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.

11 September, 2006

This is the story of how we begin to remember

Yesterday evening I was having a hard time- long confusing day with lots of ups and downs, a daunting task set before me- so I did what every sensible daughter does: I called my Mom, took a shower and went to bed early.

This morning I woke up from a 10-hour sleep and as I lay there slowly waking up I realized that Paul Simon's "African Skies" was playing in my head. It seems like every time I have a big awakening (either a break up, a loss of job, or just a major viewpoint switch) this song resurfaces and keeps me feeling light and positive and aware of all the shiny goodness that change can offer. So I reached over for my iPod, which I spent the summer stocking full of any and all music I thought I might require during my trip, and put on the song. As I lay there listening to the beautiful song, sunlight poured through my windows and I could feel my heart open up. I thought, "this is exciting. I am not hurt, I am not alone. I am more than okay. This is going to be fun." And then I listened to "For Now" from the Avenue Q soundtrack, which always helps me to remember exactly what I believe about Life. I can't believe that people could write a song that in so many ways- the words, the chord changes, the style and everything- feels exactly like how I would define my spirituality. Here are the lyrics.

Why does everything have to be so hard?

Maybe you'll never find your purpose.

Lots of people don't.

But then- I don't know why I'm even alive!

Well, who does, really?
Everyone's a little bit unsatisfied.

Everyone goes 'round a little empty inside.

Take a breath,
Look around,

Swallow your pride,

For now...

Nothing lasts,

Life goes on,

Full of surprises.

You'll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes.

You're going to have to make a few compromises...
For now...

But only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)
Only for now!

For now we're healthy.

For now we're employed.

For now we're happy...

If not overjoyed.

And we'll accept the things we cannot avoid, for now...

But only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)
Only for now!

Only for now!
(For now there's life!)
Only for now!
(For now there's love!)
Only for now!
(For now there's work!)
For now there's happiness!
But only for now!
(For now discomfort!)
Only for now!
(For now there's friendship!)
Only for now (For now!)
Only for now!

Only for now! (Sex!)
Is only for now! (Your hair!)
Is only for now! (George Bush!)
Is only for now!

Don't stress,
Let life roll off your backs
Except for death and paying taxes,
Everything in life is only for now!

Each time you smile...

It'll only last a while.

Life may be scary...

But it's only temporary

Everything in life is only for now.

Oh my god, I've been sacked.

Well, today the Mom came over and declared that she had decided this just wasn't working out at all (I've not even seen her since her last decision of me being a part-time nanny). Fine. This is ridiculous. How can you bring a woman over from across the world and then after two weeks, fire her? And if you have improvements for someone, shouldn't you suggest them instead of deciding that your "styles" just don't match?

And friends and family, since when am I a poor organizer, house cleaner, or teacher?

Bloody hell. I feel somewhat insulted. I know I worked those kids hard and they have shown improvement in their work. I know that I don't know how to cook Vietnamese food, but that if they gave me half a chance I could have learned. And as far as the dish washing thing goes, jeez! Just ask me to do them again, don't fire me! The really crappy thing is that now I have to move, so I'm both job hunting and apartment hunting in a city I've only lived in for two weeks.

What they owe me is my plane fare home. That's the deal. Well, I think I could still have some fun in Saigon for a few months, tutoring and substituting and all that, so I want them to just give me the money for the ticket and let me decide the date. But no, they're trying to book me on China airlines because it's cheaper (but they don't fly to Charlotte, so I'd be stranded in NYC).

This is crap.

But Mom, if you're reading this, don't worry. I still have money in savings, and I have friends who will help me. I will not be homeless in Saigon. (But if I were, I would definitely want to be one of the sugar-cane juice sellers).

08 September, 2006


Supportive quote of the day:
"Saigon sounds like heaven if heaven were greasy."
-Ken S.

Well, I've been demoted. Sort of. I'm now an afternoon nanny. Which I think might end up being a good thing. Email for details and I'll fill your ears.

But in short, it goes like this: I was told it was a live in position-- it was not. I was told all expenses covered-- but I was paying transportation, utilities, and for my groceries. I was told to cook and clean-- I made one dinner, the kids didn't dig it, I was thought of as unable to do so. Not exactly the contract we agreed on before I came over. So, as shaky as I feel about being thought of as doing a poor job (I hate being in trouble with authority figures, I hate it I hate it) and being asked to not come over at 6:15am anymore (oh wait, I'm fine with that), I am now officially a part-timer and I am free to do whatever else I can or want during the other half of my life.

So! Kind readers, gentle friends, I announce to you: I am going to become an editor! Not a full time one, but a free-lance one. There are so many companies here who are trying very hard to advertise in English but typos, crazy grammar, and other bad things abound in almost every piece of print that I read. So if I get some business cards made up and start handing them out, hopefully I can land some good take-home pieces that I can do in my free time.

And just for those who may be feeling doubtful (and to make myself feel a little better) I proudly announce that without even advertising, just through word of mouth by one of my six friends, I have landed a $20/hour English tutoring gig on Saturdays. And I have every reason to think that there's more where that came from. Woooo!

It's gonna be ok. I got the fish put permanently on my foot so that I could remember to go with the flow. Well baby, the flow has arrived.

07 September, 2006

Settling in...

With the addition of other nannies to my social life and a steady yoga schedule, I have been feeling much more at home in HCMC. I have my own transportation, which is incredibly freeing (and the route from home to work is the perfect length with LOTS of visual stimulation on the sides of the roads-- buddhist temples, clothing shops, fruit stalls, soup stalls, fresh flowers, bakeries aplenty), some flegling friends, and a general idea of how to manage my time.

Some observations about Saigon:

1. Remember those belts that were popular last year (or maybe a few years ago, who knows, I was living in Canton) that are really wide and have a few buckles stacked vertically, and you wear them at your natural waist? Well, for some reason, the Vietnamese police (whose uniforms are a baggy tan color) have taken to wearing them slung low across their hips. It's really fascinating to see the combo of a cream-colored fashion leather belt and Communistic traffic control.

2. There is actually a formula to driving on these crazy roads. And it's actually the closest thing to my middle-school understanding of communism that I've seen yet: the power of the people en masse. When wanting to turn left into oncoming traffic and it's not at all your turn (or there's no traffic light to signal whose "turn" it is) just edge forward on your motorbike, which encourages the others around you to do the same, and inch by smoggy inch you will stem off the flow of traffic coming towards you and you can, as a group, proceed safely. Then when the other group of people, who are now tired of watching your gaggle of bikes pass them by, feel like it's their turn, they all --without speaking or signaling to each other-- begin to inch forward until they have ebbed off the flow of traffic in their way. Amazing.

3. If you are riding a bicycle, you are a peasant and you do not have to pay to park like all the motorbikes and cars do. The parking lots attendants (well, sidewalk attendants) just take pity on you and point to a corner near the back. Yesterday the bakery guy gave my new bike seat an appraising squeeze and deemed it worth to stay at the front. Go, little green apple bike!

4. My favorite thing that I've learned lately: the Vietnamese word for tourist is du lich, which is pronounced "you lick." I am not kidding. SO much nicer than saying "you suck" but it equals about the same sentiment. You lick, tourists.

5. There is a shop (there's probably dozens) that sells vintage propaganda posters, and they are beautiful works of art and at the end of the year, look out, cause I'm bringing home a foot-high stack. They're block printed on handmade paper/fabric and feature slogans for the commies that are quite beautiful and look like they're from the homesteading movement from the 1970s: farming, family, bread is power, all strong women, flowing hair, smiling babies, swirling colors, lots of waving wheat and of course the sliver moon sickle. So cool.

Now I'm off to the market to buy more shrimp and fruit. I'm planning on doing a big stir fry to get my plate-full-o-veggies fix.

06 September, 2006

Xe đạp đẹp!

My beautiful bicycle...

has spoke protectors...

and chain protectors...

with that classic vietnamese shape!

Yes, it's true:

05 September, 2006

Varmints and Homesickness

I feel like crap.

We have rats, mice, cockroaches, ants and geckos in our kitchen. This morning I had ants crawling in my ceral box. I ate it anyway.

I was a sucky nanny today as I lost my keys (found em again), forgot the tennis rackets (but it rained anyway), forgot the id badge I need to pick up the kids (because Max broke it yesterday and I was going to tape it), and to make up for it I took the kids to parent/teacher night at school which lasted until 8pm and was not actually intended for kids or nannies.

My Uncle just found out he has cancer. My grandma is turning 90 and I'm not there. My brother is moving home again because (duh) his job doesn't pay enough for him to live on his own which means my Mom and Step-Dad have another mouth to feed, and I'm not there to help make any of that more complicated than it already is.

I miss the fall, I miss the mountains, I haven't been told I'm doing a good job yet and tomorrow is day 12.

And my neck hurts. And my roomate smokes inside. And this is all so much more difficult when you're so obviously an outsider.

04 September, 2006


This morning I woke up early, about 5:30 am. It's only 30 minutes earlier than when my alarm goes off, so I decided to just go ahead and get up, maybe enjoy a nice cold bath (which is actually lovely first thing in the morning). I was laying on my left side, and when I began to lift myself up I felt a sudden twang in my neck, which shot pain all through my left shoulder area. It felt like a tendon got yanked, or something slipped out of place, and it's been pinching me pretty badly for a few hours now. Taking a bath was so difficult, 'cause it's so hard to hold the weight of my head up by itself, and I can't turn very far to either side. I lay in bed for a few minutes just whimpering. Dammit. This has happened before, and it will go away over the next few days, but still it feels kinda pathetic. I wanted to go to yoga tonight, and go buy a bike and then ride it back to my house, but without being able to turn my head, I don't think either of those things are a good idea.

I took ibuprofen and rubbed arnica gel on my neck, but I'm still in a lot of pain.


Mekong video

You down with OPB?

There is a sorta-famous blog about living in Vietnam called Noodlepie. I heard about it somehow, somewhere, before I moved to Saigon and today I was spending part of an excitingly stormy afternoon leafing (clicking, rather) through it, when I found a link to my new yoga teacher's blog.

It is so weird that I was born in this era, with such a fascination with reading other people's thoughts, added to the public online posting of our ramblings and adventures. I discovered great things about Saigon while reading her blog, like where the street is that has all the Vespa dealers, just in case I really want to buy my own motorbike once Kenny gets here. But I also ran across this horror story about a friend who got into a motorbike accident, which totally shook me, since it's the first one I've really heard about in detail (I haven't really been ready to start thinking about the whole concept that these fun, zippy little rides could rip my body apart).

She hit a guy on a bike who was driving the wrong way down the highway. Standard stuff here in Vietnam. As she was lying on the road, broken, bleeding, unable to move, a crowd of gawkers gathered and one of them reached into her bag and stole her MP3 player from in front of her. The police put her in a taxi (with the man who had crashed into her) and they drove her away from the hospital, down a few side alleys, and proceeded to try and get her out of the taxi in the middle of nowhere. One can only speculate on their intentions. I don't want to go there.

This is not the first time I have heard first hand stories of people being robbed as they lie broken and bleeding on the highway. There is a man in FV hospital right now with a 20 % chance of living because as he lay on the highway he passed his phone to someone to call for help and they ran off with it. He was then left lying on the floor of the police station for 6 hours while his brain swelled. I don't know what will happen to him, but it doesn't sound good.

Come on Vietnam. Your reputation is being spoiled by a small minority of ASSHOLES. No-one can escape their own karma. Your actions always catch up with you eventually. You may be poor, but that is no reason to steal off people lying dying and hurting on the roads. I hope I don't here any more stories like this ever again. It is destroying my faith in human nature.

Ugh, ugh, I need a helmet, ugh. I am a helpless human being. I don't have an ID card in Vietnamese, so no one could possibly know my name if I got into an accident. My travel insurance info is written on a scrap piece of paper (in English) in a zipper pocket of my bag. My cell phone has no emergency numbers in it, because I've been too distracted to find out if there is such a thing. Well, there's only one thing for it: I need to get these things done. I need to learn where the hospitals are. I need to go by the American Embassy and "just let them know I'm here" (or so says Mom and Kenny).

Oh god, is it possible to go from such exaltation to such fear about a place in such short time?

Also: today I went for a long walk for exercise, which in my mind couldn't have been more obvious: running shoes, headphones in my ear, scuzzy workout clothes, no purse at all. So WHY did so many people think I wanted a motorbike ride?? It didn't bother me to give 'em the brush off at first, but because I was out for more than an hour I got really freaking tired of men waving for my attention and pointing at their seats (of their bikes, not their behinds). Grrr. How do you say, "idiot, can you not see I'm walking for fun? I know people do this here!" in Vietnamese?

Feelin' Scroogey

As in Mr. Scrooge.

The totals are in: in my first 10 days, I spent 1,828,000d or $114.17. This averages out to about $11/day. I am not pleased with this. I know that I can do better. Plus, after encouraging talks with new friends, I feel like I can pick up an English lesson here and there during my free mornings and charge between $15-20/hour, which would help things greatly.

It feels good to eat cheaply and I know my spending has not been at all excessive. Why do i feel like my paycheck is slipping down the drain?

One plan: I'm buying a bicycle this week. A used one should cost about $50, a new one about $70, and I can put it on my Visa card. Because let's see... (totalling it up)...I spent 464,000d on motorbike and taxi rides this week. That's $29, holy freaking crap! This must stop. I'm buying a bicycle.

02 September, 2006

Mekong Delta, Youkong Delta

On a whim, I signed up for a one-day trip to the Mekong Delta, specifically the towns of My Tho and Ben Tre. We leave tomorrow morning at 7:45, and we should be back in Saigon by 6pm.

Not sure about the company's reputation, because there are so many companies/cafes that offer tours like this one, but for $7 for the whole day, I figured, why not? It'll give me something to write about other than markets, my neighborhood, and the language barrier. Here's what the flier says about the trip, typos included:

"You'll take a short scenic bus trip to MyTho city where boats will bring you to some islands on the Mekong River to see scenery villages. Seeing the fish port, coco handicraft shops. Enjoying tropical fruits. Southerners' traditional music, and coconut candies. Taking rowing-boats in a jungle. Cruising in anothe small canal to see the bee-keeping family and enjoy natural honey tea, honey wine... you have enough time to see the daily life of the local people. Returning to MyTho and stopping at the small beautiful garden for relaxing. Arriving Ho Chi Minh City at 6:00 PM."

now my MST3000 version:

"You'll take a short scenic bus trip [ah yes, the scenic freeway] to MyTho city where boats will bring you to some islands on the Mekong River to see scenery villages. [Ooh, scenery villages! Is that like in Hollywood where they build the sets?] Seeing the fish port [well, I've heard of snake wine but that is ridiculous], coco handicraft shops. Enjoying tropical fruits. [Does that mean the shops are enjoying fruits and we get to watch?] Southerners' traditional music [Freebird!], and coconut candies. Taking rowing-boats in a jungle. Cruising in anothe small canal to see the bee-keeping family and enjoy natural honey tea, honey wine... you have enough time to see the daily life of the local people. [Cause I'm sure a bus full of tourists doesn't disturb their flow at all.] Returning to MyTho and stopping at the small beautiful garden for relaxing. Arriving Ho Chi Minh City at 6:00 PM."

Today I made it to the backpacker's neighborhood, which from my first impression was... well, like any of the other tourist spots but a little funkier, with more head shops and less brand name clothing. Actually I wanted to stay longer, but I got into a walking conversation with Jimmy, an African guy who was trying hard to get himself invited to my house, and I walked a little too far and got lost. But at least I got rid of Jimmy. I loved the vagueness of my answers, which he totally was not picking up on:

Jimmy: So, where do you live?
Me: Oh... [gesturing towards the setting sun].. that way.
Jimmy: Can I call you?
Me: No. I don't have a phone.

So then I was lost, and had to pay 20,000d to get back home, cause it turns out I had wandered quite far away. Hopefully tonight I'll meet up with Jane for dinner and then I'm coming home to go to bed early. Two bar nights in a row is too much for me right now. Plus it's National Day, and judging from the traffic, it seems like everyone remembered to take their crazy pills.


National Day

September 2nd is Vietnam's National Day. All over town, scarlet banners with golden words proclaim words, dates, pictures of Uncle Ho, big bright stars. Because of the holiday, no one has to work and many shops are closed. As if the skies were aware, the rains ceased and this is the first afternoon that the showers didn't begin at 1:00 precisely. In fact, I think this calls for some suntanning on the roof!

This morning I slept in as late as I could and then hit the streets: my goal, the neighborhood market. The purpose? To see if I could locate, purchase and prepare ingredients for my favorite Vietnamese lunch: fresh spring rolls. Thanks to watching the kids' mom, I knew which direction to head once in the market and I quickly found the tall piles of fresh noodles, sprigs of mint, tiny little limes, and crunchy bean sprouts. Using my few words, I bought all the ingredients and gave my thanks to the sellers. You know, going to the big market is really stupid. My little neighborhood market has everything I could need and they don't hassle me like the Ben Thanh merchants do. Plus, here I don't have to do my shopping under fluorescent lights or hear "Madam! what you buy? what you buy?" It was really peaceful. I spent a total of 45,000d ($2.90) and got: incense, a glass bottle of fish sauce which came with a glass bowl to mix it in, a plastic jar of jelly beans (couldn't help myself), sweet bean cakes, and all the produce mentioned above. Oh yeah, plus a plastic comb (mine disappeared somewhere between Princeton and Hong Kong) which is red. I asked for it by color, feeling really pleased to have remembered mau do. It has fishes on it. Soon I want to buy a nice wooden one, but this will do wonderfully for now. Across from the comb seller's stand, there was a dad and son who were chatty and shy, respectively. The Dad kept pulling his young son over to us and trying to get him to talk to me. Using pantomime and sign language we confirmed that the son was indeed 10 years old and that no, I did not want to sit next to him (the son looked really relieved). The dad read my mind and asked me (i think) if I was looking for lunch, which I was- but it turns out pho bo is so much of a breakfast food that no one in the market was selling it at 12:30pm. I really liked the dad and son. Their mannerisms were familiar, and I think his teasing was meant in a sweet way, to help his son learn how not to blush so easily. When I got lost on my way out, I found myself in front of them again, and we shook hands all around.

One thing I learned from buying things in the market is that I need to cement my numbers in my mind. I confused 6, 7 and 8 many times today. "Sau, bay, tam. Sau, bay, tam." I keep saying this over and over in my head. I'll get it.

I walked the incredibly short distance home and new things kept popping up in front of me: how had I never seen that there are TWO beauty salons right there? Why did I spend 20,000d on a motorbike ride to the center of the city the other day? Jeez, Jessica. Oh holy crap, there's a post office? There?? This is awesome! I am so in love with my neighborhood. Yesterday's walk was so fascinating. There are 5 hotels on the block behind my house. 5! Everyone, you need to come and visit me. Yes, the plane tickets are expensive, but my neighborhood will make it worth it!

Upon arriving home I discovered a few things. First of all, the sauce that I thought I was buying turned out to be entirely different sauce. It's not bad, but definitely not what I hoped I was buying. Hmm. That's one to ask about. Also, I might have bought the wrong kind of rice paper wrappers because I'm having a really hard time wrapping my spring rolls without them tearing. It was so easy back home in Charlotte at Pho98! What happened to my skills? I did the double-wrap today, which is when the first once rips apart just wrap the whole mess up in another one, a technique I learned in high school, rolling something a little less readily available and definitely not as tasty. Speaking of tasty, buying shrimp and them tossing them into boiling water has never before yielded me such sweet little pink bites before. Yay, seafood in Vietnam! Here's my meal, after the market and in the process:

The only bad thing is that when buying things by the kilo and half kilo, you end up with much more food than one person can eat. Looks like it's going to be a weekend full of spring rolls! Twist my rubber arm. Still, wish I had some Shimizus to help me finish up...

01 September, 2006

Oh dear me...

Oh, dear me... this is the latest I've been up since the night I arrived and my body felt like it was still on US time. And now, my jet lag having disappeared entirely, I am fully ready for bed at what used to be lunch time. [come to think of it, not much has changed, eh?]

Going out tonight was far beyond "worth it." The bar I was headed to was only a few blocks from my place, so I got away with a round trip motorbike ride for 15,000d (.93 cents). I more than made up for that with the cheapest liquor drink they had: a rum & coke at 45,000d ($2.80! sheesh). It was a total tourist bar, complete with cover band featuring hard rock from the late '90s (alas, no Hootie). But it was fun! Finding other people who have travelled here from the Western world and who are happy and thriving is like finding a good support group that firmly believes it's all gonna be ok. They all think I seem surprisingly well adjusted and chipper, considering my short time here. Pictured below are Kim and Eric, teachers; and Jane, Mel, and I.

It's fun being the new kid. All the people I spoke with tonight were abundantly clear on one point: it is definitely ok to move here with a traveler's visa and then keep on extending it for years, and on and on into the future. I met a drama teacher (!) two English teachers, a girl who sells real estate, and someone who works with some kind of company (fuzzy on details) and they all have temporary-then-extended visas. Yay! This is good news, since that's what Kenny will be doing, and he's a bit worried that he'll be caught and made to pay some horrid fine and he'll be caned and have his hands chopped off and worse yet, the government will be mad at him. But I think-- no, I know-- it is all going to be wonderful.

So not having drank much alcohol this summer equaled me being tipsy after a rum & coke and my first Tiger beer (the national brand- it's much better than PBR!). Riding home felt like sliding along on glass: so smooth, the wind so nice, the roads so quiet. Mmm. In a way, I want to get a motorbike of my own, but that would take all the pleasure out of hopping rides (plentiful and cheap) and not worrying about a thing. Well, you know, except that you might be going in the wrong direction. But I'll figure that out in time.

Tonight was an exceptionally busy night, but loads of fun: Vietnam National Day is tomorrow, so the kids have a long weekend. To celebrate we went out to dinner tonight and then shopping at the big mall so that they could play in the arcade. Whew, chasing after those two simultaneously was a challenge! They're so little and quick! I would find one and then the other would slip from my grasp. But all was fine in the end, tokens were spent and fortunes were made and lost. And then there was ice cream.

So my loose plan for the weekend:
-go to Chinatown
-buy incense
-go out to dinner tomorrow night with Jane and her friends
-wander aimlessly around my neighborhood market with the goal being to smile at lots of vendors so that they begin to recognize me as a neighbor
-hopefully, buy some noodles so that I can make my own spring rolls
-find the backpacker's neighborhood, but some used books
-and whatever else the universe has in store for me!

As always, faithful readers, I thank you for being my constant audience. I have no idea who is reading this, which is nice- I can send the thoughts out there and let them circulate. If you ever have a question or comment, hit the comment button below. Yeah, you know what to do!


I'm going out clubbing. I'm a little apprehensive about this, but who knows- maybe I'll like it! I get to sleep in tomorrow so what's the harm?

Time to go get glittered up.

I'm on Flickr a lot.

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