day 3: friends and pho

forgive me, gentles, the pun was unavoidable

last night i spoke again with the english chaps and could tell they were intrigued by my gustatory tourism and devil-may-care selection of venues. so i proposed taking them to Cholon, Saigon's chinatown (with temples like this one
), which was rumored to be yet more teeming and chaotic, things i appreciate much in cities and the minds of women.

they were enthused, and despite my proustian tendencies, it was nice to have more than 18 words to use to interact with people for a change. since i still haven't downloaded my photos (this old laptop can't seem to manage), i'll just tell you that martin looks like kris kristofferson, and mick like jerry garcia mixed with gandalf (here he is drinking what's not a spirulina shake -- see below)
. so they're good mates -- not like old people tourists, just like me: toting chronological years but somehow still imagining that we're 20.

so the day started wonderfully as i found a spicy pho on the sidewalk minutes from my door that was a deep brick color and had all the requisite unidentifiables in it -- very yummy (. but that particular pho was no mere soup; in a way, it represented a psychological breakthrough for me. here's why: i left the hotel at a normal time (neither 6 a.m. nor 10 like the last two days) and discovered that they provide free breakfast for us here: a baguette and peanut butter and jam. now all of you who know me at all know that i've never once turned down free food and i love peanut butter almost as much as i love my brother Erik. and yet, there i was, walking out the door without even taking one to put in my bag for later. the chains, thrown off. for some people the limen must be coming out of the closet, for others admitting that they don't want to run their father's business, but for me it was allowing myself to realize (and act upon) the fact that i genuinely wanted something and felt entitled to it, even if it was going to cost me an extra 70 cents. the actualized among you are probably chortling over your Fresh Samanthas right now (bottled icon of that which i covet but will never allow myself), but for me it was a big deal.

so a good start, plus i was smiling for one more reason that a certain someone knows. my secret.

and then the gents came along, and walk we did a few kilometers to chinatown, stopping to introduce martin to peking duck (what kind of Beatrice, guiding my charge through a roadside food Paradiso, would i be if i left that out?). skin not as good as at Noodletown, but incredible dipping sauce and some scallions, cucumber, and wood ear to go with it. very nice.

by the time we were in deep, i dragged them through every dark, thatch-roofed market block i could. mick is a vegetarian, poor guy, so he missed out on the porkchop right off the charcoal (like what you get w/ rice -- _so_ yummy) and looked dubiously at most of the things i was considering. but then we stopped for tea, the last patrons under the roof of a closing market , and ended up being served by six women all in a tizzy over the way Mick said No, no, no, no when they'd ask him if he wanted various things. one imitated him (pretty well) and from that point on, we were all smiling widely.

finally, before taking the bus back, we had a noodle dish
served in a bag that looked like it maybe needed to be cooked, made out of the ricepaper wrappers for spring rolls cut into thin strips. but again we were being fussed over and told to sit down, so i took it that meant it was to be eated as is, and wow, the perfect combo of vietnamese flavors: the fried onions, fish sauce, fresh curry leaves, lime, etc etc. (see above) pushing a big wad into your mouth like it was shredded dried squid or Redman, it dissolved a little and transformed into a spongy, chewy, deliciousness. amazing. then a spirulina-looking minty cucumber drink (as per photo above) and home we went.

i think the chaps enjoyed themselves, and i believe my approach of Eat everything, Smile at every old lady, Wave at anyone who looks at you, Say the numbers and thank you and anything else you can in vietnamese , Sign how much you like the food, Laugh when you're being laughed at, Turn into every dark labyrinth, and Go everywhere on foot worked for them. right now, there must be a few hundred people trying to describe Mick's beard, A Star Is Born must be checked out at every video shop, and a few dozen women aged 30 - 90 must be thinking that i'm going to stroll back through their neighborhood tomorrow and ask for their hand in marriage. all good things, it seems.