Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I woke up this afternoon and took a long shower. I brushed my teeth. Then I spent ten minutes trying to fix my wet head so that the comb-lines didn't create some jarring pattern in the skull-cap of my hair. I had to slick it down completely or it clumped-up at the part, but that made the back into disco-era tentacles groping down my neck. Today’s post is about identification. When I left the house this afternoon I looked like a Bowery hobo done-up for a job interview. I walked straight to the barbershop. On the way, I was pestered by the cyclo drivers and coconut salesmen working the entrance to Reunification Palace. It was strange. These guys got used to us a year ago. Usually, these touts and salesmen just wave hello. Very few of them try to bother me anymore. I can imagine several reasons I was identified as a tourist today. Maybe I'd been forgotten over my lengthy holiday vacation. Or since: we've mostly been taking taxis lately because of the unmanageable sidewalk construction everywhere. Or maybe it's only that I looked like a man from another era, curling at the ends, a fish-out-of-water anywhere besides a seedy tractor-trailer cab. I'd been cultivating hair since November, so I had plenty for a grown-up haircut instead of the DIY buzz I usually get. It's the first time in a decade, I guess. The only problem was that corporate haircuts always look a little post-punker on me, whereas my mustache still looked a little leather-bar (or maybe Ned-Flanders). So I had to shave that off, too. This only solves one of today's problems, though. Now my own fiends, if they were selling coconuts at the gates of Reunification Palace, might not immediately recognize me on the street. [Cavin]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Still talking about January, here. What I gather about Tết is it usually lasts about four days. Time to get out of town to wherever you call an ancestral home, cook a feast, enjoy the good luck of prosperous celebration, and then return home. Something like that. This year, the New Year was on Monday; obviously everyone began celebrating the weekend before. Count four days from Monday and it's also obvious that nobody was planning to come back on Friday, either. That's what we called the puente in México: that one-day bridge between a holiday and the weekend adjacent. Sometimes you have to work the puente, sometimes you don't. During Tết, many people leave Hồ Chí Minh City to go somewhere else. At the same time, many people arrive in town to celebrate. During the holiday, this equalized and things stayed crowded downtown. But as the week dwindled, those who'd come to the big city party were already leaving again. Meanwhile the puente crowd were enjoying their extra day off then weekend in hometowns across Vietnam. By the time Sunshine's family visited us Thursday night this city's population was at an all-time low. At least that's how it seemed to me. For two or three days it was really very easy to cross the street. Taxi operators could nudge their automobiles up past thirty on the big road to and from the airport. It was a bizarre feeling. It still looked like Hồ Chí Minh City, but change these two things and everything is just strange. I was concerned that Bill and Kate, our visitors, would go home with a misunderstanding about what life around town is really like, with its twenty-four hour never-ending streams of slow-moving traffic. Luckily, they were still around Monday when the status quoed. [Cavin]

Monday, March 09, 2009


I returned to Vietnam at the end of January and was amazed how much had changed while I was away. The weather, for one thing. For some reason, the rainy season had lasted well into December last year, five weeks later than I suspect it usually does, so returning to dry and breezy, very sunny, eighty-degree Hồ Chí Minh City was quite a change, indeed. Also the hat store near our house had turned into a coffee shop. The empty brick building that used to be a Korean restaurant, even nearer to our house, had also become a coffee shop. There was also a new coffee shop next door to the ill-advised shark fin restaurant down behind the People's Committee building. Across the horizon, many of the buildings under construction were a lot taller than they'd been when I left. There were many new billboards sparkling on the skyline. I'd returned the weekend before Tết. Much of the city was already closed. Monday was the Lunar New Year. The whole length of Nguyễn Huệ, from the Rex to the Sài Gòn River, was blocked, even to scooters, and decorated with yellow flowers and bull sculptures. We spent our Saturday researching which restaurants planned to remain open over the four-day holiday. All the grocery stores were closed. Tết was Sunshine's week to be the emergency after-hours duty contact for work, a daunting prospect over a week-long holiday when all hours are "after". Since we were unable to really go out in all the celebratory noise, fearing a missed call, we stayed home on New Year's Eve. Speaking of sparkling on the skyline, we were still able to watch a pretty damn impressive fireworks display over the river just southeast of our living room window. Laissez les bon temps roulez.... [Cavin]