Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I had booked a cooking class via e-mail the day before I left Korea and it started at 10am. I had a quick breakfast of cornflakes at the hotel and caught a taxi to the address I had for them. It took a while to find it and I arrived 10 minutes late, but walking in there felt like I was going into another world. You walk through an archway and into a small cove of classy restaurants and all of a sudden things become quiet! It’s as if they have a sound bubble around them. The hooting and traffic outside fades and it becomes a peaceful environment to relax, cook and make friends. The place reminded me of some of the Cape wine farms back home. (Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc: firstname.lastname@example.org)
We had about 14 people on the course and a lovely chef who taught us all about what we were to cook. (Michelle and I did a course in Thailand and it was also wonderful. You meet people, you learn about the food, everything is prepared for you and you get to eat it all!) Again, this class came highly recommend by Shaun and Robert, the go-to guys on Asian travelling. 🙂
Of course, in every class there is one loud and obnoxious person, and we had one of those too. He provided some entertainment and his poor wife was hugely embarrassed, calling him a smart Alec under her breath. He never listened to the chef and kept cutting bits off his veggies when he wasn’t supposed to!
I got talking to an American girl, a Taiwanese girl and a French couple. That night Melissa (USA), Iris (Taiwan) and I met up for dinner. The French couple are coming to Seoul in March this year for work so we may meet up, if they have the time. Amazing the people you meet on holidays.
After the cooking class we all went our separate ways for the afternoon and I headed to the War Remnants Museum on foot. Along the way I passed the “Notre Dame” church and the Reunification Palace. Eventually I got to the museum which cost 15,000VND entrance. I’ve never known too much about the Vietnam war so I’m glad I went to the museum before any further travels in Vietnam. I learned a lot about the basics and of course, saw the (very) graphically illustrated horror of the war.
The things that upset me the most were, of course, the photos of deformations caused by Agent Orange, which the Americans sprayed all over the delta to kill all the plants so the VC had nowhere to hide. This is one of the most deadly and horrific chemical warfare weapons ever invented. People exposed to agent orange often developed tumours, cancer or horrible skin problems. It also caused genetic mutations which affected the generations of people to come. Not only Vietnamese were exposed of course, and the photos also include some Americans who’d been exposed and pictures of children with no arms, legs, cleft palettes, and other weird and terrible afflictions I can’t even begin to describe. One very distasteful moment was when a little girl of about 6 years old, went and stood in front of a huge picture of a pretty little toddler in a pretty little dress with an arm that ended at her elbow. She stood in front of the picture, did the “kimchi” (V-sign) sign and her mom took a photo. In her defense, she probably didn’t even notice the stumped arm in the picture, but I really thought the mother should have known better.
I had to fight back the tears in there and I left feeling decidedly bleak. I caught a taxi back to the hotel and had an hour before heading out and meeting Melissa and Iris back at the cooking school. By now I had an idea of what a taxi would cost me so I hopped onto a scooter taxi for 30,000VND and he took me to the door. I took a self portrait of him and I when we were stopped at some lights and the dozens of other people on scooters around us thought it was very funny. It was fun – since Thailand and our scooter experience there I have fallen in love with scooting around!
Since Iris has lived and worked in HCMC for nearly 2 years, she had a good idea of places to go and took us to a really great restaurant. Basically, on two floors of a building, lit up with fairy lights, tables are in the centre and along the walls are typical Vietnamese street foods being cooked. However, the “scariness” of it is taken away by also being able to look at the menu. You can walk around and point out things you’d like to try. The waiters make a note of it on a piece of paper and it all gets delivered to your table. Whoever thought of the idea was very clever and I’m sure, is very rich.
We all had a lovely evening and discussed our future plans. Iris was moving back to Taiwan in a few weeks and Melissa was going up north the following day while I planned on going south-west to the Mekong. We hopped into a taxi which took us to our homes. Day 2 went by so very fast!