Commentary and Observations

I’ve been in a bad mood today, starting with the Internet not working all day (what is now yesterday?). I mean, gawd, I go to a tropical nation for four months and my broadband wifi better not cut out for 24 hours. The horror. (Note to the dense: poking. at. myself.)
Combined with the fact that I went a full 24 hours without eating due to mostly to laziness (getting food involves going out, finding a place, stumbling over communications with the waiter and then there’s still a high chance that you won’t get what you want), but I spent most of my three-hour long (!) language class waiting for it to get over so I could find ANYWHERE that would serve me food and shovel it down my throat. I will leave my personal grumpiness aside and move on:

Street Kitchens.
I ate at one today, for lunch, courtesy of the legless man down the road. Beef and Mystery meat (sometimes its better not to know) Phở. There are street kitchens and street stands, though I haven’t heard many people differentiate between the two. Street stands are food-on-carts that can be found on corners, which normally specialize in one or two kinds of food. Street kitchens are… well, imagine a garage. In a developing nation. Now imagine there’s a kitchen in it and maybe a few plastic chairs and makeshift tables. Gekos on the wall, occasionally rats and/or dogs (or rats that look like dogs) scurrying about. Bits of garbage from previous visitors (napkins, bones with bits of meat on them, bottle caps) strewn underneath the tables and chairs, covered in flies.1 Nice, friendly, service (most of the time). Decent to good food with only a slightly higher chance of the runs later. All this for about 10,000 to 12,000 VND – or, under a dollar. Pretty sure that’s also including the foreigner tax.

The man-with-no-legs is really nice and friendly, and I am sure he appreciates the steady stream of many of us in the program that come for his smoothies. I wish I could speak Vietnamese, he seems like such an interesting character. Today at his kitchen I was eating the Phở at his kitchen with my own chopsticks (Sean’s Christmas gift) and he was gesturing and speaking about how he had chopsticks I could use. I showed him how mine collapsed in on each other, while mentally thinking: “Yes, you have chopsticks. I can also barely see the floor it’s so covered in garbage.”
I remember one of the guys in my program talking about how hard it must be to not have any legs in this country, being that mopeds and awkward buses are some of the biggest forms of transportation. But today, I saw him use his little red stools (he uses them for balance to get around) to go over towards a moped, climb up on it, strap his little red stools to the front, and drive away. I was, frankly, amazed and ashamed that I, along with many of the rest of us, had underestimated him.

In other observations: They sell TOBLERONE here! I finally made it to the COOP-Mart (picture: Walmart/Sams + Food + mostly in Vietnamese + a KFC in-store) and got some munchie food, cheap drinks, large gallon things of bottled water, Ritz Crackers, and TOBLERONE. Oh man you have no idea how exciting that was. The kicker is that it costs less than many places in the U.S.

Dinner tonight was followed by coffee with a Vietnamese couple who had sat at the table next to ours in the restaurant. The male half of this couple wanted to practice his English and took us out (mời)2. This happens a lot, mostly with men. We quickly acquire a lot of mobile numbers and Vietnamese acquaintances just by the (correct) assumption that we speak English. There’s at least four or five of them wandering around the neighborhood, and that’s only the ones that I have specifically been in touch with. We’ve only been here 12 days.

Tomorrow (uh, today?) Erin and I are hitting up a museum downtown with two of these guys, which will involve driving on the [highway + motorcycle – helmet] because they are picking us up (and I can’t afford a taxi on what is currently in my wallet, ATM is needed). Besides, this is all part of the experience, right? Let’s just hope this experience doesn’t involve crashes and head injuries.

This weekend: Museums downtown. Including the art museum, The War Remnants Museum, and probably Reunification Palace (better known by some of you as Independence Palace). Possibly a water puppet show, but I hear those are rather cheezy.

1 Many Vietnamese have a habit of just brushing it off the table onto the floor and sweeping it up when they sweep, even in many of the nicer establishments. Nothing wrong with this, unless your sandal-ed Western-feet are brushing against bits of fly-covered half eaten meat. Western being the key phrase in that. Americans are spoiled.
2 mời means invite. When you are invited to eat/coffee/go somewhere/whatever in Vietnam, the person who does the inviting pays for it. We often get strange looks when the group of us is sitting there figuring out how to split the check.

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One Response to Commentary and Observations

  1. Jonathan says:

    I have begun asking around whether there are any decent Vietnamese restaurants in Milwaukee. We have a sizable Hmong population here, but that it different, n’est-ce pas? I.e., not mainstream Vietnamese.

    I remember so well the delicious Vietnamese places in Arlington near my old townhouse in Clarendon. “Queen Bee” was the best one. I loved the grilled meat and seafood dishes there. They had several items that weren’t even printed on the menu; you had to ask for them by name.

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