death by cuteness: Hoi An pt. 2

Our second day in Hoi An started with me carefully poking my head into the bathroom to check on Boris. He was no longer hanging out on the wall where he had been, so I slipped the rest of the way in and made an inspection: no spider to be found anyway. Hopeful that he had slipped back out to wherever he had come from, I showered and shaved, and then surrendered the bathroom to Miranda.

No sooner had I walked over to be bed to begin dressing then there was a bloodcurdling shriek followed by a high-velocity Miranda escape from the bathroom. Apparently, while we were sleeping, Boris had taken up residence behind the towel rack. Specifically, behind Miranda’s towel, and when she had lifted up the towel, she had discovered a very large and disgruntled spider quickly scuttling its way up the way away from her.

Hm, so far this narrative contains a lot of Miranda screaming at the spider and me getting to be calm and collected about it. For the record, if Boris had been hiding behind my towel, I would have had to be removed from the ceiling with a spatula and then defibrillated.

We ventured back into the bathroom to find that Boris had scooted up the wall to the corner of the ceiling, and figuring that it was a good sign that he was running away from us when disturbed, Miranda took a very careful shower, and we then headed out toward the day’s first adventure, a cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School.

Miranda already covered that one in detail in her journal, and I am days behind in this narrative as it is, so I will limit my commentary on the class to this:

A. It’s kinda difficult to cut vegetable flowers with what is, essentially, a slightly sharper butter knife. But we managed.

B. Phear my 31337 rice-paper making skillz.
After the cooking portion of the class was over, we relaxed on the restaurant’s veranda while attempting (with modest success) to actually eat the enormous amount of food we’d cooked, and fell in with chatting with our fellow students, who were almost universally from Australia: apparently in the aftermath of the Bali bombings, Viet Nam has become the new almost default location for Ozzies looking for an affordable vacation somewhere. One of our companions, a police officer from Perth, had already been to Viet Nam twice already this year: he opined that in 3 years Hoi An would be indistinguishable from Kuta, a prediction that was to haunt me for the next several days…

After being boated back to Hoi An (and passing a fishing vessel that was obliging enough to stage a few net-casting shots for the shutterbugs in the crowd… which would, um, include me), we spent the rest of the afternoon poking around Hoi An’s “ancient town”: the preserved downtown area that is all restored 400-year-old trading houses.

Hoi An’s downtown is essentially one big museum, and it works on a somewhat convoluted ticketing system: at one of a number of spots around town, you can buy a daily ticket, which entitles you to go to one pagoda (out of three), one congregation hall (out of four), one historical house (out of three), one museum (out of two) and one live performance (out of two). Since pagodas and assembly halls do tend to be somewhat similar, I suppose for normal humans this is a perfectly reasonable system: mutants like me, who could happily spend the next lifetime taking photos of roof details on pagods, find it a bit limiting.

In any case, we browsed through the Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall, and then the Covered Japanese Bridge, which was in fact a stunningly picturesque footbridge, with a tiny Buddhist temple built into the side, built by the local Japanese trading population before the Shogun closed Japan and ordered them all home. This was followed by the ceramics museum, which showcased fragments found in Hoi An’s archeological digs dating from as far back as the 1400s and from as far away as Portugal.

Then, the Tan Ky house, a Chinese merchant family’s home that has been in the possession of the same family for now 7 generations: the current owner is 92! (But didn’t look a day over 1,200.) 92 years in Viet Nam is an almost unimaginable (for an American, at least) amount of history for a single human being to live through: I felt kinda happy that he had lived to see his country recover a measure of peace and prosperity — for a great deal of his life, that must have seemed like an unattainable goal.

With an afternoon of touristing pretty well exhausted, we first went briefly back to the hotel to drop our bags and change our rather sweaty clothes, and then headed back to Ms. Lan’s (with, really, an unseeming amount of enthusiasm) to try on our clothes. We walked into her shop to be asked: hadn’t we gotten her message? We both blinked emptily at her: apparently, it came out, our clothes had been ready for fitting at 10am, and she’d called our hotel to try to get the front desk to inform us. Nope, no one at the hotel had told us either in the morning or afternoon: Ms. Lan clucked at this in a manner that was either expressing exaperated dismay at the hotel’s lackidasical manner, or indicating that the entire hotel staff was soon to wake up at the bottom of the river… it was a little hard to be sure. (If it turns out to be the latter, um, well, I apologize to everyone concerned, but holy god what were you thinking not obeying any request this woman made of you to the letter?)

In any case, what followed was a near-orgy of consumerism. Uncle Ho would not have been amused. But oh my god was it fun. Fun and, really, really hot. I’d gone kinda overboard on the dark wool suit tip: a double-breasted black herringbone suit might sound like a great idea when you’re looking at a picture of it in a magazine, but it’s another matter altogether when you have to struggle into it in a shop that while, by Vietnamese standards, is certainly cool and breezy, is still not at all air-conditioned. By the time I’d tried all of my clothes on and gotten them all marked for their alterations, I was near fainting: Ms. Lan had one of her assistants fetch me a can of beer without any prompting, and I have never been so glad for a lager in my life.

(I know, I know. Your hearts bleed for my trials and tribulations here.)

Once the last chalk mark had been made, we stumbled out into the now-dark night in search of food. Figuring that we’d done enough business with the local tourist restaurants, we hunted down the side streets in search of vendor food. After a little walking, we found a woman serving com ga — chicken rice. We sat down on her tiny, tiny stools and were both handed big plates full of rice cooked in chicken broth, topped with braised chicken meat, assorted herbs (cilanto; mint; a few unrecognizable ones), and bean sprouts. It was really, really good, and I think it cost about 6,000 dong each. I got a second helping, and we went through about three glasses of green tea.

We stumbled home to the hotel to find that (a) Boris had taken up residence in a most unwelcome place: just behind the toilet; and (b) there appeared to be a leak from the ceiling, dripping water onto the sink and floor. Now, we both try to be relatively low-maintence hotel guests, but a water leak seemed like the kind of thing the hotel would probably want to know about, so I ambled down to the front desk and tried to explain things. This was predictably not entirely successful, but they got the idea that something was wrong, and dispatched the hotel handyman to follow me back to the room. I pointed the leak out to him, and he scratched his beard a bit, squinted at the ceiling, and eventually just shrugged his shoulders at me and made an “eh” noise. Oh well, their problem. Figuring that while he was there I might as well at least ask about the Boris issue, I pointed down at the spider, who was still happily hanging out behind the toilet. The handyman giggled a bit to himself, bent down, flattened his hand and: whap. R.I.P. Boris. He then proceeded to show me the flattened spider on his palm, still giggling, and I was incredibly happy that the one light in the bathroom was very, very dim. Still cackling, presumably at us lily-livered americans, he left, and we retired.

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