Friday, February 20, 2009

Ho Chi Minh/Mui Ne

Greetings everyone, welcome to my blog. Loads of people have asked me to update my status online. I choose this method because it allows me to embed pics and videos with text. I have read hundreds of travel update over the past few years, and I can't truly get a feel for the trip unless there is some type of visual. (I apologize for offending any of you who have sent me text only updates over the years) Also, I am going to try to spare you the major details of all the minor discomforts that I face. As a backpacker, you must expect long delays and problems - but that is half the fun. I am sure that you could care so little about the story where my ipod ran out of batteries on my 8 hour bus ride. Instead, I will fill this blog with rumination about cultural differences, and anecdotes that shed a light on my mental and physical situation. With that enjoy and feel free to write back.

There is a certain charm to this place - Between getting approached by vendors every minute and the hustle and bustle of the city, Ho Chi Minh has a very harmonious feel. There is no road rage, no visible crime, and everyone has a smile on their face. Everyone feels they represent Vietnam.

I do the slow walk - Ho Chi Minh City has about 6.6 million people. Crossing the street is a daunting task because mopeds don't follow street signs. The trick is to cross the street at a slow yet steady pace, and the mopeds will avoid you. I almost got ran over(about 4 times) by a family of 4 on a moped. Its in between a real life game of frogger and Neo from The Matrix.

The bottom picture is the main backpacker street, as you can see there is a lot going on - and never a quiet moment

Hungry? - Ben Tranh Market is the huge open air market in Ho Chi Minh. Everything is supercheap. I heard that the locals get insulted if you don't try to bargain with them. A guy at our hostel bought a dress shirt for $1.25.

This lady sold some type of heart, brain, liver, intestines, and eyeballs. Tasty!

I held 1 million dong in my hand today - Lance Bass, don't get too excited. And no, mom and dad, I did not get kidnapped by the Vietnamese gay bandits. The dong is the undervalued currency in Vietnam. 1 dollar will get you close to 20,000 dong, It only takes about $57 to be a million-dong-aire. Paying 15000 of anything seems like a lot for a rice and beef plate off a street vendor, until I realized I paid 85 cents. A 3 night stay at the hostel cost me an outrageous 158,000 dong, or $9 .

Grounded - One of the first things I noticed in Asia is how close everyone sits to the ground. Most of the backpackers prepartied at either “the red chair place” or “the blue chair place” I am quite certain I sat on bigger red and blue chairs in kindergarten. Some of the street vendors sit on stools no more than 3 inches high. These stools would be unusable for 99% of the American population over 8 years old.

Once we got over how small the chairs are, the red and blue chair bars were quite nice. They jam as many people into a 15'x15' area, often spilling into the street. The proximity makes it easier to break the ice with with people sitting next to you – you are more or less touching knees with people on either side of you. Also, a jug (about a pitcher) of freshly brewed local beer is 11,000 dong, about 65 cents.

Lost in Translation - Its great how everything is written using English characters (unlike Thai), but the translation is not always 100%. We stayed at the “Domytory” for $3/night and across the street they sold “loney lannet” guide books. When we asked the cab driver to take us to Cu Chi tunnels, we ended up in Chinatown (yes, every city over 100,000 people must have a chinatown). We cant complain because they go out of their way to learn English, and I learnt my first 2 words of Vietnamese yesterday.

No honey, your ass isn't that big, the tunnels are that small. The Vietnamese took 20 years to build a secret network of underground tunnels. 250 k of tunnels by hand, complete with hospitals, kitchens, and booby traps. A fully sustainable society safeguarded from the Americans. The tunnels are pitch black and they actually made the tunnels bigger for tourism. Andrew and I did the day trip with 2 English travelers we had met the night before, Jay, a self proclaimed pacifist from Sussex, and Sarah, a Vietnam war buff from Chesire. The war/peace dynamic and bickering in English accents kept me and Andrew entertained all day. According to Sarah, they both “had a whack at taking the piss out of each other”

*BTW the first picture is not Sarah Howlett, from 2271 Stonebrook Road, Chesire, England

War Museum - This picture caught my eye. The museum graphically details the US-Vietnam war. There is a whole wall dedicated to the effects of agent orange (graphic). After this museum, I am even more surprised by the warm welcome Americans get here.

A monkey we fed on the way to the sand dunes in Mui Ne.

I paid 2 little kids to rent a plastic sheet to slide down the sand dunes a few times. The kids spoke perfect English and were extremely intelligent. I told one 13 year old kid to move to America and become a doctor.

American do it wrong- still about a week into the trip, I am just starting to release all stress from the daily grind, and make it into the travellers mentality that I am so desperately seeking. Every euro traveler I have met, is in the middle of a 6 month, or a 1 year trip. It really does take a while to make this mental shift and free the mind of all the clutter that comes with city life. No offense to my ex-co-workers at Neubauer & Associates and Quest Diagnostics, but it take a few days to mentally downgrade my mind and get out of that go-go-go mentality. If I had to go back to work in a few days, I'm not sure if I could ever truly make it into this travelers mentality I have been talking about. A 2 week vacation doesn't do the trick.

John Madden's dream come true - There is a ton of exotic fruit over here, and a ton of crazy foods I will never see back in the states, however, the creature on the left is unexplainable. A real life tur-duck-en! Take a nice look at that creature. It has webbed feet, and a ducks body, but chicken wings and kind of a gobble. The cows do eat plastic bags, so there may be some type of genetic mutation, but this must be the work of a cross breeding mad scientist.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sitting in my empty room at 4AM, ready to dream

Friends and Family, I have gotten numerous request to send pictures and updates from the trip I am about to go on, and with the wonders and convenience of the Internet, I will be sharing my travel experince in this blog.

In an hour, I will put my laptop and cell phone in a box, not to be touched for at least 3 months. This will likely be the last time in my life that I will have no way to be reached and zero responsibility. The more research I do, the more excited I get. However, I find it hard to think about my mindset for this trip. The fast paced environment of San Francisco contrasts with the laid back lifestyle of the travelling community. I know that in 3 days I wont have a care in the world, but it is hard to actualize that feeling considering that I just finished my 9-5 job about 12 hours ago.

As I prepare to catch a plane in 7 hours, I reflect on my 6 month journey in 2005 to Fiji, Australia, and 9 countries in Western Europe. I would consider this one of the highlights of my life, and have been outspoken about buying an around the world plane ticket instead of studying abroad. Instead of being locked down in 1 city, drunkenly recreating freshmen year, I had time to immerse myself in cultures from all over the world, not just spend a weekend here or there. While I will be in slightly more impoverished areas than Aussie or Europe, many of the fundamentals of the trip will be similar:

I will explore other cultures, and do my best to learn how other people in the world live

I will bring a little bit of my culture to the people I meet

The backpacking community is really a unique culture. Its a very open, liberal culture where everyone looks out for everyone else. My dad offered me a free stay using credit card points. I told him I would rather stay in a $4/night hostel to be around backpackers

This picture has 2 points. First, there is no place I would rather be than on that boat. The ability to have total freedom over everything I do
will put me in the travellers mindset

Second, look at my clothing in the above pics. I am only bringing 5 shirts for 100 days, do the math.

And finally, the last tenent: Facial hair


Here are some of the higlights of this upcoming trip:

2/11 - Fly into Ho Chi Minh, and meet my college roommate, Andrew

2/27-3/12 Meet my high school friend, Jaycie, and explore Hanoi, Halong Bay and the jungle region

3-20 - Tube down the river in Vang Vieng

4/9 - Full Moon party in Ko Phan Gnag. Hopefully a few of my San Francisco roommates will spend a few weeks island hopping with me.

5/11 - 5/16 - Fly from Cambodia to Japan for a few days, then back to SF (only if i'm ready to come back)