Monday, September 15, 2008

A Lesson on Dong

What do you do when you are driving a Saigon motorbike and you get to an intersection that is COMPLETELY jammed? Use the sidewalk. Nothing is sacred. Pedestrians having the right of way? What a strange law to remember.

I've already forgotten so many of them.

The intersection by our school, which happens to be right next to the largest pagoda (Giac Lam) in the city, is what I've been telling you about. I take my third motorbike taxi trip this morning and the guy is smoking a cigarette the entire time, blowing smoke right in my face, and when we get to the jam he does not hesitate to swerve onto the sidewalk. That is when I tap him and tell him I'll walk the rest of the way.

A bit about dong...the mototaxi costs me 15 thousand dong, or about 90 cents (every thousand dong is about 6 cents), each way to school. A regular taxi costs around 40 thousand, or $2.40 in the mornings and as much as 50 thousand, or $3.00, in the evenings, just because the jams are harder to negotiate. So it's $1.80 per day for the motorbike or almost $6.00 per day for a regular taxi for transportation back and forth to school. Many teachers have already found regular guys who pick them up for school and back on a daily basis. My smoke blower will not be hired again. But there are many guys lining our street in the mornings. "Motorbike, Miss?" "Motorbike, Miss?" Now that I am in the swing, I will look for the best one and hire him. And I will tell him "absolutely no sidewalk scootering!"

My uncle, who was in Vietnam from '66 to '67, just wrote to tell me that the videos reminded him of Saigon 4o years ago, except that there were more three-wheeled carts and not as many cars. Hard to imagine that it has stayed the same for so many years.

Now, back to dong:

It's funny how quickly you switch into another currency and things seem SOOO expensive when they really aren't. To give some perspective, I will be paid $2600 per month here, which is about half of what I'm paid in Edmonds. We also get a $300 housing allowance per month and the castle rent is $1100, split three ways. The three of us will spend just a bit over our allowance on this place, which we can't believe. We got such a great deal.

Dinner can cost between 10 thousand and 100 thousand dong, depending on where you eat. Karrie and I tried to keep it under $5 per day for food when we crossed Mexico; I could do the same here without much effort at all.

Most teachers who have been here for a while can save quite a bit. As soon as we get our castle the way we want it, I'm going to try to live on as little as possible, giving priority to 1) travel and 2) food, or possibly 1) food and 2) travel. I'm thinking that the weekend after this one, after the big grand opening castle party where my roommates will be DJ's on different decks and balconies, it will be time to venture out of Saigon. We have a big map by the door and are putting sticky notes all over it, marking places we want to go.

To answer a few questions: Amy, pictures of the castle (including the lamp) will come as soon it is picture ready. And Chris, the pirated movies we have purchased are too many to list (again, at 90 cents a piece) but include: The Kite Runner, Letters from Iwo Jima, Sex and the City and Into the Wild. You have to pick through them a bit because the main staple is action, but everything is there.

It's Monday night and we are off to some kind of acoustic guitar place. Good morning, Seattle, Montana, Norway, Canada, China, America, etc.~


The Norris Clan said...

I say 1. Travel, 2. Food, because, hey, food IS where you travel! Oh, and I know this is completely immature, but I can't help but hear the classic name from "Sixteen Candles" every time you say/type the word "dong": "Long Duck Dong." I know, I said it was immature, but what can I say... I am a child of the 80's...

SeattlePam said...

I wish I could be there for the castle party, but just promise me that we can try again in March!

kumma said...

Yes, #1 fan, the 80's reference is where my brain goes, too, when I hear about the "dong..."

"Lake.... BIG lake..."

marjie said...

How can you NOT be immature when you hear the word? It screams for immaturity! And Pam, we will be SO good at hosting castle parties by March!

The Norris Clan said...

Well... as long as we are on the immature train, "Ah... sexy GIRLfriend"