Tien had expressed how happy she was to be back in her home country when we were walking through the airport, and it showed once we got in the taxi. She smiled a lot and was chatting up a storm with the taxi driver. I began to sink back into the mindset of not even needing to pay attention to verbal communication because nobody spoke to me in a language I knew except for words that were superfluous when paired with body language.
I had guessed that Malaysia would be hotter than Vietnam, but I had been wrong.
As we drove and looked around at the familiar scenes of Vietnam Tien said "my country is very poor." This is something I already knew, but it was a distinct detail now that she had something to contrast it against.
We had the taxi driver drop us off at the usual hotel, the Ruby Star, and we were given the same exact room we had last time, complete with intermittently malfunctioning air conditioner and partially clogged drain. Still it was nice to have AC at all, and at least we wouldn't get mixed up. We rested for a bit. I caught up on some online stuff and found that I'd lost all of my photos from a day in Cambodia, most importantly the photos of S21. This was disappointing if only because I wanted to use one of them to illustrate a (d)NOT article written by Robert Taylor.
Tien and I headed out to have dinner and shop at a famous market in Saigon. Over dinner I asked her to tell me a story and she told me her life story, which began "I was born into a poor and happy family." It's true, I think I've described her family that way to people before. We talked about the state of Vietnamese people and what Vietnam needs to progress. We'd touched on many things related to this, such as the communist government. It's an interesting subject to me, especially considering the increase of western influence that is riding in on a technological wave.
Tien made me take about 5 pills after I finished dinner. She'd gone to a pharmacy earlier and they had given her a cocktail remedy for my ongoing digestive problems. We then went to the market which was a one story building with many many vendors inside of it and was much the same as the Chinatown market in KL. We bought perfumes as we had wanted to do in KL and then headed back to the hotel.
On Saturday we went to have breakfast at a restaurant we'd eaten at once before but had since been remodeled. I had a hard time eating because I felt really weird in a way that I could not describe. It was a feeling I'd never experienced before but was somewhat like being hung over. I guessed it was a lack of hydration due to the medicine I'd consumed at dinner the night before. We went back to the hotel and I drank a ton of water and went back to sleep. When I woke up 90 minutes later I felt significantly better. It was time to check out, but it was not time to catch our bus, so we sat at a coffee shop around the corner and I downloaded Worms for the iPhone.
A taxi came and picked us up at the coffee shop and dropped us off at the bus station where we sat for another 30 minutes inside a small room where people were having loud conversations and going in and out really quickly. I tried to sleep since I was still feeling a little ill, but could not. Soon enough our bus arrived and we boarded in the far back corner. The bus took off and soon after departing turned down a very bumpy dirt road that we'd never taken before. Tien has motion sickness problems and she didn't have any medicine to take and thus quickly became uncomfortable. I guessed that the detour was to avoid a huge traffic jam just outside of town, but it seemed that many people were taking this detour and it ended up being somewhat jammed itself. Tien asked me to put on some jazz for us to listen to. We got through the bumpy dirt roads alright and once we were back on the paved road the ride seemed smoother than I remember it being on other trips. It was so smooth that we both dozed off and went to sleep for a while. When we woke up we played Worms for a long time, and soon we were in Long Xuyen with just a few more minutes until we were dropped off right outside her house.
With heavy backpacks, gifts in our hands and not much traffic out on that Saturday night, we walked into the house and into warm greetings. It was a happy time as we sat around inside exchanging gifts, showing photos and sharing stories. Tien's family got me a pair of sandals while I was gone, and some beer and wine which was a nice gesture since none of them drink. I drank a beer while we all talked and had food. Then, glorious sleep.
Sunday morning Tien and I went and had breakfast at the market. Now that we were back home it was a good time to talk about where we were, how we felt about traveling and our future, and level with each other about things we'd been keeping aside for the duration of our trip. We had a good personal talk and were both happy at the end of it.
We went back to the house and I opened up a package that had arrived for me. It was a replacement Geomet'r GPS for my Nikon. It looked like it might have the same manufacturing defect that my previous one did, but at least I had it. I tested it and it did work, but I'm still wary of the device and don't recommend it as a reliable geotagging solution. Not only that, it is not flexible as it cannot be used with the LX3, whereas a GPS data logger would work with any camera along with something like GPS Photo Linker. I am definitely going to go that route next time...
We spent the rest of the day being lazy and hanging out at home. I took a long nap, longer than I'd planned. It was nearly sunset when I woke up. Tien and I went out to cruise the village and I took a bunch of video to show people back home what it's like. As a photographer one of the things that frustrates me is that you honestly can't always capture the scene with still images, even as much as you want to, so it's nice to have some simple video to fall back on.
Monday morning we meant to get an early start but did not. We were too late for breakfast so we headed to Long Xuyen and had lunch at our usual internet cafe. Looking at the calendar I realized I was supposed to fly back to the USA in just over 48 hours. We talked about our options for the time between now and when she gets the fiancé visa approved and I decided to not fly back to America but instead stay in Asia. I thought that it would be more important for us to stay together during this time than be apart for however long it's going to take. I'm still really angry at US immigration and I think it's complete bullshit that I have to stay out of the country if I want to be with my fiancé.
It rained hard, then softly, and we left the coffee shop and went to a book store. We found an english book, Sherlock Holmes - Silver Blaze, for Tien to read to me to help her with her spoken language and pronunciation skills. These are the two hardest things for her to have practiced while learning english in Vietnam.
We left the book store and cruised around the city some more just trying to find something to do and found our way to The Panda Cafe which is on the 5th floor roof of a large electronics store and looks down on a large round-a-bout. I had seen this place from the ground and wanted to check it out, but it was before sunset and was probably the wrong time to see it in its proper context. It was mostly dead. It looked cool though.
There were matches in the bathroom so you could smoke; Vietnam is still macho like that.
We had two small expensive drinks and then left. I wanted to get a copy of Wall-E to watch with Tien's family, so we went to a media store where they sold knock-off music and videos. I couldn't find the movie because all of their books were completely disorganized. Chinese movies were stuffed in with Japanese and American, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what books the movies were placed in. I thought it was odd that I couldn't even find a pirated copy of a movie to pay for.
On the way home Tien pulled off to the side of the road where two people were selling crabs from a basket. Tien asked for something and the woman began pulling crabs out of the basket and dropping them in a plastic bucket where the man made sure they did not jump out and crawl away like I'd seen at another crab vendor a few blocks back. After putting about 10 crabs into the bucket they put a bag over the top, flipped it over and tied the bag off, sealing the crabs inside. I thought that a plastic shopping bag was not adequate protection for 10 crabs, but they double bagged it so I couldn't complain. It ended up being OK though and we were not maimed by the crustaceans.
That night Tien read half of Silver Blaze to me while I dozed on the couch, swatting mosquitoes and helping her correctly pronounce some new words.