Snaps from yesteryear

Usually I know all the photos I have, but last night I went straight to an old hard drive after the kids’ bedtime and discovered a folder in which I found some that I’d thought were lost, and which made me smile for sure.

Who knows if it’s the virus or the changing of the season or the downward spiral of our democracy or the dismantling of the post office or the west coast burning or police brutality or what, but I haven’t felt well lately.

These photos served to remind me who I have been and how, in a roundabout way, I got to be who I am, a full-time mom in Juneau, Alaska, doing my best to support my husband and keep my kids happy and safe.

So these photos are from around the time Jacob and I first got together, when we’d just made our way to Istanbul after two months’ traveling in Africa (we first met in Marrakech, Morocco).

I rented a room near Cihangir, a district that would become one of the flash points for the now-famous Gezi Park protests of 2013. I had lived in Istanbul nine years prior, so I had a bit of knowledge of the city but was at this time still getting reacquainted.

There was a feeling of revolution in the air in Istanbul in those days; even though the trees being protected in the park eventually would be razed, there was a lot of love and camaraderie and feeling that the good guys could win.

Drinking wine with Ersin, from whom I’d rented my room, and Belen, who’d come to stay with me while reporting on the protests, on the steps of Cihangir during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, 2013. Photo by David Hendrix
What some protesters will do to a bus. Tsk tsk tsk. Photo by Belen Fernandez
The best, silliest dinner, in which I first met my future sister-in-law Anya and niece Stella. Budapest 2014, photos by Anya Lily Por.

With Ted and Jake on the way to Kas, southern Turkey, 2014. So grateful Ted and Ice were able to come to Turkey and I could share with them a small portion of what I’d discovered there. Photo by James Konig, aka Ice.
When I started randomly tagging along with journalists on assignment. Neither Jacob nor I remember where this shot of the two of us taken under the viaduct with our friend Chemi was taken, and it was only six years ago! Photo by Ricardo Gines
…and yet somehow I do remember, despite the raki (pictured) talking this gentleman at the camel wrestling dinner in Selcuk, Turkey, out of his honorary scarf… which now adorns Jacob and my bedspread. Photo by Ricardo Gines

Dad’s visit to Germany in 12 photos

Started out the visit by checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Started out the visit by getting the lay of the land in Bonn and checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Next we went to Hamburg and boarded a boat
Next we went to Hamburg and, on a very cold and windy day boarded a boat to check out the city center
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad's friend is helping redesign.
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad’s friend is helping redesign. We were just in time for this sweet concert.
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US :)
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US 🙂
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Bonn Christmas market ferris wheel
Bonn Christmas market Ferris wheel
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day
Can't resist a high mirror selfie in Linz
Can’t resist a high mirror selfie in Linz
How did they make the exact same expression?! Hopefully his holiday card, Linz
How did they make the exact same expression?! Hopefully his holiday card, Linz
Penultimate gluhwein, unbelievably great visit.
Penultimate gluhwein, great, great visit!

A(nother) room of one’s own.

LIVE from Mecidiyekoy, propped up on four pillows, typing by the light of a soft desk lamp, my fan dutifully oscillating, it seems as though I have become lucky once again, but it didn’t always seem like this, not even always today.

I woke up at ten after having stayed up until dawn (why?), to a message from a woman whose flat I’d inquired about at the beginning of that would-be sleepless night.  She would be waiting for me in the morning.

Now seems like as good a time as any to mention that one entire wall is windows, and that these windows have floor-to-ceiling sheer white curtains (I love curtains).

There is an amazing paper lamp on the hanging light fixture (it’s square), molding all around the edges of the ceiling, and, in a quite curious aspect, a beveled-glass wall with a BUILT-IN AQUARIUM.

I forget how it was hard to get here: how thirsty I was, that I waited for hours.

What about tomorrow, next week, etc.?  Nobody knows.  Right now soft light and CURTAINS and fan, and that is all, all I need.

Gezi (I)

I’m not going to pretend I hung out in Gezi Park all the time.  Actually, I had only seen it for the first time this past Monday when I learned at 7:30 a.m. that there were in fact two bus stations in Taksim (where I’ve lived since April 1st).

What I did think was, “what a beautiful park.  I never even knew that was there.”  Since it is so close to me, and I would need to walk through it to my new bus station, my spirits lifted a bit.  Walking through a park is a nice way to start your day.

So…when I heard (that same day) that there were plans to destroy the park to build a shopping mall, I (perhaps somewhat annoyingly, in hindsight, now that I realize the significance) thought of all of the other beautiful, green spaces in Istanbul (Dolmabahce, for instance, and all of the sea-side places…), but the fact that there are more isn’t the point: the point is that they are taking away this one

Gezi Park, May 30, 2013
Gezi Park, May 30, 2013

(what have they taken already, when will they stop, etc.?).

Now the sounds of more teargas containers hit the streets, and people, in tears, are in each others’ arms, and everyone is running

for the free space to be, not given back, running to go back, and to have it not taken away in the first place.

Tuesday: Beauty everywhere

I’d planned to get more needles in my knee but the day took on a different tone and I ended up on the terrace making out with someone who looked like a famous volleyball player, and Wednesday my knee really hurt!  But I think it probably would have anyway and

we had a long talk about things we are still taking for granted; for my part I did not get into specifics because I know what these things are for myself though I am mostly not cognicent enough of them for their absence to bother me when I am living abroad

in the same way that my veganism persists until I am forced with the dilemma of discarding Rosemary’s goat cheese OR not being wasteful (i.e. one conviction supersedes another; I am already doing this thing for myself, relying on myself to make this decision almost all of the time…)

How can I love here so much and, at the same time (and this is something I have become upset with people for doing to me on a personal level), just want to strike out, the airport in my mind the one constant thing, not far away, beck-on-ing.

My amazing purple leg

…and the city I still dream about.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.  – Emily Dickinson

Last night was the last night of AirVenture 2011, aka EAA, where I worked as a cashier selling reusable cleaning cloths!  Some highlights were riding my bike in past all the cars in the morning, chatting with the prop technicians in the booth next door from Redding, CA, and, having worked the day, going out in the boat with EP and Jeff and watching the vintage aircrafts fly over Lake Winnebago from the water.

They were fast!

But, alas, another cobbled-together job has come to an end and now I find in front of me the only road left, the Real Job, the job that I can find and then relax, the job that I can be at Peace with.  I have a new Degree and no debt, and also no money which leaves me feeling like I am sitting on one of those little cloths I was selling, my butt hanging over the sides.  It is very well-constructed, but how does it get off the ground?

A moment can move on and still stay with us, it’s one of the most beautiful things in life, Robert Hass’ Mississippi John Hurt lines in the poem about his brother, Ryan Gosling honoring the spirit of Patrick Swayze in his recent film, and in a thirty-three year-old, not-even-really girl anymore, back to the drawing board again, or perhaps there, officially, for the first time, thinking back on what she has to give to the next phase of life.

In Istanbul post-undergrad/pre-graduate school I taught English, wrote in my journal, and watched the O.C.

…and the little book I came across last night that reminded me of those days.  Maybe it’s a non-sequitor, but I just don’t want to forget her.


Time to start looking for what’s out there.  No pressure in a bad way.  I’m looking everywhere…

Update: a year gone by

Iris from mom’s garden

Wow, it has been a year since I landed in HCMC and added Saigon to Ramona Forever.  Whoever is still following this blog since then, thank you, thank you, my friend.

What a year.  Now a year ago I am awake my first day there, typing on this blog on the computer in the Van Trang, scared to go outside, texting Rufus.  Knowing what I know now, I should have been more scared to stay in the Van Trang.

Like so many things, including this time of life, if it were possible to know how it all turned out, I mean how non-threatening it all was (what did I think was going to happen to me?) I just would have loved all of the good stuff even more, one text to a friend that gets a call.

So it is still cold in Wisconsin, it is supposed to freeze tonight actually, Memorial Day weekend.  I really feel as though I have had a whole winter, and I got home in March.  Should be interesting to see what happens next year…

and just for old time’s sake:

About me practice, spring ’11:

Gardener/lawn mower, bridesmaid, Master of Fine Arts, Adult Health Literacy Instructor, moth, kitten, and seal lover, poet.

Dad’s Cecropia moth

Reverse culture shock?

Not over everything that just happened, don’t know if I’m supposed to be or what.

Had an inkling that I would undergo what is termed “reverse” culture shock, clearly need to do a little bit more reading on it, see if I can find another screen.

Feeling like someone is going to come up to me and ask me what I’m doing here, that this was part of my life I’ve already lived.

Brink of Adieu.

Sitting here in a packed-up room wide awake, I have definitely been here before.

The last things have found their places in this bag “Potpourri:” feather boa, pink helmet, and now Scotch tape and a Tiffany box.

Someone will love these items.  If not, they are just parts of a life.

Left a note for the Frenchman that says hello and thank you only in French and asks him to wake me up at 6, I hope I left it somewhere where it doesn’t blow off his breakfast tray, it’s windy tonight.

Windy for here.

My best friend Jenny had a baby girl today.  She’s been pregnant almost exactly the time I’ve been gone.  I was still having the knives in the stomach at the Van Trang when she told me via Skype.

She was probably having knives of her own, and I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve a partial naming-after besides writing Jen some quotations said by Oprah in the nineties, but I love this baby already.

Time is so timelike. -Deborah Keenan

Ten minutes from this time tomorrow I will be boarding the plane.  I will sit down in my seat and stare out the window and I mean stare.

In my purse will be notes from the kids.  As the plane takes off I’ll close my eyes and hopefully sleep.

Flying home.

O’Brien and LBH’s

Nicole’s roommate (she is American, aged 22 years) calls expats “LBH’s” which stands for losers back home: I wonder about this.

It doesn’t make me so mad: we’re just losers in that we have lost.  Everyone has, and, like everyone,  we had courage for something but not something else.

Looking at the chance to love it is best to walk away, to paraphrase Anne Carson: it’s not what we usually tell the youth of today.

It deserves more time, more thoughtful consideration.

O’ Brien on courage:

Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down.

I am excited about this.  As O’ Brien also says, it makes the day-to-day failings much easier to cope with.

My view on love today: something as big as a monster just looking at me.

And then I laugh, and it laughs, and we keep laughing until we have to stop, which is hopefully never.

Let’s vegetarian diet!

God, I’m hungry.  Where are those vegetarian big meat chunks?

What veggie person doesn’t love chicken feet?

Ah, good.  They have vegetarian roasted baby pig. 

Veg. cattle stomach looks quite a bit different than veg. shredded cattle stomach.  I think the above was veg. internal organs of a chicken.

I mean, at this point, why not just call it something else. 

Merry Christmas brunch.

Well, Sean gave Amy two tickets to brunch for Christmas and I was lucky enough to go with her to the Intercontinental Hotel/Asiana Saigon (same place we had our work Christmas party)!  It was soo beautiful and amazing; I probably can’t do it justice here but I’ll try.

When my xe om driver pulled up to the place, a worker in a saffron-colored ao dai (Vietnamese traditional clothing) and matching hat said Merry Christmas before I even got off the bike.  Then I walked in and saw Amy watching a choir singing Christmas songs in the lobby, don’t remember what song but it was really nice,
and there were pointsettias everywhere, which I love.

I don’t even think I can list everything I ate but here are some highlights: pumpkin soup, vegetarian dim sum, spinach quiche, beets, brie cheese on whole grain bread, kiwi, an oyster, grilled okra, a mimosa, a cupcake, a chocolate-covered strawberry covered in chocolate from a fountain, and two kinds of ice cream: coffee and mint (mixed).  I had four plates of food, don’t think I’ve ever done that.

We stayed there over three hours; when we left they were actually stacking up the chairs. It was just one of those good times I will always remember…

And now I get to say Merry Christmas to everyone back home again…


Here we go Christmas.

Why are there always ten thousand sides to this holiday.

Don’t forget to tell them the Jesus story, too, she said.

Geez.  Us.

So far teaching Rudolph, snowflakes on the horizon,

suddenly I’m back trying to remember those beautiful words from Sunday school

and an angel of the Lord came before him.

Definitely as worthwhile as Jingle Bell Rock (they are really cute when they sing that).

And the glory of the Lord shone around him.

It’s the time of year to be the person you want to be, know you can be the rest of the year when you fuck-up and forgive yourself or don’t,

it’s the time of the year, you don’t need to hear this from me, to think about the people you love.


Cheersing my own reflection in the mirror tonight it occurs to me that I have become my own best friend.

My new mind-set is not without problems: I am getting a little tired of knowing how I feel all the time.  But as there is no one around to tell me not to analyze it, I know that the FACT that I do know counts for something.  And what it counts for.  Exactly.

So I am halfway through my contract here in Vietnam as of this past Wednesday.  As these things go i.e. fractions, the end of the second third is coming around.  I will have gotten back from Thailand 8 days before its commencement, unless that word means “begin.”

I have a new routine which enables me to write a lot these days which means I get to spend a lot of time rearranging words, and everything I write gets shorter and shorter, and with each word I take away something, like another word that may make sense, takes its place.

Significance of the image is only revealed in the act of preserving it, & the vow to be the one who sustains that significance must continually endow it with attention to the exlusion of real life, the everyday passing… -Fanny Howe

So I am thinking of this quotation even after I am at work making asinine comments about the Haunted House schedule.  But I have an idea what I am going to be for Halloween.  And it was an amazing day today, I hope that you believe me.


You kind of have to have seen Steel Magnolias for this to make sense.

I wanted to learn how to do the bangs French braid and Teacher Linda (TL), being Linda, put together an evening to remember. I don’t think I even cried at prom, and that’s what it was titled.

“Steel Magnolias, French bread pizza, and French braiding: my apartment, Wednesday, 8 p.m.”

“I’m in,” Teacher Nicole said, not even looking up from her papers.

Amy and I get there at the exact same time as Nicole who has brought two bottles of wine.  Linda has got all the fixings chopped up already including mozzarella cheese and salad.  The dvd is in, playing the credits.

Linda suggests we start the movie while the pizzas are cooking, and then take a break from the movie to get them, that way we get the chit-chat out of the way at the beginning of the movie.  Pizza and chit-chat means we wouldn’t actually watch the movie.

I have had this movie on VHS, the title written with Mr. Sketch markers, my whole life.  The significance of it is lost on me until Jon, Linda’s boyfriend, comes home and all five of us are crying, and Linda tells him to go into their room and shut the door and he does: we are kind of like those women…

our friendship is on a smaller scale, we just live in the same town; we haven’t known each other long in the grand scheme of things, but living and working abroad have a way of leveling people plus we are in this crazy place, same page, same scene, and they even let me be Daryl Hannah, the most lovable dork of all time.

After the movie TL showed us how to do the bangs braid as promised.  I’m going to show Nicole how later, as she was tired and didn’t feel like being in the bright lights of the bathroom which I totally get.


Update: 1/3!

Around the beginning of the second third my attitude started to change.  Maybe it was the mere prospect of a vacation.  Actually, this probably has a lot to do with it!  As I was turning the key in the padlock I had a pleasant thought: I was worried about not having fall, because who doesn’t love the cool air of fall after summer…but then I realized I’m also not going to have winter!  No freezing my face off this year ye-ah…

As I was saying, things started to change, not a ton, just a little.  I think if definitely has to do with my taking a vacation: the night of September 18th, after a full day of teaching, I will fly to Hanoi in North Vietnam to meet Suzanne Waddell and Louise Moseley, both of whom I have not seen in years, and we are going to check out that city and Halong Bay which I heard is really really amazing…

Suzanne only has six days to party with us before she has to go back to work in Hong Kong, but Louise has until October 6th so I have a nice little trip planned out for us: Hoi An, Cham Island, Nha Trang/Jungle Island and, if we have time, Mui Ne again (I really loved Mui Ne)!  She has no idea I’m this organized.  The only thing I don’t know is if we will fly from Hanoi or take a night train; it’s a trek but I have a feeling: we like trains.

I am missing my best friend Jenny’s wedding while on this trip I love you Jenny, a lot, and thank you for being my friend all these years, and inviting me anyway, etc. etc.  Bawl.  She understands.

So.  It’s the beginning of my second third, as in three months out of nine, I realize as I am sitting in this park studying Vietnamese which entails me copying down the Vietnamese word and pronunciation for every single food I can eat here (only 2 pgs.!) out of my phrasebook with a hangover (bad headache); bought a big ol’ orange from the market, came home, put 2 bottles of water in the freezer and sit down to write.

Then…the hammering started, but instead of just sitting there letting it piss me off like I would have done in the first third, I put my headphones on listened to loud music get in my own world it is not difficult with good headphones write down some of the best lyrics while organizing poems (I have 2 book projects in the making!!…)

Starting to make the transition to work mode from whatever I want mode my thoughts again turned pleasant: full day off tomorrow (today, Tues.), the all-Vietnam tour, my old friend’s happiness….even the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to work my laundry machine could get me down.  Which brings me to…

My Laundry Machine

Because I was too tired last night, Monday, to even think about why it wouldn’t spin, and the water had already emptied out onto my floor twice, my motto for today was eat a live toad first thing in the morning–you know the one–and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day, only with laundry.  You should have seen me scooping that water with my dustpan.  Good times.

I am laughing about it now but this morning, as I reached for the BIZ POWER again I was just wistfully recalling my $14 lavender Mississippi Market detergent, only half empty, just going FUCKING SPIN, I just keep turning the dial, hit it like the ones at the Loring, nothing.  Shake it like the vending machines that make pretzels or Runts or whatever fall, Skittles, nothing.

So, alas, it doesn’t spin, asking the maid is out since she already climbed the four flights of stairs to show me how to turn it on, and because I am already not paying her to wash my seven articles of clothing and all my underwear; turning it off and on again which always works with my computer doesn’t even work so I reach in take out the wet clothes wring them out in the shower hang them by the window and head off to school to read in the free air because it’s getting hot.

When I get home just a few hours later the clothes are already dry because I also put the fan on them, the BIZ actually makes them smell all right!  AND there is a postcard from Colin in Greece which is just too cool for words.  It is the same colors as my mirror!

So I decide to go get a coconut milk which I understand why people call life juice; it is just a coconut with the top sliced, but it is flat on the bottom so it can just sit there when you’re not drinking it.  It lasts so much longer than coffee and I actually think I like it better!  Yay for life juice, and I actually said it almost right, nuoc dua, probably not, actually, but I tried AND I got a smile which is sometimes all you can really hope for.


Don’t give up.  Never, ever, ever give up: Michael Scott said it to Jim Halpert when Pam got engaged to Roy on that ship, sorry if you haven’t seen that one yet.

Yes, I esteem the writers like those on The Office, but that’s not the point: art comes out of troublesome, imperfect times… it might be hiding in the looking for a quiet place.

If we can say art is borne from inner conflict, what of the green grass of my home?  And how precious that I get to know it and this and cold wind and quiet and twilight.

I wish I understood the beauty/ in leaves falling. -David Ignatow
…am I wrong to wonder about their little lives?

Birthday letter for my grandfather

Yesterday all of the summer school classes at my school had a field trip.  Twelve kids from my class came, as well as two teaching assistants who did most of the work.  We had a lot of fun.

We went through the zoo a little fast for my liking, but they did have almost 600 kids to get through.  The highlight of the day was probably the waterpark–there was this big bucket that filled up and dumped water on the kids, not a lot of water really, but it was the anticipation.  When is it going to fall!!!

We played a lot of that, crawled around like crocodiles and I guess bonded–at the end of the day one of the little girls who had been holding my hand all day asked if she could go home with me.  I looked at her ready to laugh and she was looking back like what?  She is only six.

I caught a ride home with another teacher from Australia on the back of his motorbike. We stopped along the way and ate some fried corn flour, bean sprouts, and about fifteen different kinds of greens wrapped in rice paper.  I also drank four glasses of iced tea, all less than $1.

On the way home he showed me the biggest and most beautiful park in Saigon that was the golf course for the American soldiers during the war, and we also drove past the famous Cu Chi tunnels, didn’t stop there but now I know where they are, and there is a wildlife rescue station I want to visit in Cu Chi as well.

Maybe you and Nana could write me back?  I will tell Nana my address and hope that you do.  I can’t believe I’ve been here a month already–it actually has gone fast and I am sure it will continue to.  I will try to post some pictures of the kids and the food and the city now so you can see some small parts of this truly amazing city.

Gaga, I love you!  Happy birthday to you.

Jamie Lynn.


Chopsticks was a song I played on the piano.  Then my friend wore them in her hair.  Then someone gave me some which I lost on the way to somewhere else, and now, every time I think I know about them I realize there are at least two more things I don’t know.

When I first moved to Saigon and I was still staying in the tourist district, which I have since found out is actually Saigon, although the whole city goes by the name now, I was hanging out with an Australian guy who could not use them: I took a whole meal’s worth of noodles showing him how to use them while some passersby shot photos.

Just yesterday I learned to take the ones that facing down because flies land on them.  Plain bun, spinach, hopefully plain, hot sauce (really hot!) bean sprouts, mint, lime, lime, lime, limes face down.

After school Mme. Tuhy is chopping fruit she says “eat everything:” baby bananas, mango, sour cherry-grapes, grapefruit, dragonfruit… and she puts a bowl of rice in front of me which is awesome, I love rice.

So I am thinking nothing could be better being at school all day and walking home in the rain, and then the Frenchman pours me a beer.  The Indonesian guy next to me goes oh, you drink?  I was raising my glass to the Frenchman at the time or I would have spit out beer.  The Frenchman would have gotten it, he always nods with me as though I am saying wise things.

So I am happy as a clam picking away at the rice and the fruit with my chopsticks and Jonny next to me is laughing.  “We do not eat the fruit with the rice.”  He motions to meat moves it closer to me.  I keep on eating the grapes, but I like Jonny.

I put some rice in a lettuce leaf with my chopsticks and roll it up: this he cannot believe; he looks at Mme. Tuhy and the Frenchman as if to make sure they are seeing what he is seeing, but Mme. Tuhy is on the phone and the Frenchman is watching soccer.  I wonder what he would have done if I’d thrown a mango in there.

Jonny gets up to go but sits back down.  When I can’t eat anymore I set my chopsticks down carefully, silently.  As I am saying goodnight I notice he is making a perfect ninety-degree angle with them and the edge of the table.

Same life.

I moved somewhere where it is always summer. There is a dog on my street that wears a little sweater with a collar. There is a palm tree out my window that is swaying in the wind as I type. It is raining, intermittent downpour that washes dirt and rice into the place gutters would be and big drops that sound like baseballs slapping the blacktop.

Decided on a couple of must-see places, Cat Tien National Park and an island called Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand. Went to inquire about them and found out I can take a bus to the park (four hours from HCMC) for only 5 dollars; can fly to the island for $48.00 one way which is very good; Saigon is a city I think I will have to leave to miss.

I left Vietnam Airlines crossed Truong Son St., which Rufus says it is not a hard street to cross but to me it is basically a four lane highway, and went back to my room which Mme. Tuhy had just finished cleaning. She brought me a little glass bowl and some chopsticks which really touched me for some reason, and she picked up all of my clothes off the floor, so she is not going to let me be a slob, got it.

When I walked out my room this guy who lives here asked if I wanted to go to the airport with him to pick up one of his friends which I usually never turn down a chance to go to the airport but I must say I have not been feeling 100% like myself and as all the power was still out decided to go to the mall just to be in the A/C someplace.

I hear “Hello teacher” turn around it is a new boy in one of my classes there with his mom and his brother. They all made me really happy, why was I getting emotional about chopsticks and students, two common things in the new life. Well, I felt done with the mall and it was too hot for parks or cafes, so I keep walking and eventually just end up back at the building where the school is, on the tenth floor of which there is a cinema.

I’ve never even gone up there; the school is on the sixth floor, but the elevator just happened to go up there and the next thing I knew I was in Sex and the City 2. Don’t read the reviews, I made the mistake of it while looking up the New York song (it’s by Jay-Z) I’d heard for the first time while bedridden watching Fashion TV on Bui Vien, second time just last night at the Piss Up (again Rufus).

Maybe it is just the simple fact that it was something familiar in this land of strangeness. That could have been it. I actually got choked up at a couple parts (did also roll my eyes at Carrie a couple of times–you do that with her), said out loud Carrie don’t forget your passport which is definitely good, talking to yourself in a movie.

When I walked out I was doing my Carrie walk obviously and this guy backed up and knocked over one of the heavy metal silver stands that hold those velvet ropes, it was nice. And when I left I thought this is what art is supposed to do. Is it art?

And then there was this little girl riding on the back of a motorbike in the light rain, yellow hooded sweatshirt, and the lights from the stadium were hitting her face like a spotlight, her little cameo, and she was pointing at something, gesture someone older would do, and I just thought, I love her: she is part of my life, not just here; anywhere.

Asia in present tense.

Descending the marble stairs I see that the cat with the broken tail is sleeping in the stairwell about twenty feet off the ground and take her picture.

I say good morning to Mme. Tuhy and the Frenchman, leaving dressed again in the blue dress from Greta which, though comfortable, does not stop the stares.

The cafe across the street from my alcove looks promising. I order a Vietnamese coffee and wish it was three times the size. I feel like Bigfoot.

I walk down the street after an egg sandwich from a street vendor but none of them seem right so I walk past them all, sweaty Goldilocks.

A man slices the tops off coconuts. I stop and watch a man pull his motorbike over, drink one, pay, and take off without saying anything. I wish I were invisible.

We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship,/although it meant the end of travel. – Elizabeth Bishop

We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship,/although it meant the end of travel. -E. Bishop

In those first few days I
wanted to record everything
The old Westerner
sitting up straight in the cyclo
the way I had earlier
& I was trying to
read critical essays
but there was so much
more all the time which is good,
which is what Bishop
meant in “Casabianca:”
love’s the this,
the boy on the burning
deck and the sailors.


Hello again family and friends; welcome to everything it took to get here. Starting with my immediate surroundings, I am at 11/10 Nguyen Van Mai, Phuong 4, Quan Tan Binh, phone #01223655363. Have not set up Skype yet but am planning to do it soon.

I guess I am still “getting my bearings,” although I am now at the point where I can see for the first time a little bit more clearly what it is going to be like to live here. When I was staying in the Van Trang Hotel, it was still in effect my landing. I am now in another part of the city called Tan Binh which is closer to the airport and my school.

The reason I said Bui Vien/District I it is super touristy is because it is. Tourists here might be walking around anywhere but they are walking down Bui Vien in the heart of Saigon, ignoring or acknowledging other blue eyes amid the madness of it all, occasionally smiling when the fifteenth person that breakfast tries to sell you sunglasses.

Bui Vien.

I kind of love it so far: I love the craziness of it. Some of it makes me feel like a big fat privileged dork, like how hard the kids work and how much I get paid to slacker-teach them just because I have “experience” but I shouldn’t put it in quotes, I do have experience and this is why I get to walk down the hallway the exact minute class starts with my laundry basket which is actually pretty cool. I’ve made up my mind to concentrate on doing the best job I can and so far I do not feel like running away, on the contrary.

The job is the easy part for me so far, like flying was for Mave Rick, and if I were to make a Top Gun comparison I guess my romance with the city/culture would replace Kelly McGinnis. There is so much support in the other teachers, the staff at the school it is like walking a balance beam on the floor and the ground is all one of those special mattresses invented by NASA. It is much easier than other teaching jobs I’ve had.

This morning one of the kids did this wheelbarrow move which happened fast and his his shoe lifted up my skirt and the kids all started laughing, I felt my face turn red and I looked at Lan and she was laughing too and she just said “accident” and I was able to go on, it just really helps to have someone else in the room, needless to say when they are there to help, not judge or critique you. Even though we do 22+ hour weekends I notice myself actually taking the time to do things like use the bathroom and eat food during the day whereas other teaching jobs I’ve had were either too busy or too stressful or both to do either.

One more on the staff, Uyen, is Rose’s wingmate, Rose is the angel for me here so far and as I’ve lived abroad I know you need those. Rose got me the apartment I’m in now, with French lighting, marble floor, coy randomly swimming under the stairs, for 200 a month, friendly prices. The guesthouse was 300 and was chock-full of foreign teachers, but here I get invited to dinner with the family and eat a couple of bites of pork or something because I am not the biggest bitch in the world and am going to push away food people are giving me when I am starving.

The guy is French and I say Merci when he pours beer out of a 40 oz. bottle about 8 ways for all of us eating, he likes this. Finally, I find out there is a Taiwanese guy named Johnny living upstairs from me, a chemical engineer who has lived here in Saigon for three years and at this place for a year and a half. He rides his bike to work as it is only ten minutes away, and says I can use it whenever he’s not. He has a rice cooker in his room; I love that he’s told me this right off the bat.

Wow, I’ve been typing like crazy and I still feel like there is so much more of course I am sure that there is, we had bamboo soup for dinner, and some crazy drink that tasted like grass. I have had several remarks that I am good with chopsticks. They actually act like you are a guest in their country; I can see why people do not want to leave and don’t. That said, I miss all of you family and friends greatly. Think of you all the time, always. Am ready to have visitors. Although you will have to let me know in advance so Madam Thuy can register you with the Vietnamese officials lest she get fined 500 bucks.

Time to see if I can get some work done now…ooh except there is a cat here with a broken tail that sat by my feet during dinner and when they were all talking in Vietnamese I held my finger down to its nose and it nudged it as cats do and I thought I spoke its language as much as anyone else’s.

I don’t know who is reading this but as these things go, if it is being read you are reading it, hello and thank you. Feel a bit like I’m throwing it out into the void, not that I am going for definitive lines around me.

Apartment searching on the brink of the rainy season

Well hello friends…so it has been almost a week for me here in Saigon and I am starting to feel like a local. I have really started to appreciate certain things about the culture and am already, as was predicted, looking forward to getting out of the super-touristy area I landed in.

Woke up this a.m. feeling a lot better and finally began to search for apartments. The most promising one so far is an “expat guesthouse” located near my school, 300 USD/mo., shared space with 5 other teachers. From the outside the place doesn’t look like much–actually from the inside it doesn’t really either. It is located on a dusty street and you need a to open a gate to get in. I will have a room with AC and a bed and a closet, my own bathroom, use of the kitchen, living room, and rooftop terrace, and, believe it or not, a maid who does the laundry (even ironing)!

The main thing that I have had to get used to is the HEAT–it can really get to you and make you so tired. I drink about 2 L of water a day and just soak it all in. Last night there was a lizard on my wall in my hotel, as if to remind me where I was in case I forgot. I am looking forward to getting into a place where I can put all my stuff away–the transition period can be rather stressful as of course all I want to do is write poems and I can’t really do that when I have to get these life things out of the way shelter, figure out what food to eat, money etc. But I have a plan that once I get into this place and get new sheets and a lamp and get my AC going the words will start flowing again.

The other travelers I meet stress me out as well sometimes–it can be enough to just keep yourself sane without having to hear with every new person that they are homesick, they talk about how hard it is to be away from home and it just makes me wonder what they talk about when they are home and why they would decide to come all the way to Vietnam.

That said, I have the urge to call people from home a lot, the only reason I don’t is because I don’t know phone numbers. I have read and reread the comments DK wrote on my poems about 25 times since she gave them back to me, I’ve kept them in my carry-on, I’ve taken them to every cafe. I kept them in my bed with me when I was sick.

Virginia Woolf once said “I never travel without my diary. It is important to have something sensational to read in the train.” It is for the future poems that I am doing this. When I remember that, surprisingly it makes it all a little easier–they don’t even exist yet and already they are so reliable.

Still puffy ankles and other stuff about settling in

Got into Saigon around 11:00 p.m. after twenty-some hours or so of travel time.

My jet pulling up to the airport in Hong Kong.

I always feel like such a dork when I travel, Saucony beside Armani, carrying two computers when I always said I was never even going to lug around one.

At the cafe a little girl was selling Lonely Planet Vietnam (which I special-ordered from Common Good Books for $25.00), but you don’t know these things unless you go to the country, or know before you get there that they don’t have copyright laws.

Took a ride around the city from a guy on a bike for 100.000 dong (about 5 bucks), which I’m totally happy I did, ate a weird, but good, sandwich, that I think was fifty cents, took another shower, and am now on my way to get a coffee and read some Bishop essays.

Still haven’t slept, there is so damn much going on, but there are few things I love more than falling asleep writing like I did last night.


Pre-HCMC departure

Watched BIG FISH tonight, went to a bar called Diamond Dave’s, and afterwards for a walk down by a lake. My dad pointed out this crane and let me sneak up on it from three docks away with my camera knowing all the while it was a decoy.

I leave Tuesday, it is now Friday. Tired of talking about leaving; just need to do it. Tonight went to an art opening in Omro: very realistic paintings of birds, and this poem
“True Love:” It’s impossible.

Ritz crackers with melted cheese. I should have stayed longer.

Leaving, even the breeze is amazing. I love it here at my dad’s house.

And I remember this time I walked across a beach to a high dive, climbed the ladder, and something inside me said “go off backwards” so i lined up my toes up on the edge just like in the Olympics and did it.

You should know that I stole your Bon Iver cd but the joke was on me because I also left my laptop in Ted’s minivan and then destroyed my iPod with water.

What have I done, not done, it is all so crystallized, melodramatic, senseless. For some reason I keep thinking of the time we talked about Aspen trees, so here is a picture of some at my dad’s.

Hope all is well w/ you, your Robert Lowell glasses and your half-cafs.

Weird to think that when you read this I’ll be on the other side of the planet, but it’s just proximity.

Mommy stuff (11/18/03)

Ercan brought me pink roses, and we listened to Bon Jovi on the minibus. When we got to his family’s apartment, he handed his mom a liter of Fanta and she kissed us both. He took my boots off and hung up my sweater and scarf. I said nice to meet you to his mother in Turkish, one of my only phrases, and sat down to her table full of food and cay. His mom doesn’t like Istanbul and would prefer to live in the south, in Marmaris, but stays because of Ercan’s job in the Navy. She set out apples, tangerines, chocolate cake, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. We first put in Pirates of the Caribbean, and finally fell asleep listening to The Cranberries. I woke up sometime around dawn. He smelled like COAST and was wearing a turtleneck sweater. There was another tray of food, and a dialogue he wrote out in English and Turkish for his mom and me. I took a hot shower, and then his mom rode the bus with me since she knew I didn’t know the exact route back to my place from there. She kissed me goodbye, and I never saw her again.