Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Last night Ms. Hương returned, on her normal weeknight this time, and cooked a stellar meal for us: about ten fat fresh summer rolls, filled with mint and shrimp, and a large bowl of veggie soup. These were ideas we'd come up with and asked her to make in a text message we sent her yesterday. She did not need to pick up extra groceries, we'd told her; we will hardly be home before she comes again next Tuesday. Today, shortly before noon, we will board a flight to Hà Nội, our first trip to the capital. We will be home on Sunday night, possibly so late that I will not post another Update before Monday. Between now and then, we will be hitting the streets of the comparatively small, leafy, and cold flatlands far to the north of us, up the S shape of Việt Nam near enough to the Chinese border. Sunshine will be working a conference Thursday and Friday, and we will then be taking our weekend to enjoy a new town. Temperatures will average in the sixties, meaning the nights could come in under fifty degrees F, and I will finally, maybe for the only time this year, get to wear my leather jacket in comfort. I am a little nervous about today's flight, and not just because I'm always a little worried about flying. But added to the recent tales of tigers1 and scorpions2 is the news that sixty-plus crates of live rat snakes, over a ton of reptiles, were seized Friday in Hà Nội following their illegal importation from Bangkok on Vietnam Air.3 This is the second incident of officials finding a box of illegal snakes on the national carrier in a month.4 I am for sure not checking my own luggage. [Cavin]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I'm still on the subject of Sunday night's concert, perhaps casting it as a parable of the effect authority can have on youth. Or Maybe I'm contemplating a parable about the obnoxious gulf exhibited by expat VIP children without a lick of respect or cultural awareness. Or maybe the following story just happened, and by watching it and writing it down, I've tailored it to illustrate a disconnect that's entirely arbitrary, creating a parable of observational ethics. Near us in the VIP section of Army Stadium was a group of North American kids radically keyed-up over My Chemical Romance. They were running around, standing on the chairs, egging each other on. Stadium security, charged with regulating the sectional seating, were intent on not letting them run wild. Several times the uniformed security guards had to stop the kids from entering other areas, including the VIP bar area where we were sitting. They told them to get down off the chairs. The kids jeered at them "we're VIPs" they'd scream, trying to dart around behind uniformed backs, to do what they were just told not to. Typical kid power, as my mom used to call it, from privileged tweens lacking regard for the authority of the stadium's young, uniformed security. By the time the band started, security's respect had also run out: the phalanx of guards stood in front of the group, blocking their view, shining lights in their faces whenever they'd cheer, placing a hand on their shoulder to reseat them whenever they'd stand. I was wickedly pleased by the display, though that seems petty now. I'd been annoyed, too. Did the group of children return home complaining about the Vietnamese? Did the Vietnamese likewise walk away with a foul feeling for jerk white kids? I don't know. [Cavin]

Monday, January 21, 2008


Last night, Sunshine and I took a cab to Army Stadium (also referred to as Military Region 7 Stadium), Tân Bình District, to see My Chemical Romance share the stage with some recent winners of Tiger Beer's local Rock Your Passion* battle of the bands. We had VIP tickets, meaning all of the following: one, we were seated in the one available bleacher, near the dugout, distantly behind people with regular tickets standing in the outfield near the stage; two, we had large, useless plastic badges hanging around our necks; three, flashily uniformed beer stewardesses kept bringing us free drinks. The action included three bands and took two and a half hours. First onstage was the Vietnamese band Unlimited, who placed third in the recent contest but were also crowned crowd favorite. The crowd apparently favors speedmetal Dead Or Alive with chunk overtones. Highlights included a slash-n-burn cover of Final Countdown, itself well worth the ticket price. Next, and my favorite, were the grand prize winning Ngũ Cung who, while still serving up a Việt pastiche of harmless pop metal punctuated by glittery castrato grace notes, demonstrated a comely and playfully deconstructive range articulation reminiscent of Faith No More. Both Vietnamese bands played for about a half-hour, striking rock-and-rule postures for the multiple cameras onstage with them. My Chemical Romance played longer: fifty minutes or so. It was mostly wasted on me. I'm unfamiliar with the band, disinterested in the style--a soup of nearly everything that's happened on the gringo pop stage since nineteen eighty-six. They had the crowd, though, and good energy. They had cross-cultural aplomb. It's just that this style of white-boy whiny and anthem (like the Friends theme song sung by Sammy Hagar, or really, vice-versa) was less interesting than the funnier Vietnamese bands. [Cavin]

Sunday, January 20, 2008


At one point during yesterday's lovely walk I was already composing this blog entry in my mind. We were following Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Street before the Thị Nghè Canal, and wandering a very engaging-looking area of rather ramshackle one-story buildings sharing the city blocks with blooming tropical foliage. The yellow flowers from nearby trees were scattered along the sidewalks, complimenting the apricot flower and red of the increasingly abundant Tet decorations. The pace of the city slackened, somehow. If I'd been unable to see District One buildings high-rising above the terracotta tiles of the immediate roofing, I might have been in another city entirely. It was tempting to imagine this as an isolated village instead of downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Then it struck me: twenty-five minutes into walking, I'd not even spied one playing card on the ground. I found one last Thursday, by the way: the Ten clubs, first card of the sixth Street Stud round since October. I don't remember where I picked it up. I usually find one or two cards whenever I walk anywhere, but not today. So the subject of this blog occurred to me: wow, what an atypical day in an atypical-feeling neighborhood just twenty minutes from our house. Then I discovered another Ten clubs jutting from a concrete hatch in a busy intersection--ah, the usual again. I nearly killed us both retrieving the card from the active turn lane. But after that, walking south along the banks of the canal--toward the zoo--cards started coming faster and faster, much the way a chain of dominoes might fall. Eventually, I found eighteen more cards after that ten yesterday,* an even more atypical number than none. The real subject of this entry then occurred to me: cause comes before effect. [Cavin]