Danang Redux

I’m back in Danang this week. It’s different and so am I. Typhoon Ketsana blew through here a week ago and uprooted trees, tore off roofs, beached seagoing tankers, and flooded the countryside. I visited the Village of Hope orphanage today. It’s been funded by East Meets West since 1993. There are 150 kids from impoverished families living there. 34 of them are hearing and speech impaired. It breaks your heart and buoys you up at the same time. I visited classroom after classroom where I was greeted by smiles and the sign for “Hi”. They were engaged in their work but very curious about the white face and shaved head looking in on them. Mr. Jack, that’s me, wrote his name on the blackboard for them and they, in turn, wrote their names on the board for me. They all giggled when I butchered the Vietnamese pronunciations. The storm that hit Danang uprooted two huge trees at the school but the buildings and the kids were spared.

Tonight I returned to the same restaurant I wrote about two weeks ago. But, for me, tonight’s visit was of a different order. The bait was still parading in her tight silk dress and 4 inch heels, but that’s all she is – tight dress and heels. There is a second echelon there represented by two very good looking young women in the uncommonly beautiful national dress called the ao dai. You’ve seen it – silk trousers with an over-dress that is almost floor length with a tight bodice and flowing panels slit on the sides to just above the hips. The outfit is gorgeous and the girls who wear them are almost universally thin. The two ao dai clad women in the restaurant are mostly decorative, like the bait, but attentive. The real attraction however are three young girls in what looks like school girl uniforms – white untucked blouses with big red bows, loose fitting knee length red skirts, and Keds, yes, Keds.

These three girls, who look like teenagers to me, are the workhorses of the restaurant. They take orders, pour beer, deliver meals and ask if you’re happy. One of them approached me tonight to ask if I could explain an English word she didn’t understand. The word was “visualize”. I told her it meant to see something in your mind, to picture it in your mind’s eye, to imagine what it would look like. She nodded and it left me wondering what she might visualize. It probably isn’t what an American teenager would visualize. Later, the cutest of the three came over to say that the two ao dai girls and the three schoolgirl waitresses wondered if I was lonely or sad because I always came to the restaurant alone. I told her that I was a little sad because my girlfriend left Vietnam this morning to go back to the States but other than that I was quite happy. She smiled and said that she was glad and that she wished me to be happy. Now how’s does that stack up against a twinkie in a short dress and you-know-what-pumps?

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