Frozen Feeding Frenzy

Banana….Strawberry….Pistachio….Salted Caramel….Coffee Chocolate…Mint….Vanilla Macadamia….Stracciatella….Chocolate Chili…Lime….Strawberry sorbet…Tutti Frutti…Pineapple…Vanilla….Mocha…Rum Raisin…Banana (again)….Vanilla Macadamia (again)…Strawberry (again)….Chocolate Chili (again)…for a total of 20 scoops of ice cream.

Still happily going to town

Still happily going to town

Not to brag (because I probably should be ashamed), but this is what I consumed in less than an hour and a half at Fanny’s First Friday of the Month All-You-Can-Eat Ice Cream Buffet in Hanoi. You should have seen my reaction yesterday when we walked by the sign. As for my ice cream appetite, Jeff said he has never felt more proud and horrified. To his own credit, he put down 16 scoops, which is fair, but he had nothing on me.

Heaven on a sign

Heaven on a sign

If not for the crowds of fellow ice cream freaks getting a little too pushy, I would have had a few more scoops. But after Jeff got shoved out of the way by a pudgy little girl on her way to the chocolate syrup fountain and my numerous attempts to muscle my way to the front of the crowd, it seemed like a good time to make our sticky exit. At $4 a piece, it was a bit of a splurge, but not a bad way to spend our last night in Vietnam.

At the counter again.  "Please sir...may I have some more?"

At the counter again.

Posted: November 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Back on Two Wheels

I had deluded myself that it might be possible to go through our whole trip without having to set butt on the dreaded and ubiquitous motorbike. We went through all of Indonesia and China walking past hundreds of calls of, “Wan motobai?” with me declining or ignoring each and every one. In Vietnam, I had hoped we’d manage to avoid the touts and their bikes with increasing ease. Not so.

If you know me well, then you know the details surrounding my fear of anything on two wheels. For those of you that don’t, all you need to know is that I was in a bicycle accident in college. I took the brunt of the fall with my face. The result was an eye patch, a false tooth, a couple of scars, and consequently bike-a-phobia. Sure, I can laugh about it now. Once, several years later, I was even able to hop back on a bicycle (albeit the back seat of a tandem on an empty bike path in Tahoe).

However being faced with the prospect of hopping on the back of a motorbike was no laughing matter. I had a feeling it was going to happen at some point, and the time had come. If we wanted to get to the Marble Mountains and China Beach, motorbike it would have to be. I have been observing people on motorbikes for months now. The way the passengers nonchalantly hold on to packages of all sizes, kids and babies stowed between, up to four on a bike, as the vehicles and streets and hazards fly by, where the rules of the road are that there are none. Jeff and I each had our own motorbike, complete with driver and helmet. If I didn’t already have reservations to begin with, what definitely did the trick was the fact that printed in familiar font on my driver’s helmet and bike were letters spelling out “HONGDA”. Despite the fact that my driver was really a complete stranger, I had to resist the urge to wrap my arms around his waist and hold on tight. After all, in my analysis of motorbike passengers, the only ones I’d ever seen clutching their driver were likely also dating or married to them. So, the 15-minute ride was spent with white knuckles gripping the skinny bar behind me, legs squeezing both sides of the seat and bike, and body so tense, I thought for sure I’d be sore afterwards.

Fueling doubt

Fueling doubt

Anyway, since then I have been on a motorbike three more times. It doesn’t matter that for two of those times, I had no idea a motorbike trip was involved until it was too late (once to get to the bus station and once to get to the docks-both sans helmet, and the latter trip with all my luggage!). Good thing I had one ride under my belt because who knows how many more motorbike rides lay ahead. In fact, just today we rented our own motorbike for a day trip to a national park. And despite the inexperience of my driver, at least I was able to hold on to him for dear life without shame. Jeff said that it was fun to drive and towards the end of the ride I realized that playing passenger wasn’t as terrifying anymore. It was even fun…almost.

Posted: November 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Science 101

Law
Lately, connections have been coming from the realm of science. Take entropy for example. It’s the idea that closed systems move from order to chaos, from shiny to rusty. It came to me the other day when Mari looked at me, studying my face, and said, “you’re looking old these days. I guess 10 months of unrelenting sun and elements really do add up.” Ppphhhhttt went the balloon that was my self-confidence.
But it did make me think of our backpack of belongings—as closed a system as any. My clothes, each a little worse for wear every time I push them back in the bag, have long ceased being dirt-free let alone wrinkle free. And they in turn press hard on my toiletries, which includes my electric clippers. Back in April, Mari’s parents brought me a clipper which I was able to use on my fuzzy head once before it stopped working. I bought a second pair in Turkey which worked fine for the first 4 ½ months. However, when I took it out to cut my hair in Hawaii for my grandfather’s birthday party, I noticed that the guard had broken in my backpack. Its side had broken off, leaving no way for it to stay secured to the razor and with a portion “guard-free.” My solution to secure the guard was duct tape. I cut my hair and felt pleased with my Mcgyver-esque ingenuity. Mari saw the back of my head and thought otherwise. She managed an “um…” before trailing off. It turned out that the part of the guard that broke off was kind of important. It’s what keeps your head from having lines shaved into it. I felt like I had the LA freeway system carved into my head that night at the party.
3 weeks later in Danang, Vietnam I again took the slightly used clippers from my backpack. This time I used more duct tape. But when I turned it on, it rattled for a few seconds, and made a new noise. But I cut my hair anyway. Or at least I tried to. The clipper’s noise had been its way of telling me cut at my own peril. It conked out on me, leaving me to feel like an unfinished crop circle. As I chucked my second pair of clippers in the garbage, I thought, “ain’t entropy a bitch?”

Hypothesis
Remarkably, 10 months in and we haven’t been robbed, pickpocketed or beat up. We have the things we set out with (minus only a few things we’ve carelessly forgotten along the way), haven’t had any major health problems or other major issues. All in all, it feels like we’ve been extremely fortunate. And that’s led me to be a little reluctant to write about how we have been faring to date—for fear of our fortune changing by me jinxing it. And I surely don’t want to be the jinx, since I’m not the cause behind our good fortune. But for today, science trumps superstition.
For some time, I’ve been convinced that much of our good fortune is directly linked to Mari. She’s the equivalent of a scientific secret weapon. There’s a school of thought that says that mammals all have an instinctual affinity towards mammal babies. And because of that mammals will want to take care of them. It’s called the Biophilia Hypothesis. Think about how warm and cuddly you feel when you see kittens or puppies. Or calves or piglets for that matter. It’s the reason there are urban myths about people being left in the woods and raised by wolves, and why Tarzan was…well, Tarzan. Mari, thanks to her impish size and Asian youthfulness, seems to have fallen into a little natural selective niche with this one. Her oversized backpack only accentuates the issue.
Despite not speaking the language, local peoples love trying to communicate with her. They pat her on the head and grab her cheeks. I’ve seen men pick her up and carry her across streams and then put her down as gently as if she were being lowered into a crib. Every time we get off a bus or train, someone is helping her with her backpack. Last week the guesthouse owner, a woman actually about the same height as Mari but older looking, took Mari’s backpack for her and then held her hand to help Mari cross the street. For whatever reason, people want to baby this 31 year old woman, which has been ok with me.

***note****

12 hours after I wrote this, we lost our camera.  Way to go jinx.

Posted: November 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Hawaii, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sand, Sea, and more Sand

Mui Ne was fabulous.  It’s somewhat of a resort town consisting of one long main street of restaurants and resorts, with great deals to be had at the little guest houses in between.  Most people come here for the beach, which even compared to those we’ve seen during our travels, ranks at the top.  But aside from lying around on the soft sandy shore, we took a half day trip to see some of the surrounding sights, including the White Sand Dunes, which the area is also famous for.  Who knew there was a mini Sahara in Vietnam?  For less than a buck, you can rent sleds from the local kids and give it a go.  For your entertainment, here’s a play by play of how I fared.

Me and my sled are ready to go

Me and my sled are ready to go

Posing at the top

Posing at the top

Getting a little push

Getting a little push

"Wheeeeee!!"

Zooming down the dune. These plastic sheets go fast!

Succesful first run.  The hardest part is walking back up.

Succesful first run. The hardest part is walking back up.

Off to tackle the big dune

Off to tackle the big dune

Holding on tight and trying to keep the sled straight

Holding on tight and trying to keep the sled straight

Uh oh...starting to loose control

Uh oh...starting to lose control

Taking a tumble.  That's me flat on my face....and my sled way over there.  *Picture slightly out of focus because Jeff was laughing so hard

Taking a tumble. That's me flat on my face and my sled...way over there.

Posted: October 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Massage, Museum, and Mekong

Day One – A few days ago we touched down in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, but still referred to as Saigon by most people here) in Vietnam. We easily found our hostel, centrally located with the friendliest staff imaginable. After putting down our packs and consulting a map, we headed out in search of a particular massage clinic. After navigating around several blocks worth of muddy puddles, broken sidewalk, fruit rinds, and staying clear of the motorbikes careening on and off the walkway, we found the building. The Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Institute offers hour-long massages for a mere $2.50, but what is even more significant, is that all the masseurs are blind. If I’m being honest, initially I was a little uncomfortable upon entering and being hand-led to the massage table. My female attendant instructed me to undress and exited through a curtain. Despite the obvious fact that this was unnecessary on her part, I suppose that to do so is just proper masseuse etiquette. My discomfort quickly subsided once the massage began. She was proficient with a definite no-nonsense quality, as she quickly dabbed menthol oil from a jar in her pocket and swiftly rubbed it in, before going to work on my muscles with some (very) strong kneading. As she worked, I listened to the lively chatter and the sound of palms rapidly pounding away through the curtains. While different from the tranquility and zen-like atmosphere that spas attempt to create (in the few times I have been in a spa), I enjoyed it. Plus there was something eerily comfortable knowing that my body wasn’t being visually scrutinized. We left feeling relaxed and with a feeling that it was money well spent.

Day 2 in Ho Chi Minh was spent walking around the city and visiting the War Remnants Museum. After our free breakfast at the hostel, we walked toward the museum. As we navigated the city streets, I tried to prepare myself for exactly what it was that were going to see. No amount of mental prep would make taking in the exhibits any easier. It was heartbreaking. What I came away with was that regardless of politics and beliefs, to see the war through the eyes of the country where it all took place was horrifying. The pictures were hard to look at, but I forced myself to look at each and every one, to read each and every name. Some may argue that the museum does not provide a balanced view of the war-that it is weighted with propaganda, and maybe that’s true. But to be fair, maybe that’s justified, given that the museum is housed within their homeland. Although Vietnam as a country is recovering, many of its people are still reeling and the effects of the war continue to be felt and seen everyday. I walked through several exhibits with a lump in my throat, and at times the tears spilled over. As I learned more about the personal stories of the war, I couldn’t help but feel what we all know as fact-that in war there are no winners. It’s one of those simple truths that we all take as a given, but at this moment I actually felt it to my core. In this museum, the way it was portrayed, my heart broke for the people of Vietnam, but also for the Americans, the French, the Laotians, Japanese, Australians, and everyone else, military and civilian alike, who had no choice but to see and experience what no one should have to-the consequences of war. One of the most touching pieces was a recent addition to the photo exhibition, an enlarged copy of a letter written by a young Vietnamese man to President Barack Obama. In his well-penned letter, he commends our current president for his beliefs, and his hopes for his children to live in a world of peace. He also asks for assistance for victims of Agent Orange, including the author himself. Despite the best of intentions, I had a heavy feeling of hopelessness, knowing that in all reality his pleas may not be answered, at least not in his lifetime. The museum closed for an hour, just as the afternoon deluge began. But we bought ourselves ponchos, had a pensive lunch, and went back to the museum to see the rest.

Exhibit in War Remnants Museum

Exhibit in War Remnants Museum

Day 3-4 were spent not in Ho Chi Minh, but instead on a tour of the Mekong Delta. I feel a bit hypocritical after the stance we’ve taken on tours, but sometimes they are truly unavoidable. Plus this two-day tour was $20 including transportation, hotel, and most meals. The first day was worth-while and included a boat ride to several smaller islands, a canoe ride through the delta, a trip to a bee farm and candy and wine making factory where we sampled the wares and Jeff drank snake wine.

Snake wine

Snake wine

We enjoyed some live local music and dancing, and took a bike ride through one of the villages. The best part of the bike ride other than hopping off, was that I didn’t crash into anything, since it has been well over a decade since I’ve ridden on one of those things. That night we stayed at a hotel in Can Tho where we tried snake for dinner (chewy), and woke up at 6 in the morning to go to the famous floating market, Cai Be. It was slightly underwhelming, compared to what I had conjured up in my head, but nice seeing the fruit and vegetable-laden boats floating around selling their wares. What was less fun was the two-hour boat ride after to the ferry, and the five-hour bus ride back to HCMC to end the day. The one-day trip would have been the better option. We had a great cheap dinner at the night market in Ben Tranh (my favorite meal so far) to wrap up our stay in HCMC. Now it’s off to Mui Ne to get away and back to beach life.

Yummm....snake

Yummm....snake

Posted: October 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »