Friday, September 12, 2008


This is about time-delays. Like when my internet is hardly working and I have a low-bandwidth conversation over my VOIP telephone. I talk, and then someone else talks, stopping short to listen to what I've just said. They begin to answer while I'm trying to answer what they were first saying. Bam, frustrating time-delay. I'm going to juxtapose things that have nothing to do with one another, sort of like that telephone illustration. Yesterday was September eleventh. I celebrated by getting run down by a motorbike. I'd been planning to write about how refreshing it was to be way over on this side of the world, where I wasn't reminded even once about the seventh anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington DC. I didn't want to do this because it would defeat its own purpose, obviously. But what else was I going to write about? Hey, I needed a haircut! So I crossed town to get one for blog purposes. It was shortly before eight pm, but my usual place was closed. Undaunted, I wandered around the haircut district looking for some other place. The other place I found wanted eleven fifty for a three-dollar cut. That haircut was time-delayed till today. Okay, I'll do the nine-eleven thing, I thought, any existential irony be damned. But then I was crossing the sidewalk and got hit by a scooter. The real subject of yesterday's post occurred to me while I was hopping around rubbing my left calf. The anniversary would wait until I could utter the phrase "no constant reminders" without ruining my own effect. But I'd forgotten that there's an eleven-hour time difference between here and New York slash Washington DC. Throughout last night, and much of today, I've been systematically reminded. Time-delay reminded. [Cavin]

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Every now and then, going down the road, I notice people standing in traffic brushing dirt off themselves. They've just wrecked into one another. They chat while pushing bikes off the road. Once or twice I've seen traffic moving slowly past a fallen rider, heard the crunch, or seen rubberneckers crowding around something obscured. The most dramatic accident I've seen: a scooter wedged so firmly underneath the engine of a taxi that the car's tires were off the road. And yeah, I can't believe I've never mentioned this: right after returning home last May, going to a birthday party at Big Man Beer, our own cab knocked over a skinny young biker in a dashing yellow jacket. "Don't worry," the cabbie called out to us or maybe the woman on the asphalt. I'm not sure which. She picked herself and her bike off the road. "See, everything okay," he told us or her. She dismissed us all with a gesture and scooted away. Honestly, it's all far less traffic violence than I predicted when I first saw the chaos here. At the time, I'd never have believed it would take till today to get run down myself. Well, I was crossing a one-way street, paying attention to some bikes passing a slow moving auto. Because they pass on the right here, these scooters were aimed right at me as I stepped off the sidewalk. I couldn't dodge past them and the car they were passing, so I backed up--onto the sidewalk again--where I was hit by a scooter heading the other way. Splat. I wasn't killed: her footrest tagged me in the left calf. I just have a large bruise, whereas she wobbled from the impact and sped on around the corner looking none too cool. [Cavin]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Sunday we saw a movie at a multiplex on top of a mall in District Five. It's the second movie I've seen in Vietnam. I saw I Am Legend at the same theater six months ago. Having coffee before the show meant that we'd catch the Dark Knight, showing later, instead of Wall-E, earlier. We knew what we were doing. Both of us expected to enjoy the Pixar movie more than Batman, so a rowdy Asian theater experience seemed better suited to the latter. Batman must be the most re-imagined comic book hero there is. There's very little narrative consistency--in origin, temperament, look, even plot--in the source materials. Staging a new cross-media production need bear little resemblance to any previous incarnation, I suppose. It probably isn't possible to choose a traditional archetype for Batman anymore. The comics themselves are all over the map depending on era, author, illustrator, and intended audience. Batman has no canon. The gulf between Adam West and Christian Bale, both playing Batman, reflects this inadvertently. That said, how come my review--"the baroque villainy of an interesting and cleverly written clown blessedly steals the screen from a depressing and stiff rubber bat suit, which, in turn, serves to obscure what might have been a stock, if underwritten, performance by a hoarse lead more interested in the foppish curlicues of the titular character's alter-ego than any heady adventure"--describes both Sunday's Batman movie and the one I saw in '89? So what's actually new? Well, Gotham City's become a lot blander over nineteen years. Now the Joker looks like a grunge band leader, though Heath Ledger nearly disappears behind prosthetics and a good comic book geek impersonation--a trick of acting Jack Nicholson never embraced. Lastly, Asian kids are quieter than eighties kids. [Cavin]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


We arrived in Hồ Chí Minh City late on a Thursday night. That Friday we walked around our block, getting used to the traffic. There was a lot to see. We were tired and jetlagged and after one block we headed home to order delivery pizza from expat haven Chez Guido. We went to sleep shortly after dusk. That Saturday we walked some more, searching for a restaurant we never found. But we saw many more things. Sunday, we walked across the street into District One, first time for me, and down to Bến Thành Market. Bến Thành is pretty close to Sunshine's office. It's the crossroads of District One: to the west is the cheap backpacker "district", east is the upscale expat shopping area, and northeast are many of the larger government buildings. The market serves everyone. There's plenty of lacquered gimcrackery, remaindered clothing, prepared food; stuff for tourists and locals alike. Too many things. It's a dizzying spectacle, the sort of place I usually love. But that third day I wasn't up for the bickering pressure from each stall: fingers plucked at my clothes, voices shouted at me, desperate vendors barred my way. I didn't stay long. This last Sunday, we explored Bình Tây Market, first time for me, located on the close corner of District Six in Cholon, HCMC's vast old Chinatown. Bình Tây is much larger, older, and more awe inspiring that Bến Thành. It has two stories. It's terracotta roof tiles end in hand sculpted, glazed ceramic caps. Bình Tây spills out in canopied stalls which have leaked into the crevices of the surrounding neighborhood. A maze of things to see, more dizzying and plucky than the other market; but I was ready. There were star anise fruits the size of monkey fists! [Cavin]

Monday, September 08, 2008


This Update's title is Having My Cake and Eating It Too. It reverses a popular aphorism, a cliché and torturous way of saying one must choose between conserving and spending one's resources. "I can't have my cake and eat it too." That seems like stricture: stay away from cake; or hedonism: eat other people's cake; or causal fallacy: any cake you cannot eat is yours; or something even more soporific: does one really command their own cake? But that's the problem with aphorisms. They've been cut to a catchy tune, thwarting any focused meaning. "Beauty is only skin deep" means what? Dwelling on vanities is shallow? Someone who isn't pretty can never be beautiful? Looked at the right way, "a friend in need is a friend indeed" can be followed to nearly opposite conclusions. What the hell does this have to do with anything? The problem with my title is that its analogy is broken. One cake cannot stand in for the accrual of resources any more than someone can adopt a policy of absolute retention. Realistically, we must forever keep eating our cake to survive; therefore, we must keep accruing it. The skill with which we negotiate this relationship between having and eating dictates our sustained viability. Now you are wondering if this Update is political. Not at all. My goals, viewed through the lens of this column, are to accrue experiences and to write them down. Both are important to me. The problem is, successes on any one side of this equation are ultimately pyrrhic. It's what the cake rule would teach if it wasn't inept: one resource must be tempered to cover competing expenditures, so success can be marked by prolonging the relationship. Whew. I've decided I'm not going to blog on the weekends anymore. [Cavin]