Saturday, February 23, 2008


While leaving the apartment yesterday, the security bar on our front door broke off in my hands. This sort of thing doesn't even raise my eyebrows anymore. I just dropped the pieces of the mechanism off at the front desk on the way out the door and it was fixed when I returned. Fixed too tightly, actually: now I have to shove resolutely to shut the door. Fabulous; but still no eyebrows. If you're interested, I've been spending too much time this week shut away in my dark office crafting photographs to put online. After hours of this, I've finally finished a measly five more images from the series I took in Kentucky last Spring. They are here if you want them. Last night I met Sunshine for a sushi dinner in a restaurant she'd noticed down a low hallway and up a flight of stairs overlooking the busy intersection of Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Huệ Streets across from the Rex Hotel. It's a very sterile and utile sushi diner with red furniture and tiled walls. It was my first experience of a conveyor-belt sushi place, a type of restaurant I've seen around but never had the opportunity to try. Pre-made morsels motor slowly around the bar, color-coded to price lists glued down at every place setting. Interesting, but we ordered from the menu anyway (and I discovered that conveyor-belt sushi, a culinary goal in theory, plays on my general prejudice against buffet restaurants in practice). The menu was probably more expensive. We had good sake and flower tea complimenting a great pile of tobiko which the menu showed being served in a hollowed-out cucumber, but actually came on a leaf stuck to the little bamboo lattice of a serving tray by a large wad of green wasabi. [Cavin]

Friday, February 22, 2008


Another thing crossed off the checklist: today I headed to the company medical unit to, at long last, finish the vaccination series I started back in DC. I'd met the doctor before and I really like her. She's a busy, talented woman in a white lab coat, and she isn't inconsistent with those often constructed notions of science versus the social graces found in bad books. Her very earnest and fetching mad scientist-ness puts me at ease, like slipping into the comfort of pulp fiction. But the doctor was busy today so I worked with the company nurse for the first time. I like her, too. She's not inconsistent with my real-world experience with nurses: wryly humorous on the inside with a carefully straight-faced outer shtick. For my own part, I played the cliché left to me: was my bluff joking a front for doctor's office nervousness? The nurse hustled around constructing my disposable syringe, getting the final vial of Hepatitis A stuff out of the fridge. I talked her into going ahead with my Hep B shot today, too, telling her I wasn't walking all the way down here for just one measly shot. Meanwhile, the doctor stole in for a minute to convince us both to also immunize me with this year's influenza cocktail, so I convinced the nurse it was time for her own rabies booster. All I can compare this scene to: three standard archetypes engaging in some medical Mexican standoff--holed-up in a white room daring each other to inoculate. Sadly, I had neither the experience or charm to give the nurse the shot myself, but I walked out of there with a satisfying feeling of influence just short of actual revenge. I also walked out of there wearing three brand new band-aids. [Cavin]

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Coming off yesterday's recognition of my burgeoning feelings of familiarity with my new (ish) hometown, I'd like to ironically (ish) announce that I bought tickets home for the first time after what will have been about six months by the time I board. A twenty-four hour fly-day over twelve time zones needs to be planned in advance, something I meant to do before the end of January and just never managed. What's so hard about it? Buying airfare has become simpler since online ticket sales became the norm, and yet it takes so long to compare prices from different carriers and tweak arrival and departure dates to haggle up the best price. I entertained the idea of flying Royal Thai Air (because it is my favorite airline right now) but that would have stranded me in New York. It would have cost more too, though the difference would have been worth it for the legroom and the better food. I entertained flying Korean just for the layover in Seoul and an extra stamp in my passport. I finally decided that I'd fly on crappy United in the hope that I can convince them to upgrade me to a better travel class since I have so many frequent flier miles. I listed myself as an "Indian Vegetarian" in hope of getting better food. Wish me luck on that. The process of selecting my itinerary took me three hours. I'll be getting on the plane here at Tân Sơn Nhất Airport shortly after dawn Monday, April twenty-eighth, and I'll arrive in North Carolina shortly before eleven pm that very same evening after twenty-seven hours of collected in-flight and layover durations--according to schedule. Wish me luck on that, too. I will be in the US for almost exactly one month. [Cavin]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


On Monday night, the last of our long Washington's Birthday Holiday weekend, we had a nice dinner out with friends. One of these friends is a person we knew from our time in Mexico, a woman who was working on the border in Nuevo Laredo while we were in Monterrey. She will be posted in Ho Chi Minh City in the summer, and has come for a couple of weeks for a little cultural immersion before completing her Vietnamese study, a tactic which strikes me as a good idea. We met her, along with another coworker we were introduced to for the first time, late evening at our apartment. This gave us the opportunity to show them an example of what the company housing is like around here, and they were generally enthusiastic. I was happy that there was no longer an oddly-sized refrigerator sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, and that the electrical smoke smell has almost died completely away. Welcome to Vietnam, Jennifer! We wandered down the side street to Spice, a Thai place we like a few blocks north. We spent much of our double date answering questions about Ho Chi Minh City, and the odd feelings I've been having lately started to creep up on me again. I was at home. I was the one who knew about town, now. Monday marked the fourth month of our life here in Vietnam; and, much like the times when we've picked up travelers at the airport, or the times when we’ve returned here ourselves from other countries, I felt the inexplicable erosion of my own alienism. There will never be a time where I feel homogeneous here, of course; but at the same time I feel very familiar now--comfortable, knowledgeable--about my environment. [Cavin]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Finally, at long last, an ordinary day from start to finish. There are no flights scheduled in the near future. Nothing was on fire in the walls. I woke up, took a long shower, and pottered about trying vainly to catch-up on the ordinary things I'm always behind on, not those special things I've been getting behind recently. I glued together some ceramic figurines that were broken in our move here. I wrote yesterday's Update entry. Yawn. Lovely, boring blogicide. Since today was Tuesday, Ms. Hương arrived this afternoon with a grocery bag, prepared to cook us a meal. This is another ordinary thing, though I've not gotten used to it yet. Sunshine has put numerous post-its throughout our cookbook. These are color-coded to indicate fish or vegetarian recipes Ms. Hương can cook for dinner, or chicken lunches she can pack for Sunshine. There's even a special pad of third color stickies for Ms. Hương to mark recipes of interest to her. We think Ms. Hương should run wild, cook whatever she always wanted to cook while paid by the hour, using our groceries and us as guinea pigs. Tonight she was eager to make bánh xèo for us. This is a Vietnamese dish of overturned turmeric flour pancakes, like quesadilla omelets, filled with ingredients. Ours were filled with sprouts and shrimp and rice, served with lettuce, mint, nước mắm, and basil on the side. We were a little stymied about how to eat these large things,* but I was too shy to ask the cook, who was already enduring a longer workday than she normally does. Eventually, we looked it up in a nearby world cuisine guide, then wrapped the pancake in the lettuce and herbs and dipped before eating. Just like a large, floppy spring roll. [Cavin]

Monday, February 18, 2008

Washington's Birthday

Happy Washington's Birthday, an official federal holiday rather unintuitively celebrating two early United States presidents. Of course, you might live in one of the dozen or so US States which actually legally renamed today's holiday "Presidents Day" to stem Lincoln’s exclusion; or you may live somewhere on the remaining fifty-five 56ths of this globe, where today was just another Monday. Presidents Day is always the third Monday of Black History Month. Washington's Birthday is actually the twenty-second of February, although he was born on the eleventh. It's confusing. Also, there's a statistical likelihood you don't care unless you're a US government employee. Today, Sunshine and I waited for maintenance to replace our loaner refrigerator and blasted modem. Actually, I didn't wait: I headed on downstairs to use the free wireless on the first floor. The elevator system in this building is wonky. The left hand car is for the exclusive use of tenets whereas building staff are to use the one on the right. Of course, when I press the down button, either elevator on the system may respond. There's a special staff button for calling the rightmost elevator. I can still get on either elevator that arrives, of course; but one will stop at every floor as it descends, opening to ladder-carrying maintenance men or cart-pushing housekeepers who've pressed their special button. None of these people will actually ride the elevator with me. They're too polite. I stand there grinning, waiting for the doors to shut again, waiting to repeat this action ten more times to the lounge, eleven times back. Invariably, the right hand elevator opens when I press any button. This happens up and down the building regularly. Back upstairs today, I learned maintenance had come and gone already and everything was working properly again. [Cavin]

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I'm picking up with yesterday's cliffhanger; nothing but café internetting happened today, anyway. When we returned from dinner (Saigon Stud1 update in the comments), maintenance had left the premises. We suffered no more powergeists throughout the weekend. We'd checked all the extension cords, routers, portable drives, laptops, and audiovisual components; everything lit, hummed, and blinked properly except the poor DSL modem. They tell us it will be available maybe Monday. I'm tempted to lament: "why us?" and we each have a theory. Sunshine's is gracefully simple with domesticated anima attraction: our house felt abandoned by us--this electrical issue is the architectural equivalent to a housecat peeing all over our suitcases. My own supposition requires backstory: one week before yesterday, Sunshine and I accompanied our Delhi friends to a coworker's house for a traveling rug vendor's display. When we arrived, the erudite man was flipping anecdotally through a two-foot stack of piled carpets--Persian, Indian, Turkish, beautiful--each more baroquely exotic than the one before. When we left that house, it was under the burden of a richly red eighty-year-old Iranian throw. None of this struck me as particularly M.R. Jamesian2,3 until we converted the currency and were surprised to discover that the US price was entirely composed of a devilish number of sixes. Gulp. We went ahead with the sale, however; but that night Sunshine woke into a too-realistic dream of presences in the room, and I was roused by a particularly creepy nudge and whisper from her in turn: "There are people sitting over there so I’m going to turn on the light, okay?" Gulp. Now our beautiful exotic carpet is in our own dining room, and the power has become haunted. I cannot see any way this scientific effect and superstitious cause are not related. [Cavin]