Waking up for the first time in Vietnam at 6 am, I had nothing planned for the day. Mostly resting. The day started off with a western breakfast, toasts, eggs, and bacon. As I sunk my teeth into the egg yolk, I was taken over by its flavor. It tasted different from eggs we have back in Montreal, the flavor of the eggs were much richer, denser, and tastier.
It make me think back to that one time when I had a Haitian guest over. I served him chicken. He took only one bite into it and then, with a jerk reaction, threw away what was left of the chicken. I looked at him with a surprised and confused look. “What is this? This is not chicken?”, he would shout. I didn’t understand what he meant, for me, chicken did look and taste that way. It was then that he explained to me the difference in taste and texture of Haitian chicken versus ours. I didn’t quite understand it at that point, but now that I’ve tasted the difference myself, I ask myself “What quality of food are we really eating back home in North America?” and “How healthy is that food for us?”
Once breakfast was taken care of, I needed a haircut and had to acquire a mean for the world to communicate with me, a cell phone. I was told that the average price for a cheap phone was between 350,000 VND to 400,000 VND (15 to 20 USD) with a 50,000 VND SIM card would be more than sufficient for my 1 month stay in the country.
Standing just outside the entrance to the hostel, before me were scooters running around the street in every possible directions stopping for nobody, cars trying to move around in this sea of scooters, pedestrian randomly crossing the street at any point in time since the scooters never stop to let people pass, street vendors walking about inviting people to buy their products, people sitting at stalls on the sidewalk eating breakfast, drinking beer, and chit chatting away. All this was happening on a backdrop of small shops on the other side of the street selling anything from T-shirts, to shoes, to hats, to pho soup,… essentially, you name it and there was a stall somewhere capable of answering your every needs and desires (I’m not even exaggerating!)
The area in which my hostel is located is 36 Pho Phuong which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Essentially, the area is made up of 36 streets and on those streets only one type of product would be sold back in the days. That product will then give that street its name. I was staying on Hang Ga. In English, it means Chicken Street. In the days, on that street, only chicken use to be sold. Same with Hang Bac, which means Silver street.
Since I’m pretty cheap when it comes to taking care of my hair, I decided to go for a lower end hairdresser. Hairdresser services can be divided into 3 categories: Hairdresser who cuts your hair on the sidewalk with a mirror hung on the outside wall of a building; Hairdresser who cuts your hair in an actual room, but that room is just a hole in the wall; last, Hair stylists and their fancy store outlet with glass doors and air conditioning. I decided on the hole in the wall. As I walked in, she said that a haircut would be 70,000 VND and with shampoo it would be 100,000 VND total. “70,000? That’s quite expensive for a haircut”. I look at her intently seeing if she would propose a lower price. I decided to break the silence accepting 70,000 VND for the haircut but no shampoo. As she was taking her time cutting my hair, I asked her about the little girl that was working with her. She explained that it was her niece, 12 years old. Her parents didn’t have enough money to feed her and send her to school so they sent her up to Hanoi to help her with her business. I turned back towards the kid and couldn’t help thinking “but she’s still just a kid.” She was just sitting there watching. Wasn’t sure how she was helping out. When the hairdresser was done trimming my hair, she called over the 12 year old girl and asked her to wash my hair. I thought to myself “But I didn’t ask for… oh what the heck. An extra 1.50 USD won’t kill me…”
WOW! In Vietnam a head wash seems to be code for full head massage. I’ve never had such a good head massage in my life (with the exception of the last time I came back to Vietnam… also for a haircut). She washed my hair while rubbing my scalp vigorously, then proceeded to give me a temple, forehead, and face massage. She repeated that sequence twice. It should have taken at least 20 to 30 min. The strength in her fingers really did not feel like that of a 12 year old. As I left, I chose to leave them 120,000VND.
Relaxed by the incredible head massage, I headed out lightheartedly to discover the surrounding areas and hopefully find myself a cell phone. Cell phone for 300,000 VND (Cheap!), I did find. Although the highlight was the DOG.
Bought 1 kg of it! I was going to chow down on it for lunch but my aunt had other lunch plans arranged for me. I left the dog meat in the hostel refrigerator, not knowing at that time, that I wouldn’t be coming back. I never saw that kilo of dog meat again.