Bike repair and I practise a few words of Vietnamese
I was riding my bike into District 1 (downtown Saigon) when I noticed my bike all wobbly. I pulled over to see I had a flat tire. Luckily for me there are myriad tire repair places all over the place. Usually one guy with trolley and an air compressor ready to pump up your tires for a few thousand dong (we’re talking 10 or 20 cents here). I pulled over, got my tire checked only to find that I had a leak. The guy pulls out some rubber patches, a bowl of grimy water and proceeds to check the inner tube just like I used to do when I repaired my own bike tires as a kid. In a few minutes the leak is repaired and for less than a dollar I’m on my way. I’ve now got to the point where I can ask for prices in Vietnamese and even understand them when they give me a price (sort of). This helps to keep the prices they charge me to local foreigner rather than tourist foreigner prices.
Today I pulled out of the parking lot to see my tire flat again. Luckily for me there’s a repair shop 20 metres from the apartment, known as Sua Xe, they are like your local garage mechanic back home with a little less equipment and a lot more ingenuity. So I go into the bike shop and smiles greet me. A youngster on a bike greets me and says something about my bike tire. I understand the greeting but not the rest so I tell him I don’t understand but it’s clear my tire needs changing. A mechanic doesn’t make me wait all day or make me make an appointment he just gets down on his haunches and proceeds to remove my wheel to replace the inner tube.
While he’s doing this I buy myself an iced tea and wander over to a couple of guys playing Chinese Chess a popular past time in Vietnam and something I’ve now (just this moment) decided to try and learn. I say hi to the guys and they try to engage me in conversation but their English is limited and I can’t get beyond greetings and prices in Vietnamese so we’re not going anywhere. I jumped out of the way as I delivery vehicle turns the corner. When I say delivery vehicle I mean a bike piled high with boxes of drinks and other small shop items. You have to see the photo to believe it but this sort of thing is quite normal around here and these delivery guys handle their overloaded bikes with aplomb.
The repair finishes and with smiles all around the boys double check all nuts and bolts to make sure everything is where it should be. I ask the elderly man managing the place the price. I’m gratified that he understands my accent and I’m obviously getting some of the tones right because he tells me the price in Vietnamese. I confirm the price as 50,000 (about $2.80) and pay him. He smiles when I say you’re welcome in Vietnamese after he thanked me for the payment. I drive away with smiles and laughs all round feeling somewhat chuffed that I managed some form of communication. Mind you I probably could have done the same thing without speaking a word of Vietnamese but perhaps they would have charged me $3.80! I’ll have to ask my Vietnamese teacher how much they normally charge locals for these things. She be happy that I tried out my Vietnamese.