Friday, May 8, 2009

Goodbye Vietnam!

This entry should be posting as my plane takes off from Hanoi to Taipei (yesterday my Eva Airlines flight was canceled and I was re-booked by Eva on to a China Airlines flight). For the last week I've felt a mix of excitement to see my friends and family and extreme sadness to be leaving Huyen and Hanoi. When I set off on this journey on February 2nd, 2008 I had no regrets. 15 months and 7 days have passed, and I still feel the same way. This has been the best year of my life.


Someone once said to me that pictures are better with people in them. Well, the same goes with memories. My memories of this past year are of the people I’ve met, even more so than the places I’ve been. Here’s 100 people who have made this past year amazing:

1. Dr. Anh Thu Kieu. My Vietnamese-American doctor in Santa Monica who gave me my vaccinations before leaving America. She also gave me some Cipro which may saved my life/bowels about a year ago.
2. Air-treks Sarah. Sarah booked my flight from New York to Hong Kong to Sydney – Perth to Hong Kong – Hong Kong to Ghoungzou – Hong Kong to HCMC.
3. My friend Emma in Sydney. She picked me up at the airport, let me stay at her place, and didn’t wake up when I went #2 in her glass-door bathroom.
4. Kristy Cook. My friend who I met at the World Cup in Germany and showed me a hell of a good time in Melbourne. There’s few hosts better in the world than Kristy Cook. I can say that with confidence.
5. The Salter Family. My friend Lily, who I met in London, half-assedly invited me to your house in Australia. I took her up on it and she has turned out to be a great friend. I had a fantastic time with the Salter clan all over the West Coast of Australia.
6. Reuben – The Salters dog taught me that love between a man and a dog is okay.
7. Leo Li, the friendly Chinese guy I met on my flight to Beijing. Leo gave me a ride to my hostel and occasionally emails me about Chinese calligraphy.
8. The cute receptionist at my hotel in Beijing who twice gave me wrong directions to a restaurant.
9. Chi-Na and Jessica. I met these two girls on The Great Wall of China, drank with them in Beijing, and have kept in touch with them since. After a year abroad they’re still two of the coolest Americans I’ve met.
10. Eva. Eva is my friend Lene’s cousin in Shanghai. Eva met me as I got off my train from the airport and didn’t leave my side the whole time I was in Shanghai. Eva was the perfect tour guide – she took me to all the best eating spots in town. Oh, and Eva, you still owe me 87 beers.
11. Della. Della is Steve Song’s friend in Hong Kong. Della took me to a club where I got tear gassed for the first and hopefully last time. She also told me about one of the best hikes I’ve been on in the last year.
12. HIEN! HIEN! HIEN! HIEN!!!!! Hien and I emailed for months before I got to Vietnam and she has been nothing but a great friend since the moment I landed. I only wish HCMC and Hanoi were a little closer so I could see her more often.
13. Linh. Linh “taught” me Vietnamese. Considering I know like eight words I had to put taught in quotes. Linh has always been there for me when I text her a question and is always more than happy to make fun of me over text or to my face.
14. Au. Au introduced me to my love of pho via her father.
15. Ryan. I met Ryan on my first day in Vietnam and well, we basically never left each others’ side. When I first heard that there was only one other student taking the Language Corps program I got a little nervous. I mean, that sounded miserable. However, Ryan turned out to be one of the best guys I’ve ever met.
16. The girls at Howie’s Bar in Phenom Penh. These girls had to buy me drink after drink after I kept beating them in Connect Four.
17. The restaurant owner who served Ryan and I breakfast every morning in Phenom Penh. The man greeted us every morning with a few words in French and a great plate of eggs and pork.
18. Vi. Vi was the housekeeper at the Language Corps house in PP. Somehow she spoke five words of English despite living with all English teachers.
19. Darra. Darra was Ryan and my personal tuk-tuk driver in Phenom Penh.
20. Our private driver from PP to Siem Reap. This driver was by far the scariest in my one year of living in Asia. Once I survived that ride I knew I had a pretty good chance out here.
21. Hannah and Adam Cooper. This brother-sister combo sat next to Ryan and I while we waited for the sun to set over Angkor Wat. The sunset was a disappointment but the Coopers were anything but. I’ve kept in touch with both of them and Adam is personally responsible for giving my sister and I the best Thailand tips for our trip.
22. The little kids in Siem Reap. The kids there are infamous for knowing every state and country capital and well, I think they were right. They got Newark right at least.
23. Our Siem Reap tour guide. Our guide was a great introduction to “Business English.” The man could speak in English for hours about the temples but as soon as you asked him a question he froze up in fear and recited a rehearsed line about something completely different than I asked him.
24. Ashton, my friend Kevin Rodin’s friend, who joined Ryan, Hien and I in the Mekong Delta.
25. Tuyen. Hien’s roommate who made me a kick-ass “painting” that is all her own style.
26. My students from HCMC. I taught a free class for a couple weeks in HCMC and had a great group of energetic and enthusiastic students.
27. The coffee ladies outside of Language Corps. Ryan and I quickly became won over by Vietnamese coffee thanks to the ladies who sold it on the street by Language Corps.
28. The pineapple lady. I bought pineapple every day from one lady around the corner from Language Corps. I practiced my little Vietnamese with her and in turn bought a pineapple. When I went back to HCMC a few months later she was selling guava...which I didn’t know how to ask for.
29. France. France is a cool American expat living in HCMC who took Ryan and I out on the town. France has since opened up a coffee shop in HCMC.
30. The little girl who rode on my boat in the Mekong. She still ranks as the cutest kid I’ve met in Asia.
31. Trang. Trang was the front desk worker at our guest house in HCMC. She greeted Ryan and I ever morning with a big smile and helped us wave down taxis.
32. The guy who lost his keys in the giant sand dunes in Mui Ne.
33. My overpriced Easy Rider guide in Da Lat.
34. Hien’s father and cousin. Ryan and I spent a night at Hien’s dad’s fish pond eating all the local foods. By local I mean the fish from the pond, the frogs from the rice paddie, the chicken from the back yard and the bat from the tree.
35. Steve Song. Steve met me in Nha Trang and spent more or less the next month with me. Steve was a great traveling partner and left me the two best gifts I’ve gotten this year: 1) a new camera 2) Huyen (Steve approached her friend and that’s how I met Huyen).
36. Thuy from Hoi An. Thuy and I went to breakfast together. I use the word “together” loosely since she left me sitting there alone after about a minute because she had to run back to her tailor shop.
37. Marble Mountain Girls. The two girls who rode up alongside me and invited me to their house…a great scam they had working to try and get people to buy ceramics at their family’s store at Marble Mountain.
38. Da Nang University Girls. Ryan, Steve and I went to Da Nang University to meet the faculty who were friends of a friend of mine. We ended up being shoved into classrooms and told to teach two classes. It was ridiculous. To pay us for our services the girls took us to karaoke.
39. The girl in Hue who wore the “I ♥ CUMMING” t-shirt.
40. Pallavi. Pallavi is the girl who I emailed with for a month about moving into her house. She is also the girl who lied to me about the house being safe (it had been robbed while we were emailing). Pallavi is also the girl who left Ryan, Steve and I standing outside for about 12 minutes when we first arrived at my house.
41. Mirriam. Mirriam is this kick ass Spanish girl who lived in my house.
42. Mr. and Mrs. Muoi. The Muois rented me my bike(s) and always wave and smile at me when I’m in the old quarter. Mr. Muoi also has taken me out for beer a few times and called me his, “best friend.”
43. Devin. Devin is one of my best friends from college who wasted no time in visiting me. If it wasn’t for Devin making me pick him up at the airport I wouldn’t have met Huyen.
44. The Shapiro Brothers. Steve’s friend (and my buddy Jason Weinstein’s friend from Cornell) were in Hanoi and accompanied Devin, Steve and I to Halong Bay. Dr. Shapiro also took me to a pharmacy to get cream to clear up my only heat rash this year.
45. The Ninjas who robbed my house. Thanks to them I got to buy myself a new computer…although I really wish I still had my good camera…or even my other camera they stole…or my brand new ipod with all my photos on it…or my cell phone…
46. Son. Son is the guy who hooked Ryan and I up with a kick ass house…
47. Dzung and his *%$#@ wife Binh. If it wasn’t for them evicting Ryan and I, I wouldn’t have moved to my favorite house in Hanoi.
48. The gigantic spider that Ryan and I pissed our pants over.
49. The rat that I squared up against and lost.
50. Crazy Man. Crazy Man is the guy who walked along my old street and gave me strange stares. I was literally scared of him until the day he came up to me and told me that Dzung and Binh are bad people.
51. Nicky. Nicky is perhaps the nicest guy I have ever met. The guy has nothing but nice things to say all the time…except when being interrogated by army officials in the middle of nowhere.
52. Lyle. Lyle is the guy who I met who hooked Ryan and I up with De at Language Link.
53. De. De is the recruitment lady at Language Link who hired Ryan and I. De is also the inventor of the term “Edutainment.” If you ever have a question about teaching abroad, she’s your woman.
54. Jim Brennan. Jim is the kick ass Director of Studies at Language Link. I liked Jim from the moment I met him and not just because he is also from Essex County, New Jersey. Jim is one of the smartest, nicest people I’ve met since…well, ever. Jim is also the person I would talk politics with in Vietnam. Watching Obama win with Jim will go down as one of my favorite memories.
55. Chi. Chi is not only one of my favorite Language Link employees but she was also the first ahoyhanoi fan at the office.
56. Hung. Hung is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. Like many of the other CSO’s at LL she loves to give me a hard time. Hung is also the girl who gave me the most awkward hug I’ve ever gotten when I saw her at the night market. Her then fiancĂ© was standing next to her (and Huyen was next to me) and she didn’t know how to react.
57. Linh. Linh is the teacher coordinator who I always jokingly give a hard time to. She jokes right back with me.
58. ALL the CSOs at LL. I’ve never worked with such a great staff of people. Every person is always willing to help you out with whatever you need and they do it with a smile.
59. Huyen the photocopy guy. Huyen mans the photocopy machine at LL and is a huge help for all the teachers.
60. Huong in HR. Huong helped me get my driver’s license/motorbike license and also kept me in the country by always renewing my Visa.
61. Matt. Matt was one of the veteran teachers when I arrived and really helpful if I ever had a teaching question. He also taught me that if I ever needed to go to the hospital here I should go to the French Hospital…where he had his ankle surgery after crashing his bike.
62. Hayden. He’s not only a great guy but THE DUDE SURVIVED BEING EATEN ALIVE BY LIZARDS!!!!!!
63. Mai. Mai is the king of HUC – Hanoi Ultimate Club. I found the club’s website when I first arrived and texted Mai about playing. She wrote me right back and we’ve been friends since.
64. The Frisbee Guys. Every week after frisbee I have gone out with a bunch of guys who have become good friends. Thanks Thanh, Tu, Hoan, Minh and Duc!
65. Jessica. My fellow New Jersian has been a good friend to me and a great girlfriend for Ryan (they’re still going strong!).
66. Mikka. Mikka is perhaps the funniest expat I’ve met this past year. Mikka also coincidentally is the daughter of an LA Producer my friend Elizabeth works with. Elizabeth emailed me last year asking if I knew a Mikka who had just moved to LA. A day or two before Mikka had just started working at LL and her locker was just a few down from mine.
67. Matt and Lindy. This cool New Zealand couple reminds me a lot of my friends back home. Matt actually plays soccer just like I used to play it – 100% intensity with a minimal skill set.
68. Long. Long is the center of the Hanoi universe. It seems that every single person in this city knows him…and likes him. I’m happy to call Long one of my good friends out here.
69. Corey. Corey is an American expat who has been living here for quite a while. He’s one of those guys who you could never find anything to say bad about. He’s a couple years older than me yet looks younger and has way more stamina than me during ultimate games.
70. My neighbors. I’ve been tutoring my twelve year old neighbor for over six months. The kid is fantastic at English (I take no credit) and his family are just really nice people.
71. The Sticky Rice Lady. Nearly every morning I walk to the local market and buy breakfast. The sticky rice lady is always particularly nice to me.
72. The teenage girl who sells oranges. There is one girl in the market who always waves at me and says, “Nice to meet you!” I have tried to tell her that we’ve met 100 times but she seems to like to say that line the most.
73. The Grandmother around the corner. There is a woman who serves tea on the street around the corner from me. Every time I walk by her she gives me a wave and laughs hysterically.
74. My barber. Despite the fact that he chopped off all my hair this week, I’m still gonna give him a shout out. If you have never had your face shaved with a straight razor you should fly to ‘Nam and have this guy do it.
75. Thuy, Thuy and Thuy’s Family. Over the last five months or so I’ve been tutoring three different girls named Thuy. They’ve all been really nice and fun to tutor.
76. The husband and wife banh gio team. There is this breakfast dish here that is like a gelatinous rice stuffed with pork. Despite OD’ing on this stuff after eating it nearly every day for a month, the husband and wife who sell it still wave at me every time they see me. The husband, on occasion, gives me vodka too.
77. The Army Guys who interrogated Long, Nicky and I. Without a doubt this was my scariest moment in Vietnam. It is also a kick ass story I can tell at weddings all summer.
78. The Cops who Huyen bribed on the dirt road. You gotta love corrupt cops.
79. Oot. The woman who showed Huyen and I around Babe lake for three days. You couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.
80. My cousin Justin. My cousin Justin came out here and the two of us took one of my best trips in Vietnam.
81. PJ. My buddy PJ came out and despite two motorbike accidents, we had an amazing time together.
82. Veronica and Loren. My childhood friends Loren and Veronica both visited me this year. Loren, her friend, Huyen and I took my first motorbike trip to Tam Dao. It was a great trip. Veronica visited a few months ago and was a pleasure to show around the city. Huyen and I went to Halong Bay with Veronica and had quite a one day adventure.
83. Sebastian. My friend from LA took a last minute trip out to Hanoi and was my +1 to Huyen’s cousin’s wedding. Sebastian also took some of the best photos I now have of my experiences out here.
84. Friends of Friends. Countless friends of friends have visited Hanoi and gotten in contact with me. Actually if I had to count I think the number would be around thirty. A couple times I was out of town for their visits so Huyen took them out. Also lots of friends of friends have been loyal blog readers. One who deserves a big thank you is my sister's friend Laura. Thanks, Laura.
85. Maria. Maria is one of my random blog readers who I can now chalk up as a friend. Maria visited Hanoi a while ago and we hung out a couple of times while she was in town. Maria is also perhaps the biggest fan of Huyen in all of cyberspace.
86. LH From Kentucky. LH, a Vietnam War veteran, has been a loyal reader for almost the whole time I’ve been blogging. LH can always be counted on to write a really wise, well thought out comment on my blog.
87. Strangers. I’ve received so many emails from people around the world who have stumbled on to my blog. I always appreciate hearing from them, knowing they took time out of their day to write something nice.
88. Alex and Brett. Alex and Brett, two of my best friends from Syracuse, have emailed me seemingly every day since I’ve been away. I’m a long way away from them but I feel like I’m just down the street. A few days from now we’ll be catching up in person at Dinosaur BBQ in New York.
89. Brad. When Brad asked me to be his co/best man I said to myself, “Now I know when I’m gonna go home.” I can’t wait to see Brad tie the knot in June. They make people bigger than Brad, but they don’t make anyone better.
90. Bier. Jeremy is the first person to email me whenever anything big happens to any of our Livingston crew. Jeremy’s also basically the last person besides myself not to get engaged or married. That said, Jeremy is now in a serious relationship…
91. All my LA friends who have kept in great touch this past year. Tom and Sam can always be counted on to send me video links to decently funny clips. Kevin for still tossing ideas back and forth with me about reality television stuff. Grahame for being my fellow Bruins fan (and probably soon to be disappointed Bruin's fan). Kunitz for his occasional ridiculous and repetitive emails with old pictures of us. JR for always offering to send me stuff. Taylor and Andrew for always inquiring when I'm gonna come visit. Jay for his music advice. etc. etc....
92. My sister Hannah. Without a doubt my favorite trip this year was with my sister. Hannah and I had an amazing time together in Thailand and Laos. I can honestly say she is the best travel partner I could ever imagine. My sister and I had a couple bumps in our relationship when we were teenagers but I can say that is long behind us and she’s now one of my best friends. Furthermore, I’m immensely proud of my sister. There’s a 1,001 things I could say about her but I’ll just comment on the latest: She was just promoted to Press Secretary for the US Justice Department. Go Hannah!
93. Zev, Kathy and Lilah. The biggest regret I’ve had this past year was that I couldn’t be home to see the birth of my niece. My brother and Kathy have sent me almost daily emails with pictures and videos of her. Lilah is as cute as they come and I can’t wait to hold her. I also can’t wait to see Zev and Kathy who have quickly turned into amazing parents.
94. My Nanny. Every time I talk with my Nanny she sounds so excited to hear from me and encourages what I’m doing.
95. My Grandma Cele. My Grandma Cele is also excited to hear from me but she always tells me to get the heck home.
96. My Aunt Jane and My Aunt Ronny. Jane always has my back. When Huyen didn’t get her visa, Jane was ready to march to Washington and knock down the doors of immigration. My Aunt Ronny is a world traveler and has from time to time given me priceless advice.
97. The Zuckers. A holiday can’t go by without an ecard from my Aunt Donna and Uncle Barry. They’ve raised three great kids and are about to be grandparents. I missed my niece being born but I’m timing my trip home perfect to see the birth of my amazing cousin Adam and his wife Rachel’s first child! There’s gonna be a lot of babies at family get togethers!
98. My Mom and Dad. Parents always want the best for their children. My parents have supported my living abroad from Day 1 despite wanting me near them. It’s a good feeling knowing every moment of every day that your parents love you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m the luckiest kid in the world.
99. Huyen’s Family. One of the secrets to moving abroad is having a family away from your family. Obviously nobody can come close to replacing your loved ones, but its an unbelievably good feeling when another family takes you under their wing and completely embraces you. Huyen’s family -- from her three year old nephew to her 96 year old Great Grandmother -- have all shown me nothing but kindness.
100. Huyen. I was only supposed to stay in Hanoi for six months. I stayed because of Huyen. I wasn’t planning on coming back here again in the foreseeable future. I’ll be back in August because of Huyen. It’s no secret that Huyen has been my world the last year. Every day I wake up feeling fortunate that I have been able to find someone so amazing against all imaginable odds. Who would have ever thought that a Jewish kid from New Jersey would fall in love with a Vietnamese girl from Ha Nam Province? That’s the stuff they write movies about…or blogs.

All Alone In A Cave

(PICTURE: Me opening the gate to the cave.)

One morning in Babe, Huyen and I set off to visit a famous cave. When we got to the base of the cave, the cave caretaker wasn't there. However, there was a man across the street who had a key to the cave. The guy waved us over and gave us the key.

Huyen and I then walked up a path on a mountain to the entrance of the cave. There was a gate in front of the entrance and I unlocked it. Inside was an electrical box with a few switches. We flipped all the switches to "on" but only three lights came on inside the whole cave. Huyen and I had a flashlight with us but it was hardly illuminating. We decided to put our fear aside and started to walk down the path in the cave. A few times we stopped when we thought we heard noises in the darkness. I usually don't get scared, but I was kind of nervous in the cave. We tried to talk ourselves out of being frightened and agreed to walk to the next light. We did this twice until we thought we got to the end of the cave. However, we could see another light in the far distance that had been obscured by a rock. Huyen and I both looked at each other and said, "lets get out of here."

We quickly walked back up the path and exited the cave. Just as I locked the door a group of about twenty people came walking up. Huyen and I thought about going back into the cave with the group but were a) exhausted b) realized that that was just what the monsters wanted us to do.