Saturday, July 12, 2008


I'm still feeling relatively wretched today. Most of the crappy illness has subsided, but I'm left with all the ick. I've finished the books I brought with me. I spend my days trying not to go to bed too early, but I'm still asleep before midnight. So then I'm awake for the complimentary breakfast buffet every morning. It's worth bragging about: the sushi is pretty good, the dried figs and kiwi are excellent, and there are usually about a dozen kinds of pastry. All this compliments the standards: cereals, phở bò, stir-fry, passion fruit juice, durian. It's a breakfast worth getting out of bed for. Also worth bragging about: the first-floor Japanese restaurant I frequent those evenings when I don't feel well enough to walk out into the heat. They have excellent sake. Between these gustatory daily milestones there's nothing very good on TV and nobody to talk to. Tonight, Sunshine was working rehearsals until almost nine pm. I was (barely) feeling up to meeting her at a restaurant about a kilometer down the beach. I waited until dark to walk there. The seaside is popular on Saturday night. Families barbecue together in the dark. Every few feet blankets are spread with concessions--sodas, dried squid, fruit. It was still very hot and humid, even at night. The place we were meeting, the Sailor's Club, is a confluence of three restaurant types: Indian, Italian, and Vietnamese Bar. The latter takes over after dark. We were served by space-suited Tiger Beer Girls while the nearly karaoke stylings of some nameless Filipino band blared too loudly to talk over. Partiers in attendance included the current Miss Universe and her entourage. It was excruciating; I wolfed my fried seafood sampler down in record time and begged to return to the hotel. [Cavin]

Friday, July 11, 2008


I came down with an annoying cold late Wednesday night, feeling those depths of fidgety malaise that always herald this sort of thing. It also seemed monstrously cold in our hotel room, something I credit more to my sickening perception than the actual climate. I didn't think much of these symptoms at the time, but by Thursday morning I was nearly bedridden. Luckily, I'm in the sort of seaside paradise nineteenth century doctors routinely prescribed to their ailing clientele. Also, I'm free to do nothing all day long. For Sunshine it's different: she's here to see gala events, sure, but she's also volunteering her vacation time to the pageant. She's been working twelve-hour shifts almost daily, helping the Miss Universe staff by stocking dressing rooms, herding Beauty Queens from one interview to another, troubleshooting language-barrier problems between the Universe staff and Vietnamese-speaking caterers and choreographers and whatnot. I've been dividing my time between gazing over the South China Sea and rereading Treasure Island. She's been working hard--meeting co-emcee Jerry Springer, making friends with the current Miss Venezuela, Dayana Mendoza, and generally accruing wads of typically hilarious anecdotal material. Having done nothing, then, I must either discuss Treasure Island or Miss Universe things from last month. Back at the Miss Universe National Contest,1 we noticed Miss Kosovo was wearing a sash reading "Kosova". Did you notice this?2 We started theorizing about how, like many countries, Việt Nam did not yet recognize the sovereignty of the newest little nation in the world.3 Indeed, Zana Krasniqi was announced at that very event as "Miss Serbia-Kosovo." Was her sash indicative of the red tape hoops Kosovar nationals must now navigate for their Vietnamese visa? Nah, it was just a typo. What contrived geopolitical conspiracy might we have imagined for "Miss Phillippines"?4 [Cavin]

Thursday, July 10, 2008


We arrived at the Presentation Event Tuesday night at six-something. It started about a half-hour late at seven thirty. We had to talk our way through five security checkpoints along the way. These were operated by the police, on the road between the town and its airport. I was hot in my three-piece suit. The ticket had specified "formal" dress, devalued to "cocktail"--whatever that means--in the second draft. Walking down the dirt track beside the road, where the taxi let us off, I noticed most of the people around me were wearing jeans and T-shirts. It's the first time in my whole life I've felt overdressed, something I might have relished in a different climate. Throughout the show, the emcees kept telling me how well the AC was working while I sweltered. The people around me seemed fine in halter tops and shorts. Many of them were from other areas of the auditorium, moved into more expensive forward sections to fill unsold seats. Nice idea; only people in the back were advanced to unfilled seats in front of us, meaning that we'd paid significantly more for worse seats. I still wouldn't be complaining, except we couldn't see for the first twenty minutes due to people milling around in front of us. The giant TV screens weren't working. The tickets said "no children under six," but there were screaming kids everywhere. Same with "ringing phones" and "flash photography." There's more, but I'll skip to the end: because the police were stopping anyone without a ticket at five checkpoints, no cabs were available to pick us up after the show. We ended up having to walk a dirty, sandy mile--in "cocktail" dress--to where all the cabs had been forced to pull over and wait for us. [Cavin]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Last night's Miss Universe Presentation event was a disappointment. Also, it was a little bit frustrating. The biggest source of disappointment was that the show, which I thought would include all the elements of the Final Pageant, finally enacted by all contestants, only ended up including the gown and swimwear events. I was most excited by the prospect of at long last seeing more than the top five contestants answering that interview question, my second-favorite part of the whole Miss Universe routine (my first-favorite is the National Costume Event, which was judged during its own event earlier in the pageant month1,2). The judges do interview all the contestants, of course, and formulate scoring based on those interviews; but this happened off-stage before last night's thing. I'm disappointed because the contestants I find most interesting frequently never make the top fifteen, let alone the final five, and I wanted to hear them talk. On to frustration: the word that continually came up last night was "half-baked." The event itself is produced by the Miss Universe Organization in a venue masterminded by a local organization company which has won a bid for the work. It’s probably par for the course, but last night’s venue, the Diamond Bay Resort Hotel and Convention Center Theater,3 was built from the ground up to house Miss Universe after that Vietnamese organizational entity won their bid. Five months ago, there was nothing standing in a lonely bend in the national highway, twenty minutes south of town, which is now flanked by these enormous yellow buildings. The thing is, they still aren't really finished: the entryway is mostly gravel, the floors are uncarpeted, and the seats aren't all bolted down right. Nobody seemed to have any idea what they were doing, but more on that tomorrow. [Cavin]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


We've come to Nha Trang, about a quarter of the way up the S-shape of Vietnam's eastern seaboard from Hồ Chí Minh City, to see the Miss Universe Pageant. Well, there's more really: we're here to engage in a week of beauty activities, culminating in the live event itself at the beginning of next week. We flew in yesterday, drove forty minutes up National Road A-1 (copiously hung with banner after banner pinkly depicting whatever is necessary to welcome contestants from seventy-nine other nations), and checked into our hotel, the Sunrise Beach Resort.* We had a little trouble finding available rooms, even months ago, so we resorted to occupying an expensive suite overlooking the blue, blue and coconut palm-fringed water of this gorgeous South China Beach bay. Sadly, the main thoroughfare runs between the hotel and the sand, but that's little enough of a nuisance up on the fifth floor. Miss Universe things began happening immediately after check-in: I needed to scramble to get my laundry dry-cleaned and pressed. We were already in a rush about this yesterday because tonight is the Presentation Event, a longer version of the beauty pageant where voting will be done to determine the fifteen semi-finalists. During the annual live broadcast of the Final Night Event, the eighty women competing will be winnowed to these fifteen semi-finalists before the first commercial break. Throughout the evening, viewers see only these contestants modeling their swimwear and gowns, answering interview questions, etc. The show tonight is about watching all eighty contestants do these things, and determining which Misses will be announced as semi-finalists at the beginning of the broadcast. So I need my suit available immediately, tonight, and will then need to have it cleaned again for that other show at the end of our vacation. [Cavin]

Monday, July 07, 2008


We arrived in sunny seaside Nha Trang shortly before nine this morning. I do not know why our itineraries start so early lately. Ever since Việt Nam become part of the equation, whether traveling to here, from here, or even around within these national borders, every time we've boarded a plane I've had to wake up before dawn. Well now: we did have an afternoon flight home from Hà Nội back in January. This morning's flight was the second-latest, however: our flight took off around eight am; we left the house around six thirty. If that sounds like complaining let me undo it really fast: I love flying Vietnam Airlines almost as much as I like flying Royal Thai Air. Check-in is so swift and easy that I barely know it's happening to me (I'm still asleep). I never have to take off any clothes at the security check. Flight updates are broadcast bilingually, the English announcements seemingly recorded by a very prim-sounding Australian woman aping a posh Londoner. This morning, those announcements were broadcast too loudly for any conversation to happen during the thirty minutes we waited in the concourse. During the subsequent thirty-one minute flight, I was not only served a drink, but that drink was refilled. I cannot even imagine this happening on a US carrier. Shortly after, we were banking rather harshly out over the South China Sea before being delivered into the unbelievably small Cam Ranh Airport, about forty minutes south of Nha Trang.* The airport is so small that the luggage carousel takes up the whole disembarking lounge. People waiting for luggage pretty much wait outside. The airport in Imperial Huế was so small the departing gate was listed as "back door" on our printed tickets, but this one is even smaller. [Cavin]

Sunday, July 06, 2008


We've had quite a few spectacular storms over these last few days. Once or twice I've seen night fall outside, only to realize it was still mid-afternoon. The cloud cover was just so thick it actually blocked out all the sunlight. This tropical rainy season, two months old already, has reached its fullest potential I think, dumping awe-inspiring amounts of rain several times per day and then showering lightly a half-dozen times in the interstices. The terrible humidity I encountered when I first arrived here last October hardly ever breaks unless one of the downpours aligns with dusk; but the heat we were getting--in what would have been last autumn in the rest of the northern hemisphere--seems like it must be a late-season characteristic. There isn't enough time between the latest bluster and the next for it ever to get hot outside. It's now totally impossible to do anything without accounting for the coming storm. Last weekend, we dodged a couple violent systems while running around placing orders for two sweet formal áo dài's Sunshine can wear over our coming vacation. Yesterday, we were caught in the quickest and blackest storm I've seen yet while getting one of these custom dresses slightly altered. We got lucky today: the huge rainfall was early enough this morning to clear up again when we went to pick up Sunshine's finished orders, and we were home before it started up again. She now has some super nice nice new dresses for whatever formal events we might have tickets to in Nha Trang1 in the coming week-plus. We'll be heading to this spectacular beach resort pretty early tomorrow morning and we'll return late on the fifteenth. While we're away, updates to this column might become sporadic and, well, thematic. Fair warning. [Cavin]