It's Saturday night in Dalat and six of us are wandering around looking for something to do - Dalat is not a real happening place at night. Karaoke was the plan, but the cool-looking Karaoke place is "fully booked." Down around the corner and back up a hill, we see another sign for "Karaoke." It's a hotel/Karaoke place, and this tells us something right from the start. It tells us that Karaoke is definitely a side business, that their other business is~ well, it's something else. Six small voices whisper to six foreigners that this might not be the best place, but twelve ears choose not hear the whispering.
At $5 per hour, it's a good deal. So we take a Karaoke room.
Right away, the painted hostesses bring us four trays of goodies: one tray of pomelo, one tray of grapes, one tray of apples and one tray of dried squid in packages - none of it requested. Again, six small voices tell six foreigners "Don't eat the fruit." But, again, twelve ears do not listen to the voices. At one point, K asks, "Is this free?" But the woman pretends she doesn't understand.
We pick at the fruit. On the up side, the list of songs is fantastic and the microphones and speakers are better than we've ever had in Saigon. We sing, drink beer, and eat a few pieces of the fruit. But the fruit is not so good, so we leave ninety percent of it on the plate.
After two hours, the painted hostesses bring us the bill. It is not $10 plus beer, as it should have been. It is $41. Each tray of fruit is listed as $6. Our pomelo guy in the market peels the most delicious pomelo for us and charges us 4,000 VND - about 24 cents. All three trays of fruit, together, possiby cost them under a dollar to buy, but the bill claims something very different. The woman comes back and we begin to fight with her. We didn't even eat this fruit, we tell her, and she points to about six grape seeds. We tell her how bad the pomelo is...we tried one piece, but it was inedible. She argues and argues, but then finally tells us she doesn't speak English. She's done, and she leaves the room. We do get her to remove the package of squid from the bill, and the wet towelettes - both unopened. Finally, we decide to pay $30 and just be done with it. In hindsight, we should have just paid for the two hours and the beer, but we didn't listen to those six voices, either.
You lose perspective, living in a country where everything is so cheap. Five dollars each is not a lot of money, but it seems like a fortune when you are paying it out to dishonest people who are most likely laughing at your stupidity as you walk out the door. Stupidity that shouldn't be stupidity. We all know better by now.
One more Tale for you: the last hour, I ask K if she wants to see the skinned dogs being sold in the market. She looks guilty but her answer is "yes." I had seen the skinned dogs the day before while with another friend and had suppressed a gag reflex many times (they were right next to caged ducks sitting one right on top of the other, and next to that the seafood section of the market - not lovely smells. ) We have both been here for over a year, and this is the first dog-for-eating either of us has witnessed. I'm acting pretty brave, leading K over to the dog section. But suddenly, I just can't do it again. I'm feeling really, really sick. I tell K I can't go back and she says she can't stomach it, either. We both get out of that market as fast as we can, and when we are out we are thinking the exact same thing: our market is so cool and so clean and doesn't smell like death.
Hotel karaoke, anyone? An eight hour bus ride, with comedy? Dog for dinner?