Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Risking Life and Lung

Xin chao, everyone!

It’s about 5 a.m. now and I’ve been up for an hour. No matter, I have the news on and I’m comforted to see that news of Britney Spears’s pregnancy is still important here. Thanks, BBC World.

We arrived late Saturday night to a ground temperature of 86 degrees. We’ve been told that this is the hottest month before the rains arrive, which should last until about September. Once the rains come, though, they tend to cool things off, so we’re very much looking forward to that.

Our digs are quite nice—we have a three bedroom apartment with a balcony that overlooks a karaoke club, which we have discovered goes well into the night, even on Sundays, and emits a crazy kaleidoscope of lights that would test even the hardiest of epileptics. The staff here is wonderful, and our complex has a large pool, a jacuzzi, tennis courts and a gym. It doesn’t get much more colonial or bourgeois than that, does it, folks?

So, Duke and I woke up around 3:30 Monday morning. Yes, jetlag is a bitch. We headed out for a run when it became light at 5:30, thinking there wouldn’t be many people out. Oh, how wrong we were. The streets were full of drivers on mopeds, bikes, cars and monkeys (just kidding) and sellers had already set up shop on the sidewalks. The zoo, which is near our house and, we were told, is a good place to run, was already hopping. Getting to the zoo was a challenge, since it required crossing the famously crowded and constantly flowing streets. Once we got there, the zoo was teeming with walkers, “badminton” players (who use either feet or racquets), Chinese businessmen on their cell phones and young boyfriends/girlfriends escaping from the confines of family supervision. While it was heartening to see so many out exercising, particularly compared to Uzbekistan, where we felt like zoo animals on display while running, it made for a stressful run. We were barely able to do a full lap around the zoo without having to dodge people or those creepy badminton shuttlecock things. Moreover, we were oi-ed by a policeman when we unwittingly tried to go down a path that was off-limits to pedestrians. The art of “oi-ing” requires a separate e-mail in and of itself, but basically, it’s a way to get one’s attention that can range from extremely polite to exceedingly rude, depending on the context, tone of voice and form of address used. We hope to have learned the subtleties and intricacies of oi-ing after our two years here.

In any case, by the time we were oi-ed and made it back to the apartment, we had only been running for 15 minutes. At this point, we were also coughing black goo, and upon returning to our apartment complex, were mistaken by other residents for Dick Van Dyke, the besotted chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. The pollution is definitely a factor here when exercising, even at that early hour. Sadly, after only 15 minutes of running, we succumbed to the indoor treadmill. The pool and BBC will be my views while running for the next two years. No worries, though, I plan to swim as well, and apparently, there is a Tae Bo instructor here. Amazingly, the apartment complex was able to get Billy Blanks to teach here. Who knew that doing those videos in college would have helped me out here? We’ll see how the kickboxing routine compares to my sister’s experience with her boxing trainer, Nee-kolai, Champion Boxer from Bulgaaaria (insert stereotypical eastern European accent here).

As for regular interaction with the traffic as a pedestrian, it’s more than a bit unnerving. I had been warned about this before coming, so I tried to mentally prepare myself. I also didn’t want to seem too much like a tourist (since I blend in so well here), so I have been trying to cross the street like the locals. See, traffic lights and signs are not so much directives as suggestions, thus one must have a plan when crossing the street. Mine is to not look and just go, yielding only to cars and large trucks. How much can getting hit by a motorbike hurt anyway, right? I was told that if you look the motorbike drivers in the eye, they won’t yield to you, and effectively they “win”. We-he-hell, I yield to no one, mister, so you’d better believe I’ll be damned if I look these drivers in the eye and yield to them. I’ve also been told that it’s good to follow the locals’ lead or find a woman older than God to hide behind. Way too boring. So, instead, I’m afraid I’m taking too zen of an approach to crossing the street. After having to do it several times by myself, I feel like that guy, Tim Buck, from the Toyota commercial, who suffers from “adrenalitis” and is shown in several situations that depict his lack of enthusiasm for life, including being almost mauled by a dog while tying his shoe. He shows no reaction and feels nothing about being almost killed. The audience is led to think, my, what that Tim Buck needs is a Toyota Takoma—that’ll learn his case of adrenalitis. In my own bout with adrenalitis, I can be seen crossing the street and almost being hit many times by trucks, cyclos and mopeds with almost no reaction. I fear this could get even worse…my dad always said (in his mumbling, inaudible-to-even-dentists voice) “familiarity breeds carelessness”. One day, I think this may come true, and I may find myself flattened under the wheels of a large 18-wheeler on I-95, having not been able to readjust my pedestrian know-how to the US. Perhaps I, too, should get a Toyota Takoma.

And speaking of the US, I will end on this note. Duke had a few days of consultations in San Francisco, so I was able to walk about the city while he was in meetings. I was struck by the fact that almost every traffic light had countdowns for pedestrians to cross and there were mirrors and flashing lights for nearly every garage that led out into the street, lest a person on the sidewalk be hit by someone flying out of a garage with his or her SUV. Weeeeeell, that is so not the case here and I find it laughable, nay, hysterical, that I catch myself automatically looking for such gadgets. I must say, though, that it is not as uproarious as me trying to speak Vietnamese. That will be your treat for the next newsletter.


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