Monday, August 25, 2008

Apartment Hunting, Installment One

It's 5:45 am...I have finally slept through the night. Now I just have to move past eating only French baguettes~ they are all I have been able to consider for two days. It feels like someone is churning churning churning a crank outside my stomach...sorry to disappoint you. I could describe the bread -- it is very tasty... or the boxed lunch pizza at the meeting that came with sweet and sour sauce instead of marinara~

I can confirm that beginning of the year meetings are just as dull in foreign countries as they are at home. Everyone just wants to socialize and instead we must listen to theories and rules and legal issues of Vietnam. Both schools, elementary and secondary, met together, and as usual, there are a few who just love to talk, talk talk.
After the meeting, though, two of Tu's friends take three of us, Tarn from NZ, Katherine from Canada, and me apartment hunting. Jem speaks a few words of English, but carries on in Vietnamese as if we can understand every word, so we all just nod. Yen is a bit better, but neither really understand what we are looking for. What the night turns into, then, is a tour of Saigon. By the way, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975 after the war but is called by both names (some have asked for clarification). Saigon is so much easier to write, I am defaulting to that.

This city is divided into 10 Districts, and it's got to be one of the most confusing cities to navigate~just give me the grid of New York City any day. There is no public transportation (Seattle, we are not alone!) so motorbikes swarm and flow all around our taxi van (I am trying to decide how to describe it, that will happen in a future post). The first place they show us is on the other side of the river from the elementary school. Yen tells us that a bridge is being built to cross the canal and then, sometime in January, it will take only minutes to get there. For now, though, the commute takes over forty five minutes. As Yen explains this to us, we approach a slum which is juxtaposed by a brand new high rise apartment building. The lobby is dark and empty and open, unfinished. The landlord comes and we take an elevator fifteen stories up. The apartment is unfinished. We see no one in the vast building. Yen tells us how great this place is going to be. If we want, the landlord will furnish it within weeks and we can move in right away. While Jem and Yen discuss things with the landlord (we finally figure out that they will get a kick-back from the landlord for showing us), Tarn, Katherine and I decide that there are two things wrong with this place: 1) It's in a creepy location and 2) it's a creepy space. We decide that if we are to live here, we will take it unfurnished. We will come home and live in darkness and scribble on the walls and dance outside in the lobby late at night next to the slum and sleep in a sleeping bag. We will ride a dugout canoe across the river. But to them we say, "Thank you for showing us. It's very nice, but since the bridge is not finished, we can't take it."

The next place is in a better section of town, but it's on the 18th floor and I experience Vertigo on the balcony. It's also new and yet to be furnished. The third place is just a few minutes from the high school and resembles a traveler's room in a cozy house of only four stories. The room barely fits a double bed. Downstairs, we enter an alleyway and Jem and Yen motion for us to sit down at a plastic table with plastic chairs, and order sugarcane drinks for us. What this picture does not capture are the men next to the table hunched over three huge catfish, bludgeoning them to death.

Our apartment hunting is complete for the night. It's 9:00 and we are hungry, so the three of us head to the open market to eat. It reminds me so much of Stir Fry Street, I try to muster the stomach from within, but bread is still all I can do. I finally fall into bed and dream about swarms of motorbikes.
I will leave you with a correction regarding the "That Girl" sequence sent by my cousin, Lisa: "Oh, and I am sure someone - probably Dennis - has already corrected you on your recollection of "That Girl" - I think you were morphing "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (pink suit and pill box hat) with "That Girl". Actually, Marlo was wearing a big rimmed hat (60's style) and tossed it in the air. I am old enough to remember every episode, and probably could name every character - not a fact I am particularly proud of, really."
Thank you, Lisa. I like it that you figured that Dennis would correct me on "That Girl."


Brian Bowker said...

Your picture of the smiling people with sugar cane drinks and the out-of-frame catfish bludgeoning makes me think of a David Lynch (Twin Peaks) scene where what's happening center screen is normal, but in the background is something crazy.

Way to keep the adventure alive, Marjie!

Angie said...

Isn't it a small neighbors have an exchange student for the school year who is from Saigon. Haven't met her yet as she was sleeping off her jet lag.

So even apartment hunting in Vietnam is an adventure! I guess it lets you see a lot of the city, and you get to share it with us. We, your fans, are very (I have to do it) PHOrtunate!
I hope you feel better soon.

The Norris Clan said...

What did the catfish do the THEM? Are these people your roommates? Or are they looking in the same building as you? Hmmmmm.... :-)