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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wanders of the World


The waiting was supposed to be the tricky part, but we made it. One week after submitting our bid list we know where Sunshine is to be posted in 2007. We are elated about it. 1,249 words.

[NL]—Friday we submitted our official bid proposal to the proper authorities, and sat back to wait. I very much handled this wait the way I predicted I would: I spent many hours a day cruising online photos of the places we’d included on our list while daydreaming about heading off to one or another of them. I worked my way slowly through the whole list (save one or two), and then started in at the beginning again. Sunshine has handled it more like we were told we would: she wants to know where the hell we are going and to get the suspense over with. I would imagine that this comes as no shock to anyone who has seen her on the days leading up to her birthday.

In the days between Friday and now, we have been studiously following the traffic on the bid computer to see what positions are garnering the most attention. Many of the posh posts we had assumed high equity bidders would go for remained unassigned but showed heavy traffic, indicating many interested parties had listed them. Places like Canberra, Australia and Montevideo, Paraguay were showing that as many as thirty or thirty five bidders. London and Amsterdam were getting equally fought over. We had included none of these destinations on our list for just this very reason, higher equity employees would get them all. Some of the posts that we had expected to be included in the list above were not so vied for, though. Island paradises like Praia, Cape Verde and Port Luis, Mauritius were seeing some interest, but nothing like Canada, or the Hague. I suspect it is because paradise is sometimes hard to access by direct flight to a major airport. Cape Verde had been on our list, and Mauritius had not. By Mardi Gras, all of the positions we were bidding on had at least five or six interested others.

By Wednesday, the post positions for the bidders with the highest equity were assigned, and since Sunshine was regularly checking the bid computer, we were watching positions disappear as they were given away. I got an update call late Monday afternoon letting me know that of all the posts granted that day, only four had been on our list. Coincidentally, they were my four least favorite positions we’d bid, and while I would have lived in any of them, I was happier that in this first round the list had narrowed to something more acutely desirable. Yesterday, Sunshine called me in the late afternoon again and told me of more positions snatched from our jaws. After that first day, this news was more upsetting: every new post dropped from possibility was a new post I had really secretly wanted to have most, and it hurt to lose it to someone else. Finally, early this afternoon, Sunshine called to let me know that she had gotten the official email that we were to be assigned Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, effective sometime around October 2007. This was incredible news since Vietnam had been our top choice; and, frankly, when we had watched the position disappear off the list yesterday afternoon, we assumed it was to a bidder with five percent more equity than we have. We’d given up on Ho Chi Minh. I suspect that it is possible we never did know what was going on as well as we thought we did.

This is great. Heading off to Vietnam for two years is a dream come true. I was at home bracing myself to be excited about Yekaterinburg, Russia or Skopje, Macedonia; but what I really wanted was Vietnam all along. I had actually started getting upset when I heard that Dar-Es-Salaam was going to another bidder, but now Vietnam is my favorite place in the world, again. And it is more than just Vietnam to get excited about (not that it would need to be, with Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, Danang, China Beach the Mekong Delta and Halong Bay in Vietnam), but the entire region. I’ll get to go to Laos and Thailand while I am there, Myanmar and China and Malaysia and Cambodia. Flights we take are so long, that it is generally taken for granted that passengers will stop on the way for a day or two of rest before getting back on the plane. These places will be in Bangkok or Hong Kong or Singapore. Our R&R leave, when we get it about halfway through our tour, will be in Sydney, Australia. There is just no bad news.

We are going to the other side of the world.

Tonight we celebrated at our favorite little neighborhood half Spanish restaurant. We just kept saying, “Vietnam, man! Viet-fucking-nam!” Now that it is late and all of this has, to some degree, sunk in, I realize that I really know very little about Vietnam. I’ve known some people from there, and some more from the SE Asian region. I’ve eaten a lot of what we call “Vietnamese Food” in the US, but I know enough about the cultural and folkloric qualities of cuisine to be suspicious of this actually baring much resemblance to the food I will find in-country. I have seen a number of Vietnamese movies that I have loved, and my images and impressions and fantasies of life there come from these: lush and hot tropical green surroundings cut with teeming masses of rickshaws and pedestrians selling street corner things and monkeys and durian and pointy little hats. Many of the people I know, family and friends, I’m afraid have images from movies, too—or newsreels, or grainy black and white newspaper photos: olive drab Hueys with open doors settle near the plume of smoke and the POV jumps up and down while young men with rucksacks jump and run for the whipping trees. Vietnam will resist these preconceptions. I expect it to.

The minute I found out about Vietnam, I began downloading photos from the internet. I downloaded hundreds, some taken before I was born, others within the last few months. They are a confused array of wide streets and muddy rivers and French colonial architecture, low CC motor bikes and coffee shops and piles of mud and rain up to here for six months every year. But I have to wait for the real learning to begin. Our travel guides and written materials will show up mail-order, and we will get a glimpse of other westerners’ ideas about, and reactions to, and opinions of the country itself. Then, in early 2007, Sunshine will begin Vietnamese language and SE Asian Cultural classes in DC. Eventually, we will get on a plane and find ourselves in the hustle and bombast of downtown Saigon, and from that moment on we will not be able to throw a rock and hit something we could have reasonably prepared ourselves for. When Sunshine first was offered this job, and I first found out that this was what my future was going to be, I had big dreams of my life changing completely: the world around me going from pole to pole and changing extremely from one day to the next. This fantasy was left unfulfilled when we were put in Monterrey, no matter how much I have grown to like this place. Now I can see the kind of thing I was wanting there on the horizon, and I am just in love with it. I love it.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Ho Chi Minh City

Official tourism site for Ho Chi Minh City (in English)

Official tourism site for Vietnam (in English)

Here, here, here, or here for good Ho Chi Minh City photos

Southeast Asia photo illus. © the Author

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It's that time again. Beginner headquarters is picking-up house and relocating back to the United States on July twenty-fifth, 2009, to enjoy a month at home with family and friends. By the end of August we'll have set-up a semi-permanent household in Washington, DC, near the Cleveland Park metro stop on the red line. [DC metro map] Then, sometime after Labor Day, our boxes and boxes of stuff should catch up with us. After that it'll be smooth sailing till sometime in July 2010, when we will be moving abroad again, this time to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for a little real winter.

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