Arrived yesterday after a very long trip but without incident. Was met as arranged with a driver from the hotel, which made the last leg of the trip as seamless as all the rest. I'd been absurdly afraid that Vietnam would be somehow less challenging -- smoothed out by modernization -- but I need not have worried. Same crazy traffic, same utter disregard for Western notions of zoning, same water buffalo being led across lanes of traffic from the airport by little boys. Item: I did notice a couple of changes -- everyone who rides a motorbike now wears a helmet (though some are pretty minimalist in design) and, in town, the street hawkers seemed much less aggressive than before. Maybe I was just too dazed to notice. Item: I find that when I have the vocabulary I can generally make myself understood in Vietnamese, but the biggest difference is that I can hear spoken Vietnamese better than before. I chalk this up to drill with the computer, however sporadic, over the last few months. It's my intention to make this trip an exercise in intensive language study. Item: The long Cathay Pacific flight was very pleasant -- more room in coach than is usual, I think, with attentive service. The amenities may not have been quite so nice, but any slight economizing that's taken place since the last time I flew the airline didn't detract from what was a very comfortable flight. It didn't hurt that the airplane was only half full and that I had my entire row to myself. I slept a fair amount and read quite a bit, finishing another of the Patric O'Brien sea novels I've become re-addicted to recently. I tried to watch Sweeney Todd on the video screen, but I couldn't get into it -- I liked the music, but the pacing was tedious, perhaps to make space for the music. The whole Tim Burton night-of-the-living-dead / teased hair and black eye-shadow way of imagining the nineteenth century just did not seem convincing to me, not that I require historical fidelity. Add a comic book conception of good and evil and you don't have a very convincing package. Item: Just had my first Skype experience, a call from Carole, with video! When I first came to Vietnam more than a decade ago there was no such technology -- only very expensive land-line calls. The quality of this call with Carole was remarkable, especially when you realize that it was free. I don't have a video camera, so she couldn't se mee, but I could see her -- and Candy sitting on her lap. Over her shoulder I could look out the window at the Northern New Yoek spring. Amazing.