Saturday, November 10, 2007


Hi. I'm finally posting this from our house, and this seems as good a day as any to restart normal operations here. Building maintenance finally came upstairs and installed our long-awaited DSL connection Wednesday afternoon, but it didn't work even ten minutes later. This was a matter of ironing out the service, I've come to understand. At the time, however, there seemed to be some discrepancy between the paper contract, on which I'd stipulated a user name and password, and the default sign-in space at the ISP, which asked for user name and two passwords. Wednesday evening and Thursday I tried to express to the front desk that I knew what my password was supposed to be, but the log-on was impossible due to this simple inconsistency: I had two things when three seemed to be required. I tried many combinations of the data I knew, but nothing worked. It turns out this was not the issue at all. That log-in screen wasn't supposed to be there, the internet was supposed to just magically begin working. Yesterday afternoon, I finally got someone to come up here, access some administrative function of the ISP's default page, and make that screen go away with an admin-level passcode. Then I spent most of the night play-testing the world wide web, and so far my service remains consistent today. So I can now type and post this at my desk. I can now reply to emails. What I cannot seem to do is make the DSL network agree to communicate with the proxy ISP of my wireless router; it tells me, over my connection, that I have no connection. I am tied to the wall of my office by a cat-5 cable. This does not bode well for Sunshine's internet access, huh? [Cavin]

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


I've been meaning to mention this: last Friday, I got all deposit, service, and equipment charges together and submitted paperwork to have cable internet hooked up in our apartment. The lease said this might take seven days, but the guy at the front desk of our building estimated that the workers could only show up as early as Wednesday. That's tomorrow. Sometime after that there's a good possibility I'll never have to come to Le's Café for anything other than Vietnamese coffee again.* Then I'll be able to more fully illustrate, in words and pictures, those things that have been happening since I moved to this country, necessitating longer and more involved posts. When that begins to happen, this Update Column will get primarily back to its traditional business of relating the interesting local news, announcements, and other short fare it was created to convey. In the spirit of that, here's a sadly wonky news item from the Indian capital of New Delhi, where deputy mayor SS Bajwa, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was reading a newspaper on his terrace Friday, October nineteenth when he was attacked by aggressive monkeys. In the process of attempting to evade his beastly assailants, Mr. Bajwa fell over his terrace railing. The deputy mayor was admitted to the intensive care unit of Delhi Hospital, but he eventually died from the fall (on October twenty-second). Conflicts between monkeys and people apparently happen frequently in the capital city, where municipal officials cannot control a population of rapidly habituating animal bands forced to adapt to urbanism after the loss of more natural habitats to industrialization. At the same time, these monkeys are protected by the tenets of monkey god worshipers, serving Hanuman by feeding his decedents near the temples where he is revered. [Cavin]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Yesterday's (and today's) web content was brought to you through the free wireless service at Le's Café, a little two-story white French colonial coffee shop with terracotta tile roofing and heavy shutters on the windows. Le's serves indoors at dark wooden tables surrounded by the sort of chairs you might find in the comfy TV room of the student union; Le's also serves outdoors on a pretty cobbled patio that meanders around the building, crossing a working stream in the form of stepping stones. Yesterday, while drinking Le's terrific iced coffee and using free wireless, we were sitting inside. For the past several days, it's constantly looked as if it was about to rain. A change from the weather when we arrived in this country: two weeks ago it really did rain multiple times every day. Since I began taking this computer outside, however, it has only been darkly cloudy with that type of gusty bluster which usually presages big electrical storms. Le's Café is about six blocks away from the apartment, on the northernmost block of leafy and relatively sedate Le Quy Don Street. I like Le's because the walk is easy: there's palm shade and few dicey intersections (a constant consideration in Saigon). It's probably the closest free wireless to our house, but it can still take fifteen minutes to walk there due to patches of impassable sidewalk shopping, cooking, and parked scooters. It's a long walk with my computer wrapped in a plastic bag because it's convincingly threatening rain. But yesterday, the biggest storm I've seen so far--one-and-a-half hours of punishing rain, startling lightening, and deafening thunder--missed us by moments, blitzing Le's patio while we sat around in cozy comfort drinking coffee. Ha ha; but it was still raining when we walked home. [Cavin]

Monday, November 05, 2007


Heading to Vietnam we crossed twelve time zones. I changed my watch twice: once for San Francisco (so I'd worry about how damn tight our layover had become), and once for Hong Kong, twelve hours ahead of my North Carolina home and one hour ahead of my new one in Vietnam. Why? Because we had to cross one last eastern longitude flying west out of Hong Kong. HK is eleven hours west of NC (twelve hours ahead, then), and Saigon is twelve hours east (eleven ahead). What? We went around the world clockwise, against its celestial rotation, so we were crossing time zones in reverse. We headed so far west, in other words, that we ended up in the East, heading west. What's confusing: it was getting ever earlier beneath the plane, only to eventually become one day later at the dateline. It was dark in our cabin for the seemingly ironic reason that it was high noon the duration of our flight: everyone kept their windows shut for something like an eternity, imposing a timeless phantasm of zombie cave light. When we finally deplaned at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat airport, we stepped into the steamy evening of Thursday, October eighteenth, almost twenty-six hours after we'd finally left Dulles, but right at thirty-eight hours around the clock. During Daylight Saving Time, Vietnam is eleven hours ahead of US EST, but twelve hours east. Now that EST is "falling back"--right... about... now--we've effortlessly moved another hour farther away. This because at relatively consistent twelve-hour days, the tropical world only observes DST, if they do, to enjoy year-long relativity with Europe and the US. Vietnam doesn't bother, so half the year I am exactly half the world ahead, and for the other half, I'm earlier. [Cavin]

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Last Sunday, while watching Larry King on TV, Sunshine noticed "Department of State" scrolling underneath King's talking head: Diplomats Forced to Serve in Iraq! or some paraphrase. Those who read the news, especially in DC, will recognize this as the week's big headline. What happened was this: after filling hundreds of junior- and mid-level positions in our rapidly expanding Baghdad diplomatic mission, Foggy Bottom higher-ups noted some forty-plus midlevel jobs remained open. Concerned that this number would skyrocket one year from now when these positions would need filling again, and recognizing a reticence within this civilian workforce to wade untrained and unarmed into a warzone, the Department has initiated "directed assignments". This method of forcing officers, based on peacetime oaths they've sworn pledging worldwide availability, into dangerous areas is tantamount to a controlled draft, though the stick is termination, rather than jail. Wednesday, State Department seniors were contentious during a meeting in DC. I would have been formulating reasonable declarations about: the difference between eighteen-year-old volunteers wet from boot camp versus forty-something middle managers with young kids and old parents, or how the military cannot guarantee its alumnus worthwhile healthcare and insurance so what on earth makes DOS assume they'll manage it; but one senior officer, bless his melodramatic heart, had the tenacious wherewithal to utter the sound bite of the week: three words--"potential death sentence"--which serve to illustrate the current hysteria felt by policy wonks facing war while also setting the course for the public opinion. The situation has already politicized: red conservative hawks chastise career diplomats for lack of reckless patriotism while the left make anti-incumbent political hay. The deep scorn of a scandalized republic is what's called for here, however: it's not the daily news but the Daily Show that will save us. [Cavin]