Saturday, April 30, 2011

Flat Tire


(PICTURE: Getting our tire fixed.)

I woke up one morning and said to Huyen, "I had a dream last night that we had a flat tire." Huyen promptly told me to not to tell her that...which confused me because after a bad dream a few nights earlier, she told me that it's good when you have a bad dream since it means it won't come true.

Well, this dream came true. About an hour after leaving Mai Chau, our tire popped. We got really lucky because: a) We were on a straight road and not a curvy mountain road. b) We certainly weren't in the middle of nowhere but we towns were few and far between. However, we happen to have just driven through one so it was only a two minute walk to the shop. c) We were fine.

Prior to the tire popping we had been filling our tires every morning with air. We had even replaced the inner tire two days before at a Honda shop just to be on the safe side. Well, the new tire clearly wasn't as good as the old one since it lasted just 48 hours before popping. Every day since, we've filled up with air before taking off for the day.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I fought the law...and I won


(PICTURE: It's hard to speed when these guys are on the road.)

In twelve years of driving in America, I was only pulled over 1 time. In the first fourteen days of our motorbike trip, Huyen and I were pulled over 4 times. Yes, 4 times! Seriously, what's up with that?

The first time I was apparently speeding but the cop let me go when he saw I was a foreigner.

The second time, we came around a mountain bend and were pulled over by a cop who was checking everyone. As soon as he saw me he laughed and let me go. I think they were doing license/breathalyzer checks on the ethnic minority people since we were in the middle of nowhere.

The third time was without a doubt the funniest. Huyen and I drove by a bunch of cops on our way to a small city. About a minute later though the road sign said we were on the wrong road. So we turned around and I immediately said to Huyen, "I bet you the cops pull me over." Sure enough, they pulled me over for speeding again. The cop wrote on his hand 40/45 meaning I was going 45 in a 40KMP zone. He got on his radio, talked with some other cops (who I could see across the road), made some foreigner comments and then let me go.

The fourth time I was pulled over for another routine check in a middle of nowhere spot. Once again the cop let me go after I showed him my license.

Huyen and I have come to really enjoy these stops. The best part about them is that Huyen is sitting on the back of the bike with her helmet, sunglasses and mask on so the cops have no idea she is Vietnamese. If they did, I'm sure we wouldn't have gotten off without a fine each time. Seriously, no fines! I feel like a hot chick in America!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Would you like the room with hot water or the one with a used condom?


(PICTURE: A used condom and dirty underwear. This was the good room.)

On the map we're using, there's supposedly a way to tell if there's a place to stay in a town or not. If there's a broken underline under the town name, there's at least one nha nghi (guest house). If there's a solid line then there's supposedly many. For the most part this has been true but since the map is six years old, there's generally a few extra places along the way with places to stay.

Well, Huyen and I were taking a very very back road and came to the last town on a map for probably 200km with a guest house. The problem is that it was still sort of early (4:30PM) and we hadn't driven much that day since we did a lot of sightseeing. We decided to press our luck and keep driving, thinking there must be something along the way. Wellllll, naturally there wasn't for hours. By the time we found a place to stay, we were right near the Lao border and had been driving along a mountain pass in the dark for nearly an hour and a half. There were literally bats flying around us and thousands of insects hitting our shields because they were attracted to our headlight.

When we found the nha nghi, we couldn't have felt luckier. The place had two rooms. We were told that only one had hot water so we took that one. That room was next to a large pile of garbage. Inside the room, there were THOUSANDS of bugs. I don't know if it was because of the garbage or because of the rotting wooden door frame but there were termites everywhere! We did our best to kill all the bugs but it was an uphill battle. While I was taking my shower (which was not hot!) I killed two bugs which must have been stink bugs because all of a sudden there was a noxious smell in the room. Huyen started to feel sick and between the bugs on our sheet, we decided it was best to change rooms.

The other room had no obvious bugs except for a few mosquitoes. However, this was just about 48 hours removed from the centipede incident so I moved the bed away from the wall to see if there were any killer insects there. Sure enough there was something lethal looking on the wall. Huyen grabbed a broom from the garbage room and killed the bug (yes, Huyen, not me. God my wife is awesome!).

After that bug was killed, we noticed something else lethal under the bed: a used condom and dirty underwear. Yup, that was the good room!

The girls who ran the place (and perhaps had shared in the condom use as this could easily have been a brothel) were not happy when we changed rooms at 10PM. To make it up to them we ended up voluntarily paying them an extra $1, which they were very happy about. So yes, I paid EXTRA money for this experience.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eat Shit

Huyen and I were driving down a country road and came upon a bunch of stands selling cucumbers. I randomly pulled over at this one:


While Huyen was buying cucumbers, the woman under the umbrella came over to me and offered me a cut up cucumber. I said "Thank you" and the woman repeated, "Thank you." She then walked over to the woman with the white scarf and said in Vietnamese, "I just said thank you but I don't know what it means." The woman with the white scarf turned to her friend and said, "You said thank you? That means to eat shit!"

I thought that was pretty funny...but while typing this, I wonder if the first woman had thought I told her to eat shit because I didn't want her free cucumber (although in reality I did want it and ate it).

Everyone's knows I'm horrendous at Vietnamese. Well, it's nice to have a translator with me to be able to experience some of these little things I couldn't experience on my own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Reason To Wear Sandals

Right before we took off from our Mai Chau stilt house, I decided to use the bathroom one more time. While walking back from the toilet I saw this:


This centipede was very colorful and definitely caught my attention...thankfully. I called over to the son of the homeowner and he looked very concerned. He immediately got a bottle and smashed the insect. I called over Huyen, who was by the bike, and showed her what I found. Huyen told me that this insect is VERY POISONOUS and confirmed with the homeowner that if a person gets stung by it, they're most likely a goner.

Considering that the centipede was under where I had slept AND next to where I ate AND where I had walked back and forth from like twenty times, I'm just glad I wasn't barefoot!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bear Bile

I've written in the past about the horrendous process of extracting bile from bears. I've been told -- and written about before -- that people actually have bears in cages in Hanoi and extract the bile in the city. Supposedly a pint of the bile can cost thousands of dollars because people think it's the ultimately medicine for some ailments. Anyway, Huyen and I were driving up a mountain and there was only one restaurant open. While waiting for our food, we saw this sign on the wall advertising bear bile:



I'm hoping that since the sign was partially ripped, that they don't sell bear bile anymore. I didn't see any in the shop and didn't hear any growling bears so I'm gonna think on the positive sign and assume it was just decoration to go along with the mountain theme of the location.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Brithday To Me!


(PICTURE: Huyen and me in the mountains. Enlarge the picture and you'll see homes on the slopes of that mountain.)

It's my birthday today. I'm 32! Yikes!

I'm pre-writing this blog so I'm not exactly sure where I'm at at the moment. However, I'm pretty sure that I'm very happy being wherever I am. There's not many cooler things you can do on your birthday than to be on a motorbike trip in Vietnam with your amazing wife.

32 is definitely going to be an interesting age for me. There's lots of big things in store between moving to America, finding a new job, deciding on a place to live and doing my darnedest to make sure Huyen is as happy as possible every single day. I know it's not going to be an easy age, but I think it'll be one I can always look back on as a crossroads in my life.

Have a birthday beer for me tonight!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nail Clippers Anyone?

Huyen and I were having some bike trouble the other day and stopped at a shop to get our brake tightened. The shop owner had slightly long fingernails and I asked if I could take a picture with him. Can you guess which hand is mine:



For the record, he has been growing his nails for 5-6 months.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fog

As anyone who came on my honeymoon can attest, sometimes there's a lot of fog in Vietnam. During the honeymoon, our bus went up a narrow mountain road with a visibility of about twenty feet. Well, Huyen and I had a solid four days with significant driving in fog. It made for some tense hours especially when we thought about:
a) How high up we were
b) The occasional guard rail that was broken and had clearly been broken by a vehicle that went off the edge
c) The people who were used to the fog and were flying along the mountain as if it was no big deal.

Mom, don't worry, I drove with my headlight on and honked my horn roughly every five seconds. I've got some great video to show the fog but the internet connection isn't great here so I can only load a picture (I finally borrowed a wire and can upload some pictures!).

So, movie buffs, what film does this picture remind you of:


One hint: Tell them Large Marge sent you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mai Chau



(PICTURE: Huyen and me in Mai Chau on our first honeymoon.)

As I'm typing this, I'm lying on the floor of a stilt house in Mai Chau. Huyen and I just finished our eleventh day of this trip and couldn't be happier to be here.

We went for a walk this afternoon through the rice fields and were reminiscing about the amazing time we had four months ago with all of our visiting wedding guests. I've got to say that I feel a little emotional here as I've had many memorable experiences in these stilt houses. I first came here on a motorcycle trip with my cousin Justin about two and a half years ago. Next I came here with my good friends Long and Nicky -- both now departed from Hanoi -- during our Tet Trip when we got detained close to the Lao border. Then almost exactly a year ago I came here with Huyen for my birthday. Right before coming here I had bought our engagement ring and then proposed the following week. Then the last time I came here was with twenty four friends and family who came out for our wedding. When we arrived here we had been married for less than 48 hours. And now, we're here because we're saying goodbye to Vietnam in this very special way.

Mai Chau will always have a special place in my heart.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recovering a body



After visiting the cemetery and Dien Bien Phu Museum, Huyen and I went to A1 Hill where the French put up their last stand against the Vietnamese. While looking at the bunkers and the giant crater set off off by three Vietnamese martyrs, a procession started to pass in front of us. Huyen cried out, "They found a body." I actually thought they were having a picnic since they were carrying food and a giant jug of water. Well, I was wrong.

Immediately Huyen took off and joined the group and started to ask a man some questions. Trailing the group was an old woman who was carrying two bags. After Huyen talked to the man she learned that the family had just unearthed their relative after fifty nine years! As she started to tell me this, I saw the old woman struggling with her bags and asked if she wanted helped. Huyen and I took the bags of this woman who turned out to be the daughter of the unearthed soldier.

The story we were told is that the woman's father was killed at A1 hill in 1952. Only one member of his squad survived and he had told the family to go to the hill and they could find his body. First though, the family consulted a psychic (very common practice here) who communicated with the dead and told the family to find two trees and to walk seven meters forward from them and dig. They followed the psychic's orders and it turns out there were bones and teeth right there, under the ground.

The cynic in me says that you can probably dig up almost anywhere near this hill and find a body. However, on this day I truly wanted to believe that this was their family member especially after Huyen's emotional moment earlier in the morning. I think seeing this family find their loved one has given us more hope that one day we can find Huyen's uncle's body.


(PICTURE: The crater set off by three Vietnamese soldiers carrying a bomb into a French bunker.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dien Bien Phu Cemetery


(PICTURE: Nameless headstones.)

Huyen and I went to the Dien Bien Phu cemetery where thousands of Vietnamese soldiers are buried. About 95% of the headstones do not have names on them because they are not sure who is buried in each tomb. I took some pictures -- but yes, my camera wire is still not working -- of some headstones where family members had carved into the back the name of the person who was buried underneath. We asked a worker at the cemetery about this and they said that even the tombs with names might not be correct as this is where psychics told family members that their loved one was buried.

When we left the cemetery, Huyen began to sob. I've never seen her cry so strongly and it really affected me. Between her tears she said that she hates that her uncle's body has till not been found and buried in his home land. For those of you who are new readers, Huyen's uncle was killed by the Americans somewhere in Cambodia. We've contacted some agencies in Vietnam about helping to recover his body but so far its been fruitless. This is definitely something we need to try harder at because it means so much to Huyen and her family.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nha Nghi



Every night, Huyen and I have been staying in Nha Nghi's which translates into "rest house" but everyone refers to as "guest houses". In Hanoi -- as I've blogged before -- these are placed people go to have sex. However, in small towns they are basically the only hotel options. On average, a nha nghi costs about $7.50 a night to stay and has a fan and hot water. The sheets can be a little bit sketchy so Huyen and I have brought our own sheet to use every night.

Some of the highlights from our first week of nha nghis are:
1. The first place had someone's NAIL CLIPPINGS on the bed! Yeah, gross.
2. The second place had about twenty varieties of spiders in the bathroom. One spider was just like this one.
3. Someone was burning garbage next door and the fumes were blown almost directly into our room.
4. The power was cut off in the morning and we had no windows with natural light. I'm pretty sure we didn't leave anything in the room.
5. The bathroom door at one was about 4.5 feet high...and yes, I slammed my head into it.
6. A crazy person literally came into the nha nghi (he was friends with the owner and that's how they described him when they said, "Don't worry about him, he's crazy.") and kept using the toilet next to our room. He hacked up about twenty lugies and would often stop in front of our door and assumingly listen in. We could see him because the door was frosted glass.
7. For three nights in a row we had dead mosquitoes and dead spiders on our sheets when we came into the room at three different places!

And that's after one week! More fun stories to come!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Asking Directions


Let me say this: I have no shame in asking directions. In fact, perhaps I ask for directions too often on this trip. Huyen and I are using an extremely detailed Vietnamese book of maps this is put out every 10 years. The version we have is already seven years old though which means there are a lot of new roads that aren't on the map.

One of the things I wrote about at the beginning of this blog is how people in China would point you in a direction even if they were clueless as to where you wanted to go. It's all about saving face there. In Vietnam, they don't seem to care about not having a clue where you want to go. Whenever we ask for directions we usually get one of these responses:
1. Why do you want to go there?
2. I don't know how to get there.
3. Oh, you shouldn't take a back road. Stick to the big road and go that way.
4. Where are you from and what do you do? (seriously, they just start asking us questions)

My favorite response though came about a week ago when we were on some very back roads near the border with China. We stopped in the middle of nowhere and asked an old man who was sitting under a shack with his grandchildren near a fork in the road. Turning left at the fork looked pretty perilous and turning right looked like a nice smooth road. Here's how the conversation went:
HUYEN: Excuse me, which way should we turn to see Ho Chi Minh's cave?
OLD MAN: Why are you going this way?
HUYEN: We wanted to take a back road.
OLD MAN: This is very out of the way.
HUYEN: Okay, which way should we turn.
OLD MAN: Go left, right goes to the shit.
HUYEN: What is the shit.
OLD MAN: China.

We turned left.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nguom Ngao Cave

Around the corner from Ban Gioc Waterfall is Nguom Ngao Cave, one of the biggest caves in Vietnam.

Huyen and I ventured into the cave which used to serve as a hiding place for Vietnamese soldiers when they had a border war with China in the 1970s. The cave was pretty spectacular and unlike other Vietnamese caves (cough cough Halong Bay) isn't cheesily lit up with Christmas lights. There were lots of cool things in the cave but this video shows the upside down lotus flower:

video

I've got some cool photos from in the cave but alas, my camera wire still isn't working!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ban Gioc Watefall

Our first destination was Ban Gioc waterfall in the northeast of Vietnam. Ban Gioc is on the border with China and is the 4th largest border waterfall in the world (yeah, I didn't know that statistic existed either). The waterfall was spectacular and extremely cool because you could take a bamboo raft right out to the falls. What was even cooler though was edging right up to the Chinese border and waving at Chinese tourists. We were literally about two feet from four Chinese twenty somethings at one point. I don't know why I find this so bizarre but I do. This waterfall divides Vietnamese people and Chinese people. On our side of the waterfall people were speaking Vietnamese and just a stone's throw away people were speaking Chinese. It was like the bizarre Niagra Falls except between two countries that speak different languages.

I had read in Lonely Planet that you need a permit to see the waterfalls but that you could attain it at the waterfall office. Well, that wasn't true. When we got there, an army officer told us that you need to get a permit in Cao Bang city which was a few hours away. Huyen, quick on her toes, told the guy that she was my tour guide and that we hadn't passed through Cao Bang (the second part was true). She said that we drove a long way and would really appreciate it if we could go to the falls. Permission was granted (shockingly without a bribe!) and we headed down to the falls. We hired our own private bamboo raft for $5 and got an up close and personal look at the falls:

video

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Our first (and hopefully last) fall

After I drove all day in the mud the day before, Huyen said she would drive first the next morning. That lasted for about a minute and a half:

video

In Huyen's defense, she's a great driver. In fact, she drove some the first day without a problem. However, our bike is quite tail-heavy with both me and our bag on the back. Combine that with the mud and it resulted in some serious fishtailing.

Luckily we were going about 2MPH when we crashed. Also we fell in mud which made for a soft landing. And luckiest of all, we fell on the right side of the bike which meant nobody got burned by the tail pipe.

So, mom, we got our crash out of the way and have a story to tell without anyone getting hurt. What more could we ask for?!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mud

One of our Vietnamese friends told us that we had timed our trip perfectly since it would no longer be the rainy season. Yeah, not true. It rained at least for a few minutes every single day during the first week.

In fact, in the northeast of Vietnam, it was very rainy and thus very muddy. When we stuck to the main roads, we didn't have any problems. However, whenever we took a back road it got a little bit perilous:

video

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ethnic Minority Sausage


(PICTURE: I have pictures of the real sausage which I'll replace with this when my camera wire decides to start working during uploads.)

The immature side of me always laughs at an item on the menu at one of my favorite restaurants in Hanoi -- Ethnic Minority Sausage. Every time I bring a visiting guess to this restaurant, they always ask about the ethnic minority sausage with a giggle. We then try and order it but are told that they don't have any ethnic minority sausage in the kitchen.

Well, on the first night of our trip, we walked into a restaurant and there in the back was hanging sausage. Huyen ordered us some and the owners -- yes, ethnic minorities -- friend it up for us. It was delicious, albeit a little bit fatty. The next day we stopped in another small town and there were two ethnic minorities carry a stick with dozens of hanging sausage. You guessed it, we got a bunch more.

So, I'm happy to report that Ethnic Minority sausage does exist and better yet, it's delicious.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Leaving Hanoi

After giving our extra stuff to Su, Huyen and I left Hanoi. This is us crossing the Red River:

video

Our first destination was Cao Bang Province. Cao Bang is quite far from Hanoi so we thought we would take two days to get there. Originally we had planned to stop in Babe Lake the first night. However, at the last minute we decided to try going a different way since we went to Babe two years ago. At the intersection where we had planned to turn left, we took a right. Less than a minute later we took another right...to the curb because a policeman pulled us over.

In Vietnam, you get pulled over by a cop stepping into the road and shoving his baton in your face. They literally step into on coming traffic and steer you to the side like you're a charging bull. I think the guy pulled me over because I was speeding (although, Mom, I really wasn't going fast at all!). Huyen thinks they stopped us because they had cameras on the road and saw our out of town license plates. We're not sure exactly why they pulled us over because as soon as the cop saw my face he told me to keep going. I think the cop -- who must have been 25 or younger -- had no idea what to do with a foreigner. No complaints here because it means our bribing budget didn't have to get tapped on Day #1!

Another of my favorite things that happened on Day #1 is that when we stopped for gas, Huyen overheard a conversation between two guys that went like this:
Guy #1: Look it's a foreigner.
Guy #2: I guess Vietnamese girls like foreigners.
Guy #1: Only Vietnamese girls with big shoulders.

Yes, Huyen, has big shoulders...at least while she's wearing the protective motorcycle jacket we bought her (they didn't have my size!). So now I keep making fun of Huyen's shoulders being freakishly large.

At the end of the day, Huyen and I took a road with HUGE TRUCKS. We're trying to avoid this by going on all back roads. However, for some reason all these trucks were on this back dirt road. I'm talking massive 18 wheelers. Luckily they were only going about a mile an hour since they had to maneuver around giant pot holes (probably created by other trucks). It was a bizarre route for the trucks to go but technically it was highway...just this section was in the middle of a forest.

In total, we logged 285km on our first day. That is a heck of a lot on a motorbike and probably the most we'll log in a single day on the whole trip.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Long Wave Goodbye

First off, a very special thanks to my cousins Adam, Justin and Dana. A couple of months ago they sent Huyen and me a Flip video camera as a wedding present. In all of our moving and finishing up work over the last month, we haven't had a chance to play around with it. However, we're about to have lots of time and reasons to use it.

Huyen and I have decided to do a big motorbike trip as a farewell to Vietnam. We had talked about this for a long time and debated on it up until we took off. In fact, we SOLD our Honda Win when getting rid of all our stuff. Those unfamiliar with motorbikes and motorcycles, the Win is a MUCH more comfortable bike for long trips than the Wave that we own and are now taking. There's many many many advantages to the Win over the Wave. However, the Wave does have two advantages:
1. It can be repaired in any town in Vietnam
2. It allows me to call this trip, "The Long Wave Goodbye."

We have a rough schedule of what we want to do but it's really all up in the air. We've got our plane tickets to leave Hanoi and to arrive in America but before all that we're taking it day by day.

Before we left on our trip, we had to get rid of all our stuff. We sent a ton home to Huyen's house and gave a lot to her sister. We thought we had everything we needed for a bike trip but it turned out to be way too much. This meant we had to drop some stuff off at Su's apartment before we left. Some things we left behind were our mosquito net (so far every hotel has had one), some clothing, my camera bag (the camera is wrapped in socks now) and other odds and ends:
video

You might notice that disgusting facial hair I'm sporting at the end of the video. I've decided to try and grow a beard over the next few months since, well, why not. I'm married and jobless so I don't need to look good for anyone!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Property Tax



The other day I was talking to Huyen's sister Huong about taxes in America. She had asked me how much a home was and I told her an average home in a nice town might cost between $300,000-$500,000. This didn't blow her mind since property in Hanoi is on par with this. However, when I told her how much tax could cost every year, she nearly fainted. I said that someone might have to pay 1.5% on their house every year which could mean $4,500 on a $300,000 home*. Huong told me that she pays 17,000 VND in property tax every year. Let me do the conversion for you: That's $0.82.

* For the record, I don't own a home so I could really have no idea what I'm talking about.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Earthquake



You might have read recently about the earthquake in Myanmar. It was a pretty big earthquake which only got a little bit of international coverage (being of course because of the horrible Japan earthquake/tsunami, the turmoil in Libya, and the fact that Myanmar ain't exactly press friendly).

The night of that earthquake, Hanoi actually shook too. It was the talk of the town for a few days because a lot of people had to evacuate tall buildings. Huyen and I were having dinner at the time of the quake and didn't feel a thing or just had assumed the rumble was from our stomachs and not from tectonic plates. Lots of people have been telling funny stories about how unprepared Hanoians were for any sort of quake, albeit a small one. Supposedly a bunch of people ran outside in their underwear and took nothing with them. Then after the quake was done, they refused to go back into their homes. I can't blame people for being scared but the thought of dudes in their undies on the busy street makes me laugh.

That said, earthquakes are no laughing matter. I've been told that the new modern buildings here are supposed to withstand a quake up to 8.0. However, I've seen some of these buildings being built and I'm a tad bit skeptical about that.

This year has had way too many earthquakes all around the globe. Lets hope that the Earth chills for a few hundred years starting now!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Street Meat


I consider myself an adventurous eater. However, there's even some things out here I won't try. Specifically there's one busy street here that is always lined with women selling hot dogs on a stick. I don't like hot dogs to begin with but I especially don't like them when they are curbside on a very busy, polluted street. I'd say at any point in time, there's at least one dirty muffler a foot from one of these hot dogs.

One night a few weeks ago I came home and said to Huyen, "I can't believe anybody would ever eat a hot dog from Duong Lang street." Huyen said, "I used to eat those all the time when I was a college student." To this I replied, "Are you serious? That's the dirtiest food I've ever seen." To which Huyen replied, "That makes it more delicious." Is this really who I'm married to?!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Box


Last week, Huyen and I shipped a box to America. The box weighed 14.6kg/32lbs and was filled with some clothes, shoes and three stuff animals. Instead of buying plane tickets for our three stuffed animals we decided to let them enjoy a long trip back at sea. Yes, at sea. We had the option to fly our box or to put it on a boat. As you can imagine, the price to fly a 32lb box is significantly higher than to ship it on a ship (I'm assuming the term "ship it" must have originated because everything used to be on ships). To sum up the Vietnamese postal system, I can tell you two things that we were told after paying our $70.

#1: No, there is no tracking number.

#2: The box will arrive in one month at the earliest...and six months at the latest.

So, Mom, can you please wait for the postal worker starting in May and just hang out until he shows up in November?

Oh, you might be asking yourself why we're sending our stuffed animals. It's because whenever we skype with my niece Lilah, she always asks to see the monkey. The monkey being one of the stuffed animals. At some point we also started to show her a stuffed animal doggie who she also took a liking too. The third animal I bought for Huyen in Laos and how the heck could we leave him behind when his other two friends are cruising to New Jersey?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Speaking Vietnamese



Without a doubt, my biggest regret during my time out here is that I haven't even come close to being able to speak Vietnamese. I've tried to learn but clearly haven't tried hard enough. However, not being able to speak Vietnamese makes for some funny stories. Or I should say, having a limited Vietnamese vocabulary makes for some funny stories.

Case in point: For a couple of weeks I would go to this cafe near my house to write. The owner there is very friendly and would always smile at me whenever I came in. However, I haven't been back to the cafe recently because I've just been too busy. The other night, Huyen and I were walking back from dinner and passed the cafe. The owner was outside and smiled at me and gave me a look as if to say, "Where have you been?". In response, I said "Nhieu day." I sad this because nhieu means "a lot" and day means "teaching." I was trying to say that I've been teaching a lot. However, I inverted the words and pronounced "day" as "dai" with an up tone. This resulted in Huyen cracking up. I asked her what I said and she replied, "A lot of testicles."

Well, at least the owner now thinks I've got more than two balls. I guess that's as good of a reason as any for not drinking more coffee.

Monday, April 4, 2011

There's a new warden in town...


(PICTURE: Google "female warden" and this is the first picture that comes up.)

You might recall how the embassy asked me to be a warden two days after starting the immigration process. My responsibilities were to call all the people in my district during emergency drills and in case there was a real emergency. Well, a few weeks ago I sent the embassy an email saying that I would be leaving Vietnam and unfortunately had to resign my volunteer position. The embassy sent me a nice email thanking me for my service and telling me to destroy the documents I had.

Well, yesterday Huyen calls me during the day and says: "Guess who just called me?" Clearly I had no idea but guessed someone from America. She told me that I was close. The embassy had called her and asked her to be an embassy warden for our district! This was absolutely hilarious to both of us considering Huyen hasn't even stepped foot in America yet. Huyen proudly announced though that she had just gotten her first US job offer! Of course though she had to turn it down since we're both about to go to America.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Just when you think you've seen it all...


(PICTURE: Take away the towing apparatus, add another bike and a shoe string and that's more or less what I saw.)

After three years of driving Vietnam streets, I was certain I had seen it all. However, in just one day I was shocked to see three things I had never seen before. In the morning, I was headed to work when I pulled up next to a motorbike being towed by another motorbike. This might not seem so strange except for the fact that the bike was being towed by what I think was a few shoe strings tied together. Perhaps even odder, the man on the front bike was probably about 80-years-old. The man on the back, who was holding the string, was probably about twenty.

A few hours later, I was driving down a main road when I saw a guy on a bicycle riding with no hands on his bike. Where were his hands? They were on two other bikes, one one each side of him, which he was transporting somewhere. That's right: One guy riding three bikes at the same time.

(PICTURE: The guy I saw had six wheels on the ground.)

Then only about thirty seconds later, I pulled up to a guy who was driving a motorbike while surfing the note or watching a video on his Samsung Galaxy. That tops texting and driving which 90% of everyone else does all the time here.


(PICTURE: This was what the guy was doing except he was driving a motorbike at the same time.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rage


(PICTURE: I think I drank this at the cafe this morning.)

For the first time in I honestly can't remember how long, I nearly blew my top today. Seriously, I felt like I was going insane/having a panic attack/about to rip someone's head off. I literally started shaking a garage door (mine) in anger. Let me try and explain:

The other day I wanted to exit my house but was surprised to find the front garage door was locked and the security guard gone. My first thought was that this was annoying because I was trapped inside. My second thought was - I'M TRAPPED INSIDE!!! THIS IS A SCARY FIRE HAZARD!!! I complained to Huyen (I hate having to do this as much as I hate the fact that I suck at Vietnamese) and she complained to the building. I kid you not, the building manager said that if there was a fire we should hide in the cabinets in the lobby. The wooden cabinets.

When we found this temporary apartment we were told that someone would be at the front desk 24/7. Clearly that wasn't the case that night. Well, it's quickly become obvious that that's not the case all the time. Last night when I came home from work the door was closed and locked again. I called the front desk and nobody was there. About ten minutes later the door person came walking down the street and opened the door. Then this morning I wanted to leave the house at 6:30AM to go to the gym. Again, nobody was at the front desk and I had to wait ten minutes for the door to be opened. Not only is this a fire hazard and annoying but ninety percent of Vietnam is up at 6:30AM, just not the guy who is paid to be up and guarding/opening the front door. However, the final straw that broke my back came today. You see, I had a Skype call with someone in America and because the internet in our building doesn't work (also annoying) I had to go to a nearby cafe. When the call ended, I went home and had to wait 40 MINUTES for someone to open the front door. I called Huyen about five times because the person whose number I have doesn't speak English and kept saying "five minutes" in response to my "open the fucking door!". When the girl finally came, I angrily said, "You can't leave the front desk. It's your job to be here and now you've made me forty minutes late to where I have to go!". Of course she couldn't understand a word and couldn't look sorrier which made me feel like shit for being angry at her. Then, as if I I couldn't feel worse, Huyen called me and said that the girl unexpectedly had her period and had to run home to change clothes (seriously, does that really even happen outside of Stephen King books?). So yeah, now I felt even worse for making a girl feel bad when she's already feeling horrible.

Maybe you think I over reacted. Hell, I think I sort of over reacted...you know, except for the part about being locked out of my own apartment three times in nearly twelve hours. That said, I rarely get angry and I never rage. That's not my personality. I think in the end I was more upset at myself for getting upset than actually being upset...if that makes sense.

I did some soul searching over a caramel frappuccino (Highland coffee, not Starbucks which we don't have in Hanoi) and came to this conclusion: I'm feeling a lot of anxiety about leaving Vietnam. Last night Huyen and I bought our ONE WAY tickets out of Hanoi which I'm sure played a part in triggering this incident. Yes, I'm excited about going home. But at the same time, I've had an amazing run here and there's a lot of question marks in my near future. I have no doubt that Huyen and I will be happy in America but, well, it's just hard to leave Vietnam.

Okay, writing this entry has made me feel better. I knew this blog was good for something...

NOTE: I'm happy to report that this entry was written three weeks ago and I've had no signs of any rage since. That might have to do with there always being a person at the front desk now and the fact that management gave me a 3G plug in for my computer since the internet sucks here and they had specifically told me that it was good when we were thinking of moving in.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How awesome is Justin Bieber!!!!


(PICTURE: THE MAN!!!!)

How freaking awesome is Justin Bieber? Seriously, could this kid be any cooler? He's got it all!!!

Okay, yes, April Fools.

I've been meaning to write this blog for a little while so bear with me on this rant. There is no doubt that Justin Bieber is a talented kid. But here's the thing, he's a KID! I find it a littler perverse how obsessed people are with him. If you're a teenager, yeah, go crazy. Put up his posters and listen to his music. But if you're over eighteen, leave the Bieber-mania to your juniors.

My feelings came to a peak on this the other day when I was working out at the gym and the front desk decided to put on Bieber's album. I'm sorry but I don't want to work out to a teenage boy singing. And frankly, I'd be a little bit concerned about any adult who gets pumped up listening to Bieber.

Okay, that's the end of my rant. It wasn't too bad at all actually. Just do me a favor and turn off the Bieber. Heck if you want to listen to a real child prodigy, put on some Beethoven.