Thursday, April 28, 2005

City of Contrasts

Gravest apologies for the ultra-cliché title, but it’s all I’ve been thinking about since we arrived. Having had the Peace Corps experience, and now living the ex-pat life, I am definitely noticing the divergent lifestyles here. Walking past such stores as L’Occitane and Lacoste, I’ve see a man with only the upper half of his body going past on a skateboard, begging for money, his “employer” (the one who actually gets most of the money he collects) not far behind. I’ve seen a monk weaving through traffic on his motorbike, while an elderly woman is fully relieving herself in plain view on the open sidewalk. And last Friday night, we enjoyed a fashion show given at our apartment complex, with an elegant catwalk built over the pool. It was hard to imagine that a few hours before, the pool employees were drilling old refrigerator doors together to make the catwalk, which was then covered with material to hide the unevenness of it. But everyone noticed the wires connected to the lights along the catwalk dipping into the pool and out to the power sources. It was a reminder that safety in this country is definitely not up to western standards. Overall, though, in a country where 2/3 of the population is under 30, this city is extremely vibrant.

Speaking of safety, I have one more analogy for crossing the street—I promise this is the last. On the days or at the intersections when I’m not in Tim Buck Adrenalitis mode, I feel like Eddie Murphy from Bowfinger. To give some quick background information, the premise of the movie is that a sleazy, no-talent director (played by Steve Martin) does not have enough money to actually hire the actors that he wants in his film. He manages to find Eddie Murphy’s “twin” brother and casts him in some scenes. In one of the scenes, Eddie Murphy has to cross a wide stretch of an insanely busy L.A. highway. As there is no budget for a fake set, let alone a stuntman, Murphy is forced to run across the actual highway. We see him screaming and flailing his arms like Ann Coulter trying to avoid being hit by a pie at the University of Arizona, as he plays a human game of Frogger across the road. After making it across, he begs not to have to do the scene again. So that is the other emotion I feel when crossing the street, only I’m a much easier target.

When I’m not out dodging traffic, I am finding out how well I can adapt to Viet Nam. Gastrointestinally speaking, I have not been so successful. I will spare you with other tales of my pathetic fight with the Ho Chi Minh Rumbles, but I’ll share one story with you. The Rumbles decided to say hello to my tennis instructor. The instructor, I must say, was running me pretty hard and since I haven't played in a year, it was tough keeping up with her. I kept asking her for a water break, and she kept talking in her crazy Vietnamese/English (which was a series of nonsensical, unconnected English words followed by a bunch of fast Vietnamese, ending with "you understand?" after every phrase). So, it would be something like, "wickety-wackety, glamour, consistency, Vietnamese word, bear, hot dog, cow, power, Vietnamese word, Vietnamese word, Vietnamese word, table, do you understand?" Unfortunately, her wild gesticulations and pantomimes were equally strange and of no help in comprehending her. She did, however, keep telling me how happy I looked and like I was having a good time. Oh, dear teacher, far from it. I was, of course, laughing at her and how she thought I was able to understand her. Telling her I understood made me laugh even harder.

Anyhoo, she wouldn't let me take a break. Finally, I started to feel dizzy and told her I had to sit down, but she kept talking, so I calmly walked over to the trash can and threw up several times. Continuing with her Englishnamese, she ignored me entirely, even though I told her I absolutely had to go, since The Rumbles don’t mess around. Her 15-year old son, who had been collecting the balls during the lesson, looked uncomfortable and was able to convince her that it was time to go. The lesson ended as such, and I’m hoping that I never have to take her again. Friends, I thought I wanted dengue fever to shed a few unwanted pounds and not feel like such a friggin’ Andre the Giant among the Vietnamese. I realize now that dengue fever would be like The Rumbles on steroids.

Speaking of steroids, I had the creepiest dream last night that orangutans with elephantiasis of the face were chasing me and a friend through the woods. They were actually trying to eat us. I guess I had monkeys on the brain since we live near that damn zoo and we hear the Screaming of the Monkeys all the time. I feel like Clarice. But thank god I’m not taking the anti-malaria medication, since that stuff gives you nightmares…if I were on that, I’d probably have dreamt about ME with elephantiasis of the face chasing the orangutans down and trying to eat them.

Sweet dreams, everyone.


At 12:37 PM, Blogger Chin-hitter said...

Shannon, you've inspired me to go get Minh's tonight and enjoy the best aspect of Vietnamese culture without the potential electrocution, dysentery, and car-flattening. I may, however, celebrate the authenticity of Minhs' Vietnamese food by ordering a side of monkey nuggets and peeing on the sidewalk on my way out. Do you understand?

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Kiki said...

Well, sounds like another interesting day in the city. I mean really, what's life without a couple episodes of nausea and vomiting? Sidenote: I thought that was the main reason people drank. Incidently, if you want to get back to your previous tennis form, you must remember the highly stupid, "No pain, no gain." It is for this very reason that I have made the firm decision to never, ever return to my previous 'bike-riding' form. If the price of have no pain is to never have gain, then mediocrity it is!


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