Saturday, February 16, 2008


This Update is entitled Welcome Home! This is our first quiet weekend in quite some time. We returned from Hanoi three weeks ago, left that following weekend for India, and spent last weekend there. Today was for relaxing. Welcome Home! Sunshine woke this morning to the smell of burning dust in my office. All the electronic equipment was out. There was odd, decentralized buzzing in the walls. Overhead lights would brown down to flashlight level then strobe brightly. Pops and crackles came from the closet. Sunshine got the fire extinguisher handy, woke me up (I was sleepily unclear about the electrical danger: I slept another hour). The first thing I noticed, getting up, was that everything was now unplugged, the lights were all buzzing, and smoke was pouring out of the living room AC unit. We called maintenance. This is a terrifying step, after all: once maintenance has been invited into the apartment they'll stay, they'll return day after day, fidgeting, respectfully parking their shoes in the hall, cluttering the apartment with ladders, drop canvases, and tools. Today, they dismantled several AC units, took electrical measurements, and ultimately replaced the microwave, the refrigerator, and many fuses. Our new fridge is temporary, I hope. It's too large to fit in the designated space and has been left in the middle of the kitchen floor. Monday, special air conditioner guys will replace the living room unit and the IT company will replace our Vietnamese modem, the only equipment unprotected by fused surge suppressors and electrical converters--thus totally burnt to a crisp in whatever event started all this while we were sleeping. It's good that everything else is fine, but there goes the first week of wireless internet and I must regress to the damn wi-fi cafés to post this. [Cavin]

Friday, February 15, 2008


Last night Sunshine and I enjoyed a nice Valentine's Day dinner at the little French-slash-African salad bistro across the park from our apartment building. The second floor there is really charming, with large windows looking out over the green space around the intersection of Lê Duẩn and Pasteur Streets, northwest of Reunification Palace. The city is still partly decorated after the recent Tết holiday: the park's still hung with string lights and large pink and white flower lanterns. Or it was then. Tonight, while walking through the same area on the way to an Indian restaurant (hey, it's already been almost three whole days since we ate actual home-cooked food in India), we noticed the lights were off and the flower lanterns were piled unceremoniously at the street corners in a tottering dump of sheer pastel--butterfly wings scattered after some fairy atrocity. The food was still excellent; and these walks in the dry, seventy-degree breeze are even more satisfying after the northern Indian chill, though my body ultimately craves real winter. Good news: during our vacation a new wireless broadband router arrived in the mail. I managed to get it working tonight. I knew I could do it. I'd come to have a lot of faith in my belief that the reason our first router wasn't working was because it was actually broken, not just some whim of the service here in southeast Asia. That belief turns out to be correct only after a few hours of uncertainty and then the five minutes of continuous service needed to convince the router, too. Now I can access the internet from anywhere on my floor. This is particularly important to Sunshine, who was growing tired of plugging her computer manually into my office wall just to check her email. [Cavin]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day. And, since we've been on vacation during a particularly busy ten days, happy Super Bowl Sunday, happy Mardi Gras Super Tuesday, and happy New Year of Earth and Rat. We arrived home from New Delhi yesterday afternoon, just about an hour-and-a-half later than expected. It's always interesting coming home to our exciting country, especially from as exciting a country as India. Both places are very unlike the US, and also unlike each other. But I'm far more comfortable here, after almost four months, than I was in India. So while many people would suffer similar culture shock in either place, I only get it there. Stepping into the dry nineties outside Tân Sơn Nhất Airport, accosted by taxi stand attendants and the ever-present raucous airport crowd--even hustling my way through customs and immigration taciturnity and into the mad chaos of aggressive street traffic--was like sinking into an armchair compared to leaving through Indira Gandhi International Airport, though were I to write why it would be another list of all the very same things differentiated only by familiarity. Don't get me wrong: I had a wonderful vacation. New Delhi and I eventually became good friends, and Indian culture is as varied and wonderful as it is ageless. We saw all the expected stuff: elephant traffic, decorated cattle, city monkeys, camels, funny little cars that seemed to have changed not one whit since British assembly lines changed hands in the forties. We saw statues of blue people, people with many arms. The city was dusty and arid, and yet lushly green, too. It was cool in New Delhi even though it was sunny; at night it was cold. But New Delhi was not home, you know, not safe. And apparently Ho Chi Minh City is. [Cavin]