Same same, but better

Day XLI – April 28

Breakfast of bliss: rolled oats with banana, Vietnamese coffee for head and a coke for the tummy. It’s a UK run place so a little more expensive: a whole $4,25.

One of the tuktukdrivers that asked us if we required his services right the moment we walked out of the hostel was so clever as to follow us to the place we had breakfast and is still waiting for us when we come out.
So we let him take us to Rolous, an hour ride at $6 each, over the highway and then a small dust road with more sympathetic bamboo houses alongside it. Our driver points out some things like a snake farm and is making little jokes with us when his wife calls.
When we come out of the palm woods we have to buy a ticket at a lonely concrete tollhouse. The other girls told us it’d be $15, but the lady in the booth tells us it’s $20
“That long time ago, price go up now.”
“That was just last week?”
“Ok, ok, special price for you, $16”
Sure…
We get back in the tuktuk and drive another 20 minutes over a dry sort of prairie before we get to the harbor; a tiny little stream filled with longboats.
We’re showed to one of them and take off for a 2-hour trip to the floating village of Kampong Phluk on Tonlé Sap.
floating village
It’s inspiring to see how people here use anything they can find to make things work. Why would you need a special or new sheet when you can just use an old billboard canvas to cover your boat with?
And these houses! It’s very obvious the water level is currently very low. But the houses must be much higher than the water could ever reach; the first 2 stories are skeleton structures of wooden poles where the fishing nets are hung to dry, some tools are stored and the kids are playing. And only on top of that, 6 meters from the ground or so, is where the houses stand, where they live, cook, eat, sleep.
It looks like up there it’s all built of bamboo; the floor spread out at least the width of a plank apart so that from down here you can look in. The walls are made with bamboo leaf, and some have scraps of wood and corrugated steel, prefab wall or even roof tiles intertwined in the construction.
And all of them have verandas in front, heavily hung and coloured with flowers and plants, and laundry of course.

That’s another thing you see so much more of here in Asia; laundry hung out for all the world to see. But out here it only makes sense to hang it outside, and with this heat you must produce more of it.
It’s just that in the city you’ve got all that dust and smog…

And finally there are those smiling and waving and shouting kids again. We’ve missed their enthusiasm since we left Samraong yesterday. I guess they see to many tourists already in Siem Reap and Rolous.

It’s funny how I always used to be quite proud of my English, and I’d be too stubborn to admit if I didn’t know a word. Now I don’t care anymore if I don’t come across like a native; I’m not. And plenty of natives have complemented me on my English and accent. So what if I have to ask what the correct word for ‘fungi in the water’ is? So what if I mix up than/then? In Dutch I do it all the time with d/t.
That’s another lesson in it for me; things don’t have to be perfect, it’s much more important to see it through, make it to the end; just do it, without fear.

When we come back to town, Rikke has come down with a foodpoisoning and needs to lie down. Not such a blissfull breakfast for all of us…
Patrizia and I decide to try those fish massages you see on every streetcorner. And then I see Annie and Kaitlin, who I met in Luang Prabang aswell, sitting at a table; small world.

So these fish massages, the big thing in Siem Reap; you put your bare feet in a tank filled with water and little fish that nibble away the dead skin and dirt. Around the tank, benches are built to sit on. And I spend 10 minutes giggling, with my legs pulled up; letting them down every now and then but it’s just too ticklish to let them in completely. But once you get through that it’s actually very nice. And afterwards your feet feel like silk.

After dinner, we’re having a beer when I see a guy walking by; second time I see the whole thing so I run after him, expecting he’ll tell me he got in Hanoi or something. So I ask him, and he tells me:
“On the nightmarket just across the river…”
“What, here in Siem Reap?!”
So I explain to him how long I’ve been looking for it. Anyway, I rush to the market, asking every shirt lady “Same same but better?”
“No, jus but diferen…” is all I get.
Until finally, one of them told me to wait a minute while she runs of to find it at her father’s booth. And she’s got it! So now I’ve got it! My own same same but better shirt! I was looking for it too hard so had no ground left to haggle so had to pay the full 2$ and 800riel I had on me. The shirt I’d been looking for since Vang Vieng. Yay!

Hehe, and now I’m stoned ^.^
On the veranda I ran into Gabriel, the gorgeous latino I met on the bus last week but had already seen around in Spicy Laos – again, small world.
So he also made it to Garden Village. And he invites me to share his joint. I tell him I’m a little hung over and still have a headache but he promises me it’ll only get better.
It’s a pure and strong one and the high comes in quickly.
Too bad the high takes my social away. Too bad the high takes his handsome away. Too bad it was a lie about curing the headache. But it’s funny how precisely I can visualize it; these bright green arrows pushing against my temples.

And now I am so thirsty! But I can’t get myself to get up, not even to go to the bathroom I had to for a while now; let alone to go over to my locker to go and get money out so I can buy some drinking water, which I’m all out.*

* One and a half month back in the Netherlands when I read this, and I think
“why didn’t I just go to the loo to drink some water over there?” completely forgotten how you only drink bottled water over there.

Boring busdays pt 2

bus ticketNext destination:
Ho Chi Minh City population: ± 9 million

Day XXXIII – April 20

I get off one bus in Na Trang at 6am, the next leaves one and a half hour later.

As I sit on the curb waiting between the high yellow buildings, a man named Duc, a South Vietnamese army veteran, comes rolling over in his chair to make some small talk and sell his postcards. He thanks me for the Dutch invention of his hand driven wheels. I buy his cards. “I like you,” he says, “thank you.” It’s a bittersweet encounter under the burning early morning sun.
I don’t know enough of the conflict to know how to handle this situation. Then again, if you weren’t right in the middle of the conflict, how much do you ever know?

Vietnam is expensive! * I just had to get out more dong than the 4 million that was supposed to see me through, to get my 588.000d busticket from Saigon to Siem Reap tomorrow.
Got that one taken care of now anyway.
The agency tells me it’ll be a 7.30 till 17.00; 10 hour drive. The elder Aussie couple –you‘ve got to love ye elder backpacker!- had told me they took 15 hours though. And you never know who’s right.

Too bad I forgot to take pictures of all these communist posters. Especially in Hoi An I saw so many of them! No use doing it from a moving bus now… Well, just imagine the ones from way back when, a little, but only a little less vintage but with the same message of together-we-stand-strong.

Here in my slim seat, utterly alone and forlorn I let my eyes wander. The surrounding area of Na Trang looks quite alright. Towering mountains close by on one side and beautiful beaches just on the other. This time I don’t mind skipping them though; these beaches are mostly about party party anyway.
Next we pass Mui Né, or so my neighbors tell me, and it’s just the most beautiful coastline imaginable! The harbour looks very crowded though, and it’s resorts all over the place.
By now the land has become much drier, but still the colours just pop out. It has this Mediterranean vibe about it.

Even out here on my eternal Saturday I get a little stressed from time to time. Like now; I have quite some stuff to take care of before shops close tonight;
1) get the photos needed for my Cambodian visa
2) find me a bed for tonight
3) get my reservation and pick-up in Siem Reap tomorrow arranged so I have a bed there
4) get in touch with Green Lion; they still haven’t responded to my e-mail but I’m supposed to start working with them in just a few days
5) find that same same but better shirt now I’m still in Vietnam, and maybe the just phó you shirt.

Same same
The Southeast Asia insiders joke you don’t read about in Lonely Planet or Insight Guide, the line you see on shirts EVERYWHERE; but what does it mean?
Sit told us about it on the train to Chiang Mai when Katie asked him. In full it’s same same, but different, describing ladyboys.
It originates in Thailand, but you will hear the saying it’s turned in to all the time. I don’t think the locals here even know what it’s about; but it’s a joke you can make with tourists, so they do. And once you know about it you can’t unsee it.
In Vietnam one might find the spoof same same, but better. Another spoof on the market I haven’t seen yet is it’s not the same, it’s completely fucking different!

hcmc mapBut we’re not yet near the city.
So, as I do a lot on these long bus rides, I’m quietly pleading “Please, please let’s be there soon, please!” Doesn’t make one bit of difference of course, I’m only stressing myself out more. I’d better let it go and fix my gaze at the scenery. Nothing I can change about where I am now or how fast I’m moving as long as I’m on this bus.
Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I’m so alone on that bus. But once you check in to a hostel you automatically meet new people. And I should’ve learned by now I’ll be fine, things will work out either way.
Also, it’s the most common thing for these busses to stop at seemingly random places, having locals or drivers hopping off and on, just along the highway or wherever. I’m still not entirely used to it all.

kim placeWe’re dropped at Saigons busy square 6ish. I spend half an hour finding a hostel for less than $8; Kim’s Place has a dormbed for $6 a night.
I take a shower and a moment online before I go out for a last bowl of Pho with one of my roommates, Harry from Wales. After, he takes me to where people go for drinks and sit on those plastic chairs again, having an old but stern lady serving us fresh brewskies at 7.000d a pint – almost twice as expensive as in Hoi An, but still it converses to just €0.30.

And all I checked off of my list is tonight’s bed.

Little after midnight Harry and I try finding our way back. I’m the one pointing it out while he’s not sure yet after spending several nights here. We go in and he’s convinced. But now the girl sleeping in the reception, by way of nightwatch, isn’t. We explain who we are and things are OK, and I climb under my sheets. I’m too tired to be bothered getting my moneybelt on so just leave it there next to my head and drift off.

Lesson learned:
If there are no lockers, don’t let your guard down or think this place might be as friendly as all the ones before, but WEAR YOUR MONEYBELT WHEN YOU GO TO SLEEP.

*Reading this back makes me laugh at myself a little. Last night I ordered in some food ‘cause I was having an extremely lazy Sunday, and spend as much on that as I would on an entire day there.