The Touts Are A’Changin’


This blog entry about the events of Friday, December 17, 2004 was originally posted on December 21, 2004.

DAY 426:  In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords put an end to The American War in Vietnam.  The US conceded to North Vietnam and eventually pulled out its troops so that Vietnam could begin the road to recovery.  Two years later, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnam hammered the proverbial “nail in the coffin” into the south when, using a big military tank, they stormed the presidential palace gates in the former South Vietnam capital of Saigon.  Vietnam was reunified under Communist rule and after that day, the official name of the southern city was renamed after the Communist leader and became Ho Chi Minh City, often abbreviated in print as “HCMC” to save space and decrease writer’s cramp.  Verbally, “Ho Chi Minh City,” is a mouthful in itself, which is probably why people still just call it Saigon.  “Saigon” just rolls off the tongue.

DESPITE THE COMMUNIST NAME CHANGE, HCMC is a big cosmopolitan city that has been the center of Vietnamese capitalism for centuries, even way before the appearance of the first “GRK.”  Positioned near the Mekong Delta where the Mekong River meets the South China Sea, it had been a profitable port during the eras of the Chinese and the French.

Like Communist Hanoi in the north, the architectural style of HCMC is a reflection of the past, a city where cathedrals stand in the same neighborhoods as pagodas.  And just like the north, the streets are littered with whizzing motorbikes passing through every inch of the city’s concrete arteries that bring it to life. 

HCMC does differentiate itself from its northern counterpart in many ways.  For one, it’s much warmer with its more southerly position.  Geologically, it isn’t a city of lakes like Hanoi, but one near the Saigon River (a river not exactly one to write home about).  Commercially it is different from Hanoi, with foreign companies a lot more visible, thus continuing the streak of capitalism in the city’s history.  This streak is only ameliorated by the presence of the dozen or so shopping malls in the downtown area.

I HAD A PRETTY CASUAL DAY IN HCMC, just walking around to take photos for the Blog, and I noticed one distinct feeling about HCMC that Hanoi didn’t have.  For some reason, almost every street corner reminded me of the one in Full Metal Jacket, where the Asian actress playing a prostitute utters arguably the most memorable quote in film history, the immortal, “Me so horny, me love you long time.” 

(I’m sorry, did I say “arguably?”  Scratch that, it is the most memorable quote in film history.  And if you don’t think so, then frankly [your name here], I don’t give a damn.)

As legendary folksinger Bob Dylan once said, “The times are a’changin’,” and in HCMC, these corner working girls have been replaced by working girls of a different nature, and by that I mean girls with big stacks of books trying to sell Dan Brown novels, of course.  I swear, you can’t walk down the street in the touristy District One and not get approached by a woman trying to sell you copy of The Da Vinci Code or Digital Fortress.

“Psst…  You wan Dan Brown?  Da Vinci Code?  Dan Brown, Dan Brown, you read him long time.” 

MY GOAL OF THE DAY was to take it easy and get over the slight cold I still had and to run some errands — get a haircut, book a flight back to Bangkok for my connection to Manila, and get my glasses fixed since a screw had gone loose.  On my way to find an optician off the main tourist strip, I was approached by the other kind of tout in present-day HCMC, the omnipresent motorcycle tout.

“Where are you going?  You want guide?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Where you going?  I can take you.  One dollar, one hour.”

“No, I’m just walking.”

“All the places very far!  You come here.  I have motorbike.”

I swear it went back and forth like that for the entire time he followed me on the side of the road until I finally found an eyewear store and walked inside.  He left me after that.

Later on that afternoon, I continued my leisurely Saturday stroll, when another motorcycle taxi driver followed me.

“Hey, where you going?  You want ride?  I have motorbike.”

“Hey, it’s you!” I said.  Just by chance, it was the same guy as the first time around, and in a completely different neighborhood.  I just laughed.

“Where do you want to go?  I can take you.  One dollar, one hour.”

“Really, I’m okay.  I like walking.”

“Your hotel is very far!”

“But I just walked here from there.”  (I understand that the American accent usually translates to “person who doesn’t walk much,” but I don’t really fit that mold.)

The motorcycle tout continued to follow me until I escaped into a bookstore.  When the coast was clear, I walked back to the main strip in District One, only to have to deal with more girls with Dan Brown novels.

If Bob Dylan could revise his statement, it’d be, “The touts are a’changin’.”

YES, CAPITALISM IS A STILL ALIVE AND WELL in HCMC (picture above) as it has been for centuries, only with little differences.  I’m sure the working girls of the past are still out there somewhere, probably reading a copy of The Da Vinci Code or something, just waiting for their moment to utter those immortal words of film history again:  “Frankly [your name here], me so horny.”

Next entry: Blame America

Previous entry: The Dow Jones Industrial Average Is Down A Quarter Of A Point

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Comments for “The Touts Are A'Changin'”

  • First!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:02 AM

  • “too bukuu .. mister !”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  01:11 PM

  • Even more immortal than “Luke. *heavy breathing* I am your father.” ?? C’mon

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  02:16 PM

  • TDOT:  Have you seen “Full Metal Jacket?”  The best line is the one about sucking a golf ball through a garden hose.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  01:25 PM

  • I think 81 was the cut off of Full Metal Jacket as being a must see movie…

    81ers, sometimes they win some, sometimes they lose some…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  07:52 PM

  • Maybe I’m a wimp, but I’m pre-81 and I can’t watch Full Metal Jacket - it disturbs me too much.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/29  at  11:40 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Blame America

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average Is Down A Quarter Of A Point


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