Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Frickin' Hot, Other Bad Stuff and One Hero Story

It's Frickin' Hot

Our friends Steven and Sharon accidentally locked themselves out of their apartment Saturday night, so they spent the night at the castle, as well as the entire next day, until 6:30 pm (their landlord lives in the countryside and we don't think he understood what the problem was).

This would have been just fine for everyone if not for the deadening heat. The "heat index" was 105.8. Humidity: 60%. No one had energy for anything, especially for living. The castle stays pretty cool with our ceiling fans, but not on a day like yesterday. So there they sat with nothing to do except watch DVD's, which is hard to do when you have hardly enough energy for living.

I kept going downstairs to visit them, but it was hard to leave my air-conditioned room...even there I was sweating. I couldn't read, I couldn't nap, I couldn't blog...there was nothing to blog about except for what I am blogging about now: misery. And I'm only blogging about this because I write too much about massages, hair washes, great food and upcoming trips to the Philippines.

Whenever it's this hot, I think of Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried. The entire first chapter is filled with lists of what the soldiers carried with them in Viet Nam, from letters to peaches in syrup to weapons to gear to one Native American soldier's "grandmother's distrust of the white man." How did they carry all of that in THIS? (By the way, that is an amazing book if you haven't read it).

Other Bad Stuff:

Katherine was out late Saturday night. She was walking down the road with Tarn when a motorbike swept by her and the guy on the back grabbed her bag hard enough to rip one side of the handle off, but tough Katherine held on to it. We have heard of this theft procedure, and are always reminded (of course my mother reminds me ad naseum) to keep our bags close to us and wear them across our shoulders, etc. I have only had one other close call with my bag: K and I were walking down a busy street a few weeks ago when I felt some pressure in my bag. I turned and walking right next to me was a man fishing around for whatever he could find, my bag right around my shoulder. My reaction surprised me, because I hit him. Then K got up into his face and yelled at him. He just walked on, pretending he didn't hear anything (and pretending that my hit didn't hurt him...I assure you it did).

And more: We don't have our own keys to our classrooms. Each morning, I must wait for one of my floor guards to come and unlock my room, but I have this really great guard who turns on my air conditioning before I get there. I have been told to never leave anything valuable in my room, but of course I never think anything will happen to me. Well last Wednesday, I had more money than usual in my bag, one million VND (about sixty dollars). At the end of the day, it was gone, and I had only left my bag unattended in my room twice for short trips to the copy machine on the first floor. I was pretty sure it wasn't a student who took it and thought it must have been one of our floor guards. I wrote up the incident, then wrote it off as stupidity on my part.

After school on Friday, I went to the bathroom way down the hall to change clothes. I'm sure the guards thought I was gone, because when I came out, I saw my favorite guard slip into my dark room. He didn't see me until I opened the door, and he was in the corner going through my students' lost and found items; specifically, he was going through a pencil case. He was shocked to see me. He put the pencil case down and pretended like he was straightening up the items on the desk. He looked at me sheepishly a few times. My favorite guard. I told my principal about it and he said we had had so many thefts lately that he was sure that the cleaning ladies and the guards were in on it together. Today my guard was gone, I'm guessing he was fired.

It's unfair that we have so much and they have so little. They live at the school and I'm sure it's very tempting to take a little something extra when you work among "rich" foreigners. The draw for easy money, I can see, would be so alluring. So I hate that part of living here.

And one really amazing Hero Story:
One of my co-workers, Alison, told me this story today (she began telling it very nonchalantly, like she was telling me something she did this weekend):

"Yesterday Van (her Vietnamese boyfriend) and I were downtown on our motorbike and we came upon a group of people who were all staring up into the sky. We looked up and saw a man dangling from one of the wires. His head was flopping and his limbs were limp- his hands kept sparking a little and we realized he was an electrician being electrocuted.

"I told Van we needed to do something. It was really hard because that's how Van's father died - he was helping a neighbor wire something and he was electrocuted, and I'm sure it was really hard for him to see that. We rode down the street to Family Medical and I went in to the receptionist and began by calmly telling them that a man was being electrocuted right down the street."

"They didn't understand at first, so I became frantic, telling them that a man was going to die if they didn't do something. They sent a doctor out on the back of Van's motorbike (Alison said he weighed about 300 lbs) and I went back in and told the receptionist to call the electric company to have them cut the power to that line, since the man would be "live." The receptionist did as she was told, then they sent one of their ambulances out with resuscitation equipment. They got the man down and revived him and took him to the hospital. I called the hospital later and found out that he lived."

Yeah, so how about that story? You just wonder what you would do in that situation, in a foreign country, don't you... I remember reading about a test that was done in NYC, where a woman screamed in the middle of a street at night and no one responded from their safe apartments up above. When interviewed the next day, people said they figured someone else was taking care of it, or that it was "none of their business." (I think that story was in one of Malcomb Gladwell's books).

Here Alison saved this man's life, and she just said, "I pictured his family, and knew that I had to err on the right side." And so she saved a man's life in Saigon yesterday, when it was frickin hot and when no one else was doing anything about it.

Tomorrow we will go back to food, massages and hair washes. (I have to wash my own hair in this heat quite often because I just get too sweaty...)

Oh, and one more thing...a school from Seattle, The Evergreen School, will be visiting us for a week, beginning on Thursday. It's a private school from the Capital Hill area and the eighth grade class has been studying Viet Nam all year long - their culminating project is to visit here for a month. They will be spending a week with our eighth graders. Pretty cool, huh? Except that it won't be cool, it will be frickin' hot, and I feel for My People, my poor wimpy Seattle friends who don't know what heat is, to come at this time of year and suffer so...

Maybe the heat will break by then?


Amy T. said...

Dang, you've put our record breaking 89 degrees here in Medford Oregon in perspective by 8:42 AM. I was all set for a day of grousing. I now grouse not. But I do wash my own hair.

Side note: the Evergreen trip sounds AMAZING! Enjoy.

Brian Bowker said...

It was rather hot here yesterday too: at one point it got hot enough in our upstairs condo that I went to check the thermostat (to make sure it wasn't just me). It was 74 and 50% humidity inside! I had to turn on the air conditioner to get it back down to 72 so we could sleep.

You're not the only one that suffers.

And thank goodness for people like Katherine! I hope someone like her is around if I ever need help, and I hope I will be like her for someone else someday!

marjie said...

Brian, the names "Alison" and "Katherine" do kind of rhyme, and I am sure Katherine would be the same kind of person under pressure, but it was Alison who saved the man's life.

Alison is one of those strong English-teacher types.

And thanks for sharing your pain (as I write this at midnight, with the air conditioner making no difference to the thick heat in my room).

Brian Bowker said...

I just failed reading comprehension with you, didn't I?

marjie said...

Unfortunately, it's true. But even more unfortunate is that you are being graded against a 6th grade ESL rubric.

Amy T. said...

As yet another English teacher, I must remind you that Brian comprehended perfectly the content and the message of the story. If he forgot her name, and the story was in her biography, that would be a crime. As it is, he sailed through: meaning, motivation and message... if the quiz asked trivial questions about proper names, then that quiz was probably a WASL.

Brian Bowker said...

I like Amy.

marjie said...

Amy always takes your side.

marjie said...

And Mungo always takes Nam's side, except regarding shoes.

Mungo said...

HEY! Don't pull ME into your little family squabbles!

Sorry it's so hot there, smarj. I guess having your hair washed for you and getting massages and eating all the food you love and having wonderful clothes made and having your own personal mototaxi driver to take you everywhere and spending only fifty cents a day on all this stuff that would cost you thousands of dollars here does have its drawbacks.

Mungo said...

(...but, you're still a beautiful, statuesque goddess... even when you're sweaty.)

marjie said...

Mungo, I am surprised that you included mention of my "own personal mototaxi driver" on your list. Do you not read how I suffer with that man/my mother?

Mungo said...

I know, I know... Mommy Nammy Spammy Flammy.


I have no idea.