Friday, November 14, 2008


We had Indian food at Tandoor last night. Back when we arrived in Vietnam, we tracked down an empty boarded-over building based on positive restaurant reviews in Lonely Planet. This was Tandoor's old location. Weeks later, we discovered their grand reopening in District One. We've eaten there intermittently since. "Intermittently" because of three other Indian restaurants discovered in the meantime, two of which I like better than Tandoor (when I'm not craving southern regional cuisine). Enough history. Yesterday, we were led through the completely empty first floor dining room and seated in a second story loft. Friendly waiters took our drinks order shortly before the power failed. This wasn't surprising--inconsistent power is normal lately. It was hardly dark. Heavy traffic on Hai Ba Trung swung high beams to and fro across the room. The place got hot, though--that large, focal tandoori oven, packed with bright red coals, undid whatever coolness avoided the tropical suck in a country designed without insulation. The waiter only returned with our drinks, and to take our food order, after the lights came back on. Why? Certainly wood-fired cuisine doesn't require electricity. People began tramping down the stairs from the third floor. Dozens of people. Droves. Clowncars full. We'd been the only evident customers minutes before; now the restaurant staff were pushing every single table together into long clusters for the large, loud crowd that had been sitting out the dark upstairs while, incidentally, also sucking up all the staff attention. The power was still out up there, so they'd required relocation. It took a little convincing, but we finally made the manager understand that we'd be more comfortable up in the tropical dark than we were down with the banquet. But after that we finally had a nice southern Indian dinner. [Cavin]

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I occasionally spend afternoons in our building's lounge, where I can use the first floor wireless network while enjoying, among other things, a cappuccino. Connectivity has been haphazard lately; today it was difficult to get the internet working. I don't mind. It's been just as bad upstairs in our apartment. It's an interesting side-effect of the hydroelectric system in Vietnam. I'd imagined water power generation was a surefire way to benefit from a national climate with two six-month rainy seasons (batting back and forth, from north and south, over elevated regions in the country's center). Certainly everything works smoothly enough in the midst of these respective seasons. But at the beginning of each, when things run to the unpredictably wet or dry, the system becomes either over- or under-taxed, and brownouts routine. But the weather is so impressive! After months of near constant rain, the sun's poking through the clouds again. In October I saw stars in the sky for the first time since April. As I type this, it's sunny and warm outside the large first floor windows of the lounge. I have the sort of feeling I used to get in the Spring, buoyed by the freshness of it all (though something malignant is blooming, my sinuses reply). Two or three days pass without rain now, the eventual storms violent and unpredictable. It's a new world. Among the things I can enjoy in the lounge besides cappuccinos: margaritas. This is also new. I discovered the fact while troubleshooting today's internet connection. The lounge manager quizzed me about how to explain the steps of putting salt on the rim of stemware shaped just like an inverted sombrero. Much of our conversation revolved around the confusing fact that "salt" is both a noun and a verb in English. [Cavin]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sunshine didn't have to work over the Veterans Day holiday yesterday, so we started doing some Christmas shopping. It's still difficult to imagine that Christmas is happening. Half of that is because we are in southeast Asia, of course, where the decorations don't go up until around the time of US Thanksgiving and the weather is balmy and tropical. Some of it is because our scheduling has become increasingly flung to the future. We made all of our plans to travel home for Christmas so many months ago the whole holiday seems over already. Currently, we're planning things (dinner parties? Work conferences! Visitors!) up through mid-February. We are also distracted by issues pertaining to our months of repatriation, beginning as early as August '09 (and leading to our move to the Balkans in July, '10). It feels like we've moved past next Christmas, too. All the same, I'm really super juiced to be returning to North Carolina so soon: we leave almost thirty days, to the minute, after I post this. Anyway, yesterday we started the ball rolling on holiday shopping. What I thought would be an afternoon-long ordeal, complicated by the pestering realities of Bến Thành Market--which is located right on the cusp of Hồ Chí Minh City's highly toured "backpacker district"--only took us about thirty minutes. Some of that is because, nearly thirteen months after my first foray into the place, I've grown inured to those pestering realities. Another part is that after a half hour I was so loaded down it was already time to give up doing any more purchasing for the remainder of the afternoon. Since I can't, of course, write down all the things we bought, I'll leave you with this link, where you can go shave a Yeti instead. [Cavin]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Yet another case of environmental disconnection occurred over the weekend. It's just another one of those things I can frame as evidence of how strange life is here, but which I know is in reality more about me not having any idea what's happening around me at any given time. We were walking across the park, probably heading off to dinner (on either Saturday or Sunday night, I'm nonplussed to discover that I don't remember which), and noticed that municipal work crews were setting out rows and rows of plush red and gold chairs right in the middle of Lê Duẩn Street. The kind of chairs usually stacked in the corners of hotel convention centers. They were facing the gates of Reunification Palace. There were towering stacks of stuff under blue tarps (of what? Speakers? More chairs?) at each corner of the park. Traffic was being diverted, down tiny one-way access roads along the outer parameters, by cops in dull green uniforms. This is all merely par. It's also normal that, when we passed through there again on Sunday or Monday afternoon (about eighteen hours later), all evidence of anything big going down had been totally swept away. Here in HCMC, I frequently feel like something big is about to happen right after I leave somewhere, or has just finished before my arrival, or is maybe going on right now just one more block past my turn. Everyone is just so busy getting somewhere else, probably wherever the empty chairs happen to be. Something big must be happening. Very rarely, I catch a glimpse of the evidence that it's true. Like those empty chairs, ranks and files of them, sitting in the dark street waiting for me to move on by before they can get down to business. [Cavin]

Monday, November 10, 2008


I haven't mentioned this yet, but I got an exciting new camera for by birthday. I've finally graduated to a pretty adult digital SLR, and can now be expected to capture images of a scientific quality equal to that of more serious photographers. I'll still be producing the same old artistic quality as before, of course--no snazzy new camera can change the idiosyncrasies of my eye. But the ability to trap, and to manipulate, light is now more squarely under my control. It's a little daunting, and I think I owe it to this new mature photographic tool to learn a lot more about the process than I already know. It's also daunting because I'm so far behind on the production of images I've already taken with my old camera. Looking at the website, I see that I haven't uploaded new pictures in forever. I still have some from last Christmas to finish, alas, before I'm finally caught up to the current year. This might make it seem like I don't use my camera all that often, but that's just not so: I'm so many thousands of frames behind in my photo projects that I don't expect to be showing any evidence of my new birthday present for a long time to come. While that gives me a comfortably long time to learn how to use this new birthday present, I'd be more satisfied if I could start showing off, for better or worse, right away. All of this reminds me that I did upload a new half-baked movie this weekend. It's from Cambodia and can be seen here. The only drawback about my new camera is that it lacks a video function. It's a mature photographic tool, after all, disdaining the gimmickry of single-lens reflex mpegs. [Cavin]