Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Bike repair and I practise a few words of Vietnamese

with 4 comments

Saigon bike repair 001

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.

Saigon bike repair 003

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.

Saigon bike repair 005

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.

Saigon bike repair 008

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.


Written by backpackingteacher

March 15, 2009 at 10:43 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hi backpackingteacher,

    When travelling on overnight trains in China we were fortunate enough to have some of the locals teaching us how to play Xiangqi (Chinese Chess). Back in Australia there are not many xiangqi players around the corner so I have downloaded a free program called HoxChess that helps me continue to learn.
    Hox Chess –

    Training in London, how did you manage that!? I’m sure you will enjoy your trip. What made you choose Cyprus for the other days?


    March 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

  2. Thanks for the link Carpe … I’ll try it out tonight.
    Training in London – no choice … I’ll post about it here this week as well as Cyprus …
    You also on holiday’s soon?


    March 16, 2009 at 6:47 pm

  3. Hey man, funny story. Just a tip, a flat tire change with new patch should cost about 8.000 VND. Next time tell them: mac lam!!

    Anthony Rizzi

    May 22, 2009 at 1:45 am

  4. thanks mate … I’ll definitely keep mac lam mind … mind you as an expat who gets paid relatively well i don’t mind paying a bit above the odds…


    May 22, 2009 at 7:33 pm

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