03 September 2006

The People's Committee

After a year in Vietnam, I have now been approved by the People’s Committee, and have been issued a work permit. Hearing the news, in my mind I pictured a scenario of a group of battle weary, fatigued-clad men, sitting around a table, smoking cigars.

Before I was issued the permit, I had to get another physical. For a health certificate to be valid for the Peoples Committee, it must be less than six months old, and I had gotten my first one ten months before. My job would pay for the exam at a Vietnamese hospital. Remembering the last, bizarre, germ-ridden exam, I opted to go to the expensive clinic, even though I would have to pay for about fifty percent of the cost.

The SOS clinic apparently deals mostly with medical evacuations. It is centrally located, spotlessly clean, and everyone speaks English. The entire process took less than an hour. I can’t say that it was really more than a blood test and a chest x-ray, which I boldly protested. I asked the doctor if the x-ray was a TB screening. When he said yes, I asked about a skin test. According to the doc, in Vietnam they only do the skin test if the x-ray is positive. When I said that I didn’t want the radiation, he asked where I had heard that x-rays were bad and further went on to tell me that I could only be harmed by the radiation if I were to have three or four x-rays a month, over a year period. Then again, this was the man who, as part of the exam, asked me to touch my toes.

Now that everything is in order, I am really hoping work slows down. It feels as if I have been running a non-stop marathon since returning. What with doing half of a course with one class, then being thrown into another that was half-way through, in addition to the short course I teach, I have been working way too many hours for my comfort. I suppose I am partly to blame, assigning multiple essays for all my students then having to correct and critique forty a week. Worse, out of the twenty-one students in the class I took over, only six passed the final. I am trying not to take it to heart, as it was probably one of the two worst classes I have ever had in my life. Half the class never came, and the group dynamics were appalling. Maybe if I had gotten the class week one, it could have made a difference.

However, no need to despair, I tell myself. First of all, this is a three day weekend, which means a four day week, and I will only be teaching one level. After that, I think I am going to a four day work week, having Wednesdays off. Maybe somewhere down the road, I could manage a three day week. This full time work does not leave me any time to do any of the things that make life enjoyable. My not being able to write, being the principle drawback.

Of course, there still are occasional bits of pleasure here. Last week my cousin and some friends came to Vietnam. I was only able to hang with them for a few hours on their way to, and way back from a sailing trip they took up north. It was great. We had dinner and talked, and occasionally just stopped to realize how bizarre it was that the cousins were actually sitting in a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.

Their last night here we ate at a small restaurant, The Black Cat, a place my friend had turned me on to. The owner had been a chef in Oakland, California for twenty years. The Cat is his third restaurant in the city. Food is a mixture of Vietnamese, American, and several others. They even make their own bagels. Everything is fresh, and every meal I have had has been excellent. The prices are completely reasonable. Talking to him a few weeks ago, I learned about his food philosophy. He is out to educate the HCMC public on the virtues of healthy eating. I was thrilled to hear that he is preaching the hazards of MSG and the benefits of fresh food. Best of all, the restaurant is centrally located which means I can stop in for a bite when in town. Everything else I had tried in the past was overpriced and sucked.

Actually, there is another place that I ate at last weekend with some other friends. Café Latin is a sports bar. I have no idea why they have that name since it caters to portly, middle-aged, foreign men, who come in to watch the football and rugby, drink beer, and eat. I do like the fact that the entire front is open to the sidewalk, so that sitting inside is like sitting outside. You are out of the heat, but not in refrigerated air. The menu reflects the clientele; lots of deep-fried dishes and red meat. I ordered the “Captain’s Basket”, an immense pile of beer battered, deep-fried calamari, fish, and shrimp. It took two days to finish it. I certainly got my monies worth.

I have also been able to keep up with some of my shopping outings. Just yesterday I popped into town to go to Ben Thanh Market. That’s the place where they sell everything and anything, for both tourists and locals. I detest the place, what with its throngs of tourists, small aisles, and surly stall attendants. But there are a few places inside that have what I need, and I needed new bed linins.

Bracing for the onslaught, it was, after all, a holiday weekend, I managed to get in and out in record time. This time I actually took my camera and took a few pictures. I never have done this before simply because it is too crowded and too easy to “loose” things. I only took shots of the main aisles. I did walk through the spice and food section, which were great photo ops, but I was carrying packages, it was crowded, and managing a camera, all the while on the look-out for possible camera-snatchers, changed my mind. I will have to go in one day for the sole purpose of photography. Or at least take pictures first, make purchases second.

Time to upload those pics to my laptop.
It certainly feels wonderful to write again!