Archive for October, 2009

Vietnam — in transit

October 25, 2009

I kept notes of my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last September, and have been meaning to convert them into blog posts. My newfound employment status has made it a bit easier to do that. This is the first entry in what will be a 4 or 5 part series.

My flight left Dulles at 9:15 AM, meaning that I had to be at the airport — as the airline suggested — by 7:15. I left my apartment via cab at around 6:30 and managed to get to Dulles before 7, thanks to the dearth of traffic on the Dulles access road. The flights to Ho Chi Minh city added up to some ~27 hours of travel time: ~5 hours to LA, ~13 hours to Seoul/Incheon, and then ~5 hours to Ho Chi Minh city, with 2-3 hour layovers at each airport. I had never been in transit for anywhere near that long before, so I wasn’t really sure how to handle such along trip. Thankfully, the entire thing proved quite painless.

Goodbye, Arlington! Wilson Blvd. from the cab.

Goodbye, Arlington! Wilson Blvd. from the cab.

Asiana flew both legs of the trip from Seoul to HCMC, and it was certainly the nicest airline I’ve flown on. Two things stuck out at me: the cute and completely homogeneous stewardesses, and the food. Perhaps I’m just not used to getting fed on airlines (most of my flights are short domestic hops along the east coast), though I was impressed by the offerings of kimchee, quiche, bip bim bop (yes, it’s a Korean airline), fish, and various side offerings on each of the flights. The stewardesses were all amazingly identical. They were all around 5’5″, Korean, no older than their early 30’s or so, and had their hair tied in an identical bun to match their identical tan uniforms. I was quite impressed. Perhaps America should adapt Korea’s looser hiring/discrimination laws for the sake of weary travelers the world over.

Approaching LAX.

Approaching LAX.

The airport in Seoul, by the way, was really amazing. The floors literally sparkled, the food courts were of restaurant quality, and I couldn’t walk 10 feet without seeing another Hermes/Cartier/Chanel outlet. It felt more like an ultra modern, upscale shopping mall/food court than an airport. Plus, the lounge had free wifi, and there was even a hotel right in the terminal.

The whole airport looks like this.

The whole airport looks like this.

Even in Korea.

Even in Korea.

I was a bit worried about my arrival in Ho Chi Minh City. Noah said that he would meet me right at the entrance of the airport, and I did have his phone number in case I had to get in touch with him, though my need to develop constant contingency plans for these sorts of situations made me slightly concerned. Luckily I met Klinger with nary a problem, where he greeted me with a bag of souvenirs: a collection of post cards depicting the glorious works of Ho Chi Minh, a pork sandwich, a copy of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American,” and a business card holder that looks like a pair of outstretched hands. At first glance this looks creepy to any Westerner, but it’s quite common throughout Asia.

Noah had recently returned from China and was staying with his former roommate, a gay east-German dressmaker named Stefan. Also staying in the house was Stefan’s Vietnamese friend and the three young women in his employ. None of these girls spoke a word of English and all of them slept on the floor in one of the rooms on the second floor. Noah did not have a key to the store, though thankfully at least on of the native girls was there all the time to let us in/out when necessary. I slept on the couch in the back room while Noah slept somewhere upstairs, and managed to fall asleep after some time tossing and turning in the un-air conditioned apartment. It felt no different than crashing on a friend’s couch in any other city, except instead of New York or Boston I was halfway around the world.

My sleeping quarters. Most of the luggage and things belong to Noah.

My sleeping quarters. Most of the luggage and things belong to Noah.

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