Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There's a dog on our doorstep

This morning, Andrew woke me up.

"There's a dog on our doorstep", he says.

I wave my hand blearily, thinking I am still dreaming. I mean, did you read yesterday's post?!

Sure enough, there was a dog on our doorstep. A small, mostly white, cutest brown spots, warm brown eyes, dog with puppy teeth. And a collar. Must be somebody's, right? There was a HUGE thunder and lightening storm yesterday in the late afternoon. I'm thinking it got scared and slipped it's fence. Our lobby doors are always open and the stairwell is open so it must have just dashed in and kept climbing until there was no place left to go. Andrew found it when he went out to run stairs.

The poor thing was definitely skittish and a little trembly. He seemed to be favoring one of his back legs a little. I put out some water and cleaned up its poop. I tried to herd it down the stairs, he let me get him down to the 6th floor before he dashed past me back up to our floor (we live on the 8th). I tried to go first and call him down, no go. After every unsuccessful attempt, he would curl up in the corner between our door and the wall. So cute, really.

I would go inside and get ready for the day, but peek back out at him. By the time the kids were up, he was coming toward me when I called. I put out some water for him.

By the time I took the kids to school, he was letting me pet him and we almost got him in the elevator.

When I came back from school, he was curled up on our door mat. Awwwww.

Then I had a couple of phone calls. I checked on him once in the middle and he had ripped into his poop bag and had one of my shoes off our shoe rack - whoops. When I just went out to try and leash him up (with our clothesline) to take him for a walk, he was gone. I walked down all 8 flights of stairs and looked around the courtyard, no sign. When I barked at the Security Guard (communication, remember?), he waved an arm broadly.

I hope that means he has been found by those who lost him. I'm going to try and believe that. I kinda miss him....

Just when I thought....

The other day, I saw two big and hairy Huskies being walked down the street. I have been missing our dogs so much, I had a pang of "ugh (sock-in-the-gut feeling), WHY didn't we bring them?"

And then this: http://www.wordhcmc.com/news-latest/item/1829-thailand-rescued-120-dogs-bound-for-restaurants in the local equivalent of Willamette Week  (for you Oregonians).

We have also heard stories of dogs belonging to foreigners being stolen and ransomed. Once we were riding our bikes to school and we saw a Cocker Spaniel running loose. It was being chased by two men on a motorbike and only just managed to escape being flattened by a taxi. At the time, I thought the men were trying to collect their pet, but I wonder. Meanwhile, around the corner from our apartment, there is a pet shop selling fluffy, small dogs for 12 million vietnamese dong and up. The highest price I've seen is 20 million. This equates to a price between $600 and $1000 US dollars.

Most of the dogs we see that appear to be pets are small and easily transportable - think chihuahua, Llahsa Apso, Bichon Frisee, and other such breeds. And we do see a lot of dogs - in all parts of the city. Certainly on the ends of fancy leashes with collars heavy with Bling, but also at just about every hole in the wall establishment - regardless of how well appointed it seems to be. Of course, I have assumed that all these dogs are pets. For the most part, they do not appear to be mistreated and they seem well-behaved. But are they just waiting to be somebody's dinner? The thought makes me even more glad that I am staunchly vegetarian. But my husband and children eat meat. How would we know if they were being served dog? What does dog taste like? Is the penchant here towards small dogs a result of the fact that they don't have much meat on their bones or some other, less sinister, reason?

Having parted with all of our pets to make this move, we (especially Andrew) are not anxious to bring a pet into our home. And yet we miss the companionship of animals. This may be the first time in my entire life that I have not had some sort of animal companion. It certainly is for my children. I am tempted nearly every day. Lately, there is a young kitten with three legs hanging out in our courtyard. He is small and flea-ridden, but oh-so-cute. Ginger-colored with hazel eyes and an endearing sidewalk rub when I talk to him. Luckily (though I'm not sure whether it is more lucky for me or for Andrew), he appears to be getting fed and the missing leg is obviously healing from a neat surgery. Someone is looking out for him (her?).

It might be true that we will welcome a pet to our home while we are overseas. If we do, one thing is certain. It will be small enough to join us for the travel home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Communication is everything.

On the days when I do not receive a call to substitute, my days are filled with errands and Chores. Chores gets a capital letter because, when you can't communicate, the doing of chores rises to a whole other level. A couple of days ago, I had my first "bitter" day. This is the first time I have felt while here that internal "everyone is out to get me" feeling that I do hear from some other expatriates.

The day started out fine. Then the washing machine broke. It really has never worked quite right since we moved in. The repairperson has been out a few times, but we have never understood exactly what is wrong. Because we don't speak Vietnamese and, so far, the repairpeople don't speak English. So we are trying to pantomime at what point the washer seems to be breaking down. What's needed is a computer like most cars have now. The repairperson could come in, hook up the computer, "read" the problem and fix it. All I would need to do is answer the door. But in the absence of that, I am trying to think up how to show physically that the washer fills with water, starts to agitate, stops before finishing the wash cycle, resets to 45 minutes, starts beeping and then drips out the bottom until all the water is gone. It's complicated. Can you do it? Sure you can. Go on, give it a try.

But now we have a household helper. A Vietnamese woman who works for another teacher is coming in to clean for us 3 mornings a week for a couple hours. But she doesn't have English and I still don't have Vietnamese so, really, the problem is still the same. Except that I decide to try to call the landlord myself. Usually Andrew does it. So I go to our file and pull out our rental agreement. We have a copy in English, but for some reason, I can only find the copy that is in Vietnamese. I take it to Ms. Hoang and try to get her to tell me who I should call. She reads the contract (now I am realizing that I do not know if she can read. Vietnam has a very high literacy rate (reported at 90 - 93%) so it is not too gross of an assumption), dials her phone and hands it to me. While my brain is saying, "Wait - I thought YOU would call", a man answers the phone against a very busy, industrial, noisy backdrop.

I think I confirm that it is Mr. Le, our landlord. His English is not sounding as good as it usually is, but it is noisy and he does not like to talk to me. In person, if I ask him a question, his face looks as though he has just taken a big bite of moldy bread while his gaze drifts as far away from my face as possible. Then there is a deliberate pause before Andrew re-phrases whatever it is that I just said, which then, miraculously, is understood and answered. If this were the dark ages, I am quite certain that he would determine that I have "hysteria". Just because I speak.

But, back to the phone call. After many long pauses, I ask if Vietnamese would be better. Whoever I am talking to I think says yes so I find Ms. Hoang and thrust her phone back at her. A rapid conversation in Vietnamese ensues after which she informs me via pantomime that someone is coming. I am already so exhausted that I can't think to ask when and I leave the apartment hoping that it is while she is still there.

I head into town to do some shopping. I need a watch on the days that I am subbing, I have a gift certificate for a British department store that is supposed to have some higher quality items (last time I tried to go, they were moving and not yet open in their new location) - I am really hoping for some sheets, and there is a grocery store that other teachers keep raving about that supposedly has good prices on US brand foods.

I did not go out with the proper spirit of adventure.

I came back wishing I had never gone out at all. I paid way too much for a watch just so I could pay a fixed price and not have to bargain. The British department store was super expensive ($50 usd) for a t-shirt and I never did find housegoods. The glitzy shopping center was having a promotion for 100,000 vnd vouchers for every 1 million vnd spent and I earned two of them with my watch, but then had to wait in line to receive them. As I am waiting for them, I'm wondering why, on earth, because I could leave and never enter this shopping center again and be really quite happy. And, I have not spent my department store certificate.

The grocery store had no lights and super narrow aisles. Prices were no better than the stores within walking distance of our apartment and the items were not what I would buy anyway. They did have Froot Loops. And I got to be escorted around the shop by a woman holding a flashlight so I had any chance of seeing what was on the shelves.  If I want Froot Loops and Pringles - that is indeed the place to go. Only proving that what I see in my head when someone says "Western" food and what other people see are very different. To be fair, I did get Maple Syrup and I found quite an impressive stash of Indian foods that will be worth going back for if I can't find anything closer. I do so want to learn how to cook Indian foods.

I grab the nearest taxi and head home where I promptly put an email out to SSIS staff offering my gift certificates to the first responder. Something good might as well come out of this day.

There is a knock on the door and a guy with a tool box comes in. Ah-ha, I think, the washing machine repairperson. He's wearing a uniform-type shirt, has a tool box, nods when I ask him if he's here for the washer and so I lead him off. He looks and starts to take things apart. I go back to work on the computer. He emerges after a bit with a part and says we need a new one, it will be 320,000 vnd, is that ok? Just before coming to me, I heard him speaking in Vietnamese with someone, who I assume is Mr. Le, the landlord. That is usually how it goes. At first a woman came along and supervised the workers when we called Mr. Le for a repair. Then sometimes Mr. Le himself would come, but there have been a few times when just the repairperson has come. So, I shrug and make some joke about how it's ok with me if it's ok with Mr. Le. He looks quizzical, but I just assume it is a language thing. He leaves and indicates he'll be back with the part. It's close to the time for me to go collect the kids so I ask when. Somehow, we make it clear that I have to go out at 3:00 and he'll have to come back after that.

When I leave to run and get the kids, he is downstairs chatting and laughing with the guard. I feel terrible, making him sit around and bike like crazy down to school, get Elia situated with her Girl's Club group and then turn around and bike like crazy back home. Somewhere during the bike ride, something starts to tickle my brain about how he asked me if the cost was going to be ok and I start to wonder just who this guy is. I am a little on edge due to some incidents that have been talked about at school in the last few weeks. A teacher couple had their house broke into while they were upstairs asleep, a friend had someone fly by on a motorbike and try to grab her purse, and there have been a couple of incidents of an attempted abduction of an International School student in another District.

Meanwhile, our security, both at school and at our apartment has recently changed. At school, it is all explained, but at home, we have no idea why. We just know that the guy we have come to know and feel comfortable with is suddenly gone and this new guy is on the scene - a little brasher, and much less helpful. We have received notice that our maid must register with the new security and have an ID card issued. Why do I feel less safe?

All this is in my head as I get back to the apartment to find the repair guy yakking it up with the Security Guard. He follows me up in the elevator and goes to work. While he is on the back porch, I surreptitiously move my purse and put some money in my skirt pocket - the 320,000 vnd he mentioned earlier, plus just a little extra. He finishes, appears to have replaced the part he said needed to be replaced and tests the machine.  I say my thanks and usher him to the door, barely able to wait until I can shut and lock the door behind him, when he turns to me and asks who will pay. I make some remark about Mr. Le?? The landlord?? He looks at me somewhat apologetically. I ask him if he has an invoice? No.

It hits me in the gut. I REALLY have no idea who this guy is. He is not from Mr. Le. I ask how much. He says 320,000vnd. I quickly get the money out of my skirt pocket, pull out an extra 50,000 vnd and tell him it is for all the time he had to wait. He makes some remark about how maybe I can get the landlord to pay me back. No, I say, probably not without an invoice, thank you, thank you, bye-bye, shut, LOCK. Phew.

The washing machine is not fixed.

I freak.

In telling Andrew about the day later, I feel so grateful that it was fairly benign. I mean, really, I don't even have enough ability to communicate to know if I have been taken advantage of. All I really know is that I am out 370,000 (about $17 usd) and that the washing machine is not fixed. At my worst moment, I am thinking it is all a plot in which Ms. Hoang is involved. Andrew, of course, feels awful because I asked him days ago to contact Mr. Le about the washing machine.  We have to keep coming back to the fact that Ms. Hoang has worked for this other teacher for 6 years now and came with a very high recommendation. We'll try to do some talking through interpreters about who she called and where he came from.

Andrew texted Mr. Le and "someone" is coming.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rosh Hashanah, Part 2..... FINALLY

So there we were, in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, Asher doing his broken body routine and Elia screaming her head off. The lovely, older couples sitting across from us get up and move off (heavens knows why?!). A man comes in, spies Elia's kippah, takes two steps toward us and starts spouting Hebrew. Which none of us speaks. I stand, trying to unpeel Elia from behind my back and start giving him directions in English to where the room is (and now that I have been to services on Kol Nidre, I know that this man is the Cantor and, therefore, most probably, was not needing me to direct him toward the room).

He says, rather brusquely, "Oh. You don't speak Hebrew." Then turns on his heel and moves off. I'm thinking we can still make it out the door when a youngish woman and her husband, obviously Orthodox come in the door with their children. She is smartly dressed in a white dress (barely below the knee) and the highest black heels I have seen since the 1980's. She is sporting a mane of big, fluffy, long black hair. She is DRESSED. She rattles off some Hebrew in my direction. I'm still trying to unpeel Elia so that I might be ale to stand straight and I must be looking at her with a combination of great relief - here is another woman showing some leg, AND she has two young boys with her, and a look of extreme consternation.

"Oh", (rather brusquely), "You don't speak Hebrew" she states sadly.

"No", I say. "I'm sorry."

"You're from America?"


"It's ok", smiling wistfully, "You Americans. None of you speak Hebrew."

I smile and nod, my instinct to be offended, but really, how can I be? I have no one to offer to prove otherwise. We talk a little more and ascertain that they have met Andrew.

The whole while we are exchanging pleasantries, the husband, all in black, round Orthodox hat, white tallit peeking out from beneath his jacket, is standing six steps back. I can tell he is listening and his body movement is engaged in a forward manner, but his feet are anchored. Their two young sons, dressed in exact miniature of their father, are running excitedly around the room. I am trying to introduce Asher and Elia and myself as a Vietnamese nanny comes in the door, pushing a stroller. The woman turns and says, "This is our youngest."

And this is when it hits me. THIS is the Rabbi and his wife. There will be no sneaking out.

And so it goes. I successfully anchor my arm to my side, going against all natural instincts to reach out to the Rabbi for a handshake. Too late, I have already done so with the Rabbi's wife. We follow them into the room, where it is now us, the Rabbi and his wife, and the Cantor. Elia tries to engage the little boys in play, but they are laughing at the fact that she is wearing a kippah. I try not to clutch the Vietnamese nanny's arm too hard and have a little internal, ironic laughter about the fact that I am more sure of a warm reception from her than from the current population of Jews in the room. Asher sits down and promptly devours the apples, honey and small plate of "appetizers" - later to be ritually blessed by everyone else in the room as directed by the Rabbi.

At candle lighting time, Asher insists on lighting a candle and then promptly unintentionally throws the matchstick across the table as he is trying to shake out the flame. Neither I nor Elia cover our heads when we light candles.

More people come in and suddenly the room is full and the evening begins. Just as the Rabbi is about to open with the blessings on the meal, there is a loud WHOOSH and smoke and flames erupt in the back room from whence the food has been coming. The Rabbi runs back, things calm, there is a little relieved laughter from all of us and off we go once more. Except for the individually sized, round challah, there is nothing that anyone in my family will eat. We do meet two young women who are here for a couple of months as part of a college program and have some interesting conversation with them. After the blessings ("whoops", says Asher, I think a little proudly), even more people join us.

Note to self: Ah-ha. The non-religious Jews show up after. And no one seems to mind.

The After group includes an older Vietnamese woman who sits across from us with two of her relatives. She seamlessly speaks to them in rapid Vietnamese, switches to English to address us and the college girls, and, to all of our astonishment, turns and addresses the Rabbi in fluent Hebrew. After talking with her more, she is here to check on her businesses (real estate). She met her husband, an Israeli, in Vietnam, converted to Judaism, and they have been living in Israel for the past 8 years.

These stories should not surprise me anymore, but they do. The range of people who are here and where they come from and the languages they acquire along the way boggle my mind. I have a new friend who is originally from Honduras. She has lived in Honduras, Europe, America, and now Vietnam. Her English is better than my Spanish and now she is taking Vietnamese. There is a 3-year old at school (Father is from Cuba, Mother from Vietnam), she speaks Spanish, Vietnamese, and now is learning English, quite well, I might add, at school. We have no excuses! Family language lessons are in our very near future. I am thinking Vietnamese and Hebrew.....