Saturday, December 12, 2009

Radio Shack in Ho Chi Minh City

So we're back, and mostly rested (though I'm still fighting the cold I brought back as a souvenir), and while still not completely unpacked (my luggage somehow exploded -- seriously, it's all over the house), I'm finally beginning to go through photos from the trip. I have a lot new photos, videos, etc. that I plan to eventually post, but in cleaning up previously-blogged photos on my Flickr account, I came across this pic I had posted from our first full day in the country, and I decided that it really needs some context.

Electronics store, Saigon, Vietnam

So, the night before this picture was taken, we'd arrived in Vietnam. It's something like 1 am. We've managed to successfully get through immigration (which was kind of creepy -- the officials who scrutinized our documents didn't say a word or crack a smile, only made eye contact to compare our faces to our passport photos); we've found our driver at the airport (yeah, he was holding a sign with our names on it, but the International Arrivals in Saigon was a complete madhouse of people waiting to greet their friends and loved ones, plus scores of taxi drivers accosting everyone who walked out, saying "Where are you going? Where are you going? Need taxi? Taxi?" -- it took us a while to find him in the crowd); we've survived our first car ride in Saigon traffic (albeit at midnight, the streets were a lot quieter, but this was our  introduction to the Vietnamese "rules of the road" -- something you can read about, but you have to experience firsthand to really understand. There are rules, but let's just say they're subtle... Those lane markers? They're really just suggestions). We've made it to the sweet little mini hotel we're staying in (which required our first Saigon street crossing, with the help of the driver), stepped out into the backpackers district for a quick bite at a late-night pho place, and are ready to settle in for a good night sleep after our long trip so we can start the next day fresh...

We were prepared (we thought) for the electrical situation, having checked in advance which devices we brought would switch voltage automatically, which we'd need to switch manually, etc. We've brought adapters (which we ultimately ended up not ever needing -- all of the hotels we stayed in had outlets that took both US and european plugs). We've researched and we've planned and we're ready.

But we've also been on and off of airplanes for 24 hours. We're discombobulated, and really, really tired. Needless to say, our heads were pretty muddled, and planning and preparation went completely out the window when it came time for us to plug the first device in. And of course, the first thing we plugged in was Daniel's CPAP machine.

You don't really need to know what CPAP is to understand the story, but basically, it's a breathing machine for people with sleep apnea. What you do need to know is that without it, Daniel can sleep, but not very well, and not very restfully. A few days without it, and he's pretty much exhausted, and has to take more or less involuntary naps to get through the day. You need to know that in it's bag, with it's accessories, it's maybe the bulk and weight of a 12-pack of beer. You need to know that we've already carried it on three different airplanes. That it's been scrutinized by security in two different countries. But that dragging it around, while a hassle, is necessary. Of course, it's also the one device we've brought that requires that you switch the voltage manually.

I'm sure you can predict what happened next -- in our muddled states of mind, we forgot to switch the voltage. Daniel plugged it in, we saw sparks, and it stopped working. At first we were sure we'd killed it. Though, off course, they've designed it with fuses to protect it from idiots like us. And although the lighting in the hotel room was really bad (we found that to be universal in the hotels we stayed in -- really terrible lighting -- either too dim, or horrifically surface-of-the-sun bright, and no reading lights), it looked like one of the fuses had blown.

So now, the biggest, heaviest, most expensive and most important thing we'd lugged thousands of miles -- and would continue to have to lug around for the rest of the trip, whether it was in working condition or not -- was now as useless as a cinder block... Not a big deal at home, just stop into Radio Shack for new fuses, but we weren't really sure where to go or what to do in Vietam. Kind of silly in retrospect, because of course they have devices with fuses there, too, but at the time, we were really worried that he'd be stuck without the thing for the rest of the trip. So he slept the first night without it, and we thought maybe the hotel receptionist would be able to help us sort it out the next day.

Take a look at this photo again:

Electronics store, Saigon, Vietnam

Yeah, it's kind of blurry, but does it look like a Radio Shack or the electrical aisle of a Home Depot to you? Might not, but that's more or less what it was. When we first got into the country, we'd be hard-pressed to look at a store front and be able to tell what they might be selling, but this one was more or less an electrical supply store -- light switches, electrical outlets, conduit, wire, plus some small appliances, fans, etc. Within just a few minutes of mentioning to Chris that we'd blown a fuse, he had us in this store, walking distance from our hotel -- they dug through several boxes of fuses until they found what we needed. We bought a replacement and a couple extras for something like 15¢. 

Can't stress how great it was to have Chris and Yan easing us into the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your turn.