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You aren’t in Kansas anymore

September 24, 2010

One of the things that I’m having to learn in order to adjust to living in a foreign culture is that nothing is normal. I cannot set out to do something and assume it is going to work a certain way. Sometimes this is exciting. This is why we’re living in another country, right? Sometimes it can drive you to tears. Every little thing in life shouldn’t require this much work.

The other day I asked the cleaning ladies if they had an iron I could use. I couldn’t care less about wrinkles, but one of us has to have a job and look presentable. I made the appropriate hand motions – pointing to my clothes and “air” ironing – and they just shook their heads. So then I went to the Fivimart, the store nearby that sells western food and a little bit of almost everything else, to buy one. The cheapest steam iron was over $30 USD, which I thought was pretty expensive. Most of the irons were a lot cheaper, but none of them came with steam. I hadn’t really considered steam to be a luxury option on an iron, but I guess it is. Then, when I got it home, I discovered it requires an adapter. I don’t understand why they sell appliances here that aren’t compatible with the outlets here. No iron also means no ironing board. It was the one time, since we’ve arrived, that I’ve been thankful for having a bed that feels like a board.

The first week we were here I went to this store nearly every day. We can’t drink the tap water here so it takes a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of water every day to keep us hydrated. Plus, I love browsing grocery stores in other countries. Like I said, this one is much more western than a lot of them – you can buy Cheerios, Pringles, Dove soap, Axe body wash – but there are always little quirky things to discover. All of their lotions boast their whitening powers.

Certain ones of their products come with a metal band around them and a security sensor. I’ve seen plenty of those back home, just never on Listerine, fancy cheese, and meat.

Their deli section has a really interesting array of seafood and cooked animal parts. I also recognized the clay pot meal that I had read about in “Catfish and Mandala”. As a child in Vietnam during the war, his father was in prison and his mother would have to leave for days at a time to petition for his release. Before leaving on these trips she would cook a “magic pot” of catfish for him to eat. He would eat out of it every day, saving every scrap of fish, bones and all, and put them back in the pot after the meal. For the next meal, he would add some fishsauce and boil it again. Every meal, he’d add more water, maybe some pepper and fishsauce, and when there was no more meat he’d eat the sauce with rice.

Even though I’m not a fan of catfish I might have to try this one day. They come ready to eat in the deli or you can get a frozen clay pot in the freezer section.

The book I referenced, “Catfish and Mandala”, is by Andrew X. Pham. I’ve mentioned it before about his solo bicycle trip through Vietnam. It’s a great book.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Vannoch permalink
    September 25, 2010 12:29

    I love reading your blog Grace. Pierre and I have bought our tickets to fly to Bangkok at the tail end of January and plan to fly from there to Cambodia until the end of February. Your blog has made me even more excited about my trip (as if I wasn’t already excited enough).

    Some info on the skin whitening and sun protection thing; classicism is alive and well in these cultures. The lighter your skin is the less manual labor that you do (out in the sun), i.e. the more you can afford not to do manual labor.

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