21 December, 2006

For the Birds!

Oh, man!

Yesterday I get out of the shower and Kenny is staring at the computer screen with a funny look on his face. The headline on the BBC World page is :

"New Birdflu Outbreak in the Mekong Delta!"

We looked at the article, we looked at the map. Are we going near where the outbreak is? Um, yes. We'll be in the boardering province. Crap. Should we still go? Part of our tour is to the floating markets, which means a good possibility of bird fecal matter. Plus, the article said that farmers have been dumping the dead birds into the water, which is everywhere...

So, after thinking it through, we decided that since the Mekong is not going anywhere, we can wait to do a little tour through it until March, when we'll be back down south, and who knows, maybe the outbreak will have petered out by then. We are probably being overly cautious. But it doesn't make too much of a difference if we go now or later, so why risk it?

We cancelled the tour, and will be taking a bus straight down to Rach Gia. This means we get to spend one extra day in the city, which is good, since I had forgotten to do going-to-the-beach things such as buy a giant bottle of sunblock and towels and get money out of the the bank and stuff like that. So while Kenny finishes his law school applications, so as not to have to think about them while we're cruising around the forests on rented motorbikes, I will go take care of errandy things.

Also, yesterday was my last day of tutoring. I handed the job over to Ciarna, who instantly wowed the kids with her cool games and funny faces. They're in great hands. And now I have two little pen-pals. :)

19 December, 2006

Argh, Packing

The snake pictures are online, buuut the video's not. We move out of our room in 48 hours and our days have mostly been spent doing practice packings and making give-away piles, during which we each open our suitcases and hop gingerly around each other in the teeny tiny amount of floorspace, and attempt to fit lots of stuff into our (suddenly too) small backpacks. I will definitely be needing to pay for an extra piece of baggage. Le sigh.

Quick news of note, each of which deserves a blog of its own, which just might happen: tonight the bus tried to race a dump truck full of gravel, which was surprisingly speedy. The other week we went to see the water puppet show and the best part was the full-on yowling cat fight taking place on the think plastic ceiling above us, climaxing when one of the toms, a scrappy-looking black and white cat, actually fell through the ceiling and into an empty chair in the audience. Wow. Also, my tutoring job ends this week, and along with it, any last source of income, which I think makes me a real backpacker, and no longer "cooler than a backpacker because um, I *live* here." Ah, well.

We leave on Friday morning (Thursday night for those in the states) for a two-day tour through the Mekong, which will land us in the little coastal town from which we catch our flight to Phu Quoc Island. Sunrises and freshly caught shrimp with limes squeezed on top. Hammocks. Novels. Long sandy walks. And motorbikes. Merry Christmas!

15 December, 2006

Baby on the bus

This little cutie was sitting in front of me on the ride home tonight, which was great, because 40 minutes of toddler giggles sure do drown out the constantly blaring bus horn. We played classic bilingual games such as "wiggle the fingers" and "no, you can't have the iPod!" I think his Mom was glad to have a break. He was pretty high energy. I taught him to say bye-bye.

So! Tonight we went to the snake resteraunt. I've got some really great pictures and videos documenting the adventure, so I'll make sure that tomorrow's blog tells the full story, but for now let me tell it in brief:

order the kind of snake you want (we went for the cobra), they bring it out to you and let it wriggle around by your feet, then they break the jaw and slit it open, squeezing the blood into one bottle of homemade rice liquor and the bile (yes, the bile!) into another. Then they cook the snake meat and you eat it while you take shots of blood and bile. Pictures coming soon.

11 December, 2006

Place Orders Here

Handwoven Material from Northern Vietnam

My Aunt Jane had a suggestion: that for any friends and/or family who may be reading my blog, I create a little online opportunity to have me bring home some of the great deals on beautiful handmade things that I can get so easily where I am.

[Since I don't really want to start up a comprehensive online store right now, I'm going to stick to one item: the handwoven pieces of material that are made up North. Since they have already sold this material to stall-owners in the markets here in Saigon, I will not have the chance to meet the actual creators of the material; if this kind of thing bothers you and feels exploitative, I understand. Shop here instead. But I figure I'm not too far from the source--I'm paying tourist prices, which guessing from the smiles I get at the markets will help to feed the families of the stall owners I'm buying from.]

So, basically what this is for is if you look at the material below and think, "hey, that looks great! I want Jess to bring back a few of those for me!" you can let me know how many you want and what sort of colors I should aim for, and I'll gather 'em all up and put them in a box before I fly home.

You won't get the material until March, because I don't want to risk your order getting lost in the Vietnamese postal system. Sometimes it's reliable and sometimes it can take months. So... to cover the excess baggage costs, let's say each piece of material will be $8.00. I'm guesstimating but I think that will cover my costs as well as be a good deal for you guys. And hey, no hard feelings if you decline. I'm putting my feelers out there, seeing if this would be welcome to anyone. So here goes!


Here's an overview of what the material looks like when folded up. Keep in mind that while I haven't altered the pictures in any way, I was taking the snaps in fluorescent light. This means that the colors, while true enough, are a lot less grainy and more vibrant than it looks like here.


Roughly 2' by 5'. These are handmade, so the size varies by a few centimeters from piece to piece. You can definitely make a blouse or skirt with one piece, though. The Vietnamese make them into handbags, camera cases, waterbottle holders, you name it.

Ok, here's the fun part. They're always different from one piece to the next, but I've noticed a pattern in similar color schemes. Here's what I've picked out as example pallets:

1. The Standard (orange, red, purple-- the most commonly found)

2. The Pastel (beautiful ashy pinks and lavenders)

3. The Christmas (forest green and red- made even more wintery by the snowflaky pattern woven into all of the pieces)

4. The Maroon (this one is like the standard but with a deep red instead of the firey orange)

5. The Purple (seem to be woven a little thicker; more indigo hues)

Here are some macro shots of the woven bands of pattern that separate the main blocks of color.

Click the "add a comment" link below. In the name box, you can choose anonymous or type in your name, but either way please fill out the commentbox like this:

I think we'll either do checks written to me, COD. Unless I can figure out my Paypal account before then! I'll work on it.

This entry will continue to be online. I'll write other journal entries, but you can navigate back to this one by using the archives on the right side of the page. In March, right before I leave, I will hit the markets and collect as close to what you would like as possible (keeping in mind that since these things aren't produced through a company, they're going to vary a little bit). When I arrive back in the states, I'll mail them to you (or if I'm lucky, I'll bring 'em to you myself).

Hope this doesn't come off as too enterprising. And now, back to your regularly scheduled travel blog. :)

08 December, 2006

playing poke 'er

It started a few mornings ago. I woke up suddenly because (I thought) my nose was bleeding. It was dark so I couldn't tell, but there was definitely a nose gushing feeling so I stumbled into the bathroom with my hand cupped under my nostrils to make clean up easier. But when I turned on the light, all I had was a cold. Since that morning, my throat has been scratchy and raw and my head has felt full of concrete. Blowing my nose is just wishful thinking. So my yoga teacher Suzanne has given me the name of her acupuncturist, and I'm going to call him this morning. Apparently he's this sweet old doctor who makes house calls and uses new needles for every patient and only charges 50,000 (currently $3.09). So far the acu-sciences seem to be spot on here, but I've only tried acupressure during a foot massage and some crazy "hurts so good" points along my neck. Whether proper needles will expedite my sinuses clearing out, we shall soon see.

Yesterday we went down to Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpacker's district. Really it's only a few streets, not a whole district by any stretch of the imagination, but one can easily spend hours there, stopping by the little cafes, the touring companies that offer one to three day sightseeing trips (the mekong delta, the cu chi tunnels, etc), the big travel agent places where you can arrange your flights home, and of course the souvenir shops. I guess it's because I've got my plane ticket home that my mind has been suddenly switched into "collect" mode: whereas before I could walk right past a little shop full of beautiful carvings and silk shoes and handwoven tapestries, now I have this personal shopper in my brain going, "ooh, Mom would like that. Gotta remember to get those Tintin shirts. Those are Lauren's size. Find silver earrings for Jules" and so on. There are so many beautiful things here and they're really not too pricey. I know that I should wait, though, until we're on the road, because if they're affordable in Saigon they must be cheaper closer to the source (wherever that is). I know my Dad wants a silk bathrobe with a dragon on the back. What do you guys want?

Anyway, we went down there in order to check out a rumour that Kenny had heard, and it turned out to be very true. There is a store (well, there are probably many) that has oodles of copies of popular software titles and sells them for pennies on the dollar (dong on the dollar?). For example, we got Finale 2005 and Apple Soundtrack and some games and the newest Office suite for about $15 total (Ken says this would have cost about a thousand at home). So, here's to saving over nine hundred bucks via blatant copyright infringement! Can we console our guilty consciences with how much these companies are making? I don't know, we'll debate it later. As for now, though, I'm having so much fun playing You Don't Know Jack, my favorite trivia game from when I was a kid. It's like, if Wait Wait was a computer game with a really juvenile host. And a inexplicable pirate theme. With extra points if you 'screw' your opponent by forcing them to answer when they're unsure. And not about current events. It's like that.

So we bought our illegal software and got some breakfast at Allez Boo cause Kenny hadn't been there yet. Really what we were doing was pretending we're tourists. Trying to get a feel for what it will be like next month. There seems to be a pretty amiable atmosphere between backpackers, and we were hoping to run into someone who would just start rattling off great places to go to in CTandL (I'm tired of typing out Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos... oops) and we could pick their brains and work on our itinerary. But no one made a move, so we ate breakfast and bought cookies from the place where they take in people from the streets and help them learn how to make cookies and then tourists by them and it's better than begging. And then we went backpack shopping. We both needed something bigger than a regular backpack but something smaller than the huge internal frame packs we already have. Kenny needed one with a built in hard case for his camera. We found what we were looking for (mine is small on purpose to encourage myself not to overpack) and headed home, secure in the knowledge that even if we're not sure where we're going or if we can afford to stay away as long as we want to, at least we have good backpacks. P.s., not sure if I've mentioned it, but since Northface and Spyder and Colombia, etc all have their factories in Vietnam, you can find reeeeally cheap packs and winter jackets and ski suits and fleeces here. Before we come home we're doing winter jacket shopping in a big way. It's hard to believe that before I came over I was excited that I found a good breathable rain jacket for only $98. Laughable. And so sad to know that I have to get used to American prices again. Alas.

05 December, 2006

charity and bathing suits

Back home I was graaadually getting into good enough shape to run 5ks. I was in two of them, and I've told so many people so many times that I ran two of them, that sometimes I forget that I didn't actually run two of them. I ran most of the way, certainly at the beginning and the ends, but there was some definite stopping going on in the middle parts, so I can't honestly say I completely ran two different 5ks. Oh well. And that was when I was "training" (ie letting Kenny coax me into tying on the sneakers, pulling on the shorts, and huffing and cursing my way along the rolling hills of Warren Wilson College). There was a brief habit of running in the morning this summer, thanks to my being included in a huffing, cursing mob of like-minded foodies, but since arriving here on the tenth parallel, I've let most of my exercise be the nice calm yoga type or the speed walking on a treadmill in the A/C type. I mean, there were a few long beach hikes. But nothing in the way of getting me in any kind of shape to run a 5k, or even most of it. So when my Canadian friends started going all 'Terry Fox this' and 'Terry Fox that' I knew I should probably join up, cause the money goes towards some great cancer-treating hospitals and also I could increase my worldly know-how by being able to encourage an alliance with our maple-addled friends to the North by participating in the annual Terry Fox cult activities. So I walked a 5k with 5,000+ people in the suburbs of Saigon, moving en masse down a freshly paved highway in a sea of white and red shirts and ball caps.

Since we're spending Christmas on a mostly deserted island, I treated myself to two new bathing suits. Now, it is no secret that most western women are quite a bit larger than Vietnamese women. Larger, certainly, than sizes sold in Vietnamese stores. Luckily for us big-butted expats, there are several tailor-made suit shops in town, and the one I prefer is called Ly Ly. They'll make a western sized bikini for 180,000 (currently $11.20) in any number of colors (you choose the material and if you want any padding, lining, fancy details, whathaveyou). So to celebrate the whole "I'm tan in December!" thing, I got a white one and a coral-colored one (mom would be proud, she's been trying to get me to wear that shade for decades). They're skimpy, but you know, deserted island and all.

I'm reading The Beach by Alex Garland. It's thrilling and disgusting and I just realised that reading it gives you the same dichotomous feeling as when your mouth waters and you feel hungry and sick at the same time (this happens to other people, right?). It reminds me a little of Lord of the Flies, and Heart of Darkness, probably because of the jungle island thing. I haven't seen the movie. I don't know what's going to happen. For me, the fascination is brought home because of how plausible going there next month could be. Of course, it's not the same island anymore (which is kind of a theme in the book), but still. Thailand.

04 December, 2006

Durian and the US Consulate

As if the fruit isn't bad enough...

-last week we discovered that the grossest tropical fruit in the known universe, durian (or sâu riêng), is not only stinking up street corners and market stalls in southern Vietnam, but is also a flavor of condoms available for sale here.

-what registering with the consulate is good for: we just got an email alerting US citizens in Vietnam of the approaching Typhoon Durian (I'm still laughing). It's supposed to hit tonight. In order to be well prepared, Ken and I went out on a nighttime trek to find pirated DVDs and M&Ms, enough to keep us from chewing on our own limbs if we do get "typhooned in."

In other news...

-getting very excited about this upcoming tour of asia! the plan is as follows: go to Cambodia. travel north into Thailand. travel northwest into Laos. re-enter Vietnam up in the mountains. do north Vietnam, then travel down the coast, making it back to Saigon by the beginning of march. spend a few days here wrapping up stuff, saying goodbye to friends, and buying last minute souvenirs. fly home on march 4th. I can't put down Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. My current drooling-over location is Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand.

-I just put a ton of new photos up on the flickr site. Includes: our ragtag thanksgiving, the terry fox 5k, and our trip to Saigon's amazing Chinatown. Click away!

24 November, 2006

Substitute teaching

The last three days of this week I spent subbing at the International School. The night before I started, I couldn't sleep: I was nervous, and jittery, and I had the same old dream that I used to have all the time when I started teaching a few years ago. In the dream I'm trying to get a large group of students to hear what I'm saying, and we're always in an auditorium or some other sort of really big room. Usually the students are talking to each other instead, and I can see that they know I'm trying to get their attention but they can't be bothered; they don't respect me. I'm trying tactics, I'm wheedling, I'm waving my arms (and in this most recent one, I was using a microphone but it wasn't working) to get them to listen to me. The meaning is obvious: I'm afraid I won't be an effective teacher. The cool thing is that in this week's dream, I had some helpers. There were a few of my best students from Pisgah in this dream, and they were trying to shush the other students for me, helping me regain control of the class. It didn't work, but it made me feel a little glimmer of hope. [ever notice how these words always want to go together, glimmer and hope? I don't like how contrived it sounds but that's what came out.]

Anyway, sleeplessness and reoccurring dreams aside, this week has been great. I love being at this school. Too bad they can't hire me for this coming semester, because the ceramics teacher needs an aid and the dance and music teachers want a drama person to help with the production of their spring shows. The campus is clean and beautiful, the kids are *uber* respectful (at least, in English-- but some of the Korean girls I'm pretty sure were talking smack), and the cafeteria food rocks. You're not teaching in Vietnam until you've had little plastic mini-bowls of pho in the morning. Today has been the best day of them all. Since it's Friday, most of the classes are viewing movies (Uncle Tom's Cabin in US History and Luther in World History) but the best one has, very surprisingly, been in AP Economics. I would seriously recommend this DVD to anyone: it comes with their textbook and it's called DiscoverEcon with Paul Solman. Brilliant wit, truly funny scenes, and crystal clear examples that made me go "Ohh!" out loud and all the kids looked at me and giggled (hey, I never took Econ). I am going to try not to steal it and take it home with me. What a fun day.

Tonight is Thanksgiving Dinner: we're doing it supra style with lots of wine and toasting. Kenny and I are making our famous (sorta) tofu chocolate mousse pies, and garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans, and we ordered a turkey (it comes cooked already: that was actually the only option). Yum.

In other news: now that we've watched all the Deadwood there is to watch, I've moved on to Carnivale. It's pretty great so far, and juuust enough like Deadwood to keep me happy.

Also: on Wednesday morning my xe om driver took me to the wrong end of the city (whoops!) and we backtracked through the part of the city I think that maybe no expat knows about: the network of marshes and fields and dirt paths that make up the "other" side of An Phu (District 2). I felt like we were in the middle of the country somewhere. It was straight outta National Geographic. The scenery and the poverty were together so brightly hued and poignant and just striking, and I thought, "ah ha: Saigon has not always been what I know it to be." And I was late for work, and we got on a ferry to get back to town, and my driver was stressed, but it was very memorable.

Right now, it's planning period, and if you look away from the white boards and the faux-wood desks and the computer and the American flag and out the window, you can see a river winding around the edge of the land. The school has planted trees but they're not big enough yet to bock the sight of the water. On the banks are low bunches of palms and every once in awhile a little makeshift hut, and there is one canoe dipping its oars into the water, far away, in profile. There is one airplane in the sky, flying fast. How amazing it is that you can just go somewhere like this, and be here, and be so far away from where you were.

16 November, 2006

Mmm, morning

My shiny green bike ride in to work this morning was ridiculously gorgeous and somehow very poignant. It had the kind of lighting that I think would be appropriate for a "last beautiful morning on Earth" kind of scene. Really yellow sunlight, streaking white clouds, deep blue sky (does it always look like this at 8am?). All along the roads, people were gathered, hunched over their midget plastic tables eating the best looking beef noodle soup you could ever hope to see, dressed in office finery and nylon pyjamas, whichever. As I biked along, people stepped out to cross the flow of traffic as we do here, slowly and steadily, watching the traffic swirl around 'em and part and come back together, like motorbike water ballet. One old woman wearing extremely wide-leg pyjamas that were fluttering in the breeze stepped off the curb, bowl of breakfast in one hand and chopsticks in the other, and just opened her arms Jesus-on-the-cross style and walked out with closed eyes. Gorgeous. Let's see what else... kids on their way to school, little navy blue and white ducklings bobbing along. The four guys who hang out on my street and offer rides to people on their motorbikes, waving and smiling at me (it's nice to be known). The market looked especially good this morning, too. Before 10am is definitely the time to go.

Tomorrow I'm taking the hydrofoil down to Vung Tau beach and leaving Kenny here (he's teaching this weekend, but I am not. Ha ha.) and I plan on regaining my nice American tan and hopefully having a much easier time with beach hair now that said hair is hacked off.

In other news, I realised that even though it's a solid idea to buy a Vespa here and import it back to the States where it'll be worth at least twice what I paid for it and I can be the coolest teacher in the world, tooling around on my little vintage Italian putter... I just don't have enough money to buy one in the first place. Dang. Dang dang!

I can still drool over them, though. That ain't expensive. Look at these guys and imagine what they look like 40 years older (and wiser).

15 November, 2006


I am SO excited right now, because we just booked our Christmas vacation on the island of Phu Quoc, which defies all superlatives and just continually blows peoples' minds one after another, blam blam blam! I can't believe we're going! Here's where the island is, compared to the mainland:

The island is just off the western coast of S. Vietnam, nestled up under Cambodia. See it? Isn't it just adorable?

Now here's a map of the island itself. Keep in mind that this whole place is reputed to be unspoiled paradise with minimal tourists (it is unspoiled, after all). Not only are we going to this place, we're going to one of the most remote beaches, Bai Sao [Sao beach], which is just there on the bottom right hand corner of the island. So while the rest of the holiday crowds are watching the sunset on the West Coast, we'll be far far away on the SE Coast, looking out for the sunrise.

There's a little cluster of three red names on the southeastern tip, you see it? The top name says, a bit blearily, "Sao Beach" [just under it is Khem Beach, which means cream beach, as in ice cream- because the sand is supposed to be creamy colored and smooth].

The resort that we're staying at is the only one on Bai Sao, or so I've read on the interwebs and in the Lonely Planet tome. It's called My Lan, if you want to google it, and here's a picture from someones blog who's been there before:

And since you know I love things more when they're affordable, I gotta say that we're booked in a beachfront bungalow for six nights at 220,000vd ($13.75) a night. Can you believe it??

The plan is to travel overland to the city of Rach Gia, which means spending a night or two in the Mekong Delta, gradually leaving the crowds and modernity behind, so as not to shock the system. Then on the 24th of December we'll fly over the short distance of water to Phu Quoc, which takes about 21 minutes and costs about that many dollars. Spend six nights in remote creamy turquoise seafood paradise, and then fly directly back to Saigon on the 30th: just enough time to rest, shower, have some Indian food or whatever we're craving after a week of nothing but crab legs and pineapples, and get ready for the birthing ceremonies of 2007. It seems unbelievable.
I found so much truth in the following blog, I found myself substituting out the specific details that make Tbilisi and Saigon their own and being wowed at the parallel experiences of moving to a brand new old city. Just for my own enjoyment, and certainly not to steal from the writer, here is my edited version tailor made to suit our life.

When we first got here, everything was very new, and very weird, and very fresh, and I felt like I was bursting at the seams to write about all the strange things I encountered. As I'm sure usually happens, we've begun to acclimate to our surroundings a bit, and there is less and less that I find specifically worth writing about... I'm not sure that makes sense.

On the one hand, our living situation is very romantic, and very much what you might expect from
[a UU drama teacher and a Waldorf kid turned-amateur-ethnomusicologist/law student] living together in [South East Asia]... the buildings are very turn-of-the-century, and partly run-down.. one of us walks to the corner most mornings for [steaming bowls of rice and fish parts] to eat with our [giant cups of sugared iced coffee]... crazy [old ladies] dressed in [a technicolored nylon rainbow] squat on every street corner, [hawking sandwiches and fruit]. There's even a [row of Japanese specialty shops] across the street, and so we walk out of our little apartment building to the sounds of [bus loads of picture-snapping tourists].

On the other hand, living is living: 90% daily drudge. We run out of [gummy fruit snacks]. We watch [the latest episode of LOST just hours after it debuts in the States, courtesy of Limewire]. The [pipes leak and there are hoardes of cockroaches]. I'm tired from staying up late last night, and I have to [catch the bus and go tutor], and there's [these] guy[s] loudly [building a sky scraper in the middle of the mud pit outside]. In these moments, it doesn't feel any different than living in Marshfield, or Burlington, or Oxford, or Columbus, [or Swannanoa, or Charlotte, or Canton] or anywhere else.

But then you look out the window, and see a [palm tree swaying in the sunshine] and think oh, yeah. That's why I'm here.

09 November, 2006

Kiss Kiss, Chop Chop

I cut my hair.

You like? I do! It took some deep breaths and rehearsed some mental reminders that hair will grow back and that it's too hot here for long hair and that besides, I don't ever really wear it down... but for the most part it was easy. I just wandered into one of the many random salons scattered along my street and showed them a few sketches that I had made, and some pictures torn out of magazines for good measure, and then enjoyed my 20 minute shampoo/scalp massage. Easy work, I tell ya. And the grand total was 110,000vd which is about $6.50. Ta da!

05 November, 2006

Little updates

Yesterday was the perfect Sunday: I worked early and was back in my neighborhood before noon. I went to the market and bought a big bag full of veggies, chopped garlic and chillies for under a buck. I met up with Ken back at our place and we had a great conversation about teaching while eating handfuls of crisp pomegranate seeds in our kitchen. Then we took a taxi over to our friend's parents' mansion and swam in the pool and grilled steaks until late afternoon, laughing and floating around and scheming about how what we'd like to import to the states and sell in our communities. [more about this idea later]. Then our roomates called, and we met up with them at the local sushi joint for a housemate bonding session: all five of us ate sushi and sashimi and drinks and miso and edamame for over two hours, and the total was about $9 each. We brought a board game and played until we were the only ones left in the resteraunt. Then we came back home, and I read a magazine and Kenny did some editing until we dozed off. Get better, Life: I dare you.

The dry season is coming upon us, and today the sky is pale blue with little wispy clouds, and it is hot enough to feel the sun toasting your skin (a feeling that I quite like). I've agreed to do an extended substitute thing for the language school factory that I wrote about a month ago, even though it's not the best environment, it is an extra $30 a day, which adds up. I'll be doing that in between yoga and tutoring on Weds, Thurs and Fri afternoons, which is pretty ideal: I can still do my favorite things like bike around town and meet friends for lunch, and in theory I have time to catch the bus from where I normally do in order to get up to Thu Duc district for to make with the tutoring. And it's only through December, which is also pretty ideal. Now to get back in the mindset of controlling dozens of little 4 year old bodies, while trying to establish an all-class dialogue of "Red! Yellow! Bluuuue!".

I cannot believe it's November. This is like the summer that never ends. That's exactly what I wanted.

To celebrate the new income, we're going to walk to Juice, one of my favorite breakfast places. Gotta go put my sneakers on.

If anyone is planning or dreaming about taking winter break overseas, think about coming to south east asia. The plane ticket will hurt your wallet but it's all good once you land.

03 November, 2006

There's a thought!

Or: We could skip town for a month and travel around SE Asia! It's Kenny's brilliant idea but it started with my idea to leave Vietnam for Christmas (Cambodia is only a four hour bus ride away, apparently) coupled with some friends' offers to come visit their home in the Phillipines coupled with K's newly arrived multiple-entry visa. Saigon is full of wonderment and opportunity and city stuff but I think by the time January draws nigh, I'll be ready to feel like a traveler again.

This weekend will be full of tutoring English, yoga, long walks on the hot streets, and hopefully a pool slash grill party, at a real Aussie's house, which means we are allowed to say "throw another shrimp on the barbie!" (though I've heard that real Australians don't say that). Ah, the start of the dry season! Bring on the daily sunburns and hot dusty winds!

02 November, 2006

Blah humbug

Ok, it's fun to spend my time doing yoga and eating great food and hunting for good deals on material to give to tailors so that I can have unique clothes but my life is starting to feel, if not shallow, then certainly lacking depth. The choices are out there: volunteer my time for a needy cause? Take two weeks to go to a silent meditation retreat in Cambodia with the monks? Devote myself to achieving a higher level of fitness, which I said I was waiting for a hot climate to do it in? Write really great letters to friends? Start a band?

I'm also thinking a lot about future plans, relationship stuff, and What I Really Want For My Life.

That's it for now.

30 October, 2006


I tried to cut up a pineapple the Vietnamese way, which turned out to be a sin and a crime against tropical fruits everywhere. I have mad respect for the spiraling beauties we buy on the street- to carve a pineapple is along the lines of, I imagine, building those giant sand castles, in that the stuff you're working with is unwieldy and gets absolutely everywhere. It still tasted divine, though.

In a funny stroke of luck, I forgot my pin number for my debit card due to lack of use. Ha!

So, as for Halloween, I've been having a blast explaining it to my tutorees. It seems like most Vietnamese kids have heard of Halloween, and my kids even picked up the word "monster" with spooky hand gestures somewhere, but I'm not sure if what I'm explaining to them in regards to how you go about it all is making any sense, so tomorrow I'm bringing basic costume items and some makeup over (and candy, duh) and we're going to play at trick-or-treating for part of our lesson time. The girl pointed out that I had something ("ew") stuck in my eyelashes today, and I tried pantomiming/sketching out the whole fake eyelashes and glue concept. The kids seem skeptical; I might just rock the lashes tomorrow for our lesson.

As far as the grown up Halloweening goes, some friends and I decided on a group theme for Saturday night, and we might just re-do it again tomorrow for actual Halloween. The idea was Wizard of Oz (ok, not the most creative, but we have some diverse tastes in the group, and the 1983 Roller Derby champions idea got vetoed- dang!). Not everyone in our group had seen the Wizard of Oz, so I created this little photoshop piece to provide inspiration:

To see how we actually turned out, check out the Halloween photos at my flickr page. See if you can tell who is supposed to be who.

In other news, we bought Ken some dress-up clothes so he can look like the smart, sassy young professional that he truly is. Check out the smarmy look and the Gucci shoes:

27 October, 2006

Goodbye, Oriental Stars

My favorite cheap-o restearaunt has twice poisoned me. Yesterday I awoke with the same knifing pains in my belly, and the same poops, chills, sweats and the like as last week. The only weird thing is that this time Kenny didn't get sick as well (which is just as well, since we made quite a pathetic pair). So I think I'll swear off eating there for a while... there are plenty of other places to eat.

21 October, 2006

He did it!

We had a fun squealy moment this morning when Kenny checked his email and found out he made a 165 on the LSAT: which lands him in the 93rd percentile and happens to be way above how well he thought he'd do. Yipee!

I love exchanges that go something like, "so where are you going to law school?" "anywhere I want!"

In other news, I'm just hanging out, doing the day to day part timer thing, enjoying sleeping in every other day and spending lots of contemplative time as the lone white sardine in a xe buýt full of sardines. Also, I'm hoping to hear from the fun International School that needs a half-time ceramics, half-time drama teacher. Bliss.

When day dreaming about what I'd like to do when I go back to the states, which is presumably this summer, I like to imagine that the next step in my Plan (an elusive thing) is to do the Waldorf certification thing. My good friend Kim and I just discovered this is a common interest (she did hers in Arizona) and it made me excited to go back to 'school' and 'learn more.' But maybe it's just the academia wafting over from Ken's desk, who is currently going back and forth between drooling over the Law School directory and laughingly maniacally to himself. What a success!

19 October, 2006

On being sick, watching lots of Deadwood, and the beach


I got really sick somehow. I don't think it was anything I ate, because on Tuesday Kenny and I ate almost exactly the same things all day long, and on Wednesday morning I woke up feeling really rough. I won't go into any gross details, but suffice it to say that thing were moving along in a downward motion at a nice clip. Was that obtuse? I had the runs. Very, very badly. I got it together enough to get over to the yoga studio to do my morning shift, but after going to the bathroom 3 times in 15 minutes, I thought that maybe the beautiful pristine studio where I am supposed to help people feel peaceful and at ease was not the most ideal place to be doing my thing. Plus the chills and sweats were starting to kick in. My lovely and helpful coworker Keiko granted me leave and I headed home, sweaty and achy and hoping I wouldn't do anything to embarrass my xe om driver.

Upon making back upstairs, I crashed onto the bed and pretty much didn't vary my bed-toilet-bed-toilet pattern for 12 hours. In the afternoon, body aches set in and I felt like my whole body had been thrown around a mosh pit. So achy! And the headache, oy vey. Finally, at 8pm, I gave up on the waking world and--just for a change--went to sleep. I slept for so long. And somewhere in the middle of the night, miracle of miracles, I was cured! The only problem was Kenny caught it. This morning I nearly bounded out of bed, but would have tripped over the moaning pile under the blankets that was my sickly boyfriend. So funny to see it all from the other side: my exact symptoms, replicated. Ha ha.

In other news, we went again to Nha Trang and had, if slightly less drunken, a fine time indeed. The BEST part of the whole weekend, and perhaps one of the top 5 things I've done in Vietnam so far, was renting motorbikes and taking them way the heck up into the moutains, searching for some elusive waterfalls that Kim knew about.

Renting a motorbike is excitingly cheap and sickeningly irresponsible (at least, coming from a western point of view and having insurance salesmen in the family). We needed to show no ID. We needed no proof of driving ability, or to even prove that we were not currently on drugs or planning to ride them off cliffs. They didn't even need to know where we were going! One thing that soothed my western mind was that we were encouraged to take our chosen bikes for test rides up and down the alley next to the renting place slash hotel. The price is 50,000vd [$3.11] for up to 6 hours, or 100,000vd [$6.24] for the whole day. Woo! And away we went!

The hardest part was getting out of town. We knew that once we hit the highway, things would be easier going with less traffic and fewer turns to remember. The problem was that we had about 12 people in our party, 2 of whom had motorbike experience (funnily enough, they were also the two who spoke Vietnamese). So being the speed demon I fancy I am, I naturally gravitated towards the front of the pack, where our cautious guide was continually braking and pulling over to make sure we were all still behind her (which we were, we were just all trying to f*&king pull over on the side of the road like she was, grr!) and so finally she told me where the next few turns were and one by one we all passed her by and let the wind whip over us. Oh man, motorbikes are fun! I really enjoyed mine. One of the girls in our party kept having accidents though. I felt pretty bad for her, and I'm not sure why it kept happening to her and no one else. Here's a picture of what it looks like when you've busted up your knee from a motorbike crash (G rated version):

Crashes aside, the drive up into the mountains was breathtakingly gorgeous. I was hestitant to take pictures because to get the camera out meant to stop driving, and that meant taking myself out of the moment for a moment, and I just couldn't bring myself to. Now, of course I'm grateful for the few that I did take, but believe me when I say the whole 2-odd hour trip (each way, thereabouts) was photo worthy. What I would have gave for a helmet cam! Here are some of my favorite things we saw on our way back from the falls:

This is amazing. What year is this guy from? Notice a few things: in his hand, a long switch to drive the ox. In the background, what looks like a woman bandit on a motorbike, but is actually just a modern woman on a motorbike, protecting her skin from those bad bad sun rays. Pale skin is in.

We passed lots of houses, but this one caught my eye because of the red tile roof and the way the light was changing due to an oncoming storm (which never came, but made lots of deep blue hues and added that extra magic to our pictures).

And this one, which is my desktop photo of the moment. I love this one. The sun was setting and so I finally stopped to take a picture, and these two little boys ran out from their house (probably to investigate the dozen or so motorbike sounds that had just roared past their house). I got a couple snaps of them doing various versions of the peace sign, but their Mom was scolwing in the background, so I wanted to stop.

To be honest, I was more wowed by the giant tropical plants than the mountains themselves. I love mountains, but except for the foliage these looked scarily like those in Canton or Swannanoa or Penland. It was the palm trees that amazed me. Check out this giant.

Our motorbike trip took most of Saturday and left us pretty sunburned, so the next morning we took a slighly less choose-your-own-adventure course and went snorkeling all morning. This boat tour was so completely relaxed and low key compared to the party boat floating bar scene of a few weeks past (see previous entries) and I'm glad. We needed to just be one with the fishes. Plus this tour, instead of alcohol, provided thermoses of hot tea and coffee. And bananas. And fresh pineapple slices. Perfect. The only less-than-flawless memory I'll take away from the trip was getting caught in a tide of stinging jellies. They really do pack a punch. But it was so much less traumatic than it could have been: they left no marks, and it was easy to swim out of them. All it caused was some aggravated jumping around and scratching back on the boat. The good parts of the tour are numerous: meeting Carrie from D.C., quality time with Michael and Kim, snorkeling amazingly close to all kinds of cool coral and fish while holding Kenny's hand and gesturing to each other, garbling our words inside our masks, trying to point out cool fish: "mmmph! mmh mpph mummbm!" Oh, the strange fish we saw!

We took to the beach for the rest of the day and did the requisite meal of crab legs and Orangina, reading books and dozing with our iPods. Kenny and I had to catch a 6pm train back to Saigon, and shared a cabin with two of the phlegmiest men in South East Asia, whose incredibly loud conversations seemed mostly to translate as, "listen to this! see how it gugrles?" "Oh yes, do you know this chicken-looking shoulder stretch? it really loosens things up. Listen now!" Followed by lots of awkward and disgusting machinations to get the snot up. I'm grossing myself out just remembering it. Let's move on.

So most of our week was spent getting Ken set up for the job hunt: we put together a rather spiffy resume, did a little networking down at the diner (we have a New York style diner at the end of our alley, which does a bacon eggs and toast special with coffee for a little over a buck, and waffles!) and of course being sick and watching the rest of Deadwood: Season II. Honestly the smartest show ever. I love it love it love it. You like cowboys? You like Shakespeare? You like costume design and whipsmart one-liners? You like Deadwood, the only show where cocksucker! ceases to be a cussword and can be used as a noun, a verb, an all purpose exclamation when feeling suprised or determined, and one man's entire English vocabulary.

Random good news: pomegranates exist in Vietnam, and they are cheap. I may not ever come home. Also, there's a tailor right down the street from me, and they're making me a copy of my favorite skirt for 90,000 (around $5.50). Final great thing: the blog which I've mentioned before [noodlepie.com] has been making my life complete because he, the creator of the site, has archived his two years of research on the street food of Vietnam, with a lot of info about my neck of the woods. This is simply amazing to me. Check out noodlepie.com and scroll through one of the drop down menus titled "scoff and swill." Then pick an interesting Vietnamese word and see what delectable little cheapy you've found. Chances are, I'm eating it within the next few weeks.

12 October, 2006


Today is my half birthday. I am now closer to 26 than 25. (Whoa!)

I like the sound of 26, it has a nice ring to it. Friend Karen is leaving the realm of 26 today, and entering the next highest level. Also, today is Friday the 13th, which is cool. Tonight we board the darling sleeper train and head to the White House again. Let's hear it for crab legs on the beach! Let's hear it for trains! This time, I vow to not get sunburned.

Also, this time I have a custom made bikini (which actually doesn't fit that much better than most bikinis I buy in stores, but seeing as I can't find the one I came to Vietnam with, I reckon a somewhat ill-fitting suit is better than no suit at all.) Can't believe some of you are wearing long johns and hiking in the mountians right now. I really do miss Fall, but I don't miss being cold. I'm going to write to Corey, who is in Canada at the moment, and see if he'll try to find some apple butter to bring back to Saigon. The best thing about living somewhere else is that you develop a keen fondness for certain things about your homeland. Apple butter being one of them. And the smiling cheeks of my girl friends. Which reminds me, we have an address now... I'll send out a mass email encouraging letters and stuff. Those of you who are at WWC... go hiking for me, and buy some kale from the co-op.

10 October, 2006

A Few Quick Funnies

things that have happened that have made me laugh:

-Kenny inquiring about how one catches Ben Gay Fever (mistaken for Dengue Fever)
-Playing darts with Laurence last night (laughing at our spastic dart throwing abilities- sometimes bullseyes, sometimes the wall)
-Sonja's driver seeing us looking at the carts full of puppies for sale on Le Quy Don, and telling us, "You buy: one week, die!"
-Kristy returning from Hong Kong with hilariously pitiful stories about being a nanny in vacationland, cracking us up over dim sum
-and best of all, at Canadian Thanksgiving, the rundown to the grand prize and the five year old girl who almost won a solo trip to Europe.

08 October, 2006

Warning: a little morbid.

[uh oh- the spell check button is on the fritz. forgive me!]

After getting this journal off to a rip roaring start, I have found myself lagging behind due to the past week or so of being Internetless. So now that I have 1) somewhat wireless internet access in my very own room and 2) a sweet new MacBook on which Kenny has graciously allowed me to type and 3) an actual life to write about, I will rise to the challenge again. Add to that mix the very inspiring notmy.livejournal.com, and I realize there are enourmous amounts of bloggable details passing me by all the time. So here goes.

It's nearing the end of the rainy season, which means that every once in awhile we have a whole day of No Rain. And I don't mean that people are playing Blind Melon en masse. We actually go the entire length of the day without it raining. It's off-putting to say the least, since I was getting used to (but not quite enjoying) being suddenly drenched once a morning and once an evening, every day. So the dry season will suddenly encroach upon us, leaving this soggy city a dust bowl at over 100 degrees F (or so I've been told). Sounds interesting. I daresay I think I'll like it better not being rained on, but who knows? I've never lived in a dry climate. Maybe I'll get nosebleeds like I did when hanging out in Colorado two summers ago. Speaking of nosebleeds, someone who knows someone I know has Dengue Fever--which boasts many gross side effects but none as impressive as bleeding gums and nostrils. There's a fun one to catch. "Hey Jess, why've you got lipstick all over your teeth? Oh."

So I'm adapting to having Ken back in my physical space again. There's a whole journal entry that could be written on the phases of getting used to being apart and then getting used to not being apart again, but I'll save it for another time. It's interesting to watch his intake of the city in relation to my own half a dozen weeks ago. He's done more in his first two days than I did in my first two weeks, natch. A large part of this is because he's (obviously) got a girlfriend who has an established series of favorite places, some friends, and a small but workable knowledge of How To Do Stuff and How To Say Things. I'm not sure which would be better: figuring out stuff on your own, or not getting to? I mean, there's still plenty for him to figure out, and lots for us to figure out together. I held off doing most of the official type stuff until he got here: checking in at the Embassy, joining the blood bank, seeing the big museums and temples. Anyway, Ken was a real trooper today- we walked all over D1, going to exchange money and hitting the big loud markets and eating street food and (I admit) shoe shopping and bathing suit shopping with me and my girlfriends. A trooper, I say. Oh yes: I found a place where you can get a bathing suit custom made just for you: you pick the fabric, the cut, everything, and they make it for you in about 3 days, at about $12.50 a suit. I picked a design which will hopefully minimize all it's supposed to while holding up everything else, in colors that I like and will hopefully flatter the skin tone, blah blah. Lots of hope going into these suits. They better at least fit, since we're hitting the beach on Friday (yes!).

Tomorrow night we're going to the Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, which will be full of friends, amazing amounts of turkey and all that goes with it, Canadian trivia, door prizes, and who knows what else. I'm so excited. That means I have to skip out on tutoring tomorrow afternoon, which makes me feel like a bad tutor, but hey, Thanksgiving only comes twice a year, right?

I saw my first fatal accident the other day. I was on a motorbike going to An Phu to get together with Sonja, and as we zoomed down the highway in the beginning of the day's drizzle, my motorbike driver made a 'tsk' noise and slowed down to get around the crowd of people who had gathered on their mootorbikes in the middle of the road: they were all staring down at something, which I also turned to see, despite a little voice suggesting that I might not actually want to see whatever it was. The scene was... not gory, but very profound. Silent. The circle of motorbikes, all the drivers men, looking down at a man who sat on the pavement, his bike tossed to the side, his forehead bleeding into his eyes. He in turn was looking up at the circle of men, and no one was saying or doing anything. He was waiting for them, or they were waiting for him, I'm not sure. In his arms he held a man whose body was not visibly broken but who was very obviously limp, head back, eyes closed. There was blood underneath them, but not coming from anywhere that I could see. Is he dead? Is he unconscious? No idea. No one is doing anything. I cry a little bit for what may be the first dead body I've ever seen, and hope that my driver will take the accident into consideration when he gets ready to merge into the highway traffic up ahead. My friend Huy told me that in Vietnam, people don't try to resucitate other people. Every expat has a story of a horrible accident they've witnessed, someone freshly dead and the people just bring out the insence and cover the body with a straw mat. If I were choking in a resteraunt, standing up and pointing to my throat, no one would do the Heimlich. Especially not on me, since I'm not Vietnamese. There are no public ambulances, you just have to know the number of a hospital which will send you one of their private ones. And there's no stored blood. It's just something they do. All this lurks in the back of my mind, providing a dark side to all the fun and exploration that I enjoy as I try to make my new life here. Delicious iced tea at a sidewalk cafe, for only 6 cents! But the ice may have been crushed in the gutter, or made from tap water, and you could get sick and die. Fast and affordable methods of public transportation: on a motorbike I can make it across town for 64 cents with a cool breeze on my forehead! But I could also very quickly get into an accident, see above. What else? I can walk to all the fun bars at night, but I *could* get kidnapped and sold into the white slave trade. And so on. I know that all these risks are echoed in my own country where I've been living quite safely (an arguable point) for 25 years. Do you live on the fearful side, the cautious side, or the who cares side? What is responsible? What is snobbery? I try to make good decisions. But it's easy to be ignorant. All I know is: so far, so good. A little diarrhea. A scary ride here and there. But three tons of good things. So there.

Let's talk about a good cheap meal! This is always what my mind comes back to when I think about how good life here can be: last night we had spring rolls for a starter, a beer for Kenny and a pineapple shake for me, we shared a plate of steamed morning glory with garlic (like spinach but much, much better), a bowl of beef pho for him and a big egg pancake with shrimp and bean sprouts for me... all for about $3.50. I love my life.

07 October, 2006

New and Improved

Just quickly: Ken has arrived and now we have wireless! And we're going back to Nha Trang next weekend for more beach fun. And I love working at Saigon Yoga three mornings a week, and I still love my tutoring job.

Ken kicks travel butt: a mere hour after being picked up at the airport, he proved himself awake enough to join my gaggle of friends at Vasco's (noisy westerners' bar) and drink beer and make conversation. Wow. Then we walked the streets eating steamed pork buns. "What jet lag?"

More to come later!

30 September, 2006

Thanks, all who voted!

And of course, if you haven't voted you're allowed to do it now, but I've just officially declined the offer to work full time. If you're not sure how you feel about something, flip a coin. Then, if you're disappointed with the outcome, you'll know you must've wanted to choose the other option. Not really practical for big complex decisions, but great with the little "should I or shouldn't I" things in life. After all, what's that they say? It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So rather than take the job and need to ask for permission to leave it later, I just had to ask for forgiveness and understanding about not wanting the job. I was honest about what I'm looking for; she recognized and appreciated that honesty. And I suggested that she call me if she wants me to come in at random to lead some sort of arts & crafts, drama, or music program for the kiddies. Yay.

On another note, my new friend Sonja is amazing. She's a silversmith and has a big porch that she's willing to share so I'm looking into how much it would cost to set up a little hothead torch and begin churning out the beads again... and then my life would be complete! Great friends, cheap living, big city, yoga community, earning my living. Nice. Plus I'm going to a big drama club playtime thing with the Saigon Players on Wednesday. Improv games, anyone?

Also the plans for the second beach trip are underway... planned for a few weeks after Kenny gets here so that he has time to acclimate. The only sad this is that Corey won't be back from Canada by then, so we'll have to be Corey-less. Our new friend Kim is going to show us stuff that's off the beaten path and she knows where to rent motorbikes... so guess I need to buy myself a helmet by then! Here's a random shot of me, Sonja, and Kim:

Life is good.

Now it's time to move in to my new place.

28 September, 2006

Take my job (please) poll!

I've been offered a full time job. The one with the great lady and the new preschool. However, I'm just starting to really understand what I think this year is for: it's my one and only chance to work part time, freelancing myself out with easy jobs, and still make enough to live in a major city. I love my free time and all the new opportunities that come with not having a job that goes from 7:30 to 4pm, like the preschool would. I'm almost finished making up my mind, and I'm leaning towards staying part time, because of this being my year off from teaching and whatnot, but I don't want to burn any bridges or seem ungrateful for this opportunity.

If I were back home, I'd be asking all of you to give me your input, so thanks to the glories of the Internets, I will ask you thusly:

[and sorry about the height of this silly thing, I couldn't figure out the html]

Which employment option should Jess choose?

Take the full time preschool job

Turn down the preschool job and keep being a freelance tutor

View Results

27 September, 2006

Unwholesomely tired

Man, I had a good early-to-bed, early-to-rise thing going on back at home. Granted, I was getting up early because I had to leave the house at a the crack of dawn in order to drive very far to get to work (flashes from another life: did I really own a manual Saturn SUV? seems like a dream I had...) which I hated. And sometimes I desperately wanted to be 'cool' and stay up late with the kiddies in our dorm, but mainly, I was happy to be the well rested one (wasn't I?). Here in Saigon it seems to be the opposite. I think I went to bed before midnight once this week, and it was a struggle, cause no one else went to bed that early and I missed some fun hang out time. So this morning I feel like a crackhead, again, because seriously my body is not used to going to bed so late. Sometimes it even revolts and makes me fall asleep on people's couches, floors, etc. Oh well.

Last night's excuse to stay up way too late for a weekday was Michael's housewarming party.. but since it was just our usual crew who showed up we decided it was a house thawing party, and that we could wait till later (like say a weekend) to get enough people there to sufficiently warm it. It was definitely quality over quantity though, and the four of us had a really comfy time wandering what is becoming a well-known street for us; stopping for dinner at the alleyway pho joint where the people recognize us, going into the bakery and making a beeline for what we already know are our favorite treats, heading down to the one little shop at the night market that sells M&Ms, wine, butter cookies, etc. Then we went back to M's place and admired the decorations we had bought him for his painfully bare bachelor pad: a lamp, some candles, some wine glasses, etc., all hunted down by us girls in the city earlier in the day.

Saigon is starting to feel like [dare I say it?] home. These friends are starting to feel like ones I've had for a long while. And here's the weird thing:

I don't know how I feel about this getting comfy thing. I was pretty used to the feeling of all new, all the time. But now I have things/people that are special. I have responsibilities and a schedule. Which means that my roots are starting to grow. Which means that when it's time to go, I know exactly where I'll feel it when I have to pull them up. This is the nature of life, yes? You walk around making connections with things, places, people, atmospheres, and lord knows you make connection with the various flora, fauna, and bacteria. So the places actually get into you. You start to become them and they are hence changed forever by you, however insignificantly. These are the things I think about at 7:22am, SEA time.

So before I met this crew, I had started fledgling friendships with other people in town, and now I feel like it's time to to that again. I met some nice Vietnamese students on the bus who I've been emailing back and forth with- they want to take me on a picnic. Also, tonight I'm going salsa dancing tonight just to feel like a dancer again and maybe I'll meet some non-sketchy expats who want to hang out and do cool things with me. Saturday night I'm finally taking Mel's offer to hang out with the girls (not sure who or what that means, but my friend Kim will probably be there, and I haven't seen her in weeks).

OH! Check it out: I got an assistant-ship at Saigon Yoga! I'm working three mornings a week, helping to sign people in and making sure the cash drawer is balanced, and in return I get to do yoga three times a week for free. The place is beautiful and serene and not quite as homey as Nicky's place but since my schedule makes it impossible to go to Nicky's at night anymore, I'm happy to have found it. The staff and teachers are great. They have stickers and I put one on my bike! That's the best part, I think: that I can bike there. I never feel more confident than when I am in control of my own transportation. Some expats like to have cars and drivers, some rely on taxis, but I really really dig my bicycle. Probably cause there's no hills here, I can peddle forever! Plus I just found out that it costs 500d ($.03) to get air put in your tires-- that's right, I don't even have to own my own pump! The way it works is if you see a street corner with a brightly decorated tire leaning against the street sign/lamp post/resident small child, they have an air machine and you can just pull over and point at the tire, and they'll hook you up. Brilliant.

This morning I'm going to a meeting of the ILV (international ladies of Vietnam) for networking and my first cup of coffee on Asian soil. I'm not a coffee drinker (I have friends family and loved ones who are so good at being coffee drinkers, I just don't feel the need to compete) but this morning, it just might be a good thing. I'm off to iron my only skirt. Cause I'm a la-la-lady.

26 September, 2006

Job Satisfaction!

What a warm and lovely evening I just had. I felt pretty sad about never being thanked or appreciated by the last family I worked for (I mean, the kids were lovely, it was just the parental unit(s) that seemed in the dark about how much I was putting into my time with the kids) and now I feel redeemed: the family I work for now is so sweet and kind. I get more smiles and nods of approval and they don't even speak English as well as the ex-family! The Mom noticed that I really seem to like the bottle of water that she puts out for me every day when I arrive for tutoring, and so last week she started giving me one to take home on the bus. Aw! Today while we were laughing and singing (aka, learning) the Mom came into our study room and handed me a beautiful bag with a golden box inside, larger than a shoebox. I was stunned, and said, "for me?!" She had no idea what I was saying but when I pointed at myself with my eyebrows raised the kids laughed and clapped and i said a litany of thankyous before trying to figure out what it was. Turns out that inside the beautiful bag was the beautiful box, inside of which there were four more beautiful boxes, all elaborately folded and decorated. Inside each of those boxes is a special Moon Cake, which are eaten at a specific point during each moon cycle and given as gifts. Wow! The kids pointed and explained and drew pictures for me of the moon and stars and I just kinda sat there grinning. What an incredibly sweet gesture!

When it was time for me to go (I tutor from 5 to 6pm) the little girl, whom I call Tina, began making sad faces and pointing the clock on my phone, shaking her head no. I explained that I stay in the room from 5 to 6 and then I get on the bus and "see you tomorrow." She was not convinced. Packing up my materials, we headed downstairs to where her Dad pays me (in cash, everyday--so cool) and yammered at him, pointing at me and making the international "Daddy, please?" face that all daughters inherently know, so matter their nationality or age. He told me that the kids really wanted me to stay for an hour and a half each day, and would I mind if I taught from 5-6:30 and he would pay me an extra 200,000 dong? Um, how do you say "Hell yes!" in Vietnamese? So guys, not that the money is the important part, because really it's not, I like these kids so much and we have a ton of fun and they are really SO smart, but this means I am now making 600,000 each evening. WOOO!!!Then we talked (again) about the possibility of a weekend trip- just me and the kids, unless I want to bring a friend, which is fine (at least the way I'm understanding it): all expenses paid, plus a stipend for me (not yet worked out), plus we'd be going to the beach. Again, WOOO! So anyway, I say my goodbyes and I'm walking out the door when the Mom slips a bracelet onto my arm. In my exact favorite colors. How did she know??

Ah, job satisfaction. Here are my goodies.

Moon Cake Box of pretties:

My bracelet:

Are the Moon Cakes good? And how!

24 September, 2006

Only got time for a song and a prayer

[whoops, there are lots of typos here! Please consider them charming.]

After one whole month of being 'in country' (I love that phrase), I finally left the clamor of Saigon for more than a few hours, and along with 6 friends, took an overnight train to the beach town of Nha Trang. Nha Trang means white house, which is fast becoming my favorite phrase to learn in a new language, as it keeps turning up: when I was in Wales, the name of the place where I spent Christmas was Bwythn Gwyn, which of course means the same thing. And then there's the whole Casablanca thing, the Morocco fixation... So anyway, off to the white house of Vietnam we went.

A note about the trains: I love them. The sleeper car costs $12/person and since it's a 9 hour ride, it was very very worth it to snuggle up into this tiny bunk with sweet low lighting and the gentle rumbling of a somewhat old train on very old tracks and fall dead asleep, waking up to realize you're already there. On the way there we bought a bottle of wine and passed it all around, which when combined with the late-nightness and aforementioned coziness of the cabin, caused us all to pass out blissfully and have crazy dreams (at least on my part). There are 4 beds to a cabin, and on the way up I bunked with my new Aussie friend Sonja, who is just the hippest travelling girl (I really like her), plus the constant Canadian companions Michael and Corey (whom I also really like, obviously). The only bad thing about this particular train ride was being awoken seconds before we had to get off of the train, so there was a mad sleepy scramble to gather our belongings which had somehow spread themselves out all over our temporary digs. The only thing left behind was the tin of cashews (a sacrifice to the travel gods, no doubt).

We arrived pre-dawn and had the requisite bowl of Pho while we waited to get our land legs back and the crust out of our eyes, then took a taxi to the center of town and then went looking for accommodation). We had tried to book our rooms in the famous Perfume Grass Inn ($12/night) but it was full, so we figured we'd just show up and see what we found. I realized that this annoyed me, in truth, coming from a life of Amercian experiences: you can't show up at 5:30 am and expect a room! No one will have checked out yet; plus, that's early! But Vietnam schools me over and over: of course there were places to stay at such an hour, and there were motorbike solicitors putt-putting by us, trying to sell us on their particular place of employment. We took the advice of one guy based on his promise of "Five dollar a night! Close to beach! Very good!" and blearily wandered in the direction he had pointed. The hotel was located down an alley, and when we rang the bell a young woman opened the gates for us and showed us three rooms in a row: perfect. One room for the boys, two rooms for the gaggle of girls to share as they may. We dropped our stuff off and then laid down for a while to wait and see if the rain would stop (it wouldn't) and wait for the rest of our party to arrive (they had missed the earlier train). Well, we decided that since it was rainy and we were ready to be told what to do, we would book a day-long boat tour. We shook ourselves awake, climbed into our swimsuits, grabbed our cameras and made our way to the docks.

Our tour guides were INSANE. Literally, I think. Insane and crazily weird and sometimes actually funny. They were trying to get the party started at 9am, having the foresight to know that soon we would all be very drunk and willing to party, but none of us knew it yet so we just looked at them warily as they removed their shirts and put beer cans on their heads and danced lewdly to some copy-of-a-copy random mix of songs, including last years hip hop chart toppers, saccharin Beatles covers and stupid techno versions of '60s rock songs. Our boat took us to three different islands: at the first one we were invited to grab snorkels and face masks and go have a look at the coral. Well, from the boat this didn't actually sound too promising, but once I had jumped in and swam away from the people and over towards the rocks, I was shocked and amazed at what I saw below me: like a scene from Finding Nemo, albeit a little more washed out (darn those cartoons and their flashy colors), I was swimming right above coral of all different shapes and textures, schools of little fishes, huge tropical fish which really did live up to their Disney versions, and even some long lurking grey thing which I think may have been an eel. Anyone who has gone to the beach with me knows I have a fear of jellyfish: well y'all, I swam through swarms of them! Jellies in my hair, jellies against my bikini top, jellies swirling around my feet and legs. They were mild ones, translucent with little bits of pink, and all they caused was a little itchiness of the skin (which may also have been the salt water). I had such a blast marveling at all the stuff swimming around and below me. Gosh. Wow.

Next we went to our second island, where we swam again and then were fed lunch. Unlike the silly Mekong trip where the included lunch was a half-bowl of rice and some colorless stir-fry, this was a full on ocean lunch: steaming garlic morning glory salad, lots of chewy squid, peel your own shrimp, greasy spring rolls with delicious meat inside, and of course lots and lots of veggies cooked with pineapple. Yummm. Since it was too soon after lunch to swim, the tour guides created a mini-concert (which was hilarious and embarrassing all at once) by pushing the tables we had just eaten on into a makeshift stage- which had previously been the benches were sitting on, of course) and busting out some of the oldest, crappiest instruments I've ever seen: make-billy-jonas-proud plastic drum kits made out of wash tubs and metal piping, a very fuzzy sounding guitar, a tambourine, and of course the microphone which was screamed into over a ocean-worthy PA system. It turns out these guys knew a song in every language spoken by their guests: we did Frere Jacque in about 12 different tongues, then a Russian folk song (for the little grey haired couple in the corner) and a few chanty Vietnamese songs (for the cute laughing girls dressed in long sleeves, jeans, and jean jackets, per usual). It went on and on until Happy Hour was declared, at which point they threw a homemade 'floating bar' into the water and told us to go for it. So Louie (or so he says his name is) the Tour Guide, who was also our driver, played bar tender: the rules were, you have to stay near the bar so the currents don't pull you away, and you can't say the word 'no' or you have to chug. The choice of drink was simple: there wasn't one. Everyone got a mix of vodka/lemonade/sugar/pineapple juice (I'm guessing) with more than a little seawater mixed in inadvertently. So Louie let us begin imbibing before surprising us with questions: "so this is your husband?" To which of course the one in question would say "No!" and then we'd have to drink. Louie was surprisingly good at catching us off guard. Eventually we began to just discipline ourselves and chugged the sweet stuff on our own accord. I remember thinking "wow, was it this hard to climb up the boat ladder before?" After splashing around in the half-sun and drinking little salty plastic cups of this stuff, I was kinda drunk. Add to that the motion of the ocean (sorry) and lots of swimming and I was actually quite drunk. Well, the third island turned out to be the one I shall remember always, because as we pulled up to the dock I saw people flying through the air: para sailing! in my drunken excitedness, I realized that This Was The Moment I would overcome the whole fear of falling thing and take on the skies head on. After prancing around like a puppy that has to pee (I'm so excited! I'm so excited! Aughh!) I got strapped in and was told by the uber-young Vietnamese attendant in charge of safety measures that all i had to do was 'one two tree run!' So on the count of tree, baby I ran. And my feet lifted from the ground. And I was so elated and so hyped up I just screamed the first thing to come to mind: and it was First Kiss by They Might Be Giants. I ripped through the air yelling at the top of my lungs:

The morning alarm rings!
I'm asleep but she's talking to me,
She's walking 'round wearing all of my clothes,
But we decided long ago
We'd build a time machine and go!
How 'bout another first kiss, kiss, kiss, yeah!
I want another first kiss!

I mean, when inspiration hits, can you really help yourself? So, many many thanks to Michael Edmonston, if he is reading this. What a great song. And who knew it would go so well with para sailing over the South China sea while drunk on pineapple vodka juice and salt water?

After I had screamed my brains out and caught my breath, I took a good look below me. The sea was sparkling. My friends were on shore. The mountains were glorious: their dusky grey blue green trees protected from the ocean by thin strips of white sand. This was heaven. I felt close to the heavens. So I said the first prayer that came to mind, probably the first one I ever learned:

The light of god surrounds me
The love of god enfolds me
The power of god protects me
and the presence of god watches over me
Wherever I Am
God is
and all is well.

Thanks to my Mom for that one. [I like it so much, and it's helped me, inexplicably, at some of the strangest moments of my life.] After that, I just shut up and watched the world go by. It didn't take long, since my whole flight was supposed to be less than 2 minutes long. They dropped me into the sea which was the opposite of what i had expected: in my dreams, falling is terrifying, hard, and full of horrid anticipation. But this was soft and gentle, slow and easy: I didn't realize I was going to hit the water until moments before I had to take the big breath, so I just slipped right into the sea with nothing clenched, nothing held in: just breathed in and plopped right under. Come to think of it, I was definitely inebriated, but if you can't take silly risks and change your life when you're 25 and in Vietnam, I mean when the hell can you? I picked myself apart from my wet parachute and climbed onto the back of the jet ski who was waiting to take me back to shore. Then I played in the waves with my friends as we watched each other take off and land, like color featherless birds. I love my new friends.

The rest of the trip I shall explain with less detail, just because I'm getting tired of typing, and I want there to be details you haven't heard so that I have something interesting to say whenever I go back to the states:

-big tall delicious cocktails and barefoot salsa dancing at a bar called Crazy Kim's
-plates of fresh crab legs on the beach for mere pennies
-all day sunning under woven umbrellas on Sunday, getting sunburned and wind swept and walking the beach like a gypsy pirate
-laughing like crazy at Mike climbing a palm tree
-laughing like crazy at Tennille and Lindsay attempting lady-like squats over the ocean waves
-listening to introspective songs on my iPod while staring moodily at the sea, hung over but feeling slightly beautiful
-smelly mud baths and mineral water soaks right at the end of our trip, and finally:
-the train ride back, much more subdued, falling asleep and letting our brains process all we had seen and done.

It was glorious, you guys. I felt miles away from the workweek, which is now upon us. I think I'm going to go to yoga, though, and enjoy being employed only part-time, for now. Bless this thing called traveling. I thought it might be what I needed, and it turns out I was right. Amen.

Oh yeah, see my flickr page for selected photos.

19 September, 2006

I'm alive!

Not that there was any doubt, of course, that I still would be... although I have had some of the worst xe om rides of my life during these past few days. I've been having lots of good philosophical conversations with myself and others regarding the Buddhist saying, "keep a little bird on your shoulder that asks you every morning, 'is this the day?'" Doubting your continual aliveness is a good thing every once in a while, I think; is there any other way that you can practice living in the moment? If you're so sure that you're going to live a long long life, then you're more likely to be a passive observer, a couch potato, a stuck-in-the-paster or a concerned-with-the-futurer. But if you ask yourself how you would do today differently if you knew it might be your last, well, there's a chance you'll go out and enjoy it more. I know we must balance our bets for the future with not being overly concerned with it. So in that vein, I have found good part-time work as a tutor for a Vietnamese family (they pay well, and pay for my transportation to and from their house every day) and a sub every once in awhile for the schools. Yay. And today I go to find a tailor to help me dress more like a teacher should (here we go again!).

I'm very very excited about going to Nha Trang this weekend. Beautiful beaches, floating bars, cheesy tourist activities meets sleeping on an overnight train across the Vietnamese countryside. You may now envy my life.

15 September, 2006

Just for Joe C.

Dear Joe,

Is this "just quietly" thing in any way related to "let's get reeeeeally quiet"?

Just wondering.


That's what we call it back home when you're really tired, like when a day has thoroughly kicked your butt. Right now I am whupped. Did I make this whole job hunt thing sound easy? I guess I was being cocky. Let me outline my day for you:

I got up early and tried to dress as professionally as possible (considering that I had only brough camp-counseloresque clothes with me as I had thought that I was going to be a nanny, not a teacher) and caught the longest xe om ride of my life: from the top of District 1 to the bottom of District 7. By the end my butt hurt, I had grit in my eyes and my teeth, and I was hoping that my hair wouldn't be a birds' nest when I walked into my interview. So i spent more than two hours at this school, so perfectly did we mesh: they have been a school for about 4 years, they have a band teacher, a chorus teacher, and a dance teacher who all want to do collaborative productions but NO DRAMA TEACHER (are you seeing where I'm going with this?), brand new facilities, and a truly lovely administrative staff. The head of the school rocks. He likes me and wants to use me. BUT. The school year has already started (duh) and the whole semester is planned (as it should be), so he'll use me as a sub for this semester and then we'll try to get some part-time drama classes started in January. Exciting, huh? And not to get too excited yet, but this school pays extremely well and the other arts staff are creative and cool (like, really cool) and they want to have full time drama by next year. Oh dear me. So who knows. I don't know. I told them I haven't been here long enough to know what we're doing next year, and they respected that. Word. I sub next Friday ($80/day).

Then I rushed across to the other side of the city and met with Joke (pronounced like "yo-kah") who is opening her own pre-school/kindergarten, and you guys, we got along IMMEDIATLEY. She's got a great philosophy of education and a great vision for her school (not to mention the most fantastic huge house that's all set up and ready to go). It's like an open-minded teachers' dream come true. BUT. So far, she only has two students enrolled (it's a brand new school) for classes starting in October, and a teacher has been hired for that age group. If she gets any students to enroll between ages 3-5, I will have a job that pays per month more than 7 times what Kenny and I have to pay for rent (together, not split). Heeeeell yeah. So send enrolling thoughts out, cause that's the job I really want (since the International school can't use me yet).

Then I rushed over the the factory, as I will call it. These are the people who have got me doing demo lessons already. I guess I signed up, but I made sure I don;t have a contract or anything: I'm teaching one day for two hours next week, and 5 days (2 hours a day) a week starting the week after that. It's only in the afternoons, from 2-4, and I think I'd be getting $15 an hour, but I don't know yet. Bah. I kind of hated it today, but whatever. It'll keep my palm greased til one of the better schools calls.

La la la... I'm off to wander the streets so that I'm not home when the kids get here for their Chinese lesson. I think it's bubble-tea time, and then I need to hit the ATM (again).

I move tomorrow morning!

14 September, 2006

Jessica Vs. Saigon

Guess who found herself in a pre-school classroom, singing "The Wheels on the Bus" with a bunch of fidgety toddlers?

That's right- me!

The school I interviewed with yesterday called during Tennille's birthday lunch this morning (fish burgers, quite good) and asked if I could go to one of their branches to observe a class. It seems that the hiring process is as follows: funny little interview, observe a class, be observed while attempting to teach a class, land the job. I observed today, I'm teaching tomorrow, and if we like each other, I call over the weekend and I start on Monday. I figure, why not? Kenny's not going to be here for three more weeks, and I don't move into my new house for two more weeks... what's that you say? You didn't know I found a house? Oh, well, let me tell you all about it!

It turns out that Saigon can be a pretty small world when you're running in the foreign-born circles (and I'm going to stop saying "westerners" or "white people" because there's plenty of new friends that I'm making that are just as new and sore-thumby as me and they are not all from the West, and certainly not all white-- though with Vietnam's skin-bleaching fad, the lines are blurred). So it goes like this: before I move I find Nicky and Minh on the internet. I go to class, they're my first friends. I go to the kids' school, I meet Lindsay the Canadian nanny and through her I meet Tennille and Kristy, the Other Canadian Nannies. I go to a bar, I meet Michael and Corey, more Canadians. We all become friends. I lose my job, Nicky says call Joe, who turns out is from Vermont, but his mom is from Arden, NC (very much like Canton, but closer to Gwynn Valley) and his girlfriend is from Canada. So last night I go to check out Joe's place and basically woo him into letting me be his next tenant, cause the place rocks-- more on that in a sec-- and while I am there I get a call from Michael, who I am going to meet at a bar. So Joe says the room isn't available for two more weeks, I say "that's ok, I'm going to stay with my friend Corey." Joe says, hey that wouldn't happen to be Corey who works for the Consulate? And I'm like yup. And Joe's like, oh our intern is staying at Corey's place right now. And I'm like Michael? Cause that's who I was just talking to on the phone. Crazy!

So the house is right smack dab in the middle of D1, the main district. I basically will be living inside the artery of the heart of Saigon. But Saigon is so big, let's say I'll be living in a blood cell in the artery of the heart of Saigon. For those of you who like to read Lonely Planet guidebooks, it's right on the Sushi Bar corner of Le Thanh Ton, near Q Bar and Carmen. Our room is the littlest (but anyone who saw our place in Schafer knows that nothing could ever be 'too small' again) and the quietest and the cheapest, but it has what we need: location, fast internet, a shared kitchen, our own bathroom, a window, and most importantly wonderful people to share the house with who know stuff about the city and are really cool and smart. There's safe motorbike/bicycle parking, too, and it's on a quiet sidestreet with a dead end, so not too much traffic at all. Yup, this place has got it all (plus it seems like a lot of people know where "Joe's place" is, so we already have a reference point for new friends). With all the utilities, extra costs, and services (yep we have a maid) the price tag is right under $300 total each month. And for all you math wizzes out there, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's $150 each if Kenny and I split it all right up the middle. Is that a sweet deal or what?

So as of Saturday morning (or Friday night for those of y'all in the States) I will be moved out of this house and into Corey's spare bedroom. The sad thing is that he doesn't have internet as of yet, so if you don't hear from me as often, just know I'm probably working my ass off, trying to come up with the first month's rent. Pictures soon to come, job certainty not long thereafter.

So Jess versus Saigon? I think I'm definitely winning.
Oh yeah, for all you moneybags (read: grownups) out there, if you are feeling like you might want to make a "Jess and Kenny's first room in Saigon" donation, you can contact my Mama at smklay@yahoo.com, and she'll help you help us. Cause after all, just 63 cents a day gets us a hot steaming beefy breakfast (can't you see the posters now?). And for those of you in similar financial situations (read: young adults), emails help a lot, too. Thanks for all the support thus far!

Xin Chao!

13 September, 2006

Small adventures in a Big city

Wow! Being out on my own in Saigon is possibly even better than being employed in Saigon. Of course, I say this now, having been free as a bird for only a few days (I'm sure the novelty will wear off when I can no longer afford my .63 bowls of noodles in the morning). But the goal is to not let that happen, and as it stands now, I've..

-had a job interview today at one of the "factory schools." Tons of students, high teacher turnover rate, you get the drift. This one only pays $13-$15 an hour for someone with my qualifications (meaning a degree but no TEFL) and I could start tomorrow if I liked. But I'm going to wait and keep my options open for a few more days, because..

-I have an interview at one of the fancy shmancy International schools on Friday! It's an American curriculum school, which I'm hoping will work in my favor. Obviously I don't want to be a full-time classroom teacher, or else I'd still be at Pisgah, so I'm hoping for a part-time support position like subbing or running an after-school activity. We'll see...

-today I rode my bike back to Le Thanh Ton, aka the "ghetto" (more details in a sec), to get copies made of my cute little fliers and see if there were any more Room For Rent signs that I missed yesterday. I stepped into an Internet cafe and almost ran smack into a tall Brit who was hanging up a sign advertising apartments and houses for rent! Turns out he's a real estate agent slash travelling artist and I gave him the stats on what I am looking for and he said he'd give me a call if he finds anything. While we were talking, a young woman about my age walked up to us and...

-she is a teacher at a university that is in need of teachers, because of a sudden influx of students! The poor teachers are working double shifts (she was on her way to work at that moment) and so I said, "well, honey, I am here to help you solve that problem." I've just emailed her my CV (no one says resume here) and she's going to pass it on to her boss.

-An unknown English school has asked me for an interview tomorrow, but I can't remember when I emailed them my info. So I wrote back saying, where are you located and what exactly is the name of your school again? Hopefully they won't think I'm daft.

-Meeting up with a Vermonter named Joe tonight to see his house, which from friends' descriptions would make an awesome place to live: perfect location, cool housemates, high-speed Internet... he's not sure when a room will be opening up but I'm gonna go check it out anyway. Cross your fingers for me.

Ok, finally I can tell you about the ghetto. It's actually extremely clean and cute (well, by my new Saigon standards, anyway). Just alleyway after alleyway (hem after hem) of side by side, stretched tall apartment buildings, some with beautiful little balconies, others with more of a modern, glassed in feel, others still bordering on slummy. In almost every other house there's a room for rent sign. Why do I feel like I'm typing all this for the second time? Oh yeah, cause I told Kenny all this in an email. Hold on, time saving device in effect... here's a slice of that email, with lovey dovey stuff cut out.

Ok, get ready because this is going to be a looong email! Simply because I am stuck in a Japanese internet cafe and the skies are falling apart-- buckets and buckets of rain with no signs of stopping.

I am here in the "ghetto" (lovingly referred to by that name by all the Westerners who live here). Located incredibly close to the center of everything, it is a world away from the backpacker district, which is loud and touristy and full of scuzzy looking hippies and skeeze-balls. This is where you go if you're going to be living in Saigon for a few years or so. When Nicky lost her tourism job and didn't want to go back home to NZ, she let a new friend lead her to the ghetto and found a sweet little room where she ended up living for almost a year (then she met Minh and they went house shopping). It is a series of sweet, sunny little alleyways where almost every other house has a "room for rent" sign hanging up and they are all very skinny and very tall houses, with maze-like stairs and passageways inside. So while we were out today going up and down the countless flights of stairs that almost every guesthouse seems to have, she got the idea to call her friend Joe who I guess lives in a house with his girlfriend very nearby to the ghetto-- but in a real house--and who rents out rooms to other people who are passing through more slowly than your average tourist. So we call Joe, who turns out to be from Vermont! Yes, he actually has a room opening up this next week, or so he is almost sure (he needs to get the facts from the person who is moving out). I sat on my bike on the side of Nguyen Tat To (the street that connects Nicky's street to the rest of the world) and told this Vermonter that I was hoping that since his house has all the things we are looking for (kitchen, windows, high speed internet, bike parking, close to stuff) that this roommate would decide to move elsewhere and that I would be moving in very very soon. He laughed and said to think positive thoughts. Lovely, lovely! We're going to be meeting up tomorrow and he said that maybe by then he would know about the room. So cross your fingers, babe, because this might just be good enough to work!

As far as the other places on Le Thanh To (the ghetto's main street), there is a good place down at the end of an alley (quieter there) which would charge us $270/month and inside it feels kinda like being in an RV- miniature kitchen set, miniature bathroom, but not as small as our apartment was, and a big nice bed, tiny little balcony, and phone line internet (but almost everyone has offered to let us pay to put in ADSL- of course). That's the best one so far, but I've only been in 5 or so. I'm personally hoping for Joe's place because Nicky says houses are much cheaper, since rent for the whole house would only cost about $600-700 a month. Sweet. Plus we could have more friends. So we'll see.

As far as jobs go, Nicky showed me where the rich people's hotels are near here and said that I should make up new fliers (because my old ones have complex language and only say $15/hour) and put them up in these hotels and fluffy apartment buildings. Also, she knows the guy who works at Saigon Inside Out (the main english language magazine). I'm going to give him a call and tell him that I would be happy to take over a column or start a new one or write freelance or anything.

And it's true, I sent him a sample of my writing (thanks, CRW, for the help) and we'll see if that turns out to be anything good. Oh man, it's exciting, it's adventurous, and boy am I getting to ride my bike a lot! So glad I bought that thing. You can only learn so much street geography when you're a passive observer clinging to the sticky seat of some random guy's wheezing motorbike. Now don't you all want to come visit?

A few things that happened today that I wanted to blog about: today I got a little lost on my bike and ended up a lot closer to my house than I wanted to be, because I was on a flier mission. But I figured, oh well, I've been wanting to see the zoo and now is the perfect chance- it's in the middle of a school day, I'll have the whole place to myself. WRONG! I had a nice quiet little conversation with the ticket lady and turned around and all of a sudden I was in the middle of a screaming, grabbing, jabbering group of... go ahead, guess an zoo animal... nope, KIDS! Uniformed little dingbats who were pulling my hair, grabbing for my ticket, trying to pull my bike away from me, and the whole time shouting and waving peace signs dangerously close to my eyeballs. Chao, em I cried over and over, trying to appease them with Vietnamese, but all that did was feed the fire and now they were all yelling it back to me! Hello, kid! Hello kid! Aughh! I started saying NO loudly while pushing through them and trying to get to the place to park my bike. It's so hard to be mean to kids! But I was scared! Finally I had to put on my "Mommy will smack!" expression and just push their little hands away (not easy while trying to keep a grip on my bag, rain jacket, packet of photocopies, a huge water bottle and my dignity). All of a sudden, at some unheard signal, they all drifted away towards the exit, babbling away. Oy.

I walked through the zoo wishing I had a companion with me, because for the most part I was totally alone in the zoo. I took my time checking out the elephants and the monkeys, and then it was time to go. See flickr for pictures. Upon leaving I realized that in the midst of all that, I had lost the receipt to my bike and the parking lot attendants and I had a grand old time doing an award-winning pantomime entitled, "Yes, this is really my bike. You can call me if it's not. Please, please let me leave the zoo now."

Also, to end on a sad note, the mom has agreed to put the cost of my return ticket into my bank account and that I should be out of the house by Saturday morning, but I'm not to be home on Friday evening when the kids have their Chinese lesson, because she doesn't want them to see me. Of course, because then they'll realize that it was their own mom who is sending their new friend away. Sheesh. So I asked Mama, the sweet sweet lady who is also employed by the family, to sneak a present to the kids from me: just more stick-on tattoos, which they love and had somehow never seen before I arrived. It's the least they deserve, and I want them to know that they were good kids, that's not why they don't have a nanny anymore. Mama has promised that she will leave it on the kids' beds discretely. And if it pisses the mom off, well she can take the tattoos away. It's none of my business.

I'm on Flickr a lot.

Jessica K.. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr