Sunday, April 11, 2010

How To Fall in Love with Vietnam in Ten Days

by Rita

Sitting on an Asiana flight or at the Seoul airport for 28 hours provides plenty of time to contemplate what it'll be like to see Marjie in her element! It was a visit so worthwhile. I am still living it, although it's been a week. Marjie is indeed in the heart of the old city, District 1...where every darn time a taxi driver stared with disbelief at the Vietnamese hotel card, doubting that the little unknown hotel was, indeed, the destination of this westerner.

Once arrived, I found the room large and clean with views of District 1's morning hustle and bustle of the local - what more does one need when one has authenticity?

Whereas many of her teaching colleagues live in the wide-street 'burbs with foreign restaurant choices and gated communities, Marjie and her roommates have found the closest place to heavenly Sweet Sour Salty Spicy and Crunchy.

To find her, however, you must wind your way down narrow, sunless alleys, very conscious of where you step, very aware of a constant stream of motorcycles and scooters winding their way, uhh....both directions, in the most narrow of spots. They somehow slow for a mother and child holding hands, slowly walking in the middle. I, like a typical foreigner, dancestep nervously to the edge of the path the first few days.

Women, men, and children did look, sometimes staring up at my tall redheadness; but if I smile, so do they. Days later, the little children dart out and try to speak a little English and the women wave first. Their homes are their family business. Content with only a few rooms, there they reside with a little t.v., a game board on the floor, and often the men seek a cool peace by lying directly on the floor.

Motorcycles command this city. Sometimes 10 abreast, sometimes up on the sidewalks. Many going the other direction on "your side" of the street. And it all flows like the Saigon River. Men riding motorcyles with 5 family members squeezed in tight. Pairs of school girls giggling and texting while cycling; man holding his hand on an untethered, bright pink birdcage in back while driving; another deftly carrying Gulliveresque cages of chickens...anything comes and goes!

The load kept falling off of this man's treasure.
It's so fascinating, especially on the back of Marjie's motorcycle. A nightmare and an amusement ride that rivals anything from Disney's creations. She's amazing, you guys!

With this noisy backdrop, Talented Travel Planner Ms. Marjorie, helped me plan for some escape: bus rides to the lush Mekong Delta for a country wedding of her friend. It was held in the family's largest room, a steep-peaked temple room with Buddhist shrines, tables laden with food and drink, air conditioning that stopped when all electricity was cut off in the common "rolling black-outs", and a bevy of little children and women staring at us Westerner women/teachers through the open windows.

Alas, faithful friends, I have no photos of Marjie looking ever so beautiful and excruciatingly hot in her long, 2-piece aio dai. Sorry to say: my camera was swiped at the very end of this unique wedding, as I briefly left it on a table for one last photo request from a local. I lamented my folly for days...still do.

Marjie then suggested a trip to the cooler Central Highlands, to the fabled Flower City of Da Lat, where I spent two glorious, tranquil days. The cheap, round trip flight was so worth it. A million fruits and flowers stands beckon you ..a city so fragrant that your senses literally write you a daily thank you card. Take a fun train ride to a village on an old, wooden cog train. Put it on your Bucket List.

In the interim, I rode with Marjie to school one day to teach. She must deftly maneuver through torn-up streets and mounds of dirt with her cycle. You would not believe it! But, being with her clever, fun, and friendly 6th graders was worth it. I read each class a story, showed them a powerpoint of Marjie's 'Other Life', and watched devoted Marjie interact with a wacky sense of humor and still expect top quality work. They'd walk on hot coals for her. See last post - the photos are on her camera.

The Travel Planner Extraordinaire provides again the final destination while lying on the hammock on her roof one night: "Let's go to Mui Ne and do some beach time on the South China Sea!" Ya gotta love her spontaneity!

This luscious location costs literally only a few dollars to share our cottage on the beach with roommate, the lovely and best listener in the world, Katherine. While Marjie and I read and drink fruit smoothies in the shade, Katherine prepares for her triatholon by swimming in the high waves. The wind not only rips the pages from her book, but over 50 well-built guys are also kite-boarding with gusto. Bad timing not to have my own camera for close-ups.

So much to say, so long is this post.

But, I've left out the amazing cheap massages, the excellent coffee or tea that D'Arcie, art teacher from MHS and I
discovered one morning, or the
lucious market meal prepared by her two Vietnamese friends, the tour to Cu Chi tunnels - an underground maze of Vietnamese families and Viet Cong living under the U.S. army base in the late 60's, and of course, the amazing food we had every breakfast, lunch or dinner!

But, that's Marjie's bag, I mean blog.


Brian Bowker said...

Great post!

Luckily for the rest of us, you are skilled enough with your writing that your camera seems to have been hardly necessary.

Devon Griggs said...

Your writing is so smooth! Wow, I wonder what grade you got in English 101. Thanks for the guest post. =)