Thursday, August 25, 2011

You don't always get what you want......

but you might need it .....sometime.

Tonight after dinner, the kids and I walked next door to Co-op Mart. I know what you are thinking. "Wow! A co-op right next door, how lucky is that?!" I know that you are thinking it because that's what I was thinking/hoping beyond hope for. But, no. Co-op Mart, the Reality, is a cross between Dollar Tree and Grocery Outlet. But 80 times busier. Skinnier aisles.  TV's hang from the ceiling about every 5 aisles, blaring (really, BLARING) advertising jingles. And everything is either in Vietnamese or Korean.

So there we were. On the search for glue for Asher's school project. Due tomorrow. Requiring glue. Or tape. Or at least something sticky.

After walking the aisles numerous times, we went to the checker.

Me: "Do you have glue?"

Her: leans forward, swanky haircut inclined in a listening position, eyebrows poised in the "Hm?" position.

Me: "Glue?", pantomiming spreading motions on my palm with one hand and then sticking them together with exaggerated expressions of great satisfaction when, in fact, I cannot get my hands to part.

Her: one finger up, puts out the closed sign at her register and departs.

Me: Smiles sheepishly, lifting one shoulder at the Korean woman next to me who huffs in disgust, grabs her basket and moves off in search of another checker.

Her: returns with a small slip of paper, which she thrusts at me. Pulls the pen out from behind her ear and inspects fingernails.

Me: writes g-l-u-e on the paper and hands it back with a quizzical wrinkle in the middle of my forehead.

Her: Intently studying. Holds out one hand. Chases off the person who is trying to get in line despite the closed sign. "You. Wait."

Elia: "Where is she going?"

Me: (confidently) "She's going to get help."

Her: Walks to the next checker, holds out the paper. Shake of head. Proceeds to the next checker and, in her increasing desperation, we see her begin to accost the customers as well with my slip of paper. She disappears into the crowd.

Me: Turn to kids, smiling feebly.

Her: Returns. Chases off customer by defiantly pointing out the close sign. Says something to me in Vietnamese.

Me: Shrugs with an "sorry, I'm an idiot" look.

Her: Sighs audibly, holds out one hand. "You. Wait."

Me: Watch her head toward the Customer Service desk. Smile feebly at the children. "Maybe yogurt?"

Asher: Straightens up in excitement. "Do you think that will work?"

Me: "No."

(All sink into a slouch until Checker enters station. Then stand straight with expectant smiles on our faces.)

Her: Says something in Vietnamese.

Us: Expectant smiles fade to confusion. Out of our periphery, a Manager appears.

Manager: "How I help, Madame." (in very good English)

Me: "Do you have glue?"

Him: blank look.

Me: "Glue?" I grab a Frequent Shopper application from the rack and make a big show of folding the paper, spreading my glue, sticking the two sides together. Once they are clearly stuck, I do it again. "Glue", I say proudly.

Him: "Ahhh." Goes briskly off to the customer service desk.

Me: Smile apologetically at the Checker.

Her: Smiles in a "whatever" way and inspects fingernails.

Manager: Returns with Frequent Shopper brochure, which he efficiently hands me, pointing out a few of the finer details. Presses the brochure into my hands, "OK?" he says.

Me: "Da, Ok", tucking the brochure under my arm.

Checker: rolls her eyes in disgust and gives me an inquiring look.

Me: waving my hand, "Ok, ok" I say, waving my hand in the air.

In the elevator back at our complex, I burst into laughter.

Asher and Elia: "What's so funny?"

I have just realized that the folded brochure is the exact size of my well glued Frequent Shopper application. And, it is written entirely in Vietnamese.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Scenes from Shopping in Vietnam

EscaRamp at LotteMart -
think Target on steroids
When we came to Vietnam, we brought only luggage with us. Our personal allowances of 2 checked bags and 2 carry-on bags each. In addition, we paid the excess baggage fee for 2 bags and sent 2 bags with teachers who were in Seattle for the summer. Once it all arrived, we had 20 bags worth of "stuff". Some of it, laughably, has been re-packed and sits in our store room, which we thankfully have in our apartment. Some stuff we bravely left at home, we really wish we would have brought.

Here are some of the "funnier" ones. We brought (2) full sets of sheets from all our home beds. At home in Oregon we have two twin beds and a queen. So we arrived in Vietnam with (4) sets of twin sheets and (2) sets of Queen, PLUS (due to a certain adult females peccadillo about sharing mattresses with strangers) a queen size, pillow top mattress cover.

Our apartment in Vietnam has (2) queen beds and (1) king bed. The equivalent of (1) suitcase wasted.

Choosing baked goods
We all brought long-sleeve shirts and our lightest weight rain coats. Truly, I cannot even imagine wearing them except for perhaps when, at some point in the future, we might throw an Oregon party and turn the air conditioner up REALLY high for atmospheric effect.

I brought a small selection of yarn, but left all my knitting needles at home. I left all my needle felting supplies at home and wish I had brought them - it would be fun to offer an after school class and, frankly, there are days when it would just be nice to be stabbing something.

Discovering new foods - Rambutan
Asher left all his legos. We are all regretting that decision. There are true legos here, if you have a spare $600.00. Asher has found a couple lego-like sets in a stationery store around the corner from the school that say something else on the box, although Asher swears they are TRUE legos. It is all about the shape, he says and not the box label. At the price of $600.00, hey, I say run with that! He has, unfortunately, bought them all out already.

Ben Thanh Market
All of us are missing books. My Kindle kept me going for awhile, but now that it is broken, I'm a little cranky at bed time. I have to wait for Asher to fall asleep before I can crawl into his bedroom and ease his book of his night table. He always catches me in the morning. Either I leave my bookmark in or he wakes up and (gasp!!) finds his book has gone missing. "Book Trolls", I tell him.

All this means that we have spent a lot of our initial time in Ho Chi Minh City shopping. Here's some scenes from some big and not-so-big markets of things we've found to buy in Vietnam.
Come for a drink?
Snake & Scorpion preserved in alcohol.
Drink it down "like a man"!
Inside Ben Thanh 

Vital skills for navigating the market:
I can't hear you,
I can't see you,
I can't talk to you.
Or perhaps preserved fawn is more to your taste?

Things are bigger here

With heat and humidity comes rapid growth. We have all been amazed at the differences we have seen in the local flora and fauna.

Garden snail on sidewalk

Imagine that guy eating your Oregon greens! On the other hand, the pollinators are also large. Here is a bee that we found (dead) on our balcony.

Dead Bee - toes for sizing purposes
And the cockroaches! Yikesa. Thankfully, we have not yet seen one of these inside our apartment. 

Dead Cockroach - toes for sizing purposes

Saturday, August 13, 2011

water in the desert

And the management company said, "Let there be water."  And the water ran from the faucets and spigots.  It ran across the backs of those that had been unwashed, and they were purified.  And also their children.  It flowed in all fixtures, and the unspeakable waste was vanquished from the land.  The water came in two forms, both hot and cold, and it washed the defiled plates and bowls which had sat for many weeks without washing.  And also the chopsticks.  The water flowed, and there was much rejoicing throughout the land.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving - Vietnamese Style

Although our water is not yet back on, we have decided to move back into our apartment. We are all falling apart from living in two places, not having all we need, and trying to get ourselves organized and situated for the new school year. Elia has been crying herself to sleep the past two days, "I want to go Home."

And we met with our landlord the other day. He won't even talk about giving our deposits back until our Realtor is sitting at the table with us. She is away. In England. For 3 more weeks. We haven't given it enough time he says. He doesn't know if the realtor will give him back his fee, he says. Talking to her on the phone won't be acceptable, he says.


It's his way of putting us off, of course. The realtor will give him his money back. She'd have to be crazy not to. She has done a lot of business with SSIS in the past and, I'm sure, wants to continue that relationship. We know that. He knows that.

So today when Andrew and the kids were at school, I moved us back from the hotel - Vietnamese style. Here's what I had on my back or on my bike.

Have I mentioned that I LOVE my bike?! It's very funny to think about the status of vehicles here. Cars are very expensive - 30% or more than the same car would be to purchase in America. Consequently, there are very few cars that are privately owned. Expats may work for companies that provide a car and driver and wealthy Vietnamese might own a car. Everyone else, except for the very poor are on motorbikes. And EVERYTHING is moved about the city by motorbike. We have seen multiple, large sheets of glass, desks, big screen tv's and much more being delicately balanced on the seat by a passenger.

What do local people think of us expat's happily gliding around the city on our bikes? Do they feel sorry for us? Of course I think I should get respect hauling my big load across town. I certainly get a lot of stares and some smiles. They might be thinking "Crazy white girl - moving here where she doesn't belong, taking our money AND too cheap to hire help."  

So here we are in our apartment. No running water, no refrigerator, but maybe we can start to feel a little more at home.

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Bike

Last week, one of the new Teacher Orientation activities was to go bike shopping. The school took us in the bus with the school driver. Turns out that our family was the only new family that went. And I was the only lucky purchaser that day!

My bike team

 I love my new bike. It is one speed and simple. It's my favorite color green, it has a padded seat for passengers and a wire basket, and it came with a free rain poncho. Traffic here is a bit crazy. There are very few lights, and nobody obeys them anyway. My days of urban riding in Portland will really pay off. The only way to get respect around here whether you are on foot or bike is to plow in and take up space.

The Guard
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is a funny experience. Nearly every place has a guard. Mostly you see the guard doing what the bike shop guard is doing in this picture - standing back, observing, giving unsolicited advice, and every now and then emitting a disgusted grunt before snatching the screwdriver away and doing it themselves. Compared to American employment standards, we commonly see three employees to every one you would expect doing the same job in America. It's good for employment, but can be daunting if you're a customer. The other day I went to look at sheets - I entered the store and was immediately approached and intimately followed around the store by three teenage sales people. I couldn't look at something without one of them grabbing it and ripping it out of its package for my closer inspection. It was so overwhelming and I felt so bad about the mess that I left without buying anything. 

It wasn't until bike shopping that I realized this is just how its done here - TIV.

Drip, drip, drip

I wish I could say that is the sound of our water running in our house. But, no. It is the sound of my sweat dripping. I have never thought of myself as having much cleavage, but in this humid climate, I appear to be well endowed - at least the sweat thinks so. I find myself wanting to stop Vietnamese women on the street and ask them what they are wearing under their shirts. I'm not sure, but I don't think this falls in the category of culturally appropriate conversation.

Clean Laundry - by Elia
We have been promised, "by three independent sources" as Andrew likes to say, that the water will be back on in our apartment by tonight. Though I have been here since 1:00 pm and jumping up every 30 minutes or so to alternately peek out the window (where I might expect to see water workers) or to try the tap, there is nothing. HA, I say. "TIV" (for This Is Vietnam) say the teachers at Andrew's school.

Since I last wrote, our refrigerator has also stopped working, discovered by arriving home from the hotel on Saturday to the overwhelming stench of rotten food. On the bright side, the cabbage was well on its way to sauerkraut and the milk miraculously was cheese. The kids' nintendo and my Kindle have also acquired some mysterious malady - neither working and for no immediately discernible reason. And our renters back home are having difficulty making their first rent payment.

We are working very hard, and harder every day, to not see this as some great sign from the Universe that we are supposed to be someplace else.