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Surviving Vietnam, Listing America and Jeffrey Epstein's Bestest Friends

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Ea Kly, 2019
Ea Kly, 2019
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After ten weeks away, I'm back in dusty, remote Ea Kly and the plastic recycling plant.

Coming up from Saigon in our new truck, we avoided Highway 13, since my brother and sister-in-law are very superstitious. Last year, they got charms from a shaman to stick on our plant, yet our business still floundered. In their minds, things would have turned out even worse without these supernatural pieces of paper. Over our door lords a round mirror inside an octagonal frame.

Adaptable enough, I enjoyed Saigon while there, but as soon as I left its KFC, Popeyes and Eon Shopping Mall sophistication, I felt lighter and freer, but maybe I'm just talking about my 19-year-old marriage. When I showed up two days ago, a cafe owner asked, "Where have you been, uncle?"

Northern Vietnamese call just about everyone a greater uncle (ba'c) or lesser one (chú), so even a father might call his son a lesser uncle. No culture needs to make sense or explain itself to outsiders.

I'm sitting in the same wall-less cafe', on a concrete bench, in front of a concrete table. The nylon hammocks and plastic tables haven't been set out yet. There is never any music here, thankfully, only birds or crickets chirping. Among my readers is the astrologist Rob Brezsny, and on June 5th, he again quoted me, "I don't think we were ever meant to hear the same song sung exactly the same way more than once in a lifetime." White and pale yellow butterflies flit by, half darting, half blown, seemingly, by the meagre breeze.

Mentally defective, I'm not great with names, and atrocious with faces, but they're coming back. Stories, I store well. Yesterday, I chatted with the cafe owner's husband, who told me about his four grown children.

The oldest is 27 and works as a paralegal six miles away. On top of this, she takes an overnight bus to Saigon each Friday evening, to attend law classes over the weekend. On Sunday evening, she takes another bus back, so she can be at work by Monday morning.

Lying on a hammock, I stated the obvious, "Your daughter is tough!"

Lying on his hammock, her dad barely grinned, "She needs to do whatever to get ahead." He's a bit worried, though, that she's not married yet. Then, "How many kids do you have, uncle?"

"Actually, none! Since I'm a writer," a fact he already knew, "my life has always been very uncertain." Peeling back layers, neighbors become intimate.

"Ah, but there's always a way! If you have just 50,000 [$2.15] a day, then you just deal with it!"

He and his wife certainly know how to survive. A bit here and there adds up. Each day, he catches roughly ten kilograms of tilapia from a pond just behind their hammock cafe, so that's $6.46 already. Sixteen ducks, raised in the same pond, yield half a dozen eggs a day, though their feed more or less cancels that profit. At their cafe, a cup of coffee with condensed milk is just 34 cents, but they also sell cigarettes, soft drinks, homemade rice wine and even some traditional armpit deodorant that comes in a tiny, circular tin.

His other three kids are all in Saigon, "There's just no work here." A daughter teaches math, while his twin sons work construction.

Like most people here, he's dark and wiry. Even the kids are like that, except a few pampered ones that are pale and pudgy. In Saigon, dull faced fat kids can now be found waddling everywhere.

During the long layoff, our workers had to find other ways to get by, so HÆ°Æ¡ng, for example, decided to open a kebab restaurant, and it's actually doing quite well. I dropped by the other day to enjoy skewers of minced pork, pork with okra, pork enclosing straw mushroom and even some aquatic snake wrapped in lime leaves. Bone bits in the last, though, was a taste I won't likely acquire. Each skewer costs but 22 cents, so you can certainly stuff your face for $2.22. I skipped the gnarly chicken feet.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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