I’ve been sitting in the Vancouver BC airport for four hours after flying in from Ottawa. My flight to Hong Kong doesn’t leave for another four hours and lasts thirteen hours! Yikes! Then I have to hang around the HK airport for several hours before flying to Hanoi. I’m unlikely to have a working brain cell by the time I get there. Had a lovely drive to the airport with Carole today — we left early enough to stop on the Black Dog Cafe in Manotick for lunch. It’s one of our favorite places and it set me up nicely for my flight. I had a window seat for this leg of my journey and the approach to Vancouver over the Cascades was breathtaking — sheer snowy ridges receding into the distance, then giving way to the green lowland plain. Breathtaking. I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen on my iPod and reading a Patrick O’Brien sea novel, “The Truelove,” which has the virtue of holding one’s attention without taxing it. also picked up a volume of Margaret Atwood short stories that I’m looking forward to.
A couple of disappointments to report: The workshop on political poetry I was going to give at the University of Minnesota was cancelled for lack of students — I’m consoling myself that it’s the tough economy. I had also just sent off a book proposal to Oxford University Press for a little book about Vietnam and got a response today saying that it’s a great idea, which is why they recently accepted a similar proposal. I’ll send it elsewhere, but I think it would have been perfect in Oxford’s elegant series of Very Short Introductions. I have only myself to blame — I thought of this a couple of years ago but only recently typed up a proposal and sent it off. Poor timing is in some ways the story of my life.
I’ve been very calm up to now, but leaving tomorrow for VN after eight years away has me in what a nineteenth century novel might call “a state ofnervous excietment.” I can’t say I’m looking forward to the flight, which involves around 18 hours in the air, with a couple of longish layovers that stretch the trip out past 24 hours. I will be able to avail myself of the restorative effects of an excellent dim sum restaurant in the Hong Kong airport — I hope it hasn’t changed — which I will definately need at that point, just before I make the jump over to Hanoi, where I will arrive in the late afternoon. It’s a fairly long drive in from the airport, so my plan will be to drop my bags at the hotel, take a walk, have a light dinner and see if I am able to go to sleep. The next morning I’m going to go make some reservations at a cooking school and arrange for a language tutor — poetry will have to wait until Monday!
Well, all the preparation is complete. I’ve picked up my travel funds from the university, gotten travelers checks, made sure my prescriptions are filled, taken my old car to the dealer who has my new one on order, packed most of my things, sent all the necessary emails, and now I feel as if I am on a little vacation before I go on Tuesday. My trip is shaping up a little differently than I had originally expected, its shape determined to some extent by who can help me and who is available to meet with. I’ll probably spend a bit less time in Hanoi and a bit more in HCMC, with a few days in Hue it now appears. I spent a couple of lovely days in Hue in 1998, so I’m looking forward to getting to meet writers there. And I have a strong bias toward Hanoi and the north, so it will be good to explore the virtues of HCMC and the south. With luck I will get out to Chau Doc to see the Lady of the Realm, the center of a relatively new cult in Vietnam, which is famous for inventing a wild variety of syncretic religions. I’m curious about the degree to which a tendency toward syncretic pragmatism might affect contemporary Vietnamese writers.
Language: I’ve noticed a slight shift toward increased competence in my ability to hear and understand spoken Vietnamese; also, I was looking at a Vietnamese newspaper online the other day and found I was just beginning to be able to make out sentences. My vocabulary is still too small, but my sense of the language is much deeper than I had realized. I guess the drill, which I find deadly boring, is paying off.