Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday Morning Routine

Alarm rings. Seven a.m. It must be Hanoi because my mattress has the consistency of a damp brick, and a muzak version of an old Tony Orlando and Dawn song is playing through a nearby loudspeaker. The fan at the foot of my bed has been on me all night, and with a light sheet around me, I'm a little cool. My alarm is on the desk across the room, so I'm obliged to get up. I don't mind; I'd just as soon be up before the day's sticky heat settles in.

Look outside: it's rain today. Can't tell from this height how heavy it is. Brush teeth, shower, all the normal stuff. I lock the door to my room and start downstairs in my house slippers, remembering two flights down that I've left my work shoes in my room. Back up, unlock the door, grab the shoes, and down I go. The annoying chihuahua on the second floor has started getting used to me; she just growls now instead of greeting me with that irritating high-pitched impotent yapping so common among small dogs. Nice puppy. We exchange glares, and I think, "no wonder they eat your type around here."

In the foyer, I switch from my house slippers to my shoes, and unlock the sliding metal gate. The rain's coming down hard. I put on my rain poncho before stepping out; the woman next door passes by and says "Mưa quá," which in my half-asleep state I don't understand, until I realize she's saying, "Much rain." "Vâng, vâng," I say in agreement, but she's already walked past. At best, my Vietnamese conversations have a tape delay, while I unscramble what's being said to me and fish for my words; in the morning, it's damn near impossible to talk to me. Then again, the same is true of my English.

Van Ho 3 street is hardly a street; more a series of interconnecting alleys. I walk right for about 20 yards, then there's a sharp left turn, and I'm smack in the middle of the morning market. About a dozen women in conical hats are sitting by baskets piled high with mixed greens, tomatoes, dragon fruits, and mangosteens. A man is flensing a pig's leg over his display of butchered animal parts. A young woman is sitting by giant skeins of small, white noodles. All this goes on under a dripping patchwork of multi-colored plastic tarps. 

Between all this, a steady stream of tooting motorbikes and pedestrians jockey up and down the lane. A woman is walking beside her bicycle, a large board on its rear fender serving as a platform for her mountainous arrangement of plastic sandals and flip-flops. Some of the houses serve as storefronts, and they're all open for business: there's the place on the corner that sells dodgy-looking pâté, a small phở stall, and two general goods stores. It's still only 7:30 a.m.

I walk past all this in about 20 seconds. I turn right at the "T", making sure to look back at the road not taken, where more market activity is taking place. A few more steps and I dart up a hidden alley to my left. I just discovered this shortcut the other day, and along with knocking some time off my 5-minute walk to school, the lane provides a short respite from the motorbikes. But only a short respite; near the end of the alley I can already hear the rumble of Đại Cồ Việt

I emerge from the alley onto the main drag, like a spitball shot out of a straw. The street roars with the sound of hundreds of motorbikes. I turn left and hug the edge of the road, ignoring the xôm drivers who try to catch my attention with cries of, "moto, moto." I walk past a cafe, a few stationery stores, a motorbike repair shop, a couple of office buildings, and maybe eight-to-ten street food vendors. I turn left at the next street and sneak into the cafe where I always get my morning coffee.

I've been unable to figure out the age of the woman who runs this place, so rather than insult her by using the wrong pronoun, I keep it safe and greet her with, "Xin chào." She knows what I want but we go through our familiar routine; I go to the counter to ask for my coffee, and take a seat. I have a little less than an hour before I start teaching, loads of time to sip coffee, maybe think through my lesson plan, or just look outside. It's Monday, and so far, nothing unusual has happened. Just the normal routine.

1 comment:

  1. I've just found a thing for myself: you write blog in present simple tense! Can you explain?