The vacation has been going great, and I’m trying not to stress out at all the inefficiencies that come with vacationing: People taking forever to get ready, the family unable to decide what to do, people forgetting to pack stuff, someone getting food poisoning and slowing the rest of us down. Really! If you’re going to get food poisoning, at least time it so it’s easy on the rest of us. How inconsiderate.
We went to see Thuy, the banh mi seller. Her vegan banh mis still kick ass, and she is quite a delightful person to converse with.
“In the U.S., I hear people are workaholics, and they don’t know their neighbors. They could live for years and not know their next-door-neighbors. When they go home, they lock themselves into their houses, like prisoners. Is that true?”
“Well,” I said, “some of it.” Certainly people are more social here. The men seem to spend two to six hours a day at a café chatting it up, and everyone seems to know one another’s personal business. “But there are good things, too,” I said.
“Yes!” she said, “I hear Americans respect women more. My friend wrote back and told me the men…go shopping…and…clean house and cook and stuff.” She had a sparkle in her eyes, as if she was talking about a magical land filled with bunnies and unicorns. The women definitely work harder here. Most of them work outside the home, but are solely responsible for household chores. The men often engage in the Vietnamese social activity called “nhau” which is basically a group of people drinking and eating for hours until they pass out. Usually the men do this on the weekends, and the women have to serve food and clean up after them.
“It’s horrible,” said Thuy as she cut into a banh mi and stuffed it with vegan meats, cucumbers, tomatoes, Vietnamese cilantro, and her secret sauce that she told me contained BBQ sauce from the US. “They nhau for hours, inviting their friends over, and the bathroom would be so gross afterward, and we women would have to clean.”
“The women here must start a revolution!” I declared.
“What? Don’t be ridiculous. How could we possibly win?”
“You must have self-confidence! Revolt! Strike!”
She thought I was insane. But the seed has been planted. If all the women would go on strike and refuse to do any more chores, maybe the men will shape up. Vietnam can only advance so much when the household gender inequity is so wide.
After missing a scheduled tour with family members, we went to a salon for a shampoo, then got a massage, then headed to Nha Trang center to look at the ridiculously overpriced stuff that I like to measure using the unit of “Average Weekly Wage” (AWW) of the poor people here. The poor here make about $25USD a week, if they’re lucky, so a shirt costing $50 would be 2AWW’s. It’s pretty ridiculous. Look, a pair of shoes for 6AWW’s! A dress for 10AWW’s!
We got hungry, so we took a taxi to our favorite vegan restaurant here, called Co Tam, arguably the best vegan food in Nha Trang. When we got there at 3 p.m., the place looked closed. I opened the door, and the owner was asleep resting on a mat on the floor. We could have woken her up from her siesta, but she looked so peaceful. Disappointed, we told the taxi driver to take us to another vegan place near by.
He took us to a temple known for its giant statue of the Buddha on a hill. The food there was great (not as good as Co Tam’s), and we got to explore the temple, which was awesome. There were so many chubby children there. Jameelah and I have been counting these obese children, the prevalence of whom is a sign of Vietnam’s economic growth.
“Chubby kid on your right,” we would say. These rotund tykes are often pretty adorable, waddling about with their bags of MSG-laden snacks. We walked up the 150 steps to the statue of the Buddha, panting along the way. It was tiring. Inside the 100-foot statue, decorated reliefs depicted the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. I think. They could use a few captions.
When I left, I felt bad whispering “Good luck, chub” to one kid. Really, it’s not the kids’ fault. Their parents need to stop feeding them junk food.
Several lessons learned yesterday. One, I’m on vacation, so I need to stop stressing out about perceived inefficiencies and learn to go with the flow. Two, the Great Buddha once said counting chubby children should only be done with good intentions. Or something like that. Three, starting a cultural revolution may be harder than I thought.
Anyway, all this is stressing me out, so I think I’ll get a massage and a drink or two for about 1AWW.
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