This morning we went to a dental place near the hotel. I needed to get a crown done, and it would cost $2,000 in the US. Oh, hell no, I said, I’ll just go to a developing country to do it. After all, I have at least 4 molars, so losing one wouldn’t be a big deal. (Same rationale for when I got Lasik surgery here last year).
We walked into the airconditioned room. “How much for a crown,” I asked. This is not how you do it in the US, where a checkup is certainly required. “1.2 to 4.2 million VND depending on complexity,” said the receptionist, “you can get a check up right now and the doctor will give you an exact price.” OK, I said, and 5 minutes later, I saw the doctor, probably the fastest service ever for a dental place.
The dentistry here and in Vietnam are remarkably similar. Really, I’ve been very impressed, having had a root canal done here five years ago. The differences lie in little things. For example, they make you take off your shoes and wear these sterilized blue sandals. The place is spotlessly clean.
The doctor, Dr. Kien, was a nice woman, in her thirties or fifties, I can’t tell. She was friendly and knowledgeable, answering all my questions with patience. “I need a crown done,” I said, “since I chipped one of the corners.”
“No problem,” she said, “but I need to remove your filling.” Without anesthesia she started drilling away at the filling. “Raise your hands if you feel anything.” I was a little surprised at the drilling without anesthesia, but it didn’t hurt much at all, at least at first, then every once in a while, it would hurt like hell.
“Owww!!” I grunted, raising a finger.
“Oh, wonderful!” she said, “that means your nerves are still alive! You won’t need a root canal!”
At one point, she accidentally poked me in the eye with her little mirror. I guess it meant my eyes were working too.
While she worked, she and her assistant had a great conversation, laughing. At another point, Dr. Kien’s seven-year-old son came into the room with his toy truck and started turning on the faucet in the corner. “Stop playing with the water,” she said. He kept playing with the water. “Leave immediately!” she yelled. He came over, looked into my mouth, and then left.
I must come back in two weeks to get my permanent crown affixed. The rest of the day, we went around Benh Thanh Market, where you can buy 3 dehydrated sea cucumbers for $200. Apparently it is an apphrodesiac, though I can’t imagine eating three ashy grey and wrinkled alien-looking sea cucumbers would put anyone in the mood. The sky opened, and the heaviest monsoon came crashing down, a rain that could soak you in a few seconds.
We spent the entire day eating and wandering around the city, getting soaked, drinking cold coconuts and fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. We just came back from a bar in Pham Ngu Lao street, where all the tourists and backpackers are. Vendors are aggressive here, four or five of the young men swamping you to promote the bars that hired them. Cocktails like the “Harvey Wallslinger” could be had for 5 bucks, which is relatively expensive. No one checks for ID’s. My little nieces and a nephew, all of 14, 16, and 18, came into the bar with us on top of the building.
On the way down, we ran into some kids who were selling things in baskets. I don’t know where they get their training, but they are good, and where they lack in skills they make up in persistence. One little girl, probably six, was selling gum. “Why aren’t you at home?” I asked. She responded, “I can’t go home until I sell these two packages of gum. So… wanna buy two packages of gum?” She cheesed. My older sister immediately fell in love with this little girl. That is, until an even smaller girl came by. She was 4 years old, and we all went “Awww” at the same time. It was 11pm, and she was with her pregnant mom selling stuff. We bought stuff from them, which was a mistake, as a little boy of about six or seven saw and started following us. “Buy something, uncle, please buy something from me.” For fifteen minutes he followed us, until we got to a taxi. I was starting to feel bad for him. 11pm, he should be at home sleeping.
“How much for this packet of tissue?” I asked. I knew it wa 2,000VND, or about 10 centers.
“10,000,” he said.
“Are you kidding me, kid?!” I said, “I know this package is only 2,000!” I started to leave.
“Wait,” he said, “how much do you want for it?”
“7,000,” he said.
“Nope,” I said.
“OK, 6, 000!” he said.
We are now back at the hotel, where I can seriously use a shower. Tomorrow the family is heading to Nha Trang, the beach City. I can’t wait. Nha Trang has some great gruel, which is all I can eat until I get my permanent crown affixed.