London-USA-Vietnam, 2003

Notes from the wandering days in 2003 – 3 countries in 3 months. Brief stop in the US involved losing the much-loved BMW, then finding the lost car in a shady ‘hood 2 miles away.

Vietnam. Day 13: The EMZs.

I just realized that I am addicted to the electric mosquitoes zapper
(let’s call it the EMZ). No self-respecting Vietnamese family can live
without a couple of these now. It looks like a little badminton
racquet with three layers of metal net. The outer two layers protect
your fingers from getting electrocuted (but I heard many children and
adults have managed to stick their fingers through and get a nice
jolt), while the fine inner net roasts the vicious mosquitos doing
their usual 5pm/am fly-by. After about 30 mins of non-stop mosquitoes
swatting action, you can just plug it in to recharge.

When the sun comes down over the little park in front of my house, you
can hear the crackling “pzzzing” sounds throughout the neighborhood as
my neighbors make good use of their EMZs arsenal. From afar, it looks
like they are playing badminton with an invisible ball that flies
everywhere. It looks effortless, unless you are a newbie to the trade,
who uses too much force unnecessarily. Come closer, and you can smell
the slight aroma of bugs being BBQed. That cracking sound is now music
to my ears. Only one year ago I still had to swat mosquitoes the
old-fashioned and less digfnifying way: self-slapping. The downside of
slapping oneself in the dark in hope of killing a feeding mosquito is
the very act itself. It is just very sad. Unless you are an expert,
you usually don’t feel the itch until the bug has done sucking its
fill, resulting in a bloody mess when you slap it (and yourself) with
all your might. When I grew up, we had to wear white shirts to school,
and it was rare to see a uniform back in the days without at least one
recognizable mosquito’s bloodstain on it.

Those frustrating days are gone. At dawn I patrol my house with my
trusted EMZ, kicking the shoeracks and shaking the bookshelves so the
mosquitoes come flying out. Then it’s Zaap zaap zaap…joing the
neighborhood’s orchestrar with a vengeance. After I am done inside the
house, I would go to the garden and do a little preventive
mosquito-zapping. My favorite spot is above the little fish pond: the
fish loves the roasted mosquitoes as they come raining down from the
sky. Yup, to these guppies I must be God shooting out thunder bolts
from my left arm.

And lightning stick only costs VND 35,000, or roughly $3.

When my mom takes out the trash or my sister does dishes at night, I
volunteer to be their escort with my EMZ. Earlier I sucessfully
defended my mom as she left the house for a little walk, but I myself
got bitten on the forehead. It was a superficial bite, but it hurt my
feelings because I let that happen while being properly armed.

It’s 8:00 pm. The hood is quiet now, but I know they are just charging
their EMZs, and out there the mosquitoes are still hovering above my
little fish pond. When the raining season comes in a couple of months,
the battle against mosquitoes will get even more intense…too bad I
won’t be there to be part of the action, but I know my little sister
will do me proud.

Happy New Year to my friends near and far. Goodnight and call me if
the bugs do bite.

——–

Vietnam. Day 14: Helmets For Rent.

Here I was sitting in the middle of Saigon and all of its chaos of
an everage Thursday morning, surrounded by almost all of the college
roomates from the States. We were just having coffee and eating up a
storm of mi` and bu’n and che` and really just letting it sink it: the
fact that we are all here, almost all of us.

Tom couldn’t join us. The family’s bamboo factory business is too
far away. But I visited him two days earlier with Aaron. I let out a
happy “What the heo?!!” as I found my roomate of my Sophomore year in
college, a nappy-haired dude chasing down my car on the red-dirted
street of Long Khanh. He was holding a roll of rice straws under one
arm, and a monkey in a green sack on the other. You see he was
supposed to meet me up in a coffee shop, but I got a txt message on my
rented mobile “Sorry I am running late. I am buying a monkey but they
lost the key to the cage.” His USC anthropology professor would be
proud to learn that he’s trying to mate monkeys in this little red,
dusty corner of Vietnam.

I took the car that day, but I like riding the little motorcycles
better. I don’t like wearing the helmet in this hudmity though. The
cops are cracking down on people who don’t protect their noggins, so I
put my helmet on before reaching a police checkpoint (the people
coming from the opposite direction will tell you if there’s one coming
up via hand signal). But not many Vietnamese people can afford
helmets, so along the highways you can see people renting out helmets
right before a police checkpoint. For VND10,000 (roughly 60 cents)
they’d let you borrow a helmet to wear pass the checkpoint, then some
dudes with a big trashbag will collect the helmet from you not too far
down the road. It’s better than paying a fine but not worth it if you
do a lot of highway travelling. The helmets for rent are crappy,
too…and I am sure the cops can kinda tell after a dozen people
passing by wearing the same fricking helmet with the same scratches
and markings.

Muahahahah…it’s like a dark comedy.

Somehow it just feels like home.