Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The real estate agent (we call him Mr T) who brokered the deal for the apartment we are living in, has worked out some kind of arrangement with the landlady.  The details of the exact arrangement are somewhat shaky, but for us, it means this:  we get a bicycle and gym memberships as part of the rent, which is paid by the company.  While the rent goes to the landlady, Mr T looks after the bike and gym membership aspects.

So last Thursday, I got an early morning call from Mr T.

"Mrs Martin?  Your husband company has paid so now today we go to buy a bicycle.  I will meet you in 15 minutes, ok?"

This is how I am finding all my interactions with Vietnamese people are - I get maybe 5 minutes warning if I'm lucky, and then they show up on my doorstep.  Actually, most of the time I get no warnings.

However, I was excited - shopping for a bicycle!  Yay!  So I put on a dress and even some makeup and went downstairs to meet Mr T.

"You look more beautiful today."  He said.  Mr T generally can't take his eyes off my, ah, front

"We will go on my motorcycle, ok?"

I explained that I don't really have any motorcycle experience, which he completely dismissed and gave me his spare helmet.

And then I tried to get on the back of his bike and realised that in the dress I was wearing it would hardly be seemly.  I had to rush back upstairs and change into jeans.

Motorcycling was fun.  We didn't go far - only a few blocks, and we didn't really go on any busy roads.  Actually, I wasn't driving the motorbike of course but all the traffic makes a lot more sense when you're part of it, than when you're standing on the curb trying to figure out how to cross the road.

Traffic at an intersection near my house. 
Actually, I wasn't going to use this picture because
the traffic wasn't busy enough to show the actual average chaos!

I don't know anything about bikes.  The last time I rode one regularly I was about 15.  So when we got to the bike shop and he said - choose whatever you want - I felt like a bit of an idiot.

After a couple of test rides a bike was chosen - and then it was the Great Basket Debate. I wanted a basket on the front.  But everybody shook their heads.  No - it is impossible, because of the gears.  (I still don't really believe that.  But I can investigate it at a later date).  So then I suggested a basket on the back.  There is a clip on the back that I figured a basket could be attached to. Mr T, ever accommodating, then dragged me down the street to another shop to look at baskets.  There are 3 kinds of baskets in this shop, all obviously designed to go on the front of bikes.  And after much discussion I am instructed to choose one (my choice was based entirely on colour) and half of the men from that shop follow Mr T and I to the bike shop to discuss the attachment of the basket.

There is much shaking of heads. 

Mr T is determined that the basket can just be clipped on the back, there is no need to attach it with screws and things.  Bike basket shop guys are not convinced that this will be ok at all.  I can't speak Vietnamese, but I understood perfectly their concern.  When the basket is just clipped to the thing, it kind of rests against the back of the seat.  And the basket shop guys are all shaking their heads and glancing at me and basically saying "But there will be not enough room for her ample cheeks!", and the bike shop men are all looking at me and obviously saying, "Is the reason that she just wants it to clip off because sometimes she's going to to carry another person on the back?  Because this bike is not made to carry two people her size."   And Mr T is refusing to translate this entire exchange but keeps saying to me with a smile, "I think it's OK."

A tiny bit of overhang at the rear

It was funny, of course.  Most bikes in Vietnam generally carry two or even three people, but most people in Vietnam are a lot smaller than me.  Like - half the size. I made a joke to Mr T to let him know that I knew what they were talking about, after which everybody relaxed, and I promised not to carry Mr Martin on the back and we all agreed to just clip the damn basket on for now.

And then Mr T said: "You can ride it home now and I will meet you there."
And I went, "Um."
And he said, "You know the way right?"
And I pointed and said, "That's the road there, isn't it."
And he frowned and said "Actually there is the road," and pointed in the other direction.

So then Mr T drove very slowly home and I very gamely (I thought) followed him through the traffic and several intersections and we all lived to tell the story.

The ass will carry his load,
but not a double load...
~ Don Quixote
Later that night Mr T came round with our gym membership cards.  It seems I have undergone a name change.  I am now even more glad that I didn't change my name to Mrs Sutcliffe upon getting married - it would be too confusing for everyone.

Mrs Martin Castrina. 


  1. Oh what fun! I am very envious of you and your new bicycle....... Can relate to the name change as everyone that I worked with overseas called Kevin Mr Robyn or Mr Sutcliffe.

  2. I want a gym membership at your gym Mrs Martin! That superhero muscleman image is awesome!