Thursday, March 12, 2009

Five reasons why I'm becoming Vietnamese & 5 reasons why I have a long way to go

So I know I have a lot of news to catch up on, a couple of Vietnamese weddings, some minor flooding during my trip to HCMC etc etc. But here I would like to list the top 5 reasons why I feel I am slowly turning Vietnamese and the 5 reasons why I have a long way to go.

Top 5 reasons why I'm becoming Vietnamese

5. I no longer get angry with people who push into queues in front of me. The Vietnamese just do not wait in line. It's something I have come to accept. So now I just hold my ground. Though this has resulted in some bruises.

4. I choose Vietnamese coffee (and often Vietnamese food) over Western coffee any chance I get. I am well and truly addicted. I tried to quit and lasted less than a week!

3. I choose to get my hair washed using the traditional Vietnamese concoction of special leaves, cooked til they are burnt and lemon juice, over conventional shampoo and conditioner.

2. I wear a full face silver motorbike helmet.. with Hello Kitty stickers on it!

1. I now notice (and often stop to admire) different colours and styles of motorbike helmets and colours and makes of motorbikes.

Top 5 reasons why I have a long way to go

5. The almost complete lack of footpaths still frustrates me as I am someone who enjoys walking a lot. Motorbikes, childre, food stalls etc fill every available space.

4. I'm still not comfortable with the constant noise. The Vietnamese love everything at top volume, which means many a morning I have been woken up with drilling, welding, Celine Dion, Aqua/VengaBoys mega mixes etc.

3. As a rule I do not find Vietnamese men attractive. I feel this makes me less Vietnamese.

2. I cannot seem to refrain from counting the number of people on motorbikes. The most people I've ever seen on the back of the bike was 5 (but that included some children).

1. I still need to learn how to ride a motorbike. I thoroughly enjoy riding on the back now, but it's not enough!

Stay tuned for more visual updates soon.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hanoi Hypothermia and Tet Madness - Part 3

Nisha and I spent Thursday relaxing and wandering around Hanoi in an endless search for Bun Cha - one of my favourite Vietnamese meals which is difficult to find outside of Northern Vietnam. Turns out it's also difficult to find during Tet, so I only managed to eat it three times in a week. I was quite disappointed.

Friday, Kelly (one of Nisha's friends) and I spent the morning at the Temple of Literature. Normally it is a very peaceful escape within a bustling city but as with most attractions during Tet holiday, the place was manic. However it was lovely, to be outnumbered by Vietnamese people at places normally full of tourists. It was also heartening to see Vietnamese people visit their own tourist attractions during their big holiday. Something that I think most Australians would probably be unlikely to do, myself included.

The temple is actually Vietnam's oldest university where students had to study for 7 years and to graduate had to perform an oral exam in front of the King. Graduates had their names engraved on these giant stone tablets that are carried on the back of stone turtles (turtles are a sign of wisdom in Vietnam). So a lot of people were leaving 500 vietnam dong notes (about 50cents) and patting the turtle's heads and then patting their own heads in the search for wisdom for upcoming school exams. It was very entertaining to watch.

Kelly and I left the Temple of Literature around 11am. With some time to kill before meeting the others for lunch, but not enough time to take on a museum or tourist attraction I decided to introduce Kelly to the 'Bier Hoi' widespread in Hanoi but not very common in Da Nang. Bier Hoi is literally someone's home-brewed beer that is served on the street in glasses to people (usually men) sitting at small plastic tables in tiny plastic chairs. This Bier Hoi also served food which was very good.

There were literally no women drinking at the Bier Hoi we decided to drink at, only 2 female waitresses. The average age of the men drinking would have been around 55. The beer is quite weak in strength and served warm with big chunks of ice, but the upside is it costs around 50 cents a glass.

Kelly and I sat down at a table with about 5 or 6 60 year old men and proceeded to have a very basic chat using my terrible (and limited) Vietnamese and a fair amount of miming. The men shared their snacks with us and then when it came time to pay the men insisted on paying for our drinks. Even though we only had 2 biers each I felt very bad about letting these men pay, but they were adamant that we were not to pay.

After lunch we headed to the Museum of Ethnology. It is about 7 km outside of Hanoi but is well worth the trip. This has to be one of the best museums I have ever been to. Plenty of information and displays on the 50+ ethnic groups in Vietnam and the grounds of the museum itself have lots of interactive displays and activities. There was traditional dancing and games of some of the minority groups, different styles of housing that you could walk through. Swings and tug of war and other games, a water puppets show, drawing, painting and calligraphy. It was excellent and very informative.

I bought a rocking buffalo mask (it is the year of the buffalo this year) but soon realised that it was a difficult thing to pack to take back to Da Nang. So after we finished at the museum I wandered back into town and gave it to some kids near the lake. I moved houses again to stay with Genevieve (also an AYAD based in Hanoi) and Saturday and Sunday were just a festival of eating, clubbing, drinking and shopping. Very relaxing and enjoyable. On Sunday we had Bun Cha (for the third and final time) and then went to an Irish pub to watch Nadal v Federer at the Australian Open on TV. I was the only one in the group going for Nadal but I was vindicated in the end.

After unexpectedly missing my flight I had an extra day in Hanoi on Monday which was spent eating, shopping for DVDs and eating a Chocolate buffet at the Sofitel Metropole, a very swanky hotel in Hanoi, it was lovely. Then on Tuesday it was back on the plane and back to reality at work.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hanoi Hypothermia and Tet Madness - Part 2

Tuesday I moved to Nisha's (another Hanoi based AYAD) place and Tuesday was spent enjoying western food (more expensive but our excuse was that due to Tet most Street food and places run by Vietnamese people were closed for the entire week)! We also wandered around the Old Quarter again and had a Sex and the City marathon after one of Nisha's friends purchased the entire 7 seasons for around $8.00 AUD. We made sure we had a reasonably early night as we had to be in town to meet our bus by 8am the next morning to go to the Perfume Pagoda.

The Perfume Pagoda is about 60km south west of Hanoi. In order to get there we took a 2 hour bus ride, a one hour boat ride and then did some walking/cable car riding. Normally I avoid tours, not least of all because there is a higher chance of being ripped off, but for some places in Vietnam its just easier to book a tour and have someone else plan the logistics.

The journey on the bus was fairly uneventful, though the passengers were crammed in like sardines. At least we had real seats, some others who got on the bus later had to sit in makeshift seats in the aisles. The river journey itself was quite spectacular even though it was very cold and raining slightly.

Throughout the journey we could see that the pagoda was going to be very busy. There was a lot of traffic on the river and then there were plenty of boats docked at the pagoda once we arrived. We were later told that the first 3 months of the Lunar New Year are very busy for the pagoda, but that the first few days of the Lunar New Year were insanely busy. We hadn't really thought about the crowds when we booked to go on the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year but it was an excellent opportunity to see Vietnamese religious culture firsthand. I would like to go back to the pagoda again when there are fewer crowds and without the time restraints of a tour though.

Apart from the crowds there were also some strange meat products on display. Each of the restaurants would hang a similar display out the front to entice the crowds, but it definately diminished my appetite. I'm fairly sure on the right hand end of that photo is skinned cat so please dont enlarge the picture if you are sqeamish. Needless to say I did not ask what the meat was that we were eating at the restaurant.

We took a cable car up to the pagoda and the plan was to walk down the mountain to check out the shrines hidden along the rock walls on the way down, but unfortunately we ran out of time and the tour leader hustled us back down in a cable car. The pagoda itself was very busy and we had to queue for about 20 minutes before finally making our way down the stairs and into the pagoda itself.

Then it was back down the hill in the cable car and a return boat and bus journey. When we got back into Hanoi we went for quick dinner of Pho 24, Vietnamese fast-food and then went back to Nisha's place to crash, as we were going sightseeing the next day.

Stay tuned for Part 3 which will include the Temple of Literature, drinking bier with old men on the street at 11am, the best museum I have ever been to and more!!

Hanoi Hypothermia and Tet Madness - Part 1

Hi everyone.. despite the best intentions of Jetstar Pacific I eventually made it back to Da Nang after spending Tet in Hanoi. I was a day late after missing my flight due to some confusing Vietnamese text messages about flight times from Jetstar.

Prior to leaving for Hanoi... the Furama Resort in Da Nang held a Tet function. Miss Vietnam was there... and was ridiculously tall (I think she had on super high heels under her maxi dress), drumming, dancing, calligraphy and free wine!!! All my favourite things.

Then it was time for a little Tet madness outside my work. These cumquat trees are very traditional to have in the home and the workplace over Tet. There were markets springing up around town selling these in the weeks before Tet and the prices were ridiculous. This tree was a couple of metres tall and cost about 5 million Vietnamese dong (about $500 AUD).

So on Sunday Jan 25th (after picking up a coat I had gotten tailored on the Saturday) I flew into Hanoi which was about 10 degrees. The girl who neglected to pack socks to take to Nam was very happy indeed to have that coat... and some socks acquired since my arrival!

I dropped my stuff off at one of the AYAD's places and then headed into town for some food (I very much enjoyed eating off Avril Lavigne's face) and a walk around Hoam Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. It was Lunar New Year's Eve and I had some time to kill before meeting up with the others for dinner and fireworks.

So after witnessing some of the set-up for the celebrations later that night I headed for dinner and some drinks at a jazz club with some of the other AYADS. Then we headed to the lake at about 11:30pm along with everyone else in Hanoi.

After the madness we headed back to Jordi's place with balloons and giant sugar cane trees as you do. Got to sleep around 2am and then had to be up at 6am to start the Hottest 100 party (the radio broadcast started at 10am Australian time). We had the radio broadcast coming through the computer as well as a stream of the Australia v South Africa one day cricket match later in the day, as well as the Australian Open Tennis on the TV. It was a rocking Australia Day.

After a hard day of relaxing with very little sleep, the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a write off. Jordi cooked us up a beautiful spaghetti bolognaise and salad, with red wine and New Zealand ice cream for desert. Very gourmet for Hanoi. On Tuesday I headed over to another AYAD's place.

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will include an enjoyable but crowded trip to the Perfume Pagoda, sight-seeing and some supsect wooden sculptures from the Museum of Ethnology.

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