Adventures as Miss Saigon

Archive for April 2011

I’m completely overwhelmed…wow…just wow


I met up with Will yesterday after getting into Sydney. We grabbed a coffee and caught up on what’s been going on for the last few months since we’d seen each other in Vietnam. Will then took me for a drive, a walk through the bush and for my first glimpse of the Blue Mountains, before heading back to his for a shower and change of clothes…I did not pack the appropriate clothing for autumn in Australia! This was mostly due to not having warm clothes in Vietnam, but also because I am in denial about the chilly temperature!

Later on last night, we met up with Will’s girlfriend, Katie, who I’d also met in Cambodia. We headed out for dinner with two of Will’s sisters and for drinks and Wii bowling afterwards. I love hanging out with Aussies…it’s great to be around people who share my sense of humour!

I started to nod off I’m the car on the way back to Will’s, and was luckily encouraged to sleep in this morning. I fell asleep in the most comfortable, cushy beds I’ve slept in since I left Canada and woke up to a dark, damp rainy day. After a late start, Katie and Will took me on a more in depth tour of the Blue Mountains…the area was stunning and I can’t wait to upload my pictures! It was so quiet and peaceful, and I loved being able to breathe in all the fresh air…such a change from HCMC!

Katie, who’s a vegetarian, strongly encouraged me to try kangaroo when we stopped for a bite to eat…so I did! I guess there’s not much that I won’t try now. And it was actually really good!

Tonight, I’ve met up with my second cousin, Aisling and her boyfriend, Alfred, who I’m staying with for the rest of my time in Sydney. I don’t think I’ve fully realized where in the world I am…and I don’t think that will hit me until I’m face to face with the iconic Sydney Opera House tomorrow…can’t wait!

After a broken nose (medically unconfirmed, but I’m 99% positive it is), an 8 hour flight, with a 3 hour time difference from Vietnam, and a very inquisitive customs official…I’m in Sydney! I bought a sim and have data on my phone…I forgot how much I love being connected to the world! I’m currently on the train, heading to (hopefully) meet Will, one of the Aussies we met in Cambodia and who stayed with me when he came to Vietnam.

I can’t believe I’m finally here!!

This is a time of serious reminiscing and reflection for me…I can’t believe how much has changed in the past 7.5 months (8 by the time I step foot in Canada again).

Back in September, the night before my early morning flight out of Toronto, I was an emotional mess. I stood in the shower at my mom’s house (where I had been staying for the 2 weeks prior to leaving) crying and crying and crying…for the first time, unable to cry this much in front of my mom. I didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was, and I didn’t want to show her or the rest of my family how scared I was.

Now, the next 2 weeks of my life will be a blur…I’ve had the start of some very difficult goodbyes to say today. Tomorrow evening I fly to Australia and return back to Vietnam on May 8th for 36 hours before beginning my journey home to Canada the morning of May 10th. One minute, I’m so excited to be coming home, the next minute, I’m so sad to be leaving Vietnam. I can’t wait to see my family, friends and puppy…I’m devastated to be leaving J and my wonderful girlfriends here.

I’m struggling. I don’t want this to end. But I want to go home. I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m confused. I’m confident. I’m smiling. I’m crying. I’m up. I’m down. I’m anxious. I’m calm. I’m filled with so many conflicting emotions, all at the exact same time.

I’m a mess. An emotional mess.

Testing the WordPress app on my iPhone in preparation of blogging on the road in Australia! Leaving HCMC in 28 hours! 🙂

My time in Vietnam and South East Asia is quickly coming to an end. The last week has been busy trying to get the things on my to do list done and enjoy my last days in this amazing country. Getting through the days have been a struggle at times, I think mostly due to the weather in HCMC. It’s getting hot hot hot here again, and humid! Humid Canadian summers will now seem like a breeze after living in this climate! The rain has started up again, and we’ve had a couple of crazy storms already. It rains so intensely here that the streets often flood…and although wearing a poncho in the rain while riding on a motorbike helps keep your upper body dry, your feet and legs are soaking wet when riding through these flooded areas. Gross.

On Tuesday, the therapist who is replacing me to work with J was due to arrive. Some unforeseen complications have delayed his arrival by approximately 2 weeks, so we won’t have any crossover time with J. But that also means I get J to myself for a few extra days. 🙂

On Wednesday night, I picked up my new clothes from the wonderful tailor that came recommended to me by a contact on Twitter. Less than two weeks prior, I went to see Lan in D3 with the material that Laura and Wendy had given me for Christmas and a picture of the dress I wanted created. One fitting and minor adjustments later and I have the most beautiful Asian inspired dress. Lan also made me another black dress and a pair of black dress pants duplicated from items that I took to her. So two amazing dresses and dress pants tailor made, plus the material for one of the dresses and the pants totaled less than $55usd. Incredible!

On Thursday I finished with my evening client, and Friday night found Laura, Wendy and I out for sushi dinner and a few drinks at Banana Bar. In seven months, the three of us have been through so much together…I easily consider them two of my dearest and closest girlfriends. I’m going to miss my girls so much, and am only comforted by the fact that I know our paths will cross again in the near future. We’ve talked about traveling together every five years, and I really hope that happens.

On Saturday, Wendy and I spent the entire day in D1, running errands, shopping and indulging in food and delicious drinks. I finished up my shopping list and got to suck in as much of the city as I could. It’s very surreal that this is not my reality any more. I spent some time reflecting with Wendy on my wide eyed reactions the first time she brought Zuzana and I into D1. The traffic, the chaos, the sights and the smells were all completely overwhelming. Seven months later, I’m not fazed by these “normal everyday facts of life” here in Vietnam.

So here I am, Sunday night in Saigon…I’ve spent the day knocking some more things off of my to do lists, hanging out with Laura at home, and continuing to indulge in the delicious foods that Vietnam has to offer. One more day of work with J tomorrow before I fly to Australia on Tuesday night.

My heart breaks a little with every goodbye that I say…

Trying to make the most of my remaining days in Vietnam, I managed to pack a lot into my second last weekend here.

On Friday night right after work, I met up with Wendy and we headed into D1. I needed to stop at the post office and do a bit of shopping in preparation for my return home. Thankfully, my ridiculous level of organization paid off and I was able to get my list checked off pretty quickly. There’s still a few things left to shop for, but I got everything that I was looking for on Friday night! We were then on a mission to find a cute little cafe that Wendy had heard about. Down a side alley and up a flight of stairs, and we found ourselves in a great spot with fancy, funky shopping, a cozy corner and delicious desserts! Wendy and I lost ourselves in coffee shop chat for a few hours before heading back to our neighbourhood for Indian food and a decently early night. I’m definitely going to miss our regular coffee dates!

coffee shop cred Wendy

After a sleep in on Saturday morning, I had the fun task of moving my stuff over to Laura’s house. She’s been wonderful enough to offer me her spare bedroom for my remaining time in Vietnam so that the therapist who is coming to replace me can move into my apartment. Several trips in the blazing sun, from my apartment to Laura’s (a few blocks away), lugging all of my stuff…I hate moving and am so glad it’s pretty much done now! Laura and I then went to get facials, and our hair shampooed and blow dried at a nearby salon (for a total of $10usd) before heading back to hers to get ready for a night on the town. It’s going to be a fun week spending so much time with Laura!

Laura, Wendy and I headed down to Boomerang, a great restaurant with a waterfront view in our neighbourhood. We met up with Tony and his wife, Trang, and the newest therapist to arrive to Vietnam, Nic. Nic arrived late on Friday night, and I’m amazed that she was able to function despite the long airplane ride from the USA and lack of sleep! After a few beers in the hot Vietnam sun, we headed down to D1 to meet up with our other coworker, Kathryn for dinner at a wonderfully Vietnamese restaurant. Delicious food and more drinks there before saying goodnight to Trang and Kathryn. The rest of us walked to Go2 in the nearby backpacker’s area for more drinks and good laughs. I’m so sad to be leaving this amazing group of people, but I’m so lucky to be able to call them friends.

Nic, Laura and Wendy at dinner

Kathryn and I eating duck tongue!

Tony at Go2

Today has been a productive one…another sleep in (after Laura and I were up late last night having some girl talk), a bit of unpacking and organizing at Laura’s, cleaning up my old apartment and getting a few more things checked off my “to do” list.

This week is going to fly by. I’m working my regular hours with J and my extra hours with my evening client. I have to meet with my tailor to pick up the clothing that I’ve had made (there will be a blog post about the trip to the tailor’s soon!) and try to spend as much time with my friends here as possible. Only 9 days until I’m off to Australia, and 22 days until I’m headed home! Very exciting times!!!

I had booked my flights to Bali a while ago, before I decided to return home. Before moving here, I had joked around about spending a weekend in Bali, and knew I needed to make it happen while I was here. I had found a seat sale on Air Asia, and booked return flights from HCMC to Jakarta, Indonesia, then from Jakarta to Bali, as there were no direct flights from HCMC to Bali.

The drama started a few weeks ago with an email from Air Asia saying they had canceled my Friday night flight from HCMC to Jakarta and had rebooked me on a flight on the Saturday night…problem was, my flight from Jakarta to Bali was the Saturday morning and my hotels in Bali were already booked! With no response to my email inquiry, and no answer on the Air Asia information line, I was getting pretty frustrated. Thankfully the staff on Air Asia’s twitter account came to my rescue and moved my flight from HCMC to Jakarta to Thursday night.

So Thursday night, immediately following my session with my evening client, I had my motorbike guy, Cal, drop me off at the airport. I checked into my flight and settled into the very familiar airport. I arrived in Jakarta around 11:30pm after the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on, and began the process of getting my Visa on Arrival and finding a legit taxi (or taksi as they spell it in Indonesia) to take me to my hotel. After checking in and a quick Skype call home to let my mom know I arrived safe and sound, I settled into my comfortable bed around 1:30am.

I had searched Lonely Planet Indonesia for something to do in Jakarta, but couldn’t find anything to motivate me to leave my hotel. LP’s opening lines on Jakarta are “Whether you love it or hate it, there is no escaping Jakarta, Indonesia’s overweight capital…At first glance, this hot, smoggy city, which sprawls for miles over a featureless plain, feels like nothing more than a waiting lounge…” So, I decided to sleep in, rest up and relax after a busy work week and before the real purpose of my trip to Indonesia began. The hotel bed was comfortable, the curtains were dark and it was wonderful to know that I didn’t have anything else to do. I pulled myself together in order to get an early dinner and have an in room acupressure aromatherapy massage and head to bed early…I had to be at the airport again at 4am to catch my early morning flight to Bali!

I arrived in beautiful Bali at around 9:30am local time and was picked up at the airport by a driver arranged by my guesthouse in Ubud. The drive to Ubud took just over an hour and even though I had been awake for ages, I was wide eyed, trying to take in the lush green scenery. My guesthouse, Narasoma, was incredible! Set down a small side street, directly off the main ‘drag’, Narasoma is set in gorgeous green garden area. My room was on the third floor of an amazing building, complete with a traditional Javanese antique bed draped in mozzie netting and breathtaking views. The main balcony had views of coconut palms and mountains, and the private back balcony (and bathroom window) looked out onto green rice paddies and more coconut palms. After a quick shower, where I couldn’t stop staring out the bathroom window into the amazing scenery, I set out to find lunch and wander the little shops that lined the main streets.

detailed doorframe

bed at narasoma

view from back balcony

view from back balcony

view from back balcony

view from main balcony

view from main balcony

shower scenery

I could easily have spent a small fortune in the shops, but managed to hold back…there’s not a whole lot of room left in my suitcases for my move back to Canada! After a few hours of wandering, I headed back to Narasoma for a relaxing afternoon break on the balcony. I spent some time chatting with my guesthouse neighbour, a woman from Germany who has been coming for Ubud (and Narasoma) for over 10 years. She suggested I check out a Balinese dance performance, so that’s exactly what I did after dinner. The dance performance was incredible…the costumes, the story telling, and the fire dancing finish was unreal. And so concludes my first magical day in Bali…

balinese offerings found all over the sidewalks...this one had cake!

growing rice paddies

green rice paddies

balinese dance performance

balinese dance performance

balinese dance performance

balinese dance performance

fire dance at balinese dance performance

The next morning, after another shower spent staring into trees, I settled out on the main balcony with my novel. I didn’t even have time to open my book before a lovely young man came upstairs to see what I wanted for breakfast. Banana pancakes and hot tea on the balcony before I decided to check out the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary at the end of the main road. I had passed the entrance to the sanctuary the day before and stayed as far away as I could. Wild monkeys freak me out…they’re really just glorified rats, and chances are good that they carry rabies. I had also read blogs about these particular monkeys stealing anything they could from tourists in an attempt to find food freebies. But for whatever reason, I woke up feeling brave and determined. I didn’t have enough time to wander the whole sanctuary, but checked out a decent portion. The monkeys were of course overly friendly and hilarious. I managed to get some great pictures while avoiding the ones that were really interested in me. And to complete my trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, I somehow managed to slip on a banana peel on my way out…classic.

sacred monkey forest sanctuary

sacred deeds at sacred monkey forest sanctuary

sacred monkey forest sanctuary

'you are here'

where's here?

sacred monkey forest sanctuary

temple at sacred monkey forest sanctuary

momma monkey keeping a hand on her baby

momma monkey keeping her foot on her baby

momma and baby

get back here baby!

yoga monkeys

At 11am, my driver from the day before came back to pick me up and drive me to Seminyak, the beach part of my weekend. The roughly 1 hour drive to my hotel in Seminyak was amazing…through more rice paddies and little towns. Shortly after noon, I arrived at Sarinade, my resting place for the next 24 hours. To kill some time before my room was ready, I took an hour long walk on the nearby beach. This certainly wasn’t the white sand beaches of Phu Quoc, but I definitely get why Bali is a prime spot for surfing! The waves were massive! At one point, the waves rolled in stronger and faster than I was anticipating and I almost got washed away!

on the drive to seminyak

the surf at seminyak

the surf at seminyak

Back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting poolside and snoozing in my room while it stormed outside. I wandered to the main road (about a 20 minute walk from Sarinade) to find a delicious dinner, then back to the hotel restaurant for beers by the pool before turning in for the night.

The sun was shining the next morning and I woke up early to make the most of it. The morning was spent lounging by the pool in the hot Indonesian sunshine working on my tan. Sadly, before I knew it, it was time to head to the airport to fly back to Jakarta. I made a quick stop at the airport Starbucks before going through security.

pool at sarinade

pool at sarinade

The real fun for the day was only just beginning. My domestic flight arriving in Jakarta was due to arrive at 2:30pm and my international flight back to HCMC was scheduled to depart at 4:30pm – not leaving me a whole lot of time to get through the domestic terminal, catch a shuttle to the international terminal, check into my international flight, clear immigration and security and make it to my gate on time…and that’s if my domestic flight departed on time! If I missed my international flight to HCMC, I would lose the money I paid for my flight, have to pay full price to book on the next available flight, and would miss Tuesday at work, as the next flight home didn’t leave until then. Needless to say, I was pretty much stressed to the max and don’t remember breathing until I reached my gate…10 minutes before boarding began!

So…I did it. I traveled alone to a foreign country, spent 4 days eating alone, sightseeing alone, and navigating unknown cities alone. I’ve loved traveling with Wendy and Laura, but actually enjoyed traveling alone as well. I surprised myself with my strength and confidence this past weekend. Seven months down, 5 countries visited, and 4 weeks to go until I return home to Canada! One more international adventure left…countdown is on – 2 weeks until Australia!

I am a hurtin’ unit!

Emotionally, I’m in a better place than I was yesterday (special thanks to those who put up with me and checked up on me), but this morning I pulled my back while playing with J. The last time this happened involved a worker’s comp claim and some serious care from my chiropractor and massage therapist sister! This time, I’m trying to carry on like everything is okay…still going to work (although toning down the gross motor play with the kiddos), still riding on the back of motorbikes, and trying not to o.d. on Advil.

Maybe I’ll try to find a “real” massage spot in Indonesia this weekend…could be mission impossible, as most massages here are relaxational and run the risk of harming my hurting back even more!

Sister –  book me an appointment with our chiro, and reserve me a spot on your massage table for when I come home, please! I can only afford to pay one of you though, so you’ll haveta work out who gets paid and who helps me because they love me! 🙂

I’m having a rough day.

Is homesickness still possible when you’re on the verge of returning home? So close, but so far away still…

There are many factors that could be playing a role in the way I’m feeling, but May 10th seems so far…trying to keep it together…

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April 2011