Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chapter 9: Staggering about Punch-Drunk--In which we observe the highs and lows of the roller-coaster

[J]

First, the bad news.
This morning (Thursday) Mr. V. and a CWC staff person took us to the police station to work out the details of getting Minh's passport. We had thought that the CWC director would be able to do this without our needing to go anywhere, but there have been changes to the bureaucracy, apparently. And bureaucratic changes can only mean one thing: delays.

It now appears that Min's passport will take 4 or 5 days longer than expected here in Danang. We're not entirely sure what this does to our whole timeline, though. We think that we can still travel to Hanoi on Saturday (July 8)... and that the passport, when ready, will follow us there. However, because the Chicago office of the US CIS did not allow us to file the I-600 form while we were still in the US, we must file that at the US embassy in Hanoi. We need to get that started as quickly as possible, and we can only hope that we are allowed to start the US embassy paperwork without Minh's passport. Our hope of leaving Vietnam as early as July 14 is fading fast, and even July 21 is looking potentially iffy.

Right now, it feels as if we've been riding this roller-coaster for too long already, and the next week... or two... stretches like infinity before us. We are trying to get over the emotional sucker-punch of finding another hurdle in the way.

But there are some pleasant things, too.
Yesterday, we hired a car and driver to take us to the Marble Mountains and Hoi An. Both spots are beautiful... and far more touristy than Danang. We felt swarmed by westerners yesterday, in comparison to the few we've seen here in Danang.

I'll omit extended descriptions of these two locations. They are well described in Vietnam guidebooks! -- Instead, I'll just say that in both places, the sales pressure on tourists is relentless. Every third step, especially in Hoi An, there's someone else offering something for sale. One strategy for the salespeople with good English is to engage the tourist in conversation about the surroundings, asking where they are from, etc., as the salesperson walks along. Slowly, the tourist realizes that the aimless stroll that they thought they were taking has been diverted into a guided tour back to this salesperson's family's shop. If the tourists try to balk at this point, the cheerful calesperson assures them that they can just look. Of course, once back at the shop, it would be rude not to buy something.

With Minh in tow, we attracted even more attention and interest. Some people were purely curious, but others saw it as a chance to sell us something for Minh. It's especially sneaky to hand the child a toy or snack, and then expect the parents to pay for it.

It was quite hot yesterday, and the museums and old houses of Hoi An are not really aimed at 3-year-olds, so Minh didn't enjoy that part of the trip quite as much. However, at lunch, he attracted the attention of the 3 or 4 young women working in the restaurant. They clustered around, and when he showed some concern with one of his toenails, one of them whipped out nail clippers and gave him a mini-pedicure. I dare you to see that in your local Denny's.

Later, we stopped for iced coffee and ice cream, and Minh nearly cheated himself out of his chocolate ice cream by refusing to allow E. to feed him the first few bites. We were the only customers in the cafe, and the 5 or 6 employees (again, mainly young women) were all sitting about 15 feet away watching his little tantrum and refusal to be fed. I hope we provided them with something to discuss for the rest of the afternoon. -- Finally, when the ice cream had melted, he relented and allowed E. to hold him on her lap while he drank the ice cream through a straw.

Our driver for the day, Mr. H., was extremely nice. He was very willing to chat with Minh about all of the cars and trucks on the road. Mr. H. translated much of Minh's babble for us, and pointed out at some spots that he couldn't really make out what Minh was saying! This confirms that the running monologues of 3-year-olds are sometimes incomprehensible in any language. At one point, Minh tried to convince Mr. H. that a passing truck was an army tank. Minh was determined to see an army tank, apparently.

Now we face the question of how to pass today. Staying in the hotel room ensures some tantrums... though they are becoming briefer... maybe.

Anyone looking for a way to pass free time might do so by praying that the passport be processed quickly and the US embassy process move smoothly and quickly.

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