Ho Chi Minh City is a city of massive contrast packed into a minimum space. Optimally efficient despite the impression of an infrastructure planned as a fraternity prank. The population pressure is a culture shock, a fairly overwhelming experience when your personal square footage shrinks from 28.3 sq. ft. to 3.1 sq. ft. The minimum clearance between moving vehicles is measured in inches, not feet, an ever changing wall of cars and small trucks mortared together by a hive mind of mopeds. Mopeds used by entire families as the family car; deliverymen having furniture origami competitions as they attempt increasing feats of loading larger and larger pieces for delivery. This makes taxi rides a thrilling, visual, stress test for Western trained drivers. The constant din of activity is a dull sonic assault that is both stimulating and exhausting. This seems to have made people friendly, but reserved. The constant in-your-face activity produces tensions soothed by good manners.
Our first morning was spent visiting Ben Thanh market a bazaar that sells everything from groceries to knock-off Coach bags, woodwork crafts to watches, sunglasses to ao dai. Stalls are crammed together, an entire department store jammed into a closet. I'm a sizable fella by Western standards, by Vietnamese standards I probably require backing lights and escort tugs. My friends tell me I'm imposing, but in Vietnam bravery follows an inverse relationship to size and profit, micronized restaurant managers tell me that I must eat or drink, NOW! People that I nearly step on are trying to sell me sunglasses even though I'm wearing some.
"Snake wine" is a delicacy offered at the Ben Thanh market. Apparently this stall was offering the modified snake and scorpion mix, which is probably an extra special high of two neurotoxins and alcohol. Doing a qualitative zoological calculation, where I'm from pickled creepy crawlies are rare finds in museums, here they are common commodity. This begs the question, how many extra scorpions and cobras are there out in the wild just waiting to be picked up and stuffed into bottles to be served as beverages.
A small street near Uncle 4's house, yes with 10 uncles, they have been given numbers rather than be referred to by their given names.