Life in ‘Nam

We have arrived at our last of 6 days in Vietnam. We have spent our time appropriately, with activities varying from volunteering to chaperone a pool day with 35 kids to touristing our way through markets, tunnels, and opera houses. I have eaten my fair share of Com Tam (broken rice and pork). And we bought just enough bottled water to make us look suspicious. And now, we head to the Philippines.

But. Before we go. There are a few things you should know about this wonderful world in Southeast Asia.

1. Motorbikes are THE (most popular) mode of transportation. From our hotel window Betty counted 60 motorbikes and 2 cars in the span of a minute our first morning we arrived. In our (almost) week here we have yet to grow tired of watching traffic. From our window. From the bus. The taxi. The back of a bike. Oh the things we have seen! Pet fish hanging precariously in knotted plastic bags. Boquets of balloons the size of the bike. Long pieces of metal. Recycling. An LP tank. Families of 4. To make it even more comical, everyone here is scared of the sun. Especially the women. Elbow long satin gloves. Face masks that flow from forehead to chest. Socks in flip-flops. And, for your motorbike traveling convinience, a floor length piece of fabric that can be attached in the back with velcro to make a protective skirt. All of this in 90+ degree weather of course. Now, if you can picture it, the rows upon rows of comically combined citizens… driving down the street, you must add to this personal visual, the reality that there are very few traffic laws here. The most common method of travel is to drive on the right side of the road. However, left side and sidewalk driving is appropriate if deemed necessary for any reason. In addition. The traffic lights apparently apply largely to cars and buses and, if possible, motorbikes ignore them. The joke here is.. in Ho Chi Minh City: Green light means.. go. Yellow light means.. go. Red light means.. still go. Needless to say, driving here is not for the weak of heart and requires attentiveness at all times. But, oh the comedy, for its viewers.

2. The Vietnamese learn English from many different sources. My favorite is when a Vietnamese speaker has an Australean accent. However, as a whole, Vietnamese influenced English (specifically in south vietnam) replaces ‘sh’ with ‘s,’ and has shorter vowels. I have observed that I am spending a lot of mental energy trying to understand English these days. By the end of the day yesterday even the voice in my head spoke Vietnamese English.

3. The bathrooms here are funny too. Mostly because the shower is part of the bathroom, making quite the wet mess after we have all had our evening showers and creating a need for rugs outside of everyone’s bathroom door to allow us all to dry our feet.

4. And. One last story, just so you know we really are having fun on our Asia adventure.
So… last night we went to a fancy opera house here in the city to hear a medley of Broadway hits (“I dreamed a dream” from Les Mis was incredible I might add). While sitting there and swinging my chair back and forth I said to Erleen, “I think this is the fanciest chair I’ve ever sat in!” This must have been a foreshadowing event as less then 7 minutes later I heard a loud sound, blinked, and discovered that I was sitting just a bit lower than before. Oops. I sure HATE to break chairs in fancy opera houses! But, oh how we had to laugh!

A Panuelo World

As it turns out, writing a post is rather difficult to do from my ipad in Thailand.  Photos are especially difficult to upload.  But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.  So.  I guess I will have to paint pictures with words instead.

We arrived 4 days ago.  “We” includes: my roommate Erleen and her cousin Betty.  Erleen’s brother Andrew lives here in Thailand, as does Erleen and Betty’s cousin Arlen and his family.  We are visiting them before moving on to other countries to visit other people.

So.  We arrived 4 days ago. A day and a half spent in motion, chasing the sun backwards, but we finally arrived.

Our flight was quite pleasant.  I recommend, if you HAVE to sit in an airplane for 20 hours, to fly Turkish Air.  Pillows, blankets, food, drinks, a travel kit (complete with toothbrush, lip gloss, and more!) and a hot towl to start the flight.  I was druther impressed.

Jet leg has been a non-issue.  Mostly, we just went to bed mad early and slept as long as we could the first night and it basically evened out.  I am very thankful about that! (Although I have heard that it’s worse going home.)

So far we have… visited Andrew’s coffee shop that he manages.  And yes, I even drank coffee!  We visited an elephant camp (and I might have taken a ride…).  We took a Thai cooking class.  I have totally mastered PadThai, in case you were wondering.  Well. Mostly anyways. Almost.

We’ve played card games (like the good Mennonites that we are).  We rode songtewls and went shopping at far too many markets already.  We went bowling.  I won twice, although I have yet to reach a score of 100 (yes. in my entire life).  It was decided that we were all pathetically well matched.  And, another friend who lives here was daring enough to ‘teach’ me how to drive a motorbike.  I’m definitely in the beginner class but I was able to drive in a circle in the parking lot.  So, I guess I’m ready to graduate to a quiet street or something soon.

We’ve had numerous variants of ‘typical Thai food.’  And I’ve mastered the use of “hello” and “thank you.”

And, otherwise, I’ve been hit by the insanity of this all.  The incredible blessing it is to be able to travel.  Sometimes I want to be worried because I don’t have a job lined up yet.  And sometimes I want to think that it’s not so crazy to be here.  I mean.  So much of it seems so familiar to me.  Between my life in New York and the months I’ve spent in Central America, life here doesn’t seem so weird.  But then I called my mom and I was struck with the reality that so much of the world is living ‘normal’ life right now.  And I could be doing the same.  But, instead, I get to dip my toes across the seas, taking my shoes off at the door, clapping my hands together in a nod of respect and thanks to strangers, and pretending, just for a moment, that the whole world is connected.  It reminds me of a phrase in Spanish, “el mundo es un panuelo.” (the world is a handkerchief).  Which is the English equivalent of “it’s a small world” but paints this hilarious picture that we, the entire mass of the world, can somehow fit into a little, interwoven piece of cloth and be stuffed into someone’s front pocket.  I guess, the craziest thing of all is that it’s true, the world truly is a panuelo.  And I’m so glad we all can fit in the pocket of God, even on the other side of the world.