Friday, September 19, 2008


Early last night we was pitched up at a posh riverside local, an olde poppy refinery it were, me and Long Peg and Longer Jim and my mate Sunnie, tucking into fancified local fare when we were run down by one o' Sunnie Annie's shipmates, 'Teeny, who was to be moonlightin' later on in the tavern upstairs from where we sat. It was a surprise change-of-course, but not to be unwelcomed, and God surely knows we can't always tack against the hot winds blowin' us yonder. So later on, fatted on Spring rolls and lovely bitty morsels of fish-cakes stewed in greens, we mounted the steps to rough-and-tumble abovedecks. The evening's event was to be a south-seas performance of the sketches of the Britisher Troupe Monty Python, a comedie play enacted in some dozen parts. Me and Sunnie Annie walked in there with a pocketful of boon and back out again two hours later with a bellyful of what-have-you: Sunnie'd stuck to the standard tots in cola, whilst I guzzled island tea blends, if ye ken. And the plays were good, and the players, I'll be shivered--every man-jack one of 'em. But I tell ye, laddies, and look into me last eye and see if I be lying to you--and you may have that eye if I have--what a strong man's perfectly able to partake upon a wild night and still walk upright, and still swab the decks and still surf the portholes, can come back to confound that man while he's trying to jog his nightly one-and-a-half nautical miles on the old electric plank in the gym deep in his darkened hold. Aye, he persevered alright, to his everlastin' credit, but at a notch less than the five-and-a-third knots pace he's a-used to keepin'. [Cap’n]

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Tonight, at eleven-something on September 18th, 2008, we'll have been here in Hồ Chí Minh City for exactly eleven months. Raise a glass. I mention this because it's probably as close to the halfway point of our stay as I'll likely remember to note. Juggling probabilities, this halfway mark is still about two weeks away: I assume we'll be about to return home eleven-and-a-half months after the eleven-and-a-half month mark. But there's some wiggle room: it's pretty certain we'll return from Vietnam sometime between the first of September and mid-October, 2009. Let's time travel twelve months from today: if we're not at home already, we will certainly be leaving shortly. Our stuff is already in crates working its way around the world. Our plants are earmarked for friends. Are we making desperate last minute travel plans to see places we've accidentally forgotten during our time in Asia? The recent goodbye parties have all been in our honor. Our next job position is a certainty. We know our training schedule in Washington DC and the parameters of our finite repatriation. Whatsisface is president. Probably, one year into the future, our schedule will be set, with wiggling room, clear through the year 2013. Of course, for some of these things we can rein-in the time travel a bit. We'll have a good head start on all of this knowledge of by the time we visit home for Christmas this year. We're working on getting the next job right now (Pristina? Banja Luka? Ljubljiana?), and expect to know something before December. We'll have a new president-elect by December, too. We're working on this, too (overseas voting forms were requested last week). Sheesh. Halfway or not, our whole near-future seems to rest on the decisions we make in the next two months. [Cavin]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


We ate a nice dinner at Au Parc tonight. Sometimes we go there just because it's blocks from our apartment. Those blocks make a nice walk around the park, less invaded by the chaotic bustle of other downtown areas. The park is a romantic hang-out: on any given night, couples canoodle amorously while perched two-to-a-seat on their parked scooters. Since the park is so popular after hours, it attracts vendors. Any after-hours gathering is sure to cause impromptu restaurants to be laid out on nearby blankets. Local coffee discos send waitresses out into the park to take orders. Ice cream and other carnival snacks orbit the area in bike-mounted coolers. Those endlessly circling bikes have funny horns meant to alert their possible customers: sort of like the music-box advertisement of beloved neighborhood ice cream trucks crossed with the obnoxious Dixie honk of the Duke Boys' Dodge Charger. It's impossible for me to describe. Just imagine a six-year-old's hectoring enquiry routed endlessly through an out-of-tune whistle pop. And we hear this little jingle all the time: we walk through the park to go pretty much anywhere. Sometimes I hear it from my apartment when the vendors are leaving for the night. I always hear the Tune throughout nice dinners at Au Parc. But walking home tonight was special, like a crazy dream. One of these bikes began following us, blasting its hectoring tune. Then there was another up at the nearest corner, and another coming at us in the crosswalk. Eventually, we were surrounded by half a dozen, converging on us from intersecting orbits, asking their Tune over and over and answering as often, a nerve-wracking round tempered by immediacy and distance and angle. We got out of there eventually; but I'm sure they're still circling the park, waiting. [Cavin]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Sunday night we went to a public Mid-Autumn Festival celebration in the large park off Hai Bà Trưng Street near the top corner of District One. For a few weeks now, vendors have been setting up temporary stores around town selling Mooncakes and Mid-Autumn toys. These toys are mostly also lanterns, taking the forms of inflated fish or five-pointed stars or even lanterns. It's easy to tell which stores are temporary Mid-Autumn Festival stores (and which toys are the appropriate toys) because they are all bright orange. Along Hai Bà Trưng, or here and there up Nguyễn Thái Học Street, or anywhere else, long orange stalls have appeared overnight selling a vast array of each: toy lanterns in orange bags and Mooncakes in orange trays. Mooncakes are heavy ornate bricks of bread, roughly four by four, with the half-glazed look of wet bagels. Inside they're stuffed with candied fruits and beans and nuts and whatnot in a nearly endless assortment of permutations. The ones I've tried seemed faintly fermented, their tops marked A4 in red dye. The toy lanterns all have flashlight handles and run on AAA batteries. These stores look for all the world like drugstore Halloween aisles: rows of seasonal candy and trick-or-treat gizmos. By the time we got to the park Sunday night, we'd already passed several dozen delighted children toting lanterns, canvassing the neighborhoods around our apartment, looking for all the world like trick-or-treaters themselves. My homesick started aching a little in anticipation of next month, when I'll be here and Halloween will be back home. But I was excited too. At the park, technicians were setting up the stage show: three Miss Earth contestants handing out toys to needy orphans. Kids with lanterns teemed, oddly transgressive in the light of their battery-powered traditions. [Cavin]

Monday, September 15, 2008


Happy belated Middle Autumn Festival! It feels odd to type that when true autumn is still about a week off (and by "true" I mean "solar", thus inflicting upon this column a cultural bias). And even on the lunar calendar, fall can hardly be described as nearing its midpoint. As a matter of fact, there's something I don't understand regarding the names of notable dates. But first, some facts: the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival, or Mooncake Festival, depending on your colloquialism) is a harvest celebration of Chinese ancestry, prevalent in cultures sharing a Chinese history or cultural influence: Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, San Francisco, etc. It also has holiday cousins throughout east and southeast Asia, where plenty of the cultures are similarly, albeit sometimes distantly, related: Tsukimi, the moon-viewing festival in Japan; or Chuseok, the good harvest celebration in Korea, to name but two. No matter how distantly related, the festival is in honor of the beginning of the third lunar season, falling on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month (counting from February this year). The fifteenth lunar day is always the full moon, and is celebrated in one way or another every month. The Mid-Autumn Festival and its cousins are, like similar western harvest festivals, about feasts and ancestors. The holiday was last night, incidentally: September fourteenth; therefore this update is "belated". In Vietnamese the holiday is called Tết Trung Thu, which means "festival of middle autumn". So why the "middle"? I'm picking bones with my own native tongue too, frankly--a native tongue that itself dubs the winter solstice--that shortest day of the year--"midwinter", even though it actually marks the very first day of that final season in exactly the same way "mid-autumn" marks the first day of the third. What gives? [Cavin]