We have been back for a week now. We are nearly aligned with the clock. But aligned with the country, the culture? Not yet.
I need to figure out what to do with this blog. I see that although I haven’t posted anything for several days, people are still checking it. Today there are check-ins from Poland, the Philippines, the US, Taiwan and Viet Nam. I don’t really trust the map, however. I think I know most of the people from the US and Viet Nam, but who are the others?
Here is what I can see looking out the window. Those are rain clouds. In the distance, just to the right of that tree, you can see one of the pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond it is the Pacific Ocean. Way across the Pacific Ocean, and a couple of other oceans too, is Vietnam.
The purpose of this blog was to track my learning about Viet Nam as we approached our trip and once we got there. I should probably go back and read the whole thing and give myself a score for how well I learned, or didn’t – how many blunders, how many insights, what the overall tone tells me about how I learn or don’t learn, etc. Another purpose of it was to communicate what I was learning both to people in Viet Nam, who can read English better than they can speak it, and people elsewhere who I am in general extended conversations with — family, friends, labor activists, people interested in culture and history generally.
One thing I began to notice soon enough is that as a traveller, as a visitor to an entirely different world, I am not very flexible. A silly example: When I found out we were going to kayak among the islands in Halong Bay I said, “Oh, no! Not me! I’m going to lie on my bed and read a book.” Then they put us in a boat and helped me down into a kayak and it was one of the most amazing experiences ever, kayaking silently on those glassy blue-green waters among those unforgettable islands. Of course there were many more serious examples of inflexibilty, some of which I’m embarrassed to admit.
However, I’m still unpacking. I’m just starting to clean the house. The whole kitchen should be washed with soap, including the walls.
What if I tried writing about my life in the US through looking at it with the same eyes I looked at Viet Nam? One of the first things I’d say is, “Where is everybody?” The streets are empty. No one on the sidewalks. Sometimes a car goes by, but you don’t see other people so the place seems populated by machines. So much space in front of houses, dedicated to stage-set arrangements of plants. The front doors are closed, not open. You can’t see into the houses. Each house sits on a plot of land big enough for a market, or for twelve shops. And what’s the matter with the food? I peeled a pomelo today, and it’s pretty good, but not as good as the one Nghia’s mother gave us, or the one An brought us from her hometown. Also, they are hard to peel. That’s a skill. When Nghia’s mother served us the pomelo it was on a plate, arranged in a spiral, and she had peeled off the white rind and the skin between the sections. How long does it take to learn how to do that? She served it with white salt that came in big crystals. My second try at pho was a little better — at least it wasn’t greasy. An has sent me a link on Facebook to a how -to-cook-Vietnamese food website and I’ll try that. But the ingredients here just aren’t as good, period.
This is the superficial stuff, the outer skin of what I’m looking at. How about the journalism, the movies, the books? How about what’s happening with the presidential election? How does that look, with the eyes I have been using for the last 6 months?
Dave told us about the Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito, where all the Asians go to shop, so I went. I checked the place of origin of bags of frozen seafood and there was nothing from Viet Nam. Is that going to change, with TPP?
I need to stop and think about this. The most important thing is not to lose touch. That’s primary.
Maybe someone who is reading this can comment. Maybe I should start a separate blog just for communicating with people in Viet Nam. What do you think of that?