So, today I’ve encountered my first unscrupulous cab driver, certainly my first in Vietnam, probably my first ever, but then again I’ve not taken a lot of taxi’s anywhere in the world, and when I have, I haven’t tried to use a currency I can’t get my head around. Am I dumb about this whole “dong” deal, dumb about taxis or just damn dumb about both? Whichever way you have it, it doesn’t bode well for my future in Vietnam, as getting beyond my difficulty with the dong and learning to read meters and deal with drivers are essential to my success in Saigon. I’ve got to figure out foreign currencies and make my way around exchange rates, or I’ll be stuck in the States and bored beyond belief—not to mention far from S. and lonely as hell. Not that the US is by definition dull, but once you’ve encountered Ben Thanh Market, Macy’s may amount to little more than tedium and pretension. But I DO know how to get home from Fayette Mall. I suppose there’s something to be said for that.
At any rate, S. left for Hanoi this morning, and I’m on my own, trying to make it alone in a brave new world, a country whose currency confuses me, a place whose language I can’t comprehend. Despite these handicaps, I decided to walk across District One this morning to shop in a market I wasn’t sure I could find and spend money I wasn’t confident I could count. But–Ben Thanh Market did not disappoint, thrilled and enthralled me, sickened and saddened me—beaded bracelets bedazzled despite dim light, suffocating humidity–fresh fish killed in open stalls, eels bucket hopping, hoping to save themselves, I suppose, slithering on sidewalks to escape being butchered on the spot–the aroma of newly baked bread, the fragrance of freshly picked flowers, the stench of ocean creatures not satisfied to be sea food. I bought only shoes—two pair—because clearly a closet full in never enough.
Why must colonial, turned corporate corruption make Asia the scapegoat of the West? Am I guilty as an East India Company of the past, a WalMart, Nike, Gap of the present? One University of Kentucky student recently wrote “Starbucks is the Devil!” Is it the coffee company itself or the capitalist urge to make big “bucks,” we should blame? Whether we count dollars or dong, are we all too driven to make it home from Fayette Mall or Ben Thanh Market no matter the cost? Starbucks may be bad, but have we sold our very souls to devil?
(More details on my driver tomorrow.)