Part of the reason why we decided to come and live in another culture was that we were bored with living in the same city for many years. One Sunday we were sitting in our Gold Coast home discussing what we might do for the day and we realized that there was nowhere close by that we really wanted to go to any more. We needed a change. From that point on we worked on our plan of escape to a place that would be a source of constant amusement to our jaded sensibilities. Have we found such a place here in HCMC? Read on as I try to describe the activities of last weekend and judge for yourself…
Friday morning early in the office at Nguyen Gia Theiu and Huy casually mentions that it is the soft opening of his new restaurant that night and would we like to come along? OK, that sounds good. Later that morning we get a generic invite to drinks with all staff at Caf? Latin in Dong Du Street. Kate and Peter are leaving us so this is to be a farewell drink. OK that sounds good also. The consensus is, drinks at Caf? Latin first and then off to the Villa at about 8pm. OK, this all sounds good.
Read on in “more”…
Being driven into Dong Du St at about 6pm and the sky opens up. Our Xe Om (pronounced ?say oom? or ?Honda hug? ? the affectionate term for renting a ride on the pillion seat of a small motorbike) drivers, Hoang and Lim stop and produce light rain coats. Lisa gets one to wear while I am left under the back flap of the drivers? coat. This is reasonably OK except for the fact that I now have nil vision and this is a slight problem in the very busy Friday evening traffic. I now have no idea of when we are going to turn, stop or whatever and I get soaked anyway.
We stagger into Caf? Latin looking like a couple of drowned rats, but others are looking similar so it doesn?t really matter. Several beers later and we are reasonably dried off and Peter, a colleague from Rockhampton in Queensland and me are teaching the finer points of cricket to Hom and Quang who are convinced that the game is simply an offshoot of baseball. Dr. Laurie, who has told me that the entire collection of Victor Trumper memorabilia on display at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is on loan from him, chips in and remarks that they would have to be silly arseholes to imagine anything so ridiculous. Never a dull moment with Laurie around.
At about 8pm Lisa and I get a lift to The Villa at 164 Pasteur St in Quang?s car and we are favourably surprised (gob smacked is the real expression) at the size and rather breathtaking d?cor of Huy?s new enterprise. I had no preconceptions of what type of establishment Huy may have been involved in, but I did not expect anything quite like this. Talk about ?wow factor?, this place has it by the mile.
The Villa is, as the name suggests, one of the many old French villas that are scattered around this city that has been renovated and decorated to turn it into a very classy nightclub and outside bar on the ground level, while on the first floor there is a very up market restaurant where the character of the old Villa has been retained. We drank more beer with bar snacks and then headed upstairs for a meal with a few glasses of wine. The alcohol intake was beginning to have an effect by now and just when I was deciding to slow down, Quang suggests that we should buy a bottle of Absolut vodka. OK, that sounds good.
Wending our way downstairs we discover that the nightclub and bar area, which had been quiet earlier on, was now packed and the music was pumping. This is my first experience of some of the more ?alternative? Saigonese natives in their nighttime habitat and attire and it is an eye opener to see what some are nearly wearing. A mental game begins to pick the true gender of some of the species and two bottles of vodka later the time has mysteriously become 2.30am. We catch a taxi home.
Saturday morning and my students have an exam at 9am. I stagger around and get into the office at 8.15 to invigilate. Loic, Huy and Philip all look about the same way that I feel and I have to admit to being relieved when I could go and have some lunch with Loic and Miss Chau then head home for a major nap. Lisa had a corporate presentation to do on that morning but she beat me home for a sleep.
By 3pm the pounding in my brain had not abated, so Lisa and I headed down Nguyen Dinh Chieu St to MyMy?s where we have been getting our hair cut. 2.5 hours later after a cut, shampoo, head and facial massage, foot massage and pedicure we both walked out feeling in a much better condition although still massively tired. A one hour shampoo/facial massage has to be one of life?s greatest relaxants and I recommend it to anybody who lives in a city where it is not expensive. We could not afford to do this in Australia that is for sure.
So, 6pm on Saturday night, we are exhausted both mentally and physically, however Nhung has invited us to a wine tasting. OK, sounds good to me. We met Nhung at an RMIT function where she managed to keep up a good supply of Australian red wine to us all evening. She works for a wine distributor called ?La Cave? at 54 Le Thanh Ton St, but the tasting was being held at the Rio Caf? & Bar situated on the 1st floor of Brazil Churrascaria at 67 Bis Troung Dinh St which is located just around the corner from my office.
I have often admired the beautiful art deco villa that the Brazil Churrascaria is located in from the outside, and I was not disappointed with the building when we ventured inside. Another magnificent old house built in the fine traditions of the art deco era. A beautiful hostess in ao dai shows us to the upstairs bar where Nhung is happy to see us and sits us at a table close to the balcony and the pianist. This night there is a selection of 2 Australian wines and 2 Spanish, a white and a red of each to taste. OK, this sounds good.
We are introduced to Lin from La Cave and Andy, the restaurant owner and we are just being served our second glass of wine when who should walk in but Hang and Huong who come and join us. It is apparent that these two ladies are good friends with Nhung and we have a laugh about how small the world, and particularly this part of the world, really is. I?m convinced that we are living in a village of 8 million people.
Lisa remembers that a colleague Terry wanted to come along to this tasting so gives him a call on my cell phone. Meantime, Loic phones Huong on her cell phone and decides that he will come over also. Terry arrives and fits his large frame at our table after greeting Nhung as an old friend. How many people know each other here? Our party of two has grown to six when a very slight Japanese woman comes over and hugs Terry who introduces Hiroko as his ex-house partner who is now the PR person for the Family Medical Practice where we go for our pills and potions and where Dr. Laurie practices.
Hiroko joins our group and introduces a very tall raw boned Frenchman named Marcel, who tells us that he has spent the last five years working on increasing production in fish farms in the Can Tho area of the Mekong Delta. He is writing a thesis for his PhD but, like most people who attempt this task, he is struggling with the writing phase. Marcel has been talking and joking with a group of French people at the next table and Loic explains to me that they have been giving Marcel a hard time about his very Japanese t-shirt but that he has been giving one of them just as hard a time about his crappy Hawaiian shirt. The good natured banter continues in French and the people at the next table come over and bid us a friendly adieu.
Wine duly tasted and full of the well presented snack food, Terry invites us back to his house for cocktails. Loic and Lisa and I share a cab and we swing by Loic?s house so that he can pick up a homemade bottle of fortified wine that he was given by a villager in France last May. The cab continues down busy Dien Bien Phu St and we eventually find Terry?s house in a tiny Hem (alley) close to Hai Ba Trung St.
The house is tiny and a narrow small staircase leads us to the first level where Terry’s partner Madame Diep awaits us and the nine of us crowd around the timber kitchen table talking happily and enjoying the closeness and warmth of sharing a tiny space while outside, the rain buckets down. Marcel is ecstatic over the wine that Loic has brought along and he makes appreciative noises as he alternatively drinks and pays attention to Hiroko. A happy space, but we are tired as is Madame Diep who has spent the day at Vung Tau with her daughter so, picking a break in the weather, two cabs are called and when we get home the back bedroom, known as “The Pink Room”, is our room of choice for sleeping because it is soundproof.
Sunday, coffee, noodles in our Hem. Mark exam papers all day and finish both classes by about 6pm. We are invited to go to Roberta?s apartment for dinner and she has cooked a delicious beef roast with roast potatoes and vegetables followed by an equally delicious dessert and chocolates with port to finish off with after our red wine. Roberta is the Director Academic at RMIT Vietnam and we are joined by our colleagues David, Don and Maddie. The Somerset Apartments where Roberta lives are situated in Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St and are ever so slightly out the reach of the salaries of mere academics such as us. If you stand on the 14th balcony you can see directly down into the compound of the American consulate with the French consulate directly next to that.
Sharing a taxi home with Don and Maddie we fall into bed and I contemplate the 10am class that I have in the morning. The question that I have to ask myself is this. ?How can I keep up this sort of pace and not deteriorate very rapidly?? Time will tell I guess, but at least we aren?t bored any more!