Canines in Conical Hats: Lucy Does Vietnam


Lucy is a dog with wanderlust.  She loves to go just about anywhere.  And though she looks the part of precious pup–

My seven pound “princess,” in fact, behaves badly anywhere other than her black, backpack carrier—

Very badly!

Lucy does not possess anything remotely resembling a sweet disposition.  Her bark–loud, high-decibeled, and persistent–is her best weapon in an arsenal of ways to get what she wants.

But John Grogan, author of Marley & Me, insists that all dogs are great, and bad dogs–“the greatest of them all.”

And Lucy is indeed a great traveler—

Lucy is such a perfect companion on the road, that Sara and I have trotted the globe with her in tow—if for no other reason than she’s at her best, her most charming and well-behaved in planes, trains, and automobiles.

And on our world-wide odyssey to find canine obedience and tail-wagging good manners, our first stop with Lucy was Vietnam—a country Lucy traveled top to bottom, bottom to top.

Lucy behaved beautifully during our grueling 24 hour trans-global trip to Saigon.  Honestly, I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. 

However, day-to-day living with Lucy in Vietnam proved more challenging, since, for the first several days, I couldn’t locate a blade of grass within a 10 block radius of our apartment.   There was a park a 15 minute walk away, but it was so far that even getting there involved rehydration stops along the way:

And once we finally arrived, it turned out dogs were not allowed on the lawn.  I kid you not! 

One morning, a security a guard reprimanded me, “Not dog on grass!  Not dog on grass!”  When I showed him the pink poop bag with which I intended to pick up any excrement, pink poop bag I had brought purposefully all the way from the US—biodegradable and environmentally friendly—he seemed not the least impressed and repeated his demand with all the more irritation, “Not dog on grass!  Not dog on grass!”  But Lucy refused to pee or poop on pavement.  What was an environmentally conscious, dog-toting-to-the-Far-East American to do?

What I did was find this lonely square of grass in front of the Indonesian Consulate:

But once she adjusted to only a tiny turf, Lucy was off to places like the Reunification Palace:

She visited famous fountains:

She even participated in a student survey:

She insisted on praying at Notre-Dame Basilica:

Lucy traveled the 1,100 miles from Saigon to Hanoi by train—a nearly 30 hour trip:

She loved lounging in our compartment and mooching meals from Sara:

In Hanoi she visited the Temple of Literature by back pack:

She enjoyed Sunday brunch at the world-famous Metropole Hotel:   

Lucy took us shopping in the Old Quarter:

There she bought the smallest conical hat in all of Southeast Asia:

Lucy continues to turn heads even now that we live in Haiti,  but she still insists no well-mannered Maltese would do Vietnam without a millinery consultation. 

Hats off to Hanoi!

Babel-ed by it All: a Retrospective


(Another post from Vietnam as part of my holiday retrospective.  The piece below, written in the summer of 2009, describes my cultural and linguistic confusion soon after arriving in Saigon.)

I haven’t posted in over a week—not because I have nothing to say—but because I have too much.  I’m overwhelmed with stimuli.  Each time I try to write what comes out sounds silly or clichéd.  I’ve drafted but gotten nowhere—several starts.  Perhaps, I’ll post the pieces—these nudges toward nothing I can name.  I’d also like to post a few of the photos I’ve taken—several of Saigon—many of my trip South to volunteer with a building project for the poor–a good hour and a half drive into the country from Rach Gia.  It seems I’m struck most by the faces of children—the eyes of cows and water buffalo grazing.

children playing in sand at volunteer build site

the children's existing housing

squat toilet at build site--common in Southeast Asia

water buffalo grazing in rice patties

We carried bricks from where we parked, to the build site—balancing on narrow paths through the rice patties—shouldering heavy sacks—so god-awful hot we sauna-ed even in the shade.

rice patties at build site

carrying bags of bricks through rice patties to build site

 Sara seems stressed—works ridiculous hours—well into evening—early mornings—weekends.  I don’t see how she does it all—so many people, places, programs—details out the ass—the bulging bigness of it all.  It’s clear why she rarely shares with friends or family what she does.  You have to live it to understand, to appreciate the enormity of the task.

Like Sara, I have trouble pronouncing people’s names—so many sound the same to me–probably because my ear is unaccustomed to the tones—so many combinations of vowels—the words for watermelon and several other fruits differing only in the dipping, the sinking of the sound—or rising at the end.  I used to think I had an ear for languages but not anymore.  I can do European sounds—but the tones of Asia—it’s like I’m deaf to them—can’t hold them in my head.  I’m muted by a Babel I can’t untangle for the life of me.

I know next to nothing about Vietnam.  Only that I am pleased to be here—curious, eager to learn more, saddened by my own ignorance of the place.  I do know, though, that I feel a stirring in me, a creative impulse to make—what?  I don’t yet know—only aware that it’s there, nosing again my consciousness, like a cat marking territory, putting down its scent.

And it rains here every day this time of year, sunny in the morning with clouds thickening toward afternoon—the air heavy even in the early hours—first hints of light just after five, full sun by six.  It’s just now begun to drizzle again, the rainy season soon a downpour. 

I try to go out in the mornings when it’s still dry, before the heat intensifies, boils over into wet, one that doesn’t help to tame humidity.  It sucks all oxygen from the air well into evening, when I hear our landlady pull the garage door down, signaling a close of shop—a metal rattle rumbling our small stack of flats.