Friday, February 27, 2009


Way back in December, in the early hours of Saturday the thirteenth, we boarded a Korean airplane for a holiday visit home. I used to keep track of the number of times I've flown in an airplane, but I can hardly do that anymore. An inaccurately hasty count has me taking off in thirty-seven different aircraft of seven brand-name carriers over the last eighteen months. With such practice, even minute details come to my attention if they differ sufficiently from familiarity. Stepping onto the really huge Korean 747 I noticed it was decorated for Christmas. Corsages of tiny red and green flora decorated cabin light fixtures all down the plane, pretty red bunting swung. Our plane was dressed for the prom. This was a first for me. Another first: when the safety demonstration began playing on the touch-screen monitors in the back of every chair, I noticed the prestigious demonstration plane in the video was identical to our, giving me the feeling I was taking Korea's most photogenic flight. Usually I watch the taped attendants buckling disembodied seatbelts in a far more advanced environment than the one in which I'm an audience member. That's assuming I'm on a flight technologically sufficient for television, of course. In December, even though some gross mismanagement prevented my seating arrangements from materializing--forcing me to sit several rows from Sunshine on that first leg to Incheon Airport as well as causing, I suspect, the disappearance of my special vegetarian meals throughout the entire twenty-six hour sky-day--I had a really comfortable five-hour flight. The flight from South Korea to Atlanta, while mercifully short compared to the HK-to-LA route I'm used to, was less so: we were evidently seated in the children's section of the plane. That's an experience woefully, sadly, exasperatingly familiar. [Cavin]

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I'm not sure how long I can, in good conscience, go on calling this an update when all I talk about are things that happened months ago. So I'll try to pepper my reportage with new stuff here and there. This just in: Sunshine had a dinner engagement yesterday, but I wasn't all that interested in celebrating the anniversary of a successful local grocery chain. My interest? To enjoy soba noodle soup and a perfectly fried egg at my favorite downtown sushi bar. To heighten the experience, I meant to while away an hour or more over it. And drink sake. And read my adventure novel. Everything was coming up roses until I walked into the crowded little joint. That was when I realized I was sort of embarrassed by my book. This never used to happen to me, this worry about other people observing what I was reading. But recently, in the states, I was loathe to be caught out with a certain pop-culture vampire novel some collusion of jetlag and morbid curiosity had inspired me to take up. And then last night I spent a nervous few minutes hyper aware of the mostly naked Japanese stereotype kneeling on the cover of Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice--its title rendered, however inappropriately, in a goofy chop-socky font. Frankly, I don't know why I bother. It isn't as if that restaurant's shelves aren't stocked with pinky schoolgirl horror-romance comics. Plus, it's nearly impossible to ignore the game shows on TV behind the bar, revolving as they do around public nudity, freezing water, biting insects, and, in what amounts to some kind of heroic irony, the act of consuming unbelievably disgusting things. So I laid the book facedown and ate in front of the TV. Like every night. [Cavin]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Some notes from November: Singapore's a really interesting city-state, ripe for tourists with interests in urban planning and certain concepts of utopianism. I'd thought I was over a cold, but typical cabin compression brought about a relapse lasting throughout our vacation. Luckily, the environment was pretty good for someone mildly sniffly, with plenty commercial comforts. Some things about Singapore: while the country is very compact, it's designed so that I could never quite glimpse the massive crisscrossing highways from the urban areas. Lengths of greenspace delineate and separate these things. Similarly, the nestled pockets of incredibly preserved British colonial enclaves manage to inhabit areas in and behind numberless malls without losing an iota of their cultivated museum charm. Singapore is a highly regulated city-state in other ways: street vendors have been collected into "hawkers' centers", public spaces are meticulously scrubbed, Christmas decorations follow municipal themes, and legislated fees for anti-social digression are rampant. Singapore is a "fine" city, the many t-shirts1 say. There are heavy penalties for spitting, not wearing seatbelts, peeing in elevators. Everything is tightly controlled, yet I never saw a police officer. I think there's probably heavy fines for not turning yourself in. This systematic regulation is reason enough for one interesting aesthetic difference between Singapore and Hong Kong: while an eyesore of invasive street signs characterize both, Hong Kong's are mostly advertisements while Singapore's signs are usually helpful directions. We had a nice time. We went to the midnight zoo,2 Haw Par Villa,3 and rode what may be the world's tallest Farris Wheel.4 For Thanksgiving dinner we ate at a wonderful place in little India. I had mustard greens. On our last night, I nearly broke my back crawling down into the harbor for a bad photo of the world-famous Merlion.5 I'm okay now. [Cavin]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I'm talking about the past, here: back at the end of November, 2008, just days into the odd and unparalleled lapse of activity here in the Update Column, Sunshine and I flew to Singapore to celebrate, to the greater extent, our belated Anniversary--and to a lesser extent, the US Thanksgiving Holiday. When we got married I'd made explicitly sure our anniversary would never fall on Thanksgiving, a holiday I never loved. I lacked the foresight to realize this meant we will forever be putting off celebrating our anniversary until the upcoming long holiday weekend. It's ironic, sure; but so far we've gotten to celebrate twice every year. And so far celebrating has included traveling: Hong Kong in oh-seven and now Singapore on oh-eight. There is an affluent and tony city feeling to our anniversaries, a travel theme neon and commercial, surely christened by our maiden voyage to Vegas. Just a week before this year's trip we were still debating where to go: Bangkok? Malaysia? For no better reason than our theme we picked Singapore--a country so much like a mall that it actually goes on sale every year. It's lucky we did: the day we were slated to fly, a loose affiliation of elite society escalated recent protests over the Thai prime minister by capturing the Bangkok airport, trapping travelers inside and halting all traffic coming and going. Theirs is a complex protest, but it boils down to a rising concern that the prime minister is acting in the interests of recently ousted-and-exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who also happens to be the current leader's brother-in-law. The closing of Suvarnabhumi airport happened early enough that we'd never have made it into Thailand to be trapped in the concourse. So choosing Singapore really worked out for us. [Cavin]

Monday, February 23, 2009


Well hello there. Counting on my fingers, I see it's been precisely ninety-one days since my last post here on this Update column. That's exactly a quarter of a year, based on certain values of the words month and exact. In any event, this constitutes the average point-two-five year. I can't believe all that time has passed already. In fact, I spend many of these latter days marveling at how close we've come to when we'll be leaving Vietnam again. That'll happen even earlier than I thought back in November when I last posted, probably sometime at the end of July. Of course things have changed, why not? November was a quarter of a year ago. I did not indulge this lapse of communication on purpose. First we traveled to Singapore for our anniversary, and then we traveled home to the states for the December holidays. Happy belated Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year! I ended up staying in the US for several additional weeks to go to the dentist a couple times. Happy belated Boxing, Martin Luther King Jr., and Inauguration Days! Obamanation! I returned to Vietnam just in time for everything to close down during the week of Tết. Happy belated Year of the Ox! Overlapping that we had visitors for a week (happy belated Groundhog Day, Bill and Kate), and then it was time to travel somewhere special for the three-day Valentine's Day weekend. Happy belated Valentine's and Presidents' Days! And then, ever since Tuesday the seventeenth of this month, I've just been too lazy to post. This particular quarter of a year sure is filled with holidays. For the next week or so, I'll try to fill in some of the three months' worth of blank space between this entry and the previous one. [Cavin]