Jordan is of course my best friend, my soul sister, and the person I trust with my life. Aside from that, she is one of the best writers I know. Some kinds of writing are stuffy and self-important, where you have a feeling that the writer is simply trying to impress. I’ve always believed in the theory that for a writer, restraint is much more difficult to learn than style and flourish. And when you’re writing a descriptive piece where creating atmosphere is key (which is what Jordan’s featured piece is), restraint becomes particularly difficult to pull off.
But Jordan pulls it off with a flourish. Read this piece about a very ordinary workday in Saigon. And read her other blog entries as well here.
Welcome Weekender, by Jordan Abella.
The work week past seemed unusually long. Friday came and somehow I survived it, inspite of a super difficult morning with a pretty disgruntled staff. Good riddance was all I could think, but the “riddance” part was suspended and long drawn out, strung out of its juice up to the last minute. So I was glad when Friday afternoon finally rolled in, slowly but surely albeit with a broken tire, but it was HERE.
By 5.30 pm I was out of the office and in front of Vo Van Tan Street, waiting for my Xe Om driver, Son who was late for a few minutes (I absolutely appreciate my xe om guy – he even calls me to say if he will be late, gives me a reasonable rate, drives safely, and speaks great English. Yes, someone like him exists). Getting restless and wanting to get out of that vicinity called The Office, I amused myself by looking at my surroundings. Vo Van Tan on that hour is a small street packed with rush hour traffic. I tried to look for interesting sights:
I saw a 50-ish white guy parked on the sidewalk, hunched in his red Honda bike. He had a black and red helmet which was a bit too small for his head and yellow (previously white) rubber boots that looked out of place. He was staring into space with utter concentration as he puffed on his cigarette slowly, methodically, endlessly. Perhaps he was having a bad day too. Perhaps “slow and endless” was the theme of the day.
I saw an old lady walking on the sidewalk, holding a wide conical hat on her right hand and a bayong-like bag on the other. She wore a periwinkle hued blouse over a periwinkle hued blue loose pants. Her feet were soiled and her sandals were worn. She had a pained expression on her face, like she was tired and walking on a busy street was the last thing she wanted to do. She walked slowly and quite miserably and I knew life had not been kind.
I saw two girls in their twenties riding their trendy Attila bike. Off to a gimik I could tell as they wore slinky lacy blouses, skinny jeans, full on make up, blow dried hair. The other girl’s toes were painted liquid paper white nail polish with flower art colored black painted over it. I looked away.
Beside me on a small plastic table with small plastic chairs (the kind you normally see at children’s parties), three young guys were playing cards and drinking ca phe sua da (black vietnamese iced coffee with sweet milk). They were noisy and happy, acting exactly like their age and oblivious to anything else but the little circle that they had.
In front of me the traffic started to move along and the endless line of people coming home from work rolled on in front of me. Suddenly a man breezes through a few feet away makes a dramatic wave then shouts at me, “Anh yeu em!!! (translation: “anh yeu” means I love you and “em” translates to young girl; said to someone whom the first person refers as younger than him/her like a sister, lover, or friend).
Well. I certainly could take I love you from a nameless — and at the speed he was going — almost-faceless stranger. Said in a different language, it was much better than being leered back home by construction workers for example and professed with a lascivious “Ang ganda mo miss, I lab you.”
But more than that, to be called “em” just when you are on the brink of the big three-oh and feeling weary, old and not any wiser, it gave me a sense of pathetic satisfaction and I cheered up. Just then, Son came and I got on his bike and headed home happier and lighter by the minute as the cold Saigon wind hit my face and sent my hair all over the place. In my head, Supergrass’s song Alright started to play: “We are young, we run green. Keep our teeth nice and clean, see our friends, see the sights..Feel alright…”