Adventures as Miss Saigon

Archive for January 2011

There was a 4.7 magnitude earthquake today here in HCMC! Sadly, I felt nothing, but my twitter feed was wild with reports when I got home after coffee and dinner with Wendy!

Homesickness is back.

e.t. phone home

Unexpected, unexplained and unwelcome.

This time around, I’m feeling hollow and deflated, combined with intense waves of nausea. Maybe the cloudy day is taking it’s toll…maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night…maybe I’m just about to come down with a cold or something. Maybe I just miss home.

Thankfully, I’m only days away from a week off and our second Cambodia trip. I’m trying to stay focused on the great things that are coming up, but my mind is stuck in a sad nostalgic state. I don’t want to wish this adventure away, but I wish September was a little closer. I desperately need to get over the “6 month hump”.

The Backstreet Boys are coming to HCMC! My 12 year old self is so excited!!!

Now that I’ve finished my Christmas/Cambodia blogs, my focus is on catching up on the month of January…a fair bit has happened, even though it’s all low key and local!

Two weeks ago, I got an email from Will, one of the Aussies we met on New Years Eve in Cambodia. He was in Cambodia with his girlfriend, Katie, and friend, Ben. Katie had to return home shortly after NYE, but Will and Ben were continuing to travel and Vietnam was next on their list. I agreed to meet them the next day for dinner and drinks in D1 (downtown/backpacker’s district).

The fun began while waiting for them at Go2. I was minding my own business, sipping my ca phe sua da, when I was sexually assaulted by one of the young girls selling items on the street. She came up, plunked herself down beside me and began pestering me to buy her items. Sadly here, the only way to be left alone by people selling anything is to avoid eye contact and to “shoo” them away with a shake of your head or a flick of your hand. Anything more (smiling while “shoo-ing”, saying no, or being polite in any way) is guaranteed to get you engaged in an epic sales pitch, by the instigator and their friends. The first time I “shoo-ed” this girl away, she reached over and grabbed both of my breasts. Then, when I more directly “shoo-ed” her off, she stood up, gave me the finger and yelled “f**k you” to me and other Go2 customers who had also brushed her off. Not a way to make a sale!

Will and Ben showed up shortly after, and the girl returned to hassle the newcomers. Being tourists, Will and Ben hadn’t learned the avoidance techniques I just described. They were suckered into playing games and giving her money (her last ditch sales pitch was “give me money and I’ll go away”). We went for a delicious Vietnamese banh xeo (pancake) dinner…pancakes here are not like Western pancakes. Here, they are made out of rice flour (and other ingredients), and stuffed with bean sprouts and, traditionally, pork and shrimp. You rip off pieces of the pancake and wrap it in lettuce leaves with mint, basil or other herbs, and dip it in fish sauce. It’s messy, delicious, and Vietnamese.

banh xeo

Dinner lead to drinks, and drinks lead to more drinks, and this girl was out way past her bedtime, especially on a school night! Will and Ben were a lot of fun to hang out with, and it’s always a good time in D1 – the place never closes! After a long day at work the next day (due to the previous night’s events) I headed back to meet Will and Ben for a few more drinks. Ben was flying home the next morning, and Will was sticking around for a few more days. The night was much calmer than the previous night, seeing as the guys were just waking up, and I should have been in bed. It was still fun to hang out with them and show them around a bit.

The next night, Wendy and I went out for sushi dinner with Laura, who was flying home the next day. Laura had just finished her one year contract here with the family she worked for, and was going home for almost a month before returning to a supervisory position here. It’s sad to think that that could have been our last dinner with her had she decided to move home or to the states. Lucky for us, she’ll be around here for the next year at least! It was still sad saying goodbye, but Laura was so excited to get home and see her family and friends that she hasn’t seen for so long!

Saturday morning found Wendy, Will and I on an early morning bus headed to Mekong Delta for a two day, homestay adventure. This “adventure” was very touristy, with not much physical activity and snack breaks every 2 hours. We covered a lot of grounds though, and sights included a pagoda, a coconut candy factory, a vermicelli rice noodle factory, and a trip to the floating markets. The highlight for us, was definitely the homestay. Eight of us from our bus load had signed us for the homestay, and while the rest of the bus was checking into the hotel, we were greeted by Hung, who took us by taxi, then boat to his family’s “house”. Although the family lived on the property, we slept in basic bungalows by the water. We had a delicious fresh dinner prepared by the family, and drank beers and rice wine with Hung after his family had gone to bed. We arrived back in HCMC on Sunday evening, and although it was fun, I’ve sworn off all bus trips for the next little while.

big buddha at the pagoda

pagoda in mekong delta

coconut candy factory

dog at the homestay eating fish breakfast

floating market

floating market

wendy and i playing with pythons in mekong delta

On Monday night, Tony had invited me out for a goat curry dinner. Tony picked me up on his motorbike, and we drove across the city to get to this little back alley restaurant that he and his wife know about. The city is already beautifully decorated for Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year) with festive lights throughout downtown, and I strangely enjoy riding on the back of a motorbike through the busy city. Intimidated about trying goat for the first time, I decided just to trust Tony’s taste buds. We sat on little stools, surrounded by Vietnamese locals, and thankfully Tony took care of ordering the goat, as the menu was in Vietnamese, and my guess is the restaurant staff only spoke Vietnamese as well! Of course the meal turned out to be delicious, and I hope I get invited out for goat again soon! (I’d never be able to find the alleyway that the restaurant was down, nevermind order off the menu!) We finished our evening sitting at Go2, drinking beers with ice and discussing work, my future in Vietnam, and life in Vietnam in general. Tony’s been very understanding about my decision to return home at the end of my 12 month contract, but assured me that I could return at any time. In fact, he said he’d place money on it…we’ll see! 🙂

Tuesday evening held an unexpected adventure. Just when I thought I had things in Vietnam figured out, I received notice in the mail that there was a package to pick up at the post office. Thinking I knew where my post office was from the first package that had been sent from home, I went there but was given another address. After work, the mom I work for told me to give the address to my motorbike guy, and he would take me where I needed to go. An hour and a half later, 3 stops (including random houses/construction sites), we finally found the right post office and I claimed my package. I at least have the post office system kind of figured out now – there is only one post office in my district where international packages are held. Troi oi!

This weekend has been a quiet one – pedis and dinner with Wendy on Friday night, a hair appointment Saturday afternoon, and dinner and a movie with Wendy on Saturday night. Saturday night was the first time we’d gone to the movies in Vietnam, and it was quite an experience! From the $3.50usd movie ticket, the sweet popcorn, the hilarious Vietnamese movie previews, the awkward edits/scene censors in the movie, the guy loudly answering his cell phone and having a full discussion during the movie, to the bright lights being turned on before the credits started rolling, the experience was definitely better than the movie! It cheap and hilarious entertainment, and we’ll likely do it again soon.

For now, we just have to get through this work week, before another week’s vacation, including 5 days back in Cambodia, this time to visit Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. I’m so excited to get back to Cambodia with Wendy!

Almost 4 and a half months…that’s how long I’ve been living in this country now. I feel settled and comfortable, enjoying the truly Asian experiences and the Western comforts. I’ve spent some time this morning going back through my blog postings, and examining my journey so far. I’ve come a long way, baby. Examining this journey in writing is proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated, but I feel like I need to get my thoughts out into the open.

I left Canada with specific, personal goals that I wanted to accomplish. I showed up in Vietnam scared, wide eyed, and unsure of the decision I had made to come here. I’ve questioned my decision to come here many times. I had a rough beginning, but four months in, I feel confident and excited with who I’m becoming and the experiences that are shaping me.

From the other side of the world, it’s been easier for me to evaluate my life, what I want from it and how I’m willing to achieve things. I’ve been able to focus on me with minimal other distractions and complications.

I am okay being me. I am comfortable in my skin and in my current situation. Sure, I still have dreams and aspirations, but I’m happy. I feel whole, and I’ve achieved this on my own, not having to rely on someone else to “complete me”. My views on relationships have changed and I’m seeing things in a whole new light. I want to meet Mr Right, but will not settle for anything – I don’t have the energy to put into a crappy, consuming relationship. I want a relationship based on equal partnership, laughter, adventure and love. Does it exist? I hope so… I’m hesitant to post any more of my updated views, as I don’t want to come off preachy…clearly it’s much easier to examine situations from a distance, but I feel really confident in my assessments. If anyone wants to have this discussion, I’m easily contacted.

One of my biggest fears is letting this great year of experiences and adventure dominate my life. I need to find a way to continue my adventures at home when I return, so in five years time, I won’t be saying “this one time when I was living in Vietnam…” I haven’t decided how I’m going to be able to do this, but I don’t want to settle back into my old habits and have this year be that one highlight of my life.

I’ve changed in these first four months, and will no doubt change in the months to come. I’ve grown stronger as a person, been humbled time after time, and have lived a life that no one will truly understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves. This is a tricky, as I don’t know if my friends and family at home will be ready to accept that I’ve changed or if they will just expect to see “old Meg” back on Canadian grounds. I feel like, in certain ways, my life is on hold for this year. Although my passport clearly indicates I’ve been on the move, I feel like I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I come home. In the year that I’m gone, I’m missing friends weddings, babies being born and so many other amazing life milestones. Reverse culture shock could be my worst enemy…and it scares me to think that home may not feel like home.

The bottom line is that I would not trade this experience for anything. I cannot picture myself anywhere else at this stage in my life, and am so thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been given. Although returning home might be a difficult transition, it’s what I want and I’ll make it happen…it just might look a bit different than what I left (a new apartment? a new city? going back to school?)…who knows!

As a side note, Wendy and I might write a book…we’ve had some amazing life conversations, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to solve all of the worlds problems by the time I’m done in Vietnam. We’ve already agreed on a book title too…”Eat, Pray and Eat Some More”. Any takers? 😉

…stays in Sihanoukville! So don’t expect too much from this blog!

Sihanoukville was the place we decided to spend new years eve, a popular beach destination and tourist town in Cambodia. Because of a recommendation from one of Laura’s friends, we had booked a room at “Tranquility” on Serendipity Beach…such a peaceful sounding place! And it really was just that…beachfront bungalows on the far end of the busy beach, making it fairly quiet and calm.

beach view at Tranquility

We did a little shopping and wandering around the town. We found a bookstore (again, something lacking in Vietnam), and stumbled upon the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project…an amazing organization that helps underprivileged children working and living on the beaches in Sihanoukville. They provide children with the opportunity to develop their imagination and skills through artistic painting, generate some basic income from the sale of their paintings, and help the children pursue formal schooling, among other things. I bought a few paintings on our first afternoon, and returned the next day to buy more. I even had the pleasure of meeting one of the young artists and purchase one of his paintings.

sweet and talent young artist at CCPP

On New Years Eve day, I woke up early and took my book to the beach. It was a beautiful, calm morning, and I had the opportunity to take advantage of the wifi and call some family and friends from the beach to wish them a happy new year. The rest of the day was spent soaking in the sun, and taking naps in order to prepare for the evenings adventures.

The fireworks on the beach started while we were eating dinner at around 6pm, and didn’t end until around midnight. The children on the beach were selling “power” (fireworks), and on more than one occasion, someone commented how dangerous the combination of “power” and drunk people on a beach really was. After dinner at Tranquility, we wandered down the beach and settled into some comfy beach chairs, one row back from the water, where most people were setting off their fireworks. We started drinking “buckets”…buckets of alcoholic mixes…meant for several people to share, but hey, it was NYE and we had some partying to do! Before long, we were joined by several Aussies and another Canadian, and we all continued to order bucket drinks.

me on NYE

"you want power?"

one bucket in...happy new years!

fireworks

fireworks

Oddly, there was no countdown to midnight, and we all kind of “forgot” to wish each other a happy new years. It wasn’t quite the night we had planned for, but memorable none the less. Too much alcohol and not enough sleep made for a looooooonnnnngggggg bus ride the next morning at 8am back to Phnom Penh!