Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hotel Living

It’s clear that our daily lives have changed significantly since we’ve been here. But, sometimes it’s hard to tell if this is more related to being in a totally different culture or living in (let’s face it) a hotel.

Since the kids sleep in a different room we wanted to make sure we could lock their door at night. For the first two weeks Bryce would lock them in and then climb from our balcony to theirs (rather heroically) to check on them. We finally had a duplicate set of keys made so we could lock the doors on both of our rooms. Now, every night when we kiss the wee babes goodnight, we make sure they have their water bottles and their copy of the keys.

We eat out a lot since we don’t have a kitchen. When we eat in we have rice (I finally have a rice cooker!) and we do the dishes in the bathtub.

We have a TV in our room that we don’t watch very often. This seems to disturb some people since we have had visitors turn on the TV for us when they arrive. The only English station is “Channel News Asia”, which we’ll sometimes watch. The economic crisis in America sure sounds dire from here.

I sincerely love to do laundry, especially if it involves hanging it out to dry. Alas, there isn’t much room for clothes lines so I have succumbed to the odious task of using hangers and a rack to dry our clothes. I resisted all of those years at the OP, and now, here I am using hangers (I know that sounds complainy. What I meant to say was how lucky I am that I can use the washing machine downstairs instead of hand washing everything).

People frequently sit outside our room and smoke. It is a bit of a shame since it means we really can’t leave the doors open between our two rooms. It’s also a bit of a shame for the lungs.

We do get fresh towels on a daily basis. And the lovely ladies come to coo at Enzo while they mop the floor. Titus is thrilled with his fast growing toothbrush collection (since they’re replaced every day). But still, I think I’ll be happy to leave hotel living behind me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Four Months

Enzo's a grown up baby now! He turned four months today. Enzo has been watching us eat and drink with utter fascination for the past week or so. We decided to give him a little taste of what he's been missing out on.

The yoghurt seemed to go over well.

I think the spring roll was a bit of a surprise.

Titus thought it was hilarious.

Mot, Hai, Ba...

I started learning Vietamese from the daughter of someone Bryce works with. She’s fifteen and very smart. After all, she is the district’s high school chess champion, which I consider pretty great credentials. She is practicing her English on me. The only problem is that Vietnamese is so hard. I’ve always considered myself lucky to have English as my first language since it has a horrible tendency to break its own rules but I’m starting to think maybe Vietnamese would have been a better place to start. So far, I can count to ten (only most of the time and with a very poor accent).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hospital Visit

Enzo has been suffering from a little cold. He started pulling on his ears so I decided I wanted to take him in. Since this is our third child I felt pretty confident I knew what taking a baby to see a doctor would be like. However, …

Instead of taking him to the pediatrician’s office or clinic we took him to the hospital. We found out that’s just what you do here, even for minor things.

Instead of waiting by the door in the rain with the woman and her newborn baby, or being wheeled in like the man lying still on a stretcher with a hat covering his face… I was met at the taxi door by the director of the hospital (the father in law of a friend) who accompanied us the entire time (such a nice guy).

Instead of seeing one doctor we were tended to by four (1 GI surgeon, 1 pediatrician, and I don’t know the other two). There were also a few nurses… and a crowd of 15 people outside the door who just wanted to watch.

Instead of using an otoscope they used an endoscope to check out Enzo’s ears and throat (not really sure why…the nuances of this question were a little beyond our interpreter, but we did come home with some nice pictures).

Instead of a quick 5 minute job we had a thorough half and hour with our docs, including the time they spent discussing the best course of action for Enzo’s tonsillitis and ear infection (poor little guy, he seems to be doing better).

Instead of spending an hour waiting at the pharmacy (usually my least favorite part) we were ushered to the hospital pharmacy by the director himself and the medication was ready in less than 5 minutes.

We spent no time in the damp open air waiting room with people in varying states of obvious discomfort. Our taxi was waiting just inside the ER entry so Enzo wasn’t exposed to the air.

I am coming to terms with the fact that there is no way I’m going to blend in here and be able to have an authentic Vietnamese experience. I understand that the royal treatment we received at the hospital was unique to our situation and is not what typically happens when a small baby here seems to have an earache. So, I’ll just appreciate that some very kind people took excellent care of me and my baby while we were in an unfamiliar place.

I’ll write about the hospital itself another time... what a trip.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Vietnam is as hot and humid as I’ve always been led to believe. Even today, when the banana trees are swaying in a constant breeze, the air is thick and heavy with damp heat. Massive rain will clear out the air briefly and then the humid fog will roll back in. This obviously makes a veritable haven for our mosquito friends. I say friends because I think these are the most polite and considerate biting bugs I’ve ever met.

We each woke up the first morning we were here with about 10 bites each. That might not sound very considerate but I was up a few times during the night with Enzo and never once heard the haunting sound of an upcoming bite. Over the past month we have decreased our daily bites (through a/c and some charming mosquito nets), but we still get them occasionally. Still, I have never heard or seen them coming. It’s as if they’re saying to each other, “We need to bite the poor blokes but there’s no need to make it worse by being loud and obnoxious.” When I notice a swelling little bite I feel more relief that I never heard it coming than any real irritation that it's there. So, thank you dear little Vietnamese mosquitoes. I appreciate your consideration.

Top Ten

We feel pretty lucky to have been able to be in a great town like Davis for the past four years. It's the only home the kids remember (see how little they were when we first moved to Davis). They are missing it a lot. I thought if we made a list of what they missed it would help them to adjust. So here it is...

Titus and Maggie's Top Ten Reasons for Missing Davis:
10. Food (hamburgers, macaroni, and cereal)
9. Friends
8. Soccer and Gymnastics
7. Using spoons and forks (they do have some spoons here)
6. Having lots of toys (Titus says especially the pokemon books)
5. Friends
4. The Rec Pool
3. Cesar Chavez Elementary
2. Having our own house (the op apartment counts)
1. Friends!

After looking at the list again I realize a lot of what is on it are luxuries we have been used to. Their main problem here is being bored and it looks like the kids miss being entertained. So, while I'm not happy about their perceived misery, I'm glad they are experiencing something else for a while. I guess this is where I humbly admit that I totally miss home too and that my top ten list would look pretty much the same!

Really, the kids are doing a great job. In fact, now that we've finished our list they are doing their own version of kung fu in the lobby of the guest house. They are doing something called the backwards double blast off. The coolest thing they have done so far is something that looked like a one handed cartwheel (didn't know they could do that).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Computer Problems

We have had pretty inconsistent internet access since we've been here. The lovely people at the guest house did install a wireless router for our use but, unfortunately, no workit. Double unfortunately, the cable we can use in the lobby area only works sometimes. What I'm trying to say is I'm so very sorry that I'm not keeping in better contact with everyone. I haven't been able to check my email for about a week. For some reason I have been able to post blogs for the past few days but I can't view the blog itself. Here's to hoping this actually gets on that world wide web somewhere. I hope to be able to use the internet in Bryce's office tomorrow, although he tells me that yahoo still might not work. Until then, here's Maggie with her sand drawing of friends she used to be able to play with. Titus drew pictures of pikachu and bulbasaur.s

Monday, September 22, 2008


Every time we're on the bus between here and Hanoi we go through this huge round-a-bout. There are six roads that join there to combine who know how many lanes into a massive spiral of bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks, and buses. This is always where I realize, again, that I am a long way from home.

So far the most people I've seen on one motorbike is five. Granted, one of them was a baby (balanced standing up between the woman in back and a toddler), but you have to admit 5 people is a lot.

I was really surprised to see regular old bicycles going down the main highway next to six lanes of motor traffic. I was even more surprised to notice a bicycle with two children on it, under the age of ten, merging into traffic to get off the highway. The one on back held his hand out to signal while the other ducked and weaved through the speeding mass of metal as if surrounded by a forcefield.

There are some advantages to the highway system here. For example, say you were hungry or had forgotten to stop at the store while you were in town. No problem, you can just pull over (out of the speeding mass of metal) and buy a couple of fresh loaves from ladies standing randomly on the side of the highway with baskets of fresh bread!

Friday, September 19, 2008

This is the grandmother of one of our friends. We ate dinner at their house the other night and she was such a sweet matriarchal presence. She had seven children and five of them were at the dinner. She held Enzo most of the night as she oversaw the dinner with a huge grin.

You might notice that her grin exposes her rather black teeth. This is a common sight among the much older women here. I read yesterday that a long time ago (before WWII at least) they painted their teeth to stain them black (with a paint made with a mixture of bugs and plants) in a beautification process. White teeth were thought to be animalistic. But black teeth were (obviously) quite stunning. I guess that explains why these older women never shy away from smiling hugely at us.

No Worries

Please don’t worry that my children are in danger of being abducted on a daily basis. When I say that people try to take them I mean that they pick them up and walk around with them. Sometimes they take them across the street or down the street to their stall, but they’ve never gone farther than that. I’m pretty sure it’s an innocent diversion. When I asked our English speaking friend she said that they were trying to help me do my shopping without having to take care of the children at the same time (like Ikea!). She thought it was a great idea. I promise to be vigilant. Please don’t worry.

Titus Loves Money

Titus loves money. The morning after we arrived here he made a to-do list that included only “breakfast” and “exchange money”. He had brought four dollars with him. At 16,000 dong per dollar that left him with a whopping 64,000 dong. He was ecstatic since he’s never had 64,000 of anything. He promptly bought a set of pokemon toys (sigh).

I just realized that we’re millionaires in Vietnam!

Things are really cheap here. I bought three fresh loaves of bread here this morning for less than fifty cents. Dinner for the family? Less than four dollars. Diapers (yes! they’re here), 5 dollars for a pack of fifty! We’re a little confused, however, that instant noodles (of the ramen variety) are more expensive here. They are four packs for a dollar. Maybe it’s the three flavoring packets inside that make the difference. (Note: We have eaten these instant noodles a lot since we’ve been here because we can make it in our room, so if you hear me complain about noodles it’s probably this kind and not the delicious authentic kind made by real Vietnamese cooking pros).

More Food...

This is the woman who made the dish that Bryce said was “reason enough to come to Vietnam” after taking one bite. These seem to be shrimp stuffed with veggies and spices, then wrapped in noodles, and finally deep fried. Who came up with such a dish? I wish I could tell you what it is called but we only know it as “Number One” since that is what she refers to it as knowing we like it so much. Anyway, wish we could share some Number One with all of you…

Monday, September 15, 2008

To Market

We have started buying produce at the open market. There are two near the guest house where we’re staying. Both are crowded with vendors and hung with a patchwork of tarp awnings to keep out the sun and rain. Our system for buying things usually includes pointing, shrugging, nodding (or shaking), and smiling (and more smiling). I think I say “okay” a lot because all of the women say that to me now when I come. There are some things that I’ve learned about shopping in the open market:
1. Make sure Enzo has a hat and pants on. A scantily clad baby is a sure way to get yourself yelled at by the well meaning aunties.
2..Keep your children close. We’re used to people trying to take Enzo away but in the market Maggie has been seized twice and today a tiny woman attempted to pick up Titus and walk off with him (she did manage to get him off the ground). I know they mean this innocently but it turns out the kids don’t like being absconded with.
3. Be flexible. Who knows what will be for sale? Today it sure wasn’t bananas.

Saturday trip to Hanoi

Hanoi Trip
Our day starts with a nice 30 minute bus ride down to Sword Lake. Legend says that an honorable king returned a sword to the tortoises of that lake and it’s still there, buried under the water. Trees around the lake grow nearly parallel to the ground and stretch over the water, obviously perfect for the tree climbers in our family. But we are promptly besieged by two little ladies in conical hats who yell at us for a few minutes, presumably annoyed that the kids are out there. When we asked our friend what they had said, she translated briefly, “too dangerous”. We take a family photo instead.

Then we have some ice cream (coconut and rice flavored though green bean is available), buy a kids Vietnamese dictionary (for Bryce and I), and browse through a big 5 story shopping mall (too expensive). Now it’s time for lunch at what we think is a fast food chain called “BBQ Chicken”. Not quite the hamburger Titus was expecting… nice headbands, though.

We head over the the Old Quarter of Hanoi after lunch to see some little shops and especially so the kids could see what is available for the Moon Festival (by the way, Happy Moon Holiday to everyone). This is where we run into some intense crowds. We are in stop and go foot traffic with motorbikes, bicycles, and cars honking their way through. Like ants on a cookie…I think if people could have climbed over us they would have.

We are tired now, but we keep going at the sergeant-like encouragement of our friend. Somehow we end up at the museum. Like always when I visit a museum, I leave guiltily aware that I didn’t appreciate a fraction of what was there. But we did like the drumming and dancing, the outdoor games (Titus won at tug of war), and the authentic model houses of traditional Vietnamese Peoples.

So now it is time to go home. Unfortunately, it is also rush hour. Both buses we take are standing room only. I hold madly onto my handrail (trying to look as though I do this every day), hugged on all sides by strangers, as the bus lurches through traffic. I realize that lane markings are more decorative than anything as five lanes of trucks, buses, and cars fit on a three lane highway with motorbikes weaving in and around them all. Honking is essential.

We arrive home tired but happy. And look, Mr. Bean is playing on the screen outside…

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's Official

A big shout out to all of the recent grads! Bryce walked in June but got the email today that his dissertation was complete and all of the random forms had been successfully received. It was addressed to Dr. Battisti. We were ridiculously excited. Here is an official pic from last June.
We learned today that the toads the kids have been so excited about are actually poisonous. Interesting. Poisonous skin they say. I'm mostly sad they won't be able to play with them now that we know. They really had a good time with those toads. Now that I think about it I'm not sure what the effects of the poison could be. I suppose I had better ask.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Frantic Litte Reality Check

Last night, as we sat together in a small pho dive down the street, enjoying the most fresh and flavorful noodle soup I've ever had, Bryce and I looked at each other and said, "What are we doing here!?!" The woman of the house bustled around us, holding the baby, showing Titus how to use chopsticks, and trying to find something for Maggie to eat (she's still exhausted at night from jet lag) all while filling orders for her more inconspicuous customers. The small room was all shades of brown, maybe with varying levels of griminess, and a dusty faded 2002 calendar hung over the tiny linoleum table. There was an overwhelming feeling for me that someone else should be doing this. Someone who doesn't secretly wish for a People magazine and a long bath (not so secretly now). Someone who wouldn't notice that they haven't seen another westerner for a week. Someone adventurous. I know there are many people like this. I’ve met them before and have listened in innocent devotion to their world traveling stories. In other words, they really intimidate me. That’s how I know I’m not one of them. So, I guess I'm having a little reality check here. That happens to everyone, right?... right?...RIGHT?

I am timidly enjoying being here. I got a small thrill today when the kids ran downstairs into the courtyard and started climbing trees and looking for toads as if they owned the place (the people sitting at the nearby cafe looked like they had more of a thrill of terror when Titus started the tree swaying while wedged near the top). The sweet ladies who work at the guest house peeked in our room this morning, and even though I knew they had come in to empty the trash, I felt like they were friends coming to visit. I love friends coming to visit.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Babies Without Boundaries

Enzo is turning out to be quite the traveler. He has been in great spirits since we got to Vietnam and has been charming the socks off of everyone (Even though most people are wearing sandals). It seems that having a baby around can break down cultural boundaries instantly. Whenever we take Enzo out we are swarmed by people (usually women) who can't seem to get enough of him. They smile and coo and ask us questions and often insist that Bryce take him out of the carrier so they can hold him. Then their friends want to hold him. Then they take him to the other end of the store so someone there can hold him. I guess it's a good thing that it's our third baby...
The receptionist at the guest house speaks very good English and has offered to watch Enzo for us several times. For a few days we were able to avoid leaving our baby with a virtual stranger in a strange country. Yesterday, however, she took Enzo from Bryce while he was sleeping to cuddle for a while. Meanwhile, our friend came to take us to lunch. Both the receptionist and our friend thought this was the perfect arrangement. We could go to lunch while she took care of our sleeping baby. There were a couple of indecisive looks between Bryce and I and then we stepped out the door. We did end up enjoying a nice quiet lunch without the baby. We talked to each other and listened to the older kids like we hadn't had time for in a while. As we were finishing up one of the girls who works in the restaurant brought us a note. It said, "You must come to the guest house soon, your baby is now crying." We went back quickly and rescued the two of them. Maybe that will be the last time she offers.

Food Update

Okay, so I did run into a little bit of a food issue yesterday. There appeared to be chicken feet in our soup. It turns out I'm not a fan of chicken feet soup. Bryce braved a couple of bites (not the feet exactly, just the broth) and I dished some up but didn't really eat any. The kids didn't seem to notice anything amiss since they didn't want soup anyway. Looking back I think maybe we should have pointed them out... but at the time I didn't want to be stuck eating them just to show the kids how to be adaptable.
Luckily, we were also introduced to dragon fruit yesterday (that's what Titus is eating in our room). A lovely, juicy, mild fruit. The pomelo we ate tasted great but we're pretty sure we cut it up wrong.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting Started

Here is Maggie enjoying our second breakfast in Vietnam. Yesterday we ate some delicious pastries with hot milk for breakfast but forgot our camera to document the auspicous occasion. The food has been excellent and we have not been missing cooking for ourselves in the least. The main challenge so far, unsuprisingly, has been the language. We really don't know any Vietnamese! While we feel quite conspicuous and a little vulnerable in our English speaking Americaness, we have been met with nothing but gracious hospitality here (well, there have also been some rather long and obvious stares).

We have been set up at the guest house at the university which is set up like a hotel. We have two rooms right next to each other. One with a double bed and small seating area for us and the other with three single beds for the kids (plenty of room for visitors). I love the dark wood and cast iron grates on the windows.
While I'm writing this now the kids are playing a board game. Bryce is looking for something that has been lost in the unpacking process, and Enzo is sleeping soundly in the arms of the Vietamese receptionist at the guest house. We went out this morning for a great explore but gave up after about half an hour in the downpour. I feel like I can handle a good rain, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, but this is something else. Our umbrellas started leaking, our hems were totally soaked, and we kept getting yelled at by the kindly ladies in the market for having Enzo out without proper clothing. It's still raining now but we have to head out to meet someone for lunch. I hope to blog again soon.