Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 5: Miscellanea -- Wherein otherwise unrecorded incidents and information are recounted...

[J]

The network demons have been appeased, and (for the moment) we are connected via the laptop in the hotel room! That's a relief. (Though even if the laptop ended up as dead weight for the rest of the trip, it would have earned its passage in that first bad night when we had to revise all flight plans. Without email, we would have been up a creek.)

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When we visited the Cham museum on Saturday afternoon, we were given a guided tour by a genuine Danang character, and he had the book to prove it. The museum itself is a pretty casual affair, without much in the way of information. It's essentially an open air building (as so many of the buildings are in Danang), with the occasional lizard scuttling across the floor between exhibits. We entered one of the first rooms off the courtyard, and suddenly, out of nowhere, popped a small, elderly man who offered us (in very formal but partially incomprehensible English) a private tour. He began by showing us his card and a page from a tattered copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook to Vietnam in which several sentences were highlighted. These sentences recommended him by name as a guide to the Cham exhibits, and said that he spoke "excellent French and reasonably good English." We probably should have gone with the French, because the English was a challenge. Nevertheless, he knew quite a bit about the Cham history and religion, and he took us on a whirlwind tour of the many statues and other stone carvings. He was keen to point out the popular breast motif used in much Cham art. At the end of the tour, he very subtly mentioned that he had to ask us for some reimbursement, and as he spoke, he idly flipped through his guide book and paused at a place where there were a number of Vietnamese Dong (currency) tucked into the book. I happily offered him 20,000 Dong (about the cost of a light lunch), but he insisted that he had to ask us for 100,000 Dong. So I paid him that amount, but I admit that I felt as if I had been stiffed. -- However, on reflection, I realized that 100,000 Dong equals about $6.50... and so I really can't complain.

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Potty training happens early here, and the method (as we observed it at the CWC) produces a very amusing subset of children that we've been calling the "potty children." Essentially, rather than put the toddlers in diapers (we didn't see any diapers at all), the tiny toddlers are placed on plastic chamber pots for certain periods of the day. The caregivers of the CWC put the children out in a back courtyard on their little potty seats, where they sit for an hour or so at a time. But they don't just sit in one spot. They scoot around the courtyard on their little buckets, playing with toys, following one another, rearranging the plastic furniture... we even saw two potty children playing tug-o-war with a small plastic table... the winner ended up dragging the table back across the courtyard. All of this while seated on their plastic potty buckets. In fact, if you stand in one spot too long, you have to be careful about moving, because the potty children shift positions and cluster around your legs, and there's always the danger of tripping over one. Occasionally, one will tip over, and this can result in a mess, but the general attitude is pretty laissez-faire when it comes to elimination. Everything -- kids, plastic furniture, potty buckets, concrete floor -- gets rinsed off pretty regularly.

On a related note, Minh is certainly potty trained... in the sense that he doesn't wet himself. But when he does need to go, his approach is that one place is as good as another for a quick pee. This could require some retraining when we return home. But, since this also seems to be the approach for men in general (based on our observations as we walk the streets of Danang), it's easy to understand Minh's position. -- We'll have to keep an eye on him while we're on the plane home....

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For dinner this evening, I had sea slug soup and sauteed eel. Both were actually quite mild and tasty, not fishy at all. The eel, though, had a lot of backbone in it, which was hard to eat around.

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There are a million motor scooters on every street, and a few cars (mainly cabs). The rules of the road seem to be pretty simple: drive wherever you need to drive at whatever speed you prefer, and honk regularly to let others know that you exist. These apply to everything from large trucks to bicycles. The key seems to be to pick your line and just go for it. That's true when you cross the street, too. There are no gaps in traffic (on some streets) and no stoplights or stop signs (at least none that mean anything), and so it would be foolish to wait for an opportunity to cross. So pedestrians just step out on faith and keep moving. Usually, the scooters and cars go around you, and you end up on the other side of the street. But don't look up at the drivers, because that might give them the idea that you see them coming. As long as you don't look them in the eye, it's their job to miss you.

That said, we did almost get creamed by a cab this afternoon. He must have been going pretty fast, because neither of us had seen him when we started across. But we survived!

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