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 cute...by 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~