It's like I'm experiencing a real life episode on fear factor, amazing race or road rules-real world challenge. "Cruise through the hem on motorbike past the river of doom. Trapes through the murky water to your final destination. Grab the red flag and pull the bell to win the race!"
Too bad there's no Million $ grand prize at the end of this journey. . . I need dollars, not dong.
The guest preacher at Trinity mentioned in his sermon 3 entities that can keep you from a healthy relationship with God:
Naturally - forces of nature (bad weather), or even deterioration of your health due to age or genetics
Internally - you are angry with God because you think everything wrong is His fault
Institutionally - organizations that do not have a Godly foundation
There are many things, many negative forces that can weigh on a person's spirit. I'm sure many of us deal with the institutional negativity from our jobs or government. Unfortunately I've had to deal with a natural negative force, the debilitating disease of psoriatic arthritis. Of course being a person of gumption, I will not let much keep me from doing what I want. So instead of staying in America where I think I could be safe, and continue to fight this demon, I decide to travel abroad anyway. Now with my new environment, I have new demons to face, one of them being the weather and the effects of such. I had the pleasure of experiencing a side effect of heavy continuos rain fall, which is the flooding of many streets and hems (alleys) through this horribly planned city. If, the situation is perfect, I am at work, I can be prepared for any flooding with my super savvy Target galoshes. However, this was not the case on a Sunday evening out and about with friends. As I'm pushing my motorbike through a foot of nasty, murky, trash-filled, rat infested, urine laced flood water, negativity shows up causing me to shout loud expletives, and express extreme distaste for this culture that is so foreign to me. Let me take a moment to describe to you the insanity of the situation I was in.
For a while, I have had a spirit of negativity cast over my thoughts regarding the current environment I chose to live in. As stated above there are many things that contribute to a bad attitude, despite I do continuously think positive, but it never ceases to amaze me the amount of bull I am served everyday. Here is a brief anecdote of what happened this particular Sunday:
A Viet Kieu from America asked to meet with me regarding a possible freelance opportunity for his construction business. We sit down at a local cafe, L'Usine, start making small talk about each other's weekend. I get to the point and ask "Do you need graphic work for one of your businesses?" He gives this lofty answer of needing someone to produce concepts. Okay concepts for what? "Well what is your design background have you designed any interiors?" No, I am a graphic designer. (If you had asked me this last weekend when you introduced yourself to me, while I was hanging with my American friends, you would have known this information) "So you did graphic design, but can you create a concept for an interior space?" Now this statement tells me this person has no knowledge of the diversity in disciplines of design. No big deal. What's pissing me off is that as I am talking, he's interrupting me, leaving the table, answering his phone. And asked me 2 or 3 times in a bit of a rude tone, "can you create a concept and apply it to real agency work?" Dumb ass, I'm not in school, I teach at a school, have you listened to anything I just said? I guess not, because you're soo busy running your mouth you have no desire to hear what I have to say. So, please tell me, why am I here? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, now he gets to the point. So after he realizes, he has no use for my graphic design skill, he proceeds to fish for information about my American girlfriend who is an officer at the U.S. Consulate and drift to a story of his cousin who can not get a visa due to some issue her mother had 10 years ago, rambling off political immigrant law jargon that I have no desire to know of. Because, "The people who work at the consulate are such idiots, I can't stand them!" but you think because I know one of them, and you paid for lunch and 20 cent parking, interrupted me while I was talking, insulted my intelligence and left the table for almost 15 minutes, I'm now suppose to hook you up and you're richy rich-can't-get-an-American-visa-because-of-K1-cousin? mmmmm, maybe she should try Australia. . .
Moving on with this day, I try to run my errands, but need some cash. No ATMs are working, so I was told, plus the most reliable looking one, ANZ, was not working. So, I call my other girlfriend instead and meet up with her friends, whom I met last night. It was cloudy most of the day, but no rain drops just yet. After walking through Saigon Square, the friend of a friend needs to find a spa, so I drive her around town on my bike, until we find one that's open and not crowded. I was reluctant to join her because I had grocery shopping to do, but the steam bath is good for my achy joints and she convinced me to join her, so I did. Bad idea. Once we were finished it was later in the evening and pouring buckets outside. She had to leave for a dinner. I stayed at the spa to wait out the rain. I think I was there a good hour more when I decided, I'll just bare it. Despite the fact that I just paid for a scrub, had two showers, now I get to go outside and get wet again, and dirty. I stand outside for a bit waiting again for the rain to die down. The doorman is looking at me, asked if I had a rain poncho, in Vietnamese. I understood through his motions what he meant, yes I have a poncho. So now he's looking, like, "what are you waiting for?"
Okay this is where I digress, because where I come from, we drive cars. It's not a freaking luxury to drive a freaking car. Honda Civics don't cost $40,000. You're stupid for accepting a 60% tax rate on a car. I wouldn't own one either if I had to pay double. To my students, a car is a toy. I'm not talking like these are irresponsible teenagers crashing cars. No, these spoiled brats show up in a different car every term, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus. Now if a Civic costs 40 grand. . . The whole dichotomy of rich and poor in this culture is insane. We can complain about all the rich people in America who get tax breaks, but at least we have a middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class; there's a middle ground. Yes some of us Americans do show off our wealth when we have it, but depending on the state or city, most people dress normal and comfortable when they go outside. Most women do not wear 2 inch heels to the grocery store. Anyways, the people in this culture that I'm currently living amongst who do have money are some of the most disgusting people I've ever encountered. Case in point my rainy situation. So, I couldn't leave my bike in the parking lot all night, I'm renting, and I do not want the risk of it getting stolen. I know that my area gets flooded during heavy rains, but I can not predict how bad it will be. Sometimes part of the street is wet, while other parts are okay. Some parts are deep, and some shallow. The last few times I had to drive my bike through water, I made it through okay. Unfortunately this wasn't that time, the water was soo deep and covered the entire width of the street, my new Attila rental just couldn't hang. Usually I pray and keep driving, hoping the bike doesn't stop especially if I'm not wearing my boots. Because if the bike stops, and I'm not wearing boots, I have to stop, which means my feet have to touch the ground, which is buried in a pool of polluted water. Today I'm wearing sandals with a low heel. So to give you a visual: It's raining, heavily. I have on the poncho and my helmet, walking next to my bike with water past my ankles. As I'm walking some bikes are still working, so people are driving past me, splashing more polluted water all over me. And now, my favorite part. The cars. So a Car #1 is coming, weaving his way through the scattered motorbike drivers who are walking in this flood. The car is headed my way, going the opposite direction. Does he move out of my way? NO. I guess I have to move, my body and bike, in a wet poncho and a foot of flood water, just so I can avoid being run over. Lord Jesus, please be with me. Car #2 comes along, after I spotted a wet but non-flooded piece of street, roll over there and get my bike to work again. I drive out into the flood, because I have no other way of getting to my apartment complex, this jerk in a little smart car behind me proceeds to honk at me because I guess he's in a hurry to get back to the apartment too. Not once, or twice does he honk, but several times, getting louder and louder. Are you kidding me? I can barely grip my handle bars because they're WET and I have arthritic knuckles, there is a foot of water on the ground so my tires can't get any traction, so now I am stuck for a minute. Still driving slow because THERE IS A FOOT OF FLOOD WATER AROUND ME, and all you can do is honk your horn because I'm in your way? How about helping me get out of your way since you're in such a hurry? This is so insulting, and embarrassing, and upsetting. From the way he was driving, it was clear he didn't care about anyone else stuck in the water as he sped ahead the maze of people stranded.
I'm not even going to go through my list of "whys", like this one, "If it's 2011, and your office buildings have large LCD screens on outside panels, WHY isn't there a better drainage system to prevent flooding during a rainy season (season meaning this happens every single year)? I'm not even going there. . . it's not worth the space in this blog to ask questions no one has the answer to.
Instead, lets look at the positives. Though I was wearing sandals, at least I was not wearing my clog sandals, which would have weighed down my feet and made it even more difficult to walk in flood water. Through I am always concerned that I may step on a crack needle, knife, a dead rat with teeth or any other sharp object, nothing pierced through my skin causing bacteria to get inside my system. Although I did step into a pothole, which I couldn't see because its dark and the water is opaque brown, I didn't fall, and my bike didn't fall. I got out of the flood water alive and in one piece and back to my apartment. Thanks to the heavy rain, there is never a shortage of water, so I could take a hot shower for as long as I thought I needed to scrub the grimyness away. I have a lovely fully furnished apartment with a washer, so after my shower I can chillax on my sofa read a verse for peace of mind and wash my dirty clothes for free.
And, as we say in the US, "It could always be worse." I mean at least this wasn't Katrina. . .
I probably should've titled this post with a positive religious verse, "God will never put more on you than you can bare", which in fact, is a true statement. However, I'm not feeling too positive right now, so excuse me while I be human for a few paragraphs.
I feel that living in the craziness of this culture is more or less a test of one's endurance. Especially for someone, like myself, who has grown up with the conveniences of modern America, living in a less desirable atmosphere and under developed environment is a test of one's gully-ness. (Gully meaning "gutter" or grimy or grittyness. I remember the scene in "Brown Suga" when Mos Def asks Taye Diggs if washing his taxi car windows is too "gully" for him.) Can you roll up your sleeves and get dirty, or be carried and waited on with the privileged class?
It's the Southeast Asian bootcamp:
How much sun, heat, humidity can you take. . . before you wine for AC? (my students even complain and they grew up here!)
How long can you walk through crowded stalls, markets, alleys, grocery store aisles, sidewalks etc. before you develop claustrophobia?
How long can you breathe in exhaust from motorbikes, cars, trucks, rickshaws, tuck tucks and second-hand smoke before you develop bronchitis? (16 hrs/day? 7 days/week? 52 weeks a year?)
How long can you yell in a hot humid classroom at students who continue to give a lame excuse for not doing what you ask, before you develop laryngitis?
How long can you continue to function working in a 90+ degree day forgetting to drink water, before you get dehydrated?
How much hacking, spitting, and "ahemming" can you hear from old men and drunkards before you hate to walk outside for fear of what you'll step in?
How many incriminating stares, points, prods and examinations can you take, before you bark at anything that glances at you.
How much nodding (mmm hmm) can you take from non-native English speaking people when you ask then an f-ing question, because they're too prideful or stupid to simply tell you, "I do not understand."
How many times can you get stuck in the rain while on your motorbike before your entire body looks like a prune?
Once you get use to a place, you begin to appreciate the benefits of your surroundings. Looking at where I will be in the next few months, the possible financial armageddon of the US economy, fear of drought, cold weather conditions. . . hmmmmm, maybe VN isn't so bad after all. Well except for the compromise in health care, lack of cultural activities, lack of diversity, horrible infrastructure, crazy traffic, government restrictions on the music I have access to or the church I should go to. . . hmmm but who needs all that? toi.
My student, "Ms. T you only have 3 more terms to teach me everything you know about Adobe Creative Suite!"
Me, "Are you counting down?"
My student, "Yes, I'm crying."
I must say, teaching is a great experience. The relationship between student and teacher I'm sure can be compared to that of parents and children. As a teacher you want the best for your students, you want them to try their best, and when they fail you are upset. As a retired teacher in southern USA said on the news "You learn so much from the student." It's a reciprocal relationship. The students remind me that hard work still pays off, they remind me that drawing is still important, they remind me to keep my skills fresh before I get snubbed by the next generation, and it has been a preview of how much fun I will have with my own children. I am sure when the time comes for me to leave Vietnam, I will be overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of not seeing my students grow and develop. But I hope that they know, they can always count on me for any advice or reference they will need. They will always have a place in my heart and a spot in my home for a visit to the US.
I don't know the word for rain, so I settled for "umbrella", as the title of this post. Speaking of, I have yet to buy a "cai du" even with all the terential storms we receive.
I will miss the rain of south east asia. Here in Saigon the buildings are so old, so worn by the weather. They age beautifully. The color of the "weathered" cement is intensified when it rains. The deep gloomy blue-grey sky with thick dark clouds sitting behind a landscape of brightly colored buildings, painted with soot, mildew and mold may not sound appealing, but the contrast produces a beautiful scenery rich in color. It is something to see. . . in person.