“Wow … that’s so strong, but it’s got a ball of coconut ice-cream in the middle … whoah !”
And the young lady who I believe is Korean adds:
“I wanna try … This is the coffee king … ahhhhhhhh !”
The young travellers give their views on the environment and cleanliness of District 1 which is the city centre [UK] or downtown area [USA].
To what extent do you agree with them ?
What do Vietnamese students think of the Vlogger’s appraisal of Sai Gon ?
Let’s move on and talk about traffic which is quite a serious issue in Vietnam. Firstly, attending driving school … what can go wrong ? A clip from the world-famous motoring show from the BBC, ‘Top Gear.’
A compilation of videos about Viet Nam for use in class. Some clips are made by westerners, other by Vietnamese speaking English. The clips can be used for listening practice, learning vocabulary, pronunciation, or just to learn more about the country.
I agree totally // I agree to an extent // I’m not sure I totally agree // That has not been my experience // She is spot on ! // She is over-simplifying // There’s an element of truth in what she says // She’s talking nonsense !
A mouth-watering selection of local delicacies from street food to bakeries, small restaurants to city centre lunch bars … and a small trip to the beach for good measure.
I’m focusing mainly on food in my local area, Nguyen Duy Trinh Street in Quan (District 2):
Map of Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City). As you can see, District 2 is south-east. It is separated from the central District 1 by the Sai Gon river. The area is undergoing a lot of construction, with many new apartment blocks springing up, new restaurants and bars, as well as keeping the traditional shophouses and street food stalls. For a closer view of my area, here is a zoom – in of Nguyen Duy Trinh, the axis of our food tour.
Let’s kick off with a Mi Quang restaurant at 300 Nguyen Duy Trinh. The signature dish is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, from central Vietnam. The small amount of soup differentiates it from the ubiquitous pho. Mi Quang comes with shrimp or meat, quail eggs and the usual side dishes of herbs, chilis and lime. Prices range from 35 000 to 45 000 VND (1.18UKP to 1.50 UKP / $1.51 to $1.94.
With or without meat. Accompanied by fresh vegetables and herbs, and crispy sesame rice crackers. Notice how thick the noodles are, while the broth is far less than one gets with pho.
And the obligatory condiments blend of fish sauce, dried chilis and chili sauce:
Now for a new bubble tea shop: Royal Tea at 242 Nguyen Duy Trinh. I loved this shop; I went after work, after teaching a great but energy-consuming young learners’ class. It was a typical, humid tropical day, but inside, quiet and peaceful. Soft background music, gentle and friendly staff. Drinks around 50 000 VND ( 1.68 UKP /$2.15). Again, Foody.VN have a review (you may need to hit the ‘translate’ button):
This will certainly be one of my haunts (a place I like to hang out). Now, If you’ve followed my blogs, you know I am a fan of the US TV series ‘Twin Peaks’. The police officers really appreciate damn fine coffee and doughnuts (UK) donuts (USA). So, next stop, moving east on Nguyen Duy Trinh, we come to a new bakery. Great for my donuts fix, terrible for my calorie intake … but just look:
And only 18 000 VND each (60p or 77c). They sell ready-made cakes and individual slices, but the doughnuts were excellent … and dangerous ! Here’s the store front:
Don’t worry – I have a gym and swimming pool in my apartment, so I can burn off the calories and balance will be restored. Directly opposite is a street food stall, run by a Korean gentleman and his Vietnamese wife. They offer quite an eclectic mix of food:
I was able to use my extensive knowledge of Hangul (Korean) to say ‘Hello,’ and ‘Thank you.’
A little side note; you see how pavements in Sai Gon are really not designed for pedestrians. It can make walking quite arduous, not to say dangerous, certainly not a pleasure.
For sure, it’s heavy on the fast food, deep fried menu, but healthy options are available. I’ll go back for some Korean non-meat items and report later.
Recently, I had to go into District 1 on business so, as it was lunchtime, I thought I’d hang out with the office workers and go to a ‘point-and-eat’ joint: a ‘point-joint,’ (to coin a new phrase) Here, the food is displayed at the front, so for non-Vietnamese speakers you just, yeah, you guessed it, point … and eat. Service is very quick, though food does tend to be on the cold side. This was one of many in the Ton Duc Thang area of District 1. The centre of the road has been completely torn up, as they plan to construct a new bridge. The restaurant was in a side street:
See, just point and eat.
Various meat, fish and tofu dishes.
I had fried fish (a lot of de-boning required) and tofu in tomato sauce, served with rice, pickled vegetables and vegetable soup. Word of warning, the soup is often meat broth or contains small pieces of meat, so vegetarians be careful.
Fish soup, probably a mackerel or similar oily fish.
Finally, after lockdown restriction were lifted, Vietnamese were allowed to travel outside of their hometown. I was invited to a 5-star hotel in Vung Tau, less than two hours drive from Sai Gon.
Opposite the hotel was a Russian restaurant, mainly sea food, naturally, as this is a beach resort, but I was able to forego the rice or noodles, and have some western black bread … and it was delicious.
Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you found it vaguely interesting. If you have any questions about life in Viet Nam, I’d be happy to (try to) answer them, as best I can.
Furthermore, should you have any questions about English, feel free to ask.
Here’s another request blog; a friend, Pete (who has featured in some of my lessons) is planning a party this Friday. His daughter, who is turning 18, has requested some Vietnamese food.
However, Pete lives in the UK, which is still under lockdown (quarantine), so many restaurants are closed. Furthermore, he lives in the middle of the country, so had no access to really fresh sea food (the Vietnamese only say sea food is fresh IF it was swimming in the sea just ten minutes before).
Additionally, Pete won’t be able to get his hands on some vegetables or ingredients so we’ll have to take that into account. Having said that, here are some tips for making Vietnamese food in a western kitchen.
Banh xeo is like a pancake filled with beansprouts, shrimps, salad, grilled meat …
Grilled pork is ubiquitous – a street food stable served with rice and pickled vegetables.
Fried spring or summer rolls – can be a bit fiddly (difficult) to make, and require special material. Probably available in Asian supermarkets, but hard to get in small towns (or just order online like everyone else in 2020). Contains salad leaves and shrimp and vegetables).
Pho (pronounced ‘far’) is THE traditional food of Vietnam, and is normally eaten for breakfast. It’s basically noodle soup with meat of your choice. Shrimps (prawns) or just vegetables could be substituted. Another ubiquitous dish.
And now, without further ado … how to cook Vietnamese:
First, one of the UK’s most loved, and sadly missed chefs, Keith Floyd. Keith came to Vietnam as part of an east Asian cooking show. In Sai Gon, he made this dish, beef cooked in sweet and spicy stock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO6cSQ8Vly8
The scene starts at 06.39
But, I hear you protest, how can a westerner make authentic Vietnamese food ?
For fans of the fowl, connoisseurs of the chicken, I haven’t forgotten you. Here’s an interesting recipe, lemongrass chicken (lemongrass, which is ten-a-penny in Vietnam, that is, very cheap, can be so expensive in the UK. I once saw 5 lemongrass on sale for £1, that’s over 30 000 VND): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJtMlTnqyw0
Lee was a composer working in the Jazz field, and played alto saxophone. Famously, Lee played on ‘Birth of the Cool’ by Miles Davies in 1949, as well as on the ‘Miles Ahead’ album of 1957. In addition, Lee made dozens of albums as leader, playing alongside Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams & Jimmy Giuffre … to name just three.
Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers (March 29th 1949 – May 3rd 2020)
Dave was the keyboardist in the English punk band The Stranglers, whom he joined in 1975 and played with until his death. His playing can be heard on their biggest hit, ‘Golden Brown’ which reached number 2 in the charts in 1982: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-GUjA67mdc
Little Richard ( December 5th 1932 – May 9th 2020)
Richard Wayne Pennieman was one of the original rock ‘n’ rollers, and was a true original in his performances, his clothes and his stage presence. Little Richard is even credited with advising the Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, how to sing. This is one of his most iconic songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj059o9OwqY
After Brasil, Vietnam is the world’s biggest exporter of coffee, and coffee shops are ubiquitous. There are high-end chain stores, with near London prices, down to street coffee which, being honest, is probably more ‘street’ than ‘coffee’.
Here are a few recent caffeine-driven excursions:
OK, this first one is no longer in operation. Can’t think why. Branding is important, even in a Socialist country. This joint is located at the base of an apartment complex in District 2. The lady that stays there is, I believe, an artist and is extremely friendly, not ‘grumpy’ in the least.
Now, staying in District 2, just a short ride away, is this library cafe:
It looks like it’s based in an old house, with large plants and dusty old books on even dustier shelves.
The coffee, however, was a disappointment, probably due to my ordering the wrong drink. I wanted a hot latte and got an ice version. Perfect for the heat, but not what I was expecting. Oh well, never mind.
Still in District 2, ‘Ventura Coffee’ was near my old apartment by the port of Cat Lai. This was a great place, and had live football and a beautiful dog:
Damn fine cappuccino, too.
Here are a couple of signs on the wall:
Back to my new manor (are in which I live). ‘Coffee Time’ on Nguyen Duy Trinh. Fine coffees and juices. Nice decoration, and outside seating. Free Wifi, naturally. We had a hot latte and an ice coffee. The cappuccino is also recommended.
And of course, all this coffee makes a guy hungry. Back at my new apartment, we have a restaurant where they catered to my no-meat diet. Delicious crab-noodle soup. Around 40 000 VND (about £1.35) and worth every penny. Extra chilli sauce !
A major attraction of living in Sai Gon is the cost of living. Teachers are not usually well-paid and as language teachers, we maybe do less than twenty-five hours a week (which is more than enough, depending on the students).
My arrival was not without problems. I will not mention the name of any institution, as I probably have more to be thankful for than otherwise. Having said that … moving across the world to a new culture and a new job is rather nerve-wracking – there will be problems, predictable and marvellously unexpected. One thing that can be counted on is paperwork. It must all be in order … and it will all be expensive.
First, in order to work as a teacher in Vietnam, one needs a BA degree (any subject, though anything involving linguistics would be an advantage), an official teaching certificate, such as CELTA: (this is a Google image)
Then a police background check, a CRC. There is not ONE agency that provides this service, so it is good to look on the internet first to check prices. They do vary considerably. I use Disclosure Scotland.
The teacher should also be a native-speaker but I have worked at centres that employed teachers from the Baltic States, and Spain.
Then there is the visa. One needs a WORK VISA to enter the country and be legally employed.
The ‘DN’ (top right corner) designates this as a business visa, and are issued for varying periods of time. I obtained mine by post from the Vietnamese Embassy in London. Therein, the first ‘issue’. My school had to send me an invitation (to be presented at the Embassy). Unfortunately, I was sent an invitation with the wrong entrance date, then told it would take a week to amend their error. Meanwhile, I’d paid for my (non-refundable) ticket and I had some unnecessary stress hoping I could get the paperwork in time.
“All’s well that ends well,” as the bard said. However, I had to pay for an express service which I believe was £140 ($180), and that was without postage and postal order fees (which brought the cost to over £170).
Furthermore, the three certificates (BA degree, teaching certificate & CRC) have to be notarised, then sent for stamping by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and then stamped by the Vietnamese Embassy.
It set me back around £500, and that was without the work permit fee, the flight and money to keep me going until payday. However, one cold (London) morning, I flew, changing once at Bangkok, to Sai Gon and walked out to look for the staff who, I was assured, would be waiting for me. Walking out into the noise, the heat, the chaos that was … and still is … my life.
I had been told I would be driven to a hotel, where I would stay for three days, at the school’s expense.
Just like in the films, a young lady was waiting for me with a board welcoming me to Sai Gon. Yes, she was young. So young I was wondering if they had sent a student instead. Said lady then informed me that we would be taking a taxi and that I would be paying for it, but not to worry; it would be deducted from my first pay check, and because I was travelling with a local, I wouldn’t be ripped off by a tourist taxi.
I was a little taken aback by this news (I had been travelling for around twenty four hours, therefore not at my best), but it was compounded as Ms Information (as I later dubbed her) told me that I was also expected to pay for my complimentary hotel but again, not to worry, it would be deducted later.
I wondered what other joys lie in wait. I didn’t have to wait long. The assigned hotel had a power cut and wasn’t sure if they even had a room for me that day. After waiting with Ms Information in a cafe near the school (damn fine coffee if I remember, and I paid for it without being prompted; couldn’t handle any further deductions from a pay check I’d yet to receive), we returned to the hotel. A room was free but no wifi in the room.
On that note I thought, as I’m paying anyway, I’m going to choose my own hotel (I’d been to Sai Gon several times previously).
Later that evening, I met my manager and all was cleared up; no taxi bill, no hotel bill. I met some of the teachers, including the young lady whom I was replacing. She was young, blonde and beautiful, three things I have never been. Her students are going to hate me … and I wasn’t far wrong.
That weekend I observed some classes. Some teachers were very accommodating and helpful, some clearly didn’t want me in their class. I was left in no doubt that one in particular did not consider it her job to help me at all. And she didn’t. Each to their own.
Now, I was staying in my hotel, and getting the street motorbike to school. Ms Information would phone a street bike to take me home, very kind. I managed to find a room in District 3, which was ideal for me. Lots of shops and markets, lots of things within walking distance (I do not ride a motorbike).
This was situated in a small alley off a main road, Nguyen Dinh Chieu, in between a lingerie shop and a pharmacist. I felt at home.
The door was unlocked by inserting one’s hands through the black square and unlocking a padlock. There was no recycling. All rubbish, or trash if you are American, was dumped outside. It was rarely there a few minutes before some neighbour would pounce on it and rip it open looking for … who knows ? But the debris would be scattered outside the door. I took to dumping my rubbish, or garbage if you are American, further down the alley. At this point, I downloaded the Grab Bike app and was able to use their services to get home, easily halving the cost of the street bikes:
Probably not the image the company wants to promote, but more realistic than the twenty-somethings with pearly-white teeth and a perpetual smile. And footwear. I informed Ms Information that she no longer needed to order me a motorbike, I could book myself, with Grab. Maybe you can guess what happened … yes, I jumped on a bike she ordered for me and was on my way to the old hotel. So, back to my digs:
The room was basic, no fridge or cooking facilities, but a shower and private bathroom. Furniture provided. Kindle on bed and bottled-water on standby.
The simple life. I think I paid three million Vietnamese a month plus electric which could be up to another million depending how often I used the air-con. In all, I paid a maximum of four million VN Dong – about £135 / $175 a month, for a six-month contract.
Yet, nothing especially Viet or Asian about it. It evoked more of a Leonard Cohen in Greece feel. Nothing wrong with that of course … “You get used to an empty room.”
However, one Tet, when most of the tenants were away, I think someone broke into my room, as my suitcase which was always padlocked and contained my laptop, Kindle and money, wouldn’t open. It seemed that someone had tried to open it and had broken off their implement.
After that, I changed the door lock and spent a million on new, European-made security locks and bolts. Nothing from Taiwan, sir, give me that impressive and weighty German monstrosity. It’ll do the job.
But … at the end of my six months contract, I wanted out. The next place was just a few streets away, living above a clothes shop. I forget the rent, but it was similar to the first place, perhaps a tad more. Renting can be risky in Vietnam. At short notice, the owner can decide to take back the space, and the tenants have only a short time to find a new place.
The clothes shop had that exact fate. As you can see, it has gone, but this was the location, number 19. A husband & wife team sold shirts and Tshirts, living behind the store front. I had two floors upstairs, with a little verandah for outdoor cooking, and a shower that was apparently a danger-hazard. I was advised to fill a bucket with hot water and use that as opposed to standing directly under the sprocket. Power cuts were not unknown.
One night there was shouting and screaming – more than is usual in Sai Gon – as a house but three doors away was on fire. Exit flat sharpish and waiting in the street for the all clear before my year’s work-contract was up and I was ready to clear out of Viet Nam and head home.
Which I did. London … in winter. I took care of some paperwork, a new CRC, new work Visa and back on that plane for a lovely thirteen-hour flight. My new place, however, was an apartment. Way out in the sticks, near Cat Lai, the busiest port in S.E. Asia:
The local area was terrible: containers, night and day, honking of horns, trucks stomping over speed bumps, few amenities, few restaurants, not an ATM for miles and karaoke … open-air, all day and most of the night karaoke.
The apartment was great, and the swimming pool was fantastic – even if everyone if the neighbourhood felt it was their right to come and use it.
And then the rainy season began … the jolly old rainy season. Here are some arty (I wish) shots. A little Impressionistic:
For Christmas, they made this effort, which just looked like giant spiders from my vantage point:
One night, the Moon looked spectacular. Unfortunately, my phone camera couldn’t do it justice but anyway:
I mentioned karaoke. There were some people whose hobby was warbling, screaming, croaking, belching etc into a microphone, turned full whack, and ‘entertaining’ everyone within a two-mile radius. How could it get worse ? Wedding parties.
There was a vacant lot opposite my flat. It served as a car wash weekdays, but at weekends was rented out for wedding parties. These are noisy. Really noisy.
The first two hours usually have a professional singer or band. Most guests start to leave at that point … but not all. Some stay and avail themselves of the free beer, the karaoke and the microphone … for hours.
What starts as a romantic event ends up like this: Imagine these gentlemen screaming and shouting and whooping all day. Welcome to my (old) life.
And then we have the neighbours. Lovely people, but they were from Central Viet Nam so couldn’t take the heat. Thus, they installed three air-con units, the third of which blew directly into our balcony, sprinkling us with dust, muck, dirt, goodness only knows what kind of air-bourne viruses … and heat.
Enough, as they say, is enough. Time to move.
So now I’m still in District 2, but near shops, near a main road, near amenities, not a container in sight (or sound) … and we can have pets.
Of course, my very first night there, a local restaurant had … karaoke. However, we have a police office in the next street, so they make sure karaoke is contained and punishable by (I don’t want my English humour landing me in hot water, so add your own comment here) ………………..
Since then, very little except, around Christmas time all night, and for many nights, they decided to dig up all the roads:
Vietnamese food can be wonderful, albeit a little samey (to a casual eater, it can appear to be no more than bowls of different types of noodles with different types of meat, topped with a forest of fresh-ish vegetation).
I’m not knocking the local food, I’ve written blogs about my favourite dishes, but sometimes … an ex-pat will miss that little something from home. Never fear, in District 1, in the shadow of Bitexco, we have a number of stores selling, and usually at a very good price, various items from around the world:
And finally, I mentioned we are allowed pets … allow me to present my puppy, Dali (if you’ve been following my teaching blogs, you’ll no doubt appreciate the moniker):
This is in the backpacker district of central Sai Gon, a new underground food court and mini ‘street-market’. The goods, and prices, are aimed strictly at tourists, while the food was typical food court fare. However, it looked quite nice, there was clearly a lot of thought and effort into the design.
The redeveloped site of Asiana Food Town and Shopping Centre.
The dimsum was OK … nothing special. Time for some typical Viet sweets:
In the interests of reportage, I should go back and try other dishes … MANY other dishes 🙂