Saturday, December 08, 2007


Street Stud:* I was dealt the next three cards of my poker hand while heading down the road for dinner at Bún Việt on Thursday. Sunshine attended a gallery opening that night. The house got all its own cards too: I actually found eight cards scattered along a single block. Added to my Ace clubs and Ace spades were the Jack hearts, Ten spades, and Ten diamonds. The City was dealt Queen clubs, Six spades, Five clubs, Seven spades, and the Wild Joker. My two pairs, Aces over Tens, to Ho Chi Minh City's pair of Queens, player takes the pot. Two hands in, I've picked twenty whole playing cards up off the street without a single duplicate yet. Tonight's dinner was particularly fine, and damn well should have been after what we paid for it. We like a little Italian restaurant called Luna L'Autunna, but it's one of the most expensive places around: our dinner with drinks and dessert cost over forty dollars, probably twice what similar would run at Thursday's restaurant. But the tiramisu tonight was some of the finest I've ever eaten. It was the type served in a wide goblet with a spoon. This was liberally dusted with unsweetened chocolate, and the whole effect limited the queasy sugary shock of the thing without in any way diluting the concentrated richness. There's something to be said for Luna's mojitos, too, though that's a quality probably intrinsic to any restaurant in any city where I can buy sugarcane on all the best street corners. After dinner, we went back to the housework: this weekend's the big push, hopefully by Monday we'll have very little left to unpack and put away. We can already see the floors in the bedrooms again, and that's what I call progress. [Cavin]

Friday, December 07, 2007


Sunshine and I ate a nice meal at restaurant Quán ăn Ngon tonight, just across the street from Reunification Palace, or, more succinctly, around the corner of it from our apartment. The dinner was nice. Sunshine had fried rolls and vermicelli with nước mắm.* She drank sour green mango. I had dried eel glass noodle soup and marinated grilled cuttlefish. I had to order the latter because the dish was called A Sunshine Cuttlefish. I either had to eat it or steal the menu. It was really good: a foot-long squid in lightly sea salt-n-peppery marinade which grilled away leaving the creature itself tender. But enough about that. This restaurant is on a leafy stretch of popular Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Street, adjacent to the largest tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City, beside a municipal park and busy traffic circle. It's a heavily touristed stretch of road. The restaurant is popular with those tourists. It's also popular with the Vietnamese and had come recommended by several of Sunshine's officemates. So we ate there, as did seemingly hundreds of others who clamored multi-nationally, shouting above the deafening hubbub. Outside the place, children with flowers and old men pushing cyclos line the sidewalk, hoping to vend some goods or services to the passing foreign clientele. Customers must run this gauntlet to go in or out. Once inside, we were shown to a two-person table very near the main door where we huddled for the next hour as crowds of people milled along, coming or going. The waiter showed us how to eat our food when it arrived: what went on what, which parts to dip. It was interesting being a tourist again. I hadn't really noticed I'd stopped consistently feeling like one, but tonight was definitely an eye-opening regression. [Cavin]

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Back in November I changed the name of my main blog. Readers who come to one address and see these entries displayed as a sidebar might have noticed that. Readers who come to the Update address directly might not have. I meant to mention this at the time, but there were other things to talk about. Today there aren't. Today I put books onto shelves, drank coffee, repeated. But this is more than an admin note because I want to talk about the weather. The new main title is x Beginner, the x being a variable I plan to change as often as I move. The x is currently Saigon. Beneath the new title, beginning at the top of the right sidebar, there is a homemade Vietnam map above a short scroll of introductory material about the country. It's filler, mostly; but it's there. There are also a couple of links for anyone interested in learning about this place without waiting for me to stop writing filler here, to begin writing about what's happening to me. (Then I shelved another book.) The links redirect to graduated levels of information: from easy Wikipedia information to serious scholarship archives at Texas Tech University. There are also links within the filler itself, taking the clicker to informative maps, satellite images, and other things. Then there's the weather badge. Nice weather we've been having lately, eh? Filler. And yet, who ever knew that Ho Chi Minh City could get so cold? Right now it's seventy-three degrees outside, cooler than I keep the apartment. Recently, it's gotten as low as sixty-eight. Turns out that December has pretty nice weather, even at ten degrees north latitude in the torrid zone. It's something to think about while shelving books, decorating for Christmas, and missing winter. [Cavin]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Saigon Stud Poker: the house dealt me the second card of my second hand today, turning up no less than the Ace spades on the sidewalk of Lê Quý Đôn Street, about a block away our apartment. With Monday's first card, Ace clubs, I have a pretty deadly pair of black aces in my hand, already. This is probably not the massive poker advantage on the streets as it can be at the ol' kitchen table back home. Why? Well, because in Saigon Stud, the house is dealing from a reservoir that conceivably includes every deck in the city, or at least in this district conjunction, so there are really no practical limits to the number of aces that may turn up. Added to this are those wild jokers, so it's even that much easier to imagine tied hands of five aces each. Now let's talk probabilities: while it's possible all the cards I find come from decks lost from a book bag on the back of a scooter and have been scattered along the street by traffic, I think most are from intentional litterers. The cards most often unceremoniously ejected from the deck are the two jokers; I imagine I'll find more of them, statistically, than anything else. I've already found two, but since one was torn in fourths (and I only found three of those) I didn't count it as a card. Other than jokers, however, I imagine it will be bad hands that are flung to the ground most frequently, by players who have just lost the lottery. Typically, bad hands are filled with unsuited low cards, but can occasionally contain faces and aces. But whatever, I have the world's best pair already, and I'm content to bet the pot. Bring on the next card. [Cavin]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Recently, while Sunshine was away, I turned a corner in the process of moving in. There are still piles of things here and there all over the apartment, plenty left to do, but everything's now sorted into the room it'll eventually be put away within. Everything looks as if it will eventually fit here. All the boxes and garbage are gone. Importantly, all of the shelves are where they will live for two years. I recently pointed out, in a letter to a friend, how very backward our moving experiences are from the way we've come to expect life to be: while all the stuff stays the same, the walls and the configurations into which we must reconstruct our home change completely, frequently. We were told at the outset of one professional tool to stave-off homesickness: do everything possible to arrange familiar spaces within these changing houses, at least to the extent that's possible. The moving in process took a long time in México because we had very many books and very few shelves. For weeks we shopped for whatever bookcases we could get our hands on. We searched Mexican Home Depot, Mexican Costco, the grocery stores; eventually, we finally had a place to put everything. Those shelves fit nicely turning the corner to frame our Mexican living room, facing two rented couches and a coffee table. We still have all these shelves now, but figuring out how they fit, like our shelves should, in this crazy drawn-out panorama of an apartment was a trial and error. I finally built our home backward from the way we've come to expect: the shelves turn a reverse corner from the dining room into the hall. It isn't the same, but it's similar, and the place feels like ours for once. [Cavin]

Monday, December 03, 2007


The rules of Saigon Stud Poker* are simple: Mr. Cavin plays the house, who deals. Cards are officially received when I see them laying on the sidewalk. The first five cards are my hand, the next five are the hand of Ho Chi Minh City. The pot is filled with whatever lucky prayer money or cash-like lottery tickets I see on the street, which I then leave as my bet. Winner takes the pot. I reserve the right to fold at any time; the house cannot fold. To simplify the rules of stud, there will be no replacement cards per hand. This keeps the record spinning. An example of play: the first official Saigon Stud hand was won today after a two-week hiatus during which the City went to the bathroom and bought another round of drinks. The cliffhanger was after I received this hand: Two hearts, King clubs, Joker (wild), Queen spades, and Nine spades--resulting in a pair of Kings. Today, Lê Quý Đôn Street dealt the house its full five-card hand in the following rapid order: Jack spades, Queen hearts, Six hearts, Five diamonds, and Five hearts--a very red hand merely resulting in a pair of Fives. Ho Chi Minh City took it with sportsmanship, an early setback in a two-year poker night; I, a lousy winner, danced around and high-fived, assuming this to be the beginning of a long winning streak. I feel hot this year. Whatever fake cash is to be found littering the streets tomorrow will be mine for the taking. Of course, I'll probably just throw all that back into the next pot. The street already dealt me the first of my next hand tonight, the sixth card I found in a row: the Ace of clubs. Shoe money to-night! [Cavin]

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Sunshine headed to the airport this morning with last night's1 band. At present, they are playing half the country away in Đà Nẵng, which you can find at nearly the midpoint of Việt Nam's north-south axis, east at the South China seashore.2 She'll come back tomorrow. After last night's show, I realized I'd not eaten all day. Sunshine took a cab back to our apartment while I lit out on foot looking for food. My first stop was the rooftop terrace at the Rex Hotel, where things were hopping, the night was steamy, and I waited ten minutes without being served. The food at the Rex is excellent, but I didn't feel like competing with the afterhours crowd for service. I left. By then it was after eleven and many District One restaurants were closing; open hotel restaurants promised more of the environment I'd avoided at the Rex: fun for group drinking but challenging for quick, lonesome dining. Two opportunities remained: southwest to what's called the "backpacker district" near the New World Hotel, a cluster of twenty-four hour bar-restaurants, hostels, and massages; or due east to an upscale expatiate area near the river where, incidentally, rows of Japanese restaurants live. I went that-a-way. I went that way again today, foraging for myself while Sunshine's in Đà Nẵng. How Saigon is: last night I hunched into a midnight yakisoba haven where two beers, salmon sashimi and huge noodle bowl ran under ten bucks; tonight, miso soup, sake, and assorted sashimi soared over thirty. Both were excellent, but I liked last night's more: the lone eater along an empty six-seat sushi bar, between a waving cat and racks of J-pop magazines; welcomed by a squat, bellicose Japanese expat who handed me the TV remote before disappearing to do my cooking. [Cavin]