Monday, February 28, 2011

Eating Giant Larva

(PICTURE: Lunch.)

(PICTURE: The sign in front of Phi's dad's shop.)

While still waiting for the results of Huyen's physical, we thought the best thing to do would be to eat giant rare "palm cocoon" larva things. Long story short, Sebastian befriended a girl named Phi whose father owns a restaurant in Saigon that serves this very rare treat. This food is so rare that their total stock for the year is about three hundred larva.

(PICTURE: One third of the harvest. That's Phi on the right.)

Furthermore, only three restaurants in HCMC serve this food and only one in Hanoi. Phi told us that they aren't even sure where the larvas come from because the people who harvest it in the jungle keep it a secret. Supposedly the larva was eaten by the king to "keep his many wives happy." Yeah, it's larva Viagra...except that Thuy told us many parents bring their children to eat it because it's very healthy for kids.

(PICTURE: My wife serving me giant larva. Delicious.)

The price for one larva was 45,000 VND, or about $2.50. It definitely tasted better than it looked which isn't saying much. Huyen and I both ate one which was probably about ten times braver than climbing the wall the day before.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rock Climbing

(PICTURE: I only got chalk the second time I went. And please stop staring at my short, fat fingers!)

With Huyen's arm only slightly hurting from her vaccinations the day before, I thought it was a good idea to go rock climbing. I figured that her handicap would be a great opportunity for me to show my physical superiority. I mean I didn't tie Peter Cullen for senior athlete for nothing!

(PICTURE: Can you say wedgie?!)

I had heard about the rock climbing wall from my friend Sebastian's blog a week earlier. The wall ended up being right down the street from Hien's house so she took us over. The wall was sixteen meters high (52.5 feet) but seemed much higher. When I was much younger (I think thirteen) I had gone rock climbing a few times at summer camp. It had literally been about seventeen years since the last time I strapped on a harness but it felt like much more than that. I agreed to go first (when you're married "agree" means your wife tells you to go first) and quickly started to climb the wall. A few thoughts immediately went through my head:
1. There was a sign in the rock climbing office that said you had to take a safety course before climbing. Why hadn't I taken a safety course?

2. Why if I've been exercising for a year straight do my arms and legs feel like jelly?

3. Don't look down. I thought of this one after I looked down.

I made it to the top in about six minutes. Hien told me that it was quite fast so that gave me a boost of self-I'm-not-too-old-confidence for the day. After I went, it was Huyen's turn.

(PICTURE: Huyen putting on the harness while also harnessing the power of Livingston football from her t-shirt.)

Huyen strapped on the harness, put some powder on her hands (which the guy forgot to give me!) and started climbing the wall like Spiderwoman. Before I knew it, Huyen had reached the top:

I gotta say, I'm really proud of my wife. Climbing this wall is a pretty good metaphor for the whole visa process. At first it looked daunting but little by little it can be accomplished. On top of that, like going to America, Huyen was absolutely courageous.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Health Check

(PICTURE: Huyen after her medical test.)

I'm not scared of hospitals or medical centers...but I am scared of sitting next to people who are coughing up a lung especially when there is a large "Tuberculosis Test Room" sign about two feet from me. To make this hypochondriac even more paranoid, I kid you not, upon arriving home from the medical center, there was an article on the cover page of about Tuberculosis being highly contagious and one of the largest killers of people in the world. Oh, the ends I go to to get my wife into America. Oh yeah, this post is about Huyen and not me....

Huyen needed to get her health check done before her visa interview. The Visa Medical Department was located in the back of a hospital in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City. Upon entering the room, I had a slight case of deja vu from the day before -- the room was filled with people holding identical USA forms as us. Huyen had made a reservation for her check and was the sixth person to be seen that morning. The health check took about thirty minutes (I was counting the seconds as the person next to me kept coughing in my general direction). After Huyen finished her health check both of us became nervous because of two things all the other potential future American citizens told her. Those things were:

1. They were all taking their tests MONTHS ahead of their final interview. In fact, they were very surprised Huyen was doing hers just a few days before her final interview since they said if there's a problem she would need treatment before the interview. Although Huyen finished her health check, she was told that she wouldn't know if she passed until the next day. I'm not sure how these people were about to do this months before their interview since we were told just two weeks before ours about our date; I chalk this up to the Hanoi bias.

2. EVERY PERSON EXCEPT US had an immigration lawyer helping them. Huyen and I had gone through the whole process without a lawyer. However, this only made me slightly nervous since we had someone better than a lawyer advising us -- my friend Steve Song. As mentioned a couple of times on the blog, Steve had gone through this process with his wife Rushana the year before. Our situation was slightly different than Steve's but his advice was huge from start to finish.

Once we left the hospital we had twenty four hours to wait and see if Huyen was in tip top shape. We did what anyone in this situation would do, we went rock climbing...

Friday, February 25, 2011


Before the final interview, Huyen had to do a couple of medical related tasks to comply with immigration policy. The first task was to get a bunch of vaccinations. Like the visa interview, these vaccines can only be given in HCMC. The US has a contract with a vaccination center and tells you that no other places vaccines will be accepted. To me, this seems pretty ridiculous especially since some of the vaccines require a second shot! This means if you're applying from Hanoi, you've got to fly back to HCMC a month later just to get stuck with a needle that you could get stuck with in Hanoi at an internationally recognized hospital with doctors -- some of whom are American -- that have been trained and certified in America. But heck, I'm sure I'm not the first person to complain about a US policy.

I will say this though, the vaccination center in HCMC was very efficient and even recommended to Huyen some other vaccinations that she should probably get (yeah, yeah, they make more money that way). Huyen and I had discussed her getting some additional vaccines for our travels/big move so this has put my mind to rest a little bit. The most interesting thing about the vaccination center though was to see how many people were planning on emigrating to America. Every single person at the center had the same American paperwork that we had. I would estimate that in the hour that we were there, there were probably fifty people getting their American vaccines.

After a few pricks in Huyen's arm, we were finished and ready to go. Vaccinations done with, there was just one final step before the big visa interview...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taxi Driver From Hell

(PICTURE: This is how our driver learned to drive.)

I think all of us have had an experience in a taxi cab in which we feel like we're going to die. Frankly there's a lot of horrible taxi drivers out there who clearly deal with the boredom of their job by taking unnecessary risks while driving. A few months ago Huyen and I had one such driver. The guy drove like a maniac and I feared for my life throughout the cab ride (Huyen didn't because she was asleep the whole ride except when I made her put her seat belt on). I'm not kidding, I was really petrified in the cab and would have told him to stop the car if it wasn't midnight and we weren't on a highway with no chance of getting another cab. Still, we should have gotten out of the cab and walked to where we were going because I was that scared.

Well, last month Huyen and I had an early flight to HCMC, where we were going for our final visa interview. Our flight was at 7AM which meant we got picked up at our apartment at 5AM by a taxi we had ordered the night before. After getting in the cab, Huyen said to me, "This is the same driver we had the other time." "That other time," being the night I thought we were gonna die. So here was the dilemma: Do we get out of the cab and try to get another at 5AM, risking possibly missing our flight? Or do we keep our fingers crossed and hope he's been prescribed chill pills since the last time we drove with him?

We decided to stay in the cab and it was clearly a mistake. Why? Because our cab driver FELL ASLEEP IN THE MIDDLE OF A BUSY INTERSECTION! Thank god he took his foot off the gas because we came to a slow stop rather than plowing into another car or giant truck. Between us yelling at the driver and the surround sound honking, our Cabbie woke up. He was clearly startled although he denied falling asleep. He did though immediately pull over and get an ice tea. We should have gotten out of the cab then and there but it was still 5:15AM and we most likely wouldn't have gotten another cab in time to check in at the airport. Thankfully there was no incident after this because the driver clearly shat his pants and woke up.

After arriving at the airport, Huyen and I both sort of laughed it off and agreed that hopefully that would be the worst part of our trip to HCMC.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Final Interview Appointment

(PICTURE: Our flight to HCMC was almost as last minute as this one was.)

Maybe I'm paranoid but I'm 99.9% sure the US government is f-ing with me. Long story short, two days after submitting the initial immigration paperwork, I was asked by the US embassy in Hanoi to be an embassy warden. Basically this involves me being in charge of all the US citizens in my area if there is an emergency. Since the embassy had my paperwork/balls in their possession, I happily agreed to be a warden.

Coincidentally, every step of the immigration process has closely been timed with the embassy asking me to perform some chore for them. At the beginning of January, the embassy called and asked me to get in contact with all of the citizens on my list. I called everyone, wrote up a report and sent it back to the embassy on January 7th. I kid you not, a few minutes after hitting "send" I got an email from the consulate in HCMC telling me that Huyen's visa interview would be on Monday, January 24th.

This was great news that our final interview had been scheduled. However, it was terrible timing since Tet was about to happen which meant a) All flights were double the price b) There were no flights AT ALL from the 25th through the first week of February. This meant that we would need to fly out the night of our interview which would mean Huyen would have to fly back again to pick up her visa if we were approved (the embassy tells you it'll take a couple days to process).

You might be asking yourself at this point: Why do you have to fly to HCMC if the embassy is in Hanoi? Well, I'd like to give you a logical answer but unfortunately I don't have one. Luckily, Huyen and I had been preparing for the interview for months so we had all of our paperwork in order. Naturally though there was some last minute panicking because the government sent me a document which contradicted earlier documents I had been given. On this document it said we needed a few more pieces of paperwork that we didn't have. Thankfully my parents* and their accountant jumped on this and got us everything we needed.

And with that, we were off to HCMC in our quest to be allowed to come to America!!!

* My parents are co-sponsoring Huyen since my finances don't qualify under US rules. It's hard for me to be above the poverty line when foreign income under 80K isn't taxed and thus doesn't count towards sponsoring someone.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

School Closed for Coldness

Nobody ever believes me when I tell them that it is cold in Vietnam during the winter. These past few months have been downright freezing at times. You see, unlike in America, there is no heat, insulation or carpeting in the houses. This means that it is as cold inside as it is outside most of the time. I've literally been wearing up to five layers on many days to keep the chill out.

Now I know many of you readers in New York, New Jersey and the rest of the places that have been dumped with snow this winter will have no sympathy for me. However you should. Recently my friend's sister flew in from New England -- right after a huge snow storm -- and she was complaining that it was colder here than there! To use her words, "It's bone chilling cold in Hanoi."

Just how cold is it? Well, the Elementary schools here have been closing because the rooms are too freezing for the students. Remember how great snow days were? Here they get cold days!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pizza: A breakfast food

(PICTURE: I wish this was the pizza they were serving up.)

There's this little pizza shop near our house called Europa Pizza. The pizza looks absolutely retched. However, bad Vietnamese pizza is not weird. The weird thing about this shop is that it is ONLY open in the morning. Personally, I love having leftover pizza for breakfast. However, I would argue that it's generally best eaten in the afternoon or at night.

Back in the states, sometimes when I would see a weird business I used to automatically think it was either an FBI office or an illegal front for something. Here, I just shake my head, laugh a little, and chalk it up to Vietnam being Vietnam. I mean, this is the same country where half my students glow in the morning when their parents serve them spaghetti for breakfast!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


(PICTURE: A common site in Hanoi.)

If there is one thing I can say for sure, it's that a heck of a lot of rich people like golfing. This is as true in Asia as it is in America. Recently in Hanoi, I've seen a ton of golf bags. At first I started to only see golf bags around Korea Town making me think that only Koreans loved golf. However, over the last six months or so, every single affluent house I've been to has had a golf bag in the front hall of the house. I'm not sure if these people play golf or just consider the bag to be a decorative item or a household necessity like the family altar.

Back in April, I meant to write a blog about the golf courses that are springing up around northern Vietnam. There are so many golf courses now that there's a stretch of country road where the women -- who used to sell fruits and vegetables -- only sell golf balls. It's bizarre.

I'm no economist but I'm pretty sure that the increase in golf shops, courses and players is a tell tale sign that a country's economy is booming.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ear Picking

I've written in the past about the insane ear picking that goes on in the streets of Hanoi. Well, Huyen found this English video which explains the whole ear picking process. The only difference between this video and what I've written about is that this video is about ear picking in Saigon and it takes place in shops and not at a street-side barber's stand. You've got to watch it!


Friday, February 18, 2011

Fired Up At The Gym

One thing that I always find amusing about the gym is how blatantly guys check out girls. Hell, I'm as guilty as the next dude for diverting my eyes to a cute girl on a treadmill. You know, before marriage that is. It's just human nature that when there's a pretty girl, guys instinctively turn their heads. Don't get me wrong, I'm not supporting those who stare, drool or turn back every half second. I'm only saying that it's normal when a guy double takes at a beautiful woman.

At the gym I go to in Hanoi there is very rarely any girls, let alone attractive girls. To solve this problem, the guys who work out there usually put on Fashion TV and oggle at runway models as they lift weights. Recently though I had the remote control and turned on HBO. The movie "Fired Up" started to play and it seemed like a good mindless flick to pay attention to while on the elliptical. The movie is about two high school jocks who decide to go to cheerleading camp in order to meet/hook up with beautiful girls. Frankly, it's a genius teen comedy concept. Most of the movie takes place at the cheerleading camp which means most of the time there were gorgeous girls on the screen. Before I knew it, every guy in the gym started to gravitate towards the plasma TV; it was one of those rare moments in which I kicked myself for not having my camera on me. Picture a handful of Vietnamese guys, wearing work out gear, standing in a semi-circle, drooling at a plasma TV about a foot above their heads. These guys literally spent twenty minutes staring at the screen like it was the first time they had seen a girl in a mini skirt. I'm not sure why I found it so funny/blog worthy but there's just something about natural instincts that made these guys forget their workouts to stare at girls on a TV.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Belated Birthday Blog

(PICTURE: I swear I had nothing to do with the writing on this cake.)

I had promised on January 10th that I would eventually blog about Huyen's birthday. I'm so far behind on my blogs that I'm just getting around to this a month and two weeks later. Well, to celebrate Huyen's birthday I planned a small surprise party for her. I had called her friend Hang and asked her to call Huyen's friends and to have them meet us at our favorite goat hot pot place. The one problem with this place is that it's all outdoor seating so there isn't a good place for people to run out and surprise a birthday girl. Luckily Huyen didn't see her friends sitting outside when we first pulled up to the restaurant. Immediately I turned her around and pretended that I had something in my eye. Huyen was very concerned for my eye but equally confused why I was slowly pushing her backwards. When she eventually turned around she saw everyone and got a very big surprise. It was pretty awesome because she had NO CLUE that I had planned a party.

(PICTURE: Huyen's first surprise party.)

However, I decided that one surprise party wasn't enough. The next night, on her actual birthday, I planned another party with all of our Apex students. When Huyen arrived to our class (she always comes late to our TOEFL class because of work) we were all ready and waiting with cake and candles. Again, Huyen had no clue that a party was planned and got a second great surprise.

(PICTURE: Huyen's second surprise party.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No Market Allowed

(PICTURE: Our local market after most of the vendors have left.)

Part of my food tour for Rick was to take him to our local market. While walking through the market, Rick pointed at this sign and asked what it said:

(PICTURE: Notice the exclamation mark.)

Using my amazing Vietnamese I translated that it said, "Market" and pointed at the word "cho" and ignored the other words around it. Immediately Huyen starting laughing and explained that the sign actually read, "Market not allowed."

To me this is just a great symbol of Vietnam: Everyone knows the rules/laws yet blatantly ignores them. Here's this big sign that says no market yet every single morning and evening a market forms and is packed with all the locals from our neighborhood. Shoot, I'm sure gonna miss Vietnam!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rick and Pri: Parents Of The Year

(PICTURE: Rick at the temple of literature.)

My parents of the year award this year goes to my friend Rick and his wife Pri. Rick and Pri did something so awesomely non conformist that I've got to tip my hat to them -- they decided to move to Sri Lanka for six months so their two little kids could learn about the place where their mother and grandparents were born. To me, this is an experience that will be with their kids forever and go a long way for them to understand who they are. I really want to make sure that my future kids know Vietnamese and are proud of their Vietnamese background; doing what Rick and Pri are doing is definitely something that I hope Huyen and I could do too in the future. You can follow Pri's fantastic blog about their time in Sri Lanka here.

While the rest of his family is living in Sri Lanka, Rick is commuting back and forth to LA where he is producing a few television shows. On one of his trips back to LA recently, he stopped in Hanoi to say hello and to be given a Hanoi food tour. You see, like me, Rick is a total foodie. Even while living here, he has sent me emails about restaurants in both New York and LA. In fact, when he arrived he not only brought us some delicious Sri Lanka tea but he also gave us a gift certificate to one of his favorite restaurants in New York as a wedding present.

During Rick's visit we took him to almost all of our favorite spots. He was so thoroughly stuffed by the end that he barely ate any of his goat at my favorite goat hot pot restaurant! To me, Rick was the perfect type of visitor: someone who just wants to take in as much of the culture as possible while eating every step along the way.

On a side not, Rick got to experience how cold Hanoi could be. Before we went motorbiking around the city he borrowed my vest and one of Huyen's scarves. You can see them in the picture at the top of the blog. At some point during the day (I think exactly when I took that picture) it occurred to me that he looked just like Huyen in this photo:

(PICTURE: Huyen roller skating in my vest and her red scarf.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's been nearly two months since our wedding and I'm happy to report that we're still married!...which means I need to do something for Valentine's day.

While I think up something romantic, you all can check out our amazing video my friend Mark Morgan shot/directed/edited from our wedding. Mark is a genius with his camera and somehow managed to make a great wedding video while still having time to party and pluck chickens.

Okay, okay, I get it. Nobody actually likes to watch someone else's wedding video, right? Well, the beauty of this one is that it's just three minutes and a lot of fun. Heck, you didn't even need to go to the wedding to enjoy this! Thanks again, Mark!


Oh, and happy Valentines day to the best darn wife I've ever had! Love you, Huyen!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Learning New Things Everyday

One question you get asked after you get married is, "Is there anything new that you learned about your husband/wife since you got married?" Considering we had lived together for a year before getting married, there's nothing really new to report...except one thing.

I've recently learned that my wife doesn't know how to take pictures. I'm not sure how I've overlooked this fact over the last couple of years but it must be because I was always taking photos for the blog. During our honeymoon though, I asked Huyen to take a couple of photos. Check one out and see if you can see a problem:

(PICTURE: Me and Le, the bus driver.)

Maybe Huyen is just so sick and tired of me that she doesn't want to see my face anymore.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Welcome Back Mai!!!!

(PICTURE: Mai and me.)


A) One of my favorite people I've met over the last few years...
B) The Godmother of the Hanoi Ultimate Club...
C) Now a green card holder living in California..

...came back to Hanoi for Tet! It was Mai's first trip back to Vietnam after living in the United States for over a year. Seeing Mai was not only awesome but also a very eye opening experience for both Huyen and I. Mai married an American last year and has been living in working in California. Hearing about her first year experiences was definitely very exciting and informative but also nerve wracking. Mai is one of the toughest people I've met out here and she confessed to us that she cried nearly every day because of homesickness. Specifically Mai said she really missed her family, friends, the food and the culture in Hanoi.

Neither Huyen or I have any doubts that Huyen will suffer from homesickness too. It's not going to be an easy transition but, like Mai, Huyen is a tough girl. I think Huyen and I also have some advantages over Mai when it comes to our transition. For one, I have been living here a long time and understand Vietnamese culture. I think that will go a long way. Mai's husband, who is a great guy, never lived in Vietnam and might not fully understand the little intricacies of Vietnamese culture (I mean, I say I understand but there's still so much I'm oblivious to I'm sure). Secondly, Mai is living in a smaller city. Huyen and I plan on living in a big city as soon as we can get jobs. I think this will make life more exciting and help Huyen interact more with other Vietnamese people (Mai told us that she goes to the local nail salon to chat with girls there in Vietnamese). Thirdly, Huyen and I will have the goal to make sure Huyen visits Vietnam within the first year away. Our plan is for Huyen to come back to Hanoi next Tet so that she has a set time to return and something to look forward to. Finally, Huyen and I are going to give her parents a computer and set up Skype for them. Mai has talked on the phone with her family but I think seeing someone really makes a huge difference.

It was great seeing Mai and catching up. Huyen and I definitely plan on visiting her the next time we're in California!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are you pregnant yet?

Coming from America, you always expect the first people to pressure you into having kids to be your parents. However, in Vietnam, everyone pressures you into having kids ASAP. I swear to you that at the wedding, more than a couple of Vietnamese people asked me when we were going to have children. Since the wedding, a countless number of times people have asked Huyen, "Are you pregnant yet?" Even today, we saw one of my friends (who was married in October and is six months pregnant) who basically yelled at us to get knocked up.

This is definitely a case of cultural differences. In Vietnam -- as I've mentioned on here before but now that I'm married it is really hitting home -- people get pregnant right after (or right before) the wedding. People just don't seem to understand the "we're planning on getting pregnant in two years" excuse we keep telling everyone. We literally get looks as if we're Galileo trying to explain to people that the Earth is round. People have inevitably started to ask questions and wonder, "What's wrong?" now that we've been married for nearly two months and don't have a bun in the oven.

Yup, I sure can't wait to get back to American where we'll have at least a year or so before my parents start to ask us when their next grandkid is coming.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hello Jordan Major!

(PICTURE: Those cheeks are only gonna get chubbier with Tay and Andrew's cooking.)

Congratulations to my great friends Taylor and Andrew on the birth of their little girl Jordan Major!

(PICTURE: Mom and daughter.)

Jordan really couldn't be luckier to have been born into this family. Tay and Andrew are two of the greatest people on the planet and are gonna be fantastic parents. I've got to admit that I'm jealous of Jordan as she is gonna enjoy a lifetime of great meals as Tay and Andrew are perhaps the best cooks on the west side of Los Angeles.

(PICTURE: Dad and daughter.)

I've said it before but being away for moments like these is the hardest part of living abroad. I can't wait to meet Jordan in person this summer! I hope she'll be able to deal with six months worth of pent up hugs!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Talented Mr. Sokolowski

(PICTURE: Since Sebastian gave this kid a few tips, the kid has one six major photographic competitions in southeast Asia.)

A couple of weeks before our wedding, Sebastian sent me an email asking what he could give us as a wedding present. I told him that if he could just take some pictures and be our unofficial photographer that would be amazing. You see, when Sebastian was out here in 2009 he took a bunch of photos that are probably 90% of my top twenty favorite shots of my time in Hanoi. In fact, one of Sebastian's pictures has been my screensaver for two years now and Huyen's father has a picture on the wall of their house that Sebastian took. It's the only photo of anyone that hangs at their house. That's all to say that Sebastian has more photographic talent in his pointer finger (that's the one you use to push the camera button, right) then I have in my whole body.

As far as the picture he took, well, they're awesome. Overall during his travels, Sebastian took 6,000 photos. Out of those, probably half were of our wedding festivities and honeymoon. Recently Sebastian sent me a link to the photos and Huyen and I sat there marveling at nearly every shot*. Not only did we have a great friend come to our wedding, but we lucked out and had an amazing photographer come too!

* None of the pictures I've been posting are Sebastian's photos. He is sending me a DVD with all of the photos so I don't have copies of the shots yet.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saying Goodbye

(PICTURE: Giving JR a tour of Hanoi before he flew home.)

After the "honeymoon" we had to say our goodbyes to everyone. Some people departed the night we returned, others departed the next day and a few would go on to do their own travels throughout the country. It was sad to see everyone go but also a relief that for the first time in weeks -- let alone since we got married -- we would have some alone time.

(PICTURE: Hannah's last request before leaving was for a ride around Hanoi. She got the best damn xe om driver in town.)

I'm writing this over a month since the wedding and Huyen and I keep talking about how lucky we were to have so many people come out for the wedding. Our friends here also keep commenting to us how cool it was that so many people flew in for our special day. I'd like to just take a moment and say thanks to everyone who made it (in the order that they arrived in town).

(PICTURE: Most of the out-of-towners before the an hoi.)

Thank you Mark for being our official videographer. It was great having a second Asian adventure with you. I'm not sure if my wedding tops the World Championships of Team Table Tennis but it sure came close. I'll never forget you plucking those chickens!

Thank you Urszula for livening up the party. We'll never forget your dance moves with the local villagers. You're now a legend in Huyen's village!

Thank you Sebastian for coming out to visit us again. Your photos are unbelievable and are deserving of their own blog entry which will be up tomorrow. I'll never forget how you nearly fell off a cliff and were severely injured.

Thank you Pat and Herb for being so gung-ho to dive into Vietnamese culture. I'll never forget Herb polishing off a bunch of home made wine on his first night here and nobody will forget Pat's intrigue at everything and anything Vietnamese.

Thank you mom and dad for everything. I'm still in shock that you've now been out to visit me in Vietnam the same amount of times you visited me in LA...and I've been here for four years less! You guys embraced the whole week with open arms and a great attitude. I'll never forget my mom wearing her ao dai or my father recanting story after story in the back of the giant pink bus.

Thank you Paul and Heather. Heather, I'll never forget seeing you bond with all of the Vietnamese especially Hang and the tour guides. Paul, besides you falling asleep at the opera house and the water puppets, I'll never forget how you partied like a champ at the an hoi ceremony. Noah could never keep up with your drinking skills!

Thank you Mark and Anthony for without a doubt being the life of the party. You guys had everyone laughing for seven straight days. There's no doubt in my mind that the week wouldn't have been nearly as fun or memorable without you guys. But seriously, when we all meet back here for the 10 year anniversary party do not give my dad chocolate or ice cream! I'll never forget how you two were both on for like 168 straight hours.

Thank you Aunt Donna and Uncle Barry! Barry, I'll never forget playing pool with you or you leading the rendition of the Beatles "When I'm 64." Donna, having you be part of the marriage ceremony was awesome and I don't think there was a time all week that you weren't smiling. Having spent so much time with you both growing up, it was really special having you come across the world to be here for me.

Thank you Masumi and Kensuke! Masumi and Kensuke were the sole reason that I had such an amazing experience in Japan. Having them here really made the event feel complete as they have become a big part of my life since I left America. I was so happy that they were able to make it to Vietnam despite this being their busiest time of year with work. I'm also so happy that they got to meet my family after I had spent so much time with them and Masumi's family when I was in Japan. I'll never forget how we got to drink rice wine together here at the an hoi, like we used to do in their kitchen.

Thank you Hannah for risking your career to be able to make this trip. Too often I feel like mom and dad because I find myself bragging about you to people. I'll never forget how the ao dai we had made for you fit so perfectly...and then how you basically didn't take it off for 48 hours! I'll also never forget you breaking the table while ironing your dress...or how we shared a room/misery the night before my wedding...or how we ate some street food I'd never seen hours before I got married...or how you always seem to be cool and calm in every situation.

Thank you Ronny for, well, a lot. First, thanks for the beautiful family tree pictures you gave me when you arrived. Secondly, thanks for being so excited to every little thing we did along the way. I'll never forget going to the airport with you and hearing your kind words about your experience here. That really touched me.

Thank you Justin and Dana. Despite Justin losing his camera when he first got here, he didn't let that drag him down in the least. I always knew that I could count on Justin to help me out whenever I needed anything from helping my mom on the boat in Trung An or rounding people up for buses. And Dana, it's always awesome seeing you and Hannah get along so great. Besides that, I'll never forget your excitement for moving to Singapore. I'm at the end of my time here and seeing you glow about your move here really brought back a lot of good feelings. Good luck and enjoy every moment over there!

Thank you Lily, George, Claire and Simon. The Salter crew were constantly up for anything throughout the trip. I'll never forget how the Salter women made the Salter men carry all their things on the trek. Despite that, Claire and Simon finished the trek looking like they never even broke a sweat despite being the only people over 35. And Lily and George, your impersonations will forever be something all us Americans can laugh about. Lily, as always, thanks for being a good friend. Hopefully we'll see you in Paris soon!

Thank you JR for flying across the world just to arrive in time for the wedding. Being able to spend time with you here was awesome. We've come a long way since Day Hall -- London, Los Angels and now Vietnam. Good memories. I'll never forget your ridiculous disposable camera or how you attempted not to move while a bee explored your nasal cavity.

Thank you everyone for making this the best wedding Huyen and I could have ever imagined!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Le: Bus Driver #1

(PICTURE: Le, our driver.)

I'd like to take today and say a big thank you to Le, our bus driver. For one, he got us everywhere safe and sound. For anyone who has set foot in Vietnam, you'll know that 99% of bus drivers have a death wish. They usually speed up when they should slow down, drive in the wrong lane just because they're the bigger vehicle and they tend to swerve a lot just to see how many passengers can fall down. Le did none of these things.

Secondly, he was always willing to do little things for us that he wasn't contractually obligated to do. For example, he picked up and dropped off the over 35s who were staying at a hotel and not in the stilt houses.

Thirdly, he did some BIG things for us that he didn't have to do. Specifically, he was willing to drive the bus down some pretty small roads in order to pick us up the day after our trek. Nobody wanted to walk back 25KM so having to just walk 1KM was awesome.

Throughout the whole trip Le kept smiling and had a really good attitude. He kept telling Huyen how easy of a trip we were -- clearly because he couldn't speak English. Anyway, a big shout out and thank you to Le!

(PICTURE: Le and me on the way back from Mai Chau.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Silk Village

The final stop on the "honeymoon" was the silk village on the outskirts of Hanoi. My mom has been borderline obsessed with the silk village since we took her there in 2008. When my parents visited then, my mom basically bought all of her gifts for people during a two hour shopping spree in the village. We had told everyone that we would stop at the village on the way home so that people could buy last minute gifts for people back home.

(PICTURE: A woman working on a machine that makes silk patterns.)

The silk village is about thirty minutes from silk street in the Old Quarter. The shops are the same but the prices are vastly different. Basically tourists shop on silk street and locals shops in the village. I swear, there is at least a 50% difference in prices if not more. All that said, the day we went to the village had one small problem -- It literally smelled like shit! Yes, grammar/vocabulary fanatics, I'm using the word literally correct here because they were digging up a sewage pipe while we were there:

(PICTURE: That bicycle is about to ride into a stream of doo doo.)

Almost everyone ended up buying some gifts. However, the find of the day went to Sebastian who bought a pair of gold pyjamas which he would wear a couple days later to some sex-trade industry fundraiser in Thailand. For more on that, you can check out his blog.

(PICTURE: The carpet matches the drapes.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Bees Knees

(PICTURE: Bees.)

Here's a lesson in being careful what you wish for: As you might remember from a couple days ago, the morning before our trek we ate amazing crepes with fresh bananas and honey. The honey was from local bees and was ridiculously delicious. Before we set out for out trek, we were asked what we wanted to eat for breakfast the next days. Unanimously everyone wanted the crepes again with more fresh bananas and honey. Well, we got exactly what we wished for.

After hiking all day, we arrived at the homestay and discovered we weren't the only guests that night; besides us there were thousands of bees. Apparently that day a local beehive had fallen and for some reason all the bees were gravitating towards the stilt house we were staying in. None of us had ever been around as many bees as were swarming above us at the house. Sebastian in particular was scared of bees, but that fear was quickly passed on to all of us. Seriously, there were thousands of bees. Oddly they were attracted to the fluorescent light in the ceiling...which happened to be right above where we ate dinner.

(PICTURE: Huyen and I were the last ones to leave dinner. We're wearing out bee keepers outfits.)

In the end, only one person got stung -- Huyen. I guess the bees didn't like foreign cuisine. Overall, I gotta say how impressed I was with everyone who made the best of the situation. Despite the near threat of being stung to death, everyone kept up good spirits and joked a lot about the situation. In fact, it might just have been me, but the honey the next morning tasted extra sweet.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Where's Sebastian?

(PICTURE: The master at work.)

For the last few miles of the hike, we trekked along a well defined dirt road. There was only way to go on the road which resulted in our group being spread out. I would guess that those in the front were maybe five minutes ahead of the people in the back. At some point I suggested that we should stop and wait for everyone to catch up. Frankly, I wasn't trying to be a good leader but was just trying to give my feet a rest since I was hiking in old shoes and my dogs were barking*.

Slowly but surely everyone gathered on the road and took a breather. We did a quick head count and realized that one person was missing -- Sebastian. Nobody seemed to know where Sebastian was and the last report was that he had hung back to take some photos. Naturally, Sebastian's mom Urszula started to worry that her son was missing in the middle of nowhere. Everyone started to assure her that Sebastian would be fine and that he was probably just a couple of more minutes behind. Well, everyone except my cousin Justin who roughly said this with all sincerity: "I don't know. It's possible that he might have fallen off the cliff. I mean, I can see it happening if he was taking a picture and didn't see the edge." After a few people gave him looks, Justin tried to ease Urszula's fears by adding, "I'm not saying he died but he probably just fell really far and got hurt. I could see that happening to me." Most of us found this absolutely hilarious because Justin was really just verbally fleshing out all the possibilities. However, we suppressed our laughter because hearing Justin say this nearly sent Urszula into a panic attack.

Luckily before Urszula started screaming and sprint back down the road, Sebastian came strolling down the path. Yeah, he was just taking pictures.

* Anthony and Mark taught Huyen this idiom while were were hiking. At some point she came up to me and said, "My dogs barked!"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Trek

(PICTURE: The trekkers on top of the mountain.)

The final event planned for the "honeymoon" was for sixteen of us to trek to an ethnic village and do a homestay. While planning this portion of the trip, we were giving a variety of different descriptions of the hike by the people we asked in Mai Chau. About a week before the trek, we were told that the hike would be 30KM (18.6 miles) and would take eight hours -- one way.

The news of the length and time of the hike made quite a few of our guests a tad bit nervous since not everyone was exactly in half-marathon-plus-five-miles shape. Huyen and I could tell that a few people were actually starting to dread the hike so we figured out an alternative plan. The first day we would hike all the way to the homestay (which ended up being 25Kms/15.5 miles) and then the next day we would walk only 1KM (0.62 miles) and get picked up by the giant pink bus. When first hearing this option my reaction was, "So we're basically hiking to a place that is next to a road?". My worry was that we wouldn't be hiking in the middle of nowhere as I had promised everyone. It turned out that I had nothing to worry about because the hike was absolutely spectacular and took us through completely remote areas.

(PICTURE: A typical portion of the trek.)

Some of the memorable moments were:

1. My sister falling on her butt.

(PICTURE: Hannah's normal hiking position.)

2. Urszula scraping her ankle and thinking she had been poisoned. At some point her hands started to swell which was a sure sign that the rock she cut her ankle on had injected her with something lethal. Luckily we all soon realized that our hands were swollen and it was the altitude and perhaps salty lunch that had given us fat fingers.

3. Me learning my first lesson in marriage - a husband sometimes has to carry his wife's bag.

(PICTURE: Marriage.)

4. Our lunch picnic of sticky rice and bananas. After lunch we all washed our hands in this stream:

(PICTURE: Dana, Anthony, me and Hannah.)

5. JR nearly getting attacked by this angry water buffalo:

(PICTURE: Our guides walking stick saved JR from being lanced by this guy.)

6. Huyen showing off her acrobatics:

(PICTURE: My children will be able to dunk!!!!...on a short basket.)

7. JR using the last disposable camera on Earth.

(PICTURE: JR had this camera left over from when we studied abroad in London in 1999).

8. Hannah being told by an old man that, "you're very beautiful but you have too many spots."

9. Our guide clearly wanting to move at twice the pace that we wanted to.

10. Sebastian going missing...but that's a story for tomorrow.