Milt Abel is a stand-up comedian traveling the world, and places closer.


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Vietnam Just After Christmas

By Milt Abel | December 30, 2009

| December 30, 2009

I was driven to the Kimdo Royal City Hotel, arriving well after midnight, and through the glass exterior of the lobby I could see all the lights were off. That didn’t stop a sleepy, middle-aged bellhop from shuffling out to meet me our taxi at the sidewalk. He had partially closed a brass-buttoned Beefeater coat and when he saw me climb out with no luggage and only my backpack he relaxed considerably and belched loudly, ‘maybe not a flush tourist after all.’

Before I could enter the lobby, lights were turned on and excessive amounts of Christmas decorations flickered into view. It was a medium-sized lobby, but compared to all the small storefronts I had seen in the thirty-minute drive from the airport, it was expansive. The holiday decorations were tucked into every corner and along each architectural feature; cheaply overdone. My sense is Vietnam is not a Christian nation and all this Christmas hullabaloo was for us, proportionately rich, tourists. But it seemed a clumsy attempt to ingratiate and please; like showing up in lederhosen at the airport to greet a German friend.

After completing the check-in the same bellhop wanted to carry my backpack (my luggage was lost by Korean Air) to my room and show me around, but I wanted him to stop holding in his stomach and didn’t want a stranger opening and closing curtains my room, so I gave him a buck and shooed him away right at the elevator lobby. It’s discouraging to smell garbage in your hotel floor’s hallway, and see the carpeting stained in several places, but the room itself was nice. I fell asleep wondering how long they kept the lobby lights on after I stepped into the elevator.

There was an elaborate breakfast buffet with several items recognizable as being edible and tasty, but just as many looked like they would haunt me if I dared to swallowed them. Walking down to the buffet I was able to see some of the local beauty of Vietnam’s architecture and handicrafts. It was being obscured by fake garlands and reindeer antlers. It made me wonder why I wasn’t more receptive to see the hidden beauty of the place, and I answered myself with the realization that I felt awkward here. It was similar to the awkwardness of a family reunion with a relative who the last time you’d met you’d had a huge screaming match with: holding me back on soaking up all that might be good about Vietnam was the nagging memory, “Oh, that’s right. We had fought.”

Though it was only about 40 miles to the ship from the hotel the drive took over two hours. The road, for both directions, was one lane, or two, or three depending how you could intimate the motorcycles that made up most of the traffic. The condition of the road itself varied widely; from looking war-torn and mostly dust, to expansive, obviously overdone, government projects in areas where it wasn’t needed. The most interest part of the drive was the ferry across the Saigon River. It was bottleneck for sure, and the motorcycles swarmed over unoccupied deck space like ants at a picnic, but novel in that it was there instead of a bridge. We had to wait as large container ships sailed between us and the far side. Small fishing scows, which seemed to be using the same motor used by the motorcycles, were frequently passing too, but they had to get out of our way. Size does matter on the Saigon River.

The drive took longer for another reason. Twice our driver (I was shuttled to the ship with another entertainer, Tian Jaing -a pianist from China) stopped for roadside treats. Everyone with a roof, even some that just had tarps, was selling something along the roadside. Fruit and soft drinks were available almost completely along the entire drive while others threw together makeshift restaurants, or building supply outlets, or both. Interest about the open restaurants was that almost all offered hammocks between the table settings. In Vietnam it appears to be totally appropriate to go to a restaurant and lay down. You can tip the waiter, or he can tip you.

Topics: comedy, cruise ship, humor, travel | No Comments »