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Day 72 – Drizzle the Sludge (For the Love of Vietnamese Coffee)

May 14, 2010

Dateline: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – Friday, May 14, 2010

I don’t know how I ended up here. Scratch that. I only kind of know how I got here.

Where here is is sitting out in front of the Ha Vy Minihotel in a one-foot tall plastic chair tapping on the top of what looks like a hardboiled egg. I say “looks like” because I’m pretty sure it’s what in the Philippines is called balut. If you don’t know, balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg that’s been allowed to develop to the embryonic stage, then boiled. You eat it like a hardboiled egg, but with a lot of extras. And it looks kind of funny. Not “haha” funny, but “strange” funny. That’s because it looks and has (mostly) the consistency of a hardboiled egg, except if you look closely it also kind of looks like a baby chicken.

Don’t worry, there are no pictures.

It’s not like I didn’t put myself in this position. I came to these guys’ country. I decided to hang out with these guys while they were at work, tending to the hotel’s lobby. I’ve eaten with them. Shared their drink.

What’s surprising is that somehow I’ve traveled all across Southeast Asia, sampling all manner of new cuisine–crocodile, snake, and. . .other stuff—and yet I find myself street side eating something I could’ve had in the Philippines. Balut.

Go figure. Maybe we Southeast Asians are more alike than we realize.

This afternoon, though, I did something that these guys probably wouldn’t do, whether by choice or opportunity: After a Vietnamese sandwich in the park, I rode out to Serenetafor coffee and to write.

Now, I pride myself in the ability to retrace my steps to places I’ve been to before. I once described to a friend how to get from downtown San Francisco to Loma Linda using no street names, just landmarks. “Fourth left after the Stater Bros. next to the big tree.” This ability is what allows me to explore cities without fear of ending up in Canada.

I’ve been to Sereneta before.

And yet I had to backtrack three times to find the right alley. Seriously, I hate the French.

I did manage to scribble out some good stuff. That’s what I told myself. I was so hopped up on caffeine my chicken scratch handwriting had devolved into an even worse scrawl. I might have accidentally written the next great sonnet or the plans to build a nuclear sub; it’s impossible to say—it was so illegible. I’ll have to consider cutting down to one iced coffee a day.

For some reason, Sereneta served me the iced coffee in a mini-distiller thingy. I had to wait for the hot water to drip through the coffee grounds. It took so long that, by the time it was done, half the ice in my glass had melted. It also only generated three-quarters of an inch of java.

That didn’t affect the taste, though. When I drizzled the sludge over the ice and took a sip, it was as robust as ever. This stuff is strong. No wonder I was buzzing.

Work finished, I headed back to the hotel for a nap. When I came to, I had a quick dinner of Pho 24. When I got back to the hotel I booked a night bus ticket to Nha Trang and that’s when I found myself caught up eating a second dinner with the hotel guys. They provided me my second Vietnamese of the days, the balut, and Rice Krispies treats. I bought the soda.

So here I am. Eating, drinking, messing around with my Vietnamese. Happenstance, fate, whatever brought me here, I can’t complain.

GALLERY: Today’s gallery contains just the two pics from today’s post. No bonus pics. All dissatisfied customers are entitled to a full refund.

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