Saturday, 12 January 2013

Four cafes, three miles cycling, a book review and a marriage proposal

I have completed a new book review today, of Denise Affonco's harrowing 2007 memoir To The End Of Hell, which recounts her imprisonment in labour camps in rural Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period of 1975-1979. Please read it here.

It has been a bit of a wearing day today; I knew I had a review to complete, but also planned to Skype home during the afternoon. Around 3.30pm, just the time I had arranged to call home, the internet stopped working and my efforts to get it to work again by switching first the laptop and then the modem off and on again, proved fruitless. I went to the local cafe and ordered a mango juice. Alas, their internet was down too.

I cycled across the park to try another place. I was stopped from going up one of the streets by one of the neighbourhood security guards. I looked ahead, and first saw a crowd of people, then a message printed on multiple peices of A4 paper: 'Will U Marry Me?'. Finally, I saw a man on one knee before his lady, whose hair hung over her face and whose hands were held up near her chin. The friends around them were silent. I stopped for a few moments to witness the pivotal moment of this young woman's life...She nodded...the friends jumped up and cheered, and I cycled off, thinking that if anyone tried to propose to me in that way I'd wring their neck.

At the second cafe I realised that the internet must have been down for the whole neighbourhood. I don't have a phone at the moment and so I am completely reliant on the internet to communicate with everyone back home. Jessica is away in Taipei so I didn't even have her to help me; it was imperative that I could get online. A three-mile cycle ride and several cafes later, I managed to get a connection at a cafe in the centre of Phu My Hung at around 5pm, and was able to talk to my dad for an hour or so. After this, I wanted to buy a card for Thuy as it is her birthday tomorrow. Unfortunately, card-sending doesn't seem to be a Vietnamese tradition in the way it very much is a British tradition, and although it is easy to find pretty paper cards marketed at tourists in the city centre, I was having trouble finding any in the local shopping area. As I pushed my bike around in the dark, visiting convenience stores, toy shops and photo developers in the vain hope they would sell greetings cards, after several hours of cycling around the same area searching for internet connection, I realised that my life seems to be made up of this sort of chaotic, time-wasting and mind-numbing activity. Why is it that, both here and back home, I so often find myself spending a day looking for the most unlikely item in the most improbable place? Perhaps because I am artistic and over-ambitious? I'm sure I would make a good roadie for a high-maintenance rock band, collecting the strange items requested on their riders while on tour, as I already have experience of trying, and ultimately succeeding, in having a sari made for me in Ho Chi Minh City, or, for one example, being able to find fresh mint leaves in inner-city Leeds late on a weekday evening to make mojitos. Hopefully all this intuition and determination will be an asset to me in the future, to make up for all the time-wasting it causes in the short term.

After first rejecting the overly-gushy cards (although Thuy probably wouldn't understand the message in English, I couldn't bring myself to give such a card to anybody) and party invitations (not really birthday cards) that I was initially directed to, I finally managed to find some acceptable ones, although the cards don't really fit into the envelopes properly. I got home at 7pm.

And so I find myself, at 1am, finally finishing my work for the day. In four and a half hours, I need to be getting ready to pick up Lily from the airport, as her flight arrives at the very unsocial hour of 7am. But as she will probably be very jetlagged, it's probably only fair that I join her in being lethargic and miserable. Goodnight!

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