Published: July 17th 2007July 17th 2007
Winning the airport lottery.
As some of you may know, I’m NOT a fan of airports. I loath them. I have many reasons behind this, having traveled through some of the biggest smallest in the world. Big or small hate them all. What’s to like? Overpriced food, uncomfortable seating, people that hate their job who take it out on you, I could go on and on, but I will refrain.
My usual procedure with airport is to maximize the ipod time, maybe throw in a Saduko puzzle or two, but usually it’s strictly business, and the last thing I want is a “best friend” for the next 5 hours.
Well folks when I landed in Nha Trang, I won the lottery, and to my surprise I didn’t even realize that I was holding a winning ticket at the time. I was trying to wrangle a bus ride from the airport to town, and this guy gave me a bit of advice, while I struggled with the language barrier at the ticket counter. Once I collected my bag, I wondered out to catch the bus, and saw the guy that had helped me out inside. I thanked him and we got to talking. His name was Ho, Vietnamese born and raised until 12. At 12 years old, he fled the country, by himself (with obvious help from others), on a boat to The Philippians, where he lived for 3 years before moving to the US. After 21 years in the US, New Orleans now is “home.” His family still lives in Nha Trang, and he was back for his first visit in over three years.
What was suppose to be a “bus” ended up being a taxi, which I’m sure had something to do with Ho’s fluent Vietnamese. We continued talking in the car, about Vietnam, and American, his two homes. In the US, Ho seems to be doing pretty well for himself. He is a general contractor, and in a city like New Orleans (Katrina), he has been able to milk the FEMA nipple. His plan is to retire to Vietnam at 40, which I could definitely see happening, at this rate. He had just recently built his father a new house. He had also been able to purchase a few plots of land in what is consider the premiere beach town of Vietnam (Nha Trang).
Ho told me that the new house was a huge 5 bedroom estate, and offered me a room - as his guest. I was taken aback from the offer. There is apart of me that over the years and travels that has grown a bit cynical, and when people are really friendly, at times I feel like there is a hidden agenda. As much as you want to believe that all the kind deeds are done without an agenda, you do get burned from time to time. Again, this is just part of the process.
I love to be proven wrong (well sometimes). Ho’s agenda less offer and genuine nature were something that you rarely find these days, where ever you may be. I declined the offer, but told him that we should have a few drinks later on that evening. I figured with him being gone for over 3 years; he should be with his family, and not worrying about me.
Nha Trang, is going to be what Phuket is to Thailand, minus the fat Germans and 14 year old prostitutes (hopefully). I can’t begin to tell you how nice it was to get out of Saigon, as much as I liked it. I was looking forward to a little beach life, some diving, and reading books. Although Nha Trang is a little busier then I expected, it still has that small town feel to it. It is a very popular spot for residents of Saigon to visit on weekends, which was a good sign to me, as it provided a nice mix of travelers and locals.
Ho picked me up on his motorbike later on that evening. We went out for a bite to eat. I told him about the sickness in Saigon, and also mentioned that I was still a little uneasy about eating certain things. He told me he knew a good dish, and said that he’d order. He came through big, with some pasta dish in a garlic stir fry sauce with mixed seafood. I asked what it was, the name, but he only knew it Vietnamese. It was nice to have my appetite back, and with that said, I ordered a few beers for us. Later on that evening, Ho’s Sister came to the restaurant along with her German husband, who I swear is a German Sean Connery (Indiana Jones 4 Connery). Sean Connery and Ho’s sister had been married for 10 years, and had a young son, who, like most 9 year olds these days was at home playing Game Boy.
Pints and Pints later we were still talking, sometimes only in Vietnamese, which I was just a happy spectator. They offered to have me over to Ho’s new house the following day for a BBQ. How could I turn this down? I agreed, and told them I’d call the follow day. We called it an evening after a few more Vietnamese Cheers, and Ho dropped me off at the hotel.
The next I spent lounging on the beach, digging deep into a book, while enjoying the occasional beer. Once again, Ho drove over to the hotel to pick me up for the BBQ. I was curious to see Ho’s new home, as I have been kicking around the idea of investing in something in Vietnam, and its economic growth that rivals the Chinese. With the work ethic of these people its hard not see why. What really blows me away are the Vietnamese women. They’re the backbone to this country and its culture, and its economic growth.
We arrived at the House, and oh my god, Hello MTV Cribs. This place is beautiful, something that would fetch 7 figures in LA. Multiple balconies, Granite floors and stairs, and Real Mahogany and wood, its no wonder Ho’s plan is to retire in Vietnam. Having only spent $60K on building materials and $10K on labor, my own investment wheels started turning.
I met Ho’s entire family and was treated like a king. The food was amazing, one of the best meals on the trip. We dined on a small table outside, with our cold beers and BBQ seafood, and other Vietnamese dishes. The hospitality of these people leaves me in awe.
My plan was to go diving the following morning, 7AM, so I had to make sure that the evening was some what tame. As usual Ho brought me back to the hotel, although I insisted that I could get a motorbike taxi, and save him the time. As predicted he wouldn’t let me do that, and we rode his new Honda back to the hotel. Guess what the name of the model is, (seriously) the DYLAN 150. I got a kick out of that.
Diving the next morning was a good time. I mean, for $38 you get a boat, guides, two dives, gear, and a fresh seafood lunch. What’s not to like? I met a guy wearing a Seattle Mariners hat and a Cubs shirt, and asked him which one he supported. Gary was Chicago born, but since serving (being drafted) in Vietnam in the 60’s, he’d lived in Seattle, working as a psychologist. I told him that I had spent 4 years at the ultra liberal, hippie infested college, Evergreen.
Gary was in Vietnam on business, setting up schools in Saigon, but was in Nha Trang for a little RR, like myself….minus the business part. We talked about education in general, and Evergreen’s approach, which he was very keen to. I think the true connection came when he told me that The Daily Show was his main source of news. From there it turned a bit political, and we dove into the pardoning of Scooter Libby, by our King George. How many people were executed while King George was Governor of Texas?
Like myself, Gary also had investment fever, and he offered some insight to the country and what he had seen in the past few years. Our political and business discussion was interrupted by the REASON we came out on the boat. It was time to dive, well, actually I was the only diver, as everyone one else was just doing the snorkeling. I had my own guide, a local named Huan. The dive was nice, and I was able to see some good marine life and coral. Having done my first diving in the Red Sea, one of the best places in the world, I had been a bit spoiled. It’s like having Kobe Beef everyday, and then having to switch to normal steak.
Later on that evening Ho’s Sister and Sean Connery invited me to dinner at their house, which is only a few blocks from my hotel. Much like Ho’s new house, their’s is equally impressive. It’s narrow, and kind of feels like brownstone in NYC, with its 4 floors, and roof balcony. I talked with Sean Connery about the foreign investment thing, which he said can be a bit tough, but knowing the right people always helped. I seemed I was on the right track already. Ho’s sister new the governor of the area, and offered to introduce me to him. Supposedly he is a wonderful guy, and the guy to go to when you need a favor through the red tape.
At this point it seemed these people were just about to do anything for me. At the end of the evening, she even gave me a cell phone, so that I could call them whenever I wanted, and promised me that I was always welcome.
I still hate airports, but I have to say that I’m not as cynical as I was 3 days ago.