People in Vietnam eat tons of rice and greasy food. They eat noodles, noodles, noodles, morning noon and night. Yes, they eat pho in the morning, too. So carbs, carbs, carbs. How do they stay so skinny? Their eating habits are directly opposed to what America has been telling us for the past ten years or so, and yet they have much less fat per capita.
I finally find the answer to at least this one mystery tonight, my first night at a gym (finally!). The answer is: The CRAZY EXERCISE machine! The gym I go to has some treadmills, some eliptical machines, free weights, weight machines, and--what I guess I will refer to as "fat jigglers." There are two kinds: one you put a strap around your belly and it jiggles your belly fat. The other you just stand on and it jiggles all of your fat. They both have the label "CRAZY EXERCISE TM" on them. So that is why people are so skinny here (after all, only very skinny girls are using them).
Some other gym differences: instead of an aerobic step, a girl is doing aerobic stepping on a dresser with a drawer in it. A bunch of guys are standing around a TV watching a competition between female video game players; the women on TV are playing karate. Buddha cutouts, the ones with Buddha and looooong fat earlobes, are posted all over the mirrors. Out at the pool area, people lounge around eating noodles. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Thank goodness for CRAZY EXERCISE.
A side note: I feel really good after exercising today. I'm going to join the CRAZY GYM. And I'm going to just watch that fat fall off as I stand there exerting no energy. I can't wait.
OK, now, my motorbike guy. He has become kind of a Chatty Cathy. He talks my ear off every time he sees me. Slight turn of a smile, an emotionless, slow pace of talking, but he just carries on as if I understand every word and gesture. A few times I have beckoned American International School students over to translate if he starts chatting when he drops me off at school -- other times, I am at a loss and just listen and hope he's not telling me that someone in his family has a terminal illness. The other day he takes a plastic bag off of the handlebars and opens it up. It's a banana leaf filled with sticky rice and some kind of custard. He gestures to me as if he's going to give it to me. He points to himself. I say, "Oh, for me? Your wife made this for me?" only to have him wrap it back up and put it on his handlebar. I think he just wanted to share what he was having for breakfast.
This morning I try to tell him that I want to be picked up three blocks away, under the arches where the creepy carnival entrance is -- the gym is located inside a carnival area that looks like it could be a movie set for "Halloween III." I have already thought this through: I draw a picture of the arches and write "6:30." But no matter how many gestures I make, he doesn't get it. Finally, a man walks by who speaks English and through translation we come to an agreement: don't pick me up at the school at five, pick me up under the arches at 6:30. However, after my workout I have a hard time finding my way back through the carnival in the dark. I run into many dark alleys and circus clowns meet me on more than one occasion in those alleys. I begin to panic, because I'm late. Finally I see the arches, but they are far away, so I run with my backpack on, in the sweltering heat, to meet Red Helmet Blue Shirt on time. I get there at 6:35 and he's nowhere to be seen. My heart sinks. All kinds of taxi drivers are around. "Motorbike, Miss?" But I want my guy.
Suddenly, I see him wave from across the street and he makes his way over, slowly. Slight upturn of a grin. Then he reaches into his pocket, pulls out his cell phone, opens it and points to the numbers: it says 6:37. I tell him I'm sorry, but that's not all-- he has another problem with me: he doesn't like it that I'm wearing shorts. I can't figure this one out. I wear dresses on most mornings and just hike them up, to a place that is higher than the shorts, like everyone else does. But he points and shakes his head. He's disappointed, and thinks it's not safe. He takes me across the street and points out my bare legs to the friend he made while he waited SEVEN whole minutes for me. They both shake their heads. I'm not sure what to do, but suddenly, he stops shaming me and starts his bike. When he drops me off, he pulls out his cell phone again. He wants to know what time tomorrow. Am I going to be late again? And then he counts, in English, "One two three four five six? Am I picking you up at six?" I count to seven. You're picking me up at seven, like you have now for two weeks. I have gotten the message, and I feel so badly for being seven minutes late that I pay Chatty Cathy 20 thousand instead of fifteen. Suddenly, I have a mother here in Ho Chi Minh City. I have to be on time, I can't wear short shorts...what could possibly be next?
Yesterday I get to see both the Reunification Building and the War Remnants Museum. The Reunification Building used to be called Independence Hall; it used to be the symbol of the South Veitnamese government and is preserved almost as it was on that day in 1975 when the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist. The story of the VietCong takover on that day is worth reading about, it's very dramatic. But I won't go into it here. It is classic 60's architecture (the openness of the column structure lets so much sun in) and furniture-- the conference rooms and the receiving rooms are stately and beautiful; however, I really loved the president's living quarters. This room, especially...the gambling room(right next to the cinema). Doesn't it look like it could be straight out of Mary Tyler Moore? She should be holding a cocktail party here. (Ann, did I get the reference right this time?) Also interesting is the basement, with its network of tunnels and war room. There is a direct route from the president's room to the basement in case of attack. A ballroom and bar area are on the top, as is a military helicopter. Ho Chi Minh himself never saw Independence Palace. It was one of his regrets when he died.
Then there's the War Remnants Museum, which used to be called "The Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes." Only go to this one if you have a strong stomach. It's a collection of planes, artillery vehicles, and weapons, but what's most striking is all of the photographs of slaughtered families, victims of Agent Orange and napalm. Wall after wall shows the atrocities committed against them by the US, with quotes from surviving family members. In the very first panel, too, is a quote from the Declaration of Independence "...we hold these truths to be self evident...all men are created equal..." It's a museum of victims telling their side of the story, and quotes from many other leaders of so many other countries speaking out against the war.
I'm not sure it's the best choice for me on this day, and I'm not sure about the strength of my stomach, the day after the castle warming party. I'm overtired and don't feel like seeing the Tiger Cages or the guillotine used by the French or the torture chambers. One interesting room is one dedicated to the "Everlasting Friendship between Cuba and Vietnam." It has many pictures of Castro and Che, uniting with the people of Vietnam. But I don't stay very long at this one; I'll come back another day when I feel like reading lots more. One room is covered with pictures and stories from Life Magazine.
On the way back, I see my first accident. We (a different driver) turn the corner to see a man on the ground next to a crumpled bike. He stands up and blood pours from his ear. It looks like he was already crippled, but he can barely move. He just stands there in the street looking at his bike. Finally, a man gathers him up and helps him to the sidewalk, leaving a trail of blood. He just keeps looking at his bike. I'm sure it's all he had. By this time I feel so sad that I go back to the castle and sleep, sleep, sleep.
Speaking of sleep, I guess I had better get some now. After all, I now live in fear of letting Red Helmet Blue Shirt down; I had better not be late...