Biggest surprise?? Saigon, sorry, Ho Chi Minh , is alarmingly like our Kolkata! It even smells the same. But getting into Viet Nam is a bloody ordeal - the customs and immigration guys are rude and awful, make you feel unwanted and like criminals. Is it just a coincidence that only Indians were told to step aside for additional questioning?? We were asked the most absurd questions, despite having all our paperwork in place. " Show us the money," ordered a cop! Ridiculous. But... that's how Commies run their countries and states - it's all about authority!
The locals are less friendly than the sweet, smiling Cambodians, and not interested in us Desis. Aha - but if you are American, they fall over backwards! Strange, given the history of the war. Our cabbie was a major in the army and could recall the most horrifying stories of American brutality. He boasted with relish about shooting Yankees! " But now we are friends... we want to do business with America," he candidly admitted.
I know I am missing out on some really exciting action back in India, but this is important too. One can see the rapid strides of globalisation in this country. They are coping the same way as India - with confusion and a little fear. Traditional societies are slow to respond enthusiastically to these dramatic changes. KFC is right here, but the Vietnamese don't want McDonald's! Make any sense?
I am enjoying the local cuisine and the motorcycle taxis that whizz around manically, ignoring any traffic rules. To call Saigon congested would be an understatement. Like I said, it is Kolkata minus the mishti! Shabby, decaying and yet forging ahead somehow. The buildings are uniformly ugly - except for the Opera House and the remaining French Colonial structures still standing. It is also crazily expensive - we walked into a Gucci store and asked the price of sneakers. They were marked at close to a lakh of rupees!
The good news is that trade ties are looking up. And Communism here is a lot more relaxed. I refuse to visit the tunnels which are reminders of the war. I am happy enough wandering around the different quarters and striking up conversations with locals - very daunting - their 'English' needs an interpreter!
Dying to rush back. Please do fill me in on all the details - who said what to whom etc. I particularly want to know about the Rahul Gandhi - Balasaheb Thackeray spat. 'Aham' I am counting on you!!