Friday, April 03, 2009


We're a little under four months away from moving home again already. Our return date is not set in stone, but it'll probably be something like July twenty-fifth. I spend a lot of time swinging back and forth between opposite impressions of the length of time we've spent here. Sometimes it feels like that time has passed very quickly, but sometimes the sheer amount of activity over the last eighteen months makes it seem like we’ve been here a lot longer than that. Our approaching repatriation makes me think about all sorts of things. I think about all the hoops we'll have to jump through to move home. Much of this will be related here over the coming months. I think about all the things we haven't gotten around to doing yet, some of which we'll try to cram into our remaining time. This will also be a predictable topic from now on. Besides whatever actually happens, I'm already imagining what things I'm going to miss about living in Vietnam once I'm relocated elsewhere. Also, I'm thinking about the opposite things. Before moving home from México, I remember noting several months worth of "lasts". The last time I did x, went to a party with y, ate z, etc. I suspect there will be some of that mentioned this time, too. With very little room left in this update, what's on my mind must be short. Once we have moved home again, I am going to very much miss hopping onto a quick flight and spending the weekend in Malaysia, for example, for basically the same amount of money I might've spent on a New Orleans road trip six years ago. So, since it's Friday, my leather bag is packed again and I've got a cab to catch. [Cavin]

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Not last weekend, but the weekend before, we took a trip to Cát Tiên National Park. It's a national forest preserve about a hundred fifty kilometers north of Hồ Chí Minh City. We have friends up there studying black-shanked doucs, an endangered species of Old World monkey found only in Vietnam and Cambodia. We had a really good weekend hiking and hanging out with them. This is one of the things that happened to us there. We'd just hiked the last leg of a ten-kilometer round-trip into the forest; we were waiting for our prearranged rendezvous with a pickup truck to take us back to the research compound. Where that trail intersects with the road there are two concrete benches. Two people can sit on each. There is also a sign that says "Crocodile Lake, 5k." We'd just done the return hike in about sixty-five minutes, far faster than we'd managed the hike in. We'd been a little nervous about catching our ride, see. All four of us were tired and took a seat. The bench on the trailhead side of the road was clear, but the bench on the opposite side was occupied by a dense cloud of wheeling butterflies. I sat with one of our friends on that clear bench--we'd gotten to the intersection first. Sunshine and our other friend, coming off the trail a moment or two later, sat in the butterfly cloud. This story is instructive. Butterflies are harmless and pretty and tired hikers can see them from across the road, lazily swirling in the air around a concrete bench. This is not the case with dozens of droning sweat-hungry bees. The moral? Sit in the butterfly seat. Anyway, here you can read everything else that happened that weekend in Cát Tiên Park. [Cavin]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Here's an interesting item that came across the Update desk earlier this afternoon. It's a slideshow accompanying a BusinessWeek article1 examining the possibility that the current economic downturn might force global companies to reduce or discontinue the extra compensations provided to employees working in remote or dangerous locations. One generally understood term for this is hardship differential. Chic and intrepid MBA newshounds sometimes refer to it as sweeteners. In an article championing the necessity of bonuses for hardship positions, I take exception with that label. To me, a sweetener is just a gaudy sack of junket swag doled-out as a competitive thank you or a dealership trick. A hardship differential is a wage-based pay increase measured to somehow fix issues brought about by isolation from infrastructure, sanitation, education, protection, and familiarity. Anyway, what I've linked above is really only the illustration: a slideshow entitled "The World's Worst Places to Work" based on a report commissioned by BusinessWeek from US human resources data compilation firm ORC Worldwide. I do not "take exception" with these findings so much as "mock them," at least based on the skin-deep analysis offered in the article. The constraints limiting this top twenty list are: no actively war-torn cities and no cities in the US or Canada or Western Europe. I wonder if they weren't trying to be neighborly, too, since Bogota and the Dominican Republic are the only western hemisphere cities mentioned. The DR? That's where my cousin enjoyed his honeymoon, for Pete's sake. And never mind the ongoing drug violence tearing apart northern México,2 or that Haiti is plagued by gangs, poverty, and despair.3 The list seems to still be on-track at number one, after that it gets stupid fast. But you can almost see our house in the picture for number nine. [Cavin]

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I had a five-week vacation, Tết holiday, wonderful guests, and jetlag. Then another vacation for good measure. These exciting things preempted blogging for awhile. I'm trying to get back into the habit. There was so much happening that I also put off returning to the gym. For months that gym and I had a steady thing going on, a midnight rendezvous. Our relationship verged on abusive, and I frequently felt battered. But I loved that gym! God help me, I even looked forward to seeing it every day. Then over our vacation estrangement I think we grew apart. During much of last year that place was like an addiction; but I've become addicted to other rooms, now. It's been a real pain in my butt making myself go through the motions again. I tell myself I'm doing it for the kids. We're trying to talk things through, of course, to work things out. But the problem is me: I've weakened our bonds during this trial. Every relationship takes work, but it's been really tough on me. Why? Over months of disuse I didn't suddenly atrophy or suffer a cardiovascular decline. But I did forget how to run. Running is not, apparently, like riding a bike. I think the human body likes to run; but it's requiring practice to convince my body of this. It also takes practice to be effective. Since going steady with the gym again, I've become frustrated because I want to perform like I did back in December. My legs are strong, my breath is good. But I’ve forgotten how to get my feet down quickly and correctly. I'm out of synch, so I keep hurting myself. Also, the resulting treadmill abuse produces a nasty burning rubber smell, something I'll avoid personifying with relationship terminology. [Cavin]

Monday, March 30, 2009


Sidewalks around town are slowly coming back together again. I haven't meant to harp on this, but it’s been a daily struggle. Right after Tết, the powers that be decided to tear them all up and replace them again. They did it all at once. I suspect this has something to do with a grand municipal attempt to circum-schedule both the big New Year celebration and the coming rainy season, which might begin in May. I also suspect, under the rules of good luck and godspeed, that this very schedule is why it's been raining at least once every week. I have a pretty platonic relationship with superstition. I pick and choose my beliefs in the least sexy ways. And like washing the car, leaving big dirty troughs along congested downtown motorways is just begging for rain. I came away from last year with hard and fast rules about the Vietnamese weather. During all of that first hot season, discounting the mercurial transitions from the rainy season, well, it was bone dry. I remember one big storm and one little drizzle. That's it. For the rest of those six months it didn't rain. I even explained, in no uncertain terms, to everyone who would listen: half the year it rains, and half the year it doesn't--a perfect two-season delineation you can set your calendar by. While I firmly hold that it's possible my one year history in Vietnam doesn't quite afford me the authority to wax so certain about these things, it's hard not to believe, when slopping though gravelly mud in the scooter lanes, edging past long muddy pools and construction equipment and stacked sidewalk tiles and roadway crew tents hung with drying laundry, that this rain has not been a direct result of city planning. [Cavin]