I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Houses on Stilts and a Bride in a Box, Wednesday 26 March 2008

I woke at 4 and took a melatonin, but it didn't help this time. I laid there for a couple of hours, then got up and did some yoga. A rooster began to crow and workmen began to bang but somehow I fell asleep again.

I brought a yogurt and dragonfruit down to breakfast and was so much happier than I had been with the greasy runny eggs!

The morning program went smoothly, and at lunch we got the Vietnamese food rather than the "special" Western meal. I had tofu and rice to go with my marigolds this time, and it was much better.

During the siesta period we went to the market area to get S some shirts. We had all packed for business attire, but when we got to the conference they told us it would be business casual! I was all set because I could just throw a jacket over the dresses I'd brought for the tourist portion of the trip, and J (the male co-worker) is a casual dresser and I don't think brought any suits anyway. But S had only long sleeve shirts and was dying.

Judging by the fact that this was among the three questions *everyone* asked of me, being married is a huge part of Vietnamese culture. And therefore *getting* married is a big deal and big business in Vietnam. There are bridal stores everywhere and elaborate weddings every night of the week. My first night in HCMC I walked by a restaurant that was having a wedding during the processional. I didn't get to see the bride, but she was preceded by two flower girls in white dresses wearing silver angel wings and tossing white flower petals as they went. The weddings are westernized, but not wholly western. The bridesmaids all seem to wear white, for instance. This confused me the first time I walked by a restaurant with eight "brides" standing outside to greet the guests! I finally figured out these had to be the bridesmaids. Anyway, the bridal stores have these freestanding plexiglass cubes out on the sidewalks that hold a mannequin wearing an elaborate dress to advertise the store. Even though the mannequins are obviously not real people, it still weirded me out somehow to think of a person in a plexiglass box slowly suffocating. I was hoping to get a picture of one, but alas once I was *looking* for one I didn't see any more.

After lunch, unfortunately there was no participation in the practicum I was teaching. It's hard to get people motivated after lunch, no matter what culture you're in! I did a unit on consumer education, which was a little more successful because I passed out consumer ed tchotchkes so people had stuff to play with to help them keep awake. The swag was a huge hit.

We finished the day's session at 5, and were to meet at 6:30 for dinner, so J, S, and I headed down to the river. Although I had gone on the boat tour the first night and been to the waterside restaurant the night before, somehow I had missed the coolest part of the river which was the houses--well, shacks really--built on stilts on the opposite bank. Very photo-oppy. The little kids all stared and said, "Hello!"

We walked along the bank and saw a ferry loading to take people home at the end of their day.

The boats gliding through the river saw their way with eyes painted on the prows.

We crossed the bridge at rush hour just for the death-defyingness of it, and watched a little boy launch a kite from his balcony. It took many tries, but he was persistent and eventually got it up into the air.

Finally, we watched the sun go down over the colonial decay of this French-style building.

At the restaurant, same as the night before, I just wanted stir-fried vegetables and rice rather than the feast that had been ordered for me the night before. Which I got. It was perfect. They also ordered some fried dough in the shape of mushrooms; it was a little sweet and quite good. There is nothing bad about fried dough.

The translator guy sat next to me and was kind of like a really good boyfriend, making my life easier in a totally unobtrusive way by making sure I had the food I'd ordered, my water glass stayed full, that sort of thing. I could get used to that!

There were 11 of us at dinner and it was really nice to socialize with our Vietnamese colleagues. I'd been feeling like we had been missing out on the most rewarding cultural exchange part of the trip, based on what people had described from past experiences of late night karaoke and learning a few of one another's words. We had been pretty segregated for the most part and that had disappointed me.

I was less ready to drop into oblivion at 9 on the dot. I think the day before had been the worst of the jet lag. Day 3 is always the worst jet lag for me, no matter where I am or how much the lag.

You can see all the photos of the Mekong Delta, and all photos from this trip if you'd like.

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