On my pre-birthday day, when I was officially, but not actually, a year younger, we visited Saigon’s biggest building, the Bitexco Financial Tower. On the 49thfloor you get an unapparelled view of the city. A feature of the building is a helipad two thirds of the way up, looking like a huge petulant lip sticking out of the side. Very impressive until you discover that it is useless because helicopters are not allowed in the city airspace. Neither are people allowed to walk on the helipad because some of them would jump off and that would disrupt the building routine and make a mess on the road below. And so the lip sits there inert, a lemon monument to the architect.
We took the Heineken tour on the 65thfloor where, for a hefty fee, we got a lecture on how beer is made, a dreadful, jerky ride in a simulator wearing virtual reality helmets in which we had to imagine that we were turning into beer, a lesson on how to pull a beer which we were obliged to gulp down because the next eager group was just behind us, a go at a race car simulator in which I was guaranteed to run into the fence because the sudden intake of beer pushed me over .05, and on into a make-believe pub lounge where I had to throw down three more beers before being returned the to the street blotto. The parting gift was a bottle of Heineken each with our names on them. Having lost my wits, I left my personal bottle in the taxi. I hope the driver’s name is Fraser and he likes beer. We finished the evening at a nice-looking Vietnamese restaurant in the arcade near our residence. Unfortunately, nice looks were all it had. The picture of the food in the menu did not resemble that served on the platter for two. Furthermore, it had no taste whatsoever. It would have been more exciting if it was going off. Maybe I should blame Heineken for anesthetising my palate.
I awoke on my birthday with the promise from Michelle that I could do whatever I liked for the day – with some limitations. We had an indulgent breakfast and then legged it to the Ban Thanh Market where I bargained for socks (“but papa, we only have two pairs of blue socks, and I know you asked for three in blue but why won’t you take grey or back? Look very nice for you”), a pair of perfect shorts that didn’t fit because it was my body’s fault, a one size fits all heads (except mine) hat, and a belt at a leather price for a strip of plastic (“but look here papa, the belt reversible so you get two and only pay for one. Plastic? Shhh! Don’t say loud because not good for other customer to hear”). The bargaining, which involves family hard luck histories, hopping about in anguish, fear of employer and blatant porkies, has to end in the customer paying half the ticket price otherwise somebody lose face. It became exhausting. But we came away happily laden with limited-life products.
Michelle took me for a birthday dinner at the Vietnam House Restaurant, offering very upmarket Vietnamese tucker and run by the fellow who owns the Red Lantern in Sydney. This excellent degustation came with a bottle of wine which the waiter made a great show of pouring just enough to cover the bottom of our glasses. He returned many times with practiced flourishes to repeat the dribble, even when we asked for a couple of fingersworth. Needless to say, we left a portion of it behind for the staff end-of-day celebration. Michelle made mention that it was my birthday and we looked forward to a cake, candles and a kitchen quartet rendition of happy birthday to Fraser. Instead, Fraser got a music-free cup of coffee on the house. Nevertheless, it was a memorable birthday meal booked and paid for (ouch, there goes the gas bill) by Michelle.
Hotel Toaster Review
The Intercontinental has a rare Double Veranda model with top furnace and bottom delivery tray. Knobbery is relatively complicated and should have a toast captain in attendance, but the guests must fend for themselves. The Double Veranda has an inherent fault called ‘two-in-one-out’. I placed two modest pieces of bread on the crawler, waited while the people behind me became restless, and then only one piece of toast came out. The other had lost momentum on the u turn and had lodged in a dark corner at the top of the slippery slide-out. There it might have stayed for decades but, being equipped to handle such adversity, I coaxed it out with a long knife. I realised, with a shudder, that in inexperienced hands this might have caused electrocution. I tried to explain the problem to a Japanese man in the queue, but he thought I was mad.
I was able to take this picture of the Double Veranda model in action. Note the subtle sign on the top warning people, for example, not to roast a turkey or warm their hot water bottle in the toaster. Other points of interest: release knife at the ready and a male baguette about to mate.