I’m back in Long Xuyen for a few more days to give an exam. It’s a weird time. Martha is packing to leave and so is Jack. Jack’s been dousing me with stuff that he no longer needs, the coolest so far being cushy, comfortable furniture that was in his room. At this point we all have to move out of our rooms because they are taking over the guest house for the purpose of grading the university entrance exams. So we all have to pack up what we need and move to the old guest house.
The trip back here was in an old Mercedes van. And I never thought I’d say this, but riding in a Mercedes was not comfortable at all. Most of the Kim Huong bus company’s fleet is the new Ford Transit vans, but they still have some old Mercedes around which they occasionally use. I happened to get a ride in one. The bus company has a deal with a huge industrial restaurant on the side of the road. This place is approximately halfway between Long Xuyen and Ho Chi Minh City. After we stopped here for a bite to eat and a chance to stretch legs, we continued. After the stop the quality of the road degrades. And we went bouncing along in this old and beat up Mercedes. I kept thinking that a wheel or axle was going to fall off as we hit some huge bumps. I was sitting next to a man originally from Long Xuyen who now made his home in Maryland, and he chuckled nearly maniacally as we bounced along the rough road.
Then the bus that left an hour after we did (it was a new Ford Transit) passed us and our driver really balled the jack and hit the bumps with more speed and I don’t know how that old Mercedes’ suspension handled it all without falling apart. Previously I’d been on a ride and the older women in the rear of the bus would make soft clucking sounds of criticism when we hit a bump too hard, but I think most people on last night’s bus were to scared to make any sound–not that it would have been heard over the roaring and bouncing and shaking of the vehicle. Finally we made the soft left turn which meant we were nearly at the ferry, and the ferry means a smooth, short ride the remainder of the kilometers back to Long Xuyen. Jack met me at the bus station and we went back to my room and listened to Rusted Root and the Traveling Wilburys before going to bed.
I’m back in the city of millions of motorbikes. I made it back to my room about 40 minutes before my class started, but made it there on time after a quick shower. Now the rain is pouring down and I’m trapped in an internet café avoiding it. This poses a problem for me, because the longer I wait here, the hungrier I become. It’s going to be a showdown between my stomach and the rain, and I’m not necessarily looking forward to getting completely soaked by torrential rains.
The more I think about it, the more I’m wondering why I came back to this city. In a few more days I’ll be heading back to Long Xuyen to give my final exams and spend some time with Jack, Julie, Duc and whoever else is hanging out on that particular day. Jack and I talked about a short roadtrip, but I’m not sure if it will materialize due to him being busy with leaving so soon.
The new Dylanesque-pompador hairstyle for the summer.
The wedding was last night. He is a very nice and hardworking man and Jack and Steven and Julie and I met his new wife last night. Last night wasn’t really the wedding per-say, it was the wedding party with nearly 500 people in a sprawling restaurant made for these events. They served us a delicious 5 course meal and we sat around and talked to English teachers and said hello to people that we knew (and there were many). There was even a live band. The bass player was one to dig: He had a black ponytail and was wearing baggy jeans and basketball shoes; he looked like he came straight from the reservation. And he played the bass left-handed.
The meal ended and Jack and I came back to the guesthouse. We decided to sleep in and then make a killer, straight-up lumberjack breakfast the next morning.
The process began at 10 a.m. We went out and had some coffee to properly wake up and then the planning began. We listed off all the ingredients that we thought we’d need and I asked Jack about the location of where we’d try to find some of this stuff. Jack drove around and I held onto plastic bags that we picked up. First, it was the stinking and dirty outdoor market. We found a good portion of what we needed there, but then we had a problem. We were counting on finding a green peppers, but we couldn’t. “Ot Da Lat” or “Ot xanh” was what Jack was asking for. Oh well, they weren’t there. Then it was off to find bread, the kind that we’re used to in America, sliced bread. It took three stores to find what we were looking for. Then what we thought would be final stop. We were laden down with supplies and headed for home. Then Jack had an idea and stopped by a smaller outdoor market closer to the university. This one smelled bad too. I waited with the motorbike and finally Jack emerged, triumphant with a green pepper. Yet another final stop for ice and drinks and we came back. What we conjured in this little guesthouse kitchen has never been seen in this town, and I can say that with confidence.
It was six potatoes (they were small), a green pepper, a decent amount of mushrooms, three tomatoes, four eggs, some garlic and chilies for flavor, half an onion, and finally, spam. We cooked the eggs separate, but when I ate I mixed everything together. We even had toast. It was delicious, wonderful, unhealthy and very American. I swear that eating the food here reduces the capacity of the stomach. So I blame that fact on why Jack and I couldn’t finish our gigantic lumberjack feast.
I’m back in Long Xuyen for a weekend and to attend a good friend’s wedding. It was a grueling bumping bus ride with a rather surly looking driver and a guy at a pit stop who, after practicing some Vietnamese with him, asked for my earrings.
The road became worse after the stop. I couldn’t sleep fearing injury. I was sitting behind the surly-faced driver and leaned forward, trying to will him to drive faster. We finally made it to the ferry. The ferry means only a few more minutes, on a smooth road, to the Long Xuyen bus station. I hopped on a motorbike. “Take me to An Giang University!” I was back in lovely, dusty, dirty, sometimes boring, Long Xuyen. I really missed this place, after being gone for only 16 days or so.
Breakfast this morning was with Jack, eating our rice and pork and drinking a few pots of tea. Jack is in the process of cleaning out his room and getting rid of stuff that he isn’t going to take back to the States. I inherited more books, clothes, a chessboard, a map of America, etc. But I was itching to drive the motorbike. I hopped on Abe (previously Jack I and were thinking that he needs to be renamed) just to cruise Long Xuyen a little. After 11 kicks, a cloud of black smoke, and fiddling with the choke he was running. I flew down the dirt road, nursing the throttle when the clutch was in to keep it alive. Out to Vo Thi Sau street, over the bridges, dodging buses and swerving around bikes and pushcarts, digging the men squatting barechested in the shade. I went looking for a cart on the side of the road that offers watch repair, but of course when I was seeking it, it disappeared.
The wind was in my rather Dylanesque-pompadour hair and the sun was dancing through the clouds–ecstasy in being.
It’s deliciously cool today. I think it drizzled most of the night, and when I went outside this morning, the air was very pleasant. I strolled around, like I usually do, and went to my normal small restaurant on the side of the road. A word is used sometimes for eating food near the street, “an bui.” If it’s translated literally, it means dirty or dusty food. But that’s where I prefer to eat. I’ve never seen any westerners sitting down on little plastic chairs in these places and I like it that way, and it’s cheap and filling.
Last night I strolled around in the rain wearing a poncho that didn’t smell great and doesn’t seem to keep much of my lower body dry. I went and had a new kind of food for me, a type of beef and rice noodle dish from Hue. Once the bowl is on the table, the short ceremony begins: squeezing limes into the broth. I tend to prefer a quite limey flavor, so I used about 4. Then the chili paste. Then a wary taste test. Then the addition of more condiments, if necessary.
I went out to a café last evening and just sat there. I watched part of a soccer game and listened to people lament near-goals and talk all the time. This particular place was on the corner of two seemingly busy streets, and about every minute there was a roar as a flock of motorbikes accelerated. The air was cool as the evening fell, and I sat there and sipped tea and tried to write letters.
Then it was back to my room as I sat on my bed in a semi-trance and tried to study the more specific meanings of words and phrases in Vietnamese. I think one of my weaknesses in learning this language is that I have trouble accepting something that someone just tells me. I want to learn to specific meaning of each word in a phrase, which slows me down. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to cut down a redwood with a pocket knife.