Ho Chi Minh Homestay

Here’s some recent work. Some are unfinished:

artINDO?HCMC (click the link)

The thatched roof ceiling usually covered with geckos hanging out near the warm lights slowly caved in as if collapsing in a slow motion time-lapse. As it caved the thatches of dried palm turned to green scales. I was startled to realize that the morphing architecture was in fact a gigantic fifteen foot Komodo dragon sliding down from its perch on the roof where it was hanging with the acrobatic agility of a reptile a fraction of its size. The dragon was focused elsewhere until I caught its eye. It started stalking me around the complex, slowly at first. I tried to evade it by running around corners and behind walls but it had me on its radar. It was clearly interested in eating me for dinner and began to accelerate its chase. I knew I wasn’t going to outrun it so I stepped forward with an umbrella to try to poke it where it was weakest: right in the eyeball. The umbrella simply would not penetrate the Komodo’s armored scales. But the dragon was too good at kung fu and took my wrist in its powerful gums which, to my luck, were toothless! But the danger was still imminent, the dragon was sucking my bruised and deformed arm into its body like I was liquid through a straw. 

Luckily, my Dad showed up with a shotgun he found inside the branches of a christmas tree, gave me an Indiana Jones-like wink, then shot the Dragon dead twice in the head.Thanks Dad!

That’s how strange my dream was last night before I woke up to watch the Argentina-Netherlands world cup game at 3:30 yesterday morning.

I probably would not have woken up for that game had I not bet on it. Vietnam is a big betting country and the night before I had made a bet with the neighborhood barber: I pay him 5 dollars if the Dutch win; I get a free haircut if Argentina takes the cake.

Vamos!

Back to the dream. I’d love to hear any dream interpretations some of you might have. But I think it’s  just a reflection on how awesomely odd my life has become since I moved into a Vietnamese household yesterday. 

The house reminds me of the old woman that lives in the shoe with all her children. Like most houses in Ho Chi Minh, this one is extremely narrow, only about 12 feet across, but it’s almost 8 stories high. There are family members, neighborhood kids, and a few animals scattered about the place. I have no idea who is who.

There is a chicken that is staying fresh in the room off the living room. It’s a real big talker. Probably yelling “Freedom” over and over again in the style of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but he says it so much that it loses dramatic effect. I’ll tell it to talk to my friend Stanton for some acting advice. 

My host speaks mediocre english that’s pretty hard to understand. I hope she doesn’t read this. For example: She told me that there was an excellent spot to sit and draw houses on the riverbank from the Ritz.

“So its at the Ritz?!” I asked, a couple of times, then double checked a time or two more, perplexed that there was a luxury hotel chain here in District 8 of Ho Chi Minh. 

Man, I must have looked like such an idiot wandering around the streets asking local vendors, who didn’t even understand me, where the Ritz was. Completely out of cards, I crossed over a bridge and got this amazing visual of stilt houses built along the river bank with Ho Chi Minh’s modern skyscrapers emerging in the background. Oh. She said the bridge. 

The rest of them don’t speak a word of english.

I arrived in time for lunch yesterday, cooked by my host’s sister in law. The sister in law lives in a room in the house with her husband, who looks like he could be anywhere between my age and my brothers age (a 14 year gap). Since I’ve moved in he has not put on a shirt or shoes. He wears nothing but fancy suit pants without a belt and is sure to be found in front of the TV, usually sleeping.They have a 6 year old daughter who I’ve been tasked with teaching colors and facial features to. It will probably be the most significant english conversation I’ll have in the next two weeks so I’m looking forward to it. (She says Pink like bbbBBBink and Blue, LooOOO. She can’t pronunce a B sound unless shes trying to make a P sound, which she can’t pronounce). Within 30 seconds of meeting the daughter she was climbing over me like I was a jungle gym. 

The father’s father died in the Vietnam War, I think. I haven’t really tred into those waters yet. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate. The father is 63 and has pictures of himself posing as an adolescent soldier in his army helmet. After taking me out for drinks one night, he put on his helmet and posed in front of the picture. He then went on to show me his portrait gallery in the living room. Ché hangs next to Nelson Mandela next to Putin next to Bill Clinton giving a copy of his autobiography to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. Any of my government major friends want to give me an analysis of this man’s political views? The next night, he dressed me up in a bomber jacket, a beret, and aviators and had me stand in front of Ché while he took a picture. He digs my beard.

Who I thought was the father’s father’s wife is actually the fathers wife, but looks as though she could be the grandmother of the host. ( It’s really confusing. It’s impossible to tell who belongs to who and who’s with who, etc). So for the sake of clarity we’ll call her the matriarch of the family. The matriarch gave me a warm two handed hand shake when I arrived. Later on at lunch, she asked where I was from. I heard the english speaking host speak the Vietnamese word for America. She gave me a piercing 3 second look, as if she was de-coding my morals with her years of wisdom, then she returned her complete and utter concentration to happily slurping up the rest of her bowl of soup that had occupied all of her attention before hand.

They’ve turned to use alcohol rather than language to connect to me. The first time I met  the father he handed me a hefty slug of Regal Chivas whiskey. Nice to meet you too. He was wearing nothing but camouflage. Camo cargo shorts, a camo t-shirt that read, “DEATH” in big bold letters. Underneath it says, “was our business” and on the back, “and business was good.” Because anything else would simply clash with the well-coordinated wardrobe, he has a camo baseball hat to cap it off.

He’s steadily become a little more sharp. He rocked a Hawaiian print  swimsuit, then after put on trendy jeans with a v-neck sweater. 

In the afternoon, I went out drawing and exploring the city’s waterways that separate district 8 from district 4 and district 1. I came back to my room after a couple of hours exploring to shower, then grabbed Catch 22 and came downstairs to read. The father showed up, laughed at me and mimed shooting me with an invisible blow gun that he made by curling up his fingers into his thumb in a circle and blowing into to. He then waved at me by making a shoo-ing action with his wrist. So I followed him.

I was pretty worried for a second. What the was he doing with that blow gun symbol? Does he want to go smoke something with me? Shit, opium? 

We left the small alleys of the local neighborhood and went out onto the main road. We came to a small stand at the corner where we he showed me a glass case with all sorts of fish skins and street cuisine only identifiable by their potent stench of an object that should never have left the sea. He grumbled at me for my approval and I nodded and gave him a thumbs up, thinking please, no!

So we plopped down into small plastic armchairs that were only a foot from the ground, right in front of the main road to watch the nauseating flow of relentless motorcycle traffic made more dizzying by our saltwater snack. Hundreds of scooters and motorbikes would pass each minute like a infinitely long school of fish. 

He ordered us beer, 333. He ‘cheers’ed me each time he wanted me to drink, which was just about every 15 seconds. Then would pick up my can to size up how much I drank in each gulp. Science! After each beer, he’d forcefully jam a ‘Pine Prime Gold’ Korean cigarette into his cigarette holder then shove that into his mouth. Once he thought he lost the holder and abruptly stood up to check the many pockets of his camo cargo shorts, underneath his hat, and around his friend’s neighboring table. I pointed at the ash tray where it was lying right where he left it.

I think my detective work and my willingness to eat some of the salty slab of fish skin he ordered was where I earned his approval. 

After that, he’d occasionally break our conversational silence observing the evening street life and pat me on the back or jab my ribs with his elbow and break into a contagious laughter.

After a few beers, he started to teach me some crude Vietnamese words. The language is extremely tonal; there are 6 different accents you can put on each vowel. I really believe that I was saying the same thing. But my butchered pronunciation really agitated him. He’d shake his head disgustedly then, in an attempt to get me to understand, would mumble the proper way of saying in sets of six examples, each time louder and each time closer to my ear drum. 

One of his friends picked up the bar tab as a welcoming gift and we went to the next spot. The father led me down the street–waddling because of his baggy cargo shorts and tripping over his sandals that are two sizes too big for him–to his friend’s barber shop. We had some more beer with the barber who is approaching 70, speaks pretty good english, fought in the war, and lost his wife a couple years ago so lives alone in a big house with a yappy dog. This is where I made my world cup bet.

(It’s was great talking to that Ho Chi Minh barber shop owner. I went back the day after to say hi and brag about the Argentinian net-minder’s beast mode saves. I told him the bet was off because penalties aren’t a clean way of winning a game. He agreed but said I could come for a free haircut anytime.)

The beer made us brethren, and we returned to the house. The father was stumbling around at this point, but still crossed the busy road as swiftly and safely as a mine-sweeper crosses a mine-field. He picked up some thinly sliced beef from the butcher then got home, rolled out a mat on the floor of the living room and was snoring within 3 seconds. When I got up for the game the next morning, he was still there. He woke up, made me noodles with egg and the thinly sliced beef, then went right back to sleep, only to wake for the penalty shootout, as if he already knew the decided outcome. 

Yesterday, my host took me around the city on the back of her scooter. The roads are mayhem. Scooters drive in every direction at any time and there are millions upon millions of them. The city is more pleasant, cooler, and breezier than most Asian cities I’ve been too. I think thats party because the Vietnamese have decided to leave trees around in the city. There’s shade, greenery, and oxygen. After Dhaka, Varanasi, and Jakarta I’ve realized what a difference trees make. On the run into the center, I picked up some painting supplies and got a linen suit tailor fitted. 

I was dropped off on a bridge to paint a scene. I sat down on a big pipe that dominated one half of the sidewalk and started to sketch. A homeless guy came up to me and started prodding me for money. He looked at what I was doing then started to give me advice on where to put my lines. Once he even tried to take the pen out of my hands to do it himself. I told him to stop. So he shifted his position from director into assistant. He held things for me so they wouldn’t blow away in the wind, gave me occasional approving sounds, and washed the brushes I wasn’t using. He got really into the creative process. It was awesome. At the end I reached into my wallet to give him a bit of money, to reciprocate for his service. It was the equivalent of 75 US cents, enough to get him a meal. (The street food here may be the best so far. It is. so. good). But he rejected the compensation. I’m not sure what that says, but it may say that he enjoyed the experience as much as I did. There are bigger things than dollar bills.

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