Today after a sad sack free breakfast of scrambled eggs and buttered toast (my knott d up, off kilter stomach was the only one happy about that), I went with an English mate named Travis who works at the hostel to see Ho Chi Minh (not the city but the man the country considers their favorite uncle as evidenced by the Uncle Ho propaganda or, more deifying, a saint). Ho Chi Minh had been embalmed and is on display in a large mausoleum even though the simple man only ever wanted a simple cremation. Everyone had to be quiet and respectful as apart of the long procession of tourists that slowly revolved around the inner room housing the now plastic almost wax looking figurine of the Vietnamese leader before leaving as quickly as one entered. We checked out his simple bamboo home on stilts, the one pillar pagoda, and his beloved fish pond but everything was filler to the man himself. I don’t agree with what they have done to the man but it is not my place. Back at the hostel, I convinced Travis and another backpacker to join me in search of a secret cafe that I learned about online on of those buried blogs on the net. I had already drank an egg coffee but I now wanted one better, cheaper, and with the intrigue of whatever a secret cafe entailed. Without an address I highly doubt I would have uncovered it. A sign with the cafe’s name pointed us towards a nondescript hallway through what seemed like someone’s home or a scanty town version of multi leveled apartment complex. I led the group through this dirty, grimy hallway past a variety of junk and clutter to a steep metal staircase. After reaching the second floor I didn’t know where to go next since the metal stairway continued rising and the second floor hallway appeared the same as the first except for a woman directly next to the staircase cleaning dishes as part of her daily chores. Understanding our confusion, the woman asked ‘ca phe’? After responding affirmatively, she pointed down the hallway. Once reaching the end of the hallway we did find a coffee shop or as much as it could be considering the environment. It felt like they built this coffee shop in a spare room of someone’s home. After ordering our coffees, we sat down on the cramped, narrow balcony overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. My egg coffee called ‘ca phe trung’ was delivered to perfection with a thick creamy texture akin to a soft marshmallow cream in hot chocolate. The egg cream comes from a mixture of egg, milk, and sugar beaten and whirred quickly and thoroughly. For a second cup of coffee despite not being a coffee drinker back home, I tried the other Hanoi favorite of coffee with yogurt which tasted good but the yogurt flavor killed the taste of the strong Vietnamese coffee blend. Those two cups of coffee cost me the same as one if not less at any shop on the street. I continued walking the streets with little else to do and found myself at yet another restaurant I dug up on the Internet. This place churned out dishes and customers with speed so I joined the flow and found myself a seat amidst the chaos. I got a bowl of yellow sticky rice with a variety of everything they had on order. The rice bowl is a carnivore’s paradise with a whole egg, ground beef, sweet Asian sausage, pork floss (it has the odd texture of stringy cotton candy but tastes lovely), chicken, and some kind of mystery meatloaf along with a bowl of spiced and diced cucumber. It was a welcome break from the usual food that I have been experiencing here in Asia and especially Vietnam but I still can’t get over the limited supply of vegetables. Thai food is so much more varied than Vietnamese and in my opinion healthier but all together. All in all I expected more from Vietnamese food in terms of vegetables instead of a dominance of rice, a fair bit of meat, and unnoticed dash of veggies. From there I visited the Bach Ma temple mainly because it was free. The temple was much like the rest that I have seen with ancient character lettering, shrines with offerings of fruits, incense and the surprising usage of shelf-age biscuit snacks but none compared to the sight of beer cans and Coca Cola cans stacked high into a pyramid. I found the concept odd that people are praying and bowing to such a structure. The rest of the day was boring and little worth describing since I had gotten quite sick and uncomfortable from the heat plus the weight of the entire trip had been eating at me a lot lately. I feel endlessly tired, lonely, and sadly less appreciative of where I am and experiencing. If India or something as polarly opposite as it weren’t waiting around the corner, I don’t know if I could continue. Home and all that it represents never felt so welcoming and inviting. Despite my long commitment to completing the 11 months, I have wavered of late but I will keep pressing and see what may occur when I reach the subcontinent of India. After the latest thumbs up that the Halong Bay trip was still on, I went to sleep much later than expected to the thoughts and image of ‘Words with Friends’ of all things.
Riding Vietnam Day 194: A Meet and Greet with Ho Chi Minh Himself