Saigon – and thoughts on insignificance

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So after the two weeks spent in Barcelona I took a flight and landed in Saigon, or formally known as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Everybody here calls it Saigon ‘though.

The flight was surprisingly cheap. I booked it through Etihad Airways, and it was a total of 420€, from Barcelona to Saigon. It took me around 24h since I entered the airport in Barcelona ’till the moment I exited the airport in Vietnam. I flew from Barcelona to Rome and from Rome to Abu Dhabi in Air Italia. Then with Etihad from Abu Dhabi to HCMC.

I must say that Etihad is really an impressive experience regarding flight. They even have access to internet in case you want it. The attention was amazing. I actually felt like I hadn’t paid enough for all that I was getting.

I had to ask for a pre-aproval letter for my VISA before embarking. There are a few websites you can use, but I did it through http://www.hotels-in-vietnam.com – It worked just fine, in about 72h from my application on-line I had the approval letter to print in my e-mail. The pre-approval was 35$ plus the fee at the airport that was – if I’m not mistaken – 45$. All this for a 3 month single-entry VISA.

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Like I said before it’s amazing what you can do with an internet connection and some skills nowadays. The scope of action greatly widens if you can have access to money or credit in order to start activities.

I have spent about one month here in Saigon by now and I can give you an estimate of how much it costs to do this.

River Saigon

Like I said, the trip from Barcelona to Saigon was 420€. In order to keep it simple I’ll present values in dollars from here on.

So:

  • Pre-app & VISA: 80$
  • Flight: 530$
  • 5 Days in 2 low-budget hotels: 94$
  • 1 month rent in the centre of the city – serviced apartment with cleaning and clothing done: 330$ (you can get much cheaper or rent in a shared house for around 200$ – if you move outside the centre it’s cheaper too of course)
  • + 500$ for daily expenses on 30 days.

And really, you can spend much less in everything I’ve pointed besides the visas & flights.

The 500$ includes:

  • breakfast;
  • lunch;
  • afternoon eating;
  • dinner;
  • coffees & drinks;
0.90$ meal, with the tea included of course

0.90$ meal, with the tea included of course

I eat outside for all my meals, I almost haven’t repeated a dish yet and I’ve tried from low-end street food vendors to decent japanese barbecues, quality sushi and traditional viet restaurants. Truth be said I haven’t been going out that much at night to drink and so, but on the other hand some of the meals I’ve made would allow 4 full days of meals on lower end places – where the food is great but the places themselves (to European standards) aren’t – nor the service nor the perceived hygienic standards – but I actually enjoy it and find them perfectly safe – they remind me of the portuguese local eateries that existed everywhere before the European regulations for hygiene came into place making them close and being substituted by much more expensive but average restaurants.

Deep fried frog, a bowl of rice and 2 drought beer - 4$

Deep fried frog, a bowl of rice and 2 drought beer – 4$

I find it funny that people are so worried about questions of hygiene. It reinforces my belief that people are actually much more tuned into the appearance of something than the real constituent of it. For instance in Europe we had our fair share of sanitary problems regarding food, from BSE to horse meat in lasagnas, to a wide-range of products labeled as eco/organic being only fraudulent packaging of completely normal products along with others less known occurrences and probably many others that weren’t found out at all. We are also totally ok with food completely devoid of any nutritional value (due to freezing and long time – days – storage in cold – sometimes in quite high-end restaurants) but abhor fresh food killed in the moment (the savagery? FFS you should see how industrialised processing food factories/farms go) or plants&herbs picked in the day and still fresh – although not looking shiny, instead of plants&fruit picked days/weeks before, kept in freezers and bathed in chemicals to look good.

Ice coffee, fresh fruit plate - around 3$ along with free ice tea refilled as many times as wanted and free wifi in a quite decent and pleasing location

Ice coffee & fresh fruit plate – around 3$ along with free ice tea refilled as many times as wanted and free wifi in a quite decent and pleasing location – it has become my most visited coffee and “office” – a tasty local lunch goes around 2$ as well

Back to my main point, what I want to say with this is, if you can manage to make between 600$ to 1000$ per month you can absolutely travel, make enough money to live quite un-worried and save a little bit every month. I feel quite lucky to be in this situation. I have time to meditate (1h per day divided in two times), walk around, find new places, read, write, meet people, sleep between 6 to 9h, take a nap, vegetate, swim for about 1h every day, and stroll around. I find it truly amazing.

The other day I was thinking about this and it’s actually fantastic. So my clients are mostly from the US, Canada, Australia and UK. I myself am from Portugal. I receive in dollars for most of the time, convert it to euros and withdraw the money to my portuguese bank account. Then I withdraw it as vietnamese dong here and spend it in all these things. So this is the free market in action – I provide a service at a reasonable rate (compared to the rates practiced in those countries) that allows me a decent standard of living in another country. Through this the person who hires gets a better bang for the buck, I get a better payment than if working for a local client of the same level, it empowers me to live a more fulfilling life by experiencing new things and traveling and by doing this I pour money originated in highly developed countries into an under-development country.

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It’s quite amazing and made me think that these freelancing platforms can be not only a way of outsourcing jobs you need done, but actually doing charity in a quite interesting fashion and I’m sure I’m not the first one to think about it – creating value while doing charity – and not only something that is symbolical but something that has a real market value.

Look at it this way – if you have a company or a lot of money, and you want to do something with it you can hire some people to search freelancers from countries with low levels of income in order to execute projects that would in some way transfer money into local economies – besides the money to the freelancer.

For instance, a simple ideia. You have the money and you want to help some people. You hire a designer from Pakistan to make you some t-shirt designs. Then you hire a personal assistant in Vietnam to scout local printing houses and t-shirt manufacturers. Then you hire translators for all languages spoken in Europe to set up AD content and store content in several languages, then a copywriter, then someone to manage the social media, then a google / SEO / marketing expert, then you start a kickstarter campaign and you end up setting up an online store, that sells mostly to developed countries, t-shirts at accessible prices, with good quality. Through the process you spread a lot of money to different people in different countries and you create a good – you’re probably creating a sustainable form of income, while giving money – but more important than that enforcing/creating skills in all intervening persons, skills that can help them in the future.

WORK SAIGON

WORK SAIGON

Although I’m loving Saigon and its crazy and energetic vibe I have to let you know that it’s a bit polluted. After having quit smoking I have develop expectoration again and it’s only from the air as I don’t smoke anymore. Although lacking in public spaces as in European cities (big city squares, with benches and etc) people here find their own way of reclaiming the public space by installing small plastic chairs in every corner, where usually you can find people selling from food to fresh drinks and fruits. I still think more public places for assembly would help as people seem definitively interested in that. On the other hand, there isn’t much care regarding garbage and trash. Besides not having many trash bins on the streets, people throw most of the things into the street which gives the city a bit of a uncared/dirty look. I think it probably isn’t the right city for a lot of people but I do enjoy it a lot – and am seriously thinking that it’s a cool place to be and return to – who knows!

worksaig

You can find here a bit of everything, there’s a bit for every taste. There are a lot of places with a western feeling, perfect for working on your computer. Since I use my laptop and wacom tablet I really enjoy having a different office everyday if I want. And there’s a big culture of working from coffees. I see it everywhere.

Although I’m trying to get rid of my concerns for the future, it’s difficult to not fall into the temptation of projecting. I already started looking for a place in Cambodia and mentally set the date that I’ll be leaving Vietnam. Although none of this is set in stone it’s already a way of extending beyond the present. On the other hand I’m starting to practice much more detachment, namely from money. This assumes many forms but one of it is to give tips in almost every place I go. I have worked as a waiter before and I did appreciate being given tips so I always do that. A 10% tip is usually what I left when in Europe but here I’m leaving much higher tips. For instance I may have a bill of 50.000 dong (roughly 2$ and something), and leave a 1$ tip, which is almost 50% of the value. My meals, besides a few places I tried, usually don’t go higher than 5$, so even when leaving a 1$ tip it’s like 20%. And I feel inclined to do it because for instance in a coffee, I go there and people serve me fresh ice tea for as long as I order something, even if only a coffee, they’ll keep serving me jasmine tea for free and I find that is enough for deserving a tip. Other than that, I feel that if I’m lucky enough to have such an abundance I should also give back as a way of thanking such abundance.

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Although intellectually I’ve already understood that I have absolutely no control on the outcome of my destiny, it’s a fairly difficult concept to embrace empirically. Why? Because there’s always this illusion of control and power. It is true, in a sense, that I have a degree of control, not only over my life, but also over my persona. I can definitively say I have a degree of control over my actions. But if I look beyond the superficial manifestations of such an imagined “control” and “power”, I must actually admit that I don’t have any control. I can keep my will alive, but that’s it. Everything else transcends me. Only my actions are actually my own choice (and even this is highly arguable). So, if I go deeper, I am the result of  so many factors, variables, circumstances and situations in which I had no saying, that it’s quite clear that I myself have no control over my life. Because what I am right now, that allows me to say and behave like a free man is itself a consequence of many things in which I didn’t play a role. So even though I am able to stand tall and proud right now, I do so, because I was taught that I was the master of my destiny. I was taught that I can achieve whatever I want. If I wasn’t taught this, even though I had exactly the same potential, the fact that these ideas wouldn’t have taken root in myself, thus not becoming a belief of mine, would mean that for all that mattered such ideas would be impossibilities for me.

Our Lady of Sorrows church, Saint Louis, Missouri - apse

Once again I’m interested in the mixing of polar opposites, such as in this case, the belief in the “Divina Providência”, and the belief in the Ego/Self, the belief and honouring of the chaotic and random circumstances of life over which we have no control (the idea of God) and the feeding and satiating of the personal desires and wishes, the idea that the Ego is capable of outweighing the Universe (Lucifer). Because in a way we can believe that it’s all a result of our own effort alone and become arrogant regarding our capacities, but in the end, that is just an illusion because a simple happening, a simple thing, can turn our lives upside down. A fraction of a second is all that is needed. Or being born in a different situation, to a different family, in a different place. It’s a cliché, but it does make sense when you think about it doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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