Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where to begin?

I am sure I feel a little like my friend Amy did during her trip to India. There is no way to really describe what you are seeing and experiencing. No way to communicate what Vietnam is. I can tell you about the breakfast we ate this morning, in the middle of a sidewalk, on tiny plastic stools, squatting over banh xiao pancakes fried on tiny pans over a charcoal brasier. Or I can tell you about the lunch at my father in laws house, where we were the guests of honor, waited on hand and foot, served exotic and expensive dishes that my sister in law spent the morning preparing. My step mother and I had to work hard not to weep at the kindness and hospitality of it, because we knew that if we did start crying we would embarrass our hosts.

The drive from Saigon (more properly, Sai Gon) was a sort of Asian version of Godard's Le Weekend. We cruised past life on the road. 9 1/2 hours of scene after scene. Cows in front yards. Water buffalo lounging in a muddy puddle. In Sai Gon, slums the likes of which I have never seen before. And God this is a filthy country. Trash everywhere. But every morning the proprietors of the little shops come out to sweep their sidewalks, just in time for the party officials to cruise down the street littering it with leaflets thrown out of the back of a truck blasting martial music, or the local pooches taking their morning crap. (Poor dogs, too. You can tell from the texture of their shit that they aren't eating purina. More like rice and veggies, if they are lucky.)

I have realized over the past few days that in the midst of the sensual overwhelm (sights, smells, and oh, God, the constant, unrelenting noise) I am quite moved that this strange place, In which I am a complete stranger, is my husband's homeland. We are more different than I ever imagined. More different than he ever let on. But the fact that he feels right at home here, where I feel like I have landed on Mars, says it all.

The children are wonderful. They are just totally unselfconcious and interested. Bored, sometimes, when we aren't at the beach. (Which has been most of the time.) Their circadian rhythms have been off since we got here, with the unfortunate side effect that they have been getting up at 3 am and waking me up along with them. This morning they sat on the balcony of our room, overlooking the South China Sea, and watched the sun rise. I tried to get more sleep.

Emmett was sick for a day, throwing up everything he ingested, including rehydration salts. I was worried, but just as I was threatening to take him to the hospital for IV rehydration, he ate a bowl of white rice and drank a bottle of water and is now swimming with his Boppa.

Initially, we checked into a Canadian owned hotel in the midst of the tourist district of Nha Trang. It was loathesome. I felt like I was in the middle of Fort Lauderdale with cyclos. I found out later, after we checked out, that my father actually went back to his room and cried because he had traveled so far only to land in his worst nightmare: a tourist trap. So, we asked Nguyen and his brother to find us better digs. We ended up across the bridge, less than 3 miles, but a world away, in a hotel that doesnt' have any signs in english, with a balcony overlooking the bay and no top sheets. The staff is friendly and happy when we try our Vietnamese out on them. We love the room and the beds. We don't love the canned bitter melon tea in the mini bar. The beach is too filthy for swimming at this end of the bay, but you can walk out the front door of your hotel and are right in the middle of Vietnam with nary a white person in sight. You should see the looks we attract. Frank curiosity, especially since we are traveling with a Vietnamese man. Looks, giggles and mostly huge smiles. We are a parade whenever we walk down a street. (Carefully avoiding the gutter!)

I am overwhelmed in all ways. But wouldn't miss this for the world.

Internet access is cheap, but I have to wait my turn at a cafe, so I am not sure when I can post again.

And I must be perfectly frank that I don't miss anyone from home. I have barely thought about home at all, we are so busy processing what we are experiencing here. I would probably feel differently if I weren't traveling with my kids.

By the way, Peter, as we were driving up the coast, I thought to myself how much you would love this place. Maybe someday you will come here with us.

All Love,

1 comment:

Ming said...

One of the all time evocative postings!
The dogs, the stools, the trucks with martial music, the touching hospitality, the dehydration, the looks and giggles.

I can't help but think of you guys. One of my principal media channels (OK! it's the Food Channel) because of Tet has had programs about Vietnamese food and a program about eating in Hanoi.

What is Win feeling?
Feeling about where is "home" for him?
What differences does he notice in the surroundings?
And what does he feel about having you guys with him this trip?
Is he feeling like an American tourist because you guys are with him?
Or is he feeling like a local imagining how things look through your six "American eyes"?

Did you meet some local woman who was part of an arrangement at birth to one day marry Win? (That was the plot of an "I Love Lucy" episode!)

God bless and protect the four of you, --OK six-and give you gifts that could only be delivered staying in Viet Nam,