Thursday, January 10, 2008


We just caught the Livingston Father-N-Son Duo, the band Sunshine’s just spent a week chaperoning, singing Country Roads to twenty-five thousand people at a Hà Nội music festival. We just turned on the TV and there they were. Today also represents a new domestic turning point, separating the life I live now from the kind of life I used to have. This might be construed as bragging; I only claim that homesickness makes me want to stress these salient points until I internalize them. Some previous turning points include: giant furnished houses, having two suits, and weekend getaways to Hong Kong. One major turning point was the day we finally hired someone to clean our house. I had to face facts: the mere act of employing a maid rendered my present circumstances something unforeseeable to the me of the past. The apartment complex we live in now--no longer that giant house--is run like a hotel: we have daily housekeeping service. They make the beds, change the towels, vacuum, and do the dishes. Everything Rosy did in México except laundry. This has left us with plenty of free time, sure, but also in search of that next preposterous step into the life of excess we claim between spates of abject poverty back home. Today we managed to hire a cook. It was an impulse buy: we don't even know what we are spending. She'll come once a week on Tuesdays. She was very excited to discover we were interested in trying local home-cooked cuisine. The real dealmaker here is that she will also do our grocery shopping for us, a chore rendered so prohibitive by the sheer distance between specialized markets, and the need to haggle in Vietnamese, that we've never actually gotten around to doing it. [Cavin]

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Sunshine packed the band off to Hà Nội yesterday, crossing one more task off the to-do list, vocationally. Tonight, to celebrate, we ordered delivery food from a cute little French African style salad place across the way; and then we settled in to watch TV on DVD. For the last week or so I've been working on photographs that are just now making their way into public access. If you are interested, begin here. These are photos I took last Memorial Day weekend in Kentucky, around Sunshine's family farm. This was the second-to-last time we were able to visit there before flying here to Vietnam in October. I'm not that confidant there will be much interest in these images, since they are so old and removed from the distant events of my daily experience. Most people reading this will not find Appalachian Kentucky to be all that exotic. I too am very impatient to start producing the work I've done recently in Asia, but here are two points about that: first, I know that if I skip over these pictures in my photo chronology, I'll never get back around to doing them. This would actually haunt me. More importantly, I'm finding them very exotic myself, right now. Since before Christmas, I've been intermittently cresting a general malaise. Having conquered, for the most part, any noticeable culture shock, I'm now patiently waiting for the holiday-inspired homesickness to ebb. Spending over an hour per picture, painstakingly merging contiguous images into the photo composites I've been doing, has been an interesting meditation during this slump--a focused look into one part of the world possibly underestimated in its uniqueness of environment and culture. It's a process akin to fingering the loose ends of dental stitches, but it seems to be helping. [Cavin]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


At some point between Japanese restaurants I found a Wild Joker laying on the street, yesterday. This is the first card of my fifth Saigon Stud Poker hand. Cut to today. Sunshine and I ate Indian food tonight at the oddly named Alibaba restaurant. And I nearly endured a poker tragedy. Right down from our apartment, on the corner of Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street across from Reunification Palace, there was a scooter shop today. Scooter shops move, corner to corner, and are easily located by decorative tire tubes propped together and merrily striped with foil ribbon. When something goes wrong with a passing five-hundred-dollar Chinese scooter, and something usually does, these guys can get the thing going again. Usually, there's an innertube shingle advertising a temporary mechanic every few blocks. Today's mechanics were set up at the corner where we cross the park south toward Alibaba. They happened to be doing business on a stretch of sidewalk just littered with abandoned playing cards. From where we stood, waiting for the light, I could see seven cards lost between disassembled bikes and people sitting around eating--but there was no way I was going to wade in there to pick up their garbage, you know? Our dinner was wonderful, by the way. After we got home, after Sunshine went to bed, I trekked back down the block to see what, if anything, was left. I found eight cards in all, avoiding poker tragedy: added to yesterday's Joker are the Queen hearts, Two hearts, Eight hearts, and Five diamonds, rounding out my hand. Plus, the house drew the Jack hearts, Eight diamonds, Nine hearts, and Three hearts and is waiting for its last card.* The only way the City can beat my pair Queens is with a flush-pair now. [Cavin]

Monday, January 07, 2008


In Spain, many years ago, I fell in love with tapas restaurants. The idea of multiple, discrete, snack-sized plates comprising a whole meal resonated perfectly. However, returning home, I discovered there was just no way to eat like that in the US; stateside, even the tapas restaurants missed the point. The closest possible experience was with Japanese food, so it was with Japanese food that my romance continued. I made up a new sport tonight while Sunshine was off with the band at a private party. Today was the first day since Christmas I've felt totally healthy and energetic. I was also tired of being cooped up on this side of District One. So, left to my own devices, I walked over to the relatively upscale area of Lê Thánh Tôn Street west of Hai Bà Trưng, where all the Japanese restaurants are. It was my treat for feeling so well again. What you don't see in the US, anywhere I've been, is a street like this one, lined with dozens of Japanese restaurants. This feeds my general indecisiveness when it comes to choosing food. Adding so many choices creates a period of tiresome deliberation: do I want to eat the fresh, surgically-apportioned craftsmanship of neat sashimi, or do I want to savor bowls of buckwheat noodle soup amid flat plates of exotic new appetizers? How can I possibly choose? Turns out I don't have to, now that I've invented sushi-bar hopping. Ideally, this should include one plate and one sake, shochu, or beer, each from a half-dozen (or more) different places up one side of Lê Thánh Tôn Street and back down the other. But tonight, during the inventing process, I only made it to two,* having multiple drinks and plates of food at each wonderful spot. [Cavin]

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Saigon's supposed Backpacker's District is about ten blocks slightly south-southwest of our apartment. This "district" is really just a large city block interlaced with humid back alleys specifically catering to budget travelers. Here, the map is dotted with economical hotels, all-night bars, cheap food. The sidewalks are crammed with the private enterprise one might expect to find focused were the city has conveniently lined it's naïve young backpackers up like carnival ducks guarding secret wallets fat with traveler's checks. This area of District One isn't too seedy, but it's the seediest area of Saigon: an ingrown bordertown where east meets west, or, by WTO economic jargon, where north meets south.1 That's the extended introduction. Tonight we visited the northeast corner of the Backpacker District to watch the Livingston father-and-son duo play Seventeen Saloon. They played well, were very game. The Saloon is the sort of hoot one might expect to find in this area: a country western tavern of rough-hewn logs like a beaver lodge fortified against Apache attacks. Inside, waitresses in short-shorts and cowboy boots outnumber patrons. They carry bar menus in low-slung holsters. We never saw one of these, since the owner ferried us directly to a cluster of tall tables pushed together inches from the narrow stage, where each of us had a personal cowgirl waiting with Johnny Walker Gold refills. Onstage, the trap was segregated in a clear acrylic booth, still sporting the KISS endorsement on its bass head. The band was impressed: this looked like the sort of place you might find on Sixth Street back home in Austin; but to me it was kitsch just east of Frontierland, USA: who ever saw a colorful plate of tropical bar fruit in a honky-tonk dive?2 The Filipino cover combo up next was great, too. [Cavin]