Monday, November 22, 2010

November Rains

This last gap between blogs is not due to a lack of having anything to write, but rather waiting for a few 'stories' to play out so that I wouldn't be blogging half way into them. Daphne and I had been visited by a string of bad luck and it would have been poor form to blog about these things without including resolution.

Motorbike Diaries
It began a couple of weeks ago when Daphne got into her second accident. It happened on her way back home from a yoga class just outside our apartment building. A woman crossing the street stopped in the middle of the road to stare at Daphne and her big bag that she uses for all her yoga gear. This caused Daphne to swerve, her yoga bag just catching the woman and causing an imbalance and fall. She didn't look so bad when she got home. It didn't seem as serious as last time, just some scratches on her leg and a swollen hand. But the hand got so swollen [it didn't help that Daphne still went to teach yoga] that we had an x-ray done the next day. Her left pinky was broken just above the knuckle. The doctor put a splint on it and said to get another x-ray done in two weeks to see if it was healing. Meanwhile, Daphne goes on and keeps teaching and driving, despite the doctor recommending against it. But what's a yoga teacher gonna do? Not work for two weeks to a month? Freelancers don't get medical leave.

Exactly two weeks later, driving home from work, Daphne is rear ended by a young guy with track marks on his arm. I get a call from her to meet her at the nearby local hospital. She doesn't call me from her phone though, she forgot that at home that day. I arrived at the dingy hospital in just five minutes. Mosquitoes were flying around the emergency ward and the water cooler in the waiting room had only three reusable plastic cups. Daphne comes out in better condition than I feared. A scrape on her shoulder was the only visible wound but then she showed me the crack in her helmet where she landed on from the fall. Fortunately, she was concussion-free, though she did sport a nasty headache for a couple of days. This time she was quite shaken up and I played chauffeur for the next couple days. We went to get the x-ray done but the bone hadn't healed yet so the doctor said it'll be another month with the splint for her.

I drove Daphne from her class in District 2 to District 7 by testing out a new route that was supposed to be more direct and faster. It was also very dusty, crowded with trucks and crater infested. The brilliance of this route however, was the massive arching bridge, Cau Phu My, that goes from one district to the other. It offered an incredible view of the city at sunset that almost made the grime on our face worth it. On the other side of the bridge we needed to turn left, but what we didn't realize was that the left turn only went into a car lane, an engineering oversight that was being taken advantage of by the motorcops at the next light. We got pulled over and the cops started asking for things in Vietnamese, a language I don't know. I began to speak really fast in English, a language they don't know, while pointing back the way I came. One of the officer pointed to a registration card and license, a document I don't have, and I pretended to not understand and just pointed back and kept on talking. They tried ignoring me for a while and went about doing paperwork, but as that didn't shut me up nor get me to produce what they wanted they finally just waved me away.

Seven Boxes and the Black Friday
Meanwhile, a boat arrives into Saigon bearing seven boxes addressed to a Ms. Chua. What's left of Daphne's possessions from her past life have arrived. Now there was just the not so simple matter of getting it cleared through customs. What should have taken only two days ended up taking two weeks. The problem initially arose because of a change in law. You used to need to fill out a customs declaration card upon arrival to Vietnam, but recently the law has changed so that now you only need to do one if you're bringing more than $7,000. While it's nice to have one less document to fill out in life, it would be even nicer if Customs had adjusted their shipping rules to accommodate the new law. As it was, they still required that you give them your declaration card to get your shipment. Since our arrival from the States was after the new law was instated, we had no such card. You would think that enlightening them with a simple law check would have cleared things up quickly, but no such luck.

Finally, the shippers told us that the boxes would be cleared last Friday morning, so I waited at home for them while Daphne went to teach. When they didn't show up I telephoned the shippers to find out that they've hit another snag with customs who now won't release the boxes until they meet Daphne. I hop on my bike to go meet her at work, but as I'm driving up the ramp my hand gently brushes against a corner of sideview mirror, causing the tip of my finger to slice open and blood to rush. I run up stairs quickly with my finger in my mouth to keep from dripping blood everywhere. Thankfully I manage to stop the bleeding. Wrapping my finger up in toilet paper and medical tape I went back downstairs holding my finger up to the sky to keep it elevated. I drove that way, finger pointing up, all the way to the studio to get Daphne. From there we drove our bikes to the shipping office, left Daphne's bike there, and followed one of the shippers on a 40 minute dusty ride to the port. We had a housing appointment at 1pm but we moved it to 2:3o and Daphne had to cancel her afternoon private class all because the customs officer wanted to see her. But when we got there they were out to lunch. So we waited a half hour, met with the officer who then said we had to go to the warehouse where the boxes were. So we went, waited for the warehouse to open, the boxes were brought to us, opened, searched, a 'token' fee was paid and off we went. We were told that the boxes would finally be released that night. We could only hope.

We got on the bike and just as we left the port a massive storm fell upon us. This time of year, the rainy season should have already been over, so the events that follow I blame entirely on global warming. As we made our way back we found ourselves on Cau Phu My bridge again, but the lower part was flooded. The engine flooded and the bike stopped. We trenched through the water, Daphne pushing the bike from behind while I tried to start it. It would start, she would hop on, and then it would die. About ten times. After some ten minutes of this I finally managed to get it started and kept on long enough to get back on track. Meanwhile, my makeshift bandage is nothing but tape now and stinging. We make it to our housing appointment thirty minutes late and absolutely drenched. We look at the place for about one minute, shake our heads and head back down to the parking to make our way home. Somehow, the parking tag disappeared in the short span of time we were there. The rule for losing your tag is that the garage keeps your bike for 24-hours. Somehow this 'proves' that the bike is yours and that you're not stealing. Because the parking tag is considered more legitimate than the registration card in my wallet for my bike. This is the my last straw, and I end up in a massive shouting match with the security guards. As neither party was backing down, I had to give in[I was surrounded by six guards] and fill out the paper work. We tried walking around the garage checking every corner but could not find the tag. It was gone and I was bikeless. We took a taxi to get Daphne's bike at the shipping office and, feeling like karma rejects, made our way in the rain back home for a much much needed hot shower. The day did end on a good note, however, when at 9pm those seven boxes that caused us so much grief arrived at our door, like Santa coming down the chimney at a wake.

And Then
The next day I woke up in an ill mood having to take a xe om to work[motorbike taxi]. But it was Teacher's Day and my first class of the day gave me roses. Yes, I'm a guy who feels better when he's given flowers, sue me. Other gifts included a couple of cards, $5 and a tie with pink polka dots. When I went to get my bike I picked up some beers and gave it to the parking attendants as an apology for flipping out on them. It's amazing what some flowers can do to your mood.

Now, we have seven more boxes of stuff to move mid-December. We did find a place and have just put down the deposit. While we love where we live now, the owner is returning from his time abroad and wants to live here again. Fortunately, we've found another great place in the same building so moving won't be too difficult. But before that, I think we are in desperate need of a vacation...