Friday, February 25, 2011

Vietnam and Cambodia part 1

Close readers will know that we took a family trip to visit family in Vietnam at the beginning of February with a side trip to Cambodia. Had we taken this trip 15 years ago, we would not be faced with the problem that's giving me travelogue writing block: 800 photos. It's so daunting to filter through all of those and come up with smaller sets that depict our trip without subjecting you to a moment-by-moment documentary.

I've decided to bite off a small chunk by writi
ng about our first few jet-lagged days in Saigon before heading up to Phnom Penh and the temples at Angkor.

We will forever have a skewed view of Saigon becau
se we were there at Tet, Vietnamese New Year. Holiday decorations adorned everything from public spaces to grocery stores to homes. Flower markets with a carnival atmosphere had sprung up in empty lots in the weeks before we got there.
Our boys with their cousins on a Tet display in District 1, downtown Saigon.
The four in Trevor & Colin's neighborhood flower market in Phu My Hung. Charlie & Teddy got Vietnam soccer kits as a present when we arrived.

Having left winter behind in Pittsburgh, we were psyched to have 90 degree swimming weather.We visited Benh Tanh market, an overwhelming collection of stalls selling everything from handicrafts to Dolce & Gabana (you buy? you buy?) to, well, pig snouts. Charlie took along this stuffed lamb as part of his school homework. Baa typically goes home on the weekend with a student, and the student journals about what Baa does with him/her and his/her family. Baa came with us, and Charlie wrote of Benh Tanh market that it is "a place where people insist that you buy their stuff", which was a succinctly apt description.

Considering we're reasonably foodie, we have reasonably little to say about our food experiences on this trip. Traveling with kids partially explains that. When they're tired and out of their comfort zone, sometimes we didn't push ourselves that far to experiment. We did go to a restaurant whose name I never quite new how to say, Nha Hang Ngon. My sister in law pronounced it something like it looks most of the time and then like the 70s hit television show Sha na na other times. The restaurateur has purportedly collected the best street food in Saigon and put it under one comfortable, lovely roof.

The yellow flowers outside the door were Tet decorations.
Sha na na featured very man;y cocktails.
The food was delicious but sometimes complicated for the jet-lagged. Lauren instructed us on what to put where and how to wrap things up in lettuce leaves and so forth.

The fam outside the People's Committee Building

The most strikingly constant attribute of time in Saigon is the traffic. Although it consists of everything from bikes to big trucks and buses, the vehicle of choice for every use is the moped. We saw two guys on two different occasions carrying a stack of flat screen TVs on the back and a case of beer in their laps on moped. My brother-in-law, Mike, explained that the beer was a gift for buying expensive electronics at Tet. We saw a glass-front cabinet between driver and passenger on one and, just for good measure, we saw a guy carrying a kitchen sink on the back of one, complete with long water pipes hanging out behind.

You'll see none of those in this video, but you'll see the startling volume of mopeds in District 1.
video

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Superhero Interview

I can't believe I only have just over six months until this guy goes off to kindergarten. It's the little moments like an interview with Supervision Man (video below) that come out of nowhere to really make working part time worth it. Things just pop out of his little brain and mouth that entertain me at the most unexpected moments.

He doesn't mention the double-barrel mucus running down his mustache area, but I think that could keep villains at bay. I love when he attempts to demonstrate his cape flying and his rundown of where the "bagguys" are and the way he places himself in a super family. Too many super heroes are lone wolves, in my opinion. Also, in recent weeks, he's been saying that his super power is "laser breath". It's especially potent in the morning.

Special thanks to second cousin Matt and Shwetha who gave Teddy the Superhero starter kit, a great gift for a little boy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chart: What not to wear

When I found myself looking at guys wearing argyle sweaters in church the other day, I thought "Hey, maybe I should get one of those." When I thought about it a bit more, though, I realize that the argyle trend has been going on for quite some time now, which means it's probably just about over. Unforch, too often, that's when I - thrifty, conservative-dressing dad - cotton onto a fashion trend. Hence, today's chart.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hello Boy!

Making one's way around tourist Cambodia - and to a lesser degree, Vietnam - with Teddy is like traveling with Justin Bieber. Not exactly, though, because although teenage girls lead the charge of adoring Teddy, everyone of every age and stripe there loves a little, blond, blue-eyed boy. Maybe it's more like traveling through Germany with David Hasselhoff. That sounds strange, I know, and before experiencing it, we were totally unprepared for it.

In restaurants, at the temples and in markets, people woul
d call out "Hello, boy!" Groups would ogle and smile and giggle. Rather often, people would reach out and stroke his cheek with the backs of their hands or touch his buzz cut and say "so cute!" This included a uniformed guard outside the Prime Minister's residence in Phnom Penh. For the most part, Teddy took to this just fine; he's as comfortable with adoration as I assume the young Mr. Bieber is.

Traveling with four blond boys, we saw this reaction frequently, although Teddy being the youngest in our group and still carrying a tiny bit of baby fat got the most attention. His cousins - 9 and 7 - deal with this kind of public attention "at home" in Vietnam often and have tired of it.

In general, people commented on our family having four boys (and no girls) saying "so lucky!" That's true in a culture in which sons care for their aging parents. I observe that mostly daughters care for their elders in our culture and expect that Paige and I will be more or less alone in our dotage. Perhaps we should pray that the boys marry women of the dutiful sort.

If I do
meet Justin Bieber, I'll say "Hello, boy!" and stroke his cheek. Until then, I'll just enjoy the fact that I get to spend so much time with the blond, beautiful heartthrobs of Cambodia.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Parenting at 30,000 feet

Traveling provides ample opportunity to observe how other people parent. Some vignettes:

A well-dressed family near us entertained and managed their three-year-old and young toddler, trading kids, responsibility and breaks on the 13-hour flight and then requiring their kids to do their part while moving through the airport. Even the little toddler had a tiny backpack to carry. Their kids stayed with them and listened to them throughout the airport transfer despite coming off that grueling flight.

At the other end of the spectrum, we heard a mother trying to stop her baby from crying by whining "sto-op" over and over again. After about 15 minutes of this routine, she switched her sensitive parental communications to "sleep!"

Then there was the child tearing up and down the aisles of the plane, his moth
er never far behind. I understand letting your kids walk some, but acting like the plane is his own personal sprint track is both rude and dangerous to fellow passengers and crew.

In the unreasonable threats department, we had the father of two girls and a boy named Jackson saying across the aisle (and across his wife) to Jackson that if he didn't stop bothering his sisters he would be "put off the plane". Really, dad? Really? If you want your kids to take you seriously, don't say things that are patently untrue or will be in 3...2...1.

Somewhere on another blog, someone is probably complaining about our parenting. I think (hope) we did pretty well. We used the sequence of wrapped presents stretched out over the course of the flight. This is a well-known tip because it really works. Although it went over bigger with our four-year-old, our eight-year-old wasn't far behind. Seventeen dollars well spent at the dollar store. We also had plenty of snacks, which was good because Teddy will not consume airplane food. Even if they served his beloved pretzels in a little airplane dish, he'd reject them. Fortunately, he chowed on the ones we brought. And on his Christmas candy.

On the recommendation of friends, we dosed Teddy with Dramamine instead
of Benadryl in hopes of sleep. He shook it off like he has done Benadryl in the past and fell asleep three hours later when he was good and ready. Unforch, in the ensuing time, he passed through the pre-schooler's dark night of the soul; all he needed was sleep, but he was the last one to know it.

We also let Charlie watch Unstoppable, which produced a funny outcome. He reported very seriously afterward on the characters and the events of the movie, in which a freight train carrying hazardous materials gets away on the track with no one on board in a populated area. He talked about it like it was a documentary. (It isn't.) It took me until just now to figure out why. The child watches DVDs - mostly animated and all for Children - and sports and America's Funniest Videos on TV. That's basically it. A grown-up, scripted drama was as foreign to him as a performance of Shakespeare at the Globe theater would have been. He viewed it very literally. Through a quirk of airline media scheduling, he viewed it very literally both on the way to Asia and on the way back. Gotta love the same features on your 12-hour flight back as they showed on your 13-hour flight there two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, through a packing miscommunication, Charlie did not bring his iPod on the trip. He had a new song he was really psyched about and a few games that could have easily killed an hour here and there. Fortunately, he had homework to do and threw himself into the fourth Harry Potter nonsense and several Artemis Fowl nonsenses.

In the middle of the journey there, I realized that travel brings out a very elemental sense. The only goal is to get to the destination and pass the time, by whatever means necessary. Parents feel this more acutely than non-parents, I dare say because we not only have to survive ourselves, we also have to help small non-autonomous humans survive as well. To that end, please make sure your own mask is in place before helping someone else.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Please Excuse my Absence

Dear faithful readers,

You may have noticed (please, please say you've noticed!) that the posting schedule has been rather light the last two weeks. I have a valid excuse. Our family traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia for two weeks to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who are teaching at an international school in Saigon. At right, you can see us visiting the portrait of Uncle Ho in Saigon's famous main post office.

I didn't want to make a big "I'm away post" in case social-media-conscious burglars were lurking here. I'm usually not that neurotic, but I make special exceptions for two-week, 16,000 mile round trips.

Anyway, I'll be back on schedule now with observations from the trip and then more regularly-scheduled competent parenting.