Adventures as Miss Saigon

Archive for September 2010

Just as I was finally starting to feel settled and more at home in Ho Chi Minh City, I was woken up with an early morning phone call yesterday from my sister saying my mom was back in the hospital for an unexpected surgery. The good news is that the surgery went well and that my mom is in great hands – lots of family support and in an amazing hospital at home. The bad news is that her recovery time is extended and I’m still on the other side of the world…It’s definitely making it difficult to be here and to focus on my work.

After hearing that my mom’s surgery went well yesterday, I decided to go ahead and book a few trips, as Vietnam Airlines is having a seat sale in celebration of Hanoi’s 1000th anniversary. I currently have flights booked to Hanoi, Vietnam (just a few weeks after the official anniversary date), Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam (our Christmas vacation to the beach) and to Sydney, Australia. Trips to finalize and book in the next day or so include Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia.

My mood right now is bittersweet…I’m so upset that I’m not at home to be with my mom and family, but I’m also excited about all of travel plans that are in the works. I’m just hoping things at hope start to improve soon. Maybe then I can begin to feel less guilty for being here…

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It’s been an emotional week for me, but thankfully I’ve had some great support from family and friends at home, as well as my friends/coworkers here in Vietnam. All of your comments, messages, phone calls and thoughts have meant the world to me and have given me the strength to get through the week – thank you. I managed to figure out how to place a Skype call to a landline and called the hospital to speak to my mom. All of the updates from home have been positive, but nothing will be able to compare to speaking to her myself. She sounds good and will hopefully be sent home in the next few days.

This week seems to have flown by! Work is going really well – J is such a sweet little boy! Each day he seems to be noticing me a little bit more than the day before, reaching for me to give him access to something or looking at me with his big beautiful eyes and smiling at me. He’s still keeping me busy, but that’s to be expected!

This weekend started out with my first taste of Vietnamese food in Vietnam on Friday night. We stopped by Pho24, a Vietnamese food chain that happens to have a location just around the corner from my apartment building. Pho is Vietnam’s delicious answer to chicken noodle soup. After dinner, we headed home for a movie night featuring two of my favourite movies – Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset. We had a great time just hanging out with friends!

pho bo

After I finished work on Saturday morning, we headed back into District 1 to meet our supervisor for coffee at Go2, some shopping, and lunch at a fancy Vietnamese restaurant. I’m still shocked at the price of things here – we each had fresh rolls, our meals, dessert and beverages for approximately $5USD each! With each day, and each adventure around this city, I’m slowly finding myself becoming more familiar and more comfortable here. It’s surprising how quickly I’ve stopped feeling like a tourist! Surrounding myself with people who have lived here for weeks, months, or years has really helped.

crazy powerlines throughout District 1

Today, my supervisor and his wife took my coworkers and I out to their uncle’s farm in the countryside of Dong Nai Province. The day started bright at early with breakfast at my supervisor’s house and an hour or so long taxi ride to the countryside. Unsure what to expect when we got there, we were quickly welcomed onto their property and into their home. While my supervisor took us girls through the property and out into the lotus flower fields, the family was busy preparing a mighty feast for when we returned! Sitting on the edge of a wooden bed, we were treated to amazingly flavourful fresh food and encouraged to keep eating and drinking. Despite a language barrier, there was no shortage of smiles and laughter as drinking games and challenges were tossed around the table, and everyone posed for pictures. We were even given an introduction into the Vietnamese language!

countryside in Dong Nai Province

lotus flower fields that we walked through

beautiful lotus flower

narrow paths throughout the lotus flower field


me trying to navigate the narrow paths...photo credit goes to Laura

view from inside the house in the countryside

a tiny dog that made me miss my Lexi!

my Lexi, who's at home with my sister

After an amazing second week in HCMC, I’m exhausted and staying up just long enough for a quick phone call home (at an appropriate hour)…I’m ready for week three!

I’ve been contemplating my first real blog for a while, wondering what to say and where to begin this unbelievable adventure, and I still don’t feel like I’ve come up with the right words. But here I go anyways…!

I’m in f’ing Vietnam! I was told by a recent newcomer to Vietnam that I’d wake up and say that exact line, and that’s definitely been the case! The actual journey here was ridiculously long…after all the driving to Toronto, waiting at the airports and time spent on the plane, I’m guessing that it took me 35 hours to get here. But both my luggage (all three checked bags!) and I made it here in one piece, and the family I’m working for was waiting at the airport in HCMC to greet me! After arriving at my new apartment, my new coworkers and new supervisor all came by to welcome me here. It was great to finally meet all of the people I’ve spent so long emailing and skyping!

view from my apartment on the 12th floor

After unpacking and a long night’s sleep, my next mission was to get settled into my apartment. My immediate feeling was panic…I knew exactly where to get the items I needed at my local WalMart in Ontario, but where the hell do you get the basics in Vietnam?! Next stop, LotteMart, my WalMart away from home! Even the little things in a foreign country, where English isn’t the main language spoken, are incredibly difficult! So many fruits that I didn’t recognize from home, product labels written in Vietnamese, and a currency that is very strange! 1USD = approx 20,000VN dong, and 20,000VND goes a long way!

Traffic here is unreal! At first glance there are no rules, no organization and no limit to the number people or objects that can be piled on one xe om (motorbike). I’m slowly starting to get the hang of crossing streets here, and am beginning to understand the basic idea of traffic here…I’ve even come to the realization that I can not avoid riding a xe om here (sorry mom)…my first xe om ride was on the back of the bike belonging to the mom I work for. She drove me home (a 5 minute ride) after my first morning at work. The little 3 year old I’m working with stood calmly at the front of the bike, while I held on for dear life on the back. Everything went well until we pulled up to my apartment and I had to get off. I was so focused on not touching the exhaust with my leg, that I must have forgotten to maintain my balance and fell off the xe om! Thankfully my worst injury was a bruised ego, and my supervisor kindly took it easy on me the next day! “I’m slowly lowering the bike to the left” was my prompt to carefully climb off the back of his bike, and a week later, I feel like a pro!

traffic in District 1

This past weekend, 2 of the girls and I decided to journey into District 1 (aka downtown). Our first stop was Ben Thanh Market, where the sounds, smells, beautiful colours and women grabbing you to come into their shop were all an amazing assault on the senses. Later, we met our supervisor and his friend at the Sheraton Hotel for drinks on the 23rd floor to watch the sunset. It was an incredible view of the city, and two-for-one cocktails! Dinner and more drinks (and lots of people watching) were then had in the backpackers area in District 1.

inside Ben Thanh Market

Work has been keeping me busy! The little boy, J, is so sweet, but it’s tiring work spending each day trying to play and pair and get him to like being with me. Luckily, I have a great family to work with here and an amazing group of coworkers to turn to for support. It’s going to be quite the year, watching J grow and learn!

Besides leaving home, moving to a new country and starting a new job, this week has been especially difficult for me. In a few hours, my mom is going in for surgery at home, and it’s killing me that I’m not there to be with her. She’s the strongest woman I know, so I know everything will be okay soon, but we’re really close…I just want to give her a hug and tell her how much she means to me…I love you mom!