Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! Every year, Sunshine's company has a large and formal Independence Day party. It's a "representational event" engineered to facilitate community networking while, incidentally, showing off what kind of swell parties the USA throws. In many ways, it's the most important shindig of the year in terms of international relations, so these parties are pretty much an extension of Sunshine's workday. I'm invited to go along, of course. I always imagine how fun it might be--a gala event!--but I also imagine the tedium of meeting hundreds of incidental salesmen and other American Chamber of Commerce expatriates. I always begin to regret telling Sunshine I'll accompany her as the day of the party nears. It's no skin off her nose, really: she isn't allowed to talk to me or anyone else she already knows during this do--her job is to mingle. The bosses are pretty strict about this. If I didn't go along, her night would probably actually be easier. But I feel bad about saying I'll do something and then not going through with it; so, on the afternoon of the event, I always dust off my suit, polish my shoes, and put on a tie. That was yesterday afternoon this year, and this half-dreaded, half-exciting gala event was much larger and sweller than the one I attended in Monterrey. I don't think I've ever been in a room with so many chandeliers. I've certainly never seen a four-tiered chocolate fondue fountain, a white chocolate White House as big as a three-person tent, or an Old Glory cake the size of a double bed. There were something like seventeen hundred salesmen in attendance, meeting one another over tables set with never-ending supplies of sushi and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was pretty spectacular. [Cavin]

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Busy day yesterday. Between the afternoon and the evening things, I finally got my hair cut again. The last time I went to the barber1 it only took three minutes to buzz my hair off--minutes costing me about one dollar each. I've never gotten the impression this is because my haircut is so easy; the laminated menu I'm handed by the usherettes has only the one price for haircuts. This is why I'm often asked what other valuable services I'll want--I assume they range from massages to pedicures, light snacks and dark coffee. I never order any of that. Yesterday, my stylist was an earnest youth who seemed dubious once he finally understood exactly what I wanted him to do. It's the exact opposite of the sentiment above. He couldn't believe I wanted something so simple for the very same price as real haircuts. He never did accept it. While I sat there he first trimmed my hair with scissors, then cut what was left with electric clippers. He seemed very concerned about the area around my ears, digging in with the vibrating things. Not the best pair: I became intimately acquainted with their faltering whine and electrical smell. I was surprised I wasn't nervous about this. No, I didn't get nervous until one of the bored usherettes delivered the straight razor* to my station; he wanted to shave stuff: my neck, the ear area, more. How do I tell a Vietnamese barber that I'm just going to shave these finely shaped sideburns off when I get home? Then back to the ears. I left that chair forty-eight minutes after sitting down, just three dollars poorer. I look like I'm recovering from some catastrophic headphone accident but my sideburns looked really hot for half an hour. [Cavin]

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


While this doesn't directly relate to yesterday's post, it's thematically related. It's also about horror. Last night, after a particularly black storm and a wonderful meal, we settled down to watch Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula* on DVD. I think this movie is underrated. I've always loved it, but a decade later it seems like one of the very last examples of horror cinema to be constructed by a mind actually interested in exploring new possibilities. Sure, it shows no greater fidelity to its source material than any other romantic apology for the great Victorian taboo; but I don't care. It comes closest to the novel's material evoking Mr. Stoker's embarrassing, stiff, and serially staged camp, not his effectively curdled xenophobia. Right; I don't care. See, it also shows a parental devotion to husbanding moods of sensational corruption, a finely-crafted signal that the world molders under its antagonist's shadow, even while preserving discrete-but-interconnected character viewpoints of that shared disintegration. It's an examination of seduction and repulsion rubbing together so finely-tuned, so disruptively overt, that it might require absolute silence and some formal concentration to swallow, as it also abandons much of the verisimilitude we're used to coddling our disbelief. It's more like a magic trick than a carnival side show: evidently more interested in sympathetic bewilderment than shocked conviction. But this is not what I came here to talk about. After the movie, in the half-dark of the scrolling credits, I brushed what looked to be some wet sand out of the DVD keepcase, unwrapped two hours before. What it turned out to be was hundreds of spiders or mites that covered my fingers and the coffee table and took an hour to track down and clean away once my heart finally was up to it. Horror. [Cavin]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Let's talk horror. For months I've been noticing a mounting story in the Canadian press: feet keep washing up on British Columbia shores. Starting last August there have been occasional notices of another foot found bobbing in some inland channel. They are always found laced tightly into protective sneakers, floating sole-up in the tide. Not that this Update column needs an excuse for horror, mind you; but this story, bearing so little resemblance to the topic of my daily life, sort of got filed away until now. The other day I read in the Vancouver press that among the fairly iffy theories people have been concocting to explain these feet is the supposition that they are the flotsam remains of Asian Tsunami victims, washed upon the new world shores by the very tides that consumed them years ago.1 This idea is pretty half-baked even for "iffy". It cannot explain why the first four recovered were all the right-hand feet of men wearing size twelve trainers. (The fifth was the left foot of a woman in size elevens; the sixth that of an animal wrapped in seaweed--surely a prank.*) Probably all are slightly too large to be the feet of victims who were, statistically, Asian children; certainly it's all too selective to be explained away as random. I don't want to leave the impression this was the opinion of anyone especially skilled in forensics. Even the article doesn't cite a source. And this Update is about horror, not disaster. The same article goes on to mention more credible foot accrual scenarios: Canada's rampant criminal drug trade or a murderous Rocky Mountain pig farmer, theorizing these feet washed into the ocean from fresh water tributaries cold and quick enough to account for the lack of total decomposition. Now that's horror. [Cavin]

Monday, June 30, 2008


Today's thing will be interesting news items having to do with airplanes. Somewhere in the sky between Hong Kong and Los Angeles on Friday, a Vietnamese woman died on United Airlines flight 862.1 The plane made an emergency stop in Honolulu, but the lady was pronounced dead on arrival. Hawaiian officials are reticent about the cause of death. It would be in terrible taste for me to hint that it might have been the food or the service that killed her, so instead I'll say my thoughts are with her family in this time of loss. But I've been on that flight three times already, and my own life has certainly been shortened. Next: Hà Nội airport authorities are baffled that a Boeing 727 has been abandoned on the Nội Bài tarmac since late last year.2 The plane flew in from Siem Reap, Cambodia, and was left for routine maintenance. All very normal, until the crew never returned. The airplane has a Cambodian flag on its fuselage and is branded "Air Dream," a company no one really remembers. If this is your plane, call Hà Nội soon; they're planning to sell it for scrap. Next: speaking of scrap, Phú Quốc islanders, who live off the southern coast of Vietnam near the Cambodian border, heard an overhead explosion the morning of May twenty-seventh. Pieces of scorched gray metal began falling from the sky. Emergency workers responded, expecting to find some sort of crash, but there was nothing beyond this unidentifiable debris. Nearby nations haven't reported any missing planes. Vietnam is unselfconsciously using the term "UFO" in the literal sense, making for some cute headlines.3 But now there’s been nary a follow-up in over a month, lending just that dash of X-Files sense, too. India Daily knows what I mean. [Cavin]

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Tired of hearing about beauty pageants? I hope not, because after the July Fourth festivities next weekend, Sunshine and I will be heading to Nha Trang to attend the actual pageant, live, and I suspect that whenever I do post during the eight days we'll be on vacation, I'll be posting about that. Between two sentences from right here, however, and Monday the seventh, I'll try very hard to post about other things. After the thirteenth it will all be blessedly over. But since Sunshine's mother was good enough to comb the whole internet for this photo of Sunshine walking alongside Miss USA during the contestants' visit to the USNS Mercy during her humanitarian mission in Nha Trang last weekend, I thought I'd pass it along. Okay, in decidedly odder news: residents of Bắc Ninh City, capital of an eponymous province situated east along the Red River Delta from Hà Nội up north, have been hearing a nasty rumor about the town's water supply since mid-month. A female HIV positive drug user, the story goes, had hit rock bottom after being dumped by her boyfriend. Distraught, immunodeficient, and singularly thorough, the woman supposedly cut her arteries and hopped into the town water tank. According to the rumor, she "wanted to take revenge on 'life'" by poisoning everyone. Then, the rumor continues, her corpse remained in the water supply for five days before facility staff discovered her. What an excellent plot!1 Residents now worried about drugs and disease, and honestly there's nothing much creepier than realizing that the whole community has been drinking a dead woman for weeks. Officials can only refute the rumor by recounting it,* and so it's spreading much further than it ever could have gotten on its own. And frankly, who believes an official, anyway? [Cavin]