Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Day 2 in Sai Gon

Day 2, Monday (12th): My first full day. Woke up with a nightmare. I had breakfast at the hotel dining area, open for guests from 6:30 to 9:30. It was not superb but certainly acceptable, though I stopped “Singapore fried noodles” only after a bite because I felt the taste was funny. A surprise is that I had breakfast!

I started walking. Westward straight from the hotel, toward the city center. Though I had a few printed Google maps, my knowledge of places was very unreliable. After a while, I realized Lý Tự Trọng, where the hotel stood, was the former Gia Long and found the “CIA safehouse”/USAID building,” from the rooftop of which the last US military chopper left Sài Gòn on April 30, 1975, rather easily. I crossed the street, but I couldn’t see the rooftop structure because of the height of the building.
Then I came across the Cathedral and moved on to the Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập). I lost the sense of direction almost completely as I somehow thought the Palace was facing south to the river when actually the main gain was on the western side to the direction to Saigon Zoo. It seems I walked the entire perimeter of the place.

After a few photos and only a few blocks away, I managed to find 7 Hàn Thuyên, where Time-Life had its office and Robert Sam Anson worked before she was sent to Cambodia.
Next. Continental Hotel and its restaurants, Le Bourgiois (Radio Catinat) and Le Dolce Vita. And Union Square, formerly Eden Building, a corner of which Givral used to occupy. Each of all these places has a significant meaning for the life of Pham Xuan An. Nearby were Opera House and Caravelle Hotel. I walked down Đồng Khởi, looking for 104. Along the way, I found a sign that indicated probably a temporary location of Brodard, which some authors mention, including Morley Safer. 104 Đồng Khởi (rue Catinat, back then) was the address Graham Greene “borrowed” for The Quiet American from a couple who lived there. I found 103 Đồng Khởi and 105 Đồng Khởi, not 104 Đồng Khởi.
Down to Saigon River, I turned to the right toward Hotel Majestic and found a statue of Trần Hưng Đạo, about whom I have no idea. Anyway, I took a photo of him as a good tourist. Then, I took a photo of another Singapore establishment, Jumbo Seafood. I climbed up to the 8th-floor of the hotel to the bar, M Bar, where I saw only a couple sitting outside. Already so much walking, I also took a seat outside and ordered a can of “333” and felt relaxed, looking at the opposite side of the river and wondering where all those large “Heineken” billboards had gone. And much surprised seeing all those skyscrapers going up across the river. After 40 minutes or so, I left the bar, and in the elevator lobby was a framed photo of Kaiko Takeshi.
I walked to Nguyễn Huệ from Hotel Majestic, a short distance. One of the few areas I walked around three years ago. There stood an old-looking building which might be the area, where the former Japanese Embassy stood.

At the other end of Nguyễn Huệ was Rex Hotel, whose rooftop sign advertised it as the place of “Five O’clock Follies.” Ha!!
Completely drenched with sweat, I returned to Sunrise Central Hotel and found my feet got a few blisters after this much of walk. I took a shower, read some pages of The Crucifix of Saigon by Kaiko (I had read it a few times already) and had a short nap.

I went west to the direction of Phạm Ngũ Lão, where Kondo Koichi lived with his wife and her family. Some people were playing dá cầu (shuttlecock) very skillfully in Công viên 23 tháng 9 (September 23rd Park). No photo remained from my previous visit here three years ago because my Nikon had got broken. Back then, if I’m not mistaken, “ABC Bakery” was still in business. Though I found the place again this time, closed now with the “ABC” shutter painted over with black but with “ABC” still visible. Kondo writes that his “ghost house” on Phạm Ngũ Lão was adjacent to a bakery which made unbearable noises from 2:00 am.
Already so much walk… At the corner of Phạm Ngũ Lão and Tôn Thất Tùng, I had very late lunch (early evening, still bright) of soup noodles of beef and tendon and lime juice. The place is called “Phở Quỳnh,” which a Japanese website described “Neither good nor bad.” Good enough for me.

Now, my quest for the temple, “Chùa An Lạc,” “Q Café” and the guesthouse where I spent three weeks, none of which I could locate three years ago even though I walked into this alley and that while asking many people, especially superbly kind ladies of massage parlors. Nobody knew where the temple was then. And it was already dark, and I was “mentally sick.” This time again, I had to ask someone standing in front of a Bùi Viện bar, showing her a printed Google map, for the direction to the temple.

With her help. I found Chùa An Lạc. The alley was decorated with red lanterns. As I remember, the temple was, well, like a temple, with a gate, and behind it was small space of soil to the temple itself. But Chùa An Lạc I saw this time had a living space right behind the gate with people inside. They seemed to be living there. It was the temple, no doubt, but it was not as I remembered it.
And Q Café of so many memories… I thought it was on the same alley. The area looked still familiar to me after 10 years. After a little hesitation, I hopped into a bar, “Restaurant Phuong.” Several Westerners having beer outside. Just like Q Café. Inside, I saw a woman and a young teenager of the bar having dinner and customers, probably a family, a man and a woman and their little daughter. After a small bottle of Saigon Bia Special, I asked the woman who should be the master of the place.

“How old is this place?”
“25 years.”
“Do you remember “Q Café?”
“Q Café… finished.”

I got confused again. I thought Q Café was on this alley and even this bar was Q Café. In any case, Q Café was no more. After a second bottle of Saigon Bia Special, I left the bar. The woman smiled at me, maybe because I remembered that old Q Café. And the guesthouse was gone too, I believe.
Back at the hotel, I found a few blisters on my feet after a 6-hour walk.

No comments: