I arose along with the rising tide of heat in my room. When the morning sun begins to bake my metal roof, the warm waves wake me. I stumble over myself to get into a refreshing cool morning shower. I rinse away the nighttime sweat from sleeping without an air conditioner. After the shower the morning feels perfectly cool. I got dressed and descended down from the fourth floor room into the school. My host and I had coffee and Pho together in a near by cafe. During the meal, he recounts the news or some interesting business chirping around our neighborhood. From our seats in the street side café, we can see the students arriving on their parent’s motorbikes.
During my morning coffee, I noticed that many people were using the iPhone 6, which is not yet available in Vietnam. For a country that doesn’t have an Apple Store yet, there are many gray market iPhones. Having dated a Vietnamese girl in America, I know intimately how Vietnamese businesses benefit from having well placed buyers in America send unavailable items back home. There is nothing illegal about this. Apple benefits from this situation, an iPhone you can’t have is an iPhone you must have.
This situation is even more prevalent in China, where the phones are made, then shipped to America, and then air mailed back.
Today is the school’s Halloween event. I led the children in mask making, mummy wrapping, and simple field games. The kids had an awesome time playing games that I remembered from childhood and gathered from teaching elsewhere. After two hours of games their parents scooted the kids home on their bikes. During the frantic gameplay, an unidentified boy prank called the fire department tens times. The brigade captain called back and threatened to come and give the children a stern warning about not disturbing the fire department on their only day off.
My co-workers, Mai and Nguyen, along with my host and his wife went for a full lunch to celebrate a successful event and welcome me back to the family. This time, I have adopted a Vietnamese name Huey / Whowee /, a name that invokes the fat boy image across Vietnam. The original Huey is this boy. The name also follows the families naming structure and my host’s wife discovered that it suits me. I have already introduced myself as Huey to a two people. The name reminds me of my new commitment to learning Vietnamese language, culture, and being mentally present.
Put simply, I believe that Vietnam has a bright future. Vietnam has a rapidly developing economy and a historic hesitance regarding China. This leads to a warming of relations with the US and Japan. To this end, we will see more partnership in business and diplomacy. Everyone is abuzz with the potential of China as a market, but specialization in Vietnam may suit my interests and personality better. The potential here is high, example: McDonalds opened its first store in 2014. Despite the storm clouds gathering over the disputed islands there is certainly palatable optimism in the air here.
After lunch, we came back home to waste away the hottest part of the day. I attempted to sleep, but the heat and the distractions of the World Wide Web interrupted me. I took a calming cold shower and when out into the city.
I rode on the back of a taxi-motorbike to a hand made guitar store. During the ride, I listened to music and looked cheerfully at the humongous cumulus clouds hanging over the tall buildings. I was happy to be back in a city that smells like humidity, coffee, and gasoline. In Vietnam hand made guitars are cheaper than branded ones. I got a classical guitar. The long Philippine evenings reawakened my interest in guitar. However, this time I am interested in Flamenco music and classical modes. I bought a rather “nice for the price” guitar, capo, and bag. I rode the taxi-bike to the bookstore. I read a book about Vietnamese grammar cover to cover; zero purchase. This is a technique I learned from my father who would binge on books at the bookstore in the era before Amazon and Starbucks’ open toilet policy; when America still went to bookstores.
Instead of buying a textbook, I bought a pen and a notebook. I decided that I would go to the part of Saigon’s central park where university students hang out. If a foreigner waits there, curious English students will start conversations with them. Even before I could reach a bench, I had a class of fifteen students around me. I asked them to teach me Vietnamese. Their teacher, who takes them to the park as a fieldtrip, pounced on my friendliness. We had a language exchange lesson in the park for about forty minutes. The teacher was excellent, even pedestrians stopped to watch him as if he was juggling fire while standing on a tightrope. I have never seen a more captivating teacher do an impromptu lesson on a park bunch. I was just his pronunciation parrot. I was so happy that my plan worked. Forget books, I learned Japanese by foot and mouth and I’ll learn Vietnamese the same way.
I caught the last bus back to my neighborhood. My neighborhood embodies the changes going on in Saigon. There are three simultaneous public park projects underway in my area. Behind my home there had been a full city block of jungle. The block had sidewalks and paved roads around it. Somehow this square space missed the urban sprawl that started when my street was first paved in the 1970’s. The street I live on now, was once a military access road through the rice fields. The road was a western perimeter around the Saigon. The perimeter was drawn because the relatively higher land and shallow bedrock was a good location for the military to erect missile defense against a plausible Khmer Rouge invasion. The street was called Rocket street because it was lined with missiles facing the wild west. At that time no one would imagine there would be a Singaporean Hospital, a Japanese AEON Mall, and an upper middle class neighborhood along this simple road. That little patch of remaining land reminded me what exactly urban sprawl was sprawling over.
When I arrived home, I showed my host my guitar. My host started strumming and singing “Unchained Melody” by the Isley Brothers. Then he played some blues rifts while I sang a comical scenario about his son’s struggle to learn to drive stick shift. The son and wife laughed along. I ate fish, rice, and egg drop soup. I took another shower and then sat down to write this.