Friday we woke up and did some internet stuff. I was catching up on a lot of Internet in the morning. Tien got me a breakfast sandwich and made me a banana and strawberry smoothie. What a lucky guy I am, my fiance bringing me food at my computer!
Tien found the information we needed about how to get me a drivers license in Vietnam and it was incredibly simple. We headed to Long Xuyen to get the things we needed in order to apply for it: a photograph of 20x23mm and a notarized translation of my CA driver’s license. We also cruised around to look for a DC power adapter since I forgot the one that goes with the WRT54G that I brought from America. We found one near a park, and after buying it I decided to go take some photos in the park. I was looking for high places to photograph down from in order to make the miniature perspective of the tilt/shift work, so we also headed up to the Panda Cafe on the 6th floor of a building overlooking a main intersection and had some drinks and took some more photos from there. We then cruised down to a local market area, past a block full of flower vendors that smelled a lot like San Jose smells in the spring. I told Tien about this as we were passing through. We picked up some stuff for Thu and headed home to spend the evening hanging out with her family. I tried to hook up the WRT54G and found that the power adapter did not work.
Saturday morning we woke up and headed straight to the translation service and then to the police station. It was a day for people to drop things. While we were riding along I saw three people drop things off of their motorbikes. I’ve also noticed that school is in session now because the streets are full of uniformed students. The girls look beautiful in their all-white traditional clothes, and the boys have a classic schoolboy look in their blue pants, white shirts and red ties. Most of them ride bicycles to school, some hitching rides with others or on motorbikes.
When we got to the police station they informed us that they couldn’t give me a driver’s license unless my visa was good for at least 3 more months. This was mildly disappointing and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a subtle attempt at extortion. I didn’t care enough to find out so we left and went to have brunch at a cafe where we often used to go to surf the net. The food was OK and the drinks were great. We talked about our plans to travel to Nha Trang and possibly to Thailand, what else we would do while I was here, and about whether or not I would return to the USA on Nov 25th, which I think is likely.
We went and swapped the power adapter for one that we thought should work even though it was slightly underpowered, cruised the 20 minutes home from Long Xuyen and found that it did not work. I really didn’t think it would be so hard to find a 12v 500mA DC adapter, but surprise surprise, Vietnam is full of surprises.
That evening we went out in the neighborhood for a walk. We stopped at a little cafe where some locals were watching a ridiculous television show. We ate ice cream and mosquitoes ate me. My ice cream was one of those triple flavors, chocolate, mint and durian. That was interesting… it’s the first time I’ve had durian since I knew it was the “stinky fruit.” It definitely has a very, very odd and distinct flavor and scent.
Tien and I ate dinner on the floor with her mom and sister that evening. I was a little melancholy and I think this made them slightly uncomfortable, but it’s not like we could talk about it. The side-effects of not being able to speak to anybody except Tien were beginning to get to me.
Aside from nonverbal communication, another thing that was getting to me was a pain I’d had in my ankle. Ever since I got off the plane in Tokyo I had a pretty significant pain in my left ankle. I thought it might be a pulled muscle or a bruise on my ankle, but the more I had thought about it the more I thought it might be something with my ligaments. It is a pain stretching from the middle of my shin on the inside, down to the top part of my ankle joint, and also is affected by the arch of my foot. Tien gave me a massage and rubbed some Ben Gay™ that her brother in law had brought from america and that made it feel much better, though not healed.
Sunday morning I woke up at 7:15, which is early for me. While Tien and I were at the market having breakfast I saw a shirt that said “Do u know now much plannet u mean to me” and thought that was pretty funny. We talked a bit about where we wanted to go on a trip, and afterwards we headed to Long Xuyen to find yet another power adapter.
After visiting about 10 stores we finally tracked down a 498mA power adapter and decided to buy it even though the man at the shop said it was not very good quality. We took a back road to get back to the main road which I always enjoy because I like seeing new areas. The road took us by the river and on the way we found a crowd of people standing at the waters edge. They weren’t celebrating, but they weren’t frantic either. Tien listened to what they were saying and told me that a child had fallen into the river.
A man away from the crowd began to shout, but nobody payed attention. I thought this was interesting because it seems that Vietnamese people shout a lot. This ended up being one of those “never cry wolf” situations because he was trying to tell them he saw something in the water. A few more people also began shouting and soon a teenage boy ran over and jumped in the water to look for the child there. Several people swam along the shore, which dropped off very steeply, and were diving under looking for the child. We stayed a while but the child was never found…
I had talked to Tien before about how children here are not taught to swim which leads to many of them drowning, and here was a real life example of such a tragedy. I feel stupid and ashamed that I never thought about the fact that the children in Tien’s family can’t swim and it wasn’t until a few days later that one of her other family members suggested that they be put in swimming lessons. Tien couldn’t swim when I met her, and I wondered if anybody else in her family could.
When we got home I tried the power adapter on the wireless router and it was too unstable and thus did not work. I decided to give up on the whole thing, I’ll just mail the power adapter once I get back to the USA.
That night I opened a bottle of Da Lat red and had wine with dinner. It was the first wine I’d had since leaving California and it was delicious and familiar. It felt good to have a familiar taste that is heavily bound to California. That night I slept deeply.
Tien and I had planned to go to Nha Trang on Monday, a beach resort town up towards Danang, but that morning Tien said we weren’t going to go. She had a sore on her mouth and did not want to travel far until it was healed. I wasn’t sure if this was for medical or aesthetic reasons, though I suspected both and agreed.
At breakfast I was trying to teach Ngoc some english words and realized that she had a very difficult time saying words that begin with the letter S. I asked Tien about it and she said there are very few words in Vietnamese that begin with that letter. I thought about phonetics exercises and games that we could do to train her mouth to say english words.
Instead of going to Nha Trang we talked about going back to Mt. Cam where we could hike up the mountain and swim in the pools of the stream that go down from the lake on top of the mountain. We made tentative plans to do this the next day. We also made tentative plans to teach Ngoc and Nhi how to swim in the pool in Long Xuyen.
We had lunch and I wondered about why there were no tuk tuk’s in Vietnam. Tien said that her dad and brother both used to be tuk tuk drivers, but a while back the police said that people weren’t allowed to have them anymore. She couldn’t explain the detailed reasons why, but said that one of the reasons was because there were too many motorbikes. I suspected that the tuk tuks were causing accidents or clogged traffic. I found it hard to believe that anything was limited on the streets of Vietnam, it seems like you can ride whatever you can build on the street.
That afternoon was very uneventful and empty, and the boredom of Binh Hoa began to set in. We were going nowhere and I couldn’t talk to anybody except Tien. I was sitting idle and feeling like I was wasting away. Tien and her sisters decided that evening that we would go to a Catholic All Saints Day festival that was going on up the highway. I wasn’t in much of a mood to go by this point, but it was better than sitting at home and I was up for anything at that point.
The crowd was huge. People were filling up the little two lane highway and vendors came to sell flashy lights, stuffed animals, foods, all sorts of trinkets and just about anything. There were hundreds of people walking along the highway buying things, chatting, riding bikes, talking on cell phones, etc.. Some were going to the graveyard to burn incense and light candles for their loved ones. Very few were going to church to pray.
I felt very uncomfortable in that crowd. It was like being so famous that every single person in the crowd knew me, but I wasn’t famous for necessarily good reasons. And it was like I had a sign around my neck that said “please say hello.” Hundreds of eyes watched me as I did absolutely nothing interesting. People laughed and joked while watching me. Dozens of people shouted “hello” and dozens more said things that I couldn’t understand. If I had been in a better mood I think it might have been OK, but with my frustrations from being so idle I wasn’t really in a good mood for it.
Instead I just tried to take photos of stuff, but was uninspired. The night was also very dark and it was hard to get a clear picture. We went to the church and I took some photographs of that, lamenting that I had no tripod. I resolved to buy one or make one.
The incense at the church smelled wonderful on the air and there was a full moon.
That night I talked briefly with Tien about how I was frustrated with the inability to communicate and the fact that we weren’t finding anything to do except be lazy at home. We decided to go ahead and go to Nha Trang.