It is safe to say I have been a terrible blogger this year, but I am still loving my life in Saigon and filled with wonder most days. Currently I am starting this post while stuck in a traffic jam. I am in no rush – just returning home from a day of errands downtown. And, of course the traffic and scenes around me are fascinating. I don’t often type blog posts from the cab because I still spend most rides looking to see how many families fit 5 on a motorbike and trying to figure out how this city fits together. But, today, though not really a day out of the ordinary was filled with so many small moments that remind me I am at home here and so many more that remind me that this land is and always will be foreign and exotic to me. It is a nice mix – conflicting feelings of peace and wonder and surprise and comfort.
I started the day with a bike ride with three friends, a favorite weekend past time. We rode a familiar route, chosen because we hoped that it wouldn’t be too flooded and washed out from all the rain. Of my 3 years, this is by far the worst rainy season I have experienced. I have had to wade home from school through shin deep water, wear a poncho over me and my bike to ride to work (it never used to rain in the morning), and hole up in shelter too many times to count. Even so, we still have lots of hours of hot sunshine each day, and all the rain has made the plants on my balcony so happy.
On today’s bike ride, I got to catch up with a friend who just returned after leaving Vietnam for a couple of months to take her son to university and help him get settled into his “home” country where he had never really lived. I marvel at the resilience of my students and co-workers’ children because they grapple every day with questions of identity and blend seamlessly (it usually seems) into foreign cultures. It was interesting to hear stories of her son’s adjustment because I know that, while my experience is quite different than his, I too will some day face reverse culture shock as I try to fit back into America. (See, I don’t plan to stay here forever – just until I learn what I can from this wonderful life). During the ride, my poor friend began to feel fatigued and lightheaded. It had been awhile since she was on a bike and her abrupt shift back from Australia’s winter was too much for her. Luckily, because we live her and know how to handle some of the things that happen, we were able to call her an Uber SUV to our remote location and the kind driver took her and her bike home.
Today also marked a random first for me. I finally utilized the help of a xe om – a motorbike taxi. Usually I hail a car taxi, but today when I was on a walk doing some errands, I was starting to look for a taxi to take me downtown to do more errands. A xe om pulled up, and I figured why not. I have gotten quite good at riding (not driving as evidenced by my attempts to try on vacation) motorbikes. I negotiated what I think was a fair price using my numbers which was the lesson of the week in my Vietnamese class. It was a lovely ride and much faster than my current ride in a car. However, it was taken during a brief lull in storming. At the end of the motorbike ride, I did some shopping. I am still trying to settle into my new apartment, so I was on the prowl for ways to maximize my space and storage. Purchases included everything from seating for my balcony to almond milk for Kate and 4 pounds of Craisins. Why 4 pounds, you ask? Well, it costs about $3 for a tiny little bag of 100 grams at the store near my house, but at the import store, the best value was a giant bag for about $20. So, essentially, I scored 1,100 free grams of craisins over time. Is the reason that I have to maximize storage space making sense? I am a hoarder – primarily of food.
Hope all is well with you and that you struggle less with the hunt for Craisins and good peanut butter than I do. I will try to post again soon about my delightful vacation to Myanmar – even if I am not stuck in traffic.