I know I’ve been doing my blog a disservice by not posting. My apologies for that. I will actually be posting more often, as I have embarked on a new “adventure.” In the mean time, please enjoy my lovely tale about my time in Vietnam. I also turned this little ditty in as a creative writing piece…yea, I guess it wasn’t creative enough.
The following is an account of my life adventure as an International MBA student traveling across Southeast Asia, alone, for three weeks. “Pho Millionaire” is my account of four delusional days spent in Ho Chi Minh City, with 1.2 million Vietnamese Dong to spend. This is my story.
[Law & Order sound effect]
I’M A MILLIONAIRE!!!
Yeah, that’s right! Let those images of champagne popping, caviar eating, fancy car driving and 24/7 sunglasses wearing sink in.
What’s that? Why, yes, that is Kanye West’s the “Good Life” playing in the background!
Or… at least I thought I was.
I came into my “riches” much the same way any other twenty-something would have: with perseverance, a little dumb luck, and…the US Dollar to Vietnamese Dong exchange rate.
There I was, dragging my obviously over-sized carry-on and backpack through the airport to the luggage reclaim belt to pick up my too-heavy suitcase. I was miserable: pitiful, beaten down and tired! I’d barely made it out of Cambodia alive! I had to make a daring escape, in monsoon-like conditions, but that is a story for another day.
I retrieved my suitcase and clumsily headed for the currency exchange counter. I didn’t really look to see what the exchange rate was. For the past few weeks, the Dollar had been in such a manic fluctuation, I was afraid to know how much money I wouldn’t be getting. Conveniently, there were two exchange counters side-by-side displaying what they thought were fair rates for that day. Counter 1’s exchange rate was .00010 better than Counter 2’s.
I handed the chipper young woman a wad of US currency. She, in turn, handed me, “1,218,220 Dong.”
Wait, wait, wait. I’m sorry. Did you say ONE MILLION?!
Crazy scenes of extravagance started flooding my mind, set to the soundtrack of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Yachts! Champagne! White sand beaches! Awesome parties with Vietnamese pop sensations!
YES, PLEASE!!! I’LL TAKE IT!
I was a new woman! This new woman stood with a Million Dong in her pocket and a new city to conquer. Sure, I could casually mention that a Million Dong was less than $60, but that would take away the delusional effect the exchange rate had on me. And no one wants that. Ho Chi Mihn, watch out! I’m coming for you!
With my newfound wealth, I decided to treat myself. There would be no public transportation for me tonight; never mind that public transportation was never an option to begin with considering it was 9PM, raining and I was traveling ALONE. Tonight I was going to ride in style. I walked up to the “car service” stall and booked a car for a cool 200,000 Dong!
Why do I care, right? I’m a millionaire. (Yes, I clung tightly to my delusions. They were the only baggage that counted.)
The car pulled around. The driver promptly placed my luggage in the trunk and opened the door for me to climb in the backseat. I was on my way. Cruising the vibrantly lit streets of Ho Chi Minh City, with my super dark aviators on, looking aloof and disinterested: I was living the dream.
After a thirty minute ride, I made it to my, ahem, “hotel.” It was set FAR away from the street (obviously to shield the VIPs from the hustle and bustle of the city), so I told the driver I’d take care of getting myself inside. As I made my way into the “hotel,” I was greeted by scores of screaming fans!
(In reality: I am so, so sorry ma’am. I really did not mean to run over your foot with my suitcase. Oh my gosh, sir, I didn’t mean to hit your son in the head with my backpack! I am so, so sorry. He should regain consciousness any minute now. He looks like a very strong boy. Yikes!)
I was booked in a pimped out “suite” for a, er, meager 683,000 Dong for four nights. WHAT?!
(So, if you’re doing the math, I have 317,000 Dong left and it’s only 10:30PM on the first day. Yeah.)
I unpacked, showered and then informed my domestic entourage that I had made it to my temporary homestead safely. Once all of that was done, I slept like a million bucks, er, Dong.
For the first time in weeks, I slept in. As a millionaire, you have no cares. You let life’s issues take care of themselves. I woke up around 10AM. I wasn’t all that interested in getting out of bed, so I turned on Tom & Jerry and promptly fell back to sleep. If it weren’t for the persistent hunger pangs, I shudder to think when I would have actually gotten out of bed.
Room service wasn’t an option. I’m in a new vibrant city. I needed to get out and eat what the people eat. On my way into the city from the airport, I remembered seeing hundreds of places that served “pho.” I had no idea what it was, but I planned on finding out.
As I made my way through the streets, it was clear to me that all of the cab drivers knew I was a millionaire. Beyond being a millionaire, what I saw for myself was that I was a rarity. I mean how often do you see a black woman traveling alone in a foreign country: especially in ones where she cannot speak the languages? I’d been constantly reminded of my “specialness” throughout my “Asia Adventure.” How could I not be? I’m browner, taller, louder and from everyone’s favorite country. “Specialness” was my exclusive currency to deal in and because of it I was filthy rich. I couldn’t take two steps without an offer to be driven to my final destination. As you can imagine, that is a great feeling! It is also incredibly annoying! It’s like having the same infomercial repeat itself every two seconds. Think about having to hear the Sham-WOW or Pajama Jeans commercials over and over again. Exactly. The novelty wears off very quickly.
After walking around for the better part of an hour, I decided to enter a place called “Pho Hai Thien” because they had A/C and free Wi-Fi. Oh, and pho. A nice waitress rushed up and offered me a menu to look at. When you don’t speak the language, you become pretty good at pointing to pictures and butchering the accompanying description of the meal. You also are extremely grateful to any restaurant that actually has a picture menu. Otherwise, it can get quite dicey. After much deliberation I decided on “ga pho” which, in my mind, looked like the equivalent of chicken noodle soup. I also chose a perfectly-ripened passion fruit drink. My meal came almost instantly. 58,000 Dong down the hatch!
Pho is the food of gods. It’s just so good. There aren’t any extra or unnecessary ingredients. The squid ink noodles were so tender and super long. They added a new level of fun to the meal. I’d never had squid ink anything, but I swear it’s a new favorite. The chicken was real all white meat, not that weird processed stuff McDonald’s claims as “real, all white meat”. The chicken was über tender and very flavorful, but that wasn’t the best part. The soup’s stock was heaven. It was spicy, but not offensively so. It was just hot enough that you’d take notice, and want more. There was a slight cinnamon and five-spice combination that brought the whole dish together. The ga pho was absolutely AMAZING!!! I wanted to go back “pho” seconds (see what I just did there? You see that?), but I had more pressing things to attend to. You know, like taking a city tour.
I left the restaurant and began walking towards a busy Columbus Circle-like intersection to see where it would lead. That’s when a crazy motor-scooter driver approached me. He asked if I wanted to take a city tour on the back of his scooter. As a millionaire, one can afford to take daring risks. So I said yes and hopped on.
I have no idea what the historical district of Ho Chi Minh looks like, and it’s not because I wasn’t looking; I was scared to death riding on the back of that little motor death trap! I couldn’t even bring myself to unclench my sweaty hands from the driver’s snazzy polyester shirt to point at certain sites.
And the driver! In my mind his name is Blink because all it took was for him to blink once and my life would have been over! Who in their right mind cuts off a bus on a scooter?! A BUS! A big, giant, diesel-guzzling bus!
You just paid 40,000 Dong to get hit by a bus. #Winning. Nothing but good life decisions were being made.
Note to self: Millionaire or not, you are never too good to place one foot in front of the other and walk! EVER!
In an attempt to reduce the adrenaline level in my body and get my heart rate back to normal after my “daredevil ride,” I decided to take in the cityscape around my hotel. It had a quirky feel to it that I was thoroughly enjoying. Winding alleys created a catacomb-like network of tiny streets barely wider than my wingspan, with people going about their lives, washing clothes, shopping and simply conversing. It was a backpacker’s dream.
As for the backpacker’s nightmare, prepare for random strangers coming out of the woodwork and making you their “friend”. Being a millionaire, you can imagine that strangers always want something. They always want to rope you into some scheme. I mean, you don’t know this person from Adam, but here they are, nevertheless, asking you for investment funds so they can get some shady, suspect “laptop shipping” business off the ground. Do I look like I want to be giving you money, Stranger?! Listen, just because I know a Nigerian prince, and fronted him a little cash, doesn’t mean I’m a fool…or a bank…or China. (Seriously, why does China keep giving us money?)
With situations such as these coming up seemingly every second, you can understand why your relationship with strangers becomes very untrusting. And this is rightfully so, especially since you are a millionaire. When dealing with strangers, everything is on the verge of being taken—your money, your time, your effort…YOU.
Always on the verge of being taken.
Um, no thanks. I’ll pass, walk away very quickly and take a confusing zig-zaggy route back to my luxurious “hotel” in case you try to follow me.
Author’s note: One piece of advice for future millionaires, don’t talk to strangers. That’s how things—read: you—can almost get taken.
After my impromptu “investment meeting,” I decided to go back to my “hotel” to pack and take my afternoon nap. (Listen! Spending all of your money with reckless abandon is hard work! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). The rest of the evening proceeded without newsworthy events, though I did spend a whooping 185,000 on car service back to the airport. Eh, no big deal. In the words of Drake, “I got (had) money to blow.”
Six the next morning came very quickly. As I gathered my things I reflected on my time in Vietnam. I had plummeted from “millionaire”-ism, fell straight through “thousandaire”-ism, and was greeted by the distinct smell of mediocrity as I landed in “hundredaire”-ism. It’s quite a robust smell, really—feet mixed with sweat and the slightest hint of Durian fruit. Yum!
Or at least that’s what it smelled like in the backseat of that cab I took to the airport. Clearly this must be what happened to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. Crap… Now I have to sign up for demeaning reality shows with other former millionaires or, as I like to think of it, VH1’s programming core competency. Ugh. Sorry in advance, Mom.
A half an hour later I finally made it to the airport. I quickly jumped out of the backseat and took a huge jet fuel-tinged breath once in the white zone (yep… still smelled better than that back seat). I strapped my backpack on, walked to the trunk of the cab and pulled my other two pieces of luggage out; the cab driver watched me. (No, no. You rest. I’ve got this. You’re so delicate and fragile. And your nails! Please, I insist.)
I got all of my things out of the cab and placed them on an airport luggage cart. At the departure entrance, security stopped passengers to look at their passports. I have no idea how that was supposed to thwart would-be threats. I mean, they weren’t even looking for corresponding reservations or tickets. The guard would just take the passports, hold them for 10 seconds, and then give them back as if a huge national service had been performed. I got to pass through without showing my documentation. I felt…safe?
Whatever. I guess it’s better than having to take off your shoes.
I was hungry. I wanted to grab something quick before getting on the plane. I headed to the little snack bar and was rudely reminded, “You are poor now! No pre-flight snack for you! Go away!” 34,000 Dong. A sandwich was 50,000. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Sigh. Being poor sucks! It really does. There are no fun things about not having any money! NONE!
That was the sentiment that crossed my mind as I waited in line to check in for my flight to Manila, hearing only the deafening sounds of my stomach eating itself. Standing there with my booking papers in one hand, looking disheveled, I was clearly disinterested and annoyed by the entire process. Obviously they don’t know who I am. I mean, I am me. I am a former millionaire! I reached in my bag for my passport to inform the ticket person of who I am, and the egregious mistake they made not recognizing me, but…no passport.
Wait. Wait. Wait. WAIT! WHERE IS MY PASSPORT?! WHERE IS MY PASSPORT?!
I pat myself down, in what can only be described as a panic stricken version of the Macarena, searching for my passport. I checked every possible pocket, sleeve, and any other nook or cranny my passport could have fallen into. No dice.
I started to hyperventilate.
WHERE IS MY PASSPORT?!
As I frantically searched for my 5×4 “golden ticket to the world” it hit me: you are going to be trapped in Vietnam, as a mediocre hundredaire, forever.
Oh, dear God, no.
That’s when I did what any other self-respecting, former millionaire in my position would have done.
Speak your mind…
*Note: I didn’t actually faint. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Also I was able to retrieve/find my passport. I apparently left in the cab.