I Would Never Survive in a North Korean Prison

Too many of my days have been blurring into each other and blending together in a monotonous cycle of childcare, eating, napping, dishwashing, and avoiding other chores. Some days we just putz around the mansion and don’t go outside at all. I’m philosophically opposed to doing strenuous housework during my sabbatical, but at the same time I can’t stand feeling like a freeloader. As much as I say I don’t care, it’s hard not to care. I feel like I should do more; I just don’t want to. So we decided to take off. Originally the plan was to revisit Tom’s family in Phan Thiet for a few days, but since there’s no reason to hurry back to Long Khanh, we’ll probably extend our stay until we’ve worn out our welcome in Phan Thiet. I’m willing to go to great lengths to avoid housework (or more accurately, to avoid feeling guilty about not doing housework).

Our last overnight stay in Phan Thiet was kind of a disaster and definitely not comfortable, so we booked a room at a 4 star hotel resort for our first two nights back in Phan Thiet, a very affordable splurge at US$70 per night. After spending the day with Tom’s relatives, we made our apologies and excuses and withdrew from their company — but not before getting transported to our luxury accommodations via motorbikes. We were dropped off in front of a relatively opulent lobby and welcomed with scented washcloths and flutes of dragon fruit cocktails. We checked into a comfortable room with a clean bathroom. We were in heaven. H-E-A-V-E-N. For the first time in months, we were perfectly comfortable by American standards. There wasn’t anything special about the room or the bathroom. The furnishings and decor were basic. In the U.S. this room and its amenities would be ranked probably closer to 3 stars and we’ve certainly stayed at nicer hotels. But it completely blew all of our other VN accommodations out of the water. It was a little pathetic how much we enjoyed this room, and a little shocking to realize how much we missed home. I don’t think I’ll ever again take for granted a real mattress with clean sheets that don’t have any holes in them, air conditioning at the press of a button, plush oversized bath towels that don’t stink after one use, unlimited quantities of hot water, or a sparkling white bathroom free of mildew and rust. I don’t know why these creature comforts have become indispensable to me, but they have. If I didn’t particularly care about these things before, I certainly do now, to the point that I don’t think I can be truly happy without them. I read about people who suffer real deprivations, characters who are tortured or thrown into solitary confinement, or victims of horrifically inhumane treatment. Being imprisoned in a windowless cell without access to water, sunlight, or any reasonable means to empty one’s bowels is almost as inconceivable to me as it’s appalling. I’m the type of person who can’t truly be happy without plush bath towels.

The hotel’s other perks included a fabulous breakfast buffet that offered real milk, not the sugary, reconstituted, ultra-preserved stuff that VN kids drink out of unrefrigerated cartons. After taking a sip, the girl, who’s not a fan of the VN version of milk, joyfully exclaimed “It’s real cow milk, like in North America!” We were also steps from our choice of a pristine beach or swimming pools, all of which were surrounded by comfy lounge chairs shaded by wide beach umbrellas. H-E-A-V-E-N. The only reminder that we were still in Vietnam was the presence of a cow that grazed on shrubbery near the beach, which we found to be charming. I got a little carried away with our brief taste of America because I succumbed to an ever-growing craving and ordered a Margherita pizza from the hotel restaurant. I got what tasted like a frozen cheese pizza. Served me right.

The two nights that we spent at the resort were so pleasurable that it was difficult to return to the “real” Vietnam — with its filth, mosquitoes, sweltering heat, revolting stenches, and gross bathrooms. I’m ill-equipped to deal with less than luxurious surroundings.

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A former corporate attorney who is now happily retired and does whatever she wants.

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