An Intrepid Tour Leader
by Marlo Perry
5. Monkey Business
24th January 2004
Happy New Year (again!)
I have enjoyed a great Tet season in Saigon. Due to lack of transport and most shops being closed a lot of trips weren't running last week which meant that I got to meet up with several other leaders.
I am trying to figure out if they were always eccentric or if it develops with the job! My work companions are a bunch of characters that is for sure! Extra curricular activities tend to revolve around drinking and playing pool. My pool playing is improving daily - although I played an unmentionable game at the DMZ in Hue city where if my competitors had known the Australian rules I would have been dacked and running around the pool table...
The colour of Tet was brilliant, in the south people decorate their homes with kumquat trees, beautifully styled in shapes with the orange fruit looking heaps better than any decorated Christmas tree ever could! As well as apricot and peach blossoms, sunflowers, bonsai etc. The parks in Saigon are taken over by huge flower markets, cyclo men hang around outside so that they can transport the trees back to the homes. So there are huge trees being pushed along the streets by little men. The grounds around the markets are covered in flower petals having been blown off the plants. Pretty. Of course the gutters are also filled with rubbish, plastic bags, human waste but if you look past that...
The main centre street in town was closed to cars so the middle strip was turned into a flower park. Businesses and corporations sponsoring corners of outside flower art. Vietnamese families would walk through taking photos at every stop.
Tet night was a carnival atmosphere. Families cruising around on motorbikes - I have to explain the traffic to all those who haven't made it to Asia (yet -come and visit:-). Imagine every single family hopping onto one motorbike (squeeze the kids in between Mum and Dad) and doing a motorcade down to Phillip Island for the Grand Prix. Add in a couple of teen hoons, push bikes, cyclos, buses, water buffalo, pedestrians and a limited understanding of road rules and that sums up traffic here. Crossing the road is great fun, just step out walk slowly and the traffic weaves around you - in theory anyway! You have to look at them to make sure they are looking at you but when traffic is coming from a couple of directions it can be a 'bit' nerve racking! I just received a note saying that Mike, the guy who trained me in Vietnam is currently in Bangkok hospital after being hit by a moto, but I'm sure extra curricular activities played a part as well :-)
So me and seven million Vietnamese were crowded into Siagons' centre watching the Vietnamese ballet and opera perform on centre stage, delighting in coconut juice, fairy floss and buying Happy New Year balloons. Come midnight fire works go off along the water front. In very Vietnamese style the whole lot went off with very little thoughtful planning but looked good. Whenever there was a big or pretty one the crowd would ooohhhh and ahhhh and clap. Then they got back on their motorbikes drove off and are spending the next couple of days seeing friends and family and starting their good luck for this the year of the monkey. Apparently an unpredictable year.My monkey year was meant to begin with a trip into Cambodia but most of the Cambodian senior leaders are half way through trips, in Oz having a break or lost! So I will fly back up to Hanoi and start another Vietnam trip to keep me occupied until a Cambodian leader is 'found!'
About the Author
Marlo Perry is a Group Leader for Intrepid Travel and has worked as a Voluntary Coordinator for South American Explorers Cusco.
1. The Apprentice... 2. Trip One... 3. Half Way... 4. Tet... 5. Monkey Business... 6. Quick Turnaround... 7. Thai New Year... 8. Angkor... 9. Bangkok... 10. It Depends... 11. A&E... 12. Laos... 13. Routine... 14. Pig Rabies... 15. Burma... 16. Tsunami... 17. Songkran... 18. Sick Note... 19. Cycle Vietnam... 20. Street Kids... 21. My Life. Ideas Needed... 22. June Jambles...