Friday, December 24, 2010

Neighborhood Celebrity

We headed downtown the other night to grab a few (too many) lagers with friends and  found ourselves in an atypical traffic jam.  We were surrounded not only by thousands of other bikes as usual, but bikes laden with children.  We had hit the after-school rush that usually occurs while we are working.  In Vietnam, the majority of families have one motorized vehicle and two children, clockwork.  It is not uncommon to see a family of four perched on their motorbike, the proverbial sardines. Generally, the youngest sits or stands between the arms of the driver, resembling a proud captain posted on the bow and gazing ahead to uncharted waters with a furrowed brow. The older child is then sandwiched between Dad and Mom.  It gets even more comical when you see mothers "carpooling" with an array of kids.  The most people I have seen on one bike here is six, but I'm sure some Vietnamese family out there has managed to cram more people on board.  As we slowly crawled our way downtown, we became a bit of a spectacle for the hordes around us.  Being a pseudo-celebrity can be slightly entertaining, but Vietnamese moms have a habit of forcing their progeny to turn around and gawk at us while they wildly point and produce Cheshire Cat smiles . They prod and poke while imploring the little ones to acknowledge these new, strange tall beings and  "Say hello!".  This situation can arise anywhere - the park, the market, in elevators.  Back in that traffic jam, we found ourselves the center of attention.  The cultural ambassador in me took control as I tore off my face mask to exchange smiles and reply to the children.  Although no handshakes were exchanged, I felt like a slimy politician greeting throngs of constituents during primary season.  I hope the kids don't have nightmares about the whole deal.  I did however manage to get the ultimate Christmas-in-Saigon picture out of the whole ordeal.  Behold...

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