One of the first things the front office receptionist at the hotel in Saigon recommended to check out (after a place to grab so pho, of course) was the Ben Thanh market. As she was just reviewing out deposit details for the third time, I was only half paying attention to her at that point, so from what I had gathered, she had recommended a market themed after the cartoon character Ben 10. While all I know about the show is that there’s this guy named “Ben” who can turn into 10 different aliens (which I just learned now while googling a picture of him), I was pretty sure he wasn’t popular enough to warrant a full market, but I figured that if Hong Kong can have a goldfish market, Saigon could have a Ben 10 market!
When I finally got to the market, I found the entryway had a large sign printing out “BEN THANH”, disproving my Ben 10 theory.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on this though, it was 5:50pm and the indoor market was closing in 10 minutes (an outdoor section would open for the night at 7pm, but the indoor area is much bigger and better). I was still hoping to see some Ben 10 merchandise (just because it would have been hilarious), but it seemed TinTin was to be the biggest cartoon influence (you can thank the French ruling for that one).
However, my disappointment quickly faded when I found a street vendor selling plastic arrow helicopters. These are little toy copters with LED lights that you shoot into sky like a slingshot and (try to) catch as they spin back down. They were really popular on the beaches in Tioman, and I longingly watched kids playing with them, wishing I could find a place to buy one for myself. While I couldn’t find any in Tioman, my time had finally come in Vietnam. I ran, squealing towards the vendor so much I couldn’t even haggle, because it was clear how desperate I was to get my hands on one (or 3) of these toys. Once I had made my purchase, I squealed my way over to the park across from market and started firing my helicopter away.
As it turns out, this requires a lot more technique than I had originally thought. You need to make sure the sling is angled properly so that the helicopter opens up, but doesn’t fly too far away.
After several misfires and the loss of half a wing, I finally started to get the hang of things, and after my first catch, I was in a complete state of euphoria. This didn’t bode particularly well in the crowded park (there are so many public exercise facilities in Vietnam, and they’re always being used – old ladies dancing to Britney Spears at 7am is a normal occurrence). I ended up running straight into an old man while try to make a catch (I was going for my third in a row, which would have been a record). He made no effort to avoid the crash, and after colliding, just looked at me blankly while I apologized profusely, my friend laughing at me from the sidelines.
From there, I moved to a quieter section of the park, ripped one of the wings fully off the copter, but managed to break my record! Basically my definition of the perfect shopping experience: 2.85% actual shopping, 75.68% random spontaneous adventure and 21.47% maniacal laughter (with a confidence interval of ±1.84%, approximately). (On a completely separate and unrelated note, studying for my revenue management exam is going great, particular the statistical calculations!)