Friday, August 22, 2008


In case you haven't noticed, I have recently added a number of new things to my photo sharing page. They are all pictures taken shortly before last Christmas around downtown Hồ Chí Minh City, showing a selection of the decorations that were up at the time. Some of the decorations are pretty standard department store window dressing, I guess, but some things are a little bit stranger. For example, one large diorama erected near the popular park just southwest of Reunification Palace along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street boasted a Christmas ark, with Buddhist iconography on the sails, piloted by Santa and his trusty German Shepherd.1 Over in the same area, behind a family of snowmen smiling over a stack of wrapped packages, stood an interested giraffe.2 In another picture, Santa's reindeer face off against a band of sneaky looking polar bears.3 Everywhere there were chunky Styrofoam icebergs and cool-looking blue paint, an attempt to mask the fact that the temperature was in the high eighties Fahrenheit and tropically sunny that Christmas Eve. There's just something special about Christmas among the green trunks of fruit-laden palms. (And I thought it seemed weird in the sunny semi-autumn of northern México.) Those photos begin here. Also, here is another Friday Matinee video posted today, my first direct ode to traffic in downtown Hồ Chí Minh City. Don't get too excited before clicking, all my movies are pretty half-baked. I've managed to get the image in focus and exposed correctly at long last, which represents some improvement over the videos here and here. The intersection I filmed is two blocks away from our apartment, looking north up Pasteur Street from the corner at Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai again. The oncoming traffic in the video is crossing into District One from Three. [Cavin]

Thursday, August 21, 2008


On August tenth I lamented the passing of a number of restaurants around downtown, expressed as some litmus for active residential status. Certainly, I hinted, we must really live here. We can now wax crotchety about the good old days. One of the restaurants I cited was the fabulous Alibaba, previously on Lê Thánh Tôn Street near the river. I'll quote me:

"...the manager informed us personally one night that the restaurant was relocating. We were given their new address on new business cards, a map on the back and everything."*

I'd meant to take pictures of that lima bean green shoebox restaurant, but never did. Shortly after our warning, a metal garage-type door was rolled over the entrance. Then the whole shoebox building was knocked down. There's nothing left but a pile of bricks. For a month the relocation banner hung over a neighboring business, but eventually even that disappeared. Since then, I've sought the new location printed on those cards. Addresses can be wonky here. I've looked in widening spirals pretending the business card map was printed upside-down or backwards, rationalizing other corners they might've meant. But Alibaba was gone. The logical corner is a creepy cement tenement, the surrounding area a dark patch between brightly lit main roads. Earlier tonight we ran into that manager hailing us from the open doorway of his new three-week-old Alibaba Restaurant location. Apparently, he'd been totally conned, red taped, bamboozled out of thousands in down payments and useless business cards. For months his business has been homeless. Now he's recently reopened many corners away from that creepy tenement. He seems to have missed us as much as we've missed him. It's a better litmus for residential status: even after months restaurant managers still recognize us from across the street. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Last weekend we went to a new sushi restaurant. Well, it was new to me. Sunshine had eaten there once during some work thing. Usually Sunshine wants sushi once for every five times I do; so weeks passed before we got around to trying this place together. I don't remember the name, but it's in the northern part of District One between Hai Bà Trưng and the canal, a leafier and more interesting area nearer to our apartment than my standard sushi-lined street. We walked to the restaurant in the pretty tropical rain. My reason for bringing any of this up is because someone was recently telling me all about "the rule of four". According to this somebody, diners can expect accurate service for up to four items of any order. When ordering more than four items, the diner can usually count on the excess plates being problematic: wrong, late, or totally disappeared. I often scoff at generalizations like this, especially here, halfway though my blog post about them. That night, we ordered six things at this new sushi restaurant: pickled plum rolls, a rainbow maki, tempura udon and miso soups, thinly sliced boiled octopus, and spicy tobiko. I'm not sure drinks are included in the "rule of four", so I'm not counting ours. Of these six dishes we only received the first four. This was a good thing, straightening out my tendency toward excess in a new sushi joint. Frankly, that rainbow roll was way bigger than any I've swallowed before. All the food was wonderful. When we received the bill, the two missing items, octopus and wasabi-ed roe, had already been scratched off. At the end of this blog post I'm still skeptical about this weird dinner "rule", but this certainly seemed premeditated at the time. [Cavin]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've never considered myself a gym kind of guy. Not because I dislike gyms, really. Actually, they're great: they have clusters of intriguing iron slab wire-and-pulley machines like interactive robot insect sculptures. They have oddly out-of-context digital technology still vaguely reminiscent of bicycles and canoes. Ramped beltways approximate walking and running reasonably close to the television and AC knob. What's not to like? I even like the careful rows of dumbbells, resting like autopsied Russian dolls along their iron racks. So, yeah, I can wax about the gym. The problem isn't the gym itself, then, but the hours. I frequently want to use a gym after midnight, when gyms are frequently closed. No, that's not it, either. There are plenty of twenty-four hour gyms. I want to use a gym while it's closed, to play on the machines like monkey bars, incorrectly, without supervision or self-consciousness. So a paradox: I want a gym that's open at night, but, you know, also closed. The coolest thing happened to me Friday. Thursday I'd spoken with the building manager about maybe keeping our little gym open all night. Previously, it had closed at nine. Friday night its closed sign disappeared. The lights were all still off--there was no announcement or anything like that--but the doors were unlocked and the computers powering the treadmills were on. I used to run every night in DC. In HCMC it is a little more difficult: not only is it usually raining, but the sidewalks are potholed and cluttered with roots and people selling magazines off a blanket or bowls of soup warming over pots of fire. Obstacles. What I did instead, before Friday, was go up and down my building's twenty-story stairwell. Let me tell you the closed-but-open gym is way more fun. [Cavin]

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Last post about our new houseplants, I promise. I already mentioned that we got corn plants, some tropical green things, and a miniature rubber type tree. Well, there was also a large pot of white and purple orchids. Orchids? Aren't these notoriously difficult to manage? I looked it all up online. Turns out orchid husbandry isn't quite as notorious over here where orchids live. The difficulty is in keeping them warm enough, with enough light, for them to feel comfortably at home. They shouldn't be over- or under-watered either, thanks. Thus armed with valuable information, I set out to grow prize-winning flowers. Actually, I left town for a long weekend. By the time I returned, many of the flowers had fallen right off that plant. Its spongy little leaves were laying morosely along the level of the dirt, a smoggy green. Crap! I think it was because the building staff turned on the dining room AC while we were away, chilling the poor dear. So then Sunshine looked up how to save an orchid. We put it into the fluorescently lit bathroom, where steam from the shower kept its dirt moist and where it was sitting right there on the windowsill for brightness. I cut the deceased flowering runners off right at their nodes and wired them loosely up above the leafy mass in the pot. Three days later the leaves were the right green again, somewhat perkier, and the remaining flowers were staying put on their stems. I think that plant is going to live--but then the woman who'd been promised the other half of our friend's jungle came and took the orchids away (along with the mini rubber type tree). Oh well. I'm not sure I needed potted flora of such an action-packed variety, anyway. [Cavin]