Sunday, June 30, 2013

saigon's unexpected surprises

We only spent four days in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, but each day was filled with exploration and adventure. Here is a list of our favorite experiences from our time spent in southern Vietnam.

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XO Scooter Tour
At first, we planned on renting two scooters to get around the city. It took approximately five seconds of driving in a taxi to realize that was a.bad.idea. The traffic in Saigon is unlike anything I've ever seen/experienced. While yes there are stop lights and intersections with stop/yield sings, literally no one pays them any heed. Scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, food carts, cars, trucks, buses, etc. all compete for space on the road and it is absolutely insane. So instead, we carefully practiced crossing the road and booked an XO Tour to get to see more of the city. The company is composed of women who pick you up at your hotel and proceed to scoot you all over Saigon, including the wealth, poor, and expat districts, and feed you local food. The tour lasted three hours, from 6-9, and was a complete blast.

Mekong Delta 
We bused south and spent a day floating along the Mekong Delta. Sean held a really big slithering python and I rowed a traditional boat down river wearing an awesome straw hat. Basically, it was a really fun if not somewhat touristy day.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk
At least three times a day, Sean and I would stop in at a cafe and have a cuppa joe. Vietnamese cafes are very different; you walk in and are escorted to a table. Then, a menu is brought with a million coffee choices (mostly in Vietnamese) and then you choose one of the options knowing it's going to be tasty as hell. You wait a while and then a large cup filled with ice and a long spoon are brought out along with a miniature coffee pot that's still brewing. You wait until a server comes around, checks the pot, and then pours your amazing coffee creation. You lounge around for at least an hour, order more than one coffee, and people watch. It's fantastic and one of my favorite experiences in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City Botanical Gardens
Wanna picnic?
Wanna watch a traditional Vietnamese wedding?
Wanna get caught up in the middle of a dance competition?
Wanna get away from honking horns, zooming scooters, and people, people everywhere?
Then the botanical gardens is the place to go!

We had a great time strolling through the park, looking at all the flowers and locals, and found ourselves enjoying quite a few kebabs while relaxing on the plentiful benches.

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Truthfully, when we go back to Vietnam, we will most likely skip over the south and fly into Hoi An so we can scoot the mid and northern parts of the country. That said, I am not sorry we spent some time seeing the Mekong Delta or enjoying Saigon. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moving day, Taiwan style


What a traumatic week:

Grades are due by Friday.

We're flying to Vietnam at 5a.m. Saturday morning and thus far only have our ticket to Saigon.

Oh, and we're moving to off campus housing.

You see, we live in a dump.

There's really no other way to describe it.

The outside of the building looks worthy of condemnation.

The inside....?

Well, that's even worse.

And, quite frankly, we simply cannot take it any longer.

Our kitchen stove and sink are held up on bricks, every creature imaginable has infested our place, and black mold grows along the walls.

It is long past time to GO.

So earlier this year once we knew who was staying another year and who was leaving, I talked to the school's admin and got permission to take over our friends' apartment once they leave for Doha.

So, during this last week of school with a trip to Vietnam looming, we are packing up all of our things in black garbage bags and the two HUGE red suitcases we moved to Taiwan with all the while wondering: how does one move apartments in Taiwan?!

You see, I've never seen a Taiwanese version of a U-Haul. And all we own are two adorable scooters.

So then, in a moment of genius, I asked to borrow our friends' car. And, stupidly, they said yes.

Ha.

So then I told Sean that he would have the honor of driving said car.

He was not happy, to put it mildly.

Because, well, driving a scooter in Taiwan is intense. Driving a car? Damn scary. Plus, there is this small fact that we don't actually have driver's licenses. Minor detail.

So, here we are scooting and driving all of our belongings (which have somehow multiplied in the last 12 months) across Hsinchu.

We are dead tired, we feel like idiots for doing this now, but despite the craziness of the week, it is totally worth it to move. Our new apartment's backyard is Lake Placid, there's a Family Mart one block away so anytime an ice cream craving hits we're ready to go, and the apartment itself is cozy, cute, and not disgusting.

We're heading to IKEA soon to get a few pieces of furniture so once the place is dolled up I'll post pics.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Beauty in reverse

Most people who know me worth a dime know I am not the most humble person in the world. Some would even say I might have an attitude problem; I can be a bad loser (and even worse winner) and I often think I'm better at things than I really am (what do you mean I don't sing like Adele?!).

I have a healthy self confidence as my mother would say, and well, truth be told: I think I'm hot. H-a-w-t.

My husband does too. Trust me, he tells me all about it all the time.

However, I do get that I am not in any way, shape, or form the idealized version of Western beauty.

I'm short (I'm not even 5'2"... although ask me and I'll lie right to your face and tell you I am).

I wear a size 12 pants (double digits, OMG).

I have freckles and white, white skin.

I'm kinda lazy and don't do my hair and most of the time you'd have a hard time finding more than mascara and chap stick adorning this face.

My clothes, except a few items, are meant for comfort and fun. Stripes? Yes! Polka dots? Bring it on!

My shoes are ballet flats and more often than not hot purple with sparkles. I cannot and will not wear high heels. Even an inch is considered a high heel in my book.

My eyes are brown and my hair is brown.

So, yeah, suffice is to say beyond my studly husband I was not garnering much male attention back in the states (um, have you seen my husband, all muscles and sweet smile, do you think I care? No!).

But then we moved to Taiwan and the weirdest thing started to happen, is still happening actually.

People, men and women but mostly men, stare.

At first, I was paranoid. Was there something on my face, in my teeth, did I get pooped on by another bird?

Now, I just smile.

So what are they looking at, you may find yourself wondering?

Well, my radiant beauty of course.

And I'm being so serious.

I've experienced this same episode numerous times:

Yesterday, I was stomping down the hallway at school in the beginning of a complete and total temper tantrum due to one thing: the insane heat and humidity. It was 7:40 am and I was already dripping sweat and my hair looked absurd and I was wearing my ugly brown shorts and black shirt instead of my adorable red and white striped dress because the shorts and shirt dry faster and I basically looked like complete and total hell on two legs.

Then, my team teacher stopped me in the hallway to tell my, very seriously and kindly, how beautiful I looked.

Completely forgetting about my temper tantrum, I broke out into hysterical laughter; I had just looked in the mirror in the teacher's bathroom one minute before and shuddered. I looked disgusting, sweating and flushed with crazy wavy hair, and miserable, grumbling about 90 degrees and 80 per cent humidity, and was clearly one unhappy little lady.

But to her, I looked amazing.

When, clearly stumped, I asked "Really, now?"

She smiled and told me how beautiful my skin looked, so pale against the dark fabrics, and how nicely the shirt made my (rather large compared to Taiwanese standards) chest look.

I did my best to thank her without seeming rude or completely flummoxed and then walked to my classroom, sat down, and lost it. I mean, I had a fit of giggles that made my students worry (even more so than usual) about my sanity.

How bizarre, though, this cultural difference.

I come from a place where being tan and golden is beautiful, where small is beautiful.

And while small is beautiful here and the average sized girl is teeny tiny, this curvy lady certainly gets a lot of appreciation from Taiwanese men.

Strange.

My white, pale skin is a thing of envy to the point that my friend Peter was told to marry me by a fruit vendor at a local market we were visiting so our babies would have pale, beautiful skin.

Last weekend, when Sean and I went out, the staring was for some reason more prominent than normal. It irked me. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt that was the farthest thing from sexy but for some reason most men we encountered were drawn to my breasts and could not pull themselves away. Sean started rubbing up against them to make the point, hey, these girls are taken.

I have 8th grade girls who use bleaching products on their skin to become as pale as possible. It's no more mind boggling than the girls I had in the states who recorded every last calorie they ate so they could stay a size 2 for the rest of their lives.

Strange, strange world.

In these moments of "admiring," as Sean calls it, I never know what to do. I absolutely do not believe beauty comes in one anything, one size, color, etc. I think we all have beauty within us, some people just don't know how to look.

What I do know, though, is that there is something completely insane about Westerners going to tanning booths to have nice golden skin and Asians bleaching their beautiful skin to make it pale.

And I know that sounds judgmental because I am being judgmental because I really think it's sheer lunacy. I feel supremely sad that women have such a hard time accepting themselves, but I guess despite cultural differences that is one thing that spans all cultures and countries.

And I'm extremely grateful for my inflated self esteem and awesome husband because I never found myself trying to play that game in the first place.

Such a strange, strange world.

A hit in Taiwan!


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