The Booksale Effect and Shopping in Saigon

The Booksale Effect (noun)
1. The buying phenomenon that every book worm/saving shopper experiences in the used books bookstore BOOKSALE
2. During this phenomenon, the buyer gets cheaper deals on originally more expensive items like rare magazines and books for about Php100 or less (around $2 or less). Because the price per book/magazine is cheaper, the buyer tends to purchase more, ending up with 5 or more titles for about Php 200-500. (eg. I bought the Details magazine with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the cover for Php 400 when it was just released. A friend got it for Php 100 several months after in Booksale.)
3. Despite the cheaper sale, consumers still end up spending the same amount as they would on one newly released or unused book in a bookstore such as Powebooks, National Bookstore, or Fully Booked. The wallet suffers just as much, but the buyer ends up with more purchases.

Johna Baylon and Gela Velasco’s Booksale shopping experiences. Effects are obvious when one says “Sorry, I can’t buy snacks/go out/go shopping because I went to booksale last night…”

I experienced this phenomenon on a larger scale while canvasing prices and shopping for goodies in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. High inflation (no) thanks to the devastating effects of the war turn the middle class Filipino and backpacking European tourist into a millionaire in Vietnam. Similar to bargain deals in Bangkok, Greenhills, and Divisoria, buying in bulk lets you grab more than enough products at an outrageously cheap price. For instance, I was able to get an elaborately designed cloth bag at $5 (VND 100,000 or Php 220). Getting up early on my last day allowed me to purchase 8 shirts at around Php 500.

But the unfortunate wallet-busting effects of the Booksale effect can be avoided, even in foreign trips that are done to treat one’s self after several months of hard work. Splurges are great boosts of confidence, but spending more than your means is never a good idea. To make sure I still came home with enough money, I spent half a day comparing prices among the stalls in the Ben Tanh Market and the tourist shops along Bui Vien street. Both these locations are within the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh (near the mid-range to budget hotels and hostels, as well as tour group companies) which makes visitors vulnerable to overpriced products, but also lucky enough to find rare (ie not found in the Philippines) goods at affordable prices.

Based on my trip, the fixed prices along Bui Vien street were a lot cheaper than the charges of vendors in Ben Tanh Market. The downside to shopping at Saigon’s famous market is that you are among other tourists–Western tourists, in particular, who can afford more than a middle-class Filipino tourist. Their presence led the vendors to charge me the same overpriced charges for one or several products. Buying several products is not enough to get a decent deal in the Ben Tanh Market; in fact, if the price is not stated at first, you might end up paying more than you should. Look for a stall with the prices printed or written down for you to see. It does not help to ask, as they might first estimate how much you’re buying and then decide what to charge.

My short shopping experience led me back to the fixed price stalls in the market and along Bui Vien Street. The vendors here are less aggressive, and although bargaining is not common practice, at least one gets fair and affordable deals on the products sold. No one intends to rip you off or take advantage of your hungry shopping tourist appetite. If you’re an avid shopper, remember that it’s not only important to just have stuff; it’s more important to purchase what you need without being cheated.

Discovering my velocity

From February 17 to 21, I declared to myself and the world my first step to independence: solo travel. One red eye flight later, I was in the land made famous by Ms. Saigon, pho noodles, and French architecture.

One side of the Saigon Opera House

Sitting down alone having lunch, a Vietnamese lady struck conversation. Unfortunately, I could not carry it since her pronunciation required some getting use to. But one thing surprised me: upon telling her I went to the city alone, she said “so sad.” Hmmm, I felt otherwise. It was liberating, satisfying, exciting, and interesting. I certainly felt the cons to being alone, but there were things I wouldn’t have discovered had I brought someone else.

If you tell anyone you’re traveling alone (purely for leisure, and not for work, of course), they’d think you’re either crazy, sad, or pathetic. But I’ve never had a problem with spending time with myself–immersing yourself in a good book and coffee does that–so booking this solo flight was no issue at all. I felt crazy, that’s for sure, and terrified that things would terribly go wrong. But they didn’t. The hotel staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. I happened to stay in the area with fellow tourists, so I didn’t really stand out. In fact, I blended in more, since most tourists came from Europe. Restaurants would give me the local menu or waiting for me to give the order in Vietnamese. It wasn’t until I said “menu” or spoke in English that they realized I was a tourist.

Keeping to myself allowed me to draw less attention to myself, and let me enjoy the city at my own pace and time. Crossing the motorbike filled streets weren’t scary at all, thanks to the hardcore training Taft Avenue and Pasong Tamo Extension have given me. In fact, Vietnam’s motorbikes are a lot nicer than Manila’s jeepneys, buses, and rushing cars. They can go left or right to give way to a pedestrian, as opposed to a car suddenly speeding (but going slowly prior, geez) across a pedestrian lane.

In the end, it just took an ignorance of popular paranoia and the courage to really see things there for myself. Most of what I read for research was proven wrong by actual experience. I can’t wait to explore more places and visit the places I didn’t cover in my next Saigon trip.

Here’s to more discoveries of my own velocity. According to the bus ride on my second day, it was at 14 km/hour. More blog posts to come 😀

Quite a week ahead

Every day wasted online is equivalent to minutes, hours, and in a total, a day of not writing/accomplishing anything.
So, a journal entry for now.
I’ve got lots of packing to do: first, for my flight to Ho Chi Minh on Thursday night; then, the weekday condo life from Monday until I leave Manila.
I’m absolutely terrified and excited for the trip. But definitely more excited, especially after the discouraging career-related events of last week. I definitely need the downtime to enjoy myself, stuff myself silly with noodles, and think about the year ahead. I think getting away from the hectic life of Manila will help. And although I’ve heard Ho Chi Minh is a lot like my home city, a flight away is still a different place.
Eat, pray, love? Well, I definitely don’t need love thanks to my valentine since 2007 (unlessJamesFrancoLeoDiCaprioorAndrewGarfieldareinthesamehotelandareflyingsolotooahahaha), but eat, photo, and shop (pun care of my dear sister), most definitely. I’m not sure what I’ll discover in three days and two nights, but the possibilities I’m more than open to. Maybe it will all just be a refreshing break from the stagnancy of my life in general. Either way, I’m looking forward to time for myself.
Call me selfish, call me a loner. But I learned long ago that time to be a hermit, to think for one’s self is precious, and actually enjoyable. I’m in a steady relationship with quite a catch and I have no complaints when nights are spent with my books or a movie to myself. After the awful fiasco that was my Friday, since friends could not make it to dinner, I retreated to Dave Eggers’s Y.S.K.O.V., hot white chocolate mocha coffee, and Mango marvel from Starbucks (initially supposed to be cheesecake and almond coffee from CBTL, but seats were full that night). Those solo flights make moments with your deepest, angriest, and most uncertain thoughts less scary. There’s time to sort out who I am, where I want to go, and what I need to say anyone in particular the next day.
There’s also time to sit down and put thoughts like these in order.
There’s another week ahead, with more than just Manila’s smog-filled streets and Ho Chi Minh’s motorcycles for me to face. I’m thankful for the weekend, for letting me recharge and muster up the courage to face what stresses me out (and yes, to be frank also those WHO stress) and makes me sigh in exasperation almost every day. Also thankful I won’t be facing it alone—it helps to have such a strong support system in my 9-5 routine.
For now, for those I don’t see as often as I should/once did, see you later. I’ve researched all I can to be safe and not get lost in Saigon. I’ll be sure to follow the locals’ instructions and be as observant as I can to return safely. Haha! And yes, I’ll bring home some goodies, my loves. J  

Pluses and Minuses

The weekend is only a day away, so here are a few things from the week so far that I’m thankful and not-so-grateful for. This post is inspired by NY Magazine’s Gossip Girl recap.

Thankful for:

  • Less idiots on the train this morning. It’s a miracle I was able to get to the last station without people pushing in while I was getting out.
  • The right fusion of theme, story, and character development in yesterday’s episode of Glee. The slumber party scene got the single syndrome thing down, and is an awesome thing to give for Valentine’s. Mercedes needs more lines.  Firework was also a nice touch, but Rachel’s voice didn’t quite nail it.
  • Living in Manila, especially after finding out the toll rate to Alabang will be Php 169 in May.
  • The courage and persistence to edit and finish my article. 
  • Less than Php 50 meals by the condo.
  • That broom worth Php 80 from Shopwise.
  • My ability to finally budget effectively.
  • The Senate Office. And no, not for what you’ve seen on the news. This is work related. They helped me get closer to nailing a ‘deadline.’

No thanks to:

  • Nepotism.
  • Idiots on the train.
  • Increased jeepney fare.
  • Serena Van Der Woodsen being unbearably unbearable. Seriously, I’m getting more annoyed with her never making up her mind, ignoring her family, and forever feeling entitled.
  • People saying you’re not making a deadline when you’ve already done your part. You’re just waiting for everyone else to do their part of the job. 
  • Tina’s crying number. Jenna U is such a talented singer. Why waste it on a slapstick gimmick?
  • The reality of inflation without a minimum wage increase.

Several short updates

I have no sudden epiphanies to talk about here, but I do have ‘news’ on my life (as I know it). Let’s blog like I used to.

I’ve officially moved into our flat in Manila. I’ll be living here on weekdays, as the commute is cheaper and a lot more convenient going to work. So far, so good. I get to do more after work work/extra work once I’m home and get more quiet time while reading. Dave Eggers has been great company.

Next week, I’m off to Ho Chi Minh! I’ve decided to wing it for two days. One day for going with an actual tour group. I’m scared and excited. I’ll be going alone–my own eat, shop, love. Pray I come back safe!

Seeking self-discipline

The problem with perfection is the fact we seek it, but never seem to settle. Standards are set, but someone will always say it’s still not enough–it could have been better. The last few days have been quite a challenge, as I struggle in perfecting an article about one of the world’s most beautiful places. Doing more editing than writing in the last year hasn’t been good to my craft. Mid-sentence, I automatically see what’s wrong and need to battle the urge to correct the grammatical/style error. I need to bleed the words, then let the healing take over when the article’s body is table.

I haven’t been living up to being a writer either. Sure most people see more regular writing gigs and well-marketed bylines as definite signs you’ve made it–but I am only beginning, and the sources of practice to get to that point have not been utilized. I gave up updating my TV blog–recovering it now seems too late. And such bad timing, considering all the shows have returned and I’m already catching up to a well-written one these days.

January is history, but tomorrow offers a new beginning in the form of Chinese New Year. Erase, rewind, renew. Learn and move on. I must move forward. But to understand where I’ll go, steps should be retraced. Now that I have a better idea, let’s hope I stick to my new found determination.

A few new (Chinese) New Year goals:
1. Invest more time in reading. Don’t just use waiting time between going home/going to work.
2. Create and finish what I started.
3. More writing, the editing to come after
4. Find the story in what I find interesting and tell it
5. Take more risks