Friday, July 08, 2005

Unemployed, parasite of society no longer!

My last entry detailed an exciting, or not-so-exciting, window into the daily rigors of my life. You may have been thinking to yourself while reading it, “Say, when does Morning Star (my Vietnamese name) have time to fulfill her self-described occupation of being a supermodel (as listed on the website…read it, people)?” Yes, I have decided to quit the world of glamour and beauty for a world where I advise on and possibly shape the educational future of young Vietnamese. Thus, I have gone from a lady of leisure/supermodel to a woman of action. I know what you’re thinking—is she now going to be bitter about finally having to work like most normal people? Pas du tout, my friends. I’m just bitter about not being able to see my girls at the ladies’ guild, so that we can wax nostalgic for the days of the French and their mission civilisatrice. I will make one comment about the position, however—luckily, the salary is such that I know Duke isn’t in it for the money with me. Friends, it was touch and go there with my Peace Corps allowance and graduate school stipend. I was constantly worried that Duke was only marrying me for the frighteningly high salaries I was able to command. My current salary and total lack of benefits helps me rest easy that this is not the case.

Now, to bring you up to speed on the past few weeks…I spent a week in Bangkok with a friend and former co-worker. Well, I didn’t so much as spend the week with her as I bummed off of her hotel and played all day while she attended a conference. I was worried that the less-than-fun flight out would portend an eventful trip…my section had all of the usual suspects—the screaming baby, the bratty foreigners traveling on mummy and daddy’s money, the priest next to me disconcertingly making the sign of the cross as we took off, the adult-onset ADD/half woman-half kangaroo passenger behind me who kept kicking and pulling my seat, the completely oblivious person in front of me who kept the seat reclined all the way back, even at mealtime…While it wasn’t as funny as when Dave Barry accidentally spit his throat lozenger into the lap of his sleeping seatmate, it was certainly Seinfeldian enough. Oh, did I mention the man diagonally in front of me, who was sweating and coughing so profusely that I had a difficult time concentrating on the article I was reading about avian influenza? But I had much more important things to worry about when I arrived at the hotel on Wireless Road, which was anything but. There were wires everywhere—dangling dangerously low to the sidewalk, wrapped around the pedestrian overpasses we were forced to use to cross the streets, teasingly tapping at our 18th floor-window at night. The hotel, however, was gorgeous—the kind where the staff call you by name, you have to have a key just to get on your own floor, and a room that could take an entire day to learn how to use all of its gizmos and gadgets. I found time, however, to get out of the hotel each day to face the chaos of Bangkok. BKK, as we sophisticates call it, while fun and intriguing, is everything I hope Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi does not become, with its 12-lane streets, traffic that would make Washingtonians blush, a bowing, Sawatdee Kaa-ing Ronald McDonald, and visible pollution, the effects of which I am still feeling two weeks later. Indeed, the pollution is bad enough that I take back my chimney sweep comment for HCMC and apply it squarely to BKK. Yes, dear Wendy, an alert reader of mine from northern Virginia, this is where one really coughs and snots up the black goo. One thing BKK does share with HCMC and Hanoi, however, are the occasional unfortunate English translations, especially for shops. While in Hanoi this week, I saw a cosmetics store named Poopa, which was almost directly across from the Leaky Jeans store. In BKK, enticing signs, such as “deep throat sharp sales” almost lured me into a buying frenzy at those stores. Other than these little things though, I had a great time shopping, eating, touring, and enjoying the hotel facilities. In fact, I became so used to the service at the hotel that now I make Duke turn down our bed every night and put orchids and chocolates on the pillows. Alas, the fantasy week ended and I returned to HCMC, black goo in tow.

After arriving home, I was quickly reminded that the vacation was over and work was soon to follow, particularly as the Fourth of July approached. From what I vaguely remember as a former American, this holiday consisted of wearing flip-flops, sporting a cute sundress, eating freshly barbequed red meat and drinking Sam Adams. This year, however, the weekend was spent in high heels, a (still cute) cocktail dress, hotel-catered pigs in a blanket, and rice wine. Ah, yes, and party tricks, such as eating a tube of toothpaste or straining my neck like a turtle, were strictly verboten. This was too bad, as it forced me to rely on my conversational skills at a time when my English has degenerated so that it is almost as bad as my Vietnamese. I do believe at one point in the evening I said, “What is that number between 7 and 9? You know, the circular-looking one? Ah, yes, 8—well, the G-8 summit will be in Scotland this year. How in the world is Russia part of the G-8? It is neither fully industrialized nor a democracy. And don’t get me started on “Vla’mir” Putin, as Bush refers to him. Did you know that there is strong evidence that he orchestrated the apartment bombings in Moscow that were then the ‘impetus’ for the second Chechen War?” Staring back at the angry-looking Vietnamese students about to embark on a trip to the States for various PhD programs, I considered doing my one-eye-opened-one-eye-closed party trick to lighten the atmosphere, but something told me these science, computer and math students would not truly appreciate the trick’s charm. Instead, I mumbled something about Moscow’s exciting bid for 2012 and how it would blow London and Paris out of the water with its more subtle and, um, laid-back approach.

As I write this, I am in Hanoi for consultations and meetings for the new, said job. Hanoi is currently experiencing a bit of a drought, and consequently, as they have been relying more and more on hydroelectric power, have been “exporting” power from HCMC. So, while Duke is dealing with rolling black-outs in HCMC, I am running around turning all of the lights on, cranking the air-conditioner to 11, and writing this as the TV is mindlessly blasting. Hanoi certainly has a different feel than HCMC—it’s a much slower pace and lives up to its reputation as the “Grande Dame” of Southeast Asia, with its beautiful lakes and better-preserved French colonial architecture. And now, as I sign off from the airport in Hanoi, where I am stuck due to a three-hour delay of my flight, I realize that it must be a good sign that I miss “home” already. I suppose when you’re living abroad, you cling to anything that gives even a modicum of well-being and familiarity. Yes, walking past the charity boxes “for especially difficult children” in the passenger waiting area, I remind myself not to feel guilty for not being as adventurous with site-seeing in Hanoi as I was in Bangkok. In any case, it was much more fun to enjoy the electricity that Duke was being denied in HCMC.


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