Friday, February 10, 2006

Editing Memoirs in Mui Ne

Mui Ne, a small beachy kind of place and I am in a cramped cake shop surrounded by three confused Vietnamese women who speak no English. Despite the fact that the only thing they sell is cake, they cannot seem to understand what I want to buy. I point at the cakes on display. I draw pictures of cakes with birthday candles on them. I mime giant circles with my hands, hum happy birthday, blow out imaginary candles and eat the invisible cake I have created. They continue to stare at me, tilt their heads quizzically and squint. I wonder what they could possibly think that I am asking for - "I was looking for a male prostitute. Got any lying around?" It seems so obvious to me. All I want is a fucking cake.

It is the 30th birthday of Ali, a nice guy from the UK who I met on the bus. I thought that 30 was a significant milestone that deserved a cake. I thought it would take 15 minutes to buy one. Suddenly I am thinking that I should ditch the cake, but the drive into town was 45 minutes - despite promises that it was only 10 - so my shoulder is burnt and I feel like I will be a failure if I come back strawberry-coloured and cakeless.

After 30 minutes I have made small progress. They now seem to think that I am there to pick up a birthday cake for someone named George. "'re here for the cake for George! Why didn't you just say so?" At least this is what I imagine they are saying to me in Vietnamese. They bring out a large fluffy cake with a giant pig made of icing. I shake my head and refuse the cake. This seems to anger them. They try to sell me a large square cake with flowers on it and a giant heart. I think that this is probably a wedding cake of some sort. I am insistant that I do NOT want a cake with a heart on it. I try to open the display case. This causes great alarm - yelling and screaming and hand waving. Apparently the display cakes are not for sale.

Suddenly my driver tells me that we have to leave and come back. He has said something to the women - a short 3 word sentence in Vietnamese. I wonder why he did not help me earlier. I am confused and not sure what will be on the cake, or if I have just purchased a small child or avian bird flu-infected bird, but he seems confident that we need to come back and a cake will appear. I halfheartedly write down "Happy Birthday Ali" and leave a deposit for a cake that I am not sure will ever exist.

We drive to a small rundown Vietnamese bar by the water and my driver yells for some drinks. A Vietnamese woman brings them out and asks if I am his wife. I smile and, trying to be as polite as possible, say no. The driver is smiling broadly at me. I wonder what he has said to her. The woman stares at me as I drink my orange soda and then, after a few moments of silence, screams "I admire you!" I glance at her sideways and don't know how to respond other than to say thank you. No one has ever told me that they admired me, especially not for my orange soda drinking skills. She runs into the back room to get me some oranges and brings her 12-year-old daughter with her.

The driver, the daughter and the woman watch me eat the oranges and drink my orange soda for the next hour. I wonder what these people are thinking. I try to speak to them, but they do not know any English and after 3 minutes of gestures and confused looks, we all give up and eat the oranges. I wonder about the cake and try to pretend that it isn't freaking me out that the three of them are staring at me as if though I were Julia Roberts. In an effort to break the awkwardness, I play some music from my I-pod for the girl. I can tell she hates it, but pretends to like it, nodding her head shyly to the beat, because she thinks that it's cool.

The young girl shyly passes me a neat lined notebook. I open it and see that it is some type of journal that she keeps in English. It is filled with all the things that a 12-year-old girl writes about in Canada - friends, her family, school. She writes about boys who are "not tall" but have "oval faces". She hands me a pen and nods to the notebook. She wants me to edit it. I sit there and wonder how it is that I am in Mui Ne correcting a 12-year-old girl's diary, waiting for a birthday cake that may never arrive.

When we get the cake it is covered in large roses, but thankfully no heart, and miraculously it says "Happy Birthday Ali". I am pleased with this. Later that night, after beer and Vietnamese rum and coke, 10 of us will happily down the cake in less than 15 minutes, despite the fact that it took me the better part of the day to buy it. We will spend time climbing the massive sand dunes of Mui Ne, filling my ears and nose with sand and whipping my sunburn. Despite the gorgeous dunes and the fun impromptu birthday party, when I think of Mui Ne, I will probably best remember my trip to the cake shop when I spent the afternoon in silence with three Vietnamese, eating oranges and editing the memoirs of a 12-year-old girl.


Blogger FritzDawg said...


Miss you - sounds like you're having a great time. Your blogs are keeping me entertained - but your mom is right - post some pics!!!! I want a picture of a pig cake!!!

Take care of you!

11:27 PM  

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