See Vietnam

Yes, so a lot of these posts are photo-dumps, but I took a lot of pictures in Vietnam. ~1500 on my Nikon, and ~1500 on my iPhone. (Although, now my hard drive refuses to turn on, so hopefully I still have my photos. :| )

Vietnam has some beautiful landscapes. Absolutely gorgeous. Aside from the food, (and I guess, family), looking at the scenic part of it is one of my favourite things. Though, I don’t have many pictures of the city-life, but enjoy the scenic tour of the homeland.

Close to my village.

On the waters of Hai Phong

Behind my uncle's house.

Foggy river.

On a drive up North.

A bridge in Hue.

Oh my, so artsy. This symbolizes the life of an average Vietnamese person. All work, no play. LOL. I kid. Vietnamese people are all play.

This is not the archetype for Vietnamese architecture.

Philanthrophy At Christmas Time

A little belated, but on the day of Christmas Eve, my aunt called us out to do some philanthropic work. Apparently every year, they go around giving gifts and money to the unfortunate. This was my aunt’s family, so I’m not directly related to them, as she married my uncle. We had plans that day, but my conscience wouldn’t really let us say no to helping people at Christmas, so I begrudgingly agreed to come along as well, and I’m so glad that I did.

We hopped into our giant van and went to pick up the goods. Which were boxes upon boxes with bags full of goodies inside. Snacks, food, cards… Extra things that they wouldn’t spend money on themselves, but I don’t think they even had money.

The first place we went to was a sort of old folk’s home. Being there, I just felt saddened by their situation. I know this is going to sound naive, insensitive, and shallow, but old people make me sad. My perception of them is rather paradoxical. They look frail, helpless, and after living for so many years, it’s amazing the strength they put forward to doing everyday things. And this is just the elderly in Canada. In Vietnam, if you’re unlucky enough to have selfish children (more prevalent than I’d care to admit), you’re stuck in these deplorable conditions, basically waiting to die.

I think there were about 50+ people in this place. Most were elderly, and there were a few that were mentally incapable. There were 3-4 people people in each room, each with a bed that looked like old war-time hospital beds. Many of these people had barely any possessions. Seeing some of them proudly boasting a grocery bags of their own things made you rethink your own lifestyle. It was just dismal to see these people with nothing to look forward to.

It was Christmas time, and if anyone were to get visitors, it’d be now. But no family, no one to come visit. Walking along the halls, the people would wait eagerly in front of their doors. I’d like to think that they were excited to have people there, but with a jaded perception of Viet people, I’m sure most of them just wanted what we were going give them (bag of stuff and about 20,000 Vietnamese dollars) and wanted us to gtfo. Not all of them, mind you. I hope.

Nevertheless, giving to people like this, and bettering their lives in at least one aspect for a day felt good. Even if I don’t do it on a regular basis, even though I am in no way a less selfish, more philanthropic person, it was nice to have done it. I’m glad I didn’t back out at the last second. I don’t think I’m such a wonderful person now, after one day of humanitarianism, that I’ve done my piece for the world and can just slack off for the rest of my life. It’s hard to explain, but it definitely made me rethink where I come from, how blessed I am to have everything that I do, how to live my life, and how to treat other people.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato

In addition to individual gift bags, we supplied the complex with several bags of rice for communal use as a way of helping the (foundation? home? charity?) take care of these people.

After a bit of conversation with the people who run the place, a lot of thank you’s and well wishes were exchanged and we were on our way to the next destination, one on the opposite spectrum and quite a bit cheerier and more hopeful considering the subject.

A boarding school partitioned into two sections: community and education for blind or visually impaired children, and child care for mentally handicapped children. They have a braille printing room that I wanted to see into, but didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to ask. I’d love to see how one of those things work though. I guess this is why Google is my best friend.

The children were exuberant and downright giddy. Surprisingly, they were very well behaved for their age. I don’t say that because they’re blind, but because they’re Vietnamese. No, I don’t have a very high opinion of the people and I’m generally wary of them due to experiences and interactions with them throughout my life.

Moving on. They were very quiet, sat still, listened to us, smiled, were very grateful for their gifts, almost surprised. When we announced that we had little gift bags for each one of them, smiles lit up all around. It made me so happy to see them so happy. Yeah, I teared up a little, but only because none of them could see me get so emotional. I tactfully turned away from the people I was with.

They were laughing and joking with each other, as kids do, and it was nice to see that yes, they were just children being children. They weren’t so drastically different from everyone else and there is a predisposition to judge them as such, but it was a good reminder that we, as a race, are not so drastically different from each other. Children from each corner of the world are, after all, still children.

The kids treated us to two songs. A wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve (day).

Greetings from Hai Phong!

Ahh, this is my third day here [I lied, I abandoned the post and came back to it 3 days later], and it’s been great. Just one bout of jetlag, but everything else has been going swimmingly.

We flew out at 12pm on Sunday, and after an intense tweeting session, our cell phones turned off. Sad. I haven’t received a call or text message in too long. I’m starting to feel a little lonely. First thing I notice on the plane is that overseas flights have gotten a lot better from the last time I saw them. USB ports for charging, a/c adapters, touch screens, and the movie selections are pretty good. They even played Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, Entourage, and even a selection of documentaries. Lots of stuff to choose from, which is great. I finally ended up watching Avatar (the blue people, not the arrow guy) and also “Going the Distance” with Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, which turned out to be a pretty funny movie.

Ahh, airplane food. Beef slop on top of rice, with one tofu, one pepper, and one bean. Corn and bean salad, which was pretty good for the first few bites. Bun, I hate. So gross. And a brownie, and well, it's hard to fuck up a brownie so this one was aight.

Instant noodles, turkey sandwich, and crackers for a snack.

Farty cheese omelette with mango chutney and shitty potatoes. THAT FUCKING BUN. At least the melon was good.

So, we flew out at 12pm Dec 12, and landed in Tokyo at 4:45 December 13. A 13-hour-ish flight took us 26 hours to do. Hahahhahahah. I found this rather amusing.

Japan was pretty cool. I wish I could have left the airport and caught a flight a week later, or at least had more time in the airport, but I only had about 40 minutes. Enough time to buy duty free gifts on behalf of my cousin to her parents, and postcards for Fah Nah Nah. Being thirsty, I picked up a tiny bottle of “Yuzu” juice, which is some kind of asian citrus, I’m assuming. Yummy yummy.

This is how I spent my 6-hour Japan-to-Hanoi ride.

We landed in Ha Noi at quarter to 11 to my momma and pappa and uncle picked us up and we drove to Hai Phong, arriving home at close to 1am. Even at that time of night, it was at least 25 degrees celsius with the humidity. Heaven!

The next morning, my uncle took us out to eat breakfast. Most restaurants (which are not at all like the restos y’all are used to in Canada, there is no fine dining here) are much like the places pictured above. Street vendors lined up and down the street, each selling one specialty dish. Much like the Vietnamese personality and lifestyle, it’s all very informal, rushy rushy, and wary of other patrons but friendly at the same time.

This place served “Bun Tra Ca” (Or is it Cha Ca? I always mix up the Tr and Ch spelling in Vietnamese because it sounds the same to me.) It’s vermicelli noodles with a kind of fish sausage, which are the little brown discs you see floating there, and they do not taste at all like fish, just a slight hint of dill if anything. There are those crunchy vegetables and some tomatoes, and some fresh onions. Soooo yummy. If there’s one thing that I’ve assimilated into my character, growing up in a Vietnamese family, is that if something is served to you, you don’t ask what it is, you just eat it.

A bowl like this I think costs about 10,000$ Vietnam money, or “dông.” Yes, have your laughs now, we Vietnamese deal in dongs. -_- Anyway, 100$ CAN is equivalent to about 2.1 million dongs, (I can hear you laughing now, especially you, Estaban) but we just round it off to 2 million, for easy calculations. So, 10,000$ for that bowl, actually comes out to about 50 cents. A steal, I’d have to say. My brother and I have started to joke around, saying things like… I bet you I can do A, B, or C. I’ll bet you *dramatic voice* one hundred. Thousand. Dollars. Something along the lines of Austin Power’s Doctor Evil, when he asks for a trillion dollars or whatever ridiculous amount of money. But, anyway, it’s fun to pretend we’re ballin’.

“If you lick the sidewalk, I’ll give you one hundred. Thousand. Dollars.”

Some fruit that we like to buy from the market vendors -> cut up sugar cane and a small type of Vietnamese apple. I love these apples, but I looove sugar cane juice the most, which I haven’t been able to have just yet. Not a lot of places serve it now because it’s wintertime.

View from the sixth floor

Because land is so expensive in Vietnam, they’d rather buy a small plot of land and build upwards. My uncle/grandmother’s house has seven floors. Awesome. Except they put us on the fifth floor, so it’s a trek and a half to get to our room to grab things and go to bed. Most of the time, we just end up passing out in our parent’s room on the second floor. The second floor also happens to be where the only internet wire and my laptop is kept. No wi-fi up in hurr.

I swear, everytime I turn around around here, there’s another meal for me to consume. This is a home cooked meal. I love these tiny shrimps. They’re a little salty and you eat them with rice. Well, everything here, you eat with rice. The yellow-orange dish is breaded shrimp, the two brownish dishes at the top are “thit bo co” which is basically sautéed short beef ribs, and the bottom green thang is a kind of lettuce soup that you eat with your rice. The brownish water thing is probably a shrimp/beef stew. So much variety to eat for what’s supposed to be a small lunch.

Later that day, we went to “Big C” or the “sieu thi” which is a department store that is not unlike WalMart. The biggest culture shock is that because hardly anyone drives a car, and everyone has bikes or a moped/scooter, this is what the mall parking lots look like. Intense, eh? Or should I say, they are in tents. HAHAHHAHHA. Just kidding, they’re just in a little enclosure. But seriously, I’ve never seen so many scooters in one place, not even at RHS.

But that’s about the end of Day 1 ish. More updates to come about Cat Ba, Xam Bo, more food, and other things. We’re going to La Vang, in Hue, which is the middle part of Vietnam, in a few days, and after Christmas, we’ll be going to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south of Vietnam.

My finger is bleeding now. Good day.

Oh yes, and this is how they cross the street in Hai Phong (or maybe in all of Vietnam). That's my uncle there, strutting his stuff in the middle of the street like a mad man.