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Is there more to my life than food?

September 14, 2010

It’s the second day of training for Jonathan and I am again reminded that it is going to take an active effort for me to make good use of my time here. It helps that there are five other wives and girlfriends here who are in the same unemployed, homeless state. Four of them will be staying here in Hanoi so they will begin house hunting, but for the most part we have our days free to do as we please.

Yesterday we took one of the wives who had just arrived over to the grocery store and the GO. We had bun cha at the usual place on the left, and café sua da on the right. The learning curve here is intense so those of us who have been here four or five days are able to help the others find their way around, buy water, and eat lunch – just as someone passed on the information to us. (After waking up freezing every night, I was just told there is a comforter in the cabinet under the TV!)

So far the only consistent thing in our days is breakfast. The hotel provides it from 6-9am every day. It is definitely the easiest meal of the day. You don’t have to wonder where it came from or how much it’s going to cost. You don’t have to try to make someone else understand what you want or try to figure out what they are actually offering. There’s no wondering whether they will come serve you or if you are supposed to go ask them for food. No one stares at you or tries to take pictures of you while you eat.

They have a good variety of fruits – including watermelon, bananas, golden fruit (similar to cantaloupe but crunchier), and dragon fruit – Happy Cow cheese, yogurt (which is much runnier than we’re used to), and various rolls and bread for toast with butter and some kind of jam. There are fried and hard-boiled eggs, bacon (though a little soft for my taste), and something that reminds me of Vienna sausages.

Then you get to the Asian side of the buffet, and it stops looking like breakfast. Several mornings we had sautéed cabbage. Other mornings it was broccoli. There are fried noodles, fried rice, some kind of soup, and the makings for phở.
There are two pots on the warmer – one of thick, dark coffee, and the other of thick, dark tea. There are two pitchers of milk – one regular, and one condensed. They have some kind of juice as well, but I haven’t yet to have any.

The other nice thing about breakfast is that it is where we see the other members of our group and make plans for the day.

After breakfast I usually feel like going back to our room, checking email, cleaning up, and writing. The only problem with this (and I think I’ll just have to get over it) is this is when they come to clean our rooms. I feel extremely awkward sitting at the computer while someone is making my bed and cleaning the bathroom. I tried to tell her today she didn’t have to do it, but she can’t understand me and just smiles and keeps doing whatever she’s doing. And if we put the ‘do not disturb’ sign up, we won’t get our little pink tickets that let us in to breakfast the next day.

Sometimes she brings a new flower for the vase on the desk, and every day she goes out and sweeps the balcony – even though we never go out there. Today we got a special treat and they took all the old furniture out and put new in (except for the bed unfortunately.) When there were ten people in here drilling (they moved the headboard over 6 inches), moving the TV, chairs, and tables, and relocating the picture on the wall I decided it was time to leave – even if it meant walking around in the drizzling rain.

Three of us went out looking for lunch, and decided to head the opposite way out of the hotel than we normally go. The road has little or no sidewalks (I don’t think they believe in them here), and, in spite of it being one lane wide, city buses regularly send us scurrying for cover. I don’t want to be the person who gets the wave of water every time a car goes past and there’s a puddle. We usually have to walk single-file everywhere we go. This is good for the health and bad for conversation.

The first place we come to has a sign that advertises phở bò. I’ve had pho, and I’m pretty sure bo is beef. There are plenty of people inside which we take as a good sign. We stop at the front door next to the lady stirring the huge pot (we’ve also heard that’s a good sign because it means they are going through a lot of food), but when she ignores us we walk down the stairs into the restaurant and take a seat. Once again, the seat is a plastic seat that you would normally see in a kindergarten room, and I can barely fit my knees under the table.

We sit for a few minutes looking around us, unsure whether we will, in fact, be waited on, and eventually I go back upstairs. There’s a different person stirring the pot now. I hold up three fingers and say “phở bò.” He nods at me, and I go sit down again.

We patiently wait for our food – all the while a girl across the room quite conspicuously takes pictures of us with her cell phone. Shortly, three steaming bowls of noodles, broth, beef, and green onions are placed in front of us (reaching three feet across the two men who have taken the other end of our short tables). I am still baffled by how hot (temperature and spice-wise) the food here is. I figured I was already sweating so I added some chili sauce and pickled garlic and chilis. Not only did I have a tasty lunch, but I also got a spicy steam bath for my face.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Israel Holby permalink
    September 22, 2010 11:28

    Check out this website for learning Vietnamese. We’ll see how well I have been studying it in November.

    I’ve been working on the lessons: Quick Vietnamese for Seven Days in Country

    Are there very many English teaching opportunities there? If it’s like here, you can teach a few classes per week at schools or professional training centers.

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