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!

I'm on Flickr a lot.

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