29 June 2006

Paper Trails

I believe one of my earliest postings concerned my getting a criminal check to prove to the Vietnamese government that I had no background in illicit affairs. After I had received the letter of clearance, I had it notarized. It was then sent to Sacramento where the Sate notarized my notary, after which it was sent to the Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco, where they notarized it. Apparently, the labor department in Vietnam decided that it was not valid because my name appeared on the initial notary form.

It has taken from then until now to figure out just exactly what is required for me to get my work permit. It turns out that the six or seven documents that I had notarized before leaving for Vietnam a year ago, are all null and void. All I ever needed was a letter stating that I had graduated from a university, and a letter of clearance from some sort of police bureau. The catch is that each of those letters must be signed by an official, and then that person’s signature must be notarized by a notary at the place of signing.

One of my universities’s flat out refused to do it. The other one complied. But then there was the problem of getting the criminal check notarized. After several phone calls and a hunt through the yellow pages, I found out that for a fee, a notary will come to any location and do the paper work required. I really wish I had known all of this a year ago. Or even six months ago.

Not that this is the end of it all. I now have to drive to the State capitol and have the Sate Notary authenticate my notaries. Then it is back to the Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco to get their seal. And if all this turns out to be for naught, there is not much more I can do.

Other than that, I must say that the weather is pretty much behaving itself. To date, there has only been one day of total fog and cold. True, the nights are down in the low 50’s F (12 c), and that nasty fog is drifting in as I write, but all and all it seems global warming has arrived in the SF Bay Area. Great! I am also happy that it stays light until around 9:30pm, whereas in HCMC it is dark by 7pm.

We are coming up on the 4th of July weekend, a time to stay in and avoid the freeways. Maybe this year we will be able to see fireworks. Generally, it is a 50/50 chance that they will be fogged out.

I need to put on another sweatshirt.

23 June 2006


It’s been four days since I arrived back in California. As always, the first day or two feels extremely odd. There is no way I can ever explain the strange sensation between living abroad and then coming back to the US. They are such entirely different places, and entirely different lives. When I am in California, it is as if Vietnam doesn’t exist, and when I am in California, it is as if Vietnam doesn’t exist. Trying to understand and evaluate my feelings and reactions to this situation confuses me for about two days, and then I give up and forget that I really was living in another country just a week ago.

I must say that the flight over was the most comfortable, long trip flight I have ever taken. I flew Economy Deluxe, on Eva Air. The seat cost a mere $100 more than the cheap seats, and you get a business class chair, with tons of leg room and seats that really recline. I barely felt the need to get up and walk around the cabin, which is how I usually spend the entire time I am on a transatlantic flight.

In addition to a fantastic flight, I arrived in San Francisco to hot weather. For those of you who do not know, it is rarely hot in San Francisco, no matter the season. Only tonight has the dreaded fog rolled in and I am starting to freeze. I must brace myself for the fact that I may never see the sun again before I head back to HCMC.

Today I spent part of the morning taking my mother’s car in to the mechanics. It is rarely driven, less than six years old, yet the air conditioning was not functioning. As the mechanic looked under the hood, he pointed to the part of the a/c unit that was not engaging. As he was saying this, I noticed a bunch of plastic bags stuffed in a corner of the engine block. I started to reach for the bags asking myself, out loud, why anyone would do something so dumb. Millimeters from actually grabbing the garbage, the mechanic said, “you know, that looks like a rats nest”. My hand was out of there in a micro-second. It turned out that a mommy rat had built a nest inside the engine, using plastic bags and anything she could chew off from inside the engine, including the wire that goes to the a/c unit. Since the nest had long since been vacated, I am assuming that mother and babies are all well and thriving.

It is time to put on another sweat shirt.
Remember to check under your car hood for nesting critters.

17 June 2006

World Cup Heaven

The World Cup started last Friday, and to date I have watched about twelve games. I had been hoping to find a cool hang-out in which to watch the matches. It is so much more fun with a crowd of football-crazy enthusiasts. So far, no real luck.

Opening game night, I went to the local pub out here in the burbs, where I met two friends. I was worried that it would be crowded and there would be no place to sit. The game started at 11pm, so I arrived at 10:30 to find an empty bar, save for my friends and a table of young kids and their father. It was nice, I enjoyed the game, but there was none of the party atmosphere that I had been waiting four years for.

The next night, a bunch of us went into town to a “sports bar”. I’d been told that it was a kick-back, unpretentious spot, in contrast to the other available venues. What it was, was icky. The place was nothing more than a medium sized, concrete cavern, set up in a theater arrangement. A giant screen hung above the small stage at the front. The seating area in front of the screen contained a total of six tables with comfortable chairs. Behind the tables there were a few, small, tall tables with bar stools. Behind that was the other half of the bar, the floor being about two feet higher than the loge seats. A counter ran along the divide between the two, and my friends and I were able to grab three stools.

It was crowded and noisy and I noticed that there was not nearly enough seating. The owner had obviously not spent any money on decoration. Concrete floor, concrete walls, a few bar stools and a lot of empty space, now being filled with bodies. The noise level without people would have been in the upper 200 decibels, what with the TV sound turned all the way up and the economy, concrete acoustics. Worse, the reception on the big screen sucked. It looked like you were watching old newsreel footage. It only improved after the match had ended.

As with all Saigon nighttime establishments, the waitresses were all young things in the requisite uniform; skin-tight jeans, cut so low that in any position other than standing straight up, you have butt-crack hanging out. On top, they all wear teeny, form fitting tank tops, sort of a Hooters-of-the-East concept. That doesn’t bother me. I am, however, less than pleased with the service which is pretty much non-existent even though there are ample amounts of servers. And I don’t blame the young women. They obviously have never been trained. They tend to follow each other around, looking lost, and occasionally try to grab your half-full glass. They have no idea about how to take orders, clean tables, or what to do with themselves.

It really was hard to get into the game, what with the poor television reception, the uncomfortable seating arrangement, and the noise, not to mention the loud group of Afrikaners to our left watching the rugby match on a small TV on the wall.

The saving grace of the evening was coming home and watching Trinidad and Tobago-Sweden play a fantastic game, in the comfort of my living room. Although I had wanted to watch with a crowd, personal viewing was preferable to what I had found so far in the city. Really, I just should have gone to an outdoor Vietnamese coffee house. The atmosphere would have been much better, I think.

Games are on at 8 and 11pm, and at 2am, so I have been forced to watch the weekday games at home instead of searching for a better place. On Tuesday night, I was just settling down to watch the 8pm South Korea-Togo game when I noticed that there was a whole lot of noise coming from outside. Drums were pounding, people were singing, and a voice over a loudspeaker was yelling something. I listen and realized it wasn’t Vietnamese. Oh yeah, it was Korean! I had forgotten that more than half the people living in my area are Korean. They kept up the festivities for the entire game. I found out later that they had all congregated at a Korean bar/restaurant that it just two blocks from my house. Now that was the atmosphere I had been hoping for. South Korea plays again tomorrow night, and the plan is to go and watch it there.

Between games, I have been busy packing and cleaning and working, getting ready for my Monday departure to California. It is all rather daunting for no reason other than that I find big trips daunting. I never feel like I can breathe until I am seated on the plane.

Must get back to the Ghana-Czech game.

04 June 2006

Tourist Shopping

In a two weeks I will be jetting back to California, where I will spend almost a month freezing in the fog and feeling bummed in the gloomy, grey skies. I got a taste of those skies yesterday.

Now that the rainy season has returned in earnest, one must be sure to get to ones destination before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Otherwise you will get drenched, not be able to find a taxi, and be stuck in a location you would prefer not to be. The rains usually pass through in an hour or two, enabling you to get to the supermarket or take a walk.

Yesterday was different. I awoke to a grey, moderately cool morning, all things being relative. By 9am, it was back to just plain hot and humid, and the skies hadn’t cleared. By 10, the rains had started and continued all day, although they were fairly light. However, the ugly skies stayed ugly all day. I do not do well without sunlight. I feel horrible and tired and can’t think of one positive reason to do anything. Give me sunlight, and I can conquer the world. I have so many things to do before leaving, that loosing a day to despair is not what I needed.

Lucky for me that today, at 5am, the sun was blinding me and has continued to do so all day. I still had more Vietnamese souvenir shopping to do, so it was in to town a few hours later.

I went back to Ben Thanh Market, the place where everything is sold. I pretty much dislike the place because even though there are items you might want to purchase, the sales pitches and arm grabbing by vendors is quite off-putting. I have a few stalls that I frequent where they don’t harass you. After walking the gauntlet of young women throwing scarves on my shoulders while yelling, “Madam, buy scarves from me”, I got to where I was headed.

Since I had been there the week before I already knew what I wanted. And like the week before, as soon as I stopped at the stall, my olfactory senses were assaulted by the reek of durian. Durian is a fruit that is very popular in Asia. It also produces the most hideous odor know to mankind. Skunk takes a distant third to durian. Not only does it stink, but it gives me an instant headache.

I tried not to breathe through my mouth, but wasn’t completely successful. I bought a few things and really wanted to get away from the smell and the heat and the florescent lights, but I knew I had to persevere with my shopping trek.
An hour later, head exploding, eyes watering, I emerged into the lovely air of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

I stopped at a café to relax, re-group, (still had more purchases to make), and take in fluids. Sitting there I realized that I had made about half of my purchases using Vietnamese! I snuck in a little English, but with the older Vietnamese woman in one tiny stall, it was all in the local language. I was very pleased. Although I do well with my teacher, in our classes, at my house, I had yet to actually use Vietnamese in a situation other than giving taxi directions. When I get to California, I am going to have to get my toes done every week, just so that I can practice.

Hopefully, I will not have to return to Ben Thanh Market for quite some time. Although on the way out, thorough the food section, I passed a stall where they sell every spice in the world. Why hadn’t any of the people who have lived here for years known about this stall? I filed the shops card for future use.

As I look out my window, I can see the skies darkening. The rains should start in about an hour, which will be 4pm. I can handle that, especially after such a sunny day.

If you really want to get a whiff of durian, they usually sell it in Chinatown, at least in California.