Meet Hang. I introduced her to you in an earlier post titled 'Saigon, the city that hardly sleeps' and told you then that she was a woman I would never forget. It was a very warm summer Saigon night, and we took a walk outside and decided to go for a bite locally. Dong Du Street is perpendicular to Hai Bai Trung, and has many interesting things to see, albeit quite short. Café Qing sounded like the kind of place we might like, and as the outside seating was not taken, it was almost as if we were being invited to sit down. But this will not be about the Café, the good food, and the quirky expat who runs it. Hang was our server, and when she learned we were from the US, she beamed. Obviously, she also wanted to practice her English, so after serving us, she actually sat at our table and told us her story.
Hang, like so many young women her age, works two jobs; during the day, she can be found at a beauty shop called the Dong Du Salon. She then works nights at Café Qing, where she makes the equivalent of what it costs to buy one beer, She shares an apartment in the city with 4 other women who follow a similar regimen. Most of the money the women make pay for the rent. She gave me a brochure showing the services offered by the Salon, and I am not one to turn down pampering. Imagine getting a 70 minute foot massage for US$7? A basic manicure/pedicure for US$3? They also get more sophisticated here in Saigon, and offer acrylic nail tips for US$20 (as a benchmark, about US$50 in New York, and that $7 massage would cost you $70 at my nail salon). Please understand that I am going to tell you as much as I can about this place, because if Hang still works there, you must find her, and tip her generously.
They also do pretty funky nail designs, nothing I've seen around New York or San Francisco; but they are very fond of red, fuchsia and orange, though I thought the combination of those colors was very Hindu and much less Vietnam. Then there were blue toe nails with silver glitter, but that was not as enticing to me as the reflexology part with the feet. We had one of those experiences when we were in Bangkok, and it was incredible. I would like to also give you the address and phone number of this salon, so that if you are wondering about in the streets of HCMC, you might want to drop in. It's 31 Dong Du Street in District 1, and the telephone # is 82-32-414. From what I can tell, they are open from 9am to 11pm. Their hours could have changed in the meantime, so call ahead to confirm.
I was due to visit her the next morning for manicure, pedicure and massage, and Chuck was debating a massage as well. He would probably have preferred to take his camera and shoot more pictures, as 6,000 was nearly not enough for him. Anyway, on with this special woman. The next morning, I became violently ill with what was eventually diagnosed as food poisoning which may have resulted from airline food that had been out for too long. (Way to go United!). I will leave the details of this episode for another post, so that you can meet the doctor who made a house call. As I was in positively horrible shape, I called Hang and explained to her that I was too ill to think about my toes, much less anyone massaging me. She volunteered to come to the hotel, and bring a friend with her, in case we both needed services.
By the time Hang arrived, half the staff of the Indochine Hotel was in my room, trying to help but communication was a bitch. There's no other way to put it. But Hang spoke English. And she told me about the 'foreign hospital' which was too expensive for the locals, but that they might agree to see me. Hang made the phone call, and explained to whomever it was what was happening. Since it was impossible for me to leave the room for reasons that you can only imagine, it was arranged that I would have a doctor make a house call later that afternoon.
I didn't know how to thank her, but we did not make use of her services that day. Things were too dismal. But we did give her some money, and I had brought souvenirs from New York for children, and knowing she had them, I did give her a couple of coloring markers and other goodies from my suitcase. She was so grateful, and yet I owed her everything for what she had done for me.
And in the event you don't like orange/fuschia polish, here are some other flowery things they do at the Salon.