Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.

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the KL tower

the KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur

The KL Tower is fourth tallest building in the world and features, much like the Space Needle in Seattle, a revolving restaurant and an observation deck. We, obviously, were there in the evening and couldn’t figure out how to get into the park where it’s located. Frustrated, but I’m still shaky with heights, so I didn’t mind too much.

KLCC in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is an incredibly modern city that bustles all day (and probably all night, though we always stayed in). People are always coming and going somewhere with tourists nearly always heading to the KLCC. It was the one place I definitely wanted to see–home of what was just a decade ago the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers.

Behind the towers, as part of the KLCC, is an enormous children’s playground. Unfortunately, it’s patrolled by police officers who don’t allow big kids like Audrey play on it. We wandered around and managed to pretend to play just for a picture. It was a bit odd for Audrey to be chased off the play structure and additionally strange since there wasn’t another kid anywhere in sight.

Unscripted and sweet. They were discussing the cotton candy choices at a candy shop. I can’t remember if this was in KLCC Suria or the Pavillion shopping center.

Kuala Lumpur has definitely lost its ‘developing world’ look and could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles, except for the Islamic holiday sales and Malay-language signage. This is, for sure, at the Pavillion, a large shopping center with an impressive food court on the very bottom floor.

More than a quarter-mile tall, the Petronas Towers were pretty spectacular.
I wrote a short article about this place on Bella Online: Visiting the Petronas Towers

welcome to Bangkok

On the morning of the 12th, we flew via Asia Air to Bangkok where we were greeted by a city more cosmopolitan than any other I’ve seen. Could there be anything further from the streets of Hanoi than the streets of Bangkok? I think not.

So for the past three days, we’ve been checking out the shopping life of the city. We visited the Siam Paragon, an astoundingly large shopping center with Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Porsche and even Lamborghini stores. A bit mind-blowing to see the amount of money that people can and do spend.

Then there’s the shock of the sex industry here and just how overt it is. The foreigners who come here with their pasty white beer bellies and loads of cash make us all throw up just a bit when we see them fondling local women. Or are the women? It seems that for those dressed up in what I would deem clothes suitable for prostitutes (or ‘prostates’ as Audrey often misspeaks), out of them I’d venture to guess that a third or more are actually men. We’ve had to have conversations that I hoped would never happen, but the kids have become better world citizens and more understanding of the ways that the world works, including why it’s so abhorrently wrong.

Us versus Them

Living out in Thanh Hoa, we see the same pale faces over and over again–the three of us plus one of the Kaplan teachers. That’s it. We never run into other Westerners at the supermarket or walking the streets of Thanh Hoa. And even though we know we look vastly different, we have stopped feeling vastly different. Familiar faces wave hello. We know where to get banh mi, how to get to the shopping center, who has the best fruit drinks and more. Each of us have begun to feel like we fit in somehow, that this place is our home in a unique sort of way.

Which makes it truly shocking when we disembark from the train in Ha Noi to face Westerners seemingly everywhere. When we arrived last night, we saw more than a dozen pale-skinned people like ourselves just in the train station. Checking in with the hotel, Americans passed by talking about how nice it is that everyone speaks English and I wanted to yell at them: “Only because you’re in tourism central. You should check out the real Viet Nam!”

On our way to get the fruit drinks we love so much, we managed to merge into a group of Australians coming around the corner. Loud and beligerent and distinctly new to Viet Nam. “Nothing worse than a bunch of drunk Aussies,” Stuart muttered for only us to hear and we laughed loud enough to prove our own Western tendencies.

We’re glad to find a donuts and pizza in Ha Noi, yet find ourselves frustrated with other Westerners clamoring for KFC. We know only the smallest bits of the language, yet belittle others for distancing themselves from the culture. We each complain about all the tourists in the Old Quarter, but this, too, is where we come each visit.

It’s hypocritical, I know. But it’s true that we feel a connection to this country, these people, that cannot be explained easily or readily. Maybe what we really want is for others to appreciate the beauty, depth and culture that exists outside the hop-skip-jump travel that keeps our fellow Westerners isolated from the realities of Viet Nam.