Do deewane sheher mein

We’ve spent a better part of this year hunting houses. First, we had planned to move to Saigon from Hanoi, and spent a few weeks looking at apartments there. There were some beautiful localities – District 7 in particular – with meandering rivers, good roads and sidewalks, breezy apartments – that made my heart skip with joy. That was about when we were struck with some nasty luck. At least 3 apartments fell through because of owner troubles. I had my famed meltdown, and we finally compromised on one place, where everyone was agreeable, and then came news about the move to Jakarta. All work for nothing!

I had heard so much about the expat life in Jakarta. As luck would have it, we moved during the season when everything is dull, including the broker. How I missed the smart women from Vietnam. The guy we met here was least interested in what we wanted, spent no time preparing for our visits, and showed us all kinds of houses with crazy layouts, bad furniture, or worse, with no windows. It’s amazing how big most of the houses are and how awful the layout is, blocking out natural light and air, only to fit in tacky chandeliers and air conditioners. Then we met broker #2, who was a 100% improvement over the first guy. Phew! Saw some great apartments and houses, even had a dilemma of plenty, at one point. Settled on an apartment with a great pool and gym, convenient to commute, and took off to India, resting the matter in the hands of the legal eagles. I believe we didn’t say “Inshallah” enough of times, because it wasn’t God’s will to let us have that house.

Then broker #1 showed us some more houses, all except the one that we were keen to look at. He just doesn’t understand what we want.

Now we’re with broker #3, who seems the smartest of the lot. We’ve seen even more houses, with 2/3/4/5/6 bedrooms, and actually liked one. It’s dilemma time once again. Furnished house, close to the ‘happening’ Kemang market, but 45 min from office, or close to office, quiet neighborhood for walking/cycling, but unfurnished house? The first one is a large cohesive house, with a little pool for fish and a turtle, but not enough light, the second has disjointed rooms, great light and ventilation, and the most adorable rooftop terrace, but a bathtub sized pool.

Predictably, Souvik wants one, and I want the other. We’re getting a third, unbiased opinion, but what would you choose?

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Morbid tourism

Last weekend I went over to Saigon, mainly to meet Bhavna, who was in some important international meeting there. We took off on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, to absorb some of the morbid history that Vietnam is most famous for. I was mentally preparing myself for some painful sights, and was sufficiently satisfied by the display.

Now you see him...

... now you don't!

Booby traps, torture weapons, shooting gallery, the place had it all!

Looks like an ordinary grassy patch ...

...which transforms into a spiky grave for unsuspecting soldiers

We were just brave enough to venture into the shortest 40m tunnel – and could hardly wait to get out. Couldn’t take any pictures inside because we were advised not to stop for anything! Didn’t want to, anyway. And this is after the exhibit tunnels have been expanded to let in large sized tourists!

After all the sights, it was almost a relief to come across a mundane live activity – rice paper making – that made such a pretty picture, drying out in the sun.

Rice paper shadows

They could have done a better job of the final film, or at least updated the style to make it more relevant for today, but all in all, the place makes you think deeply about the futility of war.

The buzz in Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City (the new official name of Saigon) – the most vibrant of all cities in Vietnam!

My first glimpse was on New Year’s Eve , a day after I had moved to Hanoi. Souvik’s company had sponsored a program at HCMC, so we decided to ring in the new year there. Our friend, Anshu was visiting, and joined us in the celebrations.

One evening in the city was hardly worth anything, but I had to wait 5 months before I got back for a proper visit.

Did a little more of the conventional tourism thing the 2nd time round – in the heat and humidity of May. My modus operandi was to wander around with my GPS until it got too hot, then duck into a café to cool off, or dart into the hotel for a quick shower or snooze. Happily, everything was at a 10 minute distance by walk or motorbike.

One of the most striking features of the city – the Notre Dame Cathedral built by the French.

And right next to it is the Central Post Office. What’s great about that, you ask? Nothing much, except that it was designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel. And looks adorable!

The Reunification Palace was a bit of a disappointment for me, save for a few exhibits that made it worthwhile.

The other remarkable buildings in the area are better photographed – City Hall, Opera House – and looked dressed up all the year round.

One of the evenings Souvik and I went for a drink to the terrace of Rex Hotel. It was right here, many years ago, that the people watched the liberation army enter the city, making it a historical spot, with a great view!

The shopping in HCMC is predictably wonderful – from the Ben Thanh market to the big brands downtown. But the shop that completely caught my fancy was Non Son: