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Published: February 21st 2009
The Year of the Cat
A Cambodian image from Wat Phnom
My travel to Ha Noi yesterday was uneventful. The planes were smaller and dirtier than on the routes from Bangkok and Hong Kong, but both routes were short. Ho Chi Minh City is an international port and you can't fly on directly to other points in Viet Nam, but must collect your luggage, clear passport control and customs, and walk to the domestic terminal. Nonetheless, the clerk at the domestic terminal was deeply confused about where I had come from, the fact that I have only one small suitcase and one backpack, and that I was flying from Phnom Penh, not the U.S. She kept asking how long I'd been in HCMC and my answer that it was a transfer point and I had only been there long enough to walk between the terminals mystified her. “But how many days?” she kept answering, even when I told her “zero” in Vietnamese. She seemed on the verge of calling security over because I had retrieved my suitcase between flights. I explained in various ways that there was no choice—all suitcases were retrieved for customs. (I should say, not only is this how her airport works, but as far as I know it's how all international to domestic port transfers work). She then wanted to know what time my domestic flight was. I said that I didn't remember but that it was on my ticket (which she was holding). She asked me several more times, but it remained true each time that I didn't remember and she had my ticket. She finally asked someone for help and the matter was resolved quickly. I re-checked my bag, found my gate, and enjoyed a plate of spring rolls while finishing a book on kathoeys (a third gender in Thailand).
In Ha Noi, I was met at the airport by Min. He looked elegant and professional in a very nice suit. We spent a little time catching up on his work and changes at the university. Professor Nam, who had Min's job prior to him, has gone back to teaching. Nam is a smart, engaging person with whom I had several very enjoyable conversations on my last trip. Min is looking for an assistant but so far has had no luck.
After getting only a little lost, Min and his driver dropped me with my college classmate and his wife. While my friend drove my suitcase home on his motorbike, his wife and I walked to an Indian restaurant, where he joined us a little later. We had a nice meal and caught up, though mostly we talked about paradigms of sustainable community development, because that's the way we are. We then walked back to their house, which is huge, and talked a little more before they went to bed. (My first apartment in Oregon was smaller than their guest room and its bathroom. My apartment was very small, and this room is very big.) I got online because (1) I could, and (2) the doctoral students were about to hear whether they were accepted for predoctoral internships. This is a huge deal and success is by no means assured. It's a national process and determines what the student will do for the next year (and where in the country). I'm extremely pleased to report that all 8 students were successful, though they won't find out where they're going until Monday.
It's been warm in Ha Noi in the last week, but today is fairly cool. I may even put on heavier clothes. Over breakfast we talked about my friend's experiences with the World Bank. He and I are going to a pagoda by a lake that was formed when a giant buffalo stepped there. It's the year of the buffalo (ox), so there was much rejoicing at the pagoda during Tet (Vietnamese new year). Next year is the year of the tiger, which is my year, so I will hope to be in Asia for the festivities.
Later I'll go to my hotel to work, work, work until Monday, when I'm highly scheduled, but it's nice to take part of a day to relax.
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