It looks like a stop-sign colored grapefruit filled with chicken livers and tastes like nothing. The only thing the fruit offers to the universe (aside from its stunning color) is the organic greasiness of an avocado.
Naturally, someone in Vietnam thought to mix it into sticky rice—to make it greasier.
I’d been farting up in the mountains for a week. So you can imagine my joy and surprise to find Ms. V working away at some Gấc on my first morning back in Saigon.
When the finished sticky rice was still piping hot, I tossed in some stringy, oniony late-season durian, creating what may have been the finest post-coffee, pre-dinner, high-calorie afternoon snack the world has ever known.
Vietnam’s very landscape sometimes seems to chant “reproduce, reproduce, reproduce”—so much so that an expat’s vague disinterest in having children can quickly fester into a vasectomized vigilance built upon half-baked notions that valorize selfishness and permanent adolescence in the face of a coming apocalypse.
Int. High-end Ho Chi Minh City Dentist’s Office. Everything resembles a space ship; all the dentists are German.
An orthodontist named Seigmar tells me I am plagued by Bruxism (which he pronounces Paroxysm) and the only solution is to spend a month’s salary on a custom polymer mould called “the Bionator” that will prevent me from grinding my own teeth into dust.
"It is a modern ailment," he says leaning back, removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. "I am your colleague in this."
"Bruxism comes from not being able to do what you want.
We always talk about the fight between your mind and your stomach. If you are an aggressive man, every day you want to express your aggressions. But you cannot. You cannot do what you want.
And so, every night, your jaw muscles are going to the gym.
They love this. For them, it is so much fun!
And so you cannot tell them to stop.
They will not listen.
Now they do what they want.
You will do this for the rest of your life. You will destroy your teeth. I’ve had patients who broke the roots of their own teeth grinding them together at night.”
I suppose all growth requires a certain amount of destruction.
But the Saigon I found when I first arrived has been utterly gutted.
Thousands of businesses have close their doors every month for years, making way for international corporations who planned to spend all that time eating losses in exchange for “market share” (e.g. total control of a product/service).
The notion of “fair competition” here is a farce—on both sides. But Vietnam’s efforts to protect local interests look increasingly desperate.
The government is actively considering a proposal to stop asking struggling local companies to pay taxes, in part, they argue, because there’s no way they’ll ever be able to pay them.
Meanwhile, the vultures are circling.
A major push to open Vietnam’s frozen property market to foreign investors narrowly failed during the last National Assembly meeting. Those who objected to the measure noted that millions of average Vietnamese families still can’t even dream of buying an apartment, most of which were shoddily built for high-end investors on land taken from farmers or slum dwellers.
I’m not an economist. Shit, I didn’t even take pre-calculus. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
But I did get an eerie feeling, this weekend, walking into the corpse of the canteen that used to share a floor with my newsroom.
The place was once exploding with pretty uniformed office girls, jostling for their $1 lunches. You could crane your neck out the window and bum cigarettes from construction workers building towers on all sides of the place. But nothing drowned out the cries of the plump delta waitresses who worked and slept there.
I have a friend with whom I share a habit of “doing” curry.
We’ll set aside certain evenings (“curry nights”) to binge on unholy amounts of greasy, unpredictably-spiced goos at one of Saigon’s several fine Indian eateries.
Our plan always involves clearing a whole 36-hour block after the meal, of any romance, transportation or heavy lifting. Gastrointestinal “events” aren’t inevitable during this period, but are considered highly likely.
Vietnamese curries, on the other hand, make you feel like doing a backflip.
They’re light, sweet and mildly-spiced. Here in the south, they’re commonly served on people’s birthdays.
Those desperately seeking a little burn can make use of a dipping bowl lined with a slick of lime juice, salt and bird’s eye chilies. Even with that on the side, it’s a meal fit for a Russian gymnast.
Ms. V. serves hers with sticky rice, cucumbers and plenty of fresh herbs. If only I could execute something approaching a backflip. Perhaps a sommersault?