Monday, 29 December 2014

3 motorbikes, 2 custard apples and a Vietnamese wedding

(written during one or two weeks up to 29.12.2014)


MORE VIETNAMESE MILESTONES/EXPERIENCES/THOUGHTS. Except hopefully by the time I publish this I will have thought of a more original title... (Edit: Hurrah just did. Sing it to the melody of "12 days of Christmas") 

So here goes:

#1. A few days ago I had my first Authentic Vietnamese Elderly Person in Rural Setting -experience (AVEPRS) which was pretty noteworthy. My Vietnamese friend Ph took me to see her grandmother (or older relative, still not quite sure if 'grandmother' meant actual grandmother or not...).

We had breakfast of Bun Rieu, noodles with an exciting assortment of meats in it – I ate and enjoyed all of them (the tofu was surprisingly nice!) except I let the clotted blood blobs be. Sorry mates.
so many colours!
After a surprise pic from the lady who made us the Bun Rieu. Westerners are still pretty rare here...
 Then we drove the 20min motorbike ride into rural BH, down these adorable little alleys that really reminded me of rural Russia, and stopped in front of this house with a big gardeny area outside. There were bars on the gate so it was very secure, and more bars on the front door of the house, through which we could see three dogs which had begun crazy barking.

Ph unlocked the gate, pushed her motorbike through, and then her grandmother appeared at the front door amongst the dogs. She opened the door and the dogs bounded out, barking crazily. “Don't move,” Ph instructed me casually. Oh, ok, or else what?? I thought, a bit panicky, as the dogs rushed to smell me, growl and bark. 

I never got a green light for actually moving again, but decided the threat was over after a few minutes. Apparently, around the dogs everyone must be careful and move slowly so they don't get too perplexed. “So they're not nice dogs?” I asked. “Oh no,” replied Ph. Ok... Well, Mumsie I will reassure you they did nothing evil. And they weren't massively big either. Nice little doggies.
Woofity woof 
Ph introduced me to her 'grandmother'. I successfully managed to introduce myself by saying “Chàu la Emma, I am Emma, instead of “Toi la Emma” (what you'd say to someone your age) or “Em la Emma” (what you'd say to someone slightly older than you) or “Chi la Emma” (what you'd say to someone younger than you). Interpreted by Ph, the grandmother was asking keenly how long I'd studied Vietnamese for since I knew to say “Chàu”. If only I could impress you with other words I know... No.

The house was definitely as you would expect a Rural Vietnamese House to look like. It was dark with many Buddhas and wooden tables, with a few random exotic fruits on various ornamental plates, many old pictures of old relatives, a clear bottle of rice wine on the table along with all the other decorative objects. The two of them explained to me the different things around the room – the Buddhas, who were in the pictures, the old box Ph's great-grandfather used to keep his cigarettes in...

The cigarette box
Ph's grandmother brought us tra da (pronounced 'cha da'), the staple drink of all Vietnamese, iced tea. So lovely and refreshing. Then she brought us an Exotic Fruit each, you pick off the bits on the edge and eat the inside and spit out the pips. I still have no idea what it was. (Edit: Custard apple. Or something like that.)
Guarding the custard apples
The insides of them custard apples (OM NOM)
We had a look in the garden – the palm trees and the mango trees (not mango season atm, unfortunately...) and the starfruit trees and the pepper tree/bush and the banana flower (or something like that...). I was in complete awe. Dude I even saw chipmunks/squirrels in the trees!!

Picking fruits
The only downside was the smaller wildlife. We didn't spend more than fifteen minutes in the garden, after which I counted a nice thirty-three mosquito bites solely on my legs. And I had changed out of jeans during the last minute before leaving the house coz I thought a dress would be more 'respectable' to visit them Elderly Vietnamese People... 

After the grandmother's place we went to see some next-door pagodas, which was also extremely fascinating. We did whatever holy thing must be done in front of Buddha with the incense. You could also do it in front of various other figures, mostly horses. I contented myself with photographing them.

With the pagoda lady/guard/motorbike watcher/caretaker

#2. Motorbiking it

a. To Saigon. An hour's trip that numbs your bum. Went on the back of McK's bike, it was the less crazy route (not that many trucks ready to squish you), and very scenic, but I still think I probably actually prefer buses just due to the bum numbness (or should I just say bumbness). My attire was very appropriate – I just need to sort out a scarf or hood under my helmet and I can completely pass as a local right!?
I kept the man sat near me amused by taking these selfies in the local Lotteria

b. Xeom-drivers never cease to fascinate me. I've realised the ones in HCMC are, well, 'good' – they're reliable, know their way, and don't try and rip you off. (Well, they do, but as long as you make sure the price is decided on beforehand.) 

BH ones are definitely more dodgy. Like the man who cackled the whole way from the bus station to wherever I was going, sometimes stopping to babble to me in Vietnamese, so much so that I had to gesture/tell him to focus on the road, not turning his head to talk to me about stuff I didn't have any hope of understanding anyways.

Or a few days back I got a toothless xeom driver on his seatless and foot pegless motorbike. He was lovely, completely harmless, but definitely a bit crazy. Ah, well, this is what I am looking for in Vietnam. Experiences.
He even agreed to be photographed
c. A new one which I'm adding just today (29.12): MOTORBIKING IT MYSELF. Yes, I have now driven a motorbike. Yes, on roads. Yes, amongst other traffic. Yes, driving towards oncoming traffic to make it onto my side of the road. Yes, to work and back. Oh and yes, managing to park it! (I even had the sense to take a picture of it parked so I'd recognise it when I came back for it...)

How is it you ask? Surprisingly okay. I did have the blink on for a sadly long amount of time whilst driving around town – now I understand the confused looks I got from some bikers driving past. But other than that, nothing worth mentioning.

Now THAT is a definite milestone.

# 3 A Vietnamese wedding
With the happy couple :)
Kim, one of the Tas at my centre, invited me to her sister's wedding. Sounds interesting...
Her friend M in her gorgeous pink dress (Vietnamese LOVE dressing up and have SUCH amazing dresses!) picked me up in her car and took me and her husband to the wedding venue in yet another Rural Setting. A big, like, tent with a mirriad tables packed with the guests. The bride was absolutely stunning in her massive, beautiful light-mauve dress that knocked down many stools when walking past...

Many courses of food were brought to the table – my favourite was this fish/rice thing. I decided not to try the seafood. I am actually a lot better with seafood now than what I used to be, but big, massive, what are they? Prawns? Shrimps? I don't even know! Anyways, I said no to them big massive (hopefully) dead ocean wildlife.
It seemed quite an interesting equal divide that the men drank beer while the ladies drank orange Mirinda. (SO REFRESHING that day, so much so I had to embarrassingly ask my new acquaintance M to find a toilet for me on the way back...) Every five minutesish someone would instigate a 'cheers'-moment, clinking glasses. I was desperately trying to figure out if I was expected to join in with each one.

Oh, and: Vietnam is all about karaoke. Karaoke EVERYWHERE. The guests seem to content themselves to the fact that you can't actually CONVERSE at a wedding. The music is the focus. Still didn't completely understand if the people singing were 'professional' or random guests – I know random people can go up and sing partly due to the astonishingly, er, questionable sense of musicality some people have (not at this wedding, I hasten to add, but you hear many a karaoke song at celebrations around Vietnam...), and also, people kept asking me if I wanted to go up and sing (er, I'm ok for the time being). But then on the other hand, M was telling me that it's mostly the same people who sing each time.
Obviously the bride gets her turn too!

#4 And the language...?

I feel like I'm leading a mini orchestra every time I (attempt to) speak Vietnamese. I just can't shake the feeling of the obligation that I have to show with my finger which way the intonation goes of each word I am trying to pronounce...

I've had one or two happy moments where I've been understood first time, and literally one or two where someone has responded to me in Vietnamese, expecting my language skills to be more talented than what they are, but most of it is still just very, very blank looks. For example, I was telling a Vietnamese guy in Saigon that I'm living in Bien Hoa. He had no idea what I was saying, even when I repeated it a few times. Then I took a moment to think about which way the accent goes on 'Hoa' (down), and I said it again, appropriately intonating (is that a word) it down. “Ah, Bien Hoa!” he said. Yes. Well done.

And that's that for the time being munchkins!!!

Hopefully will be writing a TINY bit more often...

It's one of the most exciting experiences in my life and I am being VERY lazy at recording it... I apologise. (mostly to myself)




  1. Such a fun blog! You know how calm and collected I tend to be, but this time I couldn't help laughing out loud at every paragraph. :D

    About the exotic fruit: can you describe its taste a bit more? Does it resemble any other fruit or berries, etc, in taste? And when you spat out the pips, where did they end up?

    The motobike taxi man who cackled - sounded quite alarming! What about those 27 (do I remember right?) mosquito bites? Any after effects?

    Clever you with the language!

    I am glad the dogs behaved themselves.

    Be safe on the roads! Rakkaudella Äiti

    1. Ummmm exotic fruit.. Sweet? Pips went on some plate lol. Apart from a severe bout of malaria, nothing followed from the 33 bites :)

  2. Where are the other verses: 12 students studying, 11 teachers teaching, 10 ladies dancing… etc?

    Adventures and experiences – absolutely! Very nice looking rural garden – except I suppose the mosquitoes!

    In your bumbness selfie you look like the mafia! And at a wedding it must be much more fun if you don’t have to think about talking, and can just enjoy the music… or even, it seems, help make the music.

    Lots of love, Zapz

    PS: I read your blog on my new täppärä

    1. Yep mafia-look is the way to go! More people here prefer the alien-look though, with literally nothing of your face showing, and with massive circular sunglasses!