Sunday 6 AM Saigon
After greeting me amiably the skinny grinny guy who guards the building project across the street washes himself stooping at a 10 inch standpipe in front of the blue plastic tarped half a house. He pulls off the black jersey he has been wearing all week and enters back through the break in the lengths of tarp. Then he throws himself back outside, still shirtless but wearing trousers and flip flops, and jogs down the street and around the blocks for a 10 minute run. Now, with the sun breaking through, he hops about on the pavement doing some calesthenics and heads off for a little more of a day warmer. He may be 37 or 59: age is another cypher here. Muscled and fit with a full head of black hair and a sea of wrinkles in his grin. He has just come to talk with me. He has taken out a little calendar and pointed to “Sunday” but is making hand signals like a massage. At first I think he is offering a little beating on my shoulders- which would be grand- but then I do believe he wants to sell me a massage. I trudge up flights of stairs for my dictionary, but when I return he has left.
Mama and her two boys from the nice house on the corner come out, organize themselves and walk down the street. the elder son, inches taller and kilos heavier than his mom, quietly reaches for her wrist and grasps lightly as they walk. The boys are unabashedly plump in the way that this generation’s indulged boys in the better districts are, and mom’s bums are bursting through the jeans that look rather new to be outgrowing. Their turn at exercise is to the corner and back. Then dad comes out and they all walk off together for breakfast.
Now comes the garbage collector with an orange four wheeled trolley and a little Phu My Hung cap and jersey. He has defeated the trash pickers by at least an hour. He and his friends will have first go at anything but the least usable in my two little garbage bags. I have a prize cardboard box I’ve been holding back, and I’ll put it out for the woman who gropes through the later leavings.
The fat boy neighbors have just driven up in a new big black car. I thought they had a car but they don’t park it here. It must be parked where they walked to. The housemaid has come out and collected the groceries and dad is parking the car for the day in front of the house.
Meanwhile Who has returned. Not a Laurel and Hardy joke. I have gotten his poor name badly and the best I can do is Who. Who had offered a massage- as we figured with my dictionary and sharing my glasses. We had struggled over the dictionary for a while when I saw a young man and his mother arrive at another house on the road. I dragged Who over to them and the young plump faced boy who turned out to be a young man studying at RMIT translated quite well for us. He has a bright future that boy. Who needs money for his family. For working at and guarding the being built house across from us he gets the equivalent of $150 a month. Our electricity bill. A month. Yes the place is cheap but that is what it costs for anyone to breathe here. He is on duty around the clock 7 days a week.
While the negotiating goes on, another man comes along bearing a calla lily. It is not an offering of admiration. He wants to plant a line of them around the 1.5 meter by 3 meter bed we have in front of the house. Wouldn’t have been a bad idea a week ago before he talked me into paying him a sixth of what Who makes a month to drag a frangipani tree out of the public garden 40 meters away and plant it in said bed next to the frangipani the landlord had planted there a week prior. I of course didn’t know the frangipani was coming from public property and thought the sum was $2.50 not $25 (zeros from dong are just dropped, and 5 can mean from 5 thousand to 5 million- you have to know the ballpark figure of the transaction).
A traditionally clad woman (lavender print pajamas and a matching jacket) with a pole over her shoulder carrying pots of food has just jogged past shouting something I’m sure about the food. Who emerges with his red plastic chair for his day of watching. One of the staff living in the house directly across cleans the front window glass after having washed the car which is parked indoors in the ground floor sitting room. It is almost 8 and the neighborhood is fully functioning. People have come and gone and come back again. The sun is now hot over head having eclipsed the highrises at the end of the block. Another day on My Toan Hai street is underway. And this is Sunday. A late start.