Girls I do adore. But maybe not these ones.

Trip Start Nov 23, 2007
Trip End Dec 11, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, November 29, 2007

Breakfast at the family cafe again.  The food is quite good, albeit smaller in portion size by American standards.  Can you believe that they wake at 4am, work all morning until the food runs out, clean up all of the mess, purchase and prepare food for the following morning, just to earn the equivalent of $10USD?  And this is divided among all the family members who help.
After breakfast, we left for Nha Tho Duc Ba (St. Mary's Church) to pray for the salvation of my soul.  Surrounding stores revealed why Gpa likes having a blue neon light around the Mary statue in his house:  it's omnipresent here!  Here in the stores again is the tacky style of decoration that is all over VN.  I tired of shopping for relics and figured it would be a short affair.  I sat to write my blog draft and erase some bad pictures from my camera.
After a significant period of time, I decided to go searching the stores for Mom.  I found her working with store employees to figure out how to shrink a box to fit dimensions suitable for air transport.  She was trying to do complicated things like reduce padding and cut the box down to trim the loose space around the contents of the box.  The contents?  A 1.3 meter-tall (4.25feet) statue of Duc Me Lavang (Mary of Lavang, Vietnam-modeled after the apparition of Mary at Lavang).  Mom then had the nerve to say that she had needed help for a long time but I left her in the store to fend for herself!  Whaaaaat?!  I don't even know what to say!  I ordered the employees to hand me a tape measure so I could measure the statue.  The statue itself did not fit within air guidelines so no amount of box cutting would allow the statue to be shipped.  Duh!  Problem solved!  She had to return the statue.  They had done all this discussion and brainstorming about the box for naught.
I was steaming so I exited and got in the car.  Everyone else soon hopped in the car and as we drove out of the area, a woodworking shop caught her eye so we HAD to stop.  More 1.3 meter-high statues.  I told her the tallest she could buy was 1.0 meter.  After going to more workshops nearby, she finally settled on a 1.0 meter statue of Mary carved from Rosewood.  The special feature of this statue was that Mary is wearing the traditional Vietnamese ao dai.  The craftsman would deliver the statue to Great Aunt's house later tonight.
We drove further out of the city to Minh Long, the famous ceramics manufacturer from Vietnam.  There was gorgeous China in a building that was a ceramic showcase with a gigantic teapot fountain in front.  None of the China matched enough for Mom, although Mom promised to give each of the kids a set when we got married.  We left to go visit Aunt Dung and Aunt Hang's homes on the outskirts of HCMC.  They couldn't afford to live in the city, so they bought homes near each other out there with bare-bones amenities.  They edited them themselves.  These homes were smaller than Great Aunt's and were exposed to a lot of harsh sunlight.  Floors covered with old tile from Great Aunt's home was used here (Great Aunt's home was leveled and rebuilt with our financial support - it was a sorry excuse of a home that housed 6-7 families and flooded when local waters overflowed.  While they had no home, they lived across the street at one of the in-law's shacks.).  A steep staircase ill-fitted in the kitchen goes up to a 2nd floor that was merely a wooden floor that spanned half of the home.  This they used to spread mats on which they slept.
We took the families out for lunch nearby and in total it cost ~30USD!  Then we headed back to HCMC for Mom and G-parents to nap.  I took cash to exchange for use for paying for our hotel rooms (we were leaving the next morning for Phan Thiet), paying for our 5d/4n excursion to Hanoi and Northern Vietnam, and covering our expenses for Phan Thiet, Mui Ne, Nha Trang.  When all was said and done, I was carrying over 20 million dollars VND.  The automatically made me a target (there are stories of motorcycle companies/gangs working together to rob visitors) so I hurried home to give money to one of the Aunts to take to the travel company.  I also paid back the loan money we borrowed from the Aunts during the day to make purchases and I put the rest in safe places.  Then I went to the Internet café to take a look at some email.
Before I did the money exchange, I stopped by our optometrist friend's business to get my repaired glasses.  There was a scratch on the lens but that was understandable given the way the frames had to be fixed.  I had Aunt Hong with me and she reminded him of his promise.  He laughed and explained that he thought we were playing him for a fool when he saw us laughing so much the day before.  He immediately furnished a set of pictures he kept in his desk-3 pictures from some of her vacation excursions.  Aunt Hong looked at them and told me to do the same.  Reluctantly, I obliged.  She had sunglasses on in every picture.  To be cordial, I said she was pretty.  She had the same roundish face that her parents both did.  Aunt Hong asked to take one of the pictures and we left with one of them.  Hello?  A little awkward?  Whatever, it's no skin off my back.  Now I have to do with a random picture of a person I don't know.
We got back and hurriedly dressed for dinner.  Mom and I were going to be having dinner with Aunt Hoa (she wanted to show us the town a bit) and her daughter Uyen (here we go again).  Uncle Fa drove us to the restaurant (Wrap and Roll, only 10 minutes away).  The restaurant was a nice chill place to eat and we had some unique dishes:  goi (Mango salad), beef cooked at the table wrapped in dried rice paper, mustard lettuce rolls with shrimp and pork, large stuffed sea snails.  It was served tapas style.  Uyen is 30, works for Nike in their Corporate Responsibility department and travels to the States every once in a while.  Well-spoken and highly intelligent, she's not really what I had in mind.  Anyway, she was very pleasant and kind, offering to take me on a tour of the city with stops to places more age-appropriate.  I thanked her and told her that my schedule would probably be too packed.  She pressed on and eventually we decided to hang out Sunday night before I head home to the US.  We finished up and Aunt Hoa and Uyen each drove us back on their respective moto's.
After we said good night at our hotel, we loaded our travel bags and packed our unneeded belongings to send them into storage (we're leaving HCMC for 4 days).  I wanted to drop some laundry to Great Aunt's house so that they could send them to be laundered, but they alley was flooded, so I had to take the long way around (a 25-minute walk).  I dropped my stuff to Aunt Hong and chilled with her and Cousins Loc and Doan.  At 1am, I headed back with them in tow to make sure I arrived safely (at their insistence).  A short nap ensued before Mom stirred at 330am.  We were headed to a new city.
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