Friday, July 18, 2008


After a week working long days as a volunteer, Sunshine finally took last Sunday off, allowing us to do some Nha Trang tourism together. We hopped into a cab and repeated the words "Chăm Pa" until we were taken the kilometer or so north to the Po Nagar Towers complex.1 This was my first opportunity to see an ancient site in Vietnam. The Po Nagar complex is located just across what must have initially been the town's northern demarcation: a river delta filled with blue wooden fishing boats. By now, Nha Trang has grown around the temple; currently the site provides a shady and peaceful spot overlooking the standard Vietnamese bustle on all sides. Po Nagar is a three-tiered Chăm Pa complex covering a small hill. Four towers remain: stone brick structures with terraced pyramid roofs2 at the top of stairs too small and steep for use. Trees provide some tropical shade. Epiphytes grow in the zigzags of ornate brickwork. At the bottom of the hill, only brick columns remain of another structure, an entryway to the complex. The whole area dates to the second century, but remaining structures were rebuilt primarily after the tenth. Some pristine touches might have been added as late as last week. Although this site was originally more extensive, I hesitate to use the word "ruins" in conjunction with Po Nagar. Locals still worship here, keeling in the cramped spaces with incense. Signs asked us to please remove our shoes before entering. I met my first Vietnamese monk up that hill, a beatific bald man in gold robes who calmly wished me a good day. He was just clearly peaceful, as if he'd stepped from some ideal--an ideal of calm over Vietnam: there under his arm was his matching gold motorcycle helmet. [Cavin]

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Việt Nam is such an interesting place. Historically, it's almost always been divided in some way. The north endures its half-year rainy season during the very six months of the southern dry season. Different nations colonized different regions, sparking contiguous civil conflicts in the pursuit of ideology and nationalism. The history of ancient Việt Nam is then uncannily familiar. Woefully simplified: the first colonization of the region was from the north in the second century BC, after which successive Chinese dynasties managed a lower kingdom spanning from the Red River Delta south almost to Huế. During this time, a local Sino-Viet culture was burgeoning, eventually gaining its independence in the tenth century only to remain a tributary state until ties with China were totally cut during the Mongol invasions beginning three hundred years later.1 In the interim, the newly autonomous Việt culture were looking to expand southward, where they discovered the Indo-Asian culture of Chăm Pa occupying five principalities along the South China seaboard.2 The Chăm Pa, arrived several centuries before, were directly related to that other great Vedic culture, the Khmer Kingdom,3 which occupied the rest of the southeast Asian mainland from the Malay Peninsula to well east of the Mekong Delta. During this time of initial contact, the Chăm Pa kingdom was at its height, but weakened under northern aggression over the following nine centuries, finally being subsumed by the Việt people. That this small region supported two very different initial cultures--Indian from the east and Chinese from the north--can stand as some tenuously related introduction to a national dualism become all too characteristic here. That those cultures were initially divided eerily close to the seventeenth parallel beggars belief. This is all just in the way of inadequate background for tomorrow's thing. Stay tuned. [Cavin]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


We arrived home in Hồ Chí Minh City a little before seven last night. Of course, because we'd been two hours early for our flight it took an extra hour before the crew managed to dislodge our bags from the very back corner of the cargo hold. Then, for the second time now, we hoped into a taxi with a driver who had zero idea how to get to our apartment. We've gotten comfortable with the many routes through Districts One and Three, including which roads are one-way and so must be accessed from points even further southwest than our intersection. We can now point our way home with some confidence, but we didn't actually arrive there until after eight fifteen. Since today is the day Miss Hương typically comes and cooks dinner for us, we didn't have to go back out. Hot shrimp and squid kabobs and pesto gnocchi were waiting to be reheated. It's good to be home. Today I'm back in our building's bar again, updating this column. The odd country music guitar track they're playing over and over is turned up way too loud; the lounge attendants are watching one of the Mothra movies on the Chinese Channel. The convenience store woman is bursting with excitement. Every time I step out of our elevator after a week's absence, the group of people who work on the first floor question me about where I've been and what I've been doing there. Today, the convenience clerk couldn't wait to tell them for me, she's bouncing around like a cute puppy. They have been in Nha Trang, she tells the others. She's not content to let me remain astounded long, turning to me and hopping up and down. I saw your wife on TV, she tells me.* [Cavin]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


There's more to be said in my coverage of the 2008 Miss Universe Pageant. About standing around in the mind-boggling Nha Trang swelter, three-piece suited, taking pictures of departing queens. About the round-table discussion with a group of reporters in the Sailor's Club bar yesterday afternoon. About the funny events of our plane ride home this evening. All in all, it was an interesting time, but even though I never even spoke to a contestant until we were all in the airport today, it was much more difficult to snark at the expense of these women whose incredibly taxing ordeal was so much more evident live, played out over the last grueling month, than it ever seemed on TV. I miss that guilt-free snarking, and I hope that I'll someday regain it, even knowing what I know now. There's also another oddity to this year's outcome, possibly creditable to some slipshod event planning with the organization committee. Do you remember how Miss Thailand won the online vote for Best National Costume?1 Did you notice that she was not among the ten finalists of that event, at least as it was judged in Hồ Chí Minh City a few weeks prior?2 The Indian press was especially surprised.3 But I'll let this be the last of the pageant updates. We woke up early enough this morning to enjoy one last miso soup and stinky French cheese breakfast from the VIP lounge buffet before checking out. I was recently complaining about all our early flights of late, but today we didn't fly until six pm. I can complain about this too, since we had to kill nervous pre-flight time all afternoon; but I won't--it was nice to finally do some honest-to-god tourist crap around town during those last few hours. [Cavin]

Monday, July 14, 2008


By eleven this morning the show was over. Seventy-some Miss Wherevers were riding golf carts back home to what might've been their first resort hotel cocktail in Vietnam. Miss Venezuela was not. The newly-dubbed Miss Universe was enduring her first press conference after that nation's fifth victory in the pageant, which incidentally ended one long dry spell for the Venezuelan beauty queen machine. Dayana Mendoza squeaked ahead of a talented Miss Colombia during typically asinine questions from leering judges: "When is a woman satisfied?" --bitch please. During the press conference, she was forced to endure more asininity. Some journalists harbor prejudices about beauty queens. Compare this story with this one. In both, Miss Universe is asked about her kidnapping, and in both she answers with a canned non-sequitur. But in one she's presented as an engaged young woman and in the other she's characterized as fluffy ditz. Without clicking, guess which story is from the USA. Big pageant news again this year: Miss USA's tumble down the stairs in her evening gown. The US journalist linked above tries to demonstrate a pre-show hubris I'm not sure I'm getting from her quote. Many journalists chuckled over Crystal Stewart's spill, comparing it with last year's. I don't see much comparison. Miss USA 2007 fell all the way down and got equally back up with undeniable poise,1 whereas Miss Stewart awkwardly caught herself and, unwilling to sit and unable to stand, wobbled in a unleveraged crouch before finally righting herself.2 Then she gave herself a big overhead clap, sealing her semi-finalist position. It was all Jerry Springer's fault: the emcee totally announced her twice. It was that second cue when, concerned she was coming on four seconds too early, Miss Stewart physically stuttered on the glossy steps and fell ass-over-teakettle. [Cavin]

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Right now it's nine pm Sunday night here in beautiful Nha Trang, Viet Nam. Twelve time zones around the world, corrected for Daylight Saving Time, it's right at ten am on the same day. That would be the Eastern Time Zone of the United States, including each of those particular places Sunshine and I call home. When it's finally nine pm Sunday night there, eleven hours from now, the 2008 Miss Universe Pageant will begin its live telecast to time zones all around the globe. This is my meandering way of making obvious the fact that, while my friends and neighbors are tuning-in to watch the broadcast this evening, Sunshine and I will be dressed to the hot nines and settling-in for the very same show tomorrow morning. We'll be just on the other side of the TV screen from those Eastern Time Zoners, yet outside the Diamond Bay auditorium it will be eight o'clock in the morning. The pageant should be over by ten thirty or so, and there might be some press-type things afterward. If the same sorta governmental bungling that stopped all the cabs from picking people up after Tuesday's Presentation Event happens again tomorrow, it will be in the blazing noontime heat. This will surely kill me. Last night's bar adventure included drinks with Viet Nam's Agence France-Presse reporter. Today he delivered this story, which includes the following:
Many favoured Miss Venezuela, [...] whose country is admired here as a 'pageant powerhouse' that has long drilled contestants with makeovers, English classes and runway-practice.

"She seems to come with that mindset that, no matter what happens on the final night, you're only a Miss Universe contestant once in your life and you have to enjoy it," enthused one contest insider [*] who asked not to be named.