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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stuck in Hong Kong

I have been writing the last several posts from a cozy little hotel room in Hong Kong. I came here to apply for my entry visa to China in anticipation of my move to Shanghai where I will start a new job teaching English.

I have already received my China visa, but the school where I will be working doesn't want me to go to Shanghai until January 9th, which means I'll be in Hong Kong for another week. I guess there are worse places to be "stuck". I'll have plenty of time to practice some of my Mandarin phrases on the locals.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting a Visa for China

Of course, the whole reason I came to Hong Kong was to apply for my entry visa to China. On Monday I went to the visa office where there was a long line of people hoping to get their own China visas.

After about an hour in line, I finally was allowed inside the visa office where I took a number & sat down. It was like waiting at the MVD: there were people there from all walks of life, some talking on their cellphones, some reading the newspaper, some just staring off into space. Good thing I brought a book.

Three hours later, I was called to a window where a woman took my paperwork, stamped several pieces of paper, gave me a receipt, & told me to come back the next day. Hm. I had heard that it would take 3-5 business days to process my visa.

On Tuesday, I went back to the visa office. The line was much shorter this time. Once in the office I was able to go straight to the collection counter. I paid HK$1200 (about US$160), & they handed me my passport with the visa inside. Ta-da!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Backtracking in Hong Kong

I flew to Hong Kong today from Ho Chi Minh City. I'm here to apply for my visa for China. As soon as I get the visa, I will fly to Shanghai to start my new job teaching English there. While I wait for the visa paperwork to process, I'll have some time to write about my travels over the last month, starting with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

See You Later, Vietnam!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Touching Base: Bien Hoa

I'm now in Bien Hoa for a couple of days, back where I started a month ago, uploading photos & doing laundry. But my travels are not over yet. After spending the holidays with my brother & sister-in-law in Saigon, I'll fly to Hong Kong to apply for my visa for China. Hong Kong ranked as the 9th most expensive city on Mercer's Cost of Living survey. I'm bracing myself for the sticker shock after being in Vietnam for so long, where a $5 taxi ride makes me gasp.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dec 17-19: Dalat

I loved Dalat. It's famous for its cool climate, making it a perfect spot to grow flowers & fruit. I had been hearing from my students that people go to Dalat mainly to get out of the heat of Saigon, so I was surprised to find that there was so much to see & do there.

I lucked out on a 15-dollar tour that took me to a flower farm, a coffee plantation, a silk factory, a rice wine distillery, a pagoda with a very happy Buddha, a beatiful waterfall, & an old French train station. I took tons of photos of it all.

The next day I decided to go exploring on my own. I walked & walked around the town. I saw the famous flower gardens, Crazy House, Bao Dai's summer palace, a Catholic church in the shape of a Buddhist pagoda, some more waterfalls (though these were under renovation), & the central market where they were selling all kinds of dried & fresh fruits. At the end of the day, I sipped a Saigon Beer as I watched the people go by.

I briefly considered staying another day, but it was time to go back to Bien Hoa (my home base in Vietnam) & regroup before meeting my brother & sister-in-law in Saigon on the 22nd.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dec 14-16: Nha Trang

I had been hearing about Nha Trang ever since I arrived in Vietnam in June. All of my students kept saying it was the best beach in Vietnam. Now I finally had the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

I took an overnight sleeper bus from Hoi An, arriving in Nha Trang at 6:00am. I quickly found a hotel room for $5 a night - the cheapest one yet! I left my backpack in the room & headed for the beach.

There was no one there. Of course, it was a Monday & it was early in the morning, so maybe all the beach goers were still snug in their beds. I looked in the guidebook & found out that there were some Cham ruins not far from the center of town. These were the same people who built My Son in Hoi An, where I had just been. I decided to rent a bicycle & check them out.

Po Nagar was an interesting site, well worth the 11,000 dong entrance fee (about 60 cents). The ruins have obviously been well-taken care of - rebuilt & cleaned up. It was like being in an outdoor museum. The temples are still used today as worship sites. When I ducked inside, people were crowded around altars to Shiva, a hindu god, burning incense & muttering prayers.

On my way back to town, I stopped at the Long Son Pagoda, which was at the top of a long stone staircase. At the top, I found the pagoda & several large statues of Buddha, as well as a cemetery full of stacked crypts. Very cool. Back at the bottom of the hill, I had lunch at the vegetarian cafe there, which served your standard Buddhist grub: fake meats & rice dishes for a few pennies.

The next day, I took a boat tour of the islands off the coastline. At our first stop, several of us dove into the water while others went for parasail rides. I was just putting on my mask & snorkle when I felt a slight sting - & then another. I looked down into the water: jellyfish. I wound up with a rash of little red bumps all over my body that itched like the worst mosquito bites for days & days.

After that, I was ready to spend an entire day lazing on the beach, doing nothing but reading & listening to the waves roll over the sand.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dec 10-13: Hoi An

Hoi An is a cute little town. Since it was in the area considered as the demilitarized zone during the Vietnam War, many of its buildings were spared from destruction. Especially in the older section of town, you can still see wonderful examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture. These days the old buildings have been converted to tailor shops & lantern sellers, restaurants & bars. It's a great place to spend the afternoon people watching.

One day, I took a tour to My Son, a complex of Cham ruins about an hour away from town. During the bus ride to the site, our guide told us that his father was a member of the Viet Cong who had died on the front lines during the Vietnam War. Then he went on to explain that many of the structures at My Son had been destroyed by US bombing. "Why? Wrong information! Any Americans in the group?" No one answered.

When we got to the main gate of the complex, they took us the rest of the way to the ruins in US military jeeps. Our guide said that indeed these were authentic war-time vehicles that the Americans left as they were fleeing the country - Ha! Any Americans in the group?

As we toured the complex, our guide explained the unsual construction methods used by the Cham people, & pointed out that many of the statues there were missing their heads. "Why? Because the French wanted them for their museums! Any French in the group?" No one answered.

We all hung our heads in shame as we returned to the bus which would take us back to town.

Back at the hotel, I looked in the guidebook for something to do the following day. I noticed that there was a strip of beach not far from town, so the next day I checked out a bicycle from the hotel & rode out to see what it was like. It was beautiful - white sand, gentle waves, & not too many people. I spent the whole day there, lounging under a palapa & reading a book. Aah.

Next stop: Nha Trang.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dec 9: Hue

I took the night train from Hanoi to Hue in the central part of Vietnam - a 14-hour journey - arriving at 10:00am. I shared a taxi with my cabin mates from the train to a hotel that was mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Got a decent room for $10.

People come to Hue to see the Citadel, so that's where I went. 55,000 dong (about $3) got me through the gates. It was a huge complex with lots of old buildings in various states of disrepair, with no visible explanations. The grounds were beautiful, but I'm sure I missed out on the significance of the site because I'm not very familiar with Vietnamese history.

Afterwards, I walked down a back street, away from the tourist route, through Vietnamese life. It made me think about how when you're traveling, you get to see lots of interesting places in a short period of time. You can take lots of photos, go home & show them to your friends as you narrate your wonderful trip. But life - real life - goes on long after you've gone, in spite of your being there - & because of it.

In the evening, I came across the Mandarin Cafe where the owner Mr. Cu displays his wonderful photos of Vietnamese life, & offers postcards of the images for sale. I leafed through his photo album while eating a tasty meal & sipping the local brew: Huda.

I decided that one day was enough in Hue, so I booked a bus ticket to Hoi An for the following morning.

In Hue

I'm currently in Hue, Vietnam - checking email & trying without success to find an internet cafe that supports Skype. I miss my laptop! Wish I had a mini laptop to travel with. Also having problems accessing Facebook - the rumors of a country-wide block must be true.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dec 5-8: A Weekend with Miss Hang

Miss Hang, one of my Vietnamese friends in Bien Hoa is from Hanoi, & was in town visiting her family while I was in the area, so she invited me to her family's house for the weekend.

We drove a couple of hours from Hanoi out to the countryside where I was greeted by several people that I had met before at the wedding in October & at the death anniversary celebration in November. They warmly welcomed me, offering me bitter tea & making room for me on the sofa. No one spoke English, & of course I speak very little Vietnamese, so our conversation was full of silly gestures & facial expressions. We were all happy to see each other again.

It was getting late, so I was shown into a large room where there were five huge wooden beds draped with mosquito nets. The whole family (about 15 adults & children) slept in the same room, two or three people to each bed - Miss Hang shared hers with me.

The next morning I woke up at 6:00am. I had just enough time to take the above photo before the house came to life. Everyone started bustling around, sweeping the courtyard, making tea, killing chickens. It was a beehive of activity. I didn't suspect anything unusual until people started arriving on motorbikes heaped with folding tables & plastic chairs. Something big was about to happen.

Soon, some people I had never seen before (presumably neighbors) showed up, & we all sat around the folding tables in the courtyard drinking bitter tea together. These were traditional country folk. Many of the older women were chewing betel, their teeth dyed black, their lips bright red from the betel juice. The men smoked strong tobacco from a traditional ceramic bowl.

Then the food started coming - plates & plates of it. People came & went all day long, eating mass amounts of food that was constantly being prepared. More chickens were killed, & a few ducks too. Mounds of vegetables were washed, cut & boiled.

I still didn't know what the fuss was all about, but the family members had tied white scarves around their heads, leading me to believe this was some sort of death celebration. "Celebration" is definitely the correct word here. Everyone was laughing & boisterous; it was a joyous occasion.

In the afternoon I got a better idea of what was going on. Miss Hang took me out to the fields behind the house where there were four or five tombs. To the right were several curious mounds of dirt grown over with vegetation. A couple of the brothers were there with shovels in their hands. It turned out that the patriarch of the family, whose death we celebrated in November, was buried under one of the mounds, & they were going to dig him up & put him in his final resting place, one of the tombs to the left.

The women burned incense & paper offerings over the mound, & at exactly 2:07pm, the men started digging. The women wailed as if they were themselves dying, as the dirt was removed clump by clump. I stayed off to the side watching for about 20 minutes before Miss Hang said it was time to go back to the house. I was disappointed not to be able to see the whole thing happen.

Back at the house, more food, more bitter tea... & soon the rice wine started flowing. "Một, hai, ba, YO!" We spent all evening drinking & eating, celebrating Grandpa. When I finally went to bed, the party was still going strong, & continued at a low rumble throughout the night. I awoke at 2:00am to strange chopping sounds & groggily went to investigate. Turns out they had killed a pig & were dismembering it. I went back to bed.

The next morning it was time for me to leave. A couple of friends of the family were going back to Hanoi & offered to take me with them. This was the last time I'll see Miss Hang. Our goodbye was hurried & without ceremony, as is her character.

(NOTE: Because of the language barrier, I can only make guesses based on observations. I have searched online for an explanation of this tradition, but haven't been able to find anything. If you know more about it, please post a comment!)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dec 3-4: Sapa

I took the night train from Hanoi to Sapa, the coldest town in Vietnam. The train arrived in Lao Cai, the end of the line, at 5:00am & I took a minibus to town along with a slew of other tourists. By the time we arrived in Sapa, the sun was up, though there was a heavy mist hanging low over the mountains. Brr! It was cold!

I found a hotel for $6 & asked about trekking tours. Luckily, they had a tour that was leaving at 9:30am. I had time for breakfast & coffee before I met the tour guide. Nine of us hiked an 8-mile loop through the villages in the valley. The scenery became more & more beautiful as we decended the trail & the mist lifted. By lunchtime, the sun was shining, warming us up quite a bit.

We were followed the whole way by several minority tribe women carrying handicrafts for sale. Some of them were carrying babies strapped to their backs as well, swaddled in brightly colored fabrics. Many of the women wore flip flops as we trudged up rocky slopes & through the slippery mud. I of course had on my trusty hiking shoes, one of the marks of a true tourist.

When we finally reached the end of the trail, the tribal women began hawking their wares: "You buy from me! I follow you all day!" One of the members of our tour group kept buying & buying until the women were satisfied & bade us a fond farewell.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dec 1-2: Hanoi, Part 2

After a spending ten days traveling around with me, Michael flew back to the US, so I was left to my own devices. I decided to take a walk to the Temple of Literature. For 10,000 dong (about 50 cents) I was able to tour the grounds that were once a Confusius-minded think tank. Most of what was there has been rebuilt in the last 50 years (you might have heard that Vietnam has been through a few wars recently), but that didn't detract from the beauty of the place. The compound was made up of several traditional Chinese style structures amid still ponds, lotus flowers blooming over curious coy fish. Despite the many visitors milling around, the atmosphere was serene.

I also visited the tomb of Uncle Ho himself. It was a very serious affair. I waited with scores of other visitors as security guards scanned our bags, removing cameras & cell phones before we entered the mausoleum. We were then filed straight to the door, which was flanked by two soldiers carrying bayonettes. I had visions of being skewered as I walked up the red carpet, but thankfully made it inside without incident. More soldiers inside the tomb kept the line moving slowly but steadily past the body, which was displayed in a glass case with lighting reminiscent of Madame Tussauds, surrounded on four points with more bayonette-wielding guards. I had all of thirty seconds to decide if this was the real Ho Chi Minh. The jury is still out.

In the afternoon I walked to the train station where I bought an overnight ticket to Sapa, my next stop.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nov 29-Dec 1: Halong Bay

From Hanoi, Michael & I took a bus to Hai Phong on the coast where we boarded a boat that would take us to Cat Ba Island. We sailed through the beautiful crags of Halong Bay, the quintessential image of Vietnam. I was awestruck.

Once on the island, we investigated things to do. We found Slo Pony, a local rock climbing guide company. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to book a climbing trip with them. It was way too cold to be thinking about dropping into the water after a route anyway. I bet it's awesome in the summer time - all those big tall rock formations jutting out of the water seem to scream out "CLIMB ME!"

Even though we weren't going climbing with them, the folks at Slo Pony gave us some useful advice on other things to do on the island. Since we really only had one full day for sight seeing, they suggested we rent a motorbike & drive around the island. We found a scooter for about $5 for the day including gas. Nice.

Neither of us had ever driven a motorbike, so at the toss of a coin, I ended up in front. After a few false starts, we were off! We spent all day driving around the island, stopping here & there to explore. It was so beautiful - Cat Ba Island is definitely one of the gems of Vietnam.

We both wished we had more time to spend here, but Michael was scheduled to fly back to the US on the 1st, so we reluctantly packed up & took the boat back to the mainland. Maybe I'll be back one day. If so, I'll bring my climbing gear.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nov 28: Hanoi

After Saigon, Michael & I flew to Hanoi. We did the self-guided walking tour of the city recommended in the Lonely Planet book we were carrying. We saw lots & lots of stores selling lots & lots of crap. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the venerated water puppet theater. I was excited to see a show - Michael not so much, but he went along with it anyway.

Now, if you've never seen a Vietnamese water puppet show, you really haven't seen Vietnam - at least that's what the brochure says. The puppeteers stand behind a bamboo screen in a pool of water, manipulating wooden puppets to tell the story of kings, dragons & rice growers. It's campy, but I loved it anyway. It was great entertainment for two bucks.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nov 26-28: Ho Chi Minh City

After spending a few days in Siem Reap, Michael & I flew to Saigon to spend a few days.

The first day we found a cheap all-day tour of the Mekong Delta - $10 per person, including lunch. The pamphlet promised they would take us to a bee farm, a coconut candy factory, & a rice paper factory. It also said we would have a traditional Vietnamese lunch, & sip tea while listening to a performance of traditional Vietnamese music. It sounded great, so we signed up.

Indeed we did see all of the promised attractions - but still the tour was below par. Instead of explaining the process of honey production at the bee farm, they just dropped us off & directed us to sit at some tables where they served us tea. Then they tried to sell us jars of honey products. A similar thing happened at the next stop, the coconut candy factory, & again at the third stop. I felt like I was on a shopping spree instead of a tour of the delta region. I can say, though, that the tour was worth just about ten bucks. I guess you get what you pay for.

The second day we walked around the city on our own. I took Micheal to see all the usual sites: Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, the main post office, the opera house, the market - & we took photos of them all.

After two days of Saigon, we were both ready to move on. Our next stop: Hanoi.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nov 22-25: Siem Reap, Cambodia

I finished my English teaching job in Bien Hoa, Vietnam on November 16th. Since I don't start my new job in Shanghai, China until January, I decided to spend the rest of the year traveling. How lucky am I?

For my first stop, my friend Michael I. from Arizona met me in Siem Reap, Cambodia where we toured the ruins of Angkor Wat. These ruins were massive, beautiful, amazing. I dare to say they are the best ruins I've seen, which includes Teotihuacan in Mexico City & Machu Picchu in Peru. We got tons of photos of the crumbled structures from every angle, from far away & zoomed in close. But the two dimensional images just don't reveal the depth of the sights, the sounds, the awe of it all.

I was surprised to find that US dollars were used everywhere: at the hotel, at the entrance to the ruins, in the restaurants, at the market - everything was in US dollars. When I tried to use Cambodian riels it actually threw them for a loop. They looked bewildered, even slightly annoyed. I wonder if US dollars are used throughout the country or it it's just that way in Siem Reap because of all the tourists.

With the days ruined, so to speak, we spent the evenings in the backpacker area of Siem Reap, swilling Angkor beer & watching the people go by. There was a slight chill in the air, a welcome change from the sticky heat of south Vietnam. What a great way to start the trip.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nov 21: Saigon

I'm on the road! I left Bien Hoa yesterday to come to Saigon. I hung out with some cool foreigners (a German, a Brit, & an American) last night. Here we are having dinner at the Ben Thanh night market.

I'm flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia this afternoon to meet my friend Michael I. We're going to spend a few days at Angkor Wat, the famous ruins. I can't wait to take tons of photos :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nov 20: Teacher Day

Friday November 20th is Teacher Day in Vietnam. There are no classes that day & the teachers receive lots of gifts from the students to show their appreciation & respect. Some students even put on a talent show of sorts to entertain their teachers.

All week my students have been taking me out for coffee or dinner, & giving me Vietnamese souvenirs. It really makes me feel good to know that my students appreciate me, even though I've only been here a short time.

One of my favorite gifts is the ubiquitous conical hat. Now, how am I going to fit that in my suitcase?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Gift from the Post Office

I go to the post office quite often to send gifts & cards home. Today I made another visit there to send off some last items before I leave Bien Hoa. As the woman handed me my change, she also gave me a bag with the post office logo on it, apparently a frequent customer gift!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Laundry Guy

I dropped off my last pile of dirty clothes with the laundry guy today.

He has always treated me well, not only doing my laundry, but also making minor adjustments to my bicycle for free, & sending me home with freshly made soy milk. He charges me 20,000 Dong (=$1.11) per kilo, which is actually double the normal price, but I can afford it & he sometimes gives me discounts. I once left some clothing with his wife to be altered, shortened or lengthened. For all four garments, she charged me 17,000 dong (=$0.94).

In my rudamentary Vietnamese, I told them that I would be leaving Bien Hoa this weekend to go to China for a year, & that I wanted to take a photo to show to all my friends at home. The laundry guy quickly skipped to the back of the shop, too shy to pose. In the photo above, his wife rests on her trusty sewing machine, surrounded by the week's work.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grapefruit Farm

Tonight the students from my class at the bank took me to a grapefruit farm for a farewell party. We sat on the riverside, ate plates & plates of food, & drank grapefruit wine. They are such a great group of people. I will miss them very much.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Death Anniversary Celebration

Miss Hang, my coffee shop friend, asked me to be at her house yesterday at 4:00pm. I didn't know what we were going to do, but I always accept invitations - I could miss something really cool if I don't.

So there I was at 4:00. We hopped on her motorbike (aka: scooter) & were off. We stopped at the market & bought huge bags full of noodles & fruit. I started to realize that something big was about to happen. A little further down the road, I began to recognize our surroundings, & soon we pulled up in front of the same house where the wedding took place last month. All the usual suspects were there - it was a party!

I still had no idea what the occasion was, but was happy to see everyone again. They all welcomed me warmly & invited me to sit down. We gathered around long tables covered in plates of food, the women & children at one table sipping sodas, the men at another swilling beer.

Finally, one of the cousins who speaks very good English explained that this was a celebration for her grandfather who died four years ago, though the gathering was anything but somber. Everyone was laughing & boisterous. Yay for Granddad!

After dinner, I played with some of the children until it was time for them to go home. We gave each other high fives & stacked beer cans until they toppled, laughing heartily at our fun.

When the party dwindled to about 15 people, I was invited to the beer table & encouraged to drink lots & lots of beer. We all tossed our empty cans under the table, & clincked our glasses together as we yelled: "một, hai, ba, yo!" (1, 2, 3, yo!)

Miss Hang & I stayed until the very end, drinking & laughing together. When it was finally time to go home, we waved goodbye to family members, as the chicken bones & other debris that had been thrown on the floor during the festivities was swept out into the street. I got home at around 11:00pm, tired but happy, honored to have been a part of this celebration.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I have met so many interesting people here in Bien Hoa. Tram is one of the coolest. She's very outgoing, unusually independent, & has a great sense of humor.

She is from a small village near the Cambodian border where her family has a farm. She's the ninth child of twelve, but the only one who has left her village. She's now 23 years old. In Bien Hoa she works for a Korean company that contracts with Nike. She speaks English at work, the common language between her & her managers. Lucky for me that her English is so good.

One of the difficult things about traveling is that you have to say goodbye to so many wonderful people. It must also be difficult for Vietnamese people to make friends with foreigners since they don't tend to stay in one place for very long. But Tram is pretty adventurous. Maybe I will meet her again someday in another place, at another time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Storing Luggage

I will be traveling around for about six weeks before I move to Shanghai. I didn't want to take all of my things with me while I'm on the road, so I needed a place to store them. My Vietnamese tutor Phuong generously offered to keep my luggage at her house so that my belongings stay safe while I'm away. Also, this will allow me to see Phuong one last time before I leave Vietnam. I'm so lucky to have met such wonderful people in my short time here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Coffee Shop Friend

The first Vietnamese person that I made friends with on my own was Miss Hang, the owner of the coffee shop that I go to regularly. She speaks no English, & when we met, I spoke no Vietnamese. Still, she has invited me to have lunch with her & her family on several occasions, taken me to see the sights of Bien Hoa, & invited me to a family wedding. Over the past four months, I've learned a few key phrases, but we still can only communicate in stilted sentences. In spite of our language barrier, Miss Hang has continued to show me generosity & kindness.

When she found out that I would be leaving Bien Hoa for China, she expressed that she would miss me, & decided that I should have lunch with her every day until I go. Yesterday I went with her, her daughter, & some of her daughter's friends to the supermarket where we posed for several cute photos at the photo booth there.

Miss Hang is from Hanoi, like many of the Vietnamese people living here in Bien Hoa. She is planning to visit her family there in December. We figured out that we will both be in Hanoi at the same time, & made plans to meet again there. She has been a good friend, & I'm glad for the chance to see her hometown with her before I leave Vietnam for good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Open Tour Bus

I'll be spending the end of the year traveling around, being a tourist. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the road.

First, I'll spend about ten days with my friend Michael I. He'll be leaving from Hanoi, in the northern part of Vietnam, & then I'll have about three weeks to make my way down south to Ho Chi Minh City, where I will meet my brother & sister-in-law. Since Vietnam is a long, thin country, it'll be easy to just take the road south, stopping along the way at various interesting cities.

I've considered taking the train all the way. I love the train. There's a certain romantic element to it: you can watch the countryside go by, meet interesting people, listen to the clack-clack of the train's wheels as they go over the tracks. But people tell me that most train stations are outside the cities & towns that they service, so it might be inconvenient.

I've also considered taking an open tour bus. You can buy a ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for about $60. Then you can get on & off the bus wherever you want, whenever you want.

But I talked with one tour agent who said that the open tour bus might not be the best way to go. You don't have priority over other travelers, so you might not get back on the bus exactly when you want. Plus, you have to choose your destinations & the order in which you will stop at them when you buy the ticket, which doesn't allow for flexibility once you're on the road.

Instead, the tour agent recommended that I buy a ticket for each leg as I'm ready to go to the next place. It'll cost a few extra dollars, but he says it's worth it for the freedom you gain. Since both the train & the bus offer sleepers, I can travel either way, depending on my needs that day.

I think I will take his advice. I'll be posting about how it turns out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In the Out Group

I'm sitting alone at a restaurant in the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City. An English pub across the alley way is filled with loud, boisterous Americans. I'm not one of them. Three young women ride up on motorbike taxis. A crippled beggar approaches them, his hand extended. They cringe & back away, then laugh amongst themselves as they join their friends inside. The cripple moves on. Later, the Americans in the English pub break out in a drunken rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Tears sting my eyes. I am surprised. I miss my home, my friends, my family. But I am not a part of this celebration of Manifest Destiny. I don't want to be.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Plans for the Rest of the Year

My time in Bien Hoa, Vietnam is coming to an end. I will be here for another two weeks before I head off to see the rest of the country as a tourist.

It has been quite an experience! I've learned a lot about living in Vietnam, & about myself. Most importantly, I learned first-hand what culture shock is & how I react to it. I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to live here.

As for the rest of the year, I've got a banner line-up. Here's a snapshot:

  • [Nov 20-Dec 1] Travel with Michael I. to Angkor Wat, Saigon, & Hanoi
  • [Dec 2-Dec 21] Travel solo from Hanoi to Saigon, stopping along the way for a few days at a time
  • [Dec 22-27] See the sights in & around Saigon with my brother & sister-in-law
  • [Jan 2010] Move to Shanghai, China to start my new job teaching English there

I'm so excited to start the next stage of my journey!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Teacher Training with Pearson

Last weekend I went to Ho Chi Minh City to observe a teacher training seminar held by Pearson-Longman in preparation for my own seminar, which I will conduct this coming Sunday, also in HCMC. I will be presenting some teaching activities to a group of teachers who currently use two of Pearson's textbooks, plus introducing the interactive whiteboard activities to them.

I'm looking forward to it. I've never done any formal teacher training before, so it will be a good experience for me. I'm hoping to do more of this kind of thing in the future.