Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy US Thanksgiving. I'm sending this note along now because I will be out of town for the holidays. We're leaving extremely early Thursday morning and will be away until late evening this coming Sunday. I will post no new Update until the following day. Two Thanksgivings ago we ate Greek food with Sunshine's parents in a lovely little place at the edge of Monterrey's old quarter. Last year, Sunshine and I ate Vietnamese noodle soup in the Treasure Island Hotel casino before seeing the Blue Man Group. This is starting to sound like bragging to me. So here: one of the things about this lifestyle is the Trade. If you look at the globe, you will probably notice that the most distant point from where my family and friends live is the room where I'm sitting posting this.* This sort of thing--a heavenly body of spinning molten iron nestled between me and my loved ones--can have disadvantages never more apparent that when celebrating a holiday. Guilt, isolation, homesickness, all these are compiled by the annoying fact that I never really appreciated Thanksgiving as much as I should've, so why should this feel any worse today than normal? Now this post is starting to sound like complaining, so here's the Trade. If we were in DC today, I'd be driving home to Mount Holly, NC, to celebrate a holiday I don't really love with people I really do. Since I'm driving the family car in this scenario, Sunshine would be having to fly to Lexington, KY. For roughly half the time it would take to do those things, and about the same price, we're going to be spending our weekend in Hong Kong, adding Chinese food to the listed irreverent meals now become our Thanksgiving tradition. [Cavin]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Hey, anyone out there having trouble making all three columns of my main blog page load properly the last couple of days? If so, you are more than likely using Internet Explorer to browse the web. Explorer is a persnickety program. It expects me to include every little line of important HTML code in every little vital place. Otherwise, it simply stops displaying any information from the offending point in the code on down throughout the page. This was not a problem in Netscape, for some reason, so I didn't notice until outside reports trickled in. Take heart, Explorers! I've now added the missing "slash span" tag causing all the trouble. Now everything should work just fine. Sunshine and I had a very nice anniversary dinner last night at a little Indian Restaurant called Ashoka on Lê Thánh Tôn Street in District 1. We both ordered the things we always do in new Indian restaurants: our litmus for comparison. This restaurant stacked right up with the very best we've ever had. I was particularly fond of the dishful of reddish onion chutney, here made with whole cocktail-sized onions and shallots. I kept eating this condiment straight off its plate. After dinner, we walked home along the main north-south artery Hai Bà Trưng, and along the way I was dealt the last three cards of my Saigon Stud hand: the Joker, the Queen of spades, and the Nine of spades (I found another card, but it was torn into fourths, and I only found three of them). Since I have determined that Jokers are wild, I now have a pair of Kings. That's not much, but good enough to stand on. The next five street cards I find will be the house hand, and that's when the action starts. [Cavin]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


One month ago I woke on my very first morning in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam--jet lagged enough to rise before eight am, tired from exhaustive flying, and stunned by the town around me. I didn't do much that day. One year ago today, I woke up in Las Vegas, at the usual time, and met my family after their breakfast buffet in the kitschy Luxor Hotel. Seven hours later I was married. Savants reading this column might notice the entries here are predominantly two hundred ninety-nine words (all but about ten of them), but the entry for November nineteenth last year, here, is one of the rare special exceptions, running an even four-fifty. That entry is a ruse. At the time I was preserving our wedding as a public surprise and pretending we were still in México. But I couldn't resist marking the occasion in some way: word count.* Otherwise, the millipede story related there is absolutely true, it just happened a week before I flew to Vegas. At the risk of inaugurating tradition: I would like to tell a story that happened a couple of weeks ago, to publicly mark my anniversary. We'd been walking all day. Down road from my house, about two-and-a-half hours by foot, is Saigon's Chinatown, historically a bustling diaspora before many ethnic Chinese were expelled toward the end of the seventies. The district is still somewhat of a ghost town today, though things are beginning to build back up again. It had been grueling walk, and we hailed a cab to return. That's back-story. There's more: on our flight from Hong Kong, we made friends with out flight attendant who offered us some restaurant recommendations. One place she mentioned was Restaurant Tib, down a string-lighted back alley off Hai Bà Trưng Street, near our house. We had the cabbie take us there; we were tired and traffic-choked enough to spring for a posh restaurant. I had Huế-style fish soup, and it was magnificent. The restaurant was very nice: hardwood paneling in chocolate colors with red silk lanterns and tapestries. Our chopsticks came in matching wooden boxes, "Tib" carved in the lids. At one point, during an intense conversation, a four-inch black millipede fell from the sky and very nearly landed in my soup. It happened so fast Sunshine didn't even see it, and I had to lift the saucer holding my bowl to show it to her. It had curled around into the shape of my food. When it attacked I was ready with a lemon-scented moist towlette, in which I caught the little monster. Then I left him for our unsuspecting waiter. There, exactly four hundred fifty words. Happy Anniversary. [Cavin]

Monday, November 19, 2007


First things first: after years of training, most readers’ eyes might fall on this Update information without so much as a glance toward my "main" blog. I thought I'd mention there's a new and rather longer post over there. A second and somewhat less concrete administration might be made note of in reference to any oddity or singularity of note within this column's demeanor of late--as every night I lay away my volume of Jane Austin and attempt with greater and lesser perseverance to strip my countenance of those affectations to which, you may depend, I am finding ever so more suitable to the conveyance of the humour and romance of eighteen hundred and thirteen than to this modern web logging. I thought I might rid it from my system here, but there is more to write, and I am still only to page fifty-five in Pride and Prejudice. It's a lovely book which, far from being as dry as its screen adaptations or perverse as my sentence above, I am finding to be embarrassing to read in a Saigon sidewalk café owing to the number of times per page that I laugh right out loud. Alas, delightful, and I cannot on my soul imagine why it might be I have not read this before now. Also of note: walking back from a really nice Italian meal on the patio of Luna L'Autunna tonight, up Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, the other cross street where we live, I looked down on the sidewalk and found the second card in my Saigon Stud* hand. To the Two of hearts I've now added the King of clubs. I can still go for the high-lo straight but the flush is out. One more bad card and I will have to fold. [Cavin]

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Our apartment's leafy cross street runs about six blocks north before ending at a large intersection. These blocks are shady, dotted with restaurants, easy to navigate. This is a rapidly-blossoming nook of District Three, recently written-up in local expat mags. Le's Café, my wireless coffee shop, is down this street. My favorite Korean food, my regular Vietnamese, the nicest gecko-decked sign, are all here. The latter advertises restaurant Bún Việt, which serves excellent fish soup. But this post isn't about food; it's about language. Vietnamese, a tonal language, strips me of certain lingual crutches. In other countries, when I'd like to ask if a restaurant stocks coffee, all I really need is that one local word: "Coffee?" Waiters usually understand I'm simultaneously asking can and may, and perhaps the complex inquisitive format of "do you have" is merely outside my ability. In Vietnamese, that "?" is precisely the way one pronounces a rising up-tone, and tones are essential to word pronunciation itself. I know how to say "coffee" locally: flat tone; but "coffee?" means something different--or nothing at all. The last time I was at Bún Việt, I was thinking about all this while, incidentally, wondering if they served coffee. When the waitress walked by I said, as flatly as possible, "coffee", the perceived demand a lesser concern than my dipping caffeine level. She smiled, ran off, and returned with my check. Oh, well. I did not get up to leave immediately after paying, and soon another server appeared with a cup of the mild jasmine tea that frequently serves as table water here.* "Coffee!" he announced. I suspect he just called up the wrong word, like I did one night on a Spanish train when I announced that this next round of cheese was on me. [Cavin]