives the poor tired arriving passenger that tiny bit of respite and a fleeting second to adjust to the sudden alarming change in temperature as the first bit of perspiration begins to trickle down the middle of the back.

Of course the next trial are the taxi drivers. I could write pages on some of my experiences with Vietnamese taxi drivers, not all of them bad experiences mind you, but the ones that I have had at this airport make for good storytelling over a couple of cold beers that is for sure. I realise that these drivers need to make a living and that competition for fares is fierce but I really object to having my luggage snatched out of my hands as some person tries to abduct me in the direction of their cab. At first I used to try and be polite with these guys and explain to them that I was happy to find my own taxi thank you and I would rather be in control of my own precious baggage. However, after a couple of times where I agreed to accompany them to their vehicle and discovered that my luggage was being loaded into a non-metered rust bucket with absolutely no suspension and an interior that looked as if farm animals had lived there for the last ten years I became a lot tougher. To hell with foreign relations!

It was not just the condition of these non-taxis that got me annoyed, goodness knows I’ve been known to travel in worse, but it was also the amount of fare being quoted. Now I know only too well that the correct metered fare from the airport to my house in D3 was about VND50,000 give or take a few thousand dong. When you consider that VND50,000 is equal to about US$3.20 and these guys begin by quoting a flat rate special deal just for you bargain price of US$20.00 (after they have your luggage securely in the boot) and will only progress down to US$15.00 as you begin to retrieve your belongings, you get some idea of just how much first time tourists are being ripped off.

But metered taxis also try you on and I will never forget the looks on the faces of our friends Justin and Rachel who, upon arriving from Australia, and being greeted and led by us to what we would consider a safe bet for a taxi, watched me open the front passenger door as we were driving out of the car park and threaten to jump out of the still moving cab unless the driver zeroed his meter and turned it on. This guy had tried the old flat rate of US$15 trick and when we realised that we wouldn’t be fooled by this eventually wanted to charge VND70,000. All this discussion took place as we were moving and led to my threatening to vacate if he didn’t stop or turn on the meter. Big silence from the back seat and a couple of very dropped bottom jaws, “Welcome to Viet Nam guys!”

Incidentally, he turned his meter on and from memory the fare was VND47,000.

Of course all this will change when the new terminal is finished as I’m sure that the authorities will put a new system in place (won’t they?). No doubt there will be an orderly taxi queue where you won’t be pushed and shoved and there will be no hassles. The drivers will be polite and helpful and will not try to overcharge you, and there won’t be throngs of people crowding the entrance and families won’t be sitting on blankets eating and fanning themselves against the heat and never again will I be able to greet first time visitors and watch the looks on their faces.

Damn but I hope the old terminal is still in operation when I get there this time!!