Before I left Japan on my world tour, I made plans with two Australian teacher-friends to meet me in Vietnam. They wanted to see the 'Nam as bad as I did, so we set the goal to meet in Saigon on New Years Eve. We left it at: "See you on New Years Eve at the Apocalypse Now bar before the clock strikes 12:00."
Alex, Nathan and I toast in the new year.
I wanted to get to Saigon a few days before the end of the year, but couldn't get my visa sorted nor a flight out of Hong Kong until 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 31st. When the plane touched down at 10 p.m. in Saigon, I jumped in a cab and raced into town. I walked into the crowded bar, backpack and all, and quickly spotted my Aussie mates. We partied hard late into the night with a host of characters. The Apocalypse Now bar was filled with pot smokers and drunks, a bunch of prostitutes trying to make a pick-up, little kids selling gum & newspapers, and American vets exorcising old wartime demons. A classic beginning to a new adventure.
Staggering back to the hotel, I began making my first bitter-sweet impressions of a former enemy country, one so deeply entrenched in the American psyche. Thousands of homeless people sleeping on the filthy Saigon streets with rats scurrying nearby searching for food. Grand French architecture and wide tree-lined boulevards. Mutant beggars with missing limbs or horrendous burns. A high English speaking proficiency. Swarms of mopeds and rickshaws on the streets and many foul smells. Affectionate kids who want to play and horse around. Crafty pickpocketeers (Alex got nixed for $20).
Perhaps the biggest culture shock of all were some Vietnamese pointing at us saying, "Lynxso, Lynxso!" After hearing this several times we asked someone what Lynxso meant. Lynxso means "Russian," the only white people in Vietnam (1993) since the Americans pulled out 20 years ago.
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