Saturday, January 9, 2016

In Praise of Vietnamese Toothpicks and Denouncement of "Body Positivistism"

Sitting here on my (hard) mattress in Hanoi, struggling in vain to get something out of my teeth, I bitterly regret not grabbing a toothpick at the little hole in a wall place where we grabbed lunch.  It may seem odd to make a big deal out of a toothpick, but here in Vietnam they're tiny--not short, but much narrower than in the US.  This means you can actually put them through the gaps in your teeth that only flossing will get in America.  Seriously, it's great.  When you've got that really deep stuck meat between the teeth--Vietnamese toothpicks'll get it out like it's nothing!

I suppose I should talk about lunch too.  It was great--had some spring rolls and this salad like thing made with shredded guava, beef, and jerky in a vinegary sauce.  We also had this pork and shrimp thing wrapped in a rice cake.  One thing I've noticed about Vietnamese cooking, is that in many cases it's not heavily spiced, but everything kind of brings its own flavor that is combined when you chew it--the tartness of the vinegar, the saltiness of fish sauce, the meat, and a bit of mint leaf--you notice it all, but just a little bit.  It's very interesting.  I'm kind of surprised it's not more popular in the US--it seems a lot more friendly to a Western palate than Korean, Thai, or Chinese food.  I'm enjoying it a lot, anyway.  I've been lucky too, nothing too fishy.  I'm not sure if that's because the family I'm with doesn't care for sea food (other than tiny shrimp and fish sauce), they're being mindful of me, or if Vietnamese food isn't as fishy tasting as I expected.

Today started with a nice bowl of pho (noodles are for breakfast--rice is for dinner and lunch), then took a cab to an old part of Hanoi where we had some coconut ice cream and coffee while we waited for the museum to open.  The coffee shop we chilled at was called "Cong Caphe."  And if you're going "Wait, like Viet Cong?'  Yes, exactly like that.  Cong means communism (or communist--I'm not 100% sure on the grammar) in Vietnamese.  The fact that a privately owned business was making profit under the name "Cong" in Vietnam did not strike anyone else as ironic.  Even when I looked up the word "ironic" in Vietnamese.  I think I must have not clearly explained it.  That or I'm crazy. It's hilarious right?  Right?!

Anyway, the coffee was good--very sweet and creamy.  It was iced.  I enjoyed a cup of it, but declined another offering.  Something came up that made me think--my hosts, though gracious, we're not quite as tactful as Americans might be about weight.  After bringing up how often I worked out (seldomly, so I mean, I can't really argue the point) out of left field (or is it center field when you're in a Left wing communist country?) and making the suggestion that I shouldn't drink beer--including showing a blog post of a guy who stopped drinking and lost a lot of weight.  Apparently--drinking beer is bad for you, but having Vietnamese frappechinos and sugary coffee does not contribute to weight gain.  Though again, everyone here is as skinny as a bean pole, so maybe they have a point.  Ironically, this discussion didn't seem to matter, as the next day, Thuy's brother invited me to have some beer on the street with some pork belly sausages and shishkabob--though his suggestion was that I needed to do sport because I "looked pregnant,"

(A small aside, I have tried some Vietnamese beer--called "Bia Saigon." I'm not a huge fan--it's a lager style beer, but it is really, really light.  I'm kind of reminded of Korean or Chinese beer.  It must be part of their palate to like very, very, very light tasting beers.  Lately, however, we've tried a local beer from Hanoi and it is miles better than the Saigon beer.)

Well, it's tough when you are in a situation like that.  I mean, it is true, I've put on a lot of weight and I'm lazy and don't exercise enough.  But, no one likes to be told that, no matter how nice it is.  And thus, we get to the inexplicable part of this post's title--or second inexplicable if the tooth pick thing is still throwing you.

This post got interrupted last night because we went out for dinner.  I had a longer part written about my issues with this whole "body positivism" and the women and girls who are pretty much the opposite of Mom and think Carrie Fisher looked great and were outraged someone asked her to lose a bit of weight for her role as General Organa.  But it didn't get saved.  Rough summary is: I didn't think Leia looked that bad, but she didn't strike me as very military like.  She looked more like the Resistance's grandmother than a leader.  Gone was the Leia who stayed at her post and had to be dragged away by Han at Echo base and in was a pleasant old woman who said comforting things to a defecting Storm Trooper, was worried about her kid, and hugged Rey.  These people who were outraged she should have lost any weight argued that we wanted to see her back in her slave costume (pro-tip: I don't think anyone wants to see a woman in her late 50s early 60s in that) and whined about our unrealistic beauty standards forcing women to have 0% body fat.

Yeah, 0% body fat is unhealthy, but in a country where one third of adults are obese and most ppl of my generation (myself included) couldn't pass military PT tests if we were drafted, I don't think we really have an issue with people not accepting their bodies (the term some people I talked with on Facebook used).  In fact, I think (myself included) the bigger issue is that we've accepted being fat and get upset when people challenge it.  Military leaders have standards they should meet, Leia is a military leader, ergo Leia should meet military standards.  Carrie Fisher was asked to lose weight for a role, as an actress she should have done so, rather than go "No, this is who I am."  If she was auditioning for the role of Leia in this movie and had never played it before and said this, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have gotten the part.  It would have gone to someone who fit the director's image of what a military leader in this galaxy would look like.  I don't understand this cheering and "you go girling,"  Men add and drop weight for roles all the time--not just becoming buff action heroes, but also letting themselves go to play a middle aged slob.  If a man was told "You need to get in shape for this role as a Navy SEAL," no man would sympathize with a response like "This is who I am."  It's dumb to praise Carrie Fisher for it.  I'd also point out that I read that they asked Mark Hamil to do a bit of work--and he did (a bit is an understatement--he lost 50 lbs for the role

I like to think I hold people to the same standards.  Or, maybe I realize that Leia is a fictional character seperate from Carrie Fisher and I have a higher standard for Princess Leia/General Organa than I do for a Hollywood actress. Princess Leia was a charismatic leader in the Rebel Alliance, often fighting in the front lines or holding her post until the last possible second.  I think as a general in the Resistance, she'd have kept that attitude and led by example.  Maybe I'm just sexist.

Anyway, as to yesterday...

We went to the Museum of the National Revolution.  It was interesting, but I was a little disappointed.  Most of it was artifacts or pictures with a single line caption.  No transitions or anything to different eras in the fighting and no greater details.  A lot of it was unclear to me "Photo of Waterfall from Quang Chen battle against French Colonists" (a made up example, but based on a real one) or "So and so leader of the X uprising," what they did besides lead and what the X uprising was, I'm not sure.  

The focus of the Vietnam War was interesting.  They discussed American massacres like My Lai less than the travel guide I have (it mentions it like 4 times) and focus more on how many aircraft they shot down.  Obviously they ignore anything negative the North did in the war, like POW torture or massacres at Hue (but my guide book also ignores Hue).  I found it very interesting that the Tet offensive is relatively unremarked-only thing I saw was a photo of troops at Hue castle.  For an event that is seen as so pivotal in our history of the war, it was not touched upon.  Something they made a big deal out of was the relocation of peasants into the strategic hamlets--so I guess that must have been effective and very frustrating for them.  They also put more emphasis on moral support from leftists in Europe and American hippies than they did to actual material aid from China and the Soviet Union.  I think that may be because the war is shown as a national struggle, so unity and self reliance is the main focus of it (no mention of Montangards or groups that fought with the US/French at all).

Also, the  museum didn't really have a gift store, which was disappointing.  I still need to find a few more souvenirs.  Something I did find out at the museum was that it really is "Uncle Ho."  I was asked about him, literally "Do you know Uncle Ho?" So that's a thing.''

That night, for dinner, we went to a restaraunt in down town.  We had this fish thing called Chu Ca (I think) that had no fishy taste.  Dinner was very good and afterwards they took me into the night market area.  We stopped down a street popular with ex-patriots to have a snack (right after dinner--I was full, but that and my overweighted ness didn't really matter.  At any rate, I enjoyed some Hanoi snacks--Tahitian Apple, some fried meatball, and a kind of mozzarella stick.  

Today, we went to an English club and there were a ton of people.  I was asked to step up and say a few things and people were very interested in talking to me.  I should add that most people have been very polite and friendly to me (with the exception of a rickshaw driver who grabbed my arm and I had to pull it free) and haven't made a big deal out of me being a tourist.  Hanoi has a lot more tourists than I expected.  Another minor exception is small children--they seem to be very shy around me and are always watching me, silently.  The couple I'm staying with's daughter is one such example.  Around her family she's very talkative and outgoing, but when I'm around she kind of shuts up and starts watching me, like she's not sure what to make of me.  It was funny, when we were having the beer on the street, we ate some boiled peanuts.  She couldn't open them up, so she handed them to her dad.  One time, he was on the phone and she wanted him to open one, so I grabbed a peanut and opened it for her.  However, she refused to take it--even after her father took it from me and handed it to her.  This kid is in no stranger-danger.

Tonight Thuy is coming back from the South, so I think we'll be taking the bus to her village.  I'm not sure how far away it is, but I don't imagine it'll be that long of a bus ride.  At any rate, I'm leaving some of my stuff back here, like my pottery and my second bag.  

1 comment:

  1. I also can't say enough about those toothpicks. The best ones I've ever used, and I have a toothpick holder I carry at all times. I'm 65, so I used a lot in my time. I am desperately trying to find out where I can get some more. My teeth have never been healthier. From Los Angleles.