Sunday, October 26, 2003

No more hotel life for us--we have our very own apartment!

I called up a rental agent on Monday night, and met with Tien on Tuesday. I've been through the drill before: you give him some parameters about what you want, he shows up on his motorbike and you climb behind him, hold onto the seat and watch the sites go by as the two of you streak through this mad-traffic city. Tien showed us a couple of places( Cam had to be driven after me), and I liked them both. The second had more character, but it was being renovated so it was hard to visualize finished, plus the bathroom was a little grotty. Girls, do you not agree that creepy bathrooms will just not do at all?

So, we both liked the first one better. We saw it on Tuesday and moved in Wednesday morning. Easiest move I ever made. Usually my moves require recruiting parents and friends, hiring a van, and puffing up and down three flights of stairs in my old character building without lifts. Moving for years has included the hoisting of an akwardly-rolled futon, but not this time! We packed up our two suitcases, got a cab, and there we were.

Our apartment is US$300/month including laundry and cleaning. Utilities are minor but extra. It's a small little place, but not too bad. We have a big bedroom with wardrobe, desk and chair, a living room with couch and chair, shelf, TV (soon to be with cable) and fridge. We've got a little kitchen with sink, kettle, hot plate, and just yesterday we came home and there were kitchen goods there! Yay! Chopsticks, bowls, plates, and a tea infuser and BODUM! These things are precious here, you have no idea. Now if I can just manage to not break it like I have all the others... Have I mentioned all of the floors are a lovely cream ceramic tile? We have an oriental rug in the living area, and a bathtub in the bathroom! Also a luxury.

There are windows in every room. They are shuttered, then screened, then dark wood french-panelled with frosted glass, patterned squares. The doors are also dark wood with frosted glass panels. Crown mouldings. Ceiling fans are integral. We haven't used the air con yet, but I assure you we will.

We had some people over last night for a little housewarming, and we sat out on our private terrace. It's very cute and we took our mother-of-pearl inlaid (classy!) coffeetable outside, along with those teenytiny plastic stools we bought in the oldquarter and drank our big-bottled beers and whiskey.

Gotta go to work! More later.
12:51:00 AM

Sunday, October 19, 2003

I've had a nice Sunday so far. I woke late, had some fruit salad, then took a walk to the hairdressers that had been recommended to me. I got a shampoo, cut, blowdry and straightening for about $4.50. Someone finally cut the shit out of my hair, and I mean that in the best way possible. I asked them (well, showed them a picture, as they didn't speak much English) for a cut with a lot of shag, and they cut my hair faster and better than I've ever had it done before. I think it's rather rock and roll. Next time, I'll get a face massage, too and bring along the fiance. We'll take a pic of Jude Law for that one. Well, Jude Law pre-balding phase that is. Did you know Sadie Frost and her camp are calling him baldie? Just what the hell is Sadie's claim to fame anyway?

I was reading all about those two in the latest edition of NW. At least I think that's what it was called. Some folks from work brought in Australia's answer to People magazine (except slightly more trashy, and devoid of those insufferable "common man triumphs in the face of adversity" stories. I mean, who wants to read about some overweight mom with a cache of kids when we could look at snaps of celebs?) Magazines are like gold here. English mags, anyway. I am dying to read more English books, mags and NEWSPAPERS! The latter is the one I miss most. I miss my coffee (I went from 4 cups a day at home to none here) and paper on Saturday. I think you can get a Bangkok Post somewhere but it's not nearby and is likely pretty expensive. I have gone through a few books and I only have one or two left. That's when the trading with work colleagues will kick in. There is a good shop here, but I haven't made it all the way over there yet. Maybe when we start renting bikes next month.

The rest of my day was spent wandering the old quarter, exploring for good finds. Each street has historically been named after and known for a particular trade. So Hang Bac, my street, is silver street, and you can find many jewellery stores along there. I found streets dedicated to zippers/ribbons; motorbike seats/tailors specialising in denim/army surplus bags; high fashion; tombstones; plastic ware. All markets are in demand. When a street such as coal street no longer finds itself useful, that's when it becomes the new district for wedding cakes.

I found a cluster of stores selling wedding invitations. I might look into that if I can choose a card more understated that one with red hearts and pink satin.

Well, that's it for me. I finished my probation at work and it looks like I'm being kept on. It doesn't hurt at all that someone else quit. Everything really does work out in the end. Now only if he were leaving the country and selling his DVD player for dirt cheap...

Luv, TC
Please drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.



2:44:00 AM

Monday, October 13, 2003

Surf and the State

We reached the beachside resort in utter convenience, taking the bus reserved for work outings. That's what's great about editing at a newspaper considered an arm of the State, (State, Government always capitalised): you may have to compromise your journalistic ethics, but you enjoy a few perks.
One of the other sub-editors had invited us to his second wedding, the first having taken place a few weeks ago in his native India with family, this latest one being celebrated in Viet Nam with hers. About 20 of us made the trip 3 1/2 hours south, seven subs, the rest Vietnamese translators. They are the ones who take the Vietnamese press stories and translate them for us to rewrite. The stories need a lot of work:

"The first time doctors have corrected the broken arm for a 3-year old boy at the Viet-German hospital" becomes "Doctors at Viet-German hospital have successfully reattached a three-year-old boy's forearm, the first such surgery performed at the institution." That one was easy. Usually, it takes a lot more detective work to glean what they've intended to say.

So, we pull up to the family home of the Vietnamese bride. (I still don't know the name of the beachside town. People have repeated it, slowly, for me, but until I get a handle on this language I can write little and speak less.) A portable tent was set up on the sidewalk, its colorful fabric walls flapping in the breeze. We were greeted by the groom, in a dress shirt, and the lovely bride in a traditional, pink silk ao dai. Her family invited us to sit down at a long table, at which the food promptly began to arrive. Bite-size chicken pieces, neither boneless nor skinless, fried spinach with garlic, shredded cucumber salad with peanut, warm squid with dill and mushrooms, soup, flavoured sticky rice, pork wrapped in banana leaves, crabs, jumbo prawns to dip in fish sauce. Watermelon pieces for dessert. Beer and sodas aplenty.

We spent about an hour and a half to get through this feast. Apparently that's much longer than most weddings last. People typically just get in, eat, get out. Once that wrapped up, we took our government, oops Government, vehicle to the beach, where we all checked into big rooms with balcony views of the sea. I took a walk with two Aussie colleagues and a recent grad from Columbia in NY alongside the beach, through the deserted streets of this resort town, now in low-season. We came across a pagoda and hiked along the cliffs of Tonkin Bay in the South China Sea.

Dinner was another long table spread with rice, fish, calamari, soup, spinach, clams, omelette, etc, ordered by our Vietnamese colleagues. Room-temperature, bottled beer was set on the table alongside an opener and an ice bucket. Beer on ice is an unexpected pleasure.

I have occasional moments of clarity on living in Viet Nam, when I marvel at where I am. I think my seaside trip was best punctuated by a "Holy, I'm living in Asia" moment, when I was forced to use a squat toilet again and keep the door closed by propping a big stick against it.

We capped off the night by sitting under one of the tarpulins covering the many cafes on the beach. We pulled up deck chairs, listened to the rain overhead while drinking split-ice cooled Johnny Walker Red, courtesy of the groom. Jon, known as Mr. Australia, passed around a cigar and even the tiny Vietnamese girls took big draws from the smoke.

Ha Noi has not been without its difficulties. Work visas, job security, and a lack of a permanent home has been tough. I have since gotten my visa, my job looks good, leaving only one to go. And soon enough, I hope I'll be able to tell you where in the hell I went a couple of weeks ago. And I'll be able to pronounce it, too.
3:17:00 AM

Packing 'em in

We never did make it to our favourite Ha Noi restaurant that night.

We had just gotten off a long flight and both crashed at about 5pm instead, ruined by jet lag. Cam, trooper he is, managed to sleep through the night. I, on the other hand, was subject to my familiar new-time-zone induced sleeping pattern, and woke up at 1.30am to take in most of What's Love Got to Do With It? on STAR MOVIES. Happy at rolling the dice well on this one, knowing with STAR, I could have gotten Airbud:Seventh Inning Fetch or The Good Son (offerings I have since been forced to watch out of desperation), I marvelled at Angela Basset's biceps. We managed to drag ourselves out of bed and spend a lazy day, buying candy and grazing at the Internet. On returning to our hotel, we noticed the miniscule tourist soap in the middle of the floor. Strange, we thought. I figured it must have gotten stuck on my shoe. Then something else: "Did you finish my candy?" I asked him. "No," said Cam. I knew I hadn't polished it off, but there it was--an empty bag. Someone's been in the room, we realized. "It was probably rats," I offered tentatively, knowing Cam thought me far too sensitive when it came to the critters. Sure enough, I saw something in the corner of the room, and when we pulled the fridge away from the wall, there were a couple of the candies underneath. I shivered.
"You're not going to be able to sleep here," Cam said.
"No kidding. I'll go see if we can change our room," and I went back to reception.
The hotel was full, the same hotel we'd stayed at when we were just tourists in Ha Noi in July, but she'd change our room for us tomorrow. In the meantime, could I borrow that packing tape, I asked?

I handed Cam the scissors as he stood on a chair and taped the wall's paneling from ceiling to floor. We stuffed some of the bigger gaps with plastic bags and taped it all up. I was able to sleep soundly.

We did change the next day. In my haste, I forgot precious cargo in the nightstand drawer: 13 rolls of unused film. This is the same film work colleagues had given me upon leaving the first time. When I left for India in May, I took the 200 ISO, hoping I could have it hand-inspected, but in the event agents would refuse, I could have it go through x-rays without too much potential damage. Agents had no trouble hand-inspecting all of it.
So when I left again, this time for Hanoi, I knew I'd have no trouble with the 400 ISO. I asked for it to be hand-inspected in Calgary, LA and Kuala Lumpur. They all obliged. Now, this precious film I had gone to so much trouble to safeguard was lost forever. I only thought of it about a week later, and by then, either other tourists or the cleaning staff had swiped it. I guess I should be glad it wasn't exposed. Of course, friends and family are probably disappointed it wasn't.

"You do have a very keen sense for the varmints," Cam said.
Yes, I would very keenly like to destroy them all. Damn varmints. Candy and film. They've struck at my very heart.

2:36:00 AM

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