Brian came down with the flu two days before we were scheduled to temporarily leave Hanoi for a two-night stay in the countryside. Luckily, he mostly recovered within those two days, and we departed on our car-train-car journey to our guesthouse as planned.
Theo’s favor (and presence in photos) is very much courted in Vietnam – not as intensely as in India, but close. On the train, a family with a child about Theo’s age gestured for him to come over, and he spent about an hour watching videos with the girl and eating various snacks the family plied upon him. (We eventually lured him back to us and re-implemented our comparatively draconian screen and snack policies, but the sight of him sitting with the girl was too cute to spoil at first.)
Our stay in Vietnam has featured the most challenging language barrier of our trip thus far. I’ve attempted to learn a little Vietnamese, but even when I think I know a word, my mouth can still mangle it into useless confusion.
The commercial area near our apartment seemed almost eerily quiet during most of our stay. Then, Tet week arrived, along with the completion of a faux village that closed down half of a main road. The previously quiet area exploded with people taking pictures, throwing straw, and filling the tables of the nearby cafes and restaurants.
Below, Theo and I were lucky enough to snag a table at Eagle Cafe so that we could watch (and participate in) the revelries.
I’ve been trying to schedule cooking classes at the beginning of our month-long stays to give me more time to practice. Last month, I booked a slot in a vegetarian cooking class at Hanoi Cooking Centre for the week of our arrival. When I arrived, I discovered that I was the only one enrolled. (It was super nice of them to run the class for just one person.)
We planned to spend a few days sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City to end our stay in Vietnam. However, because of all sorts of (relatively minor) ailments, we ended up spending more time ferrying ourselves to and from the clinic for various check ups while trying to keep up with work. (We’re all fine!)
Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam – a novel that weaves together the stories of American, Vietnamese, and French families from 1925 to 1975. For someone like me, who was born after the end of the American/Vietnam war and knew even less about the French colonization of Indochina, it was a good introduction to the complex history of Vietnam in the 1900s.
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam – a beautiful memoir and my favorite read of the month. The author was born in Vietnam but fled with his family first to Indonesia and then to the United States after his father was released from Vietcong prison. Almost 20 years later, the author returns to Vietnam to bike the length of the country, visiting family and chasing memories along the way. The memoir weaves together the author’s experiences, past and more recent, with his questions about belonging and identity. I very much recommend this book, whether you plan to visit Vietnam or not.
Vietnam: Rising Dragon – a nonfiction exploration of the economic, political, and cultural realities of more recent-day Vietnam. At times, I was thrown by Vietnam, particularly by juxtapositions of communism and shops like Prada. This book helped me better understand (or at least helped me focus my questions about) how the country has been changing over the past decades (and has in other ways remained very much the same.) I read this book towards the end of my stay in Vietnam and at the times found myself skimming because the depth just felt like too much information for my last week – but that was me, not the book. If you’re seriously interested in (almost) present-day Vietnam, this would be a great read.