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Preview: Miss.Adventure in Vietnam

Miss.Adventure in Vietnam



Stories, thoughts and hopefully some misadventures on my trip to Vietnam



Updated: 2015-12-11T15:53:20.983-05:00

 



Reflecting back

2009-08-08T20:05:32.178-04:00

As I settle back at home (and deal with my jetlag), reflecting back on my seven months in Vietnam, it seems like my time there went by very quickly. I achieved one of my two goals, to learn to read and write in Vietnamese. I would not say I "fluently" read and write. I am definitely still stumbling and I do not have a sufficient vocabulary to understand the prose-y way Vietnamese write. At least now I have an idea how things are pronounced when I read. I did not achieve my second goal of volunteering. It seems more difficult when you do not sign up for a formal volunteer placement.

I am very happy to have had the experience to live in Vietnam. I don't think travelling through for a few weeks would have had the same impact. I got to interact with locals on a daily basis and not just as a tourist. I enjoyed seeing the different vendors every day. They were all so friendly and wished me well when I got home. They also all asked me when I would come back. Maybe in the next thirty years (since it took me that long for my first visit!)?

As I finish up with this blog, I remember some post ideas that I never ended up writing. One was the "What If?" post, as in "What if my parents never left Vietnam?". Well, the obvious answer is, I wouldn't be Canadian and I would not have had as many opportunities as I have. Would I still have become an engineer? Who knows? Would I own my own house? Probably not. Would I have been worst off? I think both worlds has its advantages and disadvantages but I do realize Viet Kieu's are lucky. Our parents sacrificed a lot for us to have a better life.

One last note, I have really enjoyed writing this blog and writing in general. I've also had the chance to make good friends (like Miss Gastronomer) and to discover the world of blogging. I want to continue blogging so I've decided to start a new blog, based at home (probably no more travels for a while, sigh). I think it will be mainly about food with a side of house projects. Please check it out: Miss.Adventure at Home.



Seoul Layover

2009-08-08T20:12:48.792-04:00

As I faced an 8 hour layover in Seoul (sandwiched between a 5 hour and 13 hour flight), I debated whether I should visit Seoul. Luckily, I was able to find a lot of information online, mainly from a Vancouver Sun article and from the blog adventures in the people’s republic of china and beyond. I decided that even if I ended up spending a couple of hours in Seoul, it would still be better than pacing around the airport for 8 hours.My trip started less than ideally when I could only get a boarding pass from HCMC to Seoul because I was first traveling with Korean Airlines and then Air Canada. This meant that I would need to check in again in Seoul. I was hoping to save myself this task so I could save on time. When I arrived at 7 am I rushed to the Air Canada counter to get my boarding pass, but it was only opening at noon. So I decided the heck with it, I was going to explore Seoul!I exchanged 60 USD for Korean won's. I went outside and found the bus stop that went to Insadong, my first stop in Seoul. Buses come at 20 minute intervals and their routes are very clearly illustrated. I went to buy a ticket for 9000 won (about 9 USD). It took about an hour to get to Insadong. Bus stops were announced by an automated voice in Korean and English. I arrived in Insadong at close to 9 am. Unfortunately, nothing was opened until 10:30 am except for a few souvenir shops. I could not even find a restaurant serving breakfast. So I walked around and took a few pictures.On the way out of Incheon - looks like my previous employer, the big D.Am I back in HCMC? Tous Les Jours Bakery just opened an outlet near my old place in District 1.As you can see, Insadong was very quaint but still sleeping. Only souvenir shops were open. They were rather pricey too.It was a very artsy looking area.The menus looked appetizing but I could not find an open restaurant! I saw many cute stone statues.I decided to move on and go check out Jogyesa Temple nearby. I have to admit that by now I was getting tired. I was dragging a carry-on and a laptop; it was getting quite heavy. So I just took some pictures.Jogyesa Temple.Then I jumped (rather dragged my carry-on down some stairs… ka-tunk, ka-tunk, ka-tunk) on the subway and went to the next station to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in the 1300’s. I decided to pay the 3000 won to go inside, but I was there for maybe 20 minutes. The visit was worthwhile though; the property is very vast and there is a mountain behind the palace. Very scenic! Unfortunately, I only saw a fraction of what was there.Gargoyle in the subway.As I was exiting the subway station, I could hear drums beating. There was some type of procession going on.The Palace with the mountain backdrop. I love the gargoyles here. Who would have thunk there would be gargoyles in Korea? I love taking pictures of old doors.Finally, I decided to have an early lunch at the cafe in the National Palace Museum of Korea by the subway. It was a chance for me to sit and relax. I ordered the bibimbap for 12,000 won and a Korean lemon tea for 4000 won. That was close to a $16 lunch; I haven’t paid that much for a meal in a while! I’ve been wanting to try this colourful dish since I saw it on Food Safari. I was imagining it with a raw egg like I saw on the show but this one didn’t have one. It was still very good; I especially liked the spicy pepper paste. The bowl was too much for me though and I couldn't finish it.National Palace Museum of Korea. My bibimbap. Accompanying dishes: kimchi, red pepper paste and vinegar-y seaweed?Korean lemon tea. I really like the rosemary that infused the tea.From Gyeongbokgung Station, I found the airport bus stop. I wasn't sure if I had to buy a ticket so I tried to ask a shop owner nearby. He kept trying to communicate with me in Korean. Finally, I gave up and just waited for the bus. As it turns out, you just pay the bus driver when you get on the bus.Airport bus stop.It was a whirlwind visit. I was in the city for only three hours, but I still think it was worth it. I got back in time[...]



HCMC Picture Hodgepodge

2009-08-08T20:15:45.257-04:00

Now that I have access to my computer (thanks to H for fixing my virus ridden laptop!), I can upload my many pictures. Here are miscellaneous pictures that I took in HCMC that did not make it into a post!View from our hotel room on our first night in HCMC.Careful there! So many electrical wires!Rex Hotel. Dammit, I never had a drink on the patio!! However, I did get a Swedish massage at the hotel thanks to The Gastronomer.Old houses in District 5. Line of vendors lined up, selling ... I don’t know what. I always meant to try it but never got around to it.Vegetarian thali at our favourite Indian restaurant, Mumtaz, at 226 Bùi Viện. I’ve had many thali‘s and this is one of the prettiest! The Boyfriend and I ate there every few weeks!Bánh mì thịt bò nướng, fancied up (and the price showed it!)Bánh cam Vendor.Can you say traffic?Family friends from Montréal in front of city hall.Park by Phạm Ngũ Lão St (near the backpacker’s district).Carved stone depicting traditional Vietnamese musicians.Bright yellow Jaspas restaurant from where we ordered 2-for-1 pizza on Mondays and Thursdays! My cousin L’s twins! Aren’t they cute?Not one but two TV’s loaded on a motorbike! HCMC has luxe stores of its own.Striped socks seem to be the trend for motorbike drivers. …and fancy motorbike helmets…Talking about luxe stores and motorbike trends!Kids playing in a puddle after a rainstorm.View of the densely populated city from the International Language Academy (where The Boyfriend works).Can you spot the salamander(s)?[...]



Miss.Adventure’s Guide to Living in Vietnam

2009-08-08T20:22:01.505-04:00

As my days in Vietnam dwindle down, I wanted to include tips that I have learned from living in Vietnam for anyone who stumbles onto this blog for some help. I’ll include the disclaimer that this information is only accurate NOW (2008).Side Note: As for posting on this blog, I have maybe a couple of posts left. I am debating whether I should visit Seoul during my layover there. If I do, I will definitely post the pictures here. After that, my trip will be over. However, I am planning a new blog based at home. I’ll share the details soon on my final post!When to travel in VietnamI can only comment on my own experience. We arrived in Vietnam in February, on the first day of Tết (Vietnamese New Year). I have always wanted to go to Vietnam during Tết. What I found is that most stores and business are closed for a week. There is not much to do other than staying home with your family. As well, in February, while it is hot in southern Vietnam, it was cold in the north, and close to freezing temperature in Sapa. Just keep that in mind if you were imagining warm weather all year round throughout the country – like I did and didn’t pack the right clothing…Train and Luggage TicketsIn Vietnam, you have to show your train tickets getting on AND off the train. I believe you get fined if you don’t. I think it’s to avoid having people cheating and buying cheaper tickets with the incorrect (shorter distance) destination. As well, when you leave the airports, they actually check that your luggage match against the luggage tags. It’s actually good when you think about it so no one can walk out with your suitcase! So be diligent in keeping ALL of your tags and tickets!Multiple Entry VisaAfter applying and paying for a multiple entry visa, I thought I had a multiple entry visa. Can you predict the rest of this story? To my surprise upon my return from the Philippines, I was told that my visa was not valid. My visa was a single entry visa even though I forked out an extra $50 for a multiple one. After being threatened by officials to be deported back to the Philippines, being reminded that entry into Vietnam was not a right but rather a privilege (yes, I understood all of that in Vietnamese!), I was able to get a new visa for double the normal fee but who is going to complain? When I asked if I could finally leave, one official even joked that I could only leave with one of them. I kept my cool and did not react. It was a nightmarish night. As The Boyfriend pointed out, I was lucky to be granted another visa and they could easily have refused me entry. Moral of the story? Check that your paperwork is what it should be.Paying rentMy issue with rent here is that our rent was quoted in USD and The Boyfriend was paid in VND (dong). I recommend to anyone who is not being paid in USD to negotiate paying rent in VND instead. This is because we had a problem with having two different exchange rates: bank and black market rates. This is not an issue anymore as both rates are now the same but it could be an issue again with potential speculation. If you are being quoted in USD and want to pay in VND, ask that the contract specify which rate to use (bank rate is most beneficial) so no conflict occurs (as we had to deal with!); I think it’s actually illegal to use anything but the bank rate, but try to argue that with an old, stubborn Vietnamese landlady!Exchanging moneyOn the topic of exchanging money, currently many banks will not exchange VND currency into any foreign currency. It varies from bank to bank. At Vietcombank, they will only allow The Boyfriend to convert his assets when he closes his account after it has been approved by the director. HSBC will allow exchanges only for their customers (who have accounts at the Vietnamese branch) if you have proof that you are leaving the country. The moral of the story is that you should not exchange more than you have to or you might get stuck with VND (or get charged a black market exchange rate as a[...]



Say No to Drugs

2009-08-08T20:23:56.329-04:00

I got the scoop about the death in my alley. It was not a homeless, old person as I thought. Rather, it was a young man in his early thirties. As my landlady put it, he died of ma tuy (drugs) or SIDA (AIDS). I'm not sure whether she means both or one of them. I think some Vietnamese people associate one with the other.

I am not sure if drugs are a big issue in Vietnam. According to the ads I see on the streets, I would assume it is a serious issue. I don't really have anything to say about this because I honestly don't know much. I've heard heroine is one of the popular drugs here, but I can't confirm this.

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Say "KHONG" (no) to drugs.

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Drugs can kill.

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A sign that associates ma tuy (drugs) with AIDS.



Vegetarian Buffet

2009-08-08T20:36:11.753-04:00

When The Boyfriend and I first arrived in HCMC, we saw a restaurant that offered a vegetarian buffet. It was for a limited time around Tết (Vietnamese New Year). I thought it would be fun to go to a buffet where The Boyfriend could eat anything. However, when we finally decided to go, there was a wedding reception and the buffet offering was over.Talking to my Vietnamese teacher, I learned that the 7th month of the lunar calendar (around August) is when many Vietnamese eat vegetarian all month to honour ancestors - I think... So I suggested we go check out the restaurant again to see if the vegetarian buffet was being offered. Luckily for us, it was!!At 120,000 VND each (about 7 USD), it is not a cheap meal in Vietnam. There were two separate floors and we were assigned to go to the third floor. There were not too many people when we arrived, but it was full when we left. The offering was quite extensive: soups, salads, noodles, sushi, spring rolls and all sorts of faux meats. We ordered something to drink, not realizing there was also a drinks buffet, including tea and lemonade!Everyone checking out the selection with festive green decor.Some vegetable offering.Some vegetarian gỏi (salads) served with bánh phồng tôm (crackers, usually shrimp flavoured). Our favourite was the lotus salad, minus the faux shrimps.Faux meats under a heating lamp. "Chicken" curry.There was even someone making bánh xèo, filled with mushrooms. Fruit offering, including peeled rambutans.Desert offerings.[...]



Death in an Alley

2009-08-08T20:41:55.748-04:00

I have been meaning to have a post about life in the alleyway or hẻm, where I live. I was going to write about knife sharpeners and recyclers in the morning, crowds gathered in the alleyway watching a soap opera or singing karaoke on a tiny television in a house and white-collar workers sitting on plastic chairs eating lunch. There are also chickens running around (The Boyfriend likes to warn "bird flu, bird flu" when he sees them), rice and onion being dried out in the sun, and rats scurrying around at night. However, I did not think I would include anything morbid.

My Vietnamese teacher came in today: "Did you see THE body?". I actually did see someone lying on a cot in the alleyway, head covered. Someone was massaging the person's feet so I assumed maybe it was someone who felt ill. I was SO VERY wrong. It was a dead body. I have mentioned that there are many homeless people in the city, people who come from rural areas to make money but cannot afford housing. They usually sleep on cots and hammocks at night. My guess is this was such a person or the body would be indoors.

My Vietnamese teacher is very amusing because she is very superstitious. I think this is characteristic of many Vietnamese people. She warned me about not looking at the body ("Did you already look at it?" she asked in panic) because it is bad luck. She was worried about The Boyfriend coming home tonight and walking by the body. She was also worried that the body would still be there on Friday when I have my next lesson.

Honestly, I have never really thought about how I feel about bodies. I don't usually like open caskets at funeral. I am not superstitious but I have to admit that it is rather creepy or morbid to have to walk by this body whenever I go out. I'm not sure also how a body will fare in this heat outside. I might try to minimize my outings until the body is removed...



Mũi Né - Part II

2011-12-04T22:19:07.942-05:00

The Boyfriend and I booked an excursion to go see the sand dunes. It cost $22USD and took over three hours. I’m sure this can be done cheaper by taxi but we got to see a lot of interesting sites by jeep: the Fairy Spring, red canyon, the farther white sand tunes and the yellow sand dunes nearby. I had heard that the sand dunes were spectacular but I did not realize how big they would be. It really did feel like we could have been in the Sahara desert, without the heat (we went in the late afternoon for that reason).Our jeep.Our first stop was the Fairy Spring (Suối Tiên). Our tour guide, really just our driver, dropped us off and told us we had 40 minutes. A young teenager acted as our impromptu guide even though it was very obvious where we had to go: just follow the stream! At the end, he asked for money. I don’t think so. I already paid for a tour…We passed by big vats of stinky nuoc mam (fish sauce).The Boyfriend is following our "guide" in the Fairy Spring. There were very nice and interesting rock formations.Next we stopped by the fishing village of Mũi Né where little fish (anchovies?) were laid out to dry in the sun. I’m not sure if they were the same fish, but The Boyfriend and I encountered little jumping fish when we were swimming in the ocean. They were just jumping in and out of the water, even into my swimsuit.View of Mũi Né village.Fish spread to dry. Working the fish.Not only does Mũi Né have sand dunes, it also has a canyon. So many interesting sights! Red Canyon.The white sand dunes were far out but well worth the trip. At the bottom of the sand dunes is a nice lake too.Lotus lake with the white sand dunes in the background. At the other end of the lake were some horses. Some tourists rode the horses up the sand dunes… White Sand Dunes. Can you belive this is Vietnam?This little boy followed us, trying to convince us to slide down the hills. Although we didn’t, we gave him 10,000 VND because he was so persistent (and cute!). The boy slid down the hill himself! I like the temporary trail left behind.Finally, we hit the yellow sand dunes, which had more of a golden colour. The yellow sand dunes are much closer to Mũi Né and so had much more tourists than the white sand dunes.We encountered a herd of cows. Many tourists, hanging out and flying kites. The Boyfriend from afar. These dunes were very big too. By a sand bank with the sun behind me.[...]



Mũi Né - Part I

2012-04-08T14:29:38.852-04:00

The Boyfriend took a couple of days off work so we could hit the beach before I go back to Canada. We decided to go to Mũi Né, having heard that it was very nice and due to its proximity to HCMC. It also was a less costly option than Nha Trang or Phú Quốc.We booked bus tickets through Sinh Café: 100,000 VND (about 6 USD) each way. The bus ride was not as bad as we heard. It took about five hours each way. The way back felt much longer than the way there.The Boyfriend wanted a hotel with a pool because he does not enjoy his eyes stinging from the salted sea water. This was a good call since the water was rather choppy. I found an affordable option with a pool, Sunrise Resort, for 35 USD a night (it costs 50 USD for a beach view bungalow). This included breakfast (options were limited); there was also wi-fi so you can surf the net by the pool and cable TV. Our whole trip costs about 100 USD each for 3 nights. A trip to Mũi Né can definitely be done even cheaper; we saw rooms as low as 6 USD. It can also be done on the more expensive side; we saw some very nice bungalows on the beach.Our days were spent going for dips in the ocean and then the pool. It seems we ate a lot, read on the beach and chill-axed as The Boyfriend likes to say. We also went to see the dunes – I’ll cover this in part II! View of Sunrise Resort.Most resorts are on the beach side of coconut tree lined Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, a 15 km stretch. View of the pool from our sliding door. It was nice to have the pool at our doorstep until we got woken up at 4 am by drunk (I’m assuming) girls splashing in the water and then at 7 am by kids swimming… The beach was just at the other end. View of the pool and beach in the background. Our room was clean and basic. Some of the décor has a hint of "fromage". The little boys’ statues seem to be peeing into the pool...We spotted this little guy near the pool, hiding from the sun.We enjoyed fruit pool side. Only the pineapple was good. The mango was SO tart; it must be the end of mango season. The dragon fruit should have been good since we saw fields upon fields of dragon fruit nearby, but it was too ripe.The beach was very nice and we had nice weather. Supposedly, Mũi Né has the least rain in South East Asia because of its microclimate created by its location near the sand dunes. As I mentioned before, the water was choppy due to the strong waves. This is perfect for wave jumping. Mũi Né is also a choice destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing destination. Having attempted to surf in Costa Rica at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, I would not even think of trying kitesurfing but it was cool to watch others do it. Views of the beach on each side. Kite boarders jump seriously high, with the help of the wind!There were a lot of stray dogs on the beach. We spotted a few jelly fish washed up on the shore. Don’t they have an alien quality about them?Fishermen set out around 5 pm and come back in the morning.One night, I got grilled shrimp, freshly caught that morning. There were about 10 very big shrimps for 50,000 VND (about 3 USD)!! What a steal! Delicious!A salamander fell, from the sky it seems, while we were eating . Can you spot this one?We got a full moon. I wasn’t able to take a picture but it was amazing to see at night so many lights out at sea from the fishing boats.[...]



Quảng Ngãi - Treats

2008-08-11T03:55:35.617-04:00

Not only was I overfed in Quảng Ngãi but I also brought home some yummy treats for myself and my family back in Canada!

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After trying these crunchy toasted coconut, I had to bring some back to share.

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My mother asked for 1 kg of Vietnamese coffee but got 2!

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Cơm rang is a Quảng Ngãi specialty of roasted rice with savoury spices: chili, onions, salt. Makes a great snack! I had to bring back a few bags for my sister L!

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Banh Mi Xop are sesame cookies that The Boyfriend really enjoys.



Quảng Ngãi - Part I (Aug 3-4)

2009-08-08T21:08:09.443-04:00

Although I did not do much in Quảng Ngãi, I sure took a lot of pictures. Mainly of food, which was very entertaining to my family. But they really got into it and would help make the plate look better. My own food stylists! So I will break down my Quảng Ngãi post into two.After an awful, sleepless night in Quy Nhơn (I had to sleep in the living room with my cousin and my uncle who is a very LOUD snorer while I am a very LIGHT sleeper), my cousin and I decided to leave a day early and go to Quảng Ngãi. Luckily, her boyfriend and his colleagues were driving home that day so we got to go back in a nice air conditioned car.After about an hour driving, we stopped for lunch. Note I already had breakfast and coffee by now. I’m not used to eating three full meals a day but all this was about to change. We stopped for cơm gà, but this was not the typical cơm gà that I know (similar to Hainese chicken rice I think). It’s funny because as I was discussing cơm gà with my four lunch mates, everyone had an opinion on where the best was made and how the rice had to be sautéed first. Vietnamese are very passionate about food!Interestingly, the Quảng Ngãi entry in Lonely Planet states that the province is “famous for a local delicacy called cơm gàm, which actually originates further north at Tam Ky. It consists of boiled chicken over yellow rice (the colour comes from being steamed with chicken broth)”. I saw a lot of cơm gà offered in Quảng Ngãi; unfortunately, I did not get a chance to eat it since I always seemed to be full.We started lunch with canh cải – soup with greens.This cơm gà consisted of plain white rice with a well seasoned chicken thigh. It was very good and there was a great dipping sauce. The green onion topping was cooked in oil and was yummy!We continued our way back to Quảng Ngãi. My cousin made the driver stop in Sa Huỳnh so I could take pictures of the beach. I was also intrigued to see piles of salt nearby from salt marshes.Beach in Sa Huỳnh. I found this picture of the salt marsh in Sa Huỳnh on the internet that is much more representative than my pictures.Pardon the blurry picture - this was taken from the train.We got to my uncle's in Quảng Ngãi, relaxed a bit and then it was dinner time! Of course! My cousins asked whether I preferred seafood or meat. I said seafood so we went to a seafood restaurant (Hai Long Vien). The group included my cousin D and his fiancée, my cousin V and her boyfriend and my cousin K.Bánh tráng dipped in nước mắm seemed to be the complimentary snack at many restaurants.Gỏi bắp chuối (banana flower salad), not as flavourful as my aunt’s on the previous night.I asked to have the crab in a tamarind sauce since I had really enjoyed it with The Gastronomer. It was good but not as good as the soft shell crabs at Quán 94, and it’s much messier and much harder work!Gói ốc (snails salad). As my dinner companions said, it was more of an onion salad with snails rather than a snail salad. The snails didn’t particularly do it for me either…Tôm Mũ Ni. These funny-looking fellows are some type of shrimp-cross-with-lobsters that are fished nearby. We picked them alive from the tank. I should have taken a picture when they were alive. They were excellent – like little lobsters!What else do my cousins (and I’m guessing people in Quảng Ngãi) do other than eat? Drink! Or a term that encompasses both: ăn nhậu. Vietnamese men seem to drink like frat boys: they binge! I was a bit nervous having to ride with my cousin afer I witnessed the number of beers he drank in a short amount of time. Their drink of choice is Heinekken and we also had to order more food to drink with!My two male cousins are hidden. In the middle is my cousin and her boyfriend, an[...]



Train Ride & Quy Nhơn (Aug 1-3)

2009-08-08T21:16:46.594-04:00

With only a month left in Vietnam, I figured I should go visit my family again in central Vietnam. I met them in Quy Nhơn where my uncle, aunt and cousin were visiting for a "festival" and my aunt's sister's housewarming. Quy Nhơn is a coastal city probably around halfway between Nha Trang and Quảng Ngãi. Interesting personal trivia: Quy Nhơn is the port my parents used to leave Vietnam in 1978.Having only booked my train ticket two days in advance, I was only able to get a hard sleeper. The compartment fits six beds, as opposed to the soft sleeper, which fits four. My "bed" was the top one (also the cheapest) and it felt rather claustrophic; there was not even enough room to sit up. At least, I didn't have a hard seat for the 14 hour overnight train ride. I couldn't bear lying for 14 hours straight so I asked the young woman with the bed at the bottom if I could sit on her bed. Hers had more clearance! I think this is a common practice.Trains in Vietnam are very slow. In addition, they have to make stops at pre-determined spots to pass each other. So if one train is late, it delays the other train waiting too. Add to that three boys under the age of seven in our compartment. Let's just say I was glad when the ride was over...!You can see my backpack on my very tight "bed".After leaving HCMC at 7:40 pm, I arrived in Quy Nhơn at about 10 am. My uncle picked me up at the train station. After dropping off my things at his mother-in-law's, he gave me a tour of the town and we went out for lunch. A mere two hours later (once my uncle had his nap), he went to buy banh beo and I had to eat again. This was a sign of what was to come...I didn't know that Vietnam had festivals!I think the flags were pulled out for the occasion.There was always a person standing at intersections directing traffic. What is funny is that you can see behind the person that there is a traffic light. The person is literally looking at the traffic light and moving the flag accordingly. Rather pointless, non?Lunch with my uncle was cơm thô. Thô refers to the container that holds the rice.My uncle ordered a variety of vegetables to dip in mam. Mam is all sorts of fermented fish, shrimp and squid. A big too strong for my taste but I know my mother would have loved this! The vegetables included cucumbers, green tomatoes, cà pháo (type of eggplant), lettuce and bean sprouts.Tôm thịt kho. Braised shrimp and pork. The portion was tiny but I guess we were only two people eating...I ordered this soup thinking it was canh chua (Vietnamese sour soup). Rather, the "chua" referred to the type of fish. I was rather disappointed.Rau muống xào toi - morning glory with garlic - has to be one of my favourite green dish. However, The Boyfriend does not like it - the translation in Hue was rather unfavourable, something like swamp weed. So I have to have it when I get the chance and it was well worth it!Banh beo. I only had a taste because as I explained to my uncle I was too full from lunch to eat. He insisted I at least try it because these are renown in Quy Nhơn.My uncle's funny. He's not the best at communicating. After lunch, he said we would "đi chơi", which literally means "go play". It was a big surprise where we were going. As we were driving around on a motorbike, being pelleted by rain, I was very curious about our destination! Are we going to check out the beach?...or the siêu thị (supermarket)? I overheard that suggestion; I think it's a novelty in certain parts of Vietnam. ...or check out festival activities?Finally, after driving up a mountain and paying a fee to get in, I found out where we were going: Qui Hoa Leper Colony. I had read about it in the Lonely Planet so I knew a little bit about it. It is a "model village near the seafront, w[...]



Baby Can You Stop The Rain

2009-08-08T21:18:22.539-04:00

So many songs with the word “rain” in their titles… It's funny, about two weeks ago, The Boyfriend and I were discussing how for a rainy season, there has not been that much rain. It rained regularly at the beginning of May, but then it seemed to stop and would only rain a few times a week. Well, lo and behold, it has been raining close to daily since we talked about rain and we have had a few good showers! This is what happens when you don't knock on wood!

The Boyfriend has been lucky enough not to have to wade in puddles when walking to work but had to do it for the first time last week! It's good I told him to bring his socks and put them on at work! There is something about the intensity of rain showers here in Vietnam that make me want to take out my camera and take some pictures. Here is what we encountered after leaving the movie theatre we seeked out when the electricity was cut for a whole day.

Intersection at Nguyễn Du and Trương Dịnh.

How do you cross a flooded street? You find speed bumps!



Chợ Bến Thành – Part II

2009-08-08T21:22:04.911-04:00

I’ve resigned myself to have to re-write this post because I will not have access to my laptop for a while yet (it’s raining again anyway so what else am I going to do?). This is at the risk of not including the witty and thought provoking comments I initially came up with…!For the second part of Chợ Bến Thành, I wanted to cover the interior of the market. There is a variety of wares from clothes to trinkets targeted at tourists and more food! The market is somewhat divided based on what vendors are selling (clothes, food, fabric, etc.) but you can always find something that does not quite fit. I really enjoy taking pictures here of rows or bins of one element; however, some vendors get testy and insist on no pictures.I have already sufficiently covered the eating and drinking quarter. I should probably get back to the Chợ Bến Thành Challenge...!Hmmm! I'm planning to bring home Vietnamese peppercorn. This is pretty much the "Snack Shack": candies, cashews, candied fruit, beef jerky,... I find these bags of rice and beans beautiful! They would make lovely pictures in a kitchen! There is still fresh food to be found inside the market.This lady sells sliced corn to make chè bắp (corn based Vietnamese dessert) or corn spring rolls!You can also stop over for a manicure in the market! This picture is not exciting nor appetizing. However, I like being able to buy fresh bun (rice vermicelli). The same vendor also sells different rice papers. This vendor specializes in fresh bamboo and pickled greens.Lots of dried shrimp and fish. I'm not sure if the lights are for seeing purposes or to keep the shrimp dry? Mắm (fremented fish and shrimp) galore! If only this was a smell-o-blog!Jars of coffee and tea. I always come to this Chinese vendor. I was so excited to buy fresh baby corns since I've only had the canned stuff! She also has a great variety of mushrooms and I love mushrooms! Unfortunately some look better than they taste. On top is fresh nấm thông khô (so flavourful! not sure if they're the same as shitake but they're so heartier). Second is nấm đùi gà - literally chicken thigh mushrooms. Third are oyster mushrooms. The last one I don't know the name but they are very common; I actually like the canned ones better than the fresh ones.They also sell lạp xưởng with chunks of peppercorn that I used to make fried rice. I'll have a post about food I have cooked here!Enough with the food. As I mentioned, there is more than food at Chợ Bến Thành. I still have not bought much in terms of touristy knickknacks. I will have to start shopping for gifts soon! It's hard though when you see these things everywhere; they just don't feel as special anymore!The beauty product row: perfume, shampoo, etc. There are many fabric vendors targeting both tourists and locals. The colourful fabric is to make áo dài (Vietnamese dress). You can even get your clothes made here!The West side of the market targets tourists but don't believe the sign and still try to negotiate! Lacoste or Ralph Lauren shirts anyone?Pretty bejewelled slippers. Wooden statues and chopsticks. Those fruit on the left are fake. The fruit picks are so kitschy I might have to get some! Colourful silk lanterns.Cute figurines wearing Vietnamese costumes.Stuffed elephants from Sapa.[...]



Pinoy Food

2008-07-28T09:33:57.947-04:00

If you were wondering what Filipino food is, The Gastronomer covered Pinoy food from our trip on her blog. I don't think Pinoy food is a very well known cuisine. We had a chance to have some authentic food and it was great! Check it out: Pinoy Food on Gastronomy.



Night Out

2009-08-08T21:25:36.268-04:00

I have not posted anything recently (not sure anyone's noticed!) because, unfortunately, my laptop is ailing from a virus, supposedly from an Asian website (damn Asian websites!). I am using The Boyfriend's laptop but I have no way of uploading pictures because I did not bring my USB cord and he does not have the little slot for my camera card. So there will be no part II of Cho Ben Thanh until I figure out another solution.

I've had in mind a couple of posts that do not require pictures. However, it does not seem as much fun! But here goes...

Last night, The Boyfriend and I went out for The Gastronomer's and The Astronomer's last weekend in HCMC (Boo-urns!). I thought it would be interesting to list how much such a night out would cost. All prices are for two people.

50,000 dong - Taxi ride
70,000 dong - Dinner of banh xeo and bo la lot (including 2 Saigon bia)
25,000 dong - Taxi ride to ice cream place (split with 2 others)
60,000 dong - Ice cream
120,000 dong - Bowling

Our total tally was 325,000 dong (about $20) for two people which I think is a great deal, considering it included dinner, alcohol, dessert and entertainment! To be clear, I would not call this typical. Dinner for two for us can range between 40,000 dong to 400,000 dong, depending on where we go. While I think it's cheap, I have no delusion that all Vietnamese can afford to go bowling. I'm sure the average Vietnamese person would find this expensive. I just wanted to show that fun can be had for a good price!

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The Gastronomer was lovely enough to share this picture with me. It's a large crowd; The Gastronomer and The Astronomer must be popular... They'll be missed!

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Here are some sizzling banh xeo. Can you hear all ten go "xeo"?



Chợ Bến Thành – Part I

2009-08-08T21:29:46.092-04:00

One of the most common sights in Vietnam is food markets. Chợ Bến Thành is the best known market in HCMC. I’ve already posted about the food I’ve been eating at Chợ Bến Thành but I’ve been meaning to have a whole overview of Chợ Bến Thành since there is so much more than just the “food court”. I live a minute away so I am pretty familiar with this market. You can’t get lost like you would in a souk in Morocco but there is definitely a lot to see. I will cover the fresh food section around the market and will have another post on what’s inside.I live by the north side of the market or by the cửa bắc (north entry). When we first started living here, The Boyfriend asked me what cửa bắc meant. Not having started my Vietnamese lessons, I had no idea. Now it’s so obvious! My Vietnamese lessons are already paying dividends (unlike my currently underperforming stocks...)! By the cửa bắc are flower vendors and fruit vendors. I find the fruit vendors here though quite pricey so I never buy fruit from them. I love going through the doors because it smells like fresh flowers! Cửa Bắc. The north side entry of Chợ Bến Thành. Fresh flower merchants by the northern entry.Fruit vendors on Lê Thánh Tôn St. always stack their fruit nicely but charge a lot.Right after the flower section, on the right and left side is the fresh food market. This is my favourite section. They sell anything fresh you can think of (and some things you would never think of): vegetables, meat, fish, frogs, seafood, eggs, etc. It is most active in the morning. Customers look at produce and negotiate. Vendors clean fish. I’ve even witnessed passionate arguments with women on the verge of physical altercations. I could learn a few Vietnamese swear words from them. For this section, pictures are worth a thousand words!All sorts of fresh vegetables are sold.Fresh green peppercorns. I love finding things I’m not used to seeing fresh!The gac fruit is so amazing looking. Read all about it on Gastronomy!Freshly grated coconut. You can find a lot of food here already prepped so you can save yourself the hassle: peeled potatoes, sliced onions, minced garlic, etc.Tofu vendor. There’s a little girl who always helps her mom sell tofu. Fresh seafood. The shrimps are still alive!Fish debris. Eewwwwww!Don’t these crabs look beautiful with their bright blue coloured claws? Poor Frogs. Before, and unfortunately after.This vendor only sells fake flowers. The meat and fish rows. It can get stinky in here! I don’t know what these are but I was told they’re from the sea… Fresh and dried fish. All sorts of innards. Looks yummy…!Hooves anyone? The crab vendor. All picked and ready to eat, or at least cook with. Isn’t this to die for?Fresh snails and clams.I always buy vegetables here, but did you notice what else she sells?? Yep, that's right. Some type of grub. [...]



Philippines: Sabang (July 6-9)

2009-08-08T21:35:56.335-04:00

On Monday morning, C2 and I headed out to Sabang, two hours north of Puerto Princessa by car. On our way to Sabang, we passed by Vietville, a village with only 7 remaining Vietnamese families, refugees from the war; most have either emigrated to North America or been sent back to Vietnam. Sabang’s main attraction, the Subterranean River, is renowned to be the longest river-traversed tunnel in the world.On our way to Sabang we encountered this bus/jeepney. Talk about full capacity!The whole tour of the river only takes 45 minutes but it is very unique. It is pitch black except for one flashlight in the front. The tour guide/navigator is in the back. He is very entertaining. He screams out where to point the flashlight and what the stalactite and stalagmite formations resemble such as bacon, mushroom, a sexy Sharon Stone and obviously, different people from the Bible. The cave was full of bats and I tried to shelter my camera from drops of water (or maybe they were bat droppings…). I’m not sure the pictures really capture the experience but here goes.All decked out in safety equipment to go underground. Behind me is the entry to the cave.Bats were flying everywhere and I was lucky to catch one with my camera.Formation from the top is stalactite (and bottom is stalagmite - sometimes they meet to form columns). I don’t remember what this was supposed to look like but it’s cool anyway.This resembles a bird.Outside of the cave were wild monkeys that were very much accustomed to humans. One tried to whack my camera away when I tried to take its picture. They do not like paparazzi! Supposedly they also like to grab plastic bags. I was lucky enough to spot atop a tree a baby monkey and its mother.In Sabang, we met up with The Gastronomer and The Astronomer, who fell in love with the beach there. Who wouldn’t fall for the beautiful turquoise water? The sand was also perfectly fine and soft. The water was clear very far out. So we decided to stay in Sabang for the remainder of our stay in Palawan. We stayed at Michi’s but went swimming to the nicer beach at Mary’s next doors. The two owners are cousins.The huts we stayed in had very basic amenities: electricity from 6-10 pm (run by a generator) and cold water. This is definitely not what I’m used to. I usually have the AC turned on all night in HCMC! As well, this meant we had to walk in the dark in the evening; C2 would light our path with her cell phone to avoid buffalo excrement on our path to our hut! The up side to this was that the sky was so clear, we could see millions of stars!Michi’s “Cottages”.This was our simple hut. Beautiful palm trees by the beach.View of the beach from my lounge chair.Local kids taking a dip.I tried to catch the sunset but it was behind the mountain.Some pink morning colours. On our last full day in the Philippines, we decided to hike to the Subterranean River because The Gastronomer and The Astronomer had not seen it. However, we realized we had to cross a section of water before starting the hike. Not wanting to get wet and then having to hike (ok! I’m wimpy! I also had an injured ankle from our volcano hike!), I backed out and spent my day by the beach. Supposedly, the hike was a two hour affair; I’m glad I didn’t go!Last glimpse at the beach by Mary’s before we left.The day of our departure, we were told that the bus back to Puerto Princessa was leaving at 10 am but we should be there at 9 am because it would just leave when it was full. We obviously did not know how Philippino time works!! We arrived at 9 am and it was confirmed that the bus would leave at[...]



Philippines: Island Hopping in Palawan (July 5)

2009-08-08T21:57:38.613-04:00

On Saturday afternoon, we flew out to Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan. Palawan is an island southwest of Manila. It is regarded as The Last Frontier and so we selected Palawan over Boracay. Although Boracay has beautiful beaches, it is known as a party town. Palawan is supposed to be more untouched. The baggage carrousel was outside!Pristine Beach. After inquiring whether there was a beach nearby at the hotel, we were told there was Pristine Beach. Unfortunately, it did not look too pristine!C2 and I walked by a seaside village and this little boy followed us. He was very intrigued by the camera. He didn’t speak any English though. So cute! We hit a Philippino restaurant to taste some of their specialties, including Crispy Pata, fried pork knuckles. The Gastronomer is enjoying every last bit of it. She’s not The Gastronomer for nothing!On our second day in Palawan, C2 and I decided to go island hopping and snorkelling in Honda Bay (or Hunda Bay – Hunda meaning deep sea in Spanish). The Gastronomer and The Astronomer decided to head north to Sabang, having already experienced snorkelling in Nha Trang.On our tour was our tour guide Aissa and two native Philippino from Manila: Ariel and Lai. We visited three islands. We spent the morning and had lunch on Pandan Island, its name stemming from the pandan trees. The beautiful island was small enough to walk around the perimeter in an hour. In the afternoon, we went to Snake Island where there was a dedicated space for snorkelling. Surprisingly, there were a lot of fish, especially if you fed them bread. On Starfish Island was an area with corals that was also great for snorkelling.Most of the islands in Honda Bay are privately owned and visitors must pay a fee to visit. What’s amazing is that most Palawans don’t even know about these islands. Unfortunately, it’s a case of tourists getting to enjoy attractions rather than locals.On our way to Pandan Island.Our lovely guide Aissa!Pandan Island from afar. The pandan trees are on the other side of the island! Here are the pandan trees. The fruit looks like a warped pineapple! I don’t know what this fruit is but its colour really popped in the background of beach colours. The water was a beautiful turquoise. I wish I was there now! Lunch comprised of rice, vegetables (eggplant was my favourite dish), chicken, squid and grilled tuna. There was a salad of tomatoes and salted eggs. Philippinos love salted eggs! All this for four people! We asked the tour guide to join us but she was shy about it and just picked at her food. After we finished, what was left went to the boat men (they wouldn’t join us either) and finally, their leftovers went to the dogs! Our boat hit a shallow area where there were tons of starfish! These ones were by the beach. I tried to “rescue” them by throwing them farther into the water, but people kept picking them up and taking pictures with them over their heads. Don’t they realize they are living creatures! Starfish Island. I invited Ariel, Lai and Aissa for dinner. We went to Badjao Seafront restaurant which was close to Pristine Beach. Our new Philippino friends were lovely people and even insisted on paying for dinner (how embarrassing… I invited them!) After dinner all five of us jumped into one tricycle because the restaurant was rather remote. Although the tricycles here are a bit roomier than in Manila, it was still a tight squeeze![...]



Philippines: Intramuros and Randomness in Manila (July 5)

2009-08-08T21:59:58.042-04:00

On Saturday morning, we parted ways to explore different areas in Manila: The Gastronomer and The Astronomer went to a food market, C2 went to visit the Chinese cemetery and I went to Intramuros. Intramuros is a walled city that was founded in the 16th century. I figured I could see some interesting Spanish influenced architecture. This area actually reminded me of the French Quarters in New Orleans.Here are some of my favourite pictures. I usually would never go in a horse drawn carriage but I twisted my ankle on my way down from the hike the previous day so I wanted to take it easy. I swear I'm not one of those people!San Augustin Church, the oldest church in the Philippines.Manila Cathedral.Lions in front of the Cathedral seem to be an Asian influence?Old buildings are resurfaced to look nice but maintain their original architecture.Casa Manila.An old convent.Supposedly the Japanese held prisoners shackled down here. The prisoners would drown when water from the nearby River Pasig submerged it.A section of the wall.There’s even a McDonald’s within the walled city…! City Hall outside the walls.Here are more pictures of Manila’s unique types of transportations: the jeepney and tricycle. Not only are these unique, but each is also uniquely decorated to express the owner’s passions or hobbies. Jeepney (mix between a bus and a jeep) is Philippines' most popular mode of public transportation. Originally, they were made from US military jeeps. When you get on, you just pay the driver if you're next to him; if not, you just give your money to the customer next to you, the money is passed on to the driver and any change is passed back the same way! The red one is my favourite one! Totalled decked out.View of a jeepney from a jeepney. Tricycle. People ride in the side car and behind the driver when the car is full. I guess it would be equivalent to Vietnam’s xe om.Finally, most Philippino's are extremely devoted to Christianity. This could be seen everywhere. Every taxi had a few statues of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. There were also Christian idols in the shopping malls. The jeepneys' names usually sounded Christian too, such as Almighty God above!Enough said. I got a glimpse of Jesus Christ at the intersection.Lonely Planet said there were not many vegetarian options in the Philippines, but they do have Great Lenten specials![...]



Philippines: Manila and Lake Taal (July 3-4)

2008-08-07T04:05:11.064-04:00

I spent this last week in the Philippines. Unfortunately, The Boyfriend did not get to come; he had to work. Fortunately, I had three great travelling companions: The Gastronomer (whom I met through her Gastronomy website in HCMC), her boyfriend The Astronomer and C2 who works with The Astronomer. C2 is also a fellow Canadian Viet Kieu. Are all the aliases confusing?After contemplating a few destinations within South East Asia, we were attracted to the Philippines because of the combination of city/beach we could visit at an affordable price. We also felt Philippines was more off the beaten track because it is not yet a popular destination for tourists. I think the Philippines is perceived as lacking its own unique culture after being colonized by Spain and then becoming an American territory? Incorrect! They definitely have a culture that is unique to them. I had imagined everyone speaking English (sort of like in Singapore) but while most people can speak English, most speak a mixture of Tagalog (with some Spanish sounding words) and English that’s quite intriguing.Ok, no more of the boring stuff. Here are some pictures and an overview of our first few days in Manila. I will break the trip down into a few posts including entries of our stay on the island of Palawan.Our trip started late on Wednesday night. It seems all Ho Chi Minh City-Manila flights are scheduled at 1 am. On top of this, our flight was delayed by over an hour. After arriving in Manila, we just slept in until noon. After waking up, we hit a mall to have some lunch and also book our flights to a beach destination. And maybe did a little bit of shopping...!C2, The Astronomer and The Gastronomer taking a nap at Tan Son Nhat airport.Manila is known for malls after malls after more malls!The next day, we decided to go see Lake Taal. In the middle of the lake, is Volcano Island which has its own lake in the centre. We wanted to book a tour but the ones we found were about 100 USD! The G&A (Gastronomer and Astronomer) tried to book a taxi, but the driver called them at 4:30 am and demanded more money. We therefore had to go on our own by bus, which was quite the undertaking.One thing we found about taxi drivers is that not all of them are familiar with the city. You really have to clarify whether they actually know where you want to go. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the bus depot, but we could not find our bus company. People were harrasing us to get on their buses. Finally, we were lucky to meet a lovely young woman, Rosalind, who correctly recognized we needed help. She took a jeepney with us to the correct bus area. A jeepney is a mixture of minibus and jeep; they usually have one route and people can jump in and out easily. She then guided us to our aircon bus. What a sweetheart! Tickets cost under 100 PHP (1 USD = 44 Philippino pesos).We got to travel on the infamous jeepney on our way to the correct intersection for our bus to Tagaytay.After we arrived in Tagaytay, we headed to Leslie’s Restaurant where the view of the lake was breathtaking.We got to eat in cute huts.This hut overlooking the lake required us to pay a 500 PHP (about 10 USD) premium which we weren’t willing to pay.While we were eating, a man came to sell us a boat tour package. We agreed on 1500 PHP for the ride down to the dock and the boat ride to the island. However, he only agreed to one tricycle. A tricycle is made up of a side car bolted to a motorbike. So The Gastronomer and C2 (because they're the smaller ones...) climbed behind t[...]



Exchange Sm-exchange Rate

2008-07-01T06:31:30.287-04:00

This entry might be boring to some. So warning!: I am going to discuss the VND:USD exchange rate because it has been a cause of frustration for me for the past month or so. I'll try to explain what I know the best I can, but I think there are many things I don't know nor understand.The US dollar is highly used in Vietnam, like in many other poor countries. Not only is it widely used, but many things other than souvenirs for tourists are quoted in USD. I pay my Vietnamese classes and rent (the real source of my frustration) in USD.When we arrived in Vietnam in February, 1 USD was worth about 16,000 dong. This number has been increasing as the USD has become scarce here. Someone is hogging USD, either Vietnamese people hoping it will go up (really, speculating) or possibly even the bank/government trying to decrease the use of USD in the country. The low supply of USD and higher demand is causing the price to increase (I remember something from my economics class...!).This has caused Vietnam, in the past month or so, to have two exchange rates in the country: the official bank rate and the unofficial black market rate (the rate jewelry stores use). In the past months, in Thanh Nien, a Vietnamese daily, the black market rate was quoted, around 17,500 dong while the bank rate was around 16,400 dong.You can imagine what this discrepancy instigates... What exchange rate should be used? This is actually quite a big difference when you're paying a large amount like rent. Our rent is 400 USD, but as we have used up our USD we have been paying in VND. My landlady has always gone by the black market rate. Since our rent has been stable (she would ask for an extra 30,000, about 2 USD due to the fluctuating exchange, which shows how petty she is!), I didn't actually realize there were two rates until last month, when she wanted an extra 400,000 dong (about 25 USD). After a heated discussion, we paid the bank rate but were told that next month she would only take USD.Fast forward to this month. We tried to purchase USD at the bank but the bank had instated a policy that no USD could be purchased, unless you were closing your account. Even then, a request has to be written for the director to review. So no one can purchase USD, other than going to the jewelry store and paying the inflated exchange.With the bank rate being 16,847 dong and the black market rate nearing 18,500 dong, we knew we were in for a battle. The landlady said she could not accept the bank rate because she would lose out. Really, she's only losing the potential of making more money. The exchange rate is not affecting her costs of running a building. I argued that The Boyfriend's salary is quoted in USD, but is paid in dong, using the bank rate, so we'd be paying an extra 40 USD. She argued we are two people and use a lot of water! What does that have to do with anything???I asked her what the black market rate is because it wasn't quoted in the Thanh Nien. She said she'd go to a jewelry and check. How dubious does that sound? I think something has happened. Vietnamese people are discouraged to use this rate and so it is no longer quoted in the paper.Since our lease ends at the end of the month, we figured we had some leverage because we want to stay an extra month. After telling our landlady this, and that we would only stay for the extra month if we paid the bank rate, she told us she'd ask her son. Ten minutes later, she knocked, smiling sheepishly. "Pay the bank rate! It's not a big difference!". Sur[...]



White Beauty

2008-06-26T11:11:21.214-04:00

I saw a disturbing advertisement for Pond’s White Beauty products when I went to see Iron Man a while ago. Not only was it disturbing, the ad was SO lame, pretty much your generic ad: girl uses White Beauty product, girl walks by café, all men turn and stare because she’s beautiful now! Pond’s (Unilever) is not the only company offering such products; there is also White Radiance from Olay. I meant to write about this after I took some pictures but security here is very strict, even at the supermarket. I was told I was not allowed to take pictures! Supposedly, it's easier to find pictures on the internet!White Beauty and White Radiance beauty products.I have to stay that I would describe myself as a person who doesn't push her opinions on others. I believe that people can do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. So my dismay at this product surprised me. I dislike that the term "white beauty" implies that beauty stems from being white! What if you're not white? What's more infuriating is that there is a market for this in Asia which means people agree with this and are willing to buy a product to whiten their skin. I don't think beauty should be driven by a Caucasian standard!A bit of internet research revealed that Pond’s White Beauty is a line of skin lightening products. My knowledge of beauty products is not very extensive so I’m not sure if this is a product only offered in Asia. However, I couldn't imagine such a product being sold in Canada without an uproar! I couldn’t find much information on the product in Vietnam. Most of the information came from India. This product line was launched in India last fall. There's an Indian commercial where most people don’t even look Indian and the girl who uses the product looks Caucasian. Finally, here's another blog post on this topic.I had a relative (my mother's cousin's granddaughter, I think... only Vietnamese people would keep up with such relatives!) over this week. She saw my white bottle of extra strength moisturizer (I live in Canada!) and asked whether it worked at whitening. From my stay here, I have learned that Vietnamese are obsessed with keeping their skin white. Motorbike riders cover themselves rigorously to not get dark skin. A salesgirl once commented when I told her that I was from Canada “Why aren’t you whiter?”. Well, I’ve been here for a few months and the sun rays are very strong!Entirely covered up motorbike females riders are not a rare sight in Vietnam.Here's a vendor selling long gloves for motorbike riders.The term for being tanned in Vietnamese is đen, which translates to black. There is a term for brown but that is not used. Again, I'm not sure if it’s just the negative perception of having dark skin. If only they knew how many people go to sun tanning salons in North America! Here's a Vietnamese point of view on this issue.Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating to stop using sunscreen. I try to use sunscreen regulary because I don’t want to burn. The potential of skin cancer is very serious although I think Asians have a lower risk due to the higher pigmentation in their skin. I just don't like being encouraged to look white to be beautiful.On a sort of side note, growing up, my mother referred to her numerous freckles using a Vietnamese term, which translates to "bird shit" (pardon my language!). I have noticed an increased amount of freckles on my face and I have decided they're cute! It seems having pale whi[...]



A Night of ăn nhậu and Karaoke

2008-06-25T05:36:04.797-04:00

A bunch of us continued with The Astronomer’s birthday celebrations and met up in District 4 to go ăn nhậu. An nhậu is one of those Vietnamese terms that can’t be translated accurately. An means eat and ăn nhậu refers to eating snack-y food to accompany drinking. Usually, ăn nhậu is used to describe men getting together to drink and eat snacks. A typical snack is dried squid which I guess is sort of equivalent to peanuts or pretzels at bars back home.After mentioning to my Vietnamese teacher that I had ăn nhậu on the weekend, she informed me that this term has negative connotations. It usually implies men drinking excessively on a regular basis. Therefore, as a woman, I should not use the term to describe my activities or risk people assuming I’m a hard core drinker. Rather I should have said I went out for a birthday celebrations, where I ate and drank a bit...!On this evening, our snacks were various shellfish and the alcohol of choice was nep ruou, rice wine. The rice wine came in bottles costing 10,000 dong (0.63 USD). That’s a steal because a bottle is potent enough to get a few people happy and singing. The goal was to open The Astronomer up enough so he would be singing karaoke later. His Vietnamese teacher H thought that one could not leave the country without this quintessential Vietnamese experience! The place where we went to ăn nhậu. Notice: no women!The birthday boy with the bottle of rice wine.The Gastronomer joins in on the shots while C2 looks on.*CAUTION* This may be disturbing to some. Hột vịt lộn in tamarind sauce. Hột vịt lộn is a fertilized duck egg with an embryo inside – you might have seen this on Fear Factor or Survivor! Read Jay’s and Rachel’s experience with balut – the equivalent in the Philippines. I grew up eating this so it doesn’t bother me but I like eating this better simply boiled, still in the egg shell with a bit of salt and pepper. Whenever a white person asked what the eggs were at Asian markets back home (yes, you can find them back home if you really look), my mom would advise them “You don’t want to buy that!”.Clams backed with peanuts and scallion oil (delicious!). In the background are blood cockles (a type of shellfish) in tamarind sauce.The girls enjoying some clams (V, H, C2 – C2 because her name starts with C and she’s Canadian too!).The whole group.Being a Saturday night, most karaoke bars were either booked up or didn’t allow reservations. After many calls to different karaoke bars, H found one where a room was available. The room was actually very impressive looking and at 118,000 dong an hour (8 USD), not a bad deal! There was a large selection of English songs with an even larger selection of Vietnamese songs. After singing each song, a grade was given; we ranged from 75% to 100%.And the award goes to…Best undiscovered talent: The AstronomerBest prepared after years of singing in front of the mirror: The GastronomerBest duo of the night: C2 and the Gastronomer with their rendition of Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise (the only 100% score of the night). Never knew Asian girls could be such good rappers!Cutest singer of the night: H singing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and stating it was her favourite song to sing!The Astronomer got right into it with The Beatles "Baby You Can Drive My Car".H singing a Vietnamese song.The Astronomer singing We Will Rock You.Best duo of the night!S[...]



Miss Universe Contestants

2008-06-24T03:18:04.846-04:00

Last Saturday, I met up with some friends for dim sum at the New World Hotel, for The Astronomer’s birthday (24! So young!). As I was walking along the hotel outside, I saw signs advertising New World Hotel being the Ho Chi Minh host hotel for Miss Universe. I did not realize then that I would be walking among the beautiful contestants very soon. Miss Universe is to be held in Nha Trang (north of Ho Chi Minh City) next month. I’m hoping to go to Nha Trang before I leave, not to bump into The Donald but for the beaches!The dim sum restaurant, Dynasty, was on the second floor right by the elevator. As I was waiting in the lobby with The Gastronomer and The Astronomer, contestants kept coming out of the elevator and going to a conference room. They were hard to miss with their sashes. Kids were waiting to get their pictures taken and so I decided to become a paparazzi and take some pictures also. I thought it would make for an entertaining post!The girls were very accommodating and always stopped to smile, even though their handlers kept rushing them through. All of them were taller than me (not a difficult feat!), but even more taller in heels. I left early and missed Miss Vietnam but The Gastronomer snagged a picture! I never saw Miss Canada either… Check out the pics below because really, no need for words!The Astronomer posing with Miss Universe 2007.Miss Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.Notice contestants were all legs!Miss Slovenia and South Africa.Latin Americans like to stick together: Miss Brazil, Paraguay, Honduras and Guatemala.Miss Norway and Finland.Miss Israel, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua going down the stairs.Miss Australia was posing with some rugby players. H, The Astronomer's Vietnamese teacher got to pose with Miss Vietnam![...]