Sunday, September 5, 2010
Dancing dwarves and other Hanoi WTF moments...
One thing about this job and living in Hanoi is that I never know what is going to happen. My coworkers and I joke that the only thing we really know is what is happening at that very moment. The only thing that we can be sure of is that we are in sitting in that specific spot during that specific moment in time. Everything else is unknown. Lately, it's been seeming even more surreal. I keep having to ask myself if I am dreaming or if it's possible that someone slipped something into my drink. The past few days have been full of these types of experiences.
Before I get into today's exciting cultural experience, I just want to mention the different stages of culture shock. Here they are in the order they tend to occur (though stage 3 often creeps up no matter the stage...):
1. Preliminary stage
2. Initial euphoria
4. Gradual adjustment
5. Adaptation and biculturalism
6. Re-entry phase
For the past few days, I have definitely had more than a few moments in stage 3. You would think that after living in a dorm for 10 years, I would be used to noise - and I definitely am, to an extent. I am used to teenage noise. I am not used to screaming, crying babies, hammering or stomping on my ceiling at all hours, piercingly loud Vietnamese singing, or even louder rants in Vietnamese. I have also been feeling so done with people staring at me. I have waves of not wanting to leave my apartment because I do not want to deal with tidal waves of smelly sweaty people unabashedly staring at me (though I cannot deny that I am probably one of the biggest sweatiest people, but I really don't smell that bad thanks to genetics and deodorant). That is another thing that is driving me crazy. I am always a hot sweaty mess. I walk 15-20 minutes to school every day on a crazy crowded road past two bus stops, outdoor markets (they sell dog - the whole de-furred cooked dog, head included with the mouth open and teeth bared, just sits on the counter like a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth waiting to be digested), motorbike repair shops, tons of clothing shops (all with Western mannequins of course), outdoor restaurants with little mini plastic tables and chairs , and thousands and thousands of people. Most people just stare as I go past, some do double-takes (but not the kind where I feel flattered - the kind you would do if you saw a one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eater pass you on the street), but lately I have been getting more smiles and 'alo's, and of course, the ever-present xe om offers. Regardless of all that, I arrive at school soaked in sweat. Literally soaked and dripping. So maybe that is why they are staring - a huge blond girl dripping sweat. I would probably stare too.
Anyway, as I have probably said, every day is an adventure, and even now that we have school and a fairly stable schedule, I still have no idea what each day will bring. If someone asked me to predict what I would see, hear, experience that day, I would never even come close to what actually ends up happening. Hence the WTF moments. In the past month, there have been more WTF moments than I can possibly document.
The director of the program for which I work seems to have some pull in Vietnam. He was born here and can speak Vietnamese fluently and has a long wise-man Asian beard, so basically, he's a big deal and has connections. Our director is good friends with a famous Vietnamese puppet master who has been around the world (even in the US - DC, New York, LA) with his puppets for conventions. This specific puppet master's expertise is water puppetry, which is a Vietnamese original. After we (our 14 American students and 4 teachers plus the director) attended one of his wonderful water puppet shows, he invited us to his house the next weekend. We drove for an hour in a little van until we arrived. His house was beautiful - though being filled with puppets gave it a little bit of a creepy factor. We also met his family. One of his sons is looking to attend school in California. His daughter has just finished a trip around the States and is returning at the end of this month to uhh 'born her baby'. WTF moment #!. Now please understand, I am not judging in any way - the family was amazing and so generous to welcome and feed 14 American teenagers - but this definitely struck me as interesting. Then we learned how to make nem (spring rolls) and proceeded to make at least 100. After we ate a delicious meal, we piled back in the van.
When we get out, we are outside of the Opera House in downtown Hanoi near lake Hoan Kiem, and in front of us are life-size dwarves with huge heads, big dragons, Mickey Mouse, flower pots, bananas, fish, and so much more dancing and galloping around to music. WTF moment #2.
We get escorted into the Opera House and somehow get VIP seats up in boxes. We are at an international puppet show (the 2nd annual in fact), and there are at least 30 tv cameras all around. Seven countries or so are competing in this puppet competition - with judges and everything. The first puppet show we saw was awesome - uv-lighted puppets with the puppet masters in black so they could barely be seen - dancing to music and flying around. The second puppet show...WTF moment #3. It was supposed to be the Ugly Duckling. Some were puppets and others were people in huge character costumes like at amusement parks or football games. Lots of quacking in Vietnamese accents and lots of piercing noises - and lots of complete randomness.
Today, we went to yet another puppet show. Yup, WTF moment #4. This show opened with a puppet Michael Jackson singing and dancing (moonwalk, pelvic thrusts, and all) to 'I'm Bad'. The premier puppet show today was sort of a Cinderella story, with lots of death, Vietnamese screaming, and dancing roosters, horses, and huge butterflies.
Supposedly we have tickets to another puppet show tomorrow night...who knows what that will bring??
So, I have had one Western indulgence since I have been in Hanoi. I recently joined a very expensive and very Western gym. I take a crowded sweaty bus to get there every day, but it is worth it. Inside, they have ellipticals with tvs attached, jacuzzis, and a nice outdoor pool. No stairmaster, but really I cannot complain. I kind of feel like I am cheating on the Vietnam experience by joining this gym, but it has been really nice. The interesting part is that it is usually quite empty (though it has just recently opened) and the music is Western. As I was enjoying my elliptical workout the other day, my thoughts were interrupted by a song coming through the loudspeakers. Interestingly enough, the song was 'Pretty Fly (for a white guy)' by Offspring. Such an interesting song choice haha, which made me wonder 'WTF?'.
Then, the last WTF moment of the day, a nice gym worker comes up to start conversation with me while I am on the elliptical. She is nice, so I indulge her. Soon, she is asking me whether I want to find a Vietnamese man to marry. I say sure - whatever, I guess I am looking for someone. She quickly then offers up herself. 'You can marry me! I am lez. I am lez and I love you. Let me tell you how to say 'I love Amy' in Vietnamese.' Flattering, I guess, but also, WTF??
The next adventure for the day is Ultimate frisbee. Two students and I are going to check out a supposed ultimate frisbee pick-up game tonight...should be an adventure! Much like everything else...