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A rainy Vietnamese-Lebanese-Cuban kind of day

October 6, 2010

Yesterday was a rainy day. Actually, I don’t think the word rainy suffices.  Growing up in Atlanta, I’ve seen my share of thunderstorms – the lightning, the thunder, the blowing wind, and raindrops the size of chickpeas. But yesterday, as we viewed a potential apartment on the 13th floor, I was awed all over again by the beauty and power of a good storm. We had been admiring the view and watching the lightning strike towers that were miles away, and then everything was white. The city disappeared, the power went off, and the thunder cracked so loudly we all (except Jonathan, of course) kept jumping in fright.

Once the rain slowed a little, we took a taxi to our other housing option. At one point I thought the engine was going to flood because the water on the road was so deep. I love the rain, but I have yet to try to get somewhere on a motorbike in it. Everyone has enormous ponchos, but I still don’t see how you could stay remotely dry. I think they must put their good shoes in the seat compartment and wear flip-flops.

By the time we got there it was only sprinkling so we decided to explore the neighborhoods behind the complex. One of my issues with this building is that it feels kind of “ivory tower-ish.” It has a KFC, Pho 24, and American Diner with prices in USD. Jonathan really loves the apartment though, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t ruling it out without cause.

We took the first alley beside the building, and immediately felt like we were in a different city. There were two-chair beauty shops and one-room grocery stores. Kids were riding their bicycles home from school, and it looked like people were getting ready for dinner. Everyone smiled when we passed (I never saw another white person,) and quite a few people said hello. I don’t think many of them can say much more than hello, and it almost seems like a joke among them to say it to any white person that passes. We wandered through alleys so narrow you had to walk single file to avoid the motorbikes. At one T junction an old lady smiled and pointed which direction to go. I don’t know why she pointed us that way. Maybe it was toward a bigger road. I wasn’t about to ignore her, though.

We came across a banh mi cart and had to stop. Even in the drizzle, there was a little grill attached to the cart and the lady was grilling some kind of pepperoni-size patties. She had a bowl of raw and one of already cooked, but she took ours straight off the grill and put it into the sandwich. I asked Jonathan what kind of meat he thought it was, and he suggested it might be better not to know. She used a different kind of sauce – dark, thick, and spicy. She wrapped it in an advertisement and away we went. The banh mi has yet to disappoint me.

The version we had today had a fried egg (which she cut in half with scissors to make it fit better) and pate’ in it (along with the usual assortment of unidentified meat.) She also threw a couple of chilis in. One of these days my mouth with toughen up, and I’ll stop making a scene whenever I eat something too hot.

Every day I am more impressed with the variety of food and culture here in Saigon. You can buy a sandwich, pho, and who knows what else in an alley for less than a dollar, or you can have just about any kind of ethnic food in a restaurant. I think that restaurants with air conditioning are automatically more expensive, though most are still cheaper than the equivalent back home.

Last night, four of us made our way down a long, tiny alley to eat at Warda, an elegant Lebanese restaurant. We had dinner with appetizers, desserts, beer and wine for four people for $70. I had a filo pastry stuffed with rice and meat with yogurt dressing. The dessert Jonathan ordered was everyone’s favorite. I can’t find the exact description but it was a circle of light, crispy filo pastry with some kind of soft melted cheese and honey. We will have to go back and get a proper description this time.

After dinner, our friend suggested we go to Saigon Saigon, a bar on the top of the Caravelle Hotel. We got there around 8:30pm and it was pretty quiet. We got a table right in front of the dance floor and listened as guys in fedoras started doing a sound test. Within thirty minutes the place was packed and we were listening to a Cuban band. There were two ladies singing, and we were commenting on their ability to wear skin tight leggings and actually look good in them.

Once they started dancing, though, it was obvious how they were in such good shape. Being in the front, I was their first dance partner victim. I felt slow and clumsy dancing with her, but it was awesome. That’s my kind of exercise! The energy in the place was amazing. The crowd was a mix of every race, and eventually everyone was dancing together. After the rain yesterday, the breeze coming through the open windows was cool and the lights from the surrounding buildings gave everything a really magical feel. I sat there and thought how funny it was that we, a bunch of Americans, were sitting in a bar in Vietnam dancing with a bunch of Cubans.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Holby permalink
    October 6, 2010 14:15

    …after a Lebanese dinner no less!

  2. Charity permalink
    October 6, 2010 14:35

    If you’re unsure about the meats in the banh mi… you need to teach me how to order one vegetarian when I come visit. 😀

    I’m jealous of your dancing excursion… I’m afraid I don’t have anyone here that loves to go dancing like you. 😦

    Miss you lots!!! xoxo

  3. Julie Lewis permalink
    October 6, 2010 19:56

    I scream with delight at the thought of visiting you guys eating Vietnamese food, and dancing salsa in Vietnam. Isn’t God so clever? And isn’t this world amazing!?
    The joy that unravels with each moment

    When was the last time you first did….? Is a comment you both can say daily!

  4. Israel Holby permalink
    October 7, 2010 14:25

    When faced with mystery meat it’s all about having texture. If it has texture it is at least actual meat (specifically, muscle tissue), if not, it could be anything. And remember they put what the US uses in spam on the table as an entry, so I’m not sure where the lunch meat scraps come from here (in the East).

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