Sunday, June 18, 2017

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Flagstaff!

Happy Father's Day everyone!

I'm taking the opportunity of my first Father's Day to reflect back on the past six months of Mae. She was born last December and everyday since that one has been an introduction to fatherhood. Bryn and I are taking it all in pretty well, but really because Mae has spoiled us with (mostly) quiet nights and a warm friendliness that I can only attribute to Vietnam. We do our best to keep her happy, and she is doing the same. We feel incredibly fortunate to have fallen in so well with her. Of course, this probably means that she'll go through an especially horrific vampire stage in her early teens (or whatever the equivalent will be in 2030) but at least we'll have started off on a positive note, right?

Later today we're heading to the Grand Canyon, which is a pretty epic way to ring in my first Father's Day. Mae and I have been practicing looking out pensively over wide expanses from our balcony in Saigon. I think she's about got it down now, but the Grand Canyon will require more pensiveness from her than she may be ready for. We'll see how it goes. I'll definitely provide updates.

Mae practicing for the Grand Canyon in Saigon back in April
We left Saigon for good this past week, saying goodbye to all of the friends that made our first post so amazing. As we were flying back, I recounted how I was not all that excited to be going back to Vietnam in February. We were still interpreting Mae's operating instructions and had quickly adjusted back to life in Austin. Why uproot all of that and fly 24 hours across the Pacific Ocean just to finish out the four months left on our tour? It seemed masochistic. Maybe it was, a bit, but it's amazing how significant four months can be. During that time, Mae went from a cute but minimally interactive newborn to a playful little rugrat. Four years after our initial trip to Vietnam, I was able to convince Bryn to go back to Hue for a weekend; we saw firsthand how the common trait of having an infant can seal bonds of friendship faster than I ever thought possible. Mae became best friends with our nanny, Thuy, who loved her as much as we do but had the baby experience and knowledge to back that love up with competent child raising. We will miss them all. We will also get back to Southeast Asia sometime - but hopefully after Mae is able to rush her own backpack up and down stairs across an airport terminal to make a tight connection.

The Grand Canyon is the second stop on our 2017 Great American Road Trip. We are making the most of our 2.5 month layover in the United States before making our way to our next post in September: Belize! That will have to wait for a whole other post, but for now, we are in the American southwest, reacquainting ourselves with phenomena such as low humidity, stillness and twilights that last longer than 5 minutes. Other than the heat, Phoenix was about the most opposite place I can imagine to Saigon. The sparseness of the landscape there is an aesthetic completely foreign to Vietnam, where at least 20 varieties of plants and insect inhabit every square foot of the country. Vietnam is a riot of life. The humans there are just emulating their own natural environment: nature there long ago concocted a medley of fruit trees, creepy crawly critters and landscapes that change every 20 miles and now humans do their best to copy it with tightly packed bodies, motorbikes and neon signs. The humans haven't quite accomplished the same elegance as nature has, but they're still working on it. Vietnam is a feast for the senses, always providing stimulation wherever you are, but also making it difficult to notice anything beyond a three foot radius that is your bubble.

A little creek bottom down the hill from our place in Flagstaff
But here, in the foothills outside of Flagstaff, I can actually walk around the street and soak in my surroundings. I can look 100, 200 feet off into the pines to notice squirrels chasing each other up a tree, or stop to hear a woodpecker doing his work 100 yards off. Outside of the Saigon Zoo, these experiences are virtually impossible to recreate in Vietnam. There is nature there, for sure, but the jungle is like the city in that you are never really sure what's happening more than three feet away from you in any direction. The ferns and palm fronds and banyan tree roots trap you in and demand your immediate attention in the wilds of Vietnam just like motorbikes, banh mi stalls and broken sidewalks do the same in the cities.

Flagstaff, Arizona has been a great kind of decompression tank for us in between chapters of exhilaration. Saying goodbye to Saigon was emotionally draining and the Grand Canyon (along with the rest of the American southwest) demands a sense of awe that I'm not quite sure we're ready for yet. Flagstaff, and the peaceful pines surrounding our little mountain getaway, serve as the perfect interruption between the two, allowing us to find our sleep rhythms again and take a few breaths of thin, mountain air before we go on to the next, utterly amazing slice of earth.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Transformation

For the past two months, basically since my last post, the room pictured below was the temporary resting place of many a visitor. For those of you who are familiar with the room, this was our smaller guest room. Now, as you can see, it has been taken over by baby. My daddy app calendar had been telling me to prepare the nursery for the past month, but it all pretty much got done in a 24 hour period. The daddy app should be content now.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the nursery! As you can see, it's not quite finished yet, but we feel better knowing that, if a baby were to drop from the skies tomorrow, we'd more or less be ready for it. That is a relief. There are still plenty of items still up for grabs if anyone is itching to buy some baby stuff. You can check out our registry here.



It's also been great to spend time with all of the visitors who passed through this room (back when it had a normal sized bed) over the past few months. Thank you for making it interesting!

From hiking through the jungles of Penang with Liz...

To exploring Vietnam's highlands (and high buildings) with Mike and Sammy...


To running through mountains with Jim - he wasn't a guest, but he helped me finish my first half marathon through the mountains around Sa Pa...




To waiting out the floods in Nha Trang with Bryn's State Department training class.

This was the view inside...




While the conditions outside had devolved to carrying wives through the streets.


Thank you to everyone who came and visited and thank you to everyone who has helped with baby stuff. We really appreciate it!


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Birthday Week

It's K-pop hour on the music video channel here, which makes for surprisingly good blog writing background music.

Once the dust settled from the big news last Friday, we celebrated Bryn's birthday the very next day in Singapore. Her birthday cake was delicious, but there was just waaaay too much cake left on the platter afterwards. Bryn was nice enough to let me take care of that.



Later that day, we went to a Chinatown hawker center to check out the first Michelin starred food stall. At $3.00 a serving of chicken & rice, it's probably the cheapest Michelin starred meal out there, but the law of supply and demand got in our way. Basically the entire hawker center had turned into a big line for this one stall. Since we haven't yet met a meal in Singapore that we didn't like, we opted for a laksa stall instead. Just as cheap and just as delicious as we had bargained for but a considerably shorter wait time. 



Anyone who is lucky enough to fly through Singapore anytime soon, Changi airport has to be the best airport I've ever been to. Below is a shot of the BUTTERFLY GARDEN in terminal three. They also orchid gardens, a sunflower garden and several free movie theaters scattered throughout. Great place to spend a couple of hours waiting for a flight.


Finally, thank you to everyone who has pitched in on baby gear from the registry so far, we really appreciate it! We also appreciate any used baby stuff you might have laying around or stored in boxes. 

We have a room here set aside to be the nursery come February. For the next few months, it will have to serve as a guest room, but as of October, the adult bed is out and the crib is in. As things come in, we've been storing them in that room. Apologies in advance to any guests who stay with us over the next few months and are bombarded with baby stuff, but it's pretty darn cute. 

Happy Sunday everyone!

Friday, August 5, 2016

99.9% chance of GIRL!!

We're in Singapore for the 20 week check-up. Ostensibly, we're here to make sure the baby's healthy and learn the gender, but also, Singapore is a great place to celebrate the pregnancy half-way point and Bryn's birthday! 

So, 1) the baby is healthy and 2) the baby is almost definitely a girl! Last time we were here, for the 13 week check up, the doctor gave us an 80% confidence that our baby was a girl. Now he told us with 99.9% confidence- it's a GIRL! He showed us the labia, which I will not post on the blog out of respect for our daughter's decency. We've both been mentally expecting a girl, so it's nice to stay on track with that. I will have SO much to learn. I mean, I had a lot to learn regardless, but raising a little girl will give me an opportunity to tap into some new skill sets, for sure. 

Step one, don't post pictures of her labia online. Instead, here are some nice profile shots!


We've been curating a carefully selected registry. Our registry is a bit unconventional because we will make four international moves in the first nine months we have the hippo.  If you want to buy something for us, we would love it! We've made notes on a few items to have them sent directly to Vietnam. If you see this note, please send that item to the DPO address in Virginia - that's our Vietnam address. It's confusing. If there's no note about sending to Vietnam, then please send it to the default address which is in Austin. 


We know the temptation to buy pink stuff will be huge - unbearable even. But, I've been informed that step two of my raising-a-daughter learning process is to make sure we don't inundate her with frilly pink stuff. So, please, go easy on the pink. There's a whole rainbow of colors out there and we want to make sure she's familiar with all of them. And actually, pink isn't on the rainbow, so there. Primary colors are preferred. 

We have also prioritized some items as more important. To see those items, click "list actions," choose "sort" and choose "priority (high to low)." If you have any questions, please ask- we know it's confusing. And thank you for helping us out with baby gear! 

The Hippo

Once we got into the second trimester, we decided that we needed a name for the baby - gender neutral, preferably, in order to avoid making any premature distinctions. We settled on naming our baby "The Hippo". We chose the Hippo for a few reasons. First, Hungry Hungry Hippo just makes sense for a hungry pregnant woman. Second, the Saigon zoo just had a new baby hippo, so there's a definite link between babies and hippopotamuses. Third, since the due date is around Christmas, it fit so well with our favorite Christmas song: I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. That might be somewhat of a theme song this year!

Anyways, that's all to explain why this was one of the first baby gifts we received. A friend of ours here knitted it herself and we're pretty excited to have it. It even matches my Grandma's quilt, which will definitely feature in the new tyke's life.


I'll be using this blog to do updates on pregnancy, delivery and other baby-related news, so keep checking in. We're really excited to start this new adventure and feel very fortunate to have such a supportive group of people behind us along the way. We love you all!

Ben & Bryn 






Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Land of the Three Waters

I remember back in the early days of messing around on Google Earth (before Streetview took all the glory) I discovered what the word "antipode" means and that, by inverting the coordinates of any given location, I could find its exact opposite side of the globe. It was on this day that I realized how foolish I was for thinking that if I dug deep enough in my elementary school's sandbox, eventually I'd make it to China. In reality, I would have come out somewhere in the Indian Ocean - onto some God-forsaken, middle-of-nowhere ocean floor somewhere equally far from Madagascar, Western Australia and the southern tip of India. My closest hope of salvation would have been the French Southern and Antarctic Lands several hundred miles to my south. Unless I was digging in my winter (their summer), the several dozen scientists that live on the island would have probably all gone home. In the end, it was a good thing that I never made it all the way through. It probably would not have ended well for me. 

This is all to just set the scene for my visit to Kanyakumari, India's southernmost tip and dubbed "The Land of the Three Waters". It is here that the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal all meet after the Indian sub-continent finally ends its 1000 mile separation of the three. As I stood out on the point, dipping my toes into the water, I imagined my desolate antipode resting under the water somewhere thousands of miles in front of me. There was no land between my big toe and the Antarctic. 
Dipping my toe into the southern tip of India

Waves crashing into the southern tip of India

The Antarctic is a pretty abstract concept when you're in southern India. The heavy heat either bakes you dry on the east side of the peninsula in Tamil Nadu, or steam cooks you on the west side in tropical Kerala. A narrow mountain range divides the two and, driving, you cross from West Texas to Bali in a matter of minutes. The contrast is jarring and spectacular and the only thing that seems to hold the two separate universes together is a little two lane road that we whizzed along to and fro across the southern tip of India. 

I had the good fortune of getting to tag along with my aunt and her colleague, Christine, in southern India while they were visiting a factory to set up some purchases. (Thanks again you two for having me along!) We spent a day  in Tirunelveli going over designs of dried botanical arrangements and then took off for a few days of adventure while the artists created samples back in the factory. We visited the beach town of Kovalam, saw an old wooden palace and visited a few temples. It was a great little tour of India's southern tip and I can heartily recommend it to others looking for a good corner of India to explore. 

I could write about a lot of experiences I had in India over just a few days, but I think the experience(s) that struck me the most were the temples. Maybe I wasn't going to the right temples when I visited Northern India back in 2011, but the southern temples just seem to have so much more character. Sensuous is the way that I would describe them if I only had one word. Given my rambling so far, that might be the only word of mine you read about South Indian temples, but if you'll indulge me for a few more paragraphs, I have additional observations on the subject. 

It wasn't until I was back on the plane returning to Saigon that I finally arrived at the apt metaphor to describe South Indian temples: they're like a good, cured cast iron skillet that has been passed down from your great-grandmother. This metaphor may seem strange, but let me lay it out for you.

I think the piece that finally did it for me was a bas-relief of the monkey god within Meenakshi temple in Madurai. After making my way from the imposing gate through the dark layers of the temple lined with sculptures of Hindu gods and warriors, I made it into one of the central altars buried deep inside. If I hadn't had a guide, I would have been completely lost at this point. He directed me to the monkey god altar and I noticed it was very shiny for a stone sculpture, with globs of white and yellow smeared all over it. My guide told me that it was butter and lard - that people worshipped this altar by smearing cooking fats over it and then draping it in floral strands. 

Altar to the Monkey God at Meenakshi Temple
This was the literal parallel that got me onto the cast iron skillet metaphor, but the connection goes deeper than just a shared surface for butter. Worshippers at these temples offered all sorts of organic materials in these temples. Flowers were probably the most common, followed by bananas, coconuts and other fruits. I only saw the butter used once, but oils are smeared all over worshippers' bodies and burned in tiny lamps all over the temples. Priests bless worshippers with the ash from burnt wood and you'll notice little pots of ash at other stations around temples used to worship at altars. Colorful inks make worshippers and altars standout in the darkness. Most of the inks are plant based and are gone within a few days, so it's a safe bet that anything that is colorful has to be tended to on a daily basis. Some of the inks are made from spices, which provide a powerful scent that corresponds to the vibrancy. Then there is the largest mass of organic material of all - the temple elephant. Larger temples have a resident elephant that will bless you in exchange for monetary or edible donations. 

Elephant blessing at the temple
All these oils, ashes and inks blend together and layer over each other to create a truly sensuous environment that would be lost if someone went through with a sponge and bucket of soap. The character of these places is caked into the walls over centuries of worship. The altars are enclosed in layers of inner chambers and low corridors that make it difficult for any essence to escape into the outside world. It's like these temples are designed to trap the fumes and textures of all that enters and this accumulation makes these temples so special. Like an old, well cured cast iron skillet that has cooked thousands of servings of biscuits, gravies and caramelized onions, its flavor develops and matures over the generations. If you scrub it too well in the wash, you sterilize it and strip out all of those flavors. The sandstone walls of those South Indian temples are the spiritual equivalent of Grandma's cast iron skillet. 


And trust me, once you've walked around a temple for an hour, it stays on you. I left the Meenakshi temple in Madurai and got straight on a plane to begin my trip back to Saigon. As I sat in my seat, I could feel the oils between my toes and smell the spices on my shirt. My skin was greasy and fingers were sticky, no matter how many times I washed them. At Christian church, I approach the whole experience with scrubbed skin and crisp, pressed shirts. The whole affair is pretty clean and sterile in comparison to South Indian temples. It felt different, and even uncomfortable, to have all of these residues all over me after visiting the temple, but isn't that the whole point? What better way to remember and hold onto an experience than to feel it slide between your toes or smell it on your shirt a few hours later. I know that to some of you that might seem disgusting and, full disclosure, I  showered aggressively once I finally got home, but I can appreciate the sensuality of old time religion. In the end, it worked. I can't wait to go back and experience all that again. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Labuan Bajo, Indonesia: Sea Below, Stars Above

I can't remember the last time that I was able to see the Milky Way. Saigon just has way too many lights and hazy skies to ever have a chance at seeing anything less bright than a half-moon. It's a sad indication of how urban my life has become.

Waves crashing on Devil's Tear near Dream Beach (Lembongan)

Ten days on the Sea of Flores in Indonesia fixed that, though. The town of Labuan Bajo is located a few islands further east from the more popular Bali. It is isolated by the fact that you have to take an extra 1.5 hour flight from Bali, which seems to discourage most travelers from making it out there. However, the extra trip over stunning islands and pristine seas shimmering every shade of blue imaginable is well worth the effort.

Our final and best snorkeling sight. There's a cuttlefish down there somewhere

Those beautiful, clear, clean seas offer an abundance of marine life and diving opportunities. Bryn and I SCUBA dived six times over two days and had a blast. We swam with a pair of Manta Rays, saw countless Sea Turtles, a few reef sharks and, after numerous failed attempts to find a cuttlefish during our dives, we finally spotted one flitting alongside a sea turtle while we were snorkeling on our last day. The coral is still extremely healthy, but there is already evidence of its destruction. Like in Vietnam, it appears that the marine park charged with protecting the area is more interested in collecting revenue than protecting the park. Very few dive spots had mooring lines and a lot of boats just dropped anchor over coral beds. It was painful to watch. Like with Con Dao, it seems that the strongest force for preservation, for now, is Labuan Bajo's isolation. The sheer fact that not many people go out there means that the coral stays in tact. Who knows how long that will hold true, though.


Labuan Bajo's biggest celebrities are its Komodo Dragons. Two islands off the coast of Labuan Bajo (Komodo and Rinca) make up the only wild Komodo Dragon habitat in the world. And the 5,000+ dragons roaming those islands are out in full force. We hiked on both islands and saw dozens of dragons lounging in the sun, hanging around the kitchen hoping for handouts or females guarding their nests buried in earthen mounds. Although they're quite dangerous (our guide briefed us on all of the Komodo Dragon related injuries and deaths over the years) they're also pretty docile animals. As long as you keep your distance from them, you're fine. It's when you start posing a threat to the nest or if you come across a hungry, hunting dragon that things get dicey. On our second day in the park we spent a few morning hours walking around Komodo Island and I think it was my favorite. Climbing to a hilltop to enjoy the view, we found that a dragon had beat us up there and occupied the best spot. Cockatoos squawked in the valley below us and flew from tree to tree and a little further out, you could see the coral under the waves of the bay rolling out to the sea. He was a smart dragon.

A Smart Dragon
Logistically, you're going to have to spend a lot of time on boats while you're in Labuan Bajo if you want to get the most of it. The town itself doesn't offer much more than dive shops, restaurants and hotels. There are some cool excursions inland, but the mountainous roads are slow going, so you have to set aside a lot of extra time for overland travel. As for us, we spent every day we were there on a boat. We spent the first two days on a dive boat exploring the reefs and marine life and the next two days on a private boat touring around Komodo Island National Park. We constantly passed much larger, live-aboard ships that offered 5 or 6 days of diving much further out at sea where the day-trippers couldn't reach. I was only little jealous of them. Honestly, I probably don't appreciate diving enough to get the full benefit of a live-aboard. Two days of diving and two days of snorkeling/hiking with dragons was a good amount for us. But more is always possible.

A boat similar to ours waiting for the nightly bat evacuation from the mangroves. 
One of my favorite moments of the trip was our night out at sea in between Komodo and Rinca islands in the national park. We had anchored next to a mangrove forest to watch giant fruit bats come out for their nightly feeding. As the migration of bats dwindled, the stars began to come out. The moon was waning so we had a few hours of good darkness after the sun went down. All four days we were out there, there was never a single cloud above us - they always lurked behind mountain ridges on the horizon, but never got close to us - so the sky was clear. And to make it perfect, the closest human settlement was nearly 20 miles away behind a mountain, so light pollution was at a minimum. The only manmade light source came from a few fishing boats out on the horizon. The conditions were perfect for an amazing star show, made more amazing by the fact that it's been so long since I've seen one. The Milky Way smeared across the sky above us as we lay out on the roof of our little boat.

The coolest thing was that I had gone to Labuan Bajo anticipating amazing experiences in and under the water - and it fully delivered on those expectations. The star show was unexpected, though, and those surprises are the ones that really grab you.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Diversifying

I haven't traveled much in the past month. My aggressive tour of Vietnam's National Parks in July kind of wiped me out and spending August in one place sounded very appealing to me. The advantage of sticking around in one place is that you start to create routines and build on projects or relationships. The constant making and breaking of ephemeral contact while you travel can make one feel lonely. Staying in Saigon for just a month has been good for my soul.

First, I resumed Vietnamese class earlier this month. When I first got to Saigon, I was doing 20 hours a week. I've cut back to 12 and am enjoying it a little more. I've hit the point in my language studies where I'm starting to learn special vocabulary. This past week, I learned how to talk about a trip to the doctor's office and explain what hurt. This is great stuff to learn, but I won't use it everyday (hopefully) and so I won't have many opportunities to reinforce it. It's helpful that I now know how to say "I have a cough", but by the time I have a cough and need to say it, I will have surely forgotten it. Regardless, just applying myself to Vietnamese several hours a day helps keep up what I have learned and do use everyday. My latest project is to learn the lyrics to a Vietnamese pop song. My teacher suggested this one by who seems to be the Vietnamese equivalent of Jack Johnson. I can sing the first two verses so far, which has come in  handy a few times. 

One of the times I used my limited Vietnamese singing ability was during a presentation I recently gave at the American Center. The American cultural center here hosts all sorts of English speaking events and I've been pretty active there recently. During a series they did on American states, I presented Texas, naturally. In an attempt to make the presentation a little more interactive, I included a little segment where we all learned and sang the first verse of "Deep In the Heart of Texas". The audience was a little shy about singing at first, though, so I was able to loosen them up with my own rendition of the first verse of the Vietnamese Jack Johnson song. It was enough to make everyone laugh and break up the ice a bit. After that, they were much more enthusiastic with the singing and clapping. You have to give a little to get what you want and me singing a Vietnamese pop song seems to be good collateral when asking others to embarrass themselves. 

I've also been spending my Monday nights in August at the American Center leading a Massive Open Online Class, or MOOC. The class watches the lecture video online over the weekend and then we all get together on Monday evening to answer questions, go over examples and just talk about the topic of Problem Solving and Decision Making. Granted, it's a pretty broad subject, but I've had a lot of fun doing it. I hadn't ever really taken a MOOC before I led the discussion for this one and, I have to say, I'm a fan. I think learning at your own speed and doing it on your own time can really serve students better than the traditional, rigid class schedule. One of my favorite moments from the MOOC was during the class on group decision making. We had a hypothetical situation in which someone walked through the door and offered the class $10 million if they could make a unanimous decision on what to do with that money. The class was split between investing it, creating a scholarship fund and donating it to charity. They all presented their cases, debated the points and even were able to convince a few people to change sides, but in the end, we didn't reach a consensus and so the fictitious benefactor had to leave us and find another group to donate his money to. It was fun to watch them engage with each other and all make really valid arguments. 

For those keeping count, I'm now on the fourth activity that has been keeping me busy in general. Earlier in the month, I started a little chess club that meets up every Wednesday at a local university. I've never really been part of a chess club, so it's cool to be able to play people face-to-face. Vietnamese people in general are not comfortable with direct confrontation, so it's been interesting to watch them deal with chess, which doesn't have any pretext of passive aggressiveness - it's all out there on the wide open board. In one game in particular, once things started getting heated, the guy I was playing started making small talk, as if to reaffirm our mutual humanity while we slay each other mercilessly on the chess board. At least, I assume he was trying to diffuse the tension. Maybe he was trying to appeal to my humanist side in an effort to get me to cut him some slack. He ended up winning, so maybe he's playing a more conniving game than I gave him credit for... Anyways, a couple of kids have been in regular attendance and they don't seem to have any pretensions about being "nice" on the chess board. I've played the ten year old twice and both times just barely escaped with a win, only because he's made crucial mistakes in the end game. All the extra play seems to be paying off.  I've been playing chess with my uncle on a regular basis since 2007 and of the hundreds of games we've played over all of those years, I've managed to win maybe 10 times. However, just last week, I managed to beat him three times in a row - an unprecedented feat in my budding chess career. I'm not necessarily ready to take on the Russians yet, but at least I have evidence that my game is improving. 

On the more social, less confrontational side of things, we've found a good swing dance community here and have really been getting involved with that. Bryn and I have even taken it to the next level and taught a few classes. The scene in Saigon is pretty small and mostly beginners, but that just means that Bryn and I can actually make a difference here. I'm hoping to get even more involved and maybe start teaching a regular beginner's class. This sounds ridiculous to me, because in Austin or DC, I'm not nearly good enough to consider teaching, but since the scene is so young here, even if I can just teach people the basic step and a few simple moves, we will have made a big improvement. The perks associated with teaching swing dance have already started trickling down, too. Just last night I was invited to teach a class up on the 43rd floor of the highest building in town! I could barely even recognize the city from way up there. Swing dance has opened so many doors for me all around the world and I'm sure it will continue to create opportunities for me here in Saigon. 

Sixth, and finally, is my solo project that I started when I first got to Vietnam. This one doesn't actually require me to be in Saigon to keep up, but I don't know when I'll ever get another chance to write about my rubber band ball. I know, this may not seem exciting, but ever since the days of Pee Wee Herman's gigantic ball of aluminum foil, I've had a dream of making ridiculously large balls out of a household commodity. Vietnam is a great place to start a rubber band ball because I swear this country is actually held together by rubber bands. They're everywhere. Any food you order take-away involves at least four rubber bands and the ubiquitous, disposable rain ponchos use rubber bands to seal at the wrists and waist. Just walking down the street, you see them all over the place. Although I'm tempted to pick them up off the sidewalk, I've made a rule for myself to only pick them up off of the ground if I find them in my building (which I do all the time) since the ones on the street probably aren't hygienic. Considering that I've only been collecting since May, I think I'll be able to grow this ball pretty large by the time we leave.