Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear Phil - a project!

I like cooking, but I realise that I've been a bit lazy about learning how to cook Vietnamese style food.

I was reading this column by Sheila Quirke and she mentioned an idea she once had of learning about one country in Africa per week - since the number of African countries is similar to the number of weeks in a year.

She failed - but it's still a cute idea. I wondered how many provinces are there in Vietnam?


Close to a year. I could learn one dish from each province per week, I suppose.  But that sounds overly ambitious.  I don't want to fail like Sheila did, just because I set the bar too high!  And, although lots of provinces have their own specialities, I'm not sure if they all do.  I could end up making an awful lot of stringy chicken stewed in lemongrass and ginger, y'know?


Vietnam has a mere 8 regions. And it does seem achievable that I could master one dish from each  region roughly over the course of a year - say, one per month-ish.

Are you hungry, Mr Martin?

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mr D smells.

On Saturday, Mr D txted me in Vietnamese, and asked me to give him a small bottle of perfume.  I suspected a phone jacking. I was going to ask him about it on Monday morning, but he was looking so bedraggled in the rain that I felt too sorry for him to tease him about it.  And he didn't mention it - giving more credence to the phone jacking theory.  I don't know why he let himself get so drenched either - he usually carries a rain cape in the compartment under the seat.

I was hoping that that might be the end of the whole weird episode.  But then on Tuesday night when he dropped me home, he asked me again.  In person. 

I don't know.... of all the things I might ask my boss to give me, a bottle of perfume is just not up there.  He's been working for me now for two years, and has never asked for anything before.  It was such a strangely specific request, that I said yes - I will give him perfume tomorrow. 

I had to speak to him in Vietnamese about it.  Are we all proud that I knew enough to ask him whether he wanted perfume for a man, or perfume for a woman? 

For a man. Specifically - for him.  He pointed at himself.  Perfume for him.

So, since I was home alone anyway, I went out to the shopping mall.  First I looked at the real perfume shop thinking I might be able to buy a little travel size bottle from a proper perfume brand, but they were all too expensive.  I just can't justify spending more on cosmetics for my motorbike driver than I would ever spend on myself*. So then I went to supermarket. Surprisingly, they had about 30 different kinds of cheap men's perfume and I umm-ed and ahh-ed for ages over it. Eventually I chose two similar looking black boxes (each containing a bottle). Behind me there was a boy standing high up on a rickety ladder - as you might reasonably expect in a shopping mall supermarket. So I waved the two boxes to him and asked which one he liked best.  I've never tried perfume, he said - handling the boxes gingerly. A girl came along.  The boy was taking too long to choose and she obviously really wanted to be the one to choose, so he capitulated.  That one - she said. It has a brand. 

The brand is: X-MEN.

So, yesterday morning I gave Mr D the little box of X-MEN perfume.  He tied it to the handlebars of his bike and off we went. 

He seems happy... and no, I can't tell you what X-MEN perfume smells like.  Probably wolverine musk.

*I admit to some duplicity in this sentence - I have, on occasion, spent a king's ransom on cosmetics...  for myself.  Ssshhhhh!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Anecdotes with Mr D

Today Mr Martin has gone to Bangkok for the rest of the week for work.  I have been making lots of jokes about how quiet our bedroom will be tonight, now that there's no-one snoring in there.

Having a xe om driver is a strangely intimate experience.  You sit so close...  Mr D's a bit smaller than me so I can easily peek over his shoulder.  Last night as we were coming home he did a classic Mr D double-take - slow right down, look over his shoulder really closely at the thing that captured his attention.  Usually we only see Mr D double-takes when someone tries to cut us off - but last night he was utterly captivated by fat baby twins, dressed identically and propped up in a double stroller - off for a walk around the front of the Coopmart.   Then he gave a laugh and offered me a thumbs up before zooming around the corner to my front door.

This morning there was another Mr D double-take, but a bit less jolly.  We had to take a detour from our normal route.  At an intersection quite close to the hospital there was a big traffic jam and lots of peachy-uniformed traffic cops - obviously there had been a crash.  The ladies at work told me that they drove past it on the way in and saw the guy lying on the road - dead.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Entering the third year

Oftentimes I have something I think I should blog about, but don't get round to it because I don't have a picture available just now right this second. But then months go by and never a word is peeped.

It is now January 2013 - we have been here for 2 years and 3 weeks already.  Far from the our original position of 'stay one year and see how we like it' - we've moved on to 'stay one more year and see how we like it'.  Huh.  They seem pretty the same, when I write it down like that....

Entering the third year does feel a bit different to how it felt entering the second year.  We are definitely settled now. I can say confidently that we know how to live in Vietnam, and a lot of things that might have bothered us once - well, they still bother us, but perhaps we deal with it a bit better, or something.

Some things bother me now that didn't used to bother me quite so much - I used to be charmed by all the little kids yelling 'HEY-LO!' at me on the street - but now, sadly enough, I get sick of it.  I've been here so long now that I feel like I ought to blend in, but of course I'm just as conspicuous as I always was.

I used to sort of enjoy my xe om ride to work, but now I hate it with a deep resentment.  It's ok in the morning, because nobody is in a rush to get work in the morning, so the traffic is fine.  But at night time, everybody is in a rush to get home, so everybody takes more risks, and the roads are so much more dangerous. I often get little bumps or scratches, but thankfully Mr D is careful and so far we haven't taken a spill - I've even managed to avoid burning my leg (touch wood!).

I think we're reasonably acclimatised - I can comfortably wear jeans most days - but it's still hot.  Part of acclimatisation is just learning when it's a good idea to go outdoors, and when it's not.

We both still get sick all the time.  I don't know if our immune systems will ever catch up to Vietnam. The food poisoning is a constant battle - even good restaurants are sometimes dirty...   But worse are the respiratory infections.  We've never had so many colds and flus and sinus infections. Air conditioning is a factor - and so is general air pollution.  But most of it is simply the fact that there are so many viruses here, and the population is so dense, and we have no immunity - we are still foreigners.

But it's not all doom and gloom.  The great thing about being here has been the people we have met.  We finally do have actual friends - and enough of them that I think we could say we have social lives - independently of each other, too. We have been so blessed to have so many visitors. We've met amazing, interesting, talented people that I think we wouldn't meet or get to know so well if we had just stayed at home.  We have a fairly open door policy for travellers - if you know us and you're in town, then give us a call and we'll give you a bed.  Having people to stay forces us to look at this amazing city through a new lens each time as we show people around.  We are proud to be part of Saigon - in all its filthy bloom.

Our jobs are fabulous.  I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do work that interests me, and that I'm good at, and with people I like.  How many of you can say the same? 

And the travel!  Bangkok is in our neighbourhood - in fact we're off there again this weekend. We've been all over Asia the last couple of years, and we're not done yet. We haven't planned our trips for 2013 yet, apart from a few weeks back home in February - but it's wonderful to be able to pick exotic looking places off the map, and just go if we want to. 

I don't really have any resolutions for the third year.  Maybe to write some more here?  My perspective has changed a lot since those early days, but that doesn't mean there's not still some interesting things to say.