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Author Topic: Crossing Vietnamese Customs  (Read 1376 times)

Mike

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Crossing Vietnamese Customs
« on: Oct 12, 2014, 04:47 pm »

Well...Vietnam was interesting. So was Vietnamese customs, which I'll get to in a moment.

It's a 6-hour bus ride to go about 150 miles from Phnom Penh to Vietnam. You do the math and figure our average speed. :(

The last hour of the ride is spent lurching around downtown Ho Chi Minh (HCM), starting and stopping and grinding around nearly every corner and underpass in the city. That was really friggin miserable, I have to say. Ugh.

Ho Chi Minh is so heavily lit that it makes Disneyland look like a dimly lit bar. I'm serious. Everything is lit with strings of LED lights- the roads, the bridges, the sidewalks, and of course all the stores, shops, and buildings. Even the lights have lights on them (I'm not making this up).

Red, green, blue, yellow, orange, white, purple, every color you can imagine is blinking and flashing away in an orgy of illumination. It really is an amazing sight (unless you're an epileptic, in which case you're screwed).

Traffic is both orderly and epic. Much better rules of the road than in Cambodia (where the rules of the road are basically "look out"). No more than 2 persons on a moto and you cannot drive up the wrong side of the road.

But the level of traffic is mind-bending. There are almost no cars, it's 99% motos, and they're as thick as flies. Watching the road is like watching a river of motos flowing by, elbow to elbow. They drive so close together that sometimes the handlebars actually overlap. Seriously, I am not kidding. If they rode any closer together they'd be having each other's children.

Crossing the road on foot is a death-defying experience. After you learn to ignore the constant braying of horns, you edge out into the road a little bit and wait for a small gap in the traffic. Then you take another step. Then you close your eyes and pray that no one hits you. Usually they won't, but now you're actually in the river of moto traffic. Is your life insurance paid up? Good. You take another step and wait to be run down. Look for another gap and edge forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Eventually you reach the other side the way a drowning man reaches the shore. The relief is palpable, you feel like you just crossed Checkpoint Charlie without being spotted and shot by the guards.

What about traffic lights, you say? AH HA HA HA HA HAHAAHAHHAAH, that's funny. Of course there are traffic lights, and they're every bit as effective at controlling traffic as shooting a BB gun at a battleship would be.

But I've jumped ahead, because all this excitement comes later, after you've passed through Customs and gotten into the country. So lets go through Customs and Border Control...


Okay, so, we hit the Vietnam/Cambodia border and the bus pulls up outside the Entry Control building, where we were all ordered off the bus. And I do mean "ordered". When they scream "YOU WILL PLEASE TO GET OFF THE BUS NOW!" and wave their guns around, that's an order, not a request.

They had taken all our passports at the start of the trip, and now they gave them back to us at Entry Control, AKA Customs.

The line of prisoners err I mean "passengers" wound toward the building in 102-degree heat and one by one we were ushered inside to the Customs Officer's booth or "terminal". Sakha and I went in together.

Our Customs Officer was named "Mr Song". Mr Song was very tiny, about the size of a 5th grader, and he had a very impressive uniform laden with more medals and ribbons than Patton and Eisenhower combined. He had epaulets with 4 stars on them, and I had trouble stifling a laugh. I mean, c'mon, 4 stars? In the US Army he'd be commanding the f***ing Pacific Battle Fleet or something like that.

"Hello", Mr Song said smiling broadly, "please to welcome to the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything!"

"Hi" I replied. Sakha remained silent.

We handed over our passports.

"Have you ever been to the Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything before?" asked Mr Song politely.

"Yes" I said.

"How many times have you been to the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything?"

I thought about this for a moment. "Am I in Vietnam right now?" I asked.

"Yes", said Mr Song.

"Then I have been to Vietnam twice", I replied. In retrospect, I should have stopped there, and of course I didn't. 

I blathered on. "But my dad has been to Vietnam over a hundred times", I continued. "Maybe more than a hundred."

"Really?", said Mr Song, "That is a lot. When was this?"

"Oh, from about 1967 to 1968, when he was in the Air Force."

Mr Song turned a scary shade of purple and his tiny little hands clenched into tiny little fists. He muttered something very quietly under his breath. After a moment he regained his composure.

"I see", said Mr Song through his teeth, "and why are you here?"

"Because this is where they stopped the bus and made us get off."

"No, no, I mean why are you coming to the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything?"

"I'm accompanying my wife."

"Your wife has a company?" Mr Song inquired.

"No, I'm escorting my wife."

"Your wife is an escort?", said Mr Song, cocking his head and raising his voice just a bit.

"NO, you fu-...no, my wife is not an escort", I growled. "I am traveling with her."

"And what does your wife do?"

"She does whatever the hell she wants, she doesn't listen to me".

Mr Song paused and looked at me quizzically. "And what do you do?" he inquired.

"I traipse along behind her while she buys shoes and handbags and sh**", I replied.

"I see", said Mr Song, although I do not think he did. "How long will you be here?" asked Mr Song.

"Until she runs out of money", I said, lifting my hands up as if to say "Duh".

Mr Song considered this while looking intently at my passport. "What is your birthday?" he asked.

"January 12th".

"What year?"

"Every year, ha ha!" I replied. (Geez, what an idiot.)

Mr Song fixed me with a look. "That is not funny. YOU are not funny." said Mr Song, getting a little red in the face again.

"You know, my wife tells me that all the time", I said.

"This is serious business," barked Mr Song. "Perhaps you will be stripped and placed in a detention cell until you understand." He was not smiling when he said this.

"Well, if it gets me out of going shopping with my wife, I might just take you up on that."

Mr Song was not amused at my witty repartee. "The detention cell has a stone floor and walls," he said, fixing me with a poisonous glare. Then, shouting, he said "There is no bed, and you will only be given a bowl of rice soup once a day!"

"Ahh...okay" I murmured, nodding my head, even though I wasn't really okay with that.

He leaned in closer to me. "And," he said, slapping his hand on the table loudly, "there is no wi-fi."

Holy sh**, this WAS serious business.
 

I heard a loud, exasperated sigh behind me, and my statistically average wife stepped forward. Smiling brightly, my wife said, "Hello Mr Song. May I please speak with you?"

Mr Song perked up and nodded.

"I am Sakha, I am Mike's wife."

"I am very sorry for you", said Mr Song, totally deadpan.

(Wait, what??)

"Yes, I know", said my wife, elbowing me out of the way none too gently. "We are here to visit family and do shopping. As for my husband, I can explain." I did not know what there was to explain- I'm a funny guy, and Mr Song was a short, humorless prick. And a commie.

My wife and Mr Song leaned in towards one another, and my wife lowered her voice. "After his motorcycle accident, you know, he had big head injury, sometime he is um, confused." She said this while twirling her finger at her head.

"I see", said Mr Song, nodding his head vigorously in agreement.

(For the record, I have never had a motorcycle accident OR a head injury. I will stipulate, however, that sometimes I am confused. And who wouldn't be if they were being brutally interrogated by a midget commie?)

Mr Song and my statistically average wife chatted pleasantly for several minutes and by the time they were done Mr Song was chuckling and saying "Yes, yes, is no problem".

How the hell does she do that?? Five minutes ago he was ready to throw me in a f***ing Vietnamese prison, and in less time than I could finish a bowl of rice soup he's my wife's best friend.

Handing our passports back to my wife, Mr Song smiled and said to Sakha, "Welcome to the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything. I hope for you to have a pleasant stay." Sakha smiled and began to leave. I took a step forward.

"Not you!" he hissed at me. I froze.

"You will sign this paper now," he said, and slid a document across his desk to me. It was not a coupon for a free meal and complimentary "massage" at Wang's Pleasure Palace (I mean, not that I'd ever used a coupon like that before even if they are exactly the same size and color).

The paper stated that

1) I could not stay more than 30 days in the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything, and

2) I could not tell any jokes while in the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything, and

3) That I agreed without reservation that I "was not funny".

The paper also said that I could not return to the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything for one (1) year after my departure, upon pain of something called "indefinite detention with rice soup".  They had actually misspelled "indefinite" but I decided not to their call attention to this egregious mistake.

My extremely persuasive wife handed me a pen and tapped her finger firmly on the document while gazing very, very deeply into my eyes. (This is called "non-verbal communication".) She was not smiling when she did this.

I signed the paper.

Mr Song examined my signature carefully, and then asked me for the record if I had signed "willingly", "not under duress", and "of my own free will".

I began to say "No f***ing way" and I got as far as the "n" sound before my statistically average wife gave me The Look. I've learned to ignore The Look at my own peril, so I stopped and said "Yes, absolutely!" with far more enthusiasm than I really felt. Mostly because I hate rice soup.

Mr Song smiled at me (!!) and then said something in Vietnamese that sounded a lot like "getthef***outofmyterminal" so I did.

And before we knew it we were on our way. We had made it into the Glorious and Freely Elected Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam and Everything with hardly a hiccup!

Next stop, our room away from home, the Hoa Lanh Hotel.
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Jaywalker

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Re: Crossing Vietnamese Customs
« Reply #1 on: Oct 28, 2014, 12:10 am »

LMAO! Hilarious!  ;D
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Mike

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Re: Crossing Vietnamese Customs
« Reply #2 on: Oct 28, 2014, 09:04 am »

LMAO! Hilarious!  ;D

I'm glad you liked it. :)

Here's a clip from Vietnam, a short nighttime ride through part of downtown Ho Chi Minh:

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