Date: Monday-Tuesday, January 18-21, 2010
Travel: Rental Van
Party: Linda, Vu & Family
Lodging: Hai Long 1
Photos: 20100118 Saigon Bien Hoa Family Pictures, 20100120 Saigon Cafes More
Except for my parents, we had moved all of our bags from our hotel in Bien Hoa, to one in HCMC, since Stella and I had some other plans going on. Stella would go and meet up with some of her family members living in Vietnam. I would be meeting up with my girlfriend Linda, later that night. This would be her 2nd visit in so many weeks. In the morning we would go around the city, and make visits to other extended family members. In the evening, we visited one of my cousins house, who was doing very well for himself, creating faux furnishings using aluminum. He has a new SUV, which vehicles in Vietnam gets taxed 100% if it is an automobile, and another 100% if it is imported. An imported Mercedes for example, would cost 3 times the price of retail. It is a status symbol, and although wages are not the high on average, there is a major discrepancy between the extremely wealthy, and the extremely poor (which is the majority) and not much in between. The same goes in my family, we have some that are very well off, and some that are not. Phones and electronics cost a lot more there than back at home, but everybody wants to have the latest and greatest gadgets, even if their salaries are a magnitude lower. It's all relative. More people there are willing to spend 3 months salary on a nice phone, where as at home, people might hesitate for a phone purchase of 1 weeks salary. I suppose there's just so many other factors that we have to worry about such as higher cost of living in general and healthcare, and people don't need to have a nice shiny gadget to be judged upon.
Later that evening, my cousin takes us out to a nice seafood restaurant, and even after the hospital episode with my brother, they trusted this place more, and chowed down. I had to bail a little sooner, to pick up Linda from the airport. We met up back with the family at a mall in the city, where my wealthier cousin suggested to go and buy clothes. My mom also made a promise to my niece Tiffany that she could go out to the market and point out anything that she wants. However, this mall, called Diamond, was ritzy, and everything was so expensive. Toys were even twice the price that we could find in the US. I guess my cousin is much more higher class than us, we didn't want to spend a dime there. My mom ended up fulfilling her promise at a supermarket in Bien Hoa, where she was able to load up on Hello Kitty stuff at fraction of the prices (like 1/10). Inside of Diamond,there was a Pizza Hut inside (which is special here), and pepperoni pizza had never tasted so good. I am not sure whether the quality was higher than a local Pizza Hut, or was it that we had too much Vietnamese food lately.
The next couple of days, it would rain, so there is not much we did but sit at cafes, eat and shopped. We went to Chinatown for a delicious lunch, and then at night, I took Linda out to Van Thanh where we enjoyed a romantic dinner on a gazebo over the lake. The crazy part of the dinner was the price shock. We had a full meal, with appetizers, entree, and desert, while being alone under a wooden hut like gazebo, for only about 10 dollars. Then on top of that, there was a 90 minute massage and facial session provided at the hotel for only 6 dollars. Stella mentioned that it was one of the best massages of her life. All for almost the tenth of what we would normally pay. We had to take advantage of that.
We spent some more time shopping, this time at Ben Thanh market, and there were a lot of trinkets and crafts that we were able to get for great deals. We had already built a solid baseline from days before, and this time we were going to take advantage of that knowledge and put it to work. Unfortunately we can only take so much back, and we had initially squeezed our whole family and bags into a minivan, which we had parked in LA and planned to drive it back to Tucson. It looked like we would need an alternate plan than to drive 7 people home. So it was decided that my brother and his family fly back from LA to Tucson, while my parents and I take the van back with the luggage.
Linda had to fly back Wednesday night, the day before I would return back to the states, so we drove down to Bien Hoa, where she could meet my maternal family and Ba Ngoai (maternal grandmother). Then in the afternoon, we would go pick up an aunt of mine from Hue at the airport, who had some great snacks for us. And again in the late evening, when we drove back to the airport for Linda's departure, we met 2 more aunts coming from Hue and Da Nang. I think I have seen that airport 5 times ( it was starting to feel like business trips ).
On the final days, we just spend more quality time with the whole family, and try to squeeze as much gifts and souvenirs in the bags as possible. I almost passed out at the airport, just minutes before our own departure, but I was able to gather myself with some of my aunts herbal treatment (which was like back scratching). I think I have had enough. I got a little better, but driving home from California was brutal, and we did not get home until 4 am on a Saturday morning. In'n'Out tasted great, and I needed a week to recover.