By Adam Capelin
Vietnam welcomed us to Ho Chi Minh City with the warmth of a day old tea bag, despite the 28º C Temperature and Brisbane-like humidity.
There’s something unsettling about stepping into a flying room with a herd of other people and stepping out hours later into what can only be described as Mars. The change happened somewhere during the flight, somewhere at 34,000ft above the Pacific Ocean between Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City. It was subtle, but it was there. Despite being a Japan Airlines flight, the usually smiling and friendly flight hostesses had less to smile about and less friends to make. Perhaps they knew the change themselves having traveled to Vietnam before. If the change was subtle on the flight, is was announced over the Ho Chi Minh city airport with indifference.
The travelers from our flight gathered around a moving belt of rubber carrying unclaimed baggage, like animals jostling to have the last drink from a lake before it dried up. A baggage trolley pushed by a Vietnamese man said hello to my ankle twice. A toenail clipping of a women processed Keira’s VISA entry and barked at me to “go” to another immigration queue. All she said was “go” and flicked her nose at the wall of immigration queues. There was no one else behind me! The man that serviced my VISA entry offered neither greeting nor approval to indicate he had finished processing my arrival. Instead a series of almost inaudible grunts before returning my passport and standing up and turning his back on me. I thought, “I guess that’s it”. The toe nail clipping of a women that told me to “piss off” except she didn’t know how to say it in English was listening to her Ipod. The look in Keira’s eyes must have reflected my own thoughts. Welcome to Vietnam!
Customs processing was in express mode. We approached the small queue under the sign for items to declare because we had half a bottle of Bacardi and a bottle of wine that were both duty free items. But before we reached the queue, a small man in uniform who was manically feeding bags into an x-ray machine like it was a wood chipper yelled out to us “no”, and flicked a free hand back towards the queues for nothing to declare. “Fuck it” I said under my breath, and we wheeled the trolley around. We offered our customs form to the closest attendant, but the gesture was met with a replying gesture indicating that we should feed our bags into the x-ray machine for passengers with nothing to declare. I don’t know why we bothered. There was no one watching the x-ray screen as the bags moved through the machine. I think our flight landing was an inconvenience to immigration and customs officials and they couldn’t wait to go home!