Saturday, June 30, 2007

Vietnam Goodbye

I am in the Bangkok airport about to board a flight to Koh Samui, and am grateful that so far the airlines have failed to enforce the baggage allowance restrictions. I ended up buying way too many things in Hoi An, and truthfully, someone like me with little to no fashion sense should not be allowed to run free in a town with inexpensive tailors. I think of the seven items of clothing I got, one is a winner, one may be passable, and two more may not be total disasters. Laura and I are discussing having a party where we can wear our Hoi An mistakes.

The town of Hoi An was lovely, and sort of a side effect of getting so engaged in local commerce is we really got to interact with locals a lot. I even made a best friend during a wait for a merchant, though I'm not really sure what she was talking about most of the time. She did tell me that my moles meant I was lucky in Vietnamese culture, and by that measure I would guess that I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. Beyond the tailors, Hoi An has beautiful architecture (the whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site) and amazing food. Our best meal was at Chez Amis last night. There's no menu, and when you ask to see it you are instead shown the guest book and pointed to comments of your countrymen (we saw US comments, the next table saw South African ones) saying how good the place is. You choose beef, seafood, or vegetarian, and Mr. Kim then serves you a multi course meal which is delicious. I also saw him again this morning during my very early morning ramble through Hoi An (insomnia) and he was as enthused to see me as he was when I was a customer. I think that sums up the town quite well.

I am sad to have left the land of dong for the land of baht, but some beach time will be good. I need to ship some stuff back because this is getting ridiculous, and I am fairly certain the shipping costs will render any cost savings moot. But when else will I ever buy a royal blue wool overcoat?

Oh, and PS to anonymous, picasa also was unhappy with working on the computer I was on. I tried that first actually. Any other tips?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Frustrated in Hoi An

I am in adorable little Hoi An, a town of charm and endless custom-tailors. I ordered stuff, and met up with Denise and her college roommate. We had a fun dinner and drinks, and are excited to have some fresh blood to travel with for the next week. It's my last full day in Vietnam, and I can't believe how quickly it's flying by.

I finally got all my photos burned onto a disk, so can get them on the computer. However, blogger seems reluctant to post them. As in crashed ten times. But they're supercute!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Halong Bay

Some people will remember their two day cruise on Halong Bay for the unbelievable scenery.

Some will remember the beauty of giant rock formations shooting up endlessly from a perfectly smooth bay.

Some will remember the amazing seafood meals, one after the other, fresher than any fish they've ever had.

Some will remember jumping off the boat into the warm-enough-not-to-be-jarring but cool-enough-to-be-refreshing water for a relaxing swim.

Some will remember the sunset and following distant electrical storm, too far to harm us but close enough to put on an amazing light show.

Some will remember side trips into little caves which turn into bigger caves which have stalactites the size of Buicks.

But I will remember Halong Bay as the place where another tourist remarked that I looked just like Angelina Jolie.

Stop it now, I can hear your laughter from Vietnam.

Just ran into more Wharton people at the ice cream parlor. It was our second trip there of the day, so I guess statistically we were bound to run into someone we knew. We are back in Hanoi, where in five short hours we've had massages, gone to the warter puppet theater (really cool), eaten at my favorite $2 bun place AGAIN (they won't give you a second beer, your money's no good there), bought a set of dishes for no money so when they're too heavy I can chuck them, and had ice cream twice.

We leave for Hoi An (via danang) in the morning.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sapa Town

We are in our last day up in the mountains, enjoying the mild weather and small town pace. Yesterday, we took the three hour drive (each way) to the Bac Ha market, which takes place every Sunday in an even smaller town than this one. Though the town is tiny, the market is at least five times the size of the one in Sapa. The tribal dress there is even more bright and beautiful than what the Hmong here where, which is why the main group over there are known as the "Flower Hmong". There was a section of the market selling Hmong knick knacks geared more towards the tourists, and we each picked up a few things, which was worth it for the haggling experience. We would examine an item for a while as the woman selling to us said, 'Beautiful' over and over again until we asked how much. We would be quoted a price, at which we would balk visibly, almost setting the item down. We would then counter at 50% of the opening price, and the woman with whom we were haggling would laugh. Every time. This amused me to no end. We'd meet somewhere in the middle, and I picked up two items for which I have no need, one of which I'm giving to my dad (lucky you!). Also, if any of my readers want an embroidered purse with bright colors, I have one more day here so let me know.

After the market, we went and toured the closest Flower Hmong village, and got to go into one of the houses.

The three hour drive back (one hour on a winding mountain road with no shocks, and only one lane) was beautiful, but by the time we got back here we were exhausted. We treated ourselves to dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town, and then passed out watching Speed dubbed in Thai. It was fun, we could hear the characters in English, and then a Thai woman would come in and yell out the occasional line in Thai. We learned to tune her out, as if we were watching a movie with a loud and rude neighbor.

Today, we are taking it easy in Sapa until our night train. It's nice to be in a cooler climate, and our day consists of walking from cafe to cafe and drinking coffee, banana shakes, and beers. It's a rough life up here. Good thing the view from every place we go is the most stunning thing we've ever seen. I should mention that this internet cafe is filled with little Hmong girls who are emailing on one computer (they seem to have a pen pal) and surrounding me as well, commenting on the speed at which I type. One is so close, she's practically leaning on my arm. It's pretty amusing.

Tomorrow we get picked up at Hanoi station and taken to Halong Bay for an overnight cruise, which we have been led to believe will be the highlight of the whole trip. So I probably won't blog for a whole two days-- try to contain yourselves!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sapa Day 1

we took the night train from hanoi and are in a hilltop village called Sapa in the northern highlands of Vietnam. This is where many of the tribal minorities of Vietnam live, the largest group of which is the Hmong. They are walking around this town in traditional dress and quite aggressively selling things. They are beautiful people and very tiny, but it is getting a bit tiresome to always say you're not interested in buying a bag, a pillowcase, and a bracelet. The views here are amazing, since we are surrounded by lush mountains with rice paddies and trees everywhere. It's also cooler, which is a nice break. We have plans to go visit the most famous tribal market and some of the smaller towns tomorrow, and may take a jeep out to a waterfall this afternoon. There is no shortage of people wanting to drive us places on their motorbikes, which I'm sure would thrill Marji to no end.

Short Post from Hanoi

I am about to take the night train from Hanoi to Sapa. Today, we ran into the girls we'll be traveling with in about a week (Asia is apparently this big), and had lunch with a guy I know through some college friends (Clint, for my Foreman readers-- side note, has the list discussed his spanking new accent yet? Because it's sort of hilarious). We also got really adventurous on our eating, as in we were the only white faces for the most part. This meant the food got much better and the prices got much lower. That was officially the best part. Walking around this city is still a huge challenge, so I am excited for some countryside where we can hopefully get the good food and friendly people sans constant life-risking via being pedestrians.

Also, I eat ice cream every day.

Also, you get yelled at by people in uniform a lot more in communist countries.

Can anyone research to see if my Gmail will work in China?

Thursday, June 21, 2007


First of all, I have not complained yet about the heat, but it is oppressive. And I think it's even worse today because we are in a big city and the asphalt and the exhaust and the lack of trees make it even worse. I am dripping with sweat ten minutes after I step outside, and I stand in front of fans inside museums. I wonder if this is something I'll adjust to, or if I'll still be this sweaty in five weeks.

Our last day in Siem Reap was fun because we took it pretty easy, and had some nice food and lots of free time to relax and pack up. We saw a silk factory and saw people selling fried crickets on the side of the road (we declined, but I have to admit our driver's bag smelled delicious). That was pretty much it.

We landed in Hanoi last night, and woke up this morning in a city. There are zillions of motorbikes on the road going every which way and following no clear traffic laws, which makes crossing the street terrifying. But undaunted we set off to hit the museums since they are supposedly closed on Fridays and we leave tomorrow night. This meant cabbing out to the less quaint part of town and getting lost wandering around a tourist-unfriendly part of the city. When I saw tourist un-friendly, i mean not well covered by our book and clearly not well-frequented. The people here are absurdly nice, with the exception of the guards by whom we kept getting yelled at. We visited Ho Chih Minh's mausoleum (note: I saw Mao's corpse when I was 11, and am officially declaring my retirement from the activity of dead-communist-leader-viewing), which was creepy but Laura wanted to do it. We then wandered around forever trying to find any place for breakfast, and settled for Vietnamese coffee (very strong with sweetened condensed milk) and peanuts sweetened with coconut juice (surprisingly tasty). We then visited the Ho Chih Minh museum, which was bizarre. The bottom floor had every scrap of paper he had ever written on, but no explanation of the contents of these papers, interspersed with photographs with quotations from Uncle Ho. The propaganda was laid on a bit thick. The second floor had all of these strange abstract representations of aspects of the revolution or Ho's life, including sculptures from parts of Picasso's Guernica to represent the worldwide struggle against fascism, and a huge table with fruit falling off of it, which we were told represented the possibilities of the youth or something. Laura's comment that the curatorial choices were a bit odd sums it up well.

We then went to the Army museum, which was created in the 1950's to house memorabilia from the uprising against the French, but then expanded to include artifacts from the US war. It was very interesting, both from a propaganda perspective (huge disclaimers about how they always supported the people in the south and about how evil that government was), and because outside they had a hut sculpture made out of downed US aircraft parts with a billboard in front commemorating the Vietnamese who had shot them down.

Finally, we hit the Hanoi Hilton, which was definitely my favorite site. From the perspective of the Vietnamese (rightly so), this structure is where the French colonialists tortured and guillotined men and women who were struggling against their rule. It is mentioned as a footnote that for about 9 years, US pilots engaged in criminal activity of bombing their cities were held here. The small portion of the exhibit dedicated to this bit is all about how well these people were treated, with every wash cloth and tooth brush they were given by the government laid out for display, and a large pamphlet explaining that the prisoners could sing songs about their hometown and read 'with no fear of brainwashing!'. We also saw John McCain's full flight suit and parachute he was wearing when he was shot down. It was a trip.

We walked around the central lake, and visited a Chinese buddhist temple on the island in the center of it. Even after reading the guidebook, we still don't understand why it's there.

We then visited the pool because (have I mentioned?) it is ridiculously hot here.

Fun stuff. Dinner soon!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Siem Reap Part Deux

Seriously, everyone come here. I was dying to see angkor wat and all the rest, but admit that small-town-in-cambodia filled my mind with thoughts of truly roughing it. this is the cutest little town ever. we just ate breakfast at a little place which is clearly run by ex-pats and has the best selection of pastries and a really nice menu overall.

This meal was important for two reasons. First of all, the fact that we had slept a total of six hours since we got to Southeast Asia caught up with us yesterday. After an afternoon of temple-sightseeing (including the 'tomb raider'temple, so called because it was filmed there) we fell unconscious and woke only to discuss the fact that going to dinner didn't seem worth it. So we slept from about 6pm last night until about 6am today. There is a free breakfast in our hotel, but I have to say the included breakfasts at our hotels here and in bangkok have been humorous at best, scary at worst. Both have a buffet set out with the most random assortment of unappetizing food you have ever seen. There were samovars with processed lunch meat sitting in some kind of liquid. There were plates with some kind of orange gumdrop candy. There are noodles and fried rice, which are definitely your safest bet, but even those are not that appetizing compared the food anywhere outside the hotel, so it made sense to go elsewhere.

OK, so for the afternoon sightseeing description-- the morning temples we saw yesterday were both Hindu temples, though all temples have been converted over to being buddhist given the religious shift in the country over time. The afternoon temples were both buddhist. The 'tomb raider' temple, actually called Ta Prum (sp?), is a ruin but is one of the most beautiful things i've ever seen. These huge trees which our tour guide claimed were fig (but do fig trees grow to be hundreds of feet tall?) have basically attacked the standing structures and grown into, around, and on top of them. They have these expansive root systems which are tall and rugged looking, and these crack through the walls and then the huge trunks shoot out from them. It's like nothing I've ever seen. The last temple we saw yesterday is known for the buddha faces carved all over it. The four temples we saw here were all so different in style, and were all so breathtaking. This place is really great.

Finally, I hope you three readers appreciate the fact that because of this blog, my attempts to keep a travel journal have been useless so far. It's hard to have the energy to write again, but I do feel the need to keep a record that's more focused on what I actually saw than the random musings I tend to post here.

Allegedly, in Hanoi, where I fly tonight, I can get the pictures off my camera and onto a CD. So there may be photos in this blog's future.

Yes, weeks, not months.

Holiday in Cambodia

No more song titles soon. I don't think I have any for vietnam anyhow.

siem reap is a surprisingly cute little town, mainly because angor wat is a huge revenue source in a very poor country. the temples are really beautiful and very worth the trip here. and the people here are great as well. i wish i could post some temple photos, but unfortunately i still haven't figured out how to get my digital camera onto one of these sketchy internet cafe computers, largely because i haven't asked anyone.

but the real story of cambodia so far is that last night while we were walking home from dinner, we ran into 8 guys we know from school. they were drunk and sitting outside the mexican food restaurant next to our hotel. to be fair, they had all been traveling for 30 days in asia at this point, so i think the promise of margaritas and semi-authentic tacos was too much to resist. so instead of going to bed at 10 to get over our jet lag and make up for no sleep the night before, we pulled a wharton all-nighter. as beautiful as my temple photos are, they are no match for the gems i took last night. one guy delivered a long lamenting rant about how all the women were, ahem, professionals at most of the bars and how he was sick of it after all this time in asia. another kept telling me he couldn't tell me certain things, and then half a beer later would divulge exactly what he claimed was a secret. people fell asleep at the bar. red bull vodka was consumed out of a bucket. pick ups were attempted on irish girls. pick ups were rebuffed by irish girls. i do have to say that i planned on not really going out on this trip, but since this was the one night we were guaranteed to have a big group, we felt like we should make the most of it. i think i'll be seeing a subset of them in beijing though.

fun times, small world.

Monday, June 18, 2007

One Night in Bangkok

warning- shift key is dodgy on this computer. also, bravo google for automatically logging me in when i went from gmail to blogger. though it is curious that all my directions are in thai. do language preferences not translate? i say it's a 50/50 shot i choose publish instead of discard from the squigglies at the bottom of my screen. after two years, you'd think i'd know which was which without reading.

so i'm in bangkok. it took me 20 hours to get here, not including the drive to lax. the flight to tokyo was 11 hours, and yet united gives you communal movie screens instead of in seat ones. bush league, united. and that airline's conspiracy to force me to watch bridge to terabithia finally succeeded; i remember the kid dying as one the traumatic incidents from when they did a version of this story on wonderworks on pbs, i really didn't need to see it again. also, shooter? really bad film. on my flight, i had a really smelly man next to me. he had ferocious bo, and his breath was worse. the breath was great because his buddy was sitting in the middle seat directly behind him, so he kept turning around to talk to him, hitting me with a warm blast of aroma each time. when they gave us hot towels, he scrubbed down his face and neck, which makes sense because it was probably the closest he'd come to bathing in some time. but then the older, overweight, visibly crazy guy across the aisle in the center of the five person row went into the restroom and emerged sans shirt and proceeded to alternately sit back down and wander around the plane topless for about an hour. so it turns out i did not have the worst seatmate on the plane.

i got in late last night and met my friend laura at our hotel. we got up at the crack of dawn and did a crash course in bangkok touring. we saw the grand palace where the royal family lives and there are lots of crazy statues; we saw the golden buddha which was covered with plaster to hide it from invading armies and then the knowledge that it was solid gold was lost until oops someone cracked it and guess what, solid gold underneath; the emerald buddha which is actually made of jade; and the reclining buddha, which is really huge. we then took a boat to a monorail to the subway to our hotel, and are departing in 30 minutes for a holiday in cambodia. we saw a mini model of angor wat at the grand palace and so are really psyched.

that's it! no pictures because i can't upload them to this computer. there's a chance they'll all come at the end. sorry!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm leaving in a few hours. This is going to be the longest trip I've ever taken. This is going to be the first trip I've taken where I speak none of the languages of any of the places I'm going. It's going to be interesting. Worst of all, it's six months without that cute face.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Wish They All Could Be California Dogs

In three days I'll be in Asia with lots of stories to tell. Until then:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Satchel Loses It

After a bath, Satchel used to like to be held wrapped up in a towel for hours. Now he has a new approach.

What I Haven't Been Up To

How on earth has it been so long since my last post? The lull of the Orange County lifestyle has slowed me down. Too many frozen yogurts and trips to the mall have left me unable to accomplish as much as I used to.

The biggest news is I did not buy a house this week. I was on the verge of making an offer on a beautiful apartment right where I want to live. San Francisco real estate is pretty crazy, in that it's the only one that hasn't truly slowed down. Even the recent Chronicle article about SF real estate finally slowing down admitted that in my price range in the 'desirable areas' (I like to think anywhere I'd live is desirable), the slow down has not happened. But I looked at a lot of places back when I was up there, and I found two that were quite nice. The one that I fell in love with had great views, a huge kitchen which opened into the living room, which had box beam ceilings and built ins. However, it was a 3-unit Tenancy in Common. San Francisco has really tight rules on condominium conversions, and has limited them so greatly that a lot of the apartments for sale are being sold as percentages of a building. Long story short, I would have had to go in on a mortgage with people I haven't met, and the financing story we kept getting from the seller was sketchy. So I backed off and decided to be homeless.

In all seriousness, this now means when I step off the plane from China at the end of July, I am immediately going house hunting again. I have six weeks between that day and the day I start work, which means that it's quite likely I will not have a place to live by then, given escrow and other delays. The thing that concerns me about this is Satchel. I would like to have a week with him in my new apartment to get him set up with a dog walker and get him used to his new surroundings. He's dealt with a lot of adjustments in his very short life thus far, but I think I'd be more comfortable if we had some time before I start leaving him for long periods of time. Full time work is going to be tough for both of us.

So that's my non-news. Fun stuff! The Dodgers won two in a row, and if you didn't see Kuo throw his bat after his first-ever MLB home run, you missed a hilarious sight. Vin Scully agreed.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Maiden No More

So this is a bad story and it's one from when I was back in SF, but I'm still disturbed. I was walking around downtown between a doctors appointment and a meeting with my realtor, and I decided to cut down Maiden Lane on my way. For those of you not familiar with San Francisco, Maiden Lane is a beautiful little street just off of Union Square closed to vehicle traffic and lined with exclusive stores and cute cafes. It was about 10 in the morning, and there were a few people sitting outside (the cafes have tables in the middle of the street) and drinking late morning coffees. There were also some construction workers as some new designer store I can't afford is going in across the street from Hermes and Escada. In front of the painted plywood facade announcing the new store, I saw a man who appeared to be trying to take something off of his tool belt. For some reason, I took a closer look as I passed and realized there was no tool belt. Instead, he was, in the words of Seinfeld, using his body like an amusement park. Right there. At 10 in the morning. Across the street from Hermes. On MAIDEN Lane. I was horrified and am still very disturbed.

At least this happened in the super-chic shopping district instead of the slightly more colorful area I'm trying to live in.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fenway West

Full disclosure: I am in the Bay Area, and did not have time to see everyone and call everyone. This is because the goals of this short trip were:
1. To move my stuff into a storage unit
2. To get visas to travel to China and Vietnam
3. To start looking at places to buy so I could get a sense of the real estate market
4. Go to a Red Sox/A's game

This left me with little time for much else, except for serving as an indentured nanny to pay for my place to stay (kidding, Krista!).

Last night's game was long, exciting, but ultimately frustrating. But the best part about it was that the park had to be at least 50% Red Sox fans. I did have a few moments of doubt about the wisdom of wearing my Sox hat into Oakland, but if anything, I was in the majority. Apparently, this phenomenon is widely noted and not new.