Tuesday, December 1, 2009

a tale of two stories, ok maybe 3 while in Vietnam

There are 2 things that were all the rage and we kept hearing to make sure we did while we were in Vietnam.
1.       1. Get a custom tailored suit made
2.       2. Get a massage

Of course I did both

Day 2 of my tour of Vietnam I ventured out into Ho Chi Minh City by myself and searched for the seamstress some of my colleagues had been to the day before to order their custom made dresses and suits.  I had decided that I would have a 3 piece suit made.  A standard blue pant suit with a skirt as the 3d piece, but I first did a little homework.  I printed out from the JC Penney website a style of suit that I liked, both pant and skirt design.  I also priced on a couple of websites what those suits cost, reminding myself repeatedly that I was about to have something tailored to me and needed to account for that.  So with a price that I would spend in mind the pictures of the style of suit I wanted in hand headed out into the city.  The shuttle from the port to the Rex hotel took a little longer than I anticipated and finally as I was dropped off in front of City Hall I got my bearings rather quickly and headed down the 10 or so blocks in search of my suit.  Crossing busy intersections and passing vendors, wishing for me to purchase their goods.  Passing a fruit stand with the most outrageous looking fruit I had ever seen.  

Finally I was there.  I walked in and tried to communicate with the seamstress bringing her initial price of $150 USD to $100 USD for my custom tailored suit.  I was quite proud of myself.  I gave her my debit card so she could charge the 900,000 Dong (Vietnamese currency) equivalent to $50 USD and she ran it once and then again but to no avail.  I asked her if there was an ATM machine nearby and she directed me to a bank two doors down.  I walked to the bank, not really concerned because I had communicated with my bank as recent as India regarding my bank card (this entire situation will be blogged about in its own entry as the drama around my debit card deserves its own post), I inserted my card, entered my pin and then watched as the screen flashed in RED and in English, “Compromised”.  The ATM machine kept my card.  I immediately panicked and quickly realized the reality of my situation.  I looked up and realized I was at a bank and immediately thought, “Maybe they will give me my card back and let me withdraw cash from the bank?”  I walked in the bank only to realize they were at lunch and would not be back for 35 minutes.  I looked over my shoulder and realized there was a desk with a young woman at it; perhaps she works for the bank?  I walked over to speak to her and asked if she spoke English, she nodded and smiled and immediately I knew this was not going to be easy.  I then realized the desk she was working at was a tour agency, neither she nor another women that was sitting there would be able to help me.  I had no recourse but to wait until the bank reopened at 1pm.

As the bank workers returned from lunch and the bank reopened I finally was able to communicate with someone who was able to return my card to me.   At that point they directed me to a window where I would deal with a woman who would try to help me withdraw money, she seemed earnest in her attempt to help me, as I approached she took my card and asked for my passport, I looked in my purse and realized I had left my passport on the ship and the only thing I had in my possession was the id card we were to show the port agent upon our entrance and departure from the port, she smiled nicely and repeated “I need your passport to do this transaction”  I smiled back and informed her I would have to go and retrieve my passport from the ship.  I walked out of the bank and back to the seamstress, informed her that I would return shortly that I had to retrieve my passport from the ship to withdraw money.  She smiled and nodded which led me to believe she had no idea what I was saying; I smiled back and walked out of the shop.  I walked the 10 or so blocks with an even quicker pace this time, not so concerned about the traffic any more.  Now I was concerned to get to the safety of the ship.  I literally started to panic, because I had no access to money and was in a foreign city and alone.   I arrived to the ship about an hour later and was still a little panic stricken when I ran into a colleague MR.  He was about to head out into HCMC and asked if I wanted to tag along.  I agreed as I started to tell him my story, he turned to me and said don’t worry I can let you borrow until you get it straightened out.  We headed back into HCMC and did some running around.  

Met up with an acquaintance of his, ate some Pho (pronounced Fuh), then walked over to the seamstress shop and gave her my deposit.  I was so relieved.  

A few days later and thanks to the kindness of a stranger wiring me money (also another post for another day) I was able to pick up my custom tailored suit. 

Now, I grew up having clothes custom tailored for me, my grandmother (abuelita) was a seamstress.  She would make me and my cousins play cloths and formal dresses.  She made my cousin Astrid’s wedding dress, and all of our bridesmaid’s dresses.  She made my graduation dress for 8th grade graduation, and my prom gown.  It wasn’t until I went in for my first fitting and saw the seamstress chalking and outlining a newspaper that all of these memories kept flooding back to me about how my abuelita would be up late in the night cutting and stitching and sewing.  

It was like I was in my abuelitas little apartment all over again.  I tried on my suit and it needed a couple of adjustments, within 24 hours (3days after I had initially been fitted for the suit) I walked into this little shop and picked up my custom tailored 3 piece suit and I was happy.

Another of the “checking off the list things to do while you’re in Vietnam” is to get a massage.  There are massage parlors everywhere and they are cheap.  I’m talking $20USD will get you an hour of a good massage and an experience of a lifetime.  Now before the men start asking questions, I don’t know if that includes a happy ending, I’m sure you can find those type of parlors in Vietnam too, but I can honestly say that neither I nor anyone that I was with was approached in that vein.

We walked around for a few hours peeping at the vendors when we decided in the late afternoon that it was time for our massage, we finally found a massage parlor that was to our liking (as far as prices went) and decided to give it a go.  2 of my colleagues and I walked in and immediately waited on, we received spa manicures, and spa pedicures, complete with a paraffin dip on our hands and feet, and a 75 minute massage for $45 USD.  The Spa manicure and pedicure were standard and no big thing to write home about.  But the massage was probably the most intense and best massage I had ever had.

The woman that attended to me was at most 5’2” and about a size 2, yes a tiny little thing.   But her hands were strong and amazing.  She massaged my neck and head applying just the right amount of pressure to each at one point asking me if I wanted her to press harder.  I was so relaxed I couldn’t even speak, she had to ask me again.  She massaged the soreness out of my legs and twisted my muscles.  At one point she started at the balls of my feet and literally ended up crawling up on all fours up where I could feel her shins in the middle of my back.  It was the strangest thing but it felt so good.  When she finished I felt like I was floating.   The only thing that separated me from the other customers was a curtain and I could hear some moaning and sighing from MR two stalls away as the masseuse walked on his back.  Myself and AH were more relaxed in receiving our massage.  We all walked out of there renewed and pleased with our choice, and recommended it to others;  another great experience on an outing with friends and colleagues.

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