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The search for the holy grail

October 26, 2010

After six days of feeling achy, lethargic, upset stomach, and occasionally feverish, I am finally back to normal today. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it’s gone for now so I’m glad. I tried writing about the rest of our trip to Dalat, but it required too much mental energy. I should be back on track now.

I’m thankful I had my energy back today because Jonathan and I spent nearly the entire day looking for a lamp. In our search, we went to a supermarket in an expat area near here, walked all around that neighborhood looking for furniture shops, then cabbed it to District 1, and walked a few more miles.

I’ve never missed Target and Walmart so much. There are charms to buying each thing at its individual place, but when you don’t know where that place is, it can be a long and frustrating process. Realizing I need something – a lamp, a nail, baking soda, a hammer – I realize I am about to embark on a quest of unknown proportions. There are some things we’ve been looking for for weeks, if I see a place that might have it, I interrupt whatever I’m doing to look. Most of our friends understand since we’re all in the same boat.

There are a few stores, like the Metro, that have nearly everything, but we have yet to find one that has any sort of lamp other than a long arm desk lamp. I’m not sure what the locals use. Either they go to sleep really early, or they just use the neon red light from the altars that they each have in their living rooms. The only places we’ve seen lamps are boutique shops where they start around $50 – and right now I’m not willing to spend that much for something I can’t take home with me. Our landlord, ever so generously, offered to let the maintenance man install a ceiling light in the living room at our own expense.

It’s funny because there are entire streets dedicated to certain items. Rug street, household item street, automotive street, laquerware street – but, so far, no lamp street. The search will continue until we are able to read at night in the living room.

We also discovered athletic clothes are going to be a chore to find. We went into at least ten stores looking for shorts for Jonathan and some short yoga pants for me (we both came ill-prepared for exercise.) For Jonathan, they were all too small. For me, if they actually have one pair, it was either not my size or it was over $50. So I’ll be keeping any eye out for active wear street where we can buy some great knock-offs for cheap.

Yesterday, we wandered around our district (the city is divided into at least ten, and we live in the Binh Thanh District) and found a little, stall-type market with household items and bought three vases (which we’ve been looking for since Hanoi.) Then we found beautiful, pink gladiolas for $1 and some other cheerful, yellow flowers for $.50. Add those to our three potted plants we bought from the roadside nurseries, and our ivory tower is starting to look like a home.



Our meals the last two nights have consisted almost entirely of vegetables that have probably never seen the inside of a refrigerator truck. We found an alley near us with a great variety (as long as you aren’t bothered by the rats skittering around.) We’re mostly vegetarian at home these days because I don’t trust the meat and seafood in the alleys and markets, and usually my trips to the supermarket require too much travel time to buy meat.

Since I didn’t feel well enough to do much, and fresh veggies don’t last very long, I’ve cooked a lot lately. I made stir-fry sauce from scratch, learned the trick to getting it to stick to all the vegetables instead of pooling in the bottom of the pan, and made black beans and rice that my mama would’ve been proud of.

Every time we go shopping, or even step foot inside of store, it’s obvious that whoever spots us first calls to the best English speaker to come assist us. Then the calculator comes out. Every shopkeeper has the same one with the huge buttons – even if they can tell you the price in English. It seems to just be part of how they do business. So you ask the price, and they type it out for you. If it’s a bargaining store, I type in my counter-offer, and we go from there.

Another amusing thing about business here is the fact that no one has to pretend like they’re busy like we do back home. It’s not uncommon, especially around midday, to walk into a store and see the clerk/owner (and sometimes their whole family) sleeping. If they hear you come in, which they usually do, they will jump up and come follow you around the store. This has, many times, made me reconsider going into a store just to browse. I hate to disturb someone’s nap just because I’m curious.



We are always amused by the Vietnamese people’s ability to sleep anywhere and at any time – on a marble floor, desk, chair, hammock, amid their goods in the market stalls, on the back of a motorbike, or hunched on the sidewalk.

We joined the gym on Sunday and since then have taken two yoga classes and a Zumba class. The first class was ashtanga yoga on Sunday night. After the first fifteen minutes, I had to keep telling myself that regardless of how I felt, it was not going to kill me. Every time he told us to put our foreheads on our knees while we rested our hands on the ground (standing up) I thought I was going to topple over on my face. I realized that not only am I out of shape, I am also extremely un-limber, and have very poor balance. Today we did another ashtanga class with a different instructor, though, that gave me a little more hope for my yoga future.

Zumba was also difficult but for completely different reasons. While both yoga classes required a surprising amount of stamina (I always thought yoga was like stretching while half asleep J,) I couldn’t believe how much they expected me to move every part of my body, and in what rapid successions. Since I enjoy dancing, I had a good time, but it did make me feel like the whitest white girl with regards to my dance skills.

Tomorrow, Jonathan is off to Con Dao Island. He’ll be doing round trips there, and to Phu Quoc Island for the next three days. In the meantime, I’ll try to get caught up on everything else that has been going on.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 15:39

    Hahaha, the comment about the calculator with the big buttons amused me. I’ve had those brandished at me in Hong Kong a lot.

  2. Charity permalink
    October 26, 2010 16:56

    I always tried to tell everyone yoga wasn’t a pansy exercise but no one would listen… ;-P I never worked up the guts to try Zumba… cause I already know I dance like a white girl. 🙂 Glad you are feeling better! And your apartment looks lovely! xoxo

    • October 28, 2010 01:18

      There were actually several men, including Jonathan and my friend’s husband, in the class, and we all looked goofy together. You should give it a try. It’s a lot of fun.

      Which yoga do you take? This gym offers a bunch, but so far I’ve only taken ashtanga.

  3. Melanie permalink
    October 26, 2010 17:51

    Grace, I really enjoy reading your blog–exquisite writing in almost melodic prose! I look forward to your catch up!

  4. The big brother permalink
    October 27, 2010 23:56

    If you find a cool lamp for less than 30USD buy me one too, or if I go to Shanghai (IKEA) I’ll get you one, I got my other two there. I know where a few lamp streets are here and will keep searching but it’s still tough tough to find anything appealing.
    Don’t fear fresh market meat and seafood, you just have to learn how to pick out the good stuff.
    I might as well ask you this since it’s bound to come up anyway, why is it so hard to buy athletic clothing there when its made there anyway?

    • October 28, 2010 01:19

      It’s not the fresh market fish and seafood I fear. It’s the back alleys ones where there’s no telling how long they’ve been sitting on that pan in the sun.

      We found a lamp. It’s not awesome, but it’ll do for now.

  5. Mary Holby permalink
    October 28, 2010 02:21

    Buy live fish. Remember the fish tank stores?

    I see racist remarks about white girl dancing.
    Ginger Rogers, Anna Pavlova, Martha Graham, Shirley Temple, etc etc danced. And were/are white girls.

  6. mother-in-law permalink
    October 29, 2010 03:52

    Grace; perhaps we could send some athletic clothes with Mark? Give me sizes/colors.

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