Friday, December 28, 2007


Usual Christmas things were done on that afternoon: opening whatever packages had arrived before the shipping cutoff (last Friday) to Latin podcasts on the MP3 player. Sunshine took the traditional post-feast nap, even without a feast, adding one more nail to the coffin of turkey tryptophan's role in relation to holiday drowsiness.1 I retired to our local lounge, like normal, for some cappuccino and another seventy pages of my holiday book, the Witches of Eastwick2--I have no tradition of placebo-effected naptime: I haven't eaten a turkey in nineteen years. Being mildly irreverent, and very lazy, I do have a tradition of eating restaurant food instead of cooking big feasts. As an American, that means I have a history of eating exotic immigrant food on bank holidays. The practitioners of eastern religions tend to open their doors on these days. It fit neatly within my tradition, then, to walk across District One to Alibaba, on Lê Thánh Tôn Street, another of Saigon's exceptional Indian restaurants if also the most oddly named. Our Christmas feast was fantastic: rich red chana masala and paneer korma, cheese pakoras, Indian tea, plain yogurt, and more of those whole pinkly marinated shallots served in little bowls as garnish. Outside Alibaba, Sunshine and I found five playing cards on the sidewalk, and carefully kept track of the order in which we picked them up. Rounding out my Jack-Joker-Five were a pair of unsuited Fours, hearts and clubs; whereas the City of Ho Chi Minh drew the Ten hearts, the Five clubs, and the Ace hearts. Any of these cards in a pair-flush will win the hand, as will any merely tripled card. I have no way of determining the odds of these results, but they aren't good. I'll probably win this fourth hand, too. [Cavin]

Thursday, December 27, 2007


['Twas] the night before Christmas, we'd managed to get to the store just before it closed to buy milk just before it expired. Tradition is about implementing nostalgia to create commonplace security under changing conditions, incidentally. Both our family traditions dictate the conspicuous consumption of hot chocolate on Christmas morning. That morning, Sunshine purchased some bakery sweets while I slept later than anyone traditionally should during Christmas daylight. So it was my duty to make drinks when I finally woke up. What we have in the larder: adulterated Mexican chocolate pucks, infused with cinnamon and sugar and rich Mesoamerican unknowns. The way I make Mexican hot chocolate: chunk the imported puck up with a heavy knife until the pieces are approximately the size of broken chalk, one half circle per cup makes it fundamentally thick. Rudely dump chalky pile into American blender with one cup of milk for each person, making sure to sweep up all the crumbly powder. Find another damn western adapter to haphazardly power blender and press high until a frothy aerated consistency is achieved. Pour this into a pot placed on medium heat, and stir constantly until the chocolate simmers up into something like a beer head made of mousse. Serve. On Christmas morning I was able to balance the US blender prongs loosely into the same arcing outlet powering the Christmas tree. The blender made a hilarious burning tire smell for a minute while locking into thick chocolate chunks; then it fired one Star Wars spark into the dish drainer and wouldn't work again. So I made the Mexican chocolate a more traditional way: I stirred the damn chunks over low heat until they melted. This took the more traditional hour-plus and left the chocolate just as tasty, far denser, and less frothy. [Cavin]

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day!1 We celebrated with perfect irony. Back when we visited Pátzcuaro2--in Michoacan State, southwest México--we bought ourselves a curvy wicker jaguar-shaped bench. It's cool: shaped like a parenthesis with a tail on the left and a head with bronze eyes and teeth on the right, looking back over the cat's flat shoulder at whoever is seated there. It's actually kind of scary--or so we recalled. On top of the MSPP, we handed the Pázcuaro vendors extra pesos to ship our cat-shaped bench to Monterrey, and then traipsed merrily on down the street to the Tzintzuntzan's cemetery, the bus home to Monterrey, to Vegas, on to DC, and ultimately over here to Saigon. The cat-shaped bench was shipped to Monterrey, sure, where it arrived shortly before getting loaded onto a truck and hauled on to Seattle, where it waited in storage for ten months before joining us here. The thing is, after walking on down that street in Pátzcuaro that first day, we never saw the bench again. Mexican shippers are incredible: they completely mummified our bench in a cat-shaped cardboard-and-tape coffin,3 wrote the address on its back, built a solid wooden cage around it, and slipped it in the mail. When it arrived we saw no reason to open it up; it shipped again as-was. Therefore, when it arrived in our custody again last month, we hadn't actually laid eyes on the thing since that store front in October oh-five. While the Canadians the world over celebrated boxing day we skinned our cat-shaped coffin, rediscovering the bench beneath. It's as scary as I remember. Christmas was splendid yesterday. We opened presents, drank chocolata, and raided the DVDs for holiday movies. We certainly don't have many of those, so we watched Die Hard. Fa-la-la-la-la.... [Cavin]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Saigon Stud update:* Sunshine spied the Ace clubs yesterday, meaning the House lost its chance at a straight with Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and a damned Nine. My pair-flush wins the day, and I am three-and-oh for the poker season. Today, I was quickly dealt the first three cards of the next hand on Pasteur Street near the park: the Jack spades, the wild Joker, and the Five hearts. A guaranteed pair, at least, with a high card. So far so good: I'll see your ante and raise. There are just a couple more minutes before Christmas here in southeast Asia. I think I get it before any of my friends do this year--except maybe the ones in Beijing--and twelve hours before my family will. Today and yesterday were especially tropical in southern Vietnam, but the nights have been in the seventies and breezy. We spent the whole muggy afternoon wandering around District One, looking for interesting decorations to photograph. There are many, and I took about twenty pictures (at an average of five exposures each). While it will take me a while to get them posted online, I wanted to find something special to use as a seasonal card, from Saigon to you, friends and family, wherever you are. I thought this was most appropriate (the Santa and yellow dog and monkey on the boat next to the festive giraffes would have been a close second. Or maybe the butterfly-winged fairies hovering over the one-story pile of wrapped packages. But all that'll have to wait until later). So merry Christmas or other midwinter holidays to everyone, and a very happy New Year. I'll probably take a break tomorrow, since I'll be on the phone all day, so the Update lights will be off until Wednesday. [Cavin]

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Happy Gothic Romance Day! The day when, with no other holidays in sight, we must dwell upon the bleak shadow of tragic love. The nearest midpoint between Halloween and St. Valentine's Day. From here on out, I hear, the nights are growing shorter. A reminiscence is in order: I fondly recall December eighteenth, when I totally forgot an anniversary. That was the first birthday of the new tires we got our car after crossing the US border coming home last year. It also marked our second month in Vietnam. I didn't realize what day it was until the nineteenth, the thirteenth month of our marriage, over a nice dinner at the Cantina Central. "Yesterday was an anniversary," I said to Sunshine over oddly Hawaiian food, "a year ago yesterday we'd just left Mexico the day before." Cantina Central is a funny stab at Mexican food one block south of the Saigon Center Mall. Honestly, their food is alright but they drown everything in pineapple. Their windows look out over the colorful spire of a Hindu temple. The waiters are all Vietnamese.* Still, it managed to recall México enough to remind me of this anniversary--maybe it was the "Gringo Ribeye"--and Sunshine and I had a nice talk about real Mexican restaurants we'd patronized, some of which we miss and some we do not. What I thought was funny was that we already couldn't remember the names of some of the streets those places were on; hell, we couldn't even remember the names of some of the places. For nineteen months, I clung to Monterrey as a home away from home, a surrogate that coalesced into something fond after so many returns. But it was really only nineteen months, after all. Goodnight Calzada Del Valle, wherever you are. [Cavin]