Monday, December 31, 2012

Luck, Temples, Gates and Salons

I just got doused with luck!

Babies don't wear diapers here because of heat rash, so as soon as the first spoon full goes in, I feel the warmth. When the photographer, Thanh, sees the puddle she says, "You are very lucky!"

(Amy can you see my lashes here?)

Anyway, Happy New Year...if you are my friend or family member -or if you are a human being on this planet- you were wished "happy, lucky and healthy" at this Indian Buddhist temple on New Year's Eve. We placed five sticks of incense each in front of the Lady Buddha after doing the prayer gesture (one for each figure in the temple).

Of course, this night means nothing to most Vietnamese - they are waiting for the Chinese New Year in February, Tet, to bring in the Year of the Snake.

But Thanh knows it's important to me, so she, Tu, Monkey Boy and I head there after dinner at their house. (Tu and Monkey Boy are her niece and nephew). By the way, dinner tonight was spaghetti with meat sauce. But if you look what is on the table, you can see how to make it Vietnamese Style...just add soy sauce and a bit of hot chili sauce and eat it in the same way you eat soup here (roll the noodles with a fork, then dip it in a bowl of soy sauce, then in a bowl of chili sauce).

Do you think it was good? Thuy and Thanh are the best cooks I know. They can make anything taste good. I was willing to suspend my judgment. But - no, it wasn't good at all. I guess it's the equivalent of us trying to make their food. I guess. It never quite translates, does it?

"Tu and Monkey Boy love spaghetti," she says. "But my mother don't like." Her mother cooks duck over fire perfectly; of course she wouldn't like it. They always told me when they didn't like what I cooked (which was always), but what do I do?

I say, "It's really good."

After our temple visit and ice cream with strawberries, Thanh is tired and needs to put everyone to bed. So I consider what else I want to eat and decide to brave the backpacker district for the chicken salad at Lam Cafe (Far Far Away). The backpacker district is something we loved to hate, but we were constantly drawn there during our two years here. The thing about that Lam chicken salad is this: I hardly ever got to eat it due to The Jeremy and Phillipa Gates of Hell. Now, this salad is really delicious: grilled chicken and onions over fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce with this light vinegary sauce. But two British grade school teachers, Jeremy and Phillipa, sat in front of the Lam Cafe Every. Single. Night. For hours (all cafes on this street are open-aired and plastic chairs spill onto the sidewalks and I had to pass through them to ascend to an upper level). Now, this is depressing enough. All the amazing food in Saigon, and they ate there night after night, and held court there for their entertainment (I guess). But they were by far the most negative people I have ever met in my life. Jeremy taught ART at the GRADE SCHOOL to the sweetest kids on the planet, and the kids all hated art because he was mean to them.

You could have taught these kids about dirt for an entire year and they would have been enthusiastic about it.

A few times I braved the Gates of Hell for this really good salad. Then I would come home and say to Katherine, "Never again. I cannot pass through those gates."

Every once in a while I would ride my motorbike slowly by the restaurant to see if it was clear. It never was. They ate there every night. For hours. Did I already mention that? The salad, so good - and Jeremy and Phillipa, so awful and full of complaints about everything. So tonight, when I got the salad on my mind, the salad free and clear, I couldn't get it off. Even when I realized that the backpacker district was full of drunk foreigners and bikes so thick across the street they weren't even moving because of the new year celebration, I prevailed and made it to the cafe.

When a very persistent, crazy vendor tried to sell me some pot (and made me say "no" five ways), the couple sitting next to me and I were kind of forced into a conversation. A really nice couple from the Czech Republic. They had just come from Laos, where they had rented motorbikes. One of their bikes broke down every ten kilometers, so they ended up pushing both bikes for hours. Anyway, it was one of those great moments of travel, when you meet for a moment in time and share experiences. And they had had a horrible experience, and they Did Not Complain. They laughed about it. They were my serum to the Gates of Hell.

Today I really entered into the flow of the city. I met two especially interesting and beautiful former students for lunch, Diwa and Mithi (I met an especially interesting and beautiful co-worker, Nina, last night - it's the only way they come here). Then I took some fabric to my most amazing seamstress across town for a little clothes-making, then walked around for about two hours. It was much cooler today. As I sat at a red plastic roadside table drinking pressed sugarcane juice with two chickens under my feet and five jars of cobras next to me, watching all the people passing on their motorbikes (about 30% of them texting while driving), I thought, "I'm really here now."

Oh, and this morning I went to Trin for a hair wash. She is The Most Amazing Hair Washer Ever. As I am lying there, I feel someone slip off my flip flops and realize I am getting a pedicure without requesting one. This is the place of magical permanent lashes and pedicures. Not just any pedicure, either. A design. Not really my thing, but when in Vietnam...And I know this is almost heresy, but I have switched my loyalty to Salon MiMi from the Bum Bum, only because I love Trin so much.

Some things just have to change, right?

I have convinced Thuy to get a massage with me today. I asked her last night and she said, "No...I don't want to leave my baby."

"For one hour," I said.

"I think about it."

And this morning, she greeted me with a smile and a "yes." So happy. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scenes from the Hood

Garlic Lady has to be my favorite vendor. She is sassy and has hit me every day for being gone for two years. She tells me I have to come by and say "hello" five times each morning, so I do what she tells me.

The Castle gate, for Katherine:

And Laughing Grandpa, Henry's father, or father-in-law...I'll never know which. The happiest baby in the world - the one he played with constantly for two years, is now the happiest four-year-old in the world.

Candle Lady and Rice Cake Lady. Yesterday Rice Cake Lady delivered cakes to my hotel. The guy there translated a conversation between us - so cool.

My Kind of 2pm

My niece Ava's tape artwork hangs next to the wall Christmas tree. Out of all the gifts I brought (a suitcase full), I think this piece of art is Thanh's favorite.

Seafood Couple

This is one of my mom's favorite food memories from Christmas three years ago: the seafood stand right around the corner from the castle. My mom loved these scallops dip them in a mixture of salt, pepper and lime. Scallops are served this way all across Vietnam. The Seafood Couple who runs this stand are extremely gracious, but isn't almost everyone here?

Pictured to the right: Fingernail clams with rau muong. I love the little squares of pure fat, like bacon, that she stir fries into it...


When you have a headache, stomach ache, or an injury caused from a Saigon Cowboy while living in Nguyen Canh Chan, before heading to the local drugstore it is advisable to visit the fabric stand first. You will get a diagnosis and a remedy - possibly tea with ginger for your stomach or tamarind root for your motorbike burn.

This morning I arrive to the stand with a headache and am told to:

1) Eat my favorite pho ga (chicken) of the gods, right around the corner from the castle, pictured here:
2) Come back and drink a vial of calcium (out of a straw) and take a pill
3) Drink hot water
4) Eat Mangosteens (they are in season, lucky favorite fruit ever, gummy bears in fruit form)

And here is the view from my headache station this morning (I am told to stay put for a while, so will take this time to post a bunch of pictures - you can see from this perspective that the stand is right outside the house):

Saturday, December 29, 2012

You Eat Chicken Soup, Seafood, Etc, for Ten Days!

I know what you're thinking. Marjie - what about the food?

OK, here you go:

The market is the same. Everyone is here except no sighting yet of Pomelo Guy or Spring Roll Lady. But that means nothing. You know how elusive Pomelo Guy is, and Spring Roll Lady - well, Thanh says she's still around.

The hardest thing for me is choosing where to eat in the mornings. How is this for a problem: all of the vendors want me to eat at their stand. Today I had to pass the rice cakes and go to Chicken Soup Couple's place because I had to turn them down yesterday. They have moved - now they serve right in front of their home. I still don't get how the market works, who pays whom to occupy which space.

Chicken Soup Couple rules. They are so kind, and he speaks pretty good English...he's the one who emailed me in response to my goodbye note. Today he welcomes me and asks, "Do you remember (our) soup?"

"Oh, yes," I say. "I remember! No soup in America like this."

"You eat chicken soup for ten days!" he says, because they are all establishing that I am not working, I am just "on holiday."

I don't have the heart to say anything but, "Yes!"

Thuy and Thanh are so in touch with what I want to eat. The first night, Thanh asks me what I want to eat.

"She want wonton soup," Thuy says, and of course that is exactly what I was thinking.

Yesterday at lunch, I stopped by the stand.

"What you eat?" Thuy asks, and I shrug, indicating that I might just wander and find something. "Thanh, take her to the _____ ______ place." So that's what we do, and this is a picture of what we eat:

Clockwise from top: sliced cucumber, lemongrass, pickled turnips and carrots, star fruit, green banana, pickled ginger and fresh rice cakes. In the center is minced grilled pork. You wrap it all up in fried rice noodles - with the greens, of course - and dip it all into the brown sauce pictured at 11 o'clock. The sauce is a mix of soy sauce, fermented beans and butter.

"Butter?" I clarify when Thanh says it.


Dairy products are so scarce here that I can hardly believe it, but if she says butter, butter it is. All I know is - it's amazing. It rivals the rice cakes, if you really wanna know.

At 11 I will head to the Seafood Couple's stand for steamed clams, tamarind crab and scallops grilled with peanuts and green onions, dipped in a salt/pepper mixture. I passed them yesterday, and the man ran to get his uncle up from his afternoon nap to come down and speak to me in English.

"You are back working?"

"No, just for ten days."

"You eat seafood for ten days!"

See how hard I have it?

Pre-Morning-Market Post

My hotel is the do-it-yourself kind. Bring your own towel, toilet paper and soap. No window, but a picture of a Victorian woman lounging in a window overlooking sailboats substitutes for one. The fluorescent lights make my skin and hair look green. And it's at the end of such a narrow alley that my taxi driver knocked over a bike propped next to a house on our way in (he stopped, got out, and picked it up).

But the most important thing is that it is a one-minute walk to Thuy and Thanh's, a ninety second walk to the castle...and only thirty seconds to the rice cakes.

It's 7:15, and I'm using the computer in the hotel (which also has air and a fridge, in case I was complaining too much), about to spend the next few hours in the market. By the way, this computer accesses Blogger, but Thanh's doesn't (maybe because she has dial-up?) And I can't load my pictures on this computer, but I can at her house. So there is a bit of juggling taking place, but I'm grateful for my Blogger Support, my brother.

Thuy's baby is truly Thuy and Thanh's baby; Katherine can attest to the fact that where one sister ends, the other begins. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Huang has not left this neighborhood since he was born - six months ago.

"Here I have help," Thuy tells me. And she does. When she sits at the stand, Thanh is inside feeding, rocking or bathing Huang. And vice versa. At times, their mother takes her turn.

"We're so tired," says Thanh. He requires a lot, this baby. I mean, he hardly ever cries, but he's a lot of work. He has to be hand-rocked to sleep, and he spits all of his food all over himself every time he eats. They are constantly bathing him, changing his clothes, and trying to get him to keep food down.

Thuy's husband comes by after work for at least an hour every day. Last night, when Thanh and I returned from our downtown walk, all three of them were sleeping on the floor.

"When will Thuy take him home to District 7?" I ask Thanh.

She laughs. "Maybe one year. Maybe never! Here she has help."

No daycare provider for this baby.

Yesterday, when it was my turn to hold Huang, Thuy points to him and says, "Maggie. I want him go to America. For school."

And it's understood. If he wants to come, he will come through me. I love this.

So our downtown walk was kind of horrible. Ho Chi Minh City goes all out for any holiday - regardless of the religion. So they are doing New Year's big. LIGHTS EVERYWHERE. And the motorbike army is out in full. I cannot believe I ever rode in this. It's crazy. It took a while for me to get back into crossing the street, too...walk slowly, deliberately, without stopping - like the blind man.

I hate all of the flash. I don't have a reason to leave this neighborhood, really, except for my 48 hr. trip to Nha Trang next week - Thanh is coming with me, and it will be her first time on an airplane...not to mention that it will be perhaps her third vacation ever. They don't talk in terms of days off in this neighborhood. We will visit some beloved former principals of AIS, Fran and Ann. But other than that, I have no agenda, no reason to venture out into the city, except to see former students and a few teacher friends who remain.

Last night I was taking note - I saw almost NO bags around anyone's shoulders, either walking or on bikes. I mention this to Thanh and say, "Why did Nam let his wife carry a bag on the bike?" He was always so strict with me; those who rode with him - Sue, Jessica, Pam, Michelle, Lewis, can all attest to the fact that he stated safety procedures ad nausea. He didn't earn the nickname "Mother" for nothing.

So that is when I learned that I had the story somewhat wrong, which happens to me here all the time. You see, Thuy and Thanh will both say "Yeah" if they aren't really sure. For example, at first I thought she told me that he was hit by a bus.

"Hit by a bus?"


But then it turned into the story I told you yesterday, which I thought was correct. But last night, after expressing confusion over the bag question, Thanh says, "No, his wife was driving. He take them back from the hospital. He sick, and they upstairs. They don't know he need help."

Either way, I got so mad last night, watching the motorbike army, thinking about these cowboys and their drug habits that are so all-consuming. Thanh asked me how I knew Nam - I was well into my driver relationship with him by the time we became friends - so I told her the funny story about how I refused to get on a bike for two weeks, then finally realized that I was actually living here and had to do it, and how I had "interviewed" some really crazy drivers until the day I found him on the street, and how he had driven me so slowly and carefully to school. And then, on the second day, he had recognized my love of food. And that was it.

"Nam was fun," she said. And that pretty much sums it up. He was fun, and funny, and always thoughtful and strict. And he drove me crazy, in a way that entertained me endlessly.

Anyway, back to the good. There is so much. I visited Henry's family last night - the family who lives across from the castle (the castle has had a for-rent sign on it for two the neighbors freely park in front of it. They always did before, too, but now they don't have to move their bikes to let us in. And they can hang their laundry from the gates.) We had such a nice visit.

And now for more good, because I am heading to the market...

"I Will Make You More Beautiful"

I was here just one hour yesterday when Thanh suggested I get my hair washed at the Bum Bum.

"You want massage?" she asked. And then, "Tran?"

Tran is the girl that Katherine and I hired to come to the castle once per week to give us massages in the balcony room. She stopped giving massages at the Bum Bum after our first year.

"Really?" I said, unbelieving. Then she walked me over to Tran's new salon - a tiny place with one massage bed and one chair for other services. She called Tran's name and when she pulled back the curtain, it was like waterworks.

"Marjie!" she said. (She is unique in that she never called me "Maggie.") She cried and hugged me, then repeated the hug a few times.

"Call me tomorrow," she said before returning to her client. So I went to the Bum Bum for a hair wash, and realized that I had forgotten the feel of a freshly peeled frozen cucumber on my face following a facial.

This morning, during my market walk, I ran into Tran and Trin - Katherine's and my favorite hair washer at the Bum Bum. They were having coffee and invited me to sit down. Trin now has her own salon, but it took a year for her to heal after breaking her arm very badly. From what I understood, a roof had fallen on her and she had collapsed, breaking her arm in two.

Both of them had been studying English for the past two years, so our conversation flowed pretty well.

I made an appointment with Tran for 11. After an hour massage, she said, "Marjie, I want to make you more beautiful, do you have time?" Do I have time? What is "time" in this place, anyway? It disappears for me. I nodded a "yes" and for the next hour and a half, she worked on giving me permanent eye lashes. And they are beautiful.

I asked her how much and she said, "100,000."  That's six dollars, for almost three hours of work. "Souvenir," she said, regarding the eyelashes.

Finally, she accepted 300,000 VND, $18 for all of that.

When I left her salon, it was about 2 - almost 24 hours since learning of Nam's death. Even at his mother's side, while watching big tears fall and hit the hard bench which is her bed, I felt so removed. I was just watching someone else's pain. But as I walked back to my hotel, big waves of grief hit me.

Tonight Thanh and I will walk downtown. I will leave my bag and my phone/camera in the hotel. Thanh says the cowboys are worse than ever, and that I can't take my eyes off of my phone for a minute. And that if I carry a bag, it will probably be taken. If Nam's family can be a victim of the cowboys, anyone can. Having been the victim of one once already in my life, I think I can do without more pictures.

Overwhelming Love for This Place

I honestly don't know where to start...I already have a hundred stories to tell. So I will just start with the present moment.

I am sitting in Thuy and Thanh's house next to a table filled with food after enjoying a feast of pork and duck "cooked over fire," rice noodles, cucumbers, greens and the tiniest of satsumas. This food sits on a table with candles lit next to an altar, and Thuy's baby is sleeping in a cradle next to me while I type. Thuy and Thanh are right outside with the fabric. Today commemorates the passing of Thuy and Thanh's mother's grandmother, so when I arrived at the stand this morning, Thanh said, "My mother would like to invite you to eat. In fifteen minutes." That's the amount of time her grandmother and ancestors needed to enjoy the offering.

I usually only eat duck in really nice restaurants, but of course, this duck is cooked perfectly. Is there anything in this country that is not cooked perfectly?

It's like I was here yesterday. Really. Everything is the same. This morning I felt like I walked down the red carpet of Nguyen Canh Chan's alley, paparazzi gesturing at me  - not with cameras, but with warm handshakes and greetings - and many gestures of "two."

"They are saying 'It's been two years," Thanh tells me, since she joins me on the first part of the walk. Garlic Lady hits me and repeatedly makes the "two" sign at me. She is saying something like "It's been two years since I said "hello" to you!"

And, yes, my first meal this morning was rice cakes. Best. Breakfast. Ever. It was quite a reunion with my favorite neighborhood cooks.

After breakfast I went by Candle Lady's house and got a warm greeting from out of the crawl space I wrote about in my vignette published in this month's Sun Magazine - she has no idea that her act of kindness is now known all across America.

I arrived yesterday at 11:30 - Thuy, Thanh, Thanh's baby, Huang, Ms. Hao (Sweet Seamstress) and Ut (her brother, whom we thought was her son for two years) got to the airport at 10:30 to meet my 11:30 flight, but somehow we missed each other. I walked out of the international gate to see hundreds of Vietnamese waiting to greet passengers and expected to see them jumping up and down, but after walking back and forth for an hour, I finally caught a taxi to the hotel. At 2, Thanh finally called the hotel to see if I was there. So after waiting 3 1/2 hours, my loyal welcome crew poured out of the taxi in front of my hotel, with unfulfilled anticipation mixed with loyalty and some very droopy welcome lilies.

While waiting for them to arrive, I sat out in front of the hotel, just breathing in the neighborhood - heat and soup and fire - or a mix of something like that. After sitting for about five minutes, I hear, "Maggie!" I look down the alley to see Mr. Seven, the driver I used to use when Nam wasn't there to take me to school. I walked over to greet him, and he, like everyone else, held up two fingers. Two years. They all want to know if I am working. No, I say, I stay in the hotel.

The night was filled with walking around the neighborhood, greeting old friends.

This next part is hard. But I will tell it to you like Thanh told me.

We walked by Nam's mother's house and I said, "Have you seen Nam?" Because he lives in a different neighborhood and only comes to visit his mother. I couldn't wait to see him and ask him to drive me around.

Thanh stopped, looked at me and held my shoulder.

She paused before saying, "Maggie. Don't cry."

I knew what was coming next, but you know how you wait and hope that it's not what is actually coming.

"Nam die."


"Yes. I sorry. I cry for you when I hear. Motorbike."

"How do you know?" was my first question, because I was thinking that she didn't really know. And suddenly my throat was dry and I felt lightheaded. Jet lag plus shock.

Thanh just gestured to the neighborhood. Of course she knew. The neighborhood - they are family.

So last night I slept fitfully, waking up to so many thoughts of Nam.

This morning, I ask Thanh to visit his family - his sister, mother and Minh - his nephew, with me. We pick up flowers, dragon fruit and mangoes and go to his mother's house. She still lies on the hard bench in the front room - in exactly the same place she was two years ago. His sister comes in and Thanh and she speak for a moment. I can hear Thanh saying "Not Nam?" and hope rises in me - she did make a mistake. But no, she tells me that his name is actually "Dung" - not "Nam." (Later I clarify that "Nam" is his nickname, for the fifth child born.) I hold his mother's hand while she and Nam's sister cry and tell Thanh what happened. Nam was driving with his wife and daughter on the back of the bike when a "cowboy" grabbed his wife's purse. They went down, and both his wife and daughter broke both legs. Nam took them to the hospital, then home. He took them both upstairs, then came down, and during the night, he died while lying on the floor. No one knows exactly why. It happened ten days ago.

My driver - the man who drove me to school and back every day for a year, who introduced me to the best food in Saigon, who brought me gifts for Tet and who drove me crazy and who didn't want me to buy high heels. My good friend.

I can't process it. I went for a walk last night to try to stay awake longer, and kept seeing "him" - xe om drivers dressed in blue driving shirts. They all looked like him.

So I am sad. And happy. And in shock. My heart is racing non-stop.

More than anything, though, right now I feel overwhelming love for this place.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Back to the Sweet and Salty

Here's the recurring nightmare I had for weeks upon my return home two and a half years ago:

I enter my Nguyen Canh Chan neighborhood to discover that it has transformed into an outdoor mall with multiple levels and escalators. Panic sets in: I need to find Thuy and Thanh, but there are no fabric stands. I step onto one of the escalators, frantically searching for something familiar. As I rise to the top, I see a bright, orange-lettered sign that reads "99" - apparently, the price of shoes. They are on sale.

And there the dreams would end.

I think it was the installation of the bright, shiny sushi restaurant on the street next to the market during my last week that caused my worry -
progress that threatened to obliterate my own personal paradise.

For two years, Katherine and I would swing in the hammocks on the Castle roof and say, "We live in the best neighborhood on the planet." And then we would list all of the reasons that made it so (the rice cakes, the market market market, the Bum Bum, the seamstress, the avocado shakes, the prawn fried rice, the alley fried chicken, the squid, our neighbors, the people, people, people...)

We never, ever tired of this conversation. No kidding. Not ever. We still have it on Skype all the time (she is back in Montreal now). One topic will end and one of us will say, "We'll never find another neighborhood like that, ever, in our whole lives." And then the other will commence with The List.

I'm heading back the day after Christmas, and I'm pretty sure that there are no escalators - or shoes on sale for "99"- in my alley grid. Yep, I'm going back. For ten days. It seems unreal. I mean, it seemed unreal to me for two whole years. I never got over the feeling that I should pay a ticket price to enter my neighborhood every day.

So I've been re-living my morning market walks lately, preparing myself to greet the squid man's hesitant smile again, to beat the crushed garlic/pepper lady and the towel lady to say a "hello" first, or to possibly see Nam leaning against his mother's home gate, using his motorbike as legs. Soon I will nod to the eggplant guy and the mango woman before turning the corner to wave to Thuy and Thanh, smelling the broth at the chicken soup couples' stand and hearing the deep fried bananas sizzling next to them - all with the constant background din of the motorbike army just blocks away, mixed with the tones of the Vietnamese language.

I've found a market in Greenwood that is run by Vietnamese family - Lenny's Market. Sometimes I go there and buy vegetables just to hear them speak. The language soothes me, as do the many authentic Vietnamese restaurants I have found in the international district that feel almost like home.

But they can never be home.

Of course, some things will be different.

Thuy has a baby now. He was born last spring, and I can't pronounce his name. She and Dung are getting their own place in District 7. No more four sisters and two parents with whom to share a two-story home.

And Thanh now has a computer and an internet connection at her families' house. We write every couple of weeks. Last spring I sent her all of the media that covered my students' book release (if you don't know about that, we have a website now: ) and - unknown to me - she signed up with the online Edmonds news website. I found out that she had subscribed in the fall, when she sent me a link with my picture and a new story about our book. I didn't even know the story was running.

We send each other pictures, too.

The day after the early November flooding around Seattle, she sent an email asking if my house was flooded.

"Please send pictures," she wrote.

Now her emails end with a countdown. "See you in 27 days," was her sign-off yesterday.

I am spending $1400 to fly across the world to hang out at a fabric stand and to drink tea on a concrete floor with my two friends and "their" new baby. I can't think of a better way to spend money.

Or, I could say, I am spending $1400 to fly across the world to eat sixty cent rice cakes. I can't think of a better way to spend money.

Here is a current, constant discussion taking place in my mind: Of course I will eat the rice cakes first, but what will be second? The steamed rolls filled with mushrooms and pork and topped with fried bread and nuoc cham made by the woman who ignores me? Or the deep fried eggrolls, made by the woman who talks to me as if I can understand every word she says? Or the sticky rice filled with mung beans and topped with both salt and sugar? Surprisingly, that is my niece, Megan's, favorite food memory (next to the pomelo and the wonton soup cart).

What about at night? The alley fried chicken and rice? Or the squid five ways? It will probably be the squid. Unless the crispy ravioli woman is back in business on the side of the new highway. Thanh told me she shut it down...

Yes, my neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City, the place I love more than any place in the world (other than home), is still there. I will step back into it and time will slow. I will sit on a small, red plastic chair on the morning of December 28th and order rice cakes from two laughing women. I will read a book while they take extra time to remove the shrimp shells, and the soy milk woman will prepare my drink with a third of the sugar that the locals take. They'll remember.

And, I'm pretty sure I will feel the same as I did when I sent Katherine a text from that same chair over two years ago stating: "This is the place I feel most happy in life."