Muzak, Footy, Bars & Buses
Shit, Saigon? Not Saigon again!
Saturday. Saigon. Twiddle your thumbs or pull your plonker? What to do?
Renowned for its nightlife, it’s here that the crazy Apocalypse Now bar is. Just an extension of the movie, except without the blood… usually. Nah! It’s not a bad bar/club, we were there twice already. And anyway it’s only good to turn up after 11 o’clock. We are 12 hours too early, time on my hands. No one felt like another museum; most are about the war. Interestingly enough we know it as the Vietnam War, here it’s referred to as the American War. Still has the same ending though: museums full of the barbaric consequences of war.
Somehow football came up. Easy conclusion to reach I suppose. Saturday afternoon, almost, must be football on. A few enquiries later, and yes a national game is being played, this very day, in this very city. Tickets, we were informed, were less than a dollar.
That was it. Six of us donned stupid hats and scarves and decided to go. The game started at 4:30 or 5 o’clock, plenty of time. Then we were informed – nice how they just feed you bite-size pieces of information at a time – it will be very crowded. A sell-out in fact. If we want to go, someone should purchase the tickets now. I venture off to the stadium, confident in strengthening the $6 to cover the six tickets.
Once I arrive Kim, the Vietnamese girl I was with, says she can buy the tickets cheaper, as I will be levied a foreigner’s charge. I give her the $6, not sure if I will see her again. I position myself in a cafe and drink black coffee, cold, with ice; strange Vietnamese concoction.
She returns, minus the tickets, but with the $6 – honest girl. All the cheap tickets have gone. All that remains are the $7-$10 tickets. Way out of my ball park; besides, I’ve got to buy six of them. There’s another option though. Always is. TICKET TOUTS. With my years of experience dealing with the ticket touts in London I feel I stand in good stead. ‘Course I’m forgetting I can’t string the lingo together to haggle. “Do us six for a score” don’t mean nada here.
Turns out there’s a ticket tout at the next table, and there was I thinking she was just another Grandma taking her granddaughter out for an orange juice. Ticket touts I know don baseball caps and flight jackets, chain-smoke cigarettes and have difficulty stringing sentences together longer than “Buy, sell tickets” and “You’re ‘aving a laugh mate, do you know how much I paid for them?” Still, there she was with a fist full of football tickets.
The face value of each ticket was 10,000 Dong, another screwed up currency ($1 is 14,000 Dong). She was offering them at 40,000 each, about $3.50. Bearing in mind that I wanted to take six off of her hands, the price always comes down with the more you buy; that’s economics, man. I felt obliged to open the haggling at $2 a piece. Although she had a different language and appearance, the facial expression said it all:
“You’re ‘aving a laugh mate, do you know how much I paid for them?”
This was duly translated to me by Kim. Eventually it was all smiles and back-slapping at $3 each. I’m sure she got the better of me.
Rest of the afternoon passes uneventfully. I do my best to decipher the newspaper to find out what time the game actually starts, and who’s playing who. Come to the conclusion, I’ve no idea how, the game is starting at 4:30pm and Vietnam is playing China. Wild stab in the dark, as good a guess as any.
Four o’clock everyone’s arranged to meet; well, I’m there at least. First Kim doesn’t show: one spare ticket. Then only one of the Australian girls we met the night before and enticed into an afternoon of debauchery at the football match shows: two spare tickets. I don my Grandma outfit and look around for a suitable granddaughter in preparation of transforming myself into a ticket tout.
Then my two Dutch mates are lounging around drinking milk shakes, trying to tell me that we have plenty of time. I’ve been misinformed, the game starts at 5pm. From the general consensus of the street vendors around us, we are none the wiser. Some say 4:30pm, some say 5pm. They would tell me the world was flat if I wanted to hear it. At 4:45pm the four of us set off in a taxi. Roadblocks all around the stadium; judging by the pushing and shoving by the gates it was certainly a sell-out. Thank God we had tickets.
Think we were out of the taxi 10 minutes trying to locate the entrance to use, when Ron the Dutch guy announces: “I’ve been robbed!”
Never even occurred to any of us, looking around, that we were attracting quite a lot of attention, being the only foreigners. Prime pickpocketing territory. Thanks to my mother, my passport and wedge was safely concealed in a secret pocket sewn inside my trousers. You had to actually steal my strides to rob me.
Putting a brave face on it Ron lets it go, what can you do? He had his money belt, not around his waist, but in a bulging pocket by his knee. Passport, visas, credit cards, address book and about $300 in cash. Someone had a good day.
It surprised even me, as I can’t speak Vietnamese, but I managed to sell the two spare tickets for $2 a piece! Thought I would only get face value at best now that the game had started. I’ll look into a career in ticket touting when I return home.
We choose the gate with the smallest mob outside, but there was still at least 20 or 30 people pushing and shoving. At least we get noticed by the police, being foreigners. We are ushered in, show the tickets, then we are informed this is the wrong entrance. We have to go to the one with World War Three going on outside. We do our second lap of the outside of the stadium – it’s getting on for half-time now. Unbelievably, Ron actually gets handed back his money belt. Minus all the cash of course, but still I thought the whole lot was gone for good. Maybe the guy who gave it back was the guy who stole it, who knows? Ron gives him a tip and we enter World War Three.
Everyone at the gate has a ticket; the game’s been oversold. People are visibly angry. Every five minutes the gate opens, the crowd surges, and the police hit people with truncheons until they back up. I don’t fancy our chances.
Dennis, the other Dutch guy, spots five policemen taking some R&R from beating punters in a bar opposite. He pleads with them to guide us through the throng. They inspect our tickets and for the first time I thought I’d bought fakes. Can’t be, I already sold the spares. After about five minutes, very begrudgingly one of them gets up and beckons for us to follow him. Physically lifting people out of the way he leads us to the gate and through. The half-time whistle goes!
Now the surge is in reverse, as people rush to the toilet. The stadium was fair-sized, with a running track around the perimeter. Concrete terraces, overflowing. Everyone’s standing; I nudge along until I can see the pitch.
Unbelievably, as the second half starts, everyone tries to sit down. I’m looking at a space the size of a postcard to position my bum on. People must have noticed my pain at the yoga positions I was adopting, as I was offered a seat behind me by a man whose small son was currently occupying it! The son was plopped into my lap, proper family day out at the football.
The game itself was unremarkably shit. Vietnam, bless ’em, were actually playing Australia. I wondered why no one on the pitch looked Chinese! And they were woefully mismatched. Imagine it: tall, suntanned, surfing Aussies playing short Vietnamese. The Aussies outran them every time, and did kangaroo impressions when they scored a goal, just to rub it in. It ended, after a penalty each way, 2-1 to Australia.
Altogether a totally agreeable afternoon of football.
“Where’s my pint?”
Points of Reference
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has it’s own Kao San Road. All the cheap hotels and eats are here, in the Pham Ngu Lau area.
- Sinh Cafe or Kim Cafe are hotel/tour companies. They can organize your whole itinerary in Vietnam. Coach tickets can be purchased from Saigon to Hanoi, open-ended, with as many stops as you like. At very reasonable prices.
- Apocalypse Now is the nightclub in Saigon. Drink and debauchery, expats, backpackers and prostitutes all come together to shake their thing. Foreigners get in free.
- Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, about 40 or 50 Km from Saigon. $5 entrance.
- Hire Honda mopeds from $3 a day or just jump on moped taxis.
- All the cash machines in Saigon take Visa. $1 = 14000 Dong.
- Check out the iced coffees or the beer Hoi shops that spring up from nowhere for refreshments.