Sunday, November 12, 2006

Puppies and Green Snakes (IV)

First day wandering out into the streets, with no map, to see what I can see. Now I am not sure where I am but the general direction I took from the Saigon River was towards the local markets. Past cages of dogs, puppies and green snakes, all stupefied by the heat save for one yappity beast chained to a fence. No one seemed bothered by his noise but its desperate tone caught my ear. Even the snakes, which seem to me to be capable of slipping away through the bars of the cages, seem too whacked out by the heat to even blink let alone stretch a coil.

After making a mistake by taking a map out of my pocket I am suddenly accompanied by a motorcycle rider who offers to take me to the markets. His price starts at 5000 dong and eventually drops to a friendly free ride after I manage to rebuff him and keep walking – the markets were, after all, now in sight. Or so I thought. That rebuff took three blocks to come into effect however – he idled alongside me, kerb crawling, continuing to haggle and not wanting to give up any prospect of making money. His name was something like “Sail”. He also asks me if I like bar girls, perhaps hoping that this will secure a sale. He eventually tires, though his persistence is admirable, and he rejoins the flood of bikes.

People are certainly friendly, calling out "hello" and “hi” and “good morning” just for the sake of it. They clearly enjoy getting a response. I have in my pocket a card from a taxi company, the result of a driver talking to me in the street and telling me his story. I also got talking to a chap this morning who had a little pocket diary he clearly treasured. Well worn, grubby and dog eared, he proudly showed me though was reluctant for me to touch it. A great treasure it seemed. And in a sense it was, for it contained brief testimonials written in the hand of previous customers he had taken on personalised tours – all of these testimonials extolled his integrity, honesty and local knowledge. His thorough grasp of English commended his potential services as well. Testimonials came from all over Europe but most seemed to come from Australia, and those from Melbourne. His is no sampling poll but there were dozens of annotations and Australian visitors seem to be a large demographic coming to this country.

Not only dozens of workers but the police ride scooters as well. One just trolled past with his folding stock AK-47 strapped over his shoulder. A reminder least we forget, thanks to Prada, Western Union and any other numerous Western brands you can see on a walk like this, that things are still done a little differently here.

The breeze, stirs, the sun is melted by a heavy, boiling cloud, the humidity squeaks. Will it rain? No idea? Just as well, since the markets were in fact another five steamy kilometres away. I should have accepted the ride, even at 5000 dong.

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