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Posts Tagged ‘traveling to Vietnam’

purple eggplantIt’s that time again. The harvest is winding down. Jim bought a small basket of red and green chile so we can roast, peel, and freeze a few baggies to pull out in the middle of winter, when our bodies crave the chemical capsaicin (which produces the heat in chile). The air conditioner is closed up, and the heater turned on.

But it’s also time for one of my frequent journeys to Vietnam. I’ve stopped counting how many this makes — surely I’ve used up the fingers on both hands and am now onto my toes. I can tell you that each time I prepare for another trip, I go through the same bizarre process of mental gyrations.



green (and purple striped) beans Wagner's chile




Roma’s Five Stages of Travel Preparation


Stage One: Avoidance. As soon as I know I have to go on a long trip abroad, I put it out of my mind. After all, the trip is weeks, maybe months away. I sometimes neglect to tell even my family; I don’t want them to fret any earlier than necessary. Although I’ve gotten better about this, it would not have been unusual a few years back to hear the following conversation in my household:

ME: Hey, Jim, I did tell you that I’m leaving on Monday to (fill-in-the-blank-country)?

JIM: What?? No, I had no idea.

ME: Oh, I’m sorry. It was spur-of-the-moment.

JIM: You mean, they only gave you four days’ notice?




Stage Two: Nostalgia.
I walk around my house, the patio, my yard, the girls’ rooms with a sweeping sense of loss and dread. How can I leave all this? I don’t want to go. Don’t make me go!!



jelly
Corrales Growers Market with the iPhone, all photos © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Stage Three: Guilt.
Surely my children will be damaged by all my globe-trotting. Don’t people ask me every time I tell them I’m off again, “What about the girls?” I rush around like a crazy woman, trying to make my absence more bearable. I take Em’s Halloween outfit to the seamstress so it will be ready by the time I return. I hang up Dee’s clothes in her closet so she could find them easily while getting ready for school. Jim gets a homemade apple pie–his favorite. So this is what inspired Superwoman, I think.



Stage Four: Panic.
This is the frenzied state I find myself in the day before I leave, my suitcase still not packed. I am relieved to find that my multientry visa is still valid. Whew! It would have been disastrous had it expired. (Been there, done that.) At 8 pm, the hour I should be hitting the sack given that I have to wake up at 3:45 am, I start flinging clothes into my suitcase. It’s cool in Hanoi, hot in the south. Whatever I forget to pack, I’ll just have to buy there. Hmmm, was that a goosebump I just felt?



yellow peppersred potatoes (big ones)
Roma tomatoes




Stage Five: Calm.
Bags are checked, boarding passes in hand. I got an upgrade on the leg from ABQ to SFO. Wandering through airport stores, it dawns on me that I forgot to pack my neck pillow. Pick up a super soft one to add to our collection back home. Also picked up two books I’ve been wanting to read: lit by Mary Karr and Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves. Between the books, my writing and doodle journals, plus a presentation and a bit of writing for work, I will make good use of my alone time. I’m ready for this. Let the fun begin!









A Sampling of (Recent) Vietnam Posts


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vietnamese children (one)
 
 
                   vietnamese children (two)
 
 
                             vietnamese children (three)
 


Here I am, crouching in front of a temple in Hue, surrounded by children. They squeal, I smile. They tug at me, I hug them. When my guide enters the courtyard and sees me, he marches toward me, beside himself. He pulls me up from the spot where I am, a small child like them. “Watch your purse,” he hisses.

He’s not unkind. He just knows how children can be with tourists. But I’m not afraid. If they take something from me, more power to them. I shouldn’t be such a naive soul, should I?, for letting them dupe me like that. It’s the price I’m willing to pay to be with children, even if they’re not my own.

But the truth is, these kids don’t even try to take my things. They want to test their broken English and throw me some universal signs. Peace, love, all that. At this point on a trip to Vietnam, I need all the peace and love I can get. I notice children everywhere I go. I am beyond homesick.



child monk




Fast forward to today. Em packs Froggy and Meow. Froggy is a frog pillow that presently rests in the space between me and Em. His green warmth at my side assures me as our plane lifts from the tarmac and begins its bumpy ascent. Dee packs no stuffed toys, although this morning she took Merry, the horse she’s had since age three or four, to stay with Jim for the almost three weeks we’ll be gone. We’ll be gone. Me and my girls. Finally. In Vietnam.

This is something I’ve always done with my girls. Not the international travel, but whisking them away, the three of us sans Daddy. I’ve taken them to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, where we tried unsuccessfully to put up a tent in the wind and ended up walking into the administration office and sheepishly asking for a room. We’ve been to Santa Monica, at the Hotel California, and when we drove into the parking lot from the airport—you won’t believe it!—that Eagles tune was playing on the rental car radio.

We’ve gone to Denver, with my sister and her kids, and also taken a road trip with them to San Francisco via Las Vegas. In Taos, the girls and I stayed in Mabel‘s room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and I didn’t tell them that my blog partner had once seen the ghost of Mabel in that very same room.

But those adventures pale in comparison to the three plane rides it will take to get us to Ho Chi Minh City. One of the flights is 13 or 14 hours long. I try not to dwell on it but wonder if I’ll be able not to when I have an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old sitting next to me. Not to mention Froggy.

And this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see my girls’ reactions when I take them to the crowded colorful market where women tug at your sleeve and say “Madam, Madam!” or when we eat a steaming bowl of rice noodles and chicken for breakfast or morning glory sauteed in garlic for lunch. Will they agree that Vietnamese food is the best in the world?

We’ll float down the Mekong Delta, travel by domestic plane to a beach town I’ve heard about but never been to, stay in a luxury two-bedroom apartment right in the heart of bustling Saigon. All month long as the trip looms closer, I drive them around our hometown and tell them that driving on the streets of Saigon is nothing like Corrales. I want them to feel the chaos, the aliveness of it all. To see how a place half a world away wakes up, eats, lives, go to sleep. Is.

We are on the plane now. Em shows me a photo she just snapped with her cell phone camera of the landscape out the window of our plane, somewhere west of the Grand Canyon. The image on her small screen resembles those photos of Earth as seen from outer space. There’s the curve of the terrain, layers of atmosphere growing from light to dark blue as you move away from the land toward the expansive sky.

This is like us, I think, in the world, high above it all. On our way to places beyond.


safe travels


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It is two weeks and two days since I walked through my own door, the door to my home, after being away also for two weeks. Four weeks, then, a month since my last trip to Vietnam, where everywhere around me there are doors.

Bellhops dressed in long satin traditional robes and hats who open the glass doors to my hotel lobby the night I arrive from the airport. I come sweeping in, even dog-tired after more than 24 hours in transit, and the moment I enter that grand foyer with a big marble table in the center and on the center of that table an oversized floral arrangement, I feel exhilarated. It’s usually 11:00 pm, and all I can think of is laying my body flat on a bed, but still, I have that Mary-Tyler-Moore-in-the-big-city moment, a feeling of being in the center of the action, in a global hot spot, where people come and go at all hours of the day and night, people from every country to this epicenter of the world.

The doors to my own home are parochial by comparison, set in the past, of a certain era, a place, a quiet time. They are large, two entry-way doors across from one another in the foyer of my home. Made of plain wood, birch perhaps, double Dutch doors, one set facing the front of the house, the other set the back courtyard. These doors also stand out. When I walk through them I notice the way they require an extra nudge to open them. They are heavy and sticky, substantial doors reminding me that this is the place where I, too, am destined to pass long years of my life.

Have I always been this comfortable in two places? I close my eyes and see myself striding, yes, not merely walking but striding in and out of those glass doors in District One, the first and oldest and most vibrant district of Saigon. It’s not that I don’t feel alone there, but rather in my solitude I feel strong and independent, like I know the place, and I almost wrote, like I own the place.

The hotel lobby is like any other hotel lobby, imposing and luxurious, with a certain lighting and an aura of hospitality that makes the traveler feel cushioned. Cushioned from the inconveniences of being away from the familiar, a toaster and a green tea kettle, butter pecan in the freezer. Cushioned from the thousands of miles of space and time from those we love.

There is a Gucci shop where young Vietnamese men and women dressed in black stand talking, store employees so elegant and hip they intimidate. I pass by their doors without staring and out I walk into the humid street where cafes and restaurants sit next to shops selling men’s suits and silk scarves and children’s dresses.

I walk through the door of the French bakery and buy an almond tart on my last night of this trip, and I tuck it into my purse as I consider whether to venture into a Spanish bodega where young expats eat tapas and drink red wine from goblets or get my last fix of Vietnamese food from Lemongrass, one of my favorite local spots. Either way I will sit alone, eat alone, consider solely how this trip has been and how it has revealed a few more mysteries.

And just in the moment when I am at the point where the people around me seem too jolly, where they only seem to appear in pairs and threes and fours, parents with children in contrast to me alone, I get to walk out of the glass doors held open by the man in robes and into a waiting taxi. Through the sliding doors of the airport and the gates and the portals and the passageways I go, flying through the day and night, back in time, back to the place where heavy doors wait, welcoming me to the other familiar.



-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DOOR

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pig on a scooter

pig on a scooter, pen and marker on graph paper, doodle and
photos © 2009-2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





This is my seventh visit to Vietnam. Seven trips, back and forth across the great expanse. If I added up all the hours spent on just one leg of the trip—San Francisco to Hong Kong and back—it would be 182 hours in the sky. Over one week on just these seven trips.

That’s a lot of time to spend in a vehicle that I liken to an empty toilet paper tube with wings. A lot of time spent sitting, eating, and sleeping in the company of strangers. As someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy being in such close proximity to people I don’t know who sniffle, snore, and sweat, it is noteworthy, then, that I can muster the mental fortitude to make the slog again and again. The reason I do it, the reason anyone does it, of course, is for what waits on the other side.

My first trip to Vietnam, I wandered the streets of Saigon, lost but unafraid, except perhaps any time I stepped off a curb and into the onslaught of motorbikes, which parted and flowed around me as if I were a boulder in a rushing river. That and my second trip were spent solely in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, which is a sensual feast and assault all at once.

The roads are clogged with motor scooters, and not just one person per scooter but entire families and small businesses transported on two small tires. There are rickshaws, bicycles, small cars, SUVs, tourist vans with sleeping Japanese or Koreans, and the ubiquitous container trucks, what we call semis, reminding us that this place is being rebuilt before our very eyes.

But traffic and congestion you can see in any big city in the world, and Saigon holds not a candle to many of the largest. Still, where else can you witness the harmony of millions of people and their wheels in synchronous motion, as if this is something they’ve practiced all their lives—driving motorbikes loaded down with baskets, glass panes, multigenerational families, televisions—and are now performing in the symphony of daily life.

There is a Zen quality to the way traffic flows in Vietnam. School girls dressed in white Áo Dàis, the traditional attire for women, stroll in pairs down a busy thoroughfare, impervious to the crazy tourist vans and containers that roar by, spewing their black exhaust. I peer at the chatting girls with both fear and admiration. How do they manage to stay so calm when I am reciting Hail Mary’s and praying that I will return home in one piece?

As I have traveled from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, through the center part of the country in Da Nang and Hoi An, then north to Hanoi and Halong Bay, I’ve seen more than I can ever recall. A naked man walking along the cement divider on a narrow and packed two-lane highway. Cows grazing in the grassy medium. Women bent harvesting rice. Raised graves that look like small cottages. Buddhist statues as tall as skyscrapers.

On my morning commute to work, colleagues on the shuttle bus doze off or talk to one another. Not me. I keep my eyes glued to the passing scenery. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen a bus pass so close that I could touch it or the tangle of rivers we seem to always cross, or the row of shops that sell marble statues in the likeness of any spiritual figure—Buddhas, goddesses, Jesus and Mary—I am still drawn in as if seeing it all for the first time.

On my last trip I went in a minivan from Hanoi to Halong Bay. I’m now accustomed to seeing animals transported on the backs of scooters. Chickens in cages or ducks with their bills and legs tied with twine for the trip. But I had never seen an adult pig, five or six hundred pounds of pink jello-y flesh, roped onto a motorbike. As the young man carrying the pig passed our van and I stared with mouth open, he seemed nonchalant, so at ease bumping along the dirt road with his jiggling sow in tow.

There is no way, really, to describe how exotic, how absolutely delectable Vietnam is to my senses. Roads are torn up, rice paddy fields relocated, new business parks and high rises rise overnight. It is a country in transition, moving to claim its place among economic powerhouses. I am in the midst of it, working with government, industry, and education to prepare for what is to come.

On one of my early trips, I walked with two Vietnamese colleagues down an alley near the coffee house where we’d just been. I looked up at the tangle of communications and electrical cables, signs of growth unplanned. Before us motorbikes surged six rows thick, mixed with taxis, cars, and bicycles. I turned to my friend and said, “I hope Vietnam never changes. I hope I can always see this,” and I motioned with my hand at the chaos before us. She looked me in the eye and said, “Ah, Roma, I hope very much that my country does change. I hope we someday have roads to fit the cars, safe roads and infrastructure for all the people who live here.”

It was then that I realized how unfair of me it was to want Vietnam to remain the same, as if it were a curiosity put here for my own pleasure. The people of any country should be able to determine their own destiny. And especially Vietnam, ravaged by war and poverty, a legacy of imperialism.

I’ve come around to embracing the change that is inevitable. These days I simply observe everything I can, take it in as if I were a recorder. Ten years from now, I vow to come back and see how different it is.



stop light (ho chi minh city) waiting to cross (ho chi minh city)
sharing the road (ho chi minh city) in transition (ho chi minh city)
going for a ride (ho chi minh city)

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Fish Out of Water, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Nothing like traveling to make a person feel like a fish out of water. It’s an unnatural act, moving among strangers in airports and on airplanes. I sat next to man for two hours from Albuquerque to San Francisco and said nary a word. Not even “Hi.” Which is how I like it, but my Lord, yesterday on the one-hour drive to Jemez Springs Jim did the “New Mexico wave” (two fingers lifted off the steering wheel) to more people in passing cars than I’ll manage to acknowledge in the next 24 hours.

At this moment, sitting in the San Francisco airport, I’m feeling more bull in a china shop than fish out of water. I checked one piece of luggage but still have a soft leather carry-on that is mostly empty right now but will be filled with scarves and other goodies on the return leg. Then there’s my Samsonite laptop backpack, along with my large-dictionary-sized drawing-and-writing supply satchel. I bent down to pick up a piece of paper I’d dropped in the security line and ended up bopping a kid in the back of the head with two of my bags. Right now all my carry-ons and I are spread across three chairs, like we own the place.

When I went to Spain back in the mid-80s, with clothes and stuff enough to live there for a year, I carried a giant tote bag that was so heavy I had to nudge it with my booted foot down the side of the road. The only rolling anything they made back then were racks-with-wheels, the kind you had to bungie your luggage to, and since only old people bothered with those I used the kick-the-can method. I didn’t get my can even out of eyeshot of the train terminal before someone came along and offered to take me to a guest house with rooms for rent. The guy got me to the place without hitch—I ended up renting a room there for two weeks—although I’d never get into a stranger’s car these days.

Ah, there goes another fish out of water. First off, she’s a she. Not many of us single women around, and for all I know her husband and two kids with matching Dora-the-Explora rollaway bags are waiting for her around the corner. But I suspect not. She has a huge purse plus the kind of ginormous Coach shoulder bag that could knock a quarterback off his feet, much less two little kids. And she’s wearing a black dress, red shawl, and dainty round-big-toe sandals. Not the gauzy pants, layered t-shirts and sweatshirts, and Dankos that most traveling mothers wear.

Mostly I recognize the way she looked at me when she passed. A sort of “Ah, maybe I’ll grab a magazine and make myself at home in a quiet corner instead of wandering about the place feeling conspicuous” glance.




_____________________________________________________________________________________

Postscript: I’m presently in San Francisco en route to Vietnam for another work-related visit—my sixth since 2005. I’ve written several posts about travel and specifically Vietnam; this post contains links to a bunch of them. Vietnam was the inspiration for finishing the doodle in this post, which I sketched in a pencil outline almost two years ago. Fish Out of Water was a red Ravine writing topic in September 2007. I finished the doodle on my last trip to Vietnam.

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Strange Bird, self-portrait, May 2009, pen and ink on graph
paper, doodle © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
Sitting on a United Airlines flight, San Francisco to Hong Kong, I am relieved to find the middle seat empty as the last passengers take their seats. The plane starts its slow taxi to the runway. I buckle my seatbelt.

This is Economy Plus, a section touted for its extra five inches of leg room, which on a 14-hour flight impress me about as much as the dinner selection of chipped beef or poached fish.

Before the plane lifts from the tarmac, Frank in the window seat asks about my nose. We have already introduced ourselves, and I have already answered his queries about my ethnicity and where I’m from.

“Where’d the nose come from?!”

The question jars. Does he always ask about physical traits of people he’s just met? Are those breasts real? So, how’dya lose your leg?

“It’s Apache,” I say. A lie, although I’ve always thought that my great-grandfather, José Inocencio, looked like Apache chief Geronimo. The bump on my nose, which forms a contiguous line with my cheekbones, definitely comes from José, as does the hook.

I stick my beak back into my journal. I’ve been working on a doodle I started almost two years ago but never finished. One of the side benefits of being held hostage on a plane for 14 hours is that I get to finish what I started and start a bunch of new stuff that I won’t finish.

“Whatcha workin’ on?” Frank asks. For all his annoying questions, he seems genuinely interested.

I open the book so he can see the picture of a fish walking down a city street. Frank is a lawyer, which is about all I know of him. He notices that a sign on one of the buildings in my drawing says the word LAW. I flip the pages to show him other doodles, and when I land on a picture of a bird next to the word Anxiety, I tell him that I did that one for a piece I wrote about Anxiety.

“Do you have anxiety,” he asks.
 
And with that question, I divulged to a man I’d known only as long as it took to reach cruising altitude that I sometimes suffered from anxiety, that my mother was also anxious, and that I tried anti-anxiety pills but weaned myself off of them.

Then I opened a fresh page in my journal and sketched the outline of what would become my next doodle: a half-woman-half-bird sitting in a cage, naked except for a cape of feathered wings. 
 
 
 
 
bird boobs
 
 
 
 
This tendency toward self-disclosure—I’d like to think it’s a positive trait that comes from my mom. Mom was, still is, the kind of person who’s easy to be around. Troubled friends of mine or my brother’s when we were teenagers often sought refuge at our house. Mom fed them tortillas off the griddle or hot rolls with butter. She asked a few questions of the kids; mostly she let them be.

Uncle Henry, who is married to Mom’s sister Erma, used to visit Mom on late afternoons. He taught Drivers Ed after coaching track at an Albuquerque high school. Many times I walked home from the bus stop to find some pimply kid slouched behind the steering wheel of a car in our driveway. Who knows how long Uncle Henry had been inside, drinking coffee or tea, eating a snack, and talking to Mom?

Mom also has a way of telling it like it is. She’s unlike most women I know of from her generation. Rarely private, never proper. She’s our own Dr. Ruth; she’s told some of us, her daughters and granddaughters, that married couples ought to have sex “about three times a week.” I won’t go into why she once received a ceramic jar labeled Mom’s Farts.

Mom can be riotously self-deprecating. For Father’s Day a year or two ago, we all watched Dad open the usual array of gift cards: Lowes, Borders, Barnes & Noble.

“You shouldn’t get him gift cards,” Mom chided. “Why didn’t you give him something useful, like a hoe?”

“I already have a hoe,” Dad objected.

“Who, me?” Mom asked, at which point they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

We’re on the look-out now for HO-themed presents: Christmas gifts wrapped in HO-HO-HO paper, and a HO-HO-HO t-shirt found at a store in Denver, which we got for Mom this past Mother’s Day.

My mother (and my dad, for that matter) has always been transparent. As a former boyfriend used to tell me, “Your parents are WYSIWYG.” What you see is what you get.
 



bird boobs




There is such a thing as over-exposure. I don’t always know where to draw the line, although I’ve gotten more discerning each year that passes. I won’t hesitate to pop in the earbuds and keep to myself if I feel the need to stop emitting honesty.

For example, I could have told Frank that besides inheriting her anxiety, I’m also prone to Mom’s tendency to bloat after sitting in one spot for too many hours.

Speaking of which, on the return flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, there was no Frank, but there was an Indian man hopping from foot to foot and doing knee bends in the waiting area near the bathroom.

It was the middle of the flight, shades drawn and the plane completely dark to simulate nighttime. I made my way past sleeping passengers, their legs, pillows, and headphones spilling into the aisle. The toilet was occupied. I looked to the Indian man and asked, “You in line?” He nodded and kept running in place.

We waited for what seemed like a long time, being as how the man wouldn’t stand still. When the door popped open, he hesitated, then looked at me.

“You go next,” he said. He’d finally stopped moving.

“Are you sure??” I asked. Maybe he was about to pee in his pants.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure! I’m going to be a loooong time, and after I’m done you won’t want to go in there.”

“Ah,” I said and made for the door.

I didn’t know whether to thank him at the time, although looking back, I’m really glad he shared.






Disclaimer To Frank, In Case He Ever Sees This

You truly were a nice seat mate, nose question notwithstanding. I should have mentioned that I’m known to write about people on planes. At least I didn’t draw you.

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Hello Vietnam, colorful Vietnam, pen and ink on graph
paper, doodle © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Hello red Raviners, lurkers, and those who stumble upon us quite by accident!


QM and I have been working hard for what feels like a long time, keeping this blog full of interesting tidbits and more, and, well, it’s time for a short vacation. 

I’m heading to Vietnam, where I hope to take photos and eat exotic fruit that I dream about. (Oh yeah, and work. In fact, mostly I’ll work.) QM’s going to putz in her garden and write and get ready for an art event at her studio.

Here’s the basic idea behind our vacation:

  1. From May 11-26, we’re allowing ourselves to be free from the pressure of posting several times a week on the blog;
  2. We’re also likely going to be absent from other blog-related stuff, like reading and commenting on friends’ blogs (although I’m going to miss you guys, and I’ll probably lurk, and what the hey, I bet you one lonely night in Saigon, I’ll even comment);
  3. If we start having withdrawals from red Ravine—itchy fingers, twitchy keyboards, cameras run amuck—we’ll do a spontaneous post or two, but we’re still technically on vacation;
  4. We will tweet now and then, QM from her garden and me from Saigon, so watch our new Twitter widget, which is down the right-hand side of the page;
  5. Mostly we’re going to relax and enjoy the hiatus from electronics.



In the mean time, consider this an Open Mic on red Ravine.

If you’re a regular reader and commenter, a part of this community, drop a line about whatever moves you. And if you’ve never commented before (maybe you worried that we were a bunch of hoity-toity writers, which surely by now you know we’re not) then venture out and let us know you’re there.

One of the things we’ll be doing while on hiatus is thinking about where we want to take red Ravine. So we’d love knowing that you’re out there and hearing what it is that floats your boat.

Thanks, and have a great 2+ weeks!

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