Sometimes life floats and sometimes it hits me: I’m in Vietnam. I was enjoying a late Sunday lunch at the house of one of my adult students when this struck me. We were snacking on pate and bread and little sausages and then our host just jumped up and pulled a few mangos off a tree in his yard. They weren’t quite ripe, but they were still sweet and very good. But the concept of having a mango tree in the yard still seems wild.
There is yet another new volunteer here from Australia. One afternoon he and I were sitting on a balcony relishing the light breeze. He said, “The palm trees remind me of the view from my house.” Palm trees are so exotic for me though. I still find it crazy that from my room I have a view of palm trees and very tall bamboo.
I’ve been thinking lately about so many things here that involve minor ceremonies. Coffee for example. You can order the really strong stuff that brews on the table, which involves the ceremony of waiting for the water to drip through (sometimes applying more pressure to speed up the process), then mixing in the sugar (I’ve never seen anyone drink the coffee black here), and when it is dissolved, pouring the sweet mixture onto the ice. However, you can order it fast too, which involves a little less of a ceremony, but a small one nonetheless. The glass comes to your table and it is filled with ice, there is sugar on the very bottom, and some coffee in the bottom too. This drink involves mixing with a spoon in order to get the coffee and sugar mixed well with all the ice. However, the ice is usually packed so tight that you can’t move the spoon around, but only up and down. When you do this though, there is a chance that you will send ice flying out of your glass. In order to guard against this, you cup your one hand over the top of the cup to guard against stray ice and then move the spoon up and down, nearly violently. When you have a table of 5 or 6 people doing this, there is no conversation for a good minute as all you can here is coffee sloshing in ice. That’s only the ceremony of coffee, there are others with food. I’ll write more on those later.
Last night I finally went to tennis with a friend. We’d been talking about it for quite some time. I’ve never really played tennis before in my life, but he said he would teach me. I arrived at the courts around 8:30 p.m. and then we waited for a court to open up. Luckily there was another person with us who had never played tennis before either, so I wasn’t the only beginner there. We finally started playing around 9:30 and played for nearly an hour. The night was cool, but I’ve never really exercised in this weather before. I was dripping under the lights. It was fun and I’m no good, but my friend keeps telling me that it comes with practice and to be patient. Then I hopped on the motorbike for what seemed like the most refreshing ride ever. The streets were practically deserted at the hour, so I could fly down them and feel the sweat dry off my body.