One faithful reader complains of difficulty in picking out my friend Zabine from the group photos posted here. The reason is that Zabine and I, as seasoned world travelers, have learned to blend into a crowd of Vietnamese.
Here’s a picture of the two of us blending in. Zabine, you’ll notice, does it better than I do. It takes special skill to fly under the radar when you tower over the folks with whom you’re blending. Still, don’t you agree I could do worse?
Be that as it may, Zabine blends very well, height-wise. So long as she’s surrounded by really tall Vietnamese men. With women, maybe not quite so well. Note below the extent to which “Shorty” (as her friends know her) does or doesn’t blend with typical Vietnamese women. She’s in the center. Please disregard her friend Barbara, who, as a fellow-Westerner (on Zabine’s left), blends almost as well as I do.
But unlike Barbara, Zabine and I face a further challenge in the blending sweepstakes: We not only are taller than our Vietnamese counterparts, we’re also (ahem!) significantly wider. After nearly two weeks of striding through packed crowds with my bird’s-eye view, I have yet to see a single overweight Vietnamese person. I’m told they exist, but cannot confirm this from observation. Width-wise, I blend in best in my own land, where two-thirds of us are overweight and one-third are obese.
Details, details. Here we are below, blending into the audience at Hanoi’s 20th anniversary celebration for the founding of its Baha’i community. Bet you’d never have spotted us if I hadn’t circled us in red, huh? Except maybe for the telltale white hair. Hmm. We might need to work on that in a nation where most everyone, young or old, has black hair (or near-black). Maybe some henna…
Speaking of black: Our young friend Huyen told me yesterday that her name in Vietnamese literally means “black” (referring to eyes and hair), and is therefore synonymous with “beautiful” since in that cultural context black is considered beautiful. Wow! Reminds me of the Sixties when our African-American friends fought to popularize that same truth with regard to dark skin. How wonderfully they succeeded! (And yet, how tragic that in that community — or too much of it — darker skin still is deemed aesthetically inferior to lighter.)
But my point… Let’s see, did I have a point? Oh, yes, something about blending. But I can’t write any more about that right now. It’s time to go practice my chopsticks, so that our Vietnamese hosts (and expert chopstick-wielders like Zabine) don’t have further need to stifle their laughter and make polite excuses next time the bite I’m fumbling with flies across the table and hits them in the forehead. For those of us who practice blending, the challenge is never-ending.