Saturday, January 05, 2008


Last night, Sunshine accompanied her visiting band, the Livingston father-and-son country folk combo,1 to a cultural concert at the green cement youth facility a few block away from here. It's sort of like the People's YMCA. It's so close to Diamond Center that I can often watch kids in their school uniforms play soccer on the side lot there while I'm drinking lattes on the Center's patio terrace. The evening went off like a charm: Sunshine delivered her introductions in two languages (to applause), and was surprised to discover that everyone in attendance knew the words to Country Roads by John Denver. Apparently, seventies-era folksy country tunes from the US go over pretty big with today's Vietnamese kids. This morning, she got up early to accompany the Livingstons to tonight's gig in nearby Vũng Tàu,2 the closest, and supposedly fairly half-baked, beach resort to Ho Chi Minh City. She and the band were driven there, but it is also possible to take the hydrofoil from the Saigon River ferry docks, which is what I want to do. Since I am still recovering from illness I decided to sit this one out. I feel okay, but I didn't want to be cooped up in a bumpy car ride for three hours if I happened to relapse a little. I'll take the boat some other time. On the way to my lonely dinner tonight (at the excellent Deli Saigon, where, mysteriously, the Bún Việt sign has reappeared, geckos and all, even though the restaurant remains renamed), I drew the City's last playing card: added to the House's Ten, Five, Ace, and Wild Joker, then, is the Queen diamonds, meaning that the Ho Chi Minh City is unable to beat my triple fours, and I win the fourth straight hand.3 Shazam! [Cavin]

Friday, January 04, 2008


Rest in peace Princess Galyani Vadhana. Since Wednesday morning, Thailand has been stricken by the death of the king's older sister.1 Newscasters are wearing black. Thai industry is bereaved (for example, check out the Thai Airways website here). Political bickering after the December twenty-third elections have suddenly cooled. The king has decreed a hundred day period of mourning for the royal family, during which regal functions will be suspended. Almost more shockingly, the prime minister has announced a fifteen day period of civil and municipal observance, nearly a bank holiday, where concerts and other unnecessary entertainment are asked to be canceled outright and flags will be flown at half-mast, among other legal observances. This directly influences the traveling band we picked up at the airport Wednesday night, whose whirlwind tour of Thailand next week has been all but completely turned into a university lecture circuit. In other news: remember back on December eleventh, when a Vietnam Air flight from Đà Nẵng was delayed due to scorpions?2 Well, eight days later, on the nineteenth, Thai Airways mysteriously and illegally delivered a seven hundred kilo box of snakes to Nội Bài International Airport in Hà Nội. No animals are allowed on Vietnamese flights. After waiting the appropriate interval for someone to pick up the shipment, labeled "fresh fish", the warehouse decided to open it up. Snakes. Now everyone is confused: did the box come from Indonesia or Malaysia? Were the snakes alive when the crate was opened,3 or dead on arrival?4 No one is more confused than the surprised addressee, once he was finally tracked down. Lastly, I was very amused by this lamentably short online comic by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon (pages one, two, and three) which was discovered for me, among other interesting things, by this blogger. [Cavin]

Thursday, January 03, 2008


First things first: Sunshine started a spate of book posts, memes summarizing the Old Year, shortly before the recent New Year's holiday. Even though I wasn't tagged to do so, I meant to contribute back before the end of the weekend. But I was sick and didn't feel like getting around to it. I went ahead and wrote it eventually today, for completeness' sake, and then I indeed post-dated the entry to back before the first of the year since I had a hole there and I meant to do it back then, anyway. Since interested parties might not have known to look there otherwise, I thought I'd bring it up. Interested? Last night after Christmas Two, Sunshine put her work clothes on (I changed red T-shirts) and we headed over to the airport to pick up a band arriving as part of a cultural event. I've been here for two and a half months and am now part of the welcome wagon. Sunshine is the official part though, so she actually got to enter the airport with a little sign that said "Livingstons" on it. I waited outside with our official driver and the rest of the teeming Saigon welcome wagons, craning looks through the glass doors that separated us all from the baggage carousels. The wait was long. I watched many tourists being hustled along by industrious taxi hacks who attempt to negotiate a price to town even though every cab in Saigon has a working meter. My favorite moment came when some smart team of Japanese flight attendants sliced through the crowd, ten or twelve of them, in diverse-but-matching uniforms, scarves, and hairdos pent up in pairs of identical blue chopsticks at identical angles; they were tall, and severe, and had the posture of superheroes. [Cavin]

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The esoteric title of today's post is "Um, they aren't fighting." It's something I said today. Today we went to the mail room where Sunshine needed my help to haul home three boxes we finally received. On the way to the embassy, I drew a Wild Joker from some sandy excess on the corner of Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai and Hai Bà Trưng Streets, where there is a lot of construction. Added to the house hand (Ten, Five, and Ace) this places the City much closer to actually beating my trip Fours in this round.* Mail hasn't run this way, from Hong Kong, since the day before Christmas eve. My mother, Sunshine's parents, and our good friends had all sent boxes of stuff for Christmas that probably would have arrived before New Year's if the FPO hadn't shut down between these two major end-of-the-year holidays. Ergo, we had Christmas Two this evening. We struck up the trees again and everything. Nice. Mom's box was filled with wrapped packages: a watch, a camera, two pairs of shoes, two funny velour elf costumes. Sunshine's parents had forwarded gifts from her grandparents: books and sand dollars. From friends we got a wonderful purse,* some romantic Grecian olive oil, some miraculously intact candy canes, and a CD full of Christmas songs we played while we were unwrapping everything. It was great, this second Christmas, this extension of our faraway holiday. Somewhere in the middle we walked down the street to eat a Vietnamese dinner at Miss Kim, just a couple of blocks down our road. On the way, Sunshine spied two geckos facing off on the off-white wall guarding one of the nearby construction sites. They rammed each other, and then they tangled. "Oh wow, they're really fighting," Sunshine declared happily. [Cavin]

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

Hey, Happy New Year. Near here, over in the park just northeast of Reunification Palace, there are many lights on trees and people on scooters. We were through there just a little while ago. It took ten minutes to navigate five blocks, by cab, there were so many people. They must have just been driving around and around the park. The park's decorations came online on Christmas day, and seem to be geared for the week between the two holidays: wired lighting wrapped around the contours of wire armatures in the shapes of oblong boxes, three feet long, hang from the trees. At approximately the same height, the trees themselves are wrapped with lights around their trunks. There are colorful banners at this height, strobes at this height, and searchlights playing over large, spinning disco lights. The overall effect is pretty startling: like the world has flooded over our heads and refracted light plays in the foliage around us, the roadbeds, the teeming traffic; above us across the park is that consistent and fairy-lit watermark. I have been sick; and indeed felt too sick to go out tonight. I felt sad to stay in, but going out would have made me more homesick. New Year's Eve was always pretty important to me. Once I got a look at the crowds, it made me a little happier about staying in, rather than even sadder. At five minutes till midnight, on Ha Noi TV, a Viet Pop band paused mid-song for an announcer to briskly count backwards from five and everyone sang Happy New Year. We walked up to the roof where we could see dozens of searchlights waving over the city and a few desultory fireworks lighting up the sky over the Rex Hotel (or maybe the tax market). [Cavin]

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

Sunshine has published an end-of-year post about interesting books she read in 2007. I thought I'd do likewise, but then I hit a tiny snag: though I certainly feel fairly well read, a number of stock titles in our perceived literary canon have somehow slipped through my cracks along the way. I spent this year catching these slip-ups. What good would come from adding more words to the world’s collective reports on To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, Pride and Prejudice, or Of Human Bondage (a list to which I deem it appropriate to add The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Warm Worlds and Otherwise by James Tiptree, Jr.)? Therefore, what books I can include for limited review here, following Sunshine’s example, must be culled from my incidental side-reading. Here's nine:
I would also like to honorably mention Ted Chiang's shorter-than-a-novel The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (graceful as always), as well as James Maxey's Bitterwood (cleverly populous) which I read for the first time years ago. [Cavin]