Escape from Bogota

In the morning we played basketball. We played two on two and I was amazing. Afterwards, we were going to the Zona Rosa and on the way there a guy sitting next to the basketball court said, “Hey mister”, and when I looked around he gave me a thumbs up. I wondered if he had been watching.
In the evening we were going to Cali. To get to Cali from Bogotá takes ten hours. We shared a taxi to the bus terminal with the English couple who wouldn’t STOP TALKING. I liked them though. They were interesting enough and weren’t full of shit. They were going to Medellín.
We squeezed into the cab. There wasn’t enough room for all the bags in the back so we had to lay them across our fronts. There was a small television on the dashboard playing classic rock videos which made it all right…
We waited at the gate. There were lots of Colombians already waiting there. We stood behind them. Then we were told to get on. I was looking forward to the journey. I like a night bus. You can do some thinking. You can remember where you’d gone wrong, or where you’d gone right.
We pulled out of the station and a film came on. It was a terrible film, something about returning the President’s dog. I knew it was going to be terrible when I saw Eric Roberts’ name in the opening credits. I pulled my headphones out and put on some music.
The bus bucked and jerked in the traffic. When a gap opened in front, the driver would stamp on the accelerator then brake hard. The streets were still alive with people selling, buying, dying. A jazz song came on through my headphones, something by Chet Baker maybe. I thought it was just like the bus, the fucking STOP START bus. We had stopped moving again. I looked out the window and watched a stray dog limp under an underpass. After an hour or so I wanted to BREAK something. I was feeling sick.
“THIS IS RIDICULOUS! ALL THIS TRAFFIC! IT’S ALMOST FUCKING MIDNIGHT!!!”
We turned into a bus station. I recognised it as the south bus station. On the screen above the film had finished. It had taken the length of a shit film just to get to another terminal in the SAME fucking city.
My mind was in riot and the only way I could calm it was to breathe breathe breathe. We left the station and the bus kept stopping. The traffic was gridlocked. It was midnight.
I can’t say that I didn’t like Bogotá. I almost loved her. I loved how rundown she was, how she looked like she should stink of piss but didn’t. But I felt a certain hate then.
After another thirty minutes the traffic loosened and we were MOVING, moving, only stopping at lights. We drove through the barrios. We drove past love motels and strip joints on the way out, right on the edges of the city where it didn’t look too safe.
I was out of the city. I closed my eyes.

 

Marry me Miss Saigon!

SaigonI love Saigon, officially Ho Chi Minh City. I personally think Saigon sounds far more exotic and exciting. Like Siam, now Thailand. Burma. I must have been an imperialist in a past life.

Past the usual monotony of roadside houses, shops and restaurants, with little multicoloured plastic chairs and tables outside, on our journey from Da Lat. Saigon is big. It’s hot. Shiny financial towers to the sky. In between, bruised French Colonials.

We disembark our bus and begin to navigate the dense alleyways of District 1 in search of a hotel. We find hundreds.

We decide on the Nam Long Hotel that has just been renovated. They want US$9 a night for a triple room that’s got it all; cable TV, en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning. That new design smell. We get it for $6.

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District 1

District one is girlie bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Electrical wires overhead.

There are always people about. The rhythm changes. Maybe the beat crowds together, faster, or it spreads out, slower, but it doesn’t stop.

Staying out all night and watching the city come to life. What I remember is a mosaic of images. Sitting in a bar amid a gush of prostitutes, some of them women. A tourist slug a cop, get dragged away by his cop pals. In the street, tourists dancing with prosties.

She’s looking at me blank, the barmaid. My smooth dialogue, she’s not getting it. Drunks with their eyes going out, heads nodding up and down like a mechanical toy, they won’t leave me alone with her. I’m explaining myself now. Looking at her eyes; puzzled and confused. Before I know it, the sun swelling against the city, together with my realisation that I’m not getting any.

There is a large Highlands Coffee on the corner of Ham Nghi Street in District 1. The Starbucks clone represents the New Vietnam. Often appearing more capitalist than communist, Vietnam is booming. Inside its air-conditioned walls, you can forgo a meal elsewhere for the price of a small latte.

In the yard outside the War Remnants Museum, American tanks and aircraft. A Huey helicopter, a Chinook, a Skyraider – one of the planes used to drop napalm canisters. The museum is one big photography exhibit. Pictures that show the long-term effects of Agent Orange. These poor souls born swollen and bug-eyed and deformed forty years after.

Go for the Requiem exhibit, made up of pictures taken by journalists killed in the war.

Take a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

From the hotel balcony, I’m looking at the big towers and alleyways, and I’m thinking, I don’t want to leave this place.