Adventures as Miss Saigon

Archive for March 2011

Who knew this would happen to me while I was in Vietnam…I never would have thought it was possible! He leaves me with butterflies in my tummy and I find myself counting down the time between our next encounter. I’m physically drained and emotionally exhausted from this whole experience.

Let me explain…my new man is my new xe om (motorbike taxi) driver, Cal. I started working on Monday with a new client who lives on the other side of town. I have a motorbike driver that takes me to and from J’s house every day, but he’s a friend of J’s family (or part of the extended family) and doesn’t speak any English, making our interactions challenging and brief. On Monday, after coming home from J’s, I went out to the street corner where several xe om guys hang out. Usually when I walk past these guys yelling out “madame, madame, motorbike”, my instinct is to always brush them off…today I came looking for one and there was no one there! Then from behind me, I heard his voice… “Motorbike?”

After showing him the address that I needed to go to, he nodded his head, and I hopped on the back of his bike. I had brought my own protection (I have my own helmet…stop your dirty minds!), and for 45 minutes, he took me for a ride. Down back alleys barely wide enough for two bikes, across bumpy bridges and through busy traffic. He took me places that I had never been and could never have imagined. When we arrived at my destination, there was an awkward exchange of phone numbers (Cal seems to know a bit of English, but is far from fluent) and with a few hand signals, we arranged for Cal to pick me back up at 5:30.

When I was done work, Cal was waiting by his bike. With a smile on his face, he jumped up and we were on our way back to my apartment. Today, as I passed by the area where Cal picked me up yesterday, he spotted me and yelled hi and waved. I texted him this afternoon to let him know “same same as yesterday”, and he was waiting for me when I came out to meet him. Hopefully, it will be “same same” for the time that I need to get out to District 2.

My only question now is, when it’s time for me to head back to Canada…how do you break up with your xe om guy?

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I’m heading into my Sunday evening here, and I’ve had a fabulous weekend in HCMC. Friday night right after work I headed to a new hair salon to get my hair done. I’ve had some trouble finding a hair dresser here who knows how to colour Western hair. The two times that I’ve been to the salon, I’ve left with roots a different colour than the ends. Thankfully, I’ve found Jimmy Le! Wendy went to get her hair done by him earlier this week, and he did a really great job, so I decided to give him a go. Jimmy didn’t understand why I was so excited to have “same same” hair colour! His confused response was “it’s just brown”…haha…oh Jimmy Le! So after 2.5 hours at the salon, a cut, colour, blowdry, massage, and facial (all for under $40usd), I left a happy girl.

After a relaxing start to my weekend, I met up with Laura and Wendy for what seems to be our standard Friday night sushi dinner. Delicious food, great company and conversation. Coming home, I got started on a bottle of red wine and caught up with friends on Skype. (Sorry for the mid Friday morning drunk dials, friends!)

I spent part of my Saturday morning sitting in the sunshine by the pool, trying to ignore the sweat dripping from my nose (there didn’t seem to be a breeze in HCMC!) and my throbbing head. I did some cleaning and organizing at my apartment, and had an impromptu afternoon trip downtown with Wendy. Our initial plan was to get a beer, do some people watching and have dinner before heading home at a decent time. Well, as it seems to happen, one beer turns into two, delicious food was consumed (with another beer or two) and we began pub hopping. Before we knew it, it was 11pm and we were on our way to Apocalypse Now, one of the older and apparently “must-see” clubs here (Lonely Planet’s words, not mine). LP also says “the music is thumping and it’s apocalyptically rowdy”. Needless to say it was quite the experience! After paying our 150,000vnd cover (a whopping $7.50usd), and grabbing our “free” beer, we headed to the dance floor. Before long, I was dancing with a guy from India who was flying out the next day and “wanted to make the most of his last night in HCMC” (his words, not mine). Wendy and I made a quick trip to the bathroom and decided to bolt without saying goodbye to our dance partners. We wanted to end our night on a high note (and alone), and going back to the dance floor would have been messy. ‘Apo’ can now be checked off my HCMC to-do list.

This morning, I had a bit of a sleep in, and was woken by my phone ringing. My college friend, Jenn’s fiance’s aunt and uncle arrived in HCMC last night and we’re planning to meet for dinner downtown next week while they are in town. Dragging myself out of bed, I quickly showered and headed to a nearby cafe where I was joined by Wendy and Laura for a quick ca phe sua da, before they headed on their ways, and I stayed to do some blogging. It’s been a great, productive, relaxing, entertaining weekend, and I’m ready to start the work week! It’s gonna be a busy one!

“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived.”

Today officially marks 6 months in Vietnam, and I have a big announcement…I’m moving home earlier than planned. I still have some details to work out, but I should be home in 2 months time.

Let me explain my decision, as best that I can. This has been a difficult decision for me, and definitely not one that I took lightly at any point in time. I am not running away from anything in Vietnam. I am still enjoying my time here, and haven’t had any dramatic experience here that would make me want to leave. I enjoy the people, the lifestyle, the traveling, my work and my friends. I am also not moving home due to extreme homesickness or any problems at home that I need to get back for. I made this decision on my own, with a clear head. I am moving home, because for the first time, I just knew that it was the right thing to do. My heart and my head both agreed that I needed to do this for me, and once I allowed myself to start thinking that this was a possibility, the clearer it became that I need to be back in Canada and the more I ached for it to happen.

The decision to move home has been just as big as the decision to move here in the first place. This decision has a lot of implications and complications- especially for J, the little guy I’m working with, and his family, and for my supervisors and friends here. There’s also potential complications with me returning to my employer in Canada earlier than anticipated. Thankfully, and most importantly, it looks like my supervisor has been able to find a therapist to replace me, so there will be minimal impact on J and his family. Leaving J is the most devastating part of this whole situation. After spending 6 months with him, I really feel like we’ve bonded and I’ll miss working with him every day.

There are a lot of unknowns in my future right now, and a lot of things that I am terrified about. Most of these things are things I would have had to deal with in 6 months time when I was due to return to Canada at the end of my contract…they’re just coming up sooner than I had planned now. I’m unsure of what my life will look like back in Canada – unsure if I can go back to my job early, unsure of where I’ll be living after my temporary stay on my mom’s pullout couch (both where I’ll find an apartment and what city I’ll choose to live in), and unsure of my future education plans. I’m terrified that I’ll be seen as a failure for not surviving 12 months in Asia. The handful of people that I’ve spoken to already about my decision have been supportive (thank you), and at the end of the day, I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I’ve lived in Vietnam, traveled through Asia (and Australia soon), and have come out of this experience stronger and more confident in all aspects of my life. I’m also still scared that I’ll return to my old ways in Canada, but I know I’ll just have to make conscious decisions to change my ways.

So, two months left in Vietnam. My mission is to make the most of my time here…with J, with my friends, and embracing the travel plans I have already booked and paid for. This coming weekend, Wendy, Laura and I will have our last trip together to Bangkok. Bangkok was supposed to be one of our first trips together, but was delayed, and now I’m more than a little excited that it’s almost here! I’m also supposed to spend a weekend in Bali in early April (although there’s some complications with connecting flights that I’m trying to sort out…stupid budget airlines in Asia!), and have 12 days in Australia before I head home.

I can’t wait to go home. I can’t wait to see my mom, my sister, my nanny and the rest of my family. I can’t wait to catch up with my friends. I can’t wait for cuddles with my furbaby, Lexi. I can’t wait for the comforts that I took for granted and that I had no idea I would miss when I moved here. Watch out Canada…I’m coming home.

My second cousin from England arrived in HCMC on Thursday the 17th. I met her at the airport on my lunch break from work, and got her back to my apartment so she could rest…all went fairly smoothly with meeting her at the busy HCMC airport! On the Friday night, we, along with Wendy, flew to Hoi An for the weekend. After a delayed flight to Hoi An (yay Jetstar), we quickly settled into our hotel (as the town seemed to be closed for the night when we arrived at 11pm).

After a quiet breakfast overlooking the river the next morning, we set out to explore Hoi An. I was not surprised to discover how quickly I fell in love with the old buildings, restaurants, shopping, and general “feel” of this town. Located in central Vietnam, Hoi An was designated a Unesco World Heritage area in 1999 and is a busy tourist area today, specializing in custom made clothing and shoes in less than 24 hours. We wandered around the streets, into little shops, and visited some of the Old Town sights, including the modern-day icon of Hoi An (the Japansese Covered Bridge), the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, Tan Ky House, the Museum of Trading Ceramics, the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, and the Quan Cong Temple. We ate dinner in a fabulous little restaurant that initially turned us away as we didn’t have a reservation (this has never happened to me in Vietnam!), but then they called us right back as they found a table for us.

hoi an river

hoi an river

famous covered bridge...hoi an's trademark symbol, also found on the 20,000 dong bill

street in hoi an

cyclos on the street

embroidery art

street in hoi an

street in hoi an

street in hoi an

lots and lots of lanterns

lantern shops in hoi an

Sunday morning, we arranged a car to take us to Marble Mountain, which is located on the China Beach coastal road. On the mountain are various caves and pagodas, and it made for an interesting climb. After arriving back to Hoi An, we enjoyed a quiet and relaxing lunch before my cousin caught her bus to Hue, and I went to my afternoon cooking class.

elevator being built at marble mountain..."for the americans" haha

it's like buddha on a mountain

My cooking class was a definite highlight! When I signed up for it on Saturday afternoon, I got to pick my menu items and was excited to learn to make fresh veggie spring rolls with sweet and sour fish sauce, pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), Hoi An chicken fried rice (a Hoi An specialty) and Vietnamese style banana pancakes. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling well for most of Sunday, so I didn’t get to fully enjoy the fabulous food that we made. My cooking teacher, Vina, was adorable and hilarious (openly making fun of the obnoxious older woman that joined my cooking lesson). If anyone wants the recipes, let me know!

fresh veggie spring rolls and fish sauce

pho bo

hoi an chicken fried rice

hoi an cooking class

Our flight home that night was, surprise surprise, delayed again (yay Jetstar). We were supposed to arrive home at a decent time, but instead didn’t make it to our apartments until close to 3am. The following week at work was rough, trying to deal with the lack of sleep! Check out Wendy’s blog for her amazing pictures of Hoi An…every picture is postcard worthy!

The next weekend was spent in HCMC. Friday night, I went rock climbing with Laura at my friend’s rock climbing gym, and then Laura and I went out for drinks at the Tavern and Banana Bar. Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool with an under-the-weather-Wendy, followed by dinner with Laura and Kathryn. My cousin arrived back in HCMC on Sunday night, and we enjoyed a few more meals together and a fabulous pedi before she had to fly home on Tuesday afternoon.

rock climbing at push

mr t and i at banana bar

ms laura and i at banana bar

pretty pedi

This past weekend, Laura, Wendy and I had an early Saturday morning flight to Hue. This time, Jetstar was not delayed! We found a cheap hotel ($12usd for the three of us to share a room for the night) and set out to wander around. We ended up on a boat trip to visit the Royal Tombs, Thien Mu Pagoda, and the Citadel and Imperial Enclosure. Hue was given Unesco World Heritage status in 1993, and was the captial of the Nguyen emperors. Our first stop on the boat tour was the Tomb of Tu Duc, constructed between 1864 and 1867. Interesting facts about Tu Duc… 1) he had 104 wives and countless concubines, but no offspring, 2) Tu Duc was tiny…the larger of two thrones on display at the Tomb was for the empress, and statues throughout the Tomb were made shorter than the emperor, 3) the emperor is not actually buried in the Tomb…the site where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not known…to keep it a secret from grave robbers, all of the 200 servants who buried the king were beheaded.

boat tours in hue

look mom! swan rides!!!

boat driver bailing water out of the boat!

vietnamese scarecrows...rain ponchos and conical hats crack me up!

more scarecrows

water buffalo

making incense

incense en route to royal tombs

at the royal tombs with the little statues...photo cred laura and her fancy camera

emperor's throne

at the royal tombs...photo cred laura and her fancy camera

The Citadel and Imperial Enclosure left a little to be desired in my mind. There wasn’t any tourist-y information to give you any background on what you were looking at and the significance of it…in fact, looking at Lonely Planet’s description, I’m not even sure if we were in the Imperial Enclosure or not!

citadel

From there, we hopped on motorbike taxis and went for a great vegetarian dinner, followed by drinks at a bar on the way back to our hotel. An early night and a bit of a sleep in set the stage for a very relaxing Sunday, hanging out on street corner bars/cafes chatting with the girls before catching our flight back to HCMC.

Despite a temporary lull in my blogging, I’m about to hit a huge milestone in page views! I figured I’d post my thank you now, as the milestone is bound to occur while I’m away in Hue this weekend. So….

THANK YOU!!!

Thank you to everyone who has read my blog, checked out the pictures, left comments and sent feedback, linked me to their blogs and has taken any amount of time to see my life in Asia.

I promise to get some new material up next week…gonna be a busy few months travel wise, so I will struggle to stay on top of my blogging. Stay tuned…

holy crap! almost 5,000 page views! thanks for checking out my adventures 🙂

Dear Blog,

We need to talk.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out and say it. I’m having an affair with Mr Journal. It seems like lately Journal can do things for me that you haven’t been able to do. He’s very quiet and doesn’t give much feedback, but he makes me feel safe and protected. Without trying to sound too ridiculous, it’s not you, it’s me. Really.

Blog, I value our relationship, and I will come back to you one day soon. I owe you posts on our weekend in Hoi An, and will owe you one about our upcoming weekend in Hue. I won’t forget about you…I just need some time.

I hope you understand, and when I’m ready, will be able to welcome me back with open arms.

I love you, Blog.

Yours,

Meg