Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Day In My Life in Long Xuyen

I was biking home through a rice paddy after dinner tonight , and it struck me that my life is a little unusual these days, so I thought I would give everyone a glimpse. (and Mandy, these pictures are for you).

5:15 am
I wake up because my arm HURTS - there is a dime-sized welt - a new bug bite I have been itching in my sleep. There is also a loud rummaging sound coming from the office on our main floor, so I throw on some clothes and go down to investigate if we are being robbed and if Linda left her green potion on her desk. The robbers prove to be Chi Thao, our head of reintegration services, heading out through the massive steel gates that cover the front of the house. I apply the green potion, which is extremely effective against bugbites, but may be Snake Oil and fall back into bed.

After meeting with Lily and Linda, I try downloading service patches for Excel which has crashed my spreadsheet four times. The download takes FOREVER, and it is suggested that we are being watched by the local authorities who are jamming the internet. They are not super big fans of the organization, which highlights the fact that trafficking is a problem in this region and happens more often than they would like to admit. As I ponder this, the power goes out, so Lily and I head out to the market. I want to investigate a lady selling cakes, find some snake oil of my own and buy a Durian.

The market is a ramshackle collection of stalls selling an odd assortment of necessaries, like wedding invitations and live frogs. People in the market are getting used to me - and we stop to chat with a couple of ladies selling green mango. One says "Hello!" at which point her friend erupts (in Vietnamese): "What are you doing, you old fool? You don't speak English." I wave cheerily. Lily buys every snack in the market, and I nibble: a banana-wrapped glob of rice gluten filled with coconut, a puffy sweet fried rice flour cake, some taro balls, and of course the durian. I also get some homemade soy milk. Its so much better than the stuff I get in the states. Half an hour later, the lights come back on.
This is Lily:

By the time the power goes out again, I have fixed my software issue and made some respectable headway on my work. Despite the fact that this is a non-profit, there are no slackers here. I drink a cup of tea and work offline in the hot dark. (When you're sweating just sitting at a desk, why not drink hot tea?)

Power comes back on.

Some girls from the Open House come by for their tutoring as Linda and I head out to dinner. All the bikes are a little run down, broken and flat, but Linda is used to it. I have decided that even tho the Locals will think I'm nuts, I'm wearing a helmet when I bike. And because I'm WAY too big for the bike, I roll up my pants to keep myself from getting tangled. There is some commentary and giggling about my look from the girls (who are quite hip), but I feel safer. We bike on roads with more or less pavement, weaving in and out of motorbikes, pedestrians, trucks, and the occasional coffin in a handcart (no, Im not kidding). We pass rice paddies and shacks, open air cafes that are gearing up for the evening, and arrive at a newly opened vegetarian restaurant.

I am in vegetarian heaven. Long Xuyen is populated by followers of Hoa Hao, a strictly vegetarian buddhist sect. Excellent!!! Furthermore, tomorrow is a full moon day, which is special in a lot of Buddhist traditions. People here generally treat the full and new moon days as Sabbath days, and go veg for the day, so everyone in town is Vegetarian today. And the veggie restaurant is hopping (as are the temples, more on that later). The owner proudly shows me five bubbling pots. We squat on plastic chairs and eat some of the best fake meat I have ever had. Total bill for four, very full people: 62,000vnd or $3.80. AND, they remembered that Lily was in last week and had a bad coconut and try to refund her. We bike back home and stop at a pharmacy that sells Snake Oil.
I get my own.

The five large pots at our favorite veggie place:

The house/office is full of people studying and visitors for dinner. I need a break from people (and requiring a translator), so I head upstairs, turn on the water heater so I can "shower", and the AC so I can sleep later. I also assemble the mosquito netting that i have finally organized, washed and found string for. While the water is heating, I read and relax, since we don't have TV.

The ceiling erupts in about the most terrifying noise I have ever heard. Its deafening, metallic and sounds like we're being bombed. Then it dawns on me: thunderstorm on a tin roof. Furthermore, everything is louder here because the whole house is tiled and without carpets. I wait till its over, bathe out of my bucket and read for an hour before heading to bed. Sorry, no pictures of that part.

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