Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hen Gap Lai

Sorry to leave you with (as AmyT says) Nam's long, drunk finger pointing at me for so long, that was not meant to be the end post for the year. I admit, I've been struggling with how to end Viet Nam: Sweet Sour Salty Spicy Crunchy, Part One.

Before I attempt an ending - and before I get on a plane to Seattle in under eight hours - here are Posts That Should Have Been since June 4:

1. Cecilie's "Day" with Nam: She held on for her life - around his waist - on her ten minute ride down to Ben Thanh Market. He tried to show her how "Marrie" put her hands on her lap (which you know is not true because I always held on to the back of the seat, so he was actually telling her how "Marrie" should have been riding with him all along), but by then the ride was over. His directions were to drop her off at the market, then pick her up four hours later about a half kilometer away at the Opera House. Instead, he thought he was supposed to wait outside the market for her. So he waited, and he waited. After four hours he began to have multiple people call me to tell me that my friend was taking a really long time in the market... no matter who or how I explained things to him, lines were crossed for the rest of the day. So Cecilie's Day with Nam turned into Cecilie's Ten Minutes with Nam. She ran into him later and she paid him for the day anyway, in (of course) a hilarious interaction. I can only imagine the stories he had for his friends on the street.

2. Our shopping days in what I will forever refer to as "Hoi An: The Clothes and Shoe Making Playground." We had a lot of fun. Cecilie had beautiful clothes made by a gentle seamstress. I had OK clothes made by a witch who told me I needed different fabric to cover my "big bum." But, yeah, Cecilie's clothes are beautiful. Hoi An is cute cute the river, lit by lanterns at night. We spent the days with a friend who was staying at a resort on China Beach. Nice. Here she is pictured in the most casual wear she had made.

3. Our tour through Halong Bay: Absolutely breathtaking scenery (pictured above)...three days, two nights - one night on the boat (we were allowed many dips in the water during the day), one night on a private island where we stayed in cabins on the beach with two fantastic Dutch people and one fantastic Welsh guy. We had dinner with our toes in the sand on a table covered with red roses and a white tablecloth. (I know what you are thinking and I agree: it's not fair that I have been on two private islands within just a few months...)

4. When Cecilie Disgraced Her People: We didn't know about the hike on Monkey Island (neither of us read the details about the Halong Bay Cruise). We had a choice between a hike and a biking trip, but Cecilie is Norwegian and Norwegians hike, even if they are wearing black flats with bows, they HIKE! She made it to the top before the rest of us in her black-bowed flats, like a proper Norwegian should, but she kept saying "I'm such a disgrace to my people!"

5. The Hottest City Ever: If I had three wishes, I would use one of them to wish that the whole world could have mild temperatures like Seattle - not as much rain, of course - but just nice, easy temperatures, I would be a very happy traveling person. Yesterday in Hanoi it reached 43 degrees Celsius, which is 109 Fahrenheit. The humidity was about 60 percent. We walked outside and dripped (and I swore). I asked my parents this morning if people would find it strange to see someone just lying in their green grass for days on end, through rainy and cloudy weather. My mom said it would be OK for me to do that.

We saw Water Puppets, we walked around town, we stood in a very hot line for over an hour to see Ho Chi Minh's preserved body (surrounded by guards holding bayonets) in the mausoleum...we tried to have a good time. Cecilie is a better sport than I am. I was too hot and therefore was wishing her another traveling partner (I wouldn't want to be with me when I am that hot).
6. The Frogs: I thought I had seen it all in my market. But on her first walk-around with me, Cecilie pointed to a bucket. In the bucket was something so horrible, so unrecognizable, something so Satanic...they were frogs, but they were headless AND skinless AND they were STILL hopping around. Like chickens do (when their heads are cut off) supposedly.

Now. Get that image out of your mind and read the rest.
We returned yesterday and I put Cecilie in a taxi to the airport a few hours ago.

Then I had to face saying goodbye to my neighborhood.

1. I ate Pho at my favorite stand, right around the corner from the castle. What DO they put in their broth??

2. I went to Sweet Seamstress' and showed her on the calendar when I was coming back and got the same hug that has made me feel so gigantic all year from this tiny woman. Lieu and Ut also joined in on the hugging, which is not so natural for Vietnamese people (or for me).

3. I had my hair washed at the Bum Bum and told the girl who speaks the best English that I would be away for a few months. When I was done there, they all stood at the door and waved goodbye.

4. I stopped by Henry's and told him goodbye for a few months. God only knows how many bills they will have to pay for us while we are gone (we are coming back to rent the castle again, which is ANOTHER long post, maybe someday). I said goodbye to Laughing Grandpa and his Laughing Granddaughter - and the whole rest of the family.

5. Thuy came home early from a date to say goodbye. When I got to their house, she said that she didn't want me to be alone tonight, and that she and Thanh decided they should sleep with me. It was hard to turn that one down, but I had to. Such loyal friends (or sisters, as they would say...). All Thuy could manage was "See you next week" - she doesn't get too sappy - but Thanh hugged me and told me how much she was going to miss seeing me pass and wave every day. But I did see Thuy crying as she turned away.
5. My Mother...he was nowhere in sight today. Perhaps he will show up outside the castle at 3 am when I am catching my taxi?

I walked home to the castle feeling very glad that I was saying goodbye for just a few months. I guess that is validation that it's right to return to this hot, wonderful, headless frog, gentle-people-filled, cockroach and ant infested, opportunity-rich place.

And then, then...what do you think I did? I went to the roof, of course (you guessed right). I took four sticks of incense: one for me, one for my family and one for the world - just like the T Sisters taught me, but I took one extra. I waved them in the direction that T, T and I always do and said my prayers of thanks, but I added this:
"Thank you, Viet Nam, for everything. Hen Gap Lai (see you again)."
And as for all of you loyal readers, thanks for keeping me company. I have had so much fun sharing this year with you~

Thursday, June 04, 2009

No Blog Game Thursday: Endurance

“Marjie! Your driver is here!” (Add thick contempt to the word “driver.”) Katherine is yelling up the stairs to me in my Rapunzel Room. Later, she tells me she could smell alcohol when Nam came in the door with his nephew.

I’m in the middle of getting ready for a good-bye party and the last thing I want to do is descend four flights of stairs to talk to Nam. But I do. He's really drunk. Minh looks really uncomfortable.

The thing is, I told Katherine when I got home that there would be a scene with Nam. “He wasn’t there to pick me up at five. There will be a scene.” I know this man.

So here we are. Nam is making the low growling/moaning sounds he made the last time he was drunk at the castle, sad about never seeing me again. At least he is not on the floor this time. He picks up a wicker fan and starts fanning close to my face. He tells Minh to tell me that he was there at 5:10. Why didn’t I wait for him?

“I had to come home to get ready,” I say, pushing the annoying fan away, knowing the conversation will go nowhere. Nam accuses me of lying when I say I waited ten minutes. He points his long finger at me and says, “No!” You know what? He's right. I didn't wait. He knows me, too.

Then he tells me I need to learn Vietnamese so I can communicate with him better. “You’re in Vietnam. Learn Vietnamese!” He makes a defiant gesture with his hand, pointing to the ground. (Later, K says “No, Nam, that’s the exact reason she doesn’t learn Vietnamese, because if she did, she wouldn’t like you at all!”)

“He’s really drunk,” I say to Minh. “You should take him home.” He's only had over an hour to drink since he was supposed to pick me up, so it must have been quick and heavy. As far as I know, he hasn't been drunk on a pick-up yet.

“I know. I’m sorry. My uncle…”

Then Nam starts accusing me of other things. Like that I’m late a lot. And that I am not consistent. That I need to tell him pick-up times more clearly. And that I need to wait for him if he is late. I’ve been taking taxis home for the past two weeks, so the first time I have asked for a ride in the evening in a long time, he blew it.

To summarize, I do everything wrong and he is there to point it out for me. Sound like any relationships you know? Yeah, and they're married, right?

I ask Minh again to lead him out of the house. I try to connect with Minh on something else- because he is so sweet- like the fact that Nam told me that his mother is walking a little bit. “I’m glad your grandmother is doing better,” I say. He thanks me and tries to push Nam out. It’s a difficult task.

This morning, Nam salutes me when I get out to the street. He doesn’t look sheepish or anything. In fact, when he sees my breakfast of glutinous rice cakes topped with custard, he just says, “No!” He really prefers to expedite my food; as you know, I usually hide my purchases in my bag. But I admit it... I leave it out today just to get a reaction - because I am into self-torture.

I’m tired of Nam. I’m tired of sweating all the time. Tired of ants and cockroaches and motorbikes. I’m so tired that I have no blog game for this Thursday. Wrapping things up at school is always exhausting.

But here’s something not-exhausting: I was voted “Middle School Teacher of the Year” by the student body. What an honor. I have to give a speech at the closing ceremonies - not my favorite thing - but at least most of the audience will not understand me anyway. I am very touched to get this recognition from the students I have enjoyed so much this year.

Another thing not-exhausting: Cecilie from Norway will arrive next Thursday for what will surely be a week of fine shopping as well as fine viewing: we are going to Hoi An, the clothes-making capital, and to Halong Bay - which I hear has the most beautiful scenery in Viet Nam. Actually, that does seem a little bit exhausting, but in a fun-exhausting way.

So, yes, I can endure the ants, cockroaches, motorbikes and heat for a few more weeks. As for Nam...well, I think I should at least stop talking to Katherine about him, because she definitely can't endure him. Could you?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Finally: Shadow Dancing!

*I was finally able to load some of the shadow sure to check it out at the end of this post.

This is Henry from 6D: last weekend he was not Henry, he was "The Great, the Wise, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." He started out pretty quiet in that role, but by closing night he had transformed into the Wizard - very Wonderful and Powerful and everything.

So today in Ancient we are about to read the very last paragraph of the text (that's right, we made it through six civilizations by the last week of the year...) and I say to the kids, "I want someone to read this with a really big voice. It's the last paragraph of our book. Who wants to try?"

About seven kids volunteer, so I have them read the first sentence as a try out - something about the "Fall of Rome." After five kids read rather flatly (and I say "no, no, no!") I say to Henry, "Henry, read this in the voice of The Wizard!"

And without any hesitation, he begins reading about the Fall of Rome, accessing the same voice he had on closing night. The class goes wild. At the last sentence, he stands up and uses hand gestures. Next, in his Wizardly Frenzy, he throws his Ancient World textbook on the floor and stomps on it amid the cheering of his peers.Now I know that books are sacred and everything, but the whole scene is funny, so I just say to him, "WIZARD! What would Scarecrow say? (or WWSS?)" And he actually gets a really funny, guilty look on his face.

Henry was also responsible for the best blooper of the night... for weeks, when he was supposed to say "University of Omaha" - he just couldn't get it right. He kept saying "University of Obama" - Obama being a much more familiar word to him. Both opening night and the next he said it correctly, but not without a little hesitation. Saturday night, though, he said "University of...of...Obama." The crowd loved it and he has heard about it all day from the kids. He was Tarn's favorite character.

Another: we had to fire Toto a week before the performance because he wasn't taking rehearsals seriously. On dress rehearsal Saturday he didn't show up at all. Ryan from my 6E class happened to be there just to hang out with his friends. A natural actor, I asked him if he would like to be Toto. "Let me think about it for five minutes," he said. Five minutes later, he was on stage. He mastered the tongue sticking out and panting and following Dorothy around very quickly, but the former Toto is the smallest kid in school. So Alice cut the dog body in half and Ryan just wore the bottoms and the head. What happened, then, was that every time he turned around, the audience would laugh at his pants that hardly fit and at his black and white checkered boxers. At one point on Saturday night, he lost his dog pants completely. Paula, who also helped with the play and who also has Ryan in class, and I were laughing ourselves silly over Ryan's every movement during every performance.

What I didn't mention in my other comments on the play: opening night was a sort of disaster. The main problem was the audience...TERRIBLE. I didn't know that Vietnamese audiences have such a bad reputation. They talked through the whole thing. They didn't clap at the right places until Fran and I led them to clap at the right places. The sound technicians missed many of their cues. The lights were off. The kids were great, but off. Everyone went home kind of mopey. Alice said she felt like she had given birth and had a miscarriage.

Friday night, though, was amazing, as was Saturday. The crowd was older and smarter. The kids were ON. Alice had a very healthy baby. In this picture with Alice is Gink: Gink is just one of Alice's healthy babies. Gink played the piano and did an amazing job. What a talent. OK, SeattlePam, there are your pictures...finally! (The extremely good ones were taken by Tarn, of course!)

(Mungo and Karyn, you must provide an acting blooper story...)

As for the shadow dancing, remember that it was juxtaposed against the colorful front world of Dorothy and the Munchkins and it showed the world of the King of Darkness and his slaves (slaves are equivalent to the monkeys in the movie)~ All of the choreography for the shadow was done by Alice, but Alice had one of her hip hop dancers, Adrian, choreograph the munchkins' dances. I will include one of my favorite parts.