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Friday, July 31, 2009

I Found Boba!

My brother & sister-in-law introduced me to boba tea (or bubble tea) several years ago when I was visiting them in Los Angeles. I didn't like it at first. It was a little creepy to feel the big spheres of gummy tapioca shooting up at me through the over-sized straw. But after a few more tries, I learned to love it. Boba is fun!

I hadn't really thought about trying to find boba tea in Vietnam, but the other day my housemate Harley came to work with a cup of yummy-looking boba tea, complete with the gigantic boba straw. It turns out that there is a boba shop right across the street from our house: Happy Tea!

The menu was in three languages: Vietnamese, Chinese, & English. I got a tasty boba tea for 11,000 Dong (= US$0.60).

My peach-flavored boba tea, one of life's little pleasures.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

10 Things I Miss About Arizona (Other Than You)

1. Hiking
2. Camping
3. Rock climbing
4. Yoga classes
5. The local music scene
6. The Spanish Place
7. Cool Chix Coffee
8. Four Peaks Brewery
9. Trader Joe's
10.Whole Foods

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vietnamese Nail Salons in the US

I had coffee yesterday with a Vietnamese man who is here visiting from Houston. He was one of the many Vietnamese who emmigrated from Vietnam in the 1990's in hopes of a better life in the United States. We talked about many things: his life in Houston, his return to Vietnam after 15 years away, & of course, Vietnamese nail salons in the US. This article says that by 2007 the Vietnamese had cornered nearly 45% of the nail salon market in the US. My new friend said that his sister runs a nail salon in Houston, so I just had to ask him why so many Vietnamese are nail technicians in the United States.

He said that the Vietnamese initially go into the nail business because it is a fast, easy way to make money. Getting a nail tech license is apparently a cinch, & you don't need a lot of capital to start your own business. Plus, you don't need to know much English to be successful. The Vietnamese nail techs can save a lot of money over a short period of time & soon open their own businesses where they then contract other Vietnamese techs on commission.

After the first group of Vietnamese nail techs establish their businesses, their friends & family also start immigrating to the US, where they have a stable, well-paying job waiting for them. For those that don't speak English, it's the easiest way to start their American life because they can work with other Vietnamese-speaking people. They just do what their friends & family do.

What an enlightening cup of coffee!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tom & Jerry

They really love Tom & Jerry here in Vietnam. I see it everywhere: on TV, on clothing. There's a coffee shop named Tom & Jerry. One of the students at my school even named herself Tom & Jerry - not Tom, not Jerry, but "Tom & Jerry". Today I even saw a scooter helmet with the famous duo emblazened on the back.

At the beginning of class, I usually ask my students "What did you do today?" Many of them say that they spend their days watching Tom & Jerry on TV. Last night, I asked one of my students why Tom & Jerry is so popular. She said because it's so funny that the cat keeps trying to catch the mouse but never does - hee hee hee.

Could this have deeper ties to Vietnam's feelings towards China?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cooking Lessons

Last week I asked my friends at the coffee shop to show me how to make some vegetarian Vietnamese dishes. This morning, I went to their house to watch the cook prepare lunch. I helped her peel & cut the vegetables, but she did the rest. I took lots of notes in hopes that I will be able to duplicate what she made later.

Here is the cook showing me how to prepare an eggplant dish.

& here is the finished eggplant dish. It was tasty!

This is a yummy hot & sour soup made with pineapple, okra, & tomato.

Bean sprouts & tofu. Delightful!

When it was finished, we all sat down to enjoy this delicious meal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mapping Bien Hoa

I finally found a map of Bien Hoa the other day with markings in Vietnamese, Chinese, & English. Now I have a much better idea of how this city is laid out. I was able to find the main market on my own using the map, though the drawing can be deceiving. Some of the "roads" you see here are just dirt foot paths, easy to miss if you're not paying attention. & who knows what a "raiway station" is.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bien Hoa Cemetery

I was off exploring Bien Hoa & happened upon this cemetery hidden away among the weeds.

It didn't look very well-maintained, with trash & broken glass everywhere.

Many people in Bien Hoa are Catholic. When the communists took over the country in the 1950's religious persecution pushed people out of the North. A number of them wound up in Bien Hoa, resulting in a pocket of Catholics in a predominantly Buddhist country.

These graves have been overcome by weeds.

Land is expensive in Vietnam - no doubt the reason we see a vegetable garden butted up to this relatively clean & polished grave.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Caveman Living

This article describes the life of a man who has taken the 100 Thing Challenge to the extreme. He stopped using money in the year 2000, & has been living alone in a cave outside of Moab, Utah. His story is reminiscent of that of Chris McCandless, who decided to echew societal norms to live alone in the Alaskan tundra. However, you will recall that that guy died of starvation in the end.

Now, I'm all for reducing material possessions, as you can see from my previous posts on the 100 Thing Challenge. But I'm not sure I'd want to live without money if it means living in a cave by myself. Humans are social creatures. To be healthy, we need to be in contact with other people, & in order to live in a community we need to be able to accept the basic norms of social living. Money is definitely one of them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is MSG?

One of my favorite vegetarian dishes here in Vietnam is "dau hou chien xa", fried tofu & lemongrass. It's pretty yummy, but most of the flavor comes from MSG. They rub it into the tofu before frying it. I've always heard that MSG was bad for you, but I never really knew why - or even what MSG really is.

Wikipedia says that MSG is made from fermented carbohydrates, usually from wheat. The article says that: In the 2004 version of his book, On Food and Cooking, food scientist Harold McGee states that "[after many studies], toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts."

The Truth in Labeling website published an article that says that 25% of the population have alergic reactions to the food additive. Several other websites seem to imply that the danger of MSG lies in an alergic reaction, rather than it being bad for your health in general. Those who are alergic have symptoms such as headaches or indigestion.

Does anyone else have more information on MSG?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Karaoke Overload

They sure do like their karaoke in Vietnam. Here, instead of going to a bar full of people & singing in front of strangers, you rent a private room for an hour or two & sing in front of your friends. Most of the Vietnamese that I have heard sing karaoke do it quite well. It looks like they get tons of practice.

I went to karaoke bars both Saturday & Sunday night, both nights with gracious hosts. But I can only sing Copacabana so many times. Maybe I need to start expanding my repertoire.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Fly on the Wall

I am so thankful for my time here in Vietnam. It's completely different from any other place that I have lived in or traveled to as an adult. I'm learning so much about the way of life here, & gaining a different perspective on many things. I'm also learning a bit about myself, & I'm learning patience, tolerance, & solitude. It's a good experiment for me.

However, I don't speak the language & I know practically nothing of the culture, so it's been hard for me to make social connections here. Instead I'm a fly on the wall, on the outside looking in, observing life in progress, taking notes. Life is for learning.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coffee Shop Encounters

I'm becoming quite the connoiseur of the coffee shops here in Bien Hoa. I go to my usual coffee shop in the mornings to check email & make phone calls on Skype. Afterwards, I eat lunch, do my shopping, & get ready for classes in the evening. Before work, I usually stop at one of several coffee shops near the school to write in my journal.

Yesterday I was sitting at one of my afternoon coffee shops, sipping on a cup o' grit when a man came over to my table & asked if he could join me. This was a first! He was not trying to hit on me, of course. They don't do that here. Instead he wanted the chance to practice speaking English. It turns out that he is an English teacher himself. I showed him the list of Vietnamese phrases that I have been working on & he helped me with my pronunication. I was so happy to talk with him! As is usual here in Bien Hoa, we exchanged phone numbers. He promised to show me around the city when we both have free time.

It's been slow coming, but I'm finally starting to break through the social barrier!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Gift from Hollywood!

I got a package today!

It was duely opened & inspected by the appropriate authorities.

My landlord Miss Nam was so thrilled
to receive her blinky Hollywood postcard!

Thanks to my sisiter-in-law Mae for sending it :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My New Friends

Yesterday, the owner of the coffee shop that I have been going to practically every morning for the last several weeks took me with her family to eat lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. The dishes were vegetarian, but were made to look like meat (a "chicken leg" was made by wrapping tofu around a stick of lemongrass). It was certainly an interesting lunch.

Afterwards we went to a Buddhist temple just outside of Bien Hoa City. It was such a beautiful place. I would never have known about it had they not taken me. I have been unable to find any information on interesting sites in & around Bien Hoa, though I'm sure there are plenty. In so many ways I am totally dependent on the people around me.

The family also wanted to take me to a park with a lake & a mountain, but it started to rain, so we put it off for another day.

Today, I went back to the coffee shop for my usual morning email/Skype session. Around 11:30am, the owner, Ms. Hang (that's her on the right in the photo above), came to my table & invited me to have lunch at their house at the back of the coffee shop.

After lunch, we had a language lession: they taught me some Vietnamese words by pointing at objects around the room, & I taught them the counterparts in English. Finally someone to teach me Vietnamese!

The next time I go back to the coffee shop I will be sure to bring along some fruit for my new friends.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Contact

Today I went to my usual coffee shop to spend the morning checking email. As soon as I sat down, a crowd gathered 'round my table: a woman & three children. It turns out that the woman is the owner of the coffee shop & she wanted her children to practice English with me. They invited me to their house at the back of the coffee shop to chat a bit over chom chom fruit. So cool!

We made plans to go to lunch tomorrow for vegetarian food. I'm so excited to have made contact!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Finding Beauty in Bien Hoa

I stumbled on a new coffee shop today. I saw this bridge from the street & decided to investigate. Bien Hoa City is so urban that you would never expect to find this beautiful little spot here.

They gave me a table right out on the water.

They even had geese! It was my day off & I had no plans, so I had plenty of time to sit & write in my journal & watch the geese swim around.

Surprisingly, the staff warmed up to me right away. They gathered around my table, looking at my Lonely Planet book & trying out their English on me. They huddled their heads together, conversing amongst themselves for a minute or two. When they broke, one of them said: "What's your name?" Ha! I answered & we giggled together. They went back to their huddle for another conference. After another minute or two, the spokesperson asked: "Where are you from?" Another answer, another giggling session. This went on for another question or two, then the place started filling up for lunch & they went about serving coffee to other customers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Naming Yourself

Since the Vietnamese language is so difficult for Westerners to pronounce, students sometimes take on Western names to make it easier for their teachers to address them. Many of them directly translate their Vietnamese names into English, so I have students named Trust, River, Six, & Glory. Other students name themselves after famous people, giving us lots of Harrys (as in Potter), & a few Hannahs (as in Montana). But some of the names are just wacky. One guy named himself Superman, there's a girl named Cinderella, & one girl insists on calling herself Benjamin. Those Vietnamese sure are funny.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Virtual Spanish

Today I attended a Spanish class in Arizona via Skype!

When I lived in Phoenix, I taught Spanish classes to adults. When I moved to Vietnam, some of the students decided to continue their Thursday evening reading class without me. They're reading a novel by Isabel Allende called La cuidad de las bestias.

The group meets at 6:00pm Thursday evenings, which is 8:00am Friday morning in Vietnam. They called me on Skype & I was able to attend the class virtually.

It was so nice to see everyone's friendly faces again!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Looks like I won't be able to do any traveling this summer. The director of the English school where I teach has "discouraged" teachers from taking time off since things are so busy at the school.

So I'm stuck.

I guess I will have to sit back & relax for a while, & let Vietnam do what she will with me. I have lots of free time to study a little Vietnamese, keep up with my Chinese studies, watch my Spanish-language DVD's, start practicing the tin whistle, & generally laze around. Cool things do pop up here & there, like the trip to the countryside on Sunday & our romp in the water park on Wednesday.

But it looks like I'll have to wait until the fall to do some traveling around Asia.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Free to Travel!

I finally got my multi-entry visa! That means that when I leave Vietnam to visit other countries, I can still come back. My first destination will be Thailand. I'm hoping to go this week with a Vietnamese friend to investigate flights for the end of the month.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating the 4th of July

My very touristy Vietnamese flag Tshirt!

Friday, July 3, 2009

One Month in Vietnam

I arrived in Vietnam one month ago today.

This is my first experience living outside of the US as an adult. I've certainly done my share of traveling within the US & beyond, but my trips never lasted more than a few weeks at a time, & I was always on the tourist track. Living in a place changes everything.

Bien Hoa is a very urban place, but still lacks any real appeal. I'm finding it very difficult to make friends in Vietnam, but not for lack of trying. I go out every day in search of things to do & people to meet without success. The Vietnamese people are quick to say hello to me as I pass them on the street or in the coffee shops that I visit. I smile & wave, but as soon as I try to extend the conversation, they giggle & walk away. My housemate Harley has had a completely different experience. He says he meets people everywhere he goes, & they seem to be eager to speak English with him. Maybe it's because I'm a woman. Maybe my height intimidates them. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

Still, it's an interesting experience living here. It's definitely something different.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Got a Package!

I got a notice at the school yesterday that I had a package waiting for me at the post office. How exciting!

This morning I rode my bike the three kilometers to the post office. I still don't speak very much Vietnamese, so I gestured & smiled & pointed at my package notice. It turns out that my package was not waiting for me at the main post office, but at one of the branch offices, about six kilometers back the other way, they said. I had no idea where it was, but I set out in the direction that they pointed, thinking I would stop on the street in a few kilometeres & ask directions again. A treasure hunt!

I rode for what felt like five or six kilometeres (really, what do I know about kilometers?), & stopped at a quickie mart to smile & point at my package notice again. According to that guy, I was going in the right direction. I went another (?) kilometer or so & stopped to ask again. Nope, they said. Back the other way. Okay! So I turned around & headed back. I went back & forth another couple of times before I finally narrowed in on the post office.

When I went inside the (thankfully) air conditioned office, I showed them my package notice, now all sweaty from being in my pocket. They asked for my passport. Oh no! My passport is still in Saigon, awaiting my visa extension. I smiled like a dumb foreigner & showed them my Arizona driver's license. They passed it around, looked at me very sternly, passed it around some more, & then finally accepted it.

The treasure was mine at last!

Thanks to Scott W. for my new tin whistle & instruction book. I'm looking forward to getting started on my first lesson. The package came complete with an official government inspection letter. Way to keep the mail safe, Vietnam!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Yesterday was payday! To celebrate, Michael, Harley & I went out with a couple of students to a restaurant for dinner & beer. Afterwards, Harley suggested we go to a club.

What an experience!

As we entered the club, the VERY LOUD MUSIC came blasting through the door at us. The bass was so strong that it made my body beat. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.

The room was full of tables surrounded by people drinking. There was no dance floor, just tables & people. In fact, there were gruff security guards all over the room who would put their hand on your shoulder to stop you if you danced too much. It was impossible to have any sort of conversation, so we were reduced to looking around at all the people & doing a little chair dance if we danced at all.

The above photo is the only one I was able to take of the experience. As soon as I took out my camera, a security guard came over & motioned for me to put it away. No photos. No dancing. Okay.

Our table came complete with 10 cans of Heinekin & two packs of gum. We were also served a huge platter of fruit that we all nibbled on through the evening. We basically had a private waiter that would change out the big chunk of ice in our drinks every few minutes, & fill our glasses when they got low.

Most of the club goers were men. The few women that were present were probably, um, working ladies. I noticed that a woman would hang around a table full of men for a while. Then she & one of the men would suddenly be gone. About 15 minutes later they would return to the table. Soon after, everyone at that table would leave & she would start hanging around another table. None of the women ever approached us.

I went to the restroom once during the evening. Michael led me through the crowd & waited for me at the bathroom door. Inside, there were women primping & chatting. I felt like I was behind the scenes of a major theatrical production. I guess in a way, I was.

Back out in the club, a couple of security guards had warmed up to our table, probably because our Vietnamese companions had been giving them sips (or rather gulps) or their beer. One Vietnamese man from another table started talking with us, but Michael motioned for the security guard to get rid of him - & he did.

By midnight, the club started clearing out. We left the club around 1:00am. The streets of Bien Hoa were empty as we drove the short distance home.