Friday, November 21, 2008


Tonight we went to see a play. The HCMC International Choir, in conjunction with a local dance troupe and the Saigon Players (the volunteer acting company to blame for bringing Monty Python sketches to a local bar on Talk Like a Pirate Day*) are staging Annie Get Your Gun all week. I didn't know what to expect. I was concerned that the Players, some of whom we know, were going to make an odd match with what I assumed was a professional choir and dance company. It all worked out equal, though; and without much funding or production equipment they managed to pull off the first off-off-off-off Broadway performance in Hồ Chí Minh City. But hey, I don't want to talk about the play. I want to talk about the theater, a white concrete horror reminding me, on the outside, of some treatment plant. Inside it was the similar to my high school auditorium, lent a prison je ne sais quoi by gray concrete floors and orange, spray painted seat numbers. We were in row thirteen, right on the aisle. The chairs themselves were red vinyl loafs of batting and wood; mine tipped me forward. But the best thing about the place was the wildlife: early in act one, I happened to notice a rat the size of a cinderblock duck across the aisle three rows ahead of me. Everybody noticed it. Throughout the play that rat scurried back-and-forth between seating sections, ducking around our legs. It was so large I could hear its feet click on the prison floors. I was impressed: nobody sitting around me ran screaming for the door. I put my feet up on the next seat, and waited calmly for the rat's next entrance. But I have no idea how the play ended. [Cavin]

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I've been going to a lot of things lately. Tonight's thing was easy: fifteen minutes in my own apartment building. We've taken to having monthly wine tastings in the lounge. These are always on Thursday nights. Because they are held in the lounge, I get invited, then re-reminded urged and cajoled, every day for a week. All day on Wine Day they busily run around cooking hors d'oeuvre, moving furniture around, and loudly wet-vacuuming beside my lounge chair. The first of these I skipped outright, but the lounge guys had worn me down by the following month. That Wine Night I hung out for fifteen minutes talking to the only fellow attendee I knew, Sunshine, while consuming cubes of cheese and awful Australian wine. Tonight was the same, except the wine was pretty good and the hors d'oeuvre were crusts of yellow meat and bread. Oh, but the event I've been meaning to mention is the Annual Consular Community Bazaar held last Saturday. It was awesome. All the consulates around town band together and throw a kind of upscale cultural flea market. New Zealand's table collects and sells used books. Spain had sangria, Japan some kind of oven-safe Tupperware, and Mongolia framed photographs of the horizon line. Australia had beer cozies, which worked out nicely because the nearby US table was selling cases of Budweiser. I've never realized how much a box of Bud reminds me of our flag. The bazaar was very crowded with people from all over Earth, many dressed in traditional costume. The ladies at the Kuwait table were very nice. We were left pondering whether it was legal for us to buy things from the Cuba table. They really looked like they were having a fabulous time, and the food over there smelled wonderful. [Cavin]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


First of all, happy anniversary to Sunshine, who married me two years ago today. Last night just as I was settling in to watch a DVD, I saw something strange. I'd made a sandwich. I'd unwrapped Jean Renoir's the Golden Coach. I'd plugged the headphones in. Suddenly I noticed a flash of light near the southeastern horizon line. It wasn't lightning, not last night. Welding is done at three am, but I'd actually heard this flashing too. An explosion? I peered out though the giant living room picture window, near as I could tell to where I'd seen the light. Then it happened again, but this time it was sparking over the horizon to the east, out another window. I could still hear it. I could--wait a minute... I could smell it. Then it dawned on me what I'd been doing when the whole mystery started: pressing the power button on our digital receiver--which then long and lovingly burned through its whole motherboard while I stood looking out the window at the reflection of its sparks. What a dork. Anyway, this year we're celebrating our anniversary already, having had a wonderful dinner at An Vien just a little while ago; next week, we'll be heading to Singapore for the four-day US Thanksgiving holiday weekend. An Vien serves the best Vietnamese food I've ever had; a claim which, at this late date, may actually be meaningful. I'd been there once before, with Sunshine's mother when she visited in October. It was raining that night, too. Our meal had been majestic, each dish served family style--as a full course shared by the table rather than an individual plate. Not really predicting this, we'd ordered what amounted to a five-course meal by getting one entrée apiece and appetizers. We were not complaining about it. For two full hours we sat there eating to an inspired level of discomfort. I've been fantasizing about that night's meal ever since, and was lucky enough to have a perfect excuse to go back tonight. In the rain again: Tropical Storm Noul is expected to hit central Vietnam sometime tonight, her rains and surges are already upon us, though we'll not be seeing any of her wind this far south. But about dinner: steamed fishcakes wrapped in tiny cabbage packages floating in soup; shrimp paste lightly battered and grilled around a sugar cane, wrapped in lettuce, basil and mint leaves, star fruit and lotus, tapioca. It was not a meal to be taken lightly, and I am still stuffed to the top. Sadly tonight's dinner, being an anniversary, was thirty-three percent smaller than the last one. I need an upcoming four-person special occasion, pronto. [Cavin]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I had a nice triumph yesterday, after a show at Sunshine's boss' house. Coco York flew in from Bangkok to play at the event. Coco is the performer we accompanied to Huế during the cultural festival there last June. Last night, I met Sunshine after work, and we accompanied Coco out to District Two, where the party was being held. Initially, it was to be an outdoor party, but the forecast called for Typhoon Noul's landfall that afternoon, so the concert was moved indoors as a precaution. I was nervous about my shoes. The parties I've attended recently have all stipulated "smart casual" dress, and I'm uncertain what that means. To the US election day party I'd worn a tie and short-sleeved button-up, no jacket. To this thing, I wore a jacket and button-down, no tie. Which costume was "smart"? To each event, I wore my really nice shoes--the ones I keep in plastic bags, in a shoebox, in the bottom of my closet. I spent the evening worried about knee-deep flooding and the death of those shoes, but the storm never came. Heading home, our car had to ford several intersections standing in water, though, proving riverside marshes flood as easily with tides as rain. Later, safely returned to high ground, Coco and I walked down the street from her hotel to see what was doing at the downtown jazz club. I was approached by the ubiquitous shoeshine kid near the corner of Saigon Center. The sidewalk was littered with the Center's upcoming Christmas decorations. When the kid asked if I wanted a shoeshine, I just showed him the "smart" shoes, all shiny as hell, and damn if he didn't immediately shut up and go away. It's a first, a victory. I'm wearing these shoes everywhere. [Cavin]

Monday, November 17, 2008


I had a weird feeling in the park Friday. It was around five. I'd just left the apartment to meet Sunshine before dinner. The first thing I had to do was cross the street. Rush hour can be amazing. Friday, it was actually safer to walk down the street than the sidewalk. The one-way traffic was directed and nearly at a standstill. Neither of those things were true of the scooters racing along the sidewalks in front of the Lê Quý Đôn Street School. So for the first few minutes after leaving our building, I didn't think about much besides staying alive. I've grown very used to Vietnamese traffic since arriving last year. I haven't relied on tactics like these in months, but today I walked a longer way, taking the safer route to the coffee shop where Sunshine waited. Therefore I was already halfway through the park before I realized I was having my weird feeling. I was chilly. The weather was clear and breezy. The temperature, with the wind chill, was somewhere in the very low seventies. I might have chosen to wear a long-sleeved t-shirt if I'd noticed closer to the apartment. As it was, I was marveling about feeling chilly in the tropics. I can't believe how habituated I've become. I spent the first thirty-four years of my life hating those forty-five day sunny double-ninety North Carolina Augusts (that's ninety-some degrees with ninety-some percent humidity; and, believe it or not, worse than the weather here in southern Vietnam). All that time, I fervently anticipated the two-month mild winters, with lows in the mid-teens. Now, I'm chilly before the mercury hits the sixties? Christmas vacation might be tough on me next month, but I should be normal again by that first really eye-opening Sarajevo winter. [Cavin]