Been at the place I am studying at for 3 days now and things are going ripper beaut. I have managed to settle on a price to get here with my regular xe om motorbike guy that is only twice the going rate (and still a bargain for me). What's more, I have been given the sexiest 'motorbike helmet' (read 'crappy bicycle helmet') in the world for my daily trip.
WHAT'S MORE: it's branded! That's right, I am now the proud owner of a helmet bearing the logo of the most expensive university in the country...y'know I considered a neon light saying 'mug me on my motorbike' stuck to my back but I thought this was more subtle.
Speaking of muggings, the nurse I live with works at one of the international medical centres in the city ('Gastro and bike accidents r us') and says that since the government has recently begun to crack down on unlicensed workers in the city (coming in from the countryside) the number of motorbike muggings has gone up exponentially. Their clinic is getting at least one case a week of someone who has been injured while being mugged as a passenger on a motorbike or while walking on the side of the road within grabbing range of a bike. The rule of thumb as a tourist used to be that you wore any handbags/shoulder bags across your chest so it couldn't be grabbed off - now you should be wearing them on one shoulder so they can! Even if it is across your chest they will have a go at grabbing - potentially pulling you off the bike at the same time. Even more fun are the crew that nick your bag/cellphone/sunglasses etc and then shove a stick in your spokes to stop you from giving chase....neato.
As for me, I wear a backpack on both shoulders and am more interested in staying on the bike that using a phone while doing so (the doctor flatmate had her phone nicked that way)...I know I am tempting fate but fingers crossed I am slightly reducing the prospect of visiting my housemate at her clinic.
So I got to Saigon, did a manic 2 hour 'settling in' period and then went out for the night with my ridiculously enthusiastic housemates who are serious ex-pat party bunnies. The house, as it stands this week, has 2 kiwis, 2 aussies, 1 irishman and a canadian....oh, and the live-in vietnamese house-keeper (I will burn in hell for that at some point in the future ;-).
That was Friday night, and Saturday morning was more food shopping/nerd-essentials-getting (SIM card, keyboard and headphones for mac). I also attempted to get a modem cable (try miming THAT!) which I did accomplish ('how long you want?' 'errrr, 4metres?', 'oi, 4 metres!' and the dude out the back makes me a cable!) but, in true Vietnamese style, it didn't actually fit the hole in the wall. So, using that very minor excuse for avoiding going back to dial-up hell, I have opted to stick with the ADSL net cafe 2 minutes walk from my room that is fully loaded with voip, webcam etc (and free iced tea when you arrive!) for a grand total of 3000 Vn dong per hour...and yes, that IS 20 Australian cents!
So, on Saturday afternoon it was determined that I had spent enough time settling in and was sent off to get tickets for myself, 2 flatmates and a friend of theirs to head to Vung Tau - the nearest 'seaside resort' town to Ho Chi Minh City.
Succeeded in doing that (100,000 dong for Vietnamese nationals, 150,000 for foreigners thank you) and we left last night for a whirlwind visit to the housewarming party of the previous tenant of my room who is now teaching english and living like a king in Vung Tau.
Transport was down the Saigon river on this fantastic Soviet-era hydrofoil which looked like something out of a 70s Bond film on the outside, and like my nana's living room on the inside...(paisley anyone?)
You got onboard by crossing 3 of them that were lined up next to each other at the dock - the top space on all top of them was conveniently occupied with wet clothing that was presumably drying.
There were also some very cool rubbish bins ('Winner! Waste Bin. Happiness to Everybody')...
...and emergency procedure signs (yay for emergencies!)
Got there, had dinner and 'hit the town' - as much as is possible in a country that closes by decree at midnight.
Went to the 'Ollywood' nightclub, tried not to look at the crusty old white guys with their by-the-hour Vietnamese companions and was serenaded with the techno dance remix of 'Happy Birthday' - no shit.
Woke up this morning and James the medical intern from Florida had acquired a spectacularly swollen lip from an insect bite (we assume)overnight - so he and I headed back a little early, in the direction of decent medical centres (well, one).
We hailed a taxi to the Saigon ferry and our driver, hearing the word 'Saigon' only, started driving us on a 3 hour road trip to Saigon...we put that to an end pretty sharply when we realised but not before being ripped off a few thousand dong.
Got to the ferry and the 11am was inexplicably cancelled so we went to the restaurant across the road ('captive tourists r us') and got some brunch. Mine arrived with a good 60cm-long Vietnamese hair wrapped so tightly through it that I literally had to unravel it. Was sitting there contemplating a little extra fibre and, to my amazement, another local diner had seen it, hailed a waitress and sent her to us. Within seconds my food had disappeared and the woman manager was flagellating herself and replacing it - I was seriously impressed. Yes OK, the hair wasn't a great look to start, but I didn't expect such an impressive response - customer service orgs in Ostraylia could learn something from that!
So, back in Saigon and guess I should be getting ready for work tomorrow - let the chaos begin!
First things first, this is the interim 'chateau Mad Hatter Saigon' where I will be hanging out and pretending to write a thesis in airconditioned bliss for the next few months. (I would have made the aircon unit more prominent if it was possible!). And yes, the geckos are complimentary :-)
Am sitting and sweating in a net cafe in the seaside resort town of vung tau which I will blog about when I get back to airconditioned saigon civilisation, along with the other exploits of the last 48 hours.
But in the interim, I though I'd post up this cute little semi-nigerian email scam fresh in the inbox this morning - the story on this one is especially nice!
FROM FATTH KONE ADDRESS/ AVE 11 RUE 45 ABIDJAN COTE D IVOIRE Dearest Beloved
Base on your profile i am happy to request for your assistance and also to go into business partnership with you, i believe that you will not betaryed my trust which i am going to lay on you.
I am FATTH KONE,20years old and the only daughter of my late parents MR.and MRS ROSE KONE.My father was a highly reputable busnness magnet-(a cocoa merchant)who operated in the capital of Ivory coast during his days. It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France during one of his business trips abroad year 12th.Febuary 2004.Though his sudden death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded by an uncle of his who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth! My mother died when I was just 4 years old, and since then my father took me so special. Before his death on Febuary 12 2004 he called the secretary who accompanied him to the hospital and told him that he has the sum of Ten Million United State Dollars.(USD$10 000 000) left in a security company in a mettalic trunk box, but the security company didn't know the content because it was registered as family valuables personal for security reasons. I am just 20years old and a university undergraduate and really don't know what to do. This is because I have suffered a lot of set backs as a result of incessant political crisis here in Ivory coast. The death of my father actually brought sorrow to my life. Sir,I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in this regards.Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded. Now permit me to ask these few questions:-
1. Can I completely trust you? 2. What percentage of the total amount in question will be good for you? Consider this and get back to me as soon as possible.
Well I am sitting in Bangkok airport at the sardine-like internet cafe after a relatively good flight. Even though i didn't get time to get any of my mum's magic travelling drugs (8 hours sleep and a mouth that tastes like tinfoil thank you very much) I still slept for about 6 hours which is a miracle for me! Must have been seriously knackered - probably because of the departure schedule from hell last night.
I came home from saying goodbye to some mates about 4.30pm yesterday and wandered upstairs to find that Jack the deceptively charming sausage dawg had discovered the 4 blocks of very expensive chocolate that one of my vietnamese mates had asked me to take to her parents. By 'discovered', I mean, opened up my bag, located the plastic bag containing them, dragged it out from under other luggage and annihilated it. The spare room looked like a chocolate bomb had gone off - tinfoil, chocolate crumbs and wrapping were strewn everywhere. He had only managed to eat 2 of the blocks (not great given that choccy is poisonous for dogs in the first place) but had put little proprietary 'Jack was here' chomp marks on the other two. So, at 4.45pm I was to be seen on my scooter desperately heading out to find replacements. Lucikly, after 3 supermarkets, I had replaced them and came back to finish packing and chill out.
My partner was supposed to be coming straight home from a late night at work, picking me up and taking me straight to the airport, which would have been cutting it a little fine but not a problem....providing, of course, that our car was going. At 8.45pm I got a call from him in St Kilda cursing our crappy little car whose starter motor had died at the crucial time.
Sooooooo.....at 8.55pm I was seen getting into a taxi to the airport, about the same time that my partner was catching one from St Kilda to the airport in order to say goodbye in person (NOT a cheap fare - that really is love! :-). We both got there in a timely manner and I promptly hit the trainee-who-follows-every-single-luggage-rule-to-the-goddamn-letter at check-in, and had to go and put some of my overweight hand-luggage (sex text-books anyone?) into my check-in luggage and then queue up again, only to hit the been-here-forever-couldn't-give-a-rat's-arse check in lady who didn't even weigh it!
Ah well, got there in the end and now waiting to head on to Ho Chi Minh City to begin a few months of talking about sex with students and attempting to write something resembling a thesis. Next blog stop: HCMC.
I have probably mentioned in the past that my partner and I have a small sausage dog, formally known as Jack, informally known as 'weasel'.
Jack has us both wrapped around his paw and also works his magic on all visitors to our place (unless you're tall, in which case 'little man syndrome' kicks in and he woofs his head off at you for the first half hour). He even wins over 'non-dog-people', which, until they met, included my partner who swore that I would be getting a dog over his dead body. (Current score: 1 Mad Hatter, 0 the dead body of dog-loving partner).
Anyway, Jack, being designed like a sausage on small runty legs, comes from a long line of silly little dogs that are prone to back problems. We are painfully aware of this but it doesn't stop him from roaring around the house like a looney and leaping on to couches, beds etc at full speed.
He was bounding up the stairs on Sunday night when we heard a serious yelp, resulting in one rather sore looking sausie dog who was still mooching around but a little more tenderly than usual. We did the professional pseudo-vet 'poke bits of dog and see if he yells' technique but couldn't find anything wrong (or any bits that resulting in yelling) so we headed out for the night leaving him to chill out in the house.
Coming back, we decided to take him for a walk, only to have him boycott it by sitting down in the middle of the pavement and refusing to go any further about 100 metres down the road. Anyone who has owned or walked a dog knows that this is not typical dawg behaviour so we took him home and set about fussing over him.
In the time we had been out it looked like his pulled doggy muscle had seized up a bit cos' he wasn't doing stairs well at all. So, in true overly-soppy owner fashion, we decided to carry him upstairs and make a bed for him by our bed for the night (not that we can do anything to help him if he has problems in the night, or that it is any more suitable than his perfectly adequate dawg basket in the laundry downstairs.
Not content with bringing his basket upstairs and putting it by the bed we decided to instead create a little uber-snuggly-bed out of my partner's mum's handmade quilt (which we would hang for if she found out about!) and a towel for a blanket. Jack-the-now-milking-it dachshund thought this was most adequate thank you very much and snuggled up and went to sleep, not before sitting up looking perfectly alright when a liver piece was offered his way.
We began to suspect that he might be healing up rather faster than he was letting on but went to bed and left him to it. At 4am when the supposedly invalided dachshund came flying from a standing start onto our bed and under the covers (as dachshunds are wont to do), we thought that perhaps he might be on the mend....possibly.
OK, having ranted about my poor AWOL lappy (the insurance process for which is only just beginning after the uni insurance dude came back from 6 weeks in Spain learning flamenco guitar (i kid you not)), it is time to do a little rant about the next piece of evil luck to befall me last Friday.
I was scooting to catch up with a mate who was visiting from Noo Zulland on Friday night just after 5pm. Dumb time to be scooting and, I will conceed, dumb of me to take the busiest (but most direct) route at death-to-scooters-o'clock.
I was at the entrance to the Elizabeth Street roundabout of death, waiting to merge, go round and carry on to whence I was headed. Unfortunately the sleep-deprived doctor coming off his shift at the hospital behind me decided that I was going when in fact I was doing nothing of the sort (as much as I would have liked to mow down the cyclist coming towards me on the roundabout I just wasn't in a sufficiently vindictive mood).
So, in his nice shiny Holden, he floored it, as you would when entering a busy roundabout - into my poor little scoots rear end.
Me, being on the scoot, got shunted towards the oncoming roundabout traffic and, in one of those marvellous survival instincts that we occasionally manage, jumped off and dropped the scoot, in order to not become the mowen down.
I turned around, ripped off my helmet and swore at this poor bastard (standing there looking mortified) in a manner that would have left Captain Haddock blushing. He kept apologising and asking if i was ok, at which point it occured to me that yes, my leg did hurt, but closer inspection only revealed what would become the mother of all bruises as opposed to something more to swear about.
I suggested that we get our respective vehicles off the road and calmed down a bit in the process (adrenalin produces most unladylike behaviour!), did the insurance thingo with him and took my rather sorry looking scoot home again.
Then the insurance game began.....
Was very impressed with the lady at the call centre whose first question after I called was 'are you allright'? Ye gods, I thought, they're actually starting to get the hang of this customer service business. I was allocated a case manager, told to get an insurance quote and to fax it through on Monday which i duly did. Tuesday morning I called to ask for 'David' (people who work in insurance companies don't have last names it seems - I wonder if their hiring policy means they can't hire 2 people with the same name, or whether it means that David #2 becomes 'Claudio'?). David was on the phone apparently but the nice call centre people said he'd call back shortly, which of course he didn't.
Wednesday morning: I call and ask for 'David' again to be told that he was still on the phone. I asked if they could confirm whether the insurance quote I had faxed through had been recieved and the dude on the end of the phone asked what number I had sent it to. Turns out the nice lady in the call centre had given me the wrong fax number and that my quote was somewhere in the wrong state. I asked if they could retrieve it and was told, 'no silly, you can't call a fax machine to find out where it is'...Well yes numb-nuts, but I would have hoped you might know where the feck you're wrongly telling poor customers to send their quotes to!
So, insurance call centre monkey asks me to resend the quote, which would involve me going back to uni to do so.
A few minutes later I get a phonecall from the elusive 'David' - he of the long phonecalls and IQ akin to a retarded chimp. David efficiently informed me that he would be booking in an assessor to come and assess my bike. I interrupt and tell him that there is already an insurance quote and that the grand total was less than $600. He says, 'oh well in that case, your excess is $800 so we can't help you' to which i reply (slightly paraphrased) 'no, monkey boy, I was not at fault, the person who was at fault is also insured by you'. He goes 'oh, well in that case, you need to supply their details so we can contact them' to which i reply 'but i fucking did that on Friday night'.
Thus ensues a painful process of me dictating the details of the foreign born doctor to 'David', who promptly repeated it back incorrectly to me about 4 times.
He then informs me that despite me having obtained an insurance quote for a negligible sum, he will be sending out an assessor tomorrow, in true Australian customer service style 'between 8.30am and 5pm'. I ask if the assessor can perhaps call me before he comes but no, apparently this is not an option.
So here I am, waiting for an insurance assessor to come 'between 8.30am and 5pm' and bitching to fill in the time. I leave for 3 months in Vietnam on the 24th (at which point this blog will revert to being a vietnam blog again) and am hoping that this run of shit luck really doesn't come in three. Or if it does, if the universe can just get #3 out of the way so i can carry on with my life!
The Mad Hatter might be from New Zealand but maybe not just at the moment.
The Mad Hatter might be a raving lefty or perhaps an evil public relations specialist.
The Mad Hatter might also like talking in the third person.
But you shouldn't believe anything you read on the internet.