Friday, October 20th 2017
Friday was Vietnamese Women’s Day, which is kind of like Mothers’ Day & Valentine’s Day put together. After work, it was raining and I walked to a small mobile phone shop near my house and bought Trinh a used dark purple Fitbit HR as a gift for Women’s Day.
Then I got a call from Gordon, my uncle, that he was in the taxi from the airport headed to his hotel. Because of the rain and the holiday, the traffic that night was the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. Which means that people were driving on the sidewalk as if it was street. The traffic was so bad that I abandoned my taxi to Gordon’s hotel and just walked over.
When I got there I realized the hotel was a bit passed its prime. It had been the Abraham Lincoln Library during the American time, it certainly was passed its prime. So I waited & paced around the hotel lobby sweating in the night air. I daydreamed, imagining that it would take him 40 minutes to arrive, but it actually took him 1 hour and 40 minutes. Because of street closures, his taxi didn’t even leave him at the hotel, but just left him about a block away and pointed at that hotel. It was the worst traffic I had ever witnessed, and it certainly left a wild impression on Gordon about the traffic, which I had been trying to instill in him since 2014. So I was a bit happy about it.
When I saw Gordon standing in front of his room, it was like seeing a very familiar old friend after too long. I was struck by how much he looks like Gordon Sr. But Gordy is Gordy, everything was just like him the way he holds himself, the way he talks the way he laughs are all just to essentially Gordy. He’s the first family member to visit me in Vietnam. It was unreal to have worlds collide. This month has been a busy time with Sycamore Street reunions in Saigon. Tommy visited me in late September.
Gordon’s friend Glen was with us too, Glenn is a tall guy with a sun-dried sense of humor. The first night we took Glen and Gordon around the city for dinner and drinks. I took the boys to a rooftop Vietnamese restaurant in an old building, and I invited my friend Pontus and Trinh to join us. Pontus and Trinh got along well with them because they were all in the tech world.
The rooftop restaurant, *Mountain View, was on the fifth floor of an old building without an elevator, but they made it. The entire trip I was impressed by how much steam those two had. It made me miss being with my americano dude friends. It was great to hear their stories from being in China. And hear their happy comparisons of how much better and fresher Vietnamese food is than Chinese food.
After dinner, it started to rain, so we walked one block to a microbrewery, *Pasteur Street Brewery, and we tried the beers there and listen to stories about Gordon and Glen’s fraternity days. Then we walked them to the trendiest bar in town- *Layla. Which again is a nice place hidden in an old building. There Gordon ordered a wasabi flavored drink, which was making him sweat while burning his tongue. I was impressed by how energetic both of them were. Finally, we took them to the bar street, Bui Vien, and let them see the pure craziness of Saigon’s nightlife. Gordon and Glen sat in chairs on the road and got a full view of the insanity. All sorts of craziness was happening all around us .Then we got separate taxis home and decided to meet up at their hotel for breakfast Saturday morning.
In the morning, I taxied over to their hotel and had breakfast with Glenn and Gordon. The breakfast in that hotel was in an ornate room that seemed to me like a Chinese version of the Titanic‘s grand ballroom. After eating, we headed out to District 7, which is a modern section of the city that also has a Korean town in it. Gordon, Glenn and I met up with an app developer named George. George was a very interesting guy who talked about all sorts of apps and how the different apps were intersecting with Vietnamese society. The most interesting project was his Uber for lawyers. The project is underway, but still waiting for the day Vietnamese get the right to remain silent.
After coffee with George, Gordon noticed a woodworking trade show just around the corner and we headed into the expo center to see huge carving tools making doors and ornate fixtures. Trade shows seemed to be a theme for Gordon and Glen’s adventure. Glen and Gordon were surprised to tour another trade show. Gordon led us through a woodworking trade show. Gordon loves going through trade shows and introduced us to a bunch of high tech woodcutting and log shaving machines.
After the tradeshow, we stopped for some Pho before taking a hair-raising Uber ride through a heavy thunderstorm. The traffic and the heavy rain wrecked our nerves. We survived the ride and I gave them a quick tour of my apartment while we waited for the rain to stop. Once the rain ended, I walked them over to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. Gordon was visibly impacted by a blind man at the museum entrance playing a piano. That man was born without eyes, because of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is an awful affliction because it affects unborn children for generations- ruining not only a single life, but an entire bloodline.
After the museum, I walked Gordon and Glen through historical Saigon on the way back to their hotel. Once they got to their hotel, we let Glen relax in his air conditioning. Gordon and I talked in his room about design and marketing his products. Trinh joined us and then the three of us headed to the water puppet theater in his hotel and watched surprisingly awesome water puppets. Gordon is great for wanting to see these cultural things that I tend to overlook. He led the charge on all of us seeing the puppet show. After the puppets we went to an American themed burger bar to meet with one of Trinh’s friends to discuss running a factory, however the friend canceled once we had already arrived. After the sandwichs, we walked Gordon and Glen to the walking street and they tried hover boards & Gordon started dancing a bit in the street to the music. I don’t remember much more after that. I think that we went to a street market and bought matching shirts.
The next morning, Trinh and I met Gordon and Glen and the four of us spent about an hour hanging out in their pool and gym, before we took a party bus out to the Cu Chi Tunnel. Thanh joined us for the outing. Before we arrived at the tunnels, we stopped for some spring rolls at a famous restaurant. I had actually been there with my former manager years before and I had some de javu. We had a good time making the spring rolls and G&G tried the Vietnamese coffee.
Then we went to the tunnels. We all seemed to coffee crash through the propaganda videos they made us watch before touring the underground facilities that the Viet Cong used to hide in. The tunnel area also hosts a gun shooting range, which makes everyone uncomfortable with the sounds of real gunshots everywhere as you are walking through a battlefield. We crawled through a bit of tunnel and we commented on our claustrophobia. Great that Gordon and Glen could handle crawling through a Viet Cong tunnel in the humid jungle. Then we took an hour-long bus ride through the aggressive rural traffic back into the city.
When we arrived back at the hotel, instead of going inside to rest, we all ended up playing the Vietnamese hacky-sack in the park with young Vietnamese who all joined in our game. Playing with the teens and other tourists was a nice way to cleanse our heavy hearts through the heavy war tourism we had gone through. It was a delight and Gordon continued to play for an hour with maybe 25 young people who cycled in and out of our game. I think it was the highlight of day. After the game ended, Glen headed to bed and Gordon, Trinh, I had one last drink on the roof of his hotel. The next morning, I came to the hotel to see off Gordon and Glen. I was, of course, sad to see them off, but happy that their adventure would continue on to Hong Kong.
Gordon won’t be remembered for profound quotes, but rather the way he makes people feel. A real listener like him is rare. He made me feel that what I am doing is valuable and even that my goofy ideas and endeavors are worthwhile. I was happy for some confirmation and really happy that despite all his experience he has the wisdom to listen. I tend to blabber on and on with half-cooked ideas, only to redact them, so I’m touched by the way he looks at it. Like when someone eats horrible food a friend cooks and says “yum!” because support is, as it should be, strongest when you are the most off your target.
I admire Gordon because he listens or at least hears me. I think that is why we appreciate him so much. He makes us feel accepted. Gordon was the first family member to visit me here and it was a wonderful time for us. I’m glad we shared that and can talk about this place together in the future. The more people in my family who visit and understand this place, the easier it will be for the things I know and learned here to carry into our future.