Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Vietnamese Moment: Napping

I'm sitting at a restaurant with co-workers and representatives of the local government. After one woman, a manager in the the Vietnamese army, explains how romantic her husband was in asking her to marry him (these stories are much too common), I somehow mention how tired I am. I say this in Vietnamese, which of course elicits laughter from everyone at the table. It was Saturday, about 35 degrees in the Mekong Delta, and I woken up at 5am that morning.

After lunch and the many questions regarding the reasons I was not yet married, she invited all of us to her home.

I suppose she had seen that I was, in fact, quite tired because upon entering her house she pointed to a hammock set up in the middle of her kitchen. I had about an hour to kill before the next workshop and she insisted that I sleep there until then.

So there I was, rocking slightly back and forth in my dark pin-striped slacks and button-up shirt tucked in, curled up in the fetal position in a complete strangers kitchen in the Mekong Delta.

Her mother would come into the kitchen every now and then and tidy up or perform some other domestic chore. She was not paying much attention to the napping white boy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Asian Realisation #1 - I am Handsome

Dislaimer: This is an old photo, and I am slightly more handsome than portrayed in this candid shot

It didn't take me too long in this country to realise that people find me handsome. The first day in the office sitting around a table full of Vietnamese women (95% of the staff were female) all blushing telling me they didn't realise I would be so handsome kind of tipped me off. Many times when I visit a store, storekeepers tell me how handsome I am or call me dep trai - handsome in Vietnamese. It makes me feel awkward and sometimes I pretend that I don't know what I am supposed to say.

Even more embarrassing is when these shop owners go and grab their daughters from upstairs in an attempt to kindle some sort of multi-cultural romance too strong to be stopped by the limits of language. The other night, in Can Tho, I stopped by a smoothie street stall to grab a custard apple and avocado smoothie (my favourite). A girl in her mid-twenties served me kind of giggling. She immediately called over her mother and they began chatting to each other and trying to decide on words to say to me. The girl told me I was some hand. And they were grilling me trying to find out if I was married.

She ran inside her house and came out with a younger girl - the other girl's sister. She looked rather messy, as if she had been plucked from her bed. Her hair was tied up and she had pink pyjamas on. Her mother pushed her towards my direction and was telling me to talk to her. I just smiled and awkwardy stirred my drink.

Her mother then pointed to her daughter and leaned into me saying I love you me, and giggled. Her daughter just stood there unamused - this was obviously not the first time.

I wouldn't say that I am ugly - but I am definitely not worth the credit I am given here. I don't know what it is they see - the large nose, the big ears, maybe way my eyes widen out in the centre...

I am also popular with the men... I won't go into too much detail in this blog, but I have been in situations where straight men cannot stop mentioning how handsome I am (something that, now that I think of it, is somewhat of a fantasy for many gay men...). I must mention that it is much more acceptable her for both men and women to complement someone in this way.

But let's just say... I don't want to get used to this attention... or else I'm in for a depressing reality when I get back to Canada!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gratuitous Video Scene #5: Bali by Motorbike

Long story, but I ended up spending about half the time of my Bali trip travelling by myself rather than with the friend I was visiting.

I rented a motorbike but had a little accident when driving of some construction debris at high speed, and decided to return it early. My bruised and scraped up body did not want to risk another brush with gravel (but I have to say it made me look tough).

In Ubud, I found a motorbike driver name Wayan who agreed to take me around Bali to visit Mount Batur, a volcano in the central part of the Indonesian Island and some other sights. For 10$ (and a beer at the end of the trip), he took me around for almost a whole day on his motorbike.

Bali is one of the more beautiful places I have ever visited, mostly because everyday details are so intricate. It seemed like in every wall there was some sort of decorate carving of gods or monsters. Even the round-abouts had amazing animistic monster statues towering over the road.

I hope you can get a good idea through this video.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Eco-Crusaders, or I Watched Too Much Captain Planet as a Kid

I am on a boat in Nui Chua National Park. The blue-aqua waves are agressively smacking the boat back and forth. The boat is filled with environmentalists and those involved in the conservation of the reef that lies just beneath the boat.

A bright blue and red wooden boat is stationed around the side of a steep cliff, bobbing in the violent and thrashing water.

The passengers of my boat, all Vietnamese, start talking about the boat. I can only assume this from the very little Vietnamese i can understand. On the other boat, a diver pops his head out from the water and climbs onto his boat, and a young boy helps him in. The young boy starts yelling something to the people on our boat, and the park ranger on our boy has a heated exchange with him.

The driver of our boat takes a sharp turn and we quickly collide with the diving boat. The young kid scrambles to control the boat as the diver jumps back into the water to escape. My heart starts to race as we crash yet again into the diving boat. I turn to a colleague from the organisation with worry on my face

“What the hell is going on”, I ask.
She smiles nervously, “i’ll tell you later.”

The boat is rocking rather intensely and a girl from the biology institute leans over board and vomits in the white foamy sea.

With the dramatic cliffs as a backdrop, i think about how beatiful and amazing it is we are actively protecting this reef. It’s like James Bond for environmentalists i think to myself as we hit into the diving boat for the fourth or fifth time.

Down with these scoundrels, Save the Reef, I think to myself.

Finally it seems to me that the evil divers give up, realising that one more impact with our boat would make his wooden one crumble.

He throws over his loot: A glistening basket of what must be endangered shellfish,

We won! We showed these enviro-destroyers that the force is with us!

I turn to my colleague, eager to find out what is next

“What do we do with them now?” Wondering how we could keep them alive while holding them as evidence while we cuff the divers and bring them to the park authorities.

My colleague responds “What do you mean? We’ll cook them.”

Confusion washes over my face

She says calmly, “We just bought our dinner, what do you think we were doing?”
I am on a boat in <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_0">Nui</span> <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_1">Chua</span> National Park

Friday, June 5, 2009

In Memory

While away from Hanoi, I got sad news about my friend Son.

On June 1st, he was caught in a wave off of the central coast of Vietnam.

My first real friend in Vietnam, Son showed me what the country was about. Even though it was a friendship of only 5 months, we had become quite close.

Son was a great friend and a great journalist.

He will be missed.