Jameelah and I are back in Seattle after a layover in Korea, where she fell in love with the digital toilet. It’s awesome, with a seat warmer and wonderful buttons that spray your undersides with water. Much more ecofriendly than using toilet paper. I think it’s the way of the future.
The trip ended too quickly, and now we are finding ourselves back in Seattle, trying to relearn basic things like showering with a regular shower and not a plastic bucket. Jameelah loves the country and is already is trying to find a way to spend six months to a year living there. The last week, she discovered Vietnamese transvestites. A traveling troupe of them came to the village, setting up an entertaining little fair with Bingo, carnival games, and singing and dancing in very skimpy clothing. Parents, ironically, brought their kids to see the transvestites. The children sat in the front row, amazed by the women in high heels who sounded like men and some of who could eat lightbulbs. Jameelah likes that the ladies have such confidence. She won a teapot playing bingo.
My eyes are bloodshot from jetlag, but more so from the thought that I will now have to re-confront work and other life responsibilities. For example, when we got home, we realized that Jameelah’s car has been stolen. Do you know what this means? My bad luck might finally be over! OK, that was insensitive. I’m jetlagged, OK? It’s 3:30am.
I’ve learned several lessons from this trip that I think will be very helpful for life in general, so I’d like to share them with you:
The early bird gets the banh beo. We became addicted to this dish (tiny rice cakes topped with peanuts, mung beans, and green onions, bathed in seasoned soy sauced) which was only available in the morning, as they ran out very quickly. Nothing is as disheartening as craving banh beo only to have to settle for xoi (sticky rice). In life, never settle for xoi!
When life stares at you, stare back. Jameelah received a lot of stares. At first she was intimated and annoyed, one time coming back home looking defeated. On guy on a bus several seat in front of us turned around over a dozen times to gawk. After a while, she learned to stare back at people. When they looked at her up and down, scanning her from face to toes, she reciprocated. It’s fun to watch people squirm when the table is turned on them.
Sometimes you have to close your eyes and cross the street. First-timers in Vietnam are oftentimes freaked out by having to cross the street, with its myriad motorcycles, cyclos, taxis, bikes, and pedestrians, all of who usually seem so intent on getting to their destination that they won’t care if you get turned into a Vietnamese pancake. If you think too much, you will freak out and won’t be able to cross. Stop thinking, start walking at a steady pace, and have confidence that you will make it to the other side OK.
In the sugarcane juice of life, don’t fret about the ants. We loved the fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. Shafts of cane are sent through a pressing machine, and a golden nectar results, served on the rocks, tasting of sweet summer, tinged with citrus. Usually there are a few unfortunate ants that get caught in the process and end up floating in your drink. You could return the glass, get your money back, but why let a couple of harmless ants ruin your day? Just take them out. Or heck, be adventurous and leave them in. They taste like lemon anyway.
Never underestimate the lowly cyclo. In Hanoi, we got ripped off taking the taxi from the bus station to our hotel. On the way out, we were hailed by an old cyclo driver, a man in his sixfties, who offered to take us both for a third what we paid the taxi. We were skeptical, thinking that there was no way he could take us both with all our luggage. We got on, and he was able to carry everything. On the way, I had a wonderful conversation with him that mainly involved him complaining about the French. So we got a great ride, good conversation, and for half the price. The basic things in life are usually better than the fancier, air-conditioned things that drove around the blocks several times to rack up the meter.
There is such a thing as too many coconuts: In the blistering heat of life, nothing beats a really cold coconut. Unless, you have more than two. Apparently coconuts have a laxative effect. Corollary lesson: In the restroom of life, always make sure you bring your own toilet paper.
Finally: Life is a mangosteen: The mangosteen is an awesome purple fruit which have little white segments that taste like bliss, like the innocence of lazy childhood afternoons flying homemade kites mixed with the delicate sweetness of true love. That’s why they’re so damn expensive. Like life, you can never tell if one is going to be good or bad until you cut into it. Grab one anyway, open it. If it’s good, savor it. If it’s not so good, eat around the bad part and grab another one.
We’ll get Jameelah’s car back, or find another one. Yeeha! See you later. I’m going to try to sleep.