Saturday, June 21, 2008


After such a long absence from writing these updates during my vacation home, I'm noticing a tendency for this column to dwell in the past. To counter that somewhat, I've added a long North Carolina story here. Some other, newsier tidbits I wanted to note from the same time period: did you ever wonder how routine manicures went from a hallmark of wealthy foppery to mass availability at every cut-rate neighborhood strip mall? Why the whole industry seems to be in the hands of Vietnamese immigrants? According to this L.A. Times feature, the answer to both questions is Tippi Hedren, who's apparently known for having very pretty talons. Meeting refugee professionals in a California relocation camp known as Hope Village, in 1975, Ms. Hedren became so fascinated with the women she flew her personal manicurist out to teach them how to do nails properly. She also convinced a nearby beauty school to enroll the immigrants, even went so far as to help them find jobs. This marriage of culture and industry stuck and persists today. You can purchase your activist figure here (thanks, Gwenda). Another one: according to this Thanh Niên News story, the small historic village of Phong Nam, ten kilometers out of Đà Nẵng, is losing tourist dollars over a rumor that its entire population of two thousand souls has cancer. Apparently, people from town are jeered in the streets of nearby communities. From the article:
Bachelors from neighboring villages stay far away from Phong Nam's women and many grooms-to-be have left their lovers since the "cancer village" rumor spread around the region.
Nice. Apparently there really have been twenty-six deaths from the disease over the last six years, but officials note that many of the residents of Phong Nam are over one hundred years old. [Cavin]

Friday, June 20, 2008


Just playing a little catch-up here, so these are only "updates" because I didn't Update them already. While I was in North Carolina, I uploaded the remainder of the photographs I took in Hong Kong, paving the way to eventually finally begin uploading pictures from Vietnam. Please don't be led astray--this news is a month old at least. Anyone interested probably already knows all about this (and certainly anyone who reads this space does). But for the record, those pictures start here. Other news everyone already knows: while I was away from Vietnam, massive Cyclone Nargis1--which had been churning northwest through the Bay of Bengal--bounced eastward just in time to catch the shelf of the Irrawaddy Delta and be funneled straight into downtown Burma. It was the worst natural disaster to hit that country (also referred to as Myanmar) in its recorded history, causing nearly inestimable loss of life and property. Complicating matters, Burma is a country so leery any of scrutiny from the outside world they routinely refuse its assistance with humanitarian aid distribution. As if this weren't bad enough, nor close enough to home, shortly over one week later, China suffered its largest earthquake since 1976. The Sichuan Earthquake2 was so damn huge that it was felt from Mongolia to Vietnam. Nearly seventy thousand people are dead, with seventeen thousand still officially missing. Almost five million people are newly homeless--fully one-third of the province's population. For weeks it seemed like every time I turned on the news these terrible calamities were continuing to wrack Asia: seventy-two hours of aftershocks tantamount to full-blown disasters themselves; disease and possible famine on the rise for Burmese flood victims and relief workers turned away at borders. Eventually I just stopped turning on the news at all. [Cavin]

Thursday, June 19, 2008


The title of this Update is Franny and Sushi. Sunshine left Tuesday morning for Nha Trang, where she's helping facilitate the USNS Mercy's humanitarian medical services.* Every time she's away, I plan to go on another sushi bar crawl down Lê Thánh Tôn Street; but usually, like last night, I become too distracted by the very first menu available, ordering too much for a second stop to remain tenable. Last night I was in Wasabi, my beloved tiny yakisoba joint. I ordered grilled salmon neck, sea eel on seared tofu, and a bowl of soba I've never tried before. On the way out I'd grabbed Salinger's Franny and Zooey, pretty much the last work by the author, besides un-anthologized New Yorker short stories, I haven't read. During my meal I read "Franny", first published in 1955, and comprising about one-fourth of a volume also containing "Zooey", a novella first published in 1957. Since I sat down before I began, and finished before I left, I am tempted to say that my meal--salmon, soup and eel--completely included this story; but in a way the opposite is true. In the story, Franny does not eat. She's in town on a date, during which she becomes annoyed, waxes reflexive then exasperated then spiritual, and is very much haunted by something that remains unidentified. She has also brought a book to dinner. As she explains why, she compulsively smokes and ignores her chicken sandwich. When my meal arrived I did not read. My soup included one perfectly cooked egg: solid whites and a runny yolk somehow preserved in soup hot enough to overcook it. When I finished eating, I picked the book back up and finished the story. Did my dinner include "Franny", or did the story include my dinner? [Cavin]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There was certainly a haunted and peculiar feeling to last night, punctuated by equally peculiar fish-out-of water alienation--something which, though grown less typical the longer I've lived here,* still waits just around the corner for some surprise opportunity. The haunting began as I looked over the city from my narrow balcony. I was about to have dinner at Au Parc. It was thoroughly raining--I definitely needed an umbrella--and I was considering my destination accordingly: Au Parc is only about three blocks away. Below me, streetlights lit the ghostly and translucent plastic-draped minibike motorists which, in turn, reflected along the wet spikes of Reunification Park's iron fence. Because of this glowing traffic motion, and the intermittent nature of each passing reflection, the individual flashes coalesced into animated wraiths which looked for all the world like they were passing swiftly through the plants on the far side of the wall. Later, after dinner, I had a typically awkward culture-gap exchange with the sweet German Bettie Page-type who manages Au Parc: I made a passing comment she was supposed to understand--her English is perfect--but she reacted in such a mystifying way I knew I’d been babbling. The smile-and-nod someone might return in a room too loud for people to bother repeating themselves. I think she thinks I'm crazy. Outside, the clouds had broken so the full moon could actually illuminate Vietnam's wheeling bats in an old Hollywood way. A Vietnamese woman approached me in the park along Pasteur Street, saying something too quietly for me to hear. She'd been sitting with a friend, but her haunted manner seemed to be offering something illicit: drugs or a back-alley massage. I'm a fish-out-of-water, though--and just maybe I'm crazy--but I responded just like Bettie Page before me. [Cavin]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Act One: I like movies. I'm not fanatic; my pursuit of encyclopedic minutia isn't obsessive. I just like to watch and understand them. I use them. It's more of an affair than a hobby. My DVD collection occupies a considerable number of shelves along our long interior hallway. It's not obsessively organized. Certainly it isn't in alphabetical order. It languishes like a roommate--reordering as it grows and changes. It's not a goal, to aerobicize or perfect, but a relationship to explore and refine. I've watched maybe half of it. There's always something new remaining to discover. Act two: some of my DVD collection is horror. The birth of my affair is probably not unique. It began as fuel for a hungry imagination. Coming of creative age in the late seventies, movies provided raw material for me to build on. As I practiced, those raw materials became increasingly tacit; but inspiring the young Mr. Cavin required more literal blocks. My unapologetic nostalgic gestalt, then, began with the obvious. Act three: therefore, my heart will always remember its flutter over out-of-the-box fantasies--rubber monsters and model spaceships. Of the former, the work of Stan Winston* remains invaluable: evolving Hollywood's long creature cosmetics tradition into mad science. Often Mr. Winston abandoned his human templates altogether, constructing creatures entirely from the make-up. These hollow creatures--but alive!--nourished my insatiable desire for creative building blocks. Mr. Winston's hollow creatures filled whole technologies of literal creativity, arguably crafting whatever modern expectations we have of monster cinema in the process. Dénouement: Stan Winston died on what was Sunday night in his time zone. He masterminded generations of innovation in just two-thirds of a lifetime, and I mourn that missing third somewhat selfishly, I guess: those new materials we can literally now only imagine. [Cavin]

Monday, June 16, 2008


In the previous post I stopped the ball rolling on this Update column with the assertion that there would be an unprecedented month-long hiatus in programming from Saigon headquarters while I embarked on an overdue vacation home. It's been difficult to get that ball rolling again since, and that hiatus has stretched to an unexpected forty-nine days. Seven weeks. Among the obstacles to starting-up again: the sheer number of things that happened over my vacation home puts me in a confusion over what to pick-n-choose for back-dated inclusion; the sheer number of things that continued happening in the meantime have thwarted my ability to sit in front of the computer (and have, of course, added to whatever plot confusion I'm having above), and after so many weeks of accruing without any disseminating, I feel awkward and out-of-practice. The list doesn't stop there. Too many days without posting and I begin to question the purpose of this project, the basic unrequited and unfocused nature of the thing wanes abundantly murky, while I've become well aware of the daily weight lifted from my shoulders (whenever I bother to remember to miss this routine at all, that is). There's also been all the jetlag to deal with. Anyway, this is a defensive post, hazarding embarrassingly into territory unattractively tantamount to "fishing for comments." In the long run, the reason for pursuing this blog is simply doing it, its benefits probably unforeseeable, and the time it takes is a well-spent diversion from mindless internet surfing or too many lattes and Bond novels down on Diamond Center's attractive patio, watching the next rain storm gust by as maroonly uniformed men and women scramble to close the gaps between slick tarps and colorful umbrellas. I'll knock the rust away one more time, I guess. [Cavin]