For the Novel No. 329

The overwhelming exhaustion of being a stranger in a fucked-up land had become a barometer for all his other emotions and states of mind. He was sick with inner conflict he had repressed far longer than his latent hatred for all things Capitalism. The clarity smarted like his cracked rear tooth.

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Get Your Learn On

One of the keys to successfully navigating life in Vietnam is to learn just enough of the language to sound like you know more than you do. Your ignorance might quickly be exposed, but they’ll never really quite know if maybe you don’t understand more than you’re letting on—and thus treat you a little more fairly and a little more like a local. Even just showing an effort to speak a little Vietnamese will earn you more than a modicum of respect.

Magic Slippers

It might seem totally pedestrian (pun totally intended), but one of the most impressive things about the Vietnamese is that most of them seem to have an innate ability to, when entering a no-shoes area, slip out of their sandals (nearly mid-stride) with an effortless grace that no foreigner could ever hope to mimic.

I’ve tried several times to improve my sandal-shedding skills, but to no avail: I inevitably wind up lagging behind, shake-wriggling myself out of my footwear, trying to look cool the whole time (which never works). The only (minor) consolation for me is that I’ve noticed several Vietnamese struggling to properly tie their shoelaces.

Nonetheless, I’ve given up pursuing sandal-shedding perfection and moved on to more important matters such as, where the hell can I find a good hamburger?

Vietnam Traffic: Humor Behind the Madness

Poorly cribbed from a recently spotted T-shirt, this simple comic captures the logic-free insanity of traffic in Vietnam. The only law seems to be that people will go where they want and do what they want when they want.

After three years, I’ve learned what (not) to expect from my fellow drivers, but even short trips to the grocery store keep me vigilant and on my toes, leading me to suspect that common sense is a distinctly Western trait.

Cheap Thrills

It’s important to celebrate the small victories in Vietnam. Nothing compares to the thrill of chopstick-snatching* a single scallion from the delicious dregs of a bowl of mi kho. Like how Maverick felt when he went “inverted” on that MiG.

 

*Yes, that’s a term now widely in use (recently coined by me).

The Pleasures of Parisian-Influenced Cuisine

The delicious house green salad at one of my favorite restaurants in Saigon, a European-style cafe called L’Usine. This second-story venue’s highlights include an amazing eggs Benedict, a solid ham and Swiss on a croissant, a surprisingly good calamari with a citrus aioli, fresh-pressed juices, red velvet cupcakes and a highly addictive lemon tart topped with a perfect little dollop of lightly toasted meringue.

And thus the hours pass in pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong: There are several Vietnamese dishes that I love and hanker for on a weekly basis. But for the most part, Southeast Asia in general (and Vietnam in particular) struggles with Western fare, which I shamefully crave more often than I should. However, L’Usine is one of two restaurants in Saigon that give some of my favorites back home a run for their money.

Another Day in Town

The view from my apartment is better than staring at a concrete wall, but it rarely changes aside from the random sightings of rooftop laundry hangings or the watering of some patio plants across the street. Of course, the various noises that drift up from the streets below keep things interesting, if nothing else than for their head-scratching purpose and/or meaning (the sound of dogs barking is the only noise that doesn’t invite clarification).

What may or may not be clear from the above picture is that the sun is relentless during the day, with even the occasional rain showers offering little respite from the omnipresent heat. I don’t like cold, but the consistently high temperatures of Southeast Asia (100+ during the so-called hot season) can be overbearing and mentally exhausting. The air conditioner is a necessary fallback in times of desperation, and a pastel-green Asia Vina oscillating fan has become my stalwart companion.