Friday, October 10, 2014

Expat Vietnam Life: Ways to get rid of stress in Saigon.

People ask me all the time how is it possible for me to live in Vietnam for so long, when they usually get bored or tired of it towards the end of their vacation. The truth is, Saigon and Vietnam for that matter isn't a simple cakewalk for the average expat. Moving to Vietnam from America isn't like moving to Europe from America. The contrasts of culture and language might be overwhelming for some. Combined with challenging work and daily grinds, the average westerner is bound to get burnt out sooner or later, and even perhaps jaded. So how am I able to live in Vietnam for so long? Here's a few suggestions on activities that you can do in order to make your life a little bit stress free and more enjoyable.

1. Live as close to if not higher than your western lifestyle. For most important thing is to make sure your home or the place that you sleep at night is comfortable with proper air conditioning and furnishings. A nice and quiet place to rejuvenate oneself is incredibly important. Alleyways and storefronts on busy roads might mean a lot of sleepless nights with noisy neighbors. Live in a sky rise as high above the ground as possible. At the end of the day you want to go back home and just be in your own world. Some might argue against this- stating that it is better to live next to the locals. Well, that's because those people don't understand the language or are not bothered by a lack of privacy. If you're even remotely professional in the day time, then invest in something a little bit more professional for your nights. All of those expats living in shared homes in alleys, where you have to park your motorbike inside your living room, hats off to you.

2. Have a variety of food in your life. Saigon has over 20,000 establishments to eat and drink. There are quite a number of foreign food ranging from Japanese to American to Spanish to French to Mexican American to Thai to everything. The bottom line is diversify your meals to remind yourself that food isn't always pho or com. Street food will wear you down eventually, taste wise or toilet wise. If you pay mere dollars for food- you're not likely experiencing the best- for example, a bowl of pho for 25,000 Dong will never match the quality of a bowl for 60,000 Dong. Go out to nice restaurants from time to time where you don't have to squat and eat or sit on plastic stools that could break any minute. Eat in a room where you're not drinking your sweat as well.

3. Pretend you're a tourist. From time to time, I like to walk around near the Notre Dam Cathedral or the Backpackers Area and pretend I'm in Saigon visiting. Saigon's Downtown area is really awesome with its French Colonial Architecture and Hanoi has a few decent spots too. Explore the sights and do the touristy things. Book a tour to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels for a day. It's actually a pretty good feeling, and even if you've done it before or have lived in Vietnam for a long time. Occasional moments of self deception are awesome.

4. Ride a motorbike into the countryside. One of my favorite activities is to go cruising in the streets of Nha Be in the middle of the night. It's fun to explore a side of Saigon that isn't that developed and mirrors the authentic Mekong Delta. In fact, when I hit the waters of the Mekong Delta is when I return. The roads are pretty small, but congested. Driving down there and interacting with the people there also help remind me how amazing Vietnam can be. Don't go too late though, because it might not be the safest thing to do. But if you enjoy riding as much as I do, then I really recommend just cruising somewhere in the nearby countryside early in the mornings or at night. Day time riding might be a bit hot and bright though.

5. Get a massage / Get pampered. The overwhelming amount of friends who come to visit always inquire about a legit and cheap massage. Now, decent massages aren't cheap. They aren't a few dollars. They can run as high as 25-50 dollars depending on how long you're in there. If you're not into someone rubbing on your body, then a foot massage is decent too. Some places have communal rooms where you can actually experience it with your friends. If you're into the sauna then most places will also have them as well. Personally for me, I'm not a big massage guy.

6. Have western friends. I know many people want to immerse themselves into the culture and make as many local friends as possible. I understand that. I think that's great. But at the end of the day, humans are social animals. It's much easier and more pleasant to be around people who understand your language and can relate to your problems. Your daily problems aren't problems to locals. I used to complain to my cousins how hot it was. They thought it was cold, and that I was crazy. I've written about the tension and invisible barriers between locals and Viet kieus. It's apparent no matter how long you've lived here. Beyond historical and cultural boundaries, language barriers make having western friends definitely a must. Find yourself a good group of friends and experience Vietnam with them.

7. Take day trips. Travel as often as you can. The best way to last in Saigon is to leave Saigon whenever you can. There are plenty of day trips accessible by bike or cars can be rented for about 100 dollars a day or so. Vietnam has numerous cities all within a few hours apart by air. If you're in mountains, beaches, valleys, or cities, Vietnam has all of those and more. If you want to experience Southeast Asia, Vietnam can be your gateway to numerous countries with direct flights to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Myanmar, Singapore, Hong Kong, and more. Get out of the country to remind yourself just how awesome Vietnam is. This is a big one on my list.

8. Keep in touch with your friends back home. There's no doubt that I've missed out on quite a few moments and friendships because I'm not around my friends from back home. But for the people who truly matter, it's important to message them or have a webcam session with them from time to time. I've been guilty of believing in the whole "out of sight - out of mind" mentality. But I still keep in contact with a few life long friends who barely know anything about Vietnam. That's the wonderful part of it. For a few minutes in my day, I don't have to acknowledge or realize that I'm living in Vietnam. The constant thought of, "Oh, I'm living in Vietnam. Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam KyleLe Dot Net" is tiring. It's refreshing to discuss sports and memories of the real world. I'm going to try to do this more often.

9. Hang out with family. If you don't have any families in Vietnam, then forget about this one. For the record, hanging out too much with family here can be pretty annoying. But from time to time, maybe once every two months or so, I like to visit my cousins, aunts, and grandfather. My visits are usually met with enthusiasm. There's often not much to discuss, but plenty of gripes and laughter. I need to do this more often myself. I like days where I can just go see them and get fed without much thoughts.

10. Make sure you have a hobby. If all you do is work and eat street food and date local girls, then your life is definitely lacking. Like anywhere else, you need to dedicate time in something you're passionate about. For me, I really enjoy aquarium fish, motorcycles, and creating videos. Some of you might want to play soccer or do charity work. That's all fine too. If you have a certain hobby, even Ultimate Frisbee, Saigon has a team or a group for you to join. Just make sure you look.

11. Don't be broke.

If anyone can think of anything else feel free to comment below. As always be sure to LIKE my Facebook page at http:/www.fb.com/KyleLe.net


check back soon onto my YouTube channel as I show you French, American BBQ, Mexican, and Japanese, Indian food and more in Saigon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Viet Food Porn / Torn.

    What happened to this blog? Isn't this supposed to be the number one English blog from Vietnam? Nothing has changed except the fact that there isn't much to complain about anymore. I stopped mingling with local girls, therefore I don't have anything to whine about. So life is pretty decent right now. There are a few changes coming up, but nothing really important.

    I'm kind of stuck in a situation where, the more well known I've become, the less I want to disclose about myself. I don't want to put myself out there as much as before because the stakes are higher now. That, and I've just been incredibly busy - may it be working on videos or being sullen about my recent situation. It really sucks when someone you really want to be with is 5,000 miles away. I just can't seem to find happiness when it comes to proximity. But oh well, life throws things at you and how you react to them will dictate the greater outcome. I don't know what the outcome will be, but as of right now I've been pretty down. The entire month of September felt like a dream in brevity. I don't recall so many mixed emotions like the month of September... a month worth to remember.

    Marn has been back for a couple weeks now. I don't get to see him that often because of my hectic schedule, but I've made the effort to hang out as often as I can. He'll be here until late November or so, and already, we've had some hilarious moments - including his attempt at picking up girls with his iPhone 6... which btw, has somewhat worked. But he just hasn't really sealed the deal yet. But by and by, girls here actually find him fascinating and intriguing... beyond his phone.
But the phone is a good way to get their attention though. But believe it or not, he's actually a very interesting and unique person to many of the single ladies here. They find him cute, childish, but very safe to be around.

    I've been spending a lot of time just eating ever since Tien left. I've been gorging on all sorts of food. In fact, life, as you can see in the videos - life has been about food. But there's a lot more food that isn't seen. In fact, after Tien's departure, I went back to eating banh tranh, Ritz crackers, and whatever else I could find at night like a sewer rat. Then on the weekends I would kind of gorge by going out and eating as much as I can. Somewhere along the way I felt a little bit better, but during the weekdays, I just eat some salt and Oreos for dinner. I've been doing a number on my stomach lining by eating a lot of tamarind on ice and unripened ambarella. I like how in Vietnam, the food can just come to you sometimes. Unfortunately, I don't get to experience that- that often because I tend to stay in most nights now. Occasionally, I've wandered around for a bit- taking walks to the local supermarket where she used to shop. But all I feel is even more obsolete and scant, so I just usually head back home and prepare for the next day's events.

     A couple of weeks ago I was tired from traveling for six weeks nonstop. This past weekend, despite going out every single afternoon and into late night, I felt a sense of wanting to leave Saigon again. I really want to check out Ha Tien. A Da Lat trip is currently in the works. I just want to sit on an island somewhere. I want to travel again. So why don't I? I don't know.

   I have this incessant longing to be around her. That's impossible now, so it's nothing but an annoyance to my daily life because I can't function without the thought of her interjecting into my activities. Activities that would be a lot more meaningful if she was around. Time. time time.

   So enough with that. It's time for some eye candy. Stay tuned guys. Check YouTube and subscribe to it. As for a lot more you know where to go http://www.facebook.com/KyleLe.net

Goodbye Diet.





































But in the end, the best food was the food that she cooked. 






Thursday, October 2, 2014

GOOGLE+ Hangout! HAPPENING NOW!!! (9 PM PACIFIC TIME TONIGHT)


With the success of the last Google+Hangout Live Stream featuring Nina and Kim,
I'm doing another one this Monday 9 AM Local Vietnam Time. That's Sunday Night at 7 PM in California and 10 PM in New York. European followers, I'm sorry but you'll just have to wake up really early. Australia followers, you can watch during lunch time. I'm joined by Tien, a German Viet Kieu, who have appeared in a few videos and a few more to come. Come with questions about life and travels in Vietnam. Let's have a discussion and appreciation on the Vietnamese diaspora and the motherland. I'll also explain what's going on with this blog and the future of SoJournaling Vietnam. You definitely don't want to miss this event in real time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8zZ2RTTUbM

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vietnam motorcycle madness - Prone to Wheelies.

       I'm on the market for a better bike. I recently found a green Ninja 250, which is one of the bikes that I was looking to buy, for a very affordable price. Unfortunately, it was all the way in Dong Nai. I couldn't make it out there until Saturday afternoon. So I rounded up my mechanic and took a cab all the way out there. An hour before, I called up the dude, and he was rather pleasant and said to come over and to call him when I got to a specific intersection. My mechanic joked about how desolate and empty this area of town was- nothing but rubber trees and factories. Then I suddenly thought about a potential bait and beat up situation, where the dudes advertised an awesome bike only for us to show up with money and then beat the crap out of us and steal our money. This scenario crossed my mind numerous times.

Just a month ago, I met up with these two shady dudes who had an older Ducati Monster for an unbelievable price. It had province plates though, but that didn't matter much - what mattered was on the registration card I read Ducaty. It was clear the bike wasn't legit. You have to be very careful about buying a bike, especially a motorcycle. If the price is too good, then it's likely too good to be true. Big CC bikes with proper paperwork easily run 10,000 USD or twice as much easily. Anything less than that is either really old, has no paperwork, stolen, fake papers, etc etc.

So there I was eager and really excited that I'm going to be riding a Ninja 250. I was already planning to order parts from America for it since I have a friend coming over really soon. I was even looking at a green suit to match to green paint. When I got to the intersection, we stopped at a bun bo place. I called him, and he immediately said that the bike has been sold and hung up the phone. I was shocked and sweaty. Extremely sweaty. I called him again and he wouldn't pick up. That was that. Unbelievable. Then I ate some bun bo with my mechanic and the taxi driver. And went back in complete silence. The taxi ride cost me 1.6 million Dong roundtrip. So perhaps, my luck once again screwed me over. The bike was on sale for a month before I knew about it. And just so happens that it suddenly got sold amazed me. Oh well.

So when I headed back to the city, I immediately went to the Benelli Dealership to check out their new BN302 Bike, which costs 108 million. After paperwork and all that the 302CC naked bike (built in China) would cost about 6,000 dollars. I was ready to buy it, but then I would have to wait until November. Nevermind. Plus, the weight of the bike was an issue. The important thing about riding in Saigon and in Vietnam is the torque of the bike and how nimble it is. The bike needs to be agile enough to maneuver you out of a hairy situation. You need power to overpass, but not too much power that could get you killed or kill someone. A foreigner recently got killed here because he rode and hit a sidewalk wall. Too much power would also be a nightmare in traffic. With conditions here, anything above 300-400 CCs would be asking for trouble and a lot of body aches. The dudes with the big 1000 CC bikes don't use them as daily drivers in rush hour. I need a commuter motorcycle and there aren't many of those. Especially, not ones in my price range and weight class. Some used 1,000 CC bikes are actually cheaper than used 250CC bikes, believe it or not.

So now, I'm stuck and in a constant rut. I don't know what to buy. I wish I could just afford to walk into a KTM dealership and drive away with the naked 390 Duke. But they're pretty damn expensive and the seat height is pretty high for traffic, not to mention potentially too much power for me. I would love to have that bike, but then I would be kind of poor for a while. But ABS brakes are incredibly important.  Plus, I'm prone to wheelies. I've crashed a few times. Too much power might be an issue. The last time was pretty serious. I'm not the best rider. And the people around me are pretty reckless  at times. So, I think I'll stick with a Duke 200 and make sure it has ABS because that's exactly what I need. So the search continues....

http://www.facebook.com/KyleLe.net

Stay tuned for two straight weeks of daily releases!! You don't want to miss some of these videos I have due to hit the cybersphere.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

One day in Hanoi. Many reasons to smile.

To begin this entry, I just wanted to give a heartfelt thank you to Chi and her friend Phuong. Without them, this today wouldn’t have been possible. Without Phuong’s great acting skills and time, today wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you Chi for coming through for me when no one else would.

4 AM. My alarm woke me up for a change. Throughout the night I tossed and turned because I was afraid that I was going to miss the wake up time. I had a 6:30 AM flight to Hanoi. Wait wait wait, you’re wondering, wasn’t I just in Hanoi three weeks ago? Yes. Why, Yes I was. Didn't I say that that was going to be my last time for a while? Yeaaah..

It wasn’t too hard to find a taxi at 5 AM, and the relatively empty streets made the trip a breeze. I couldn’t help but notice how many people were already up and active. Mondays are just like any other day for many workers in the city because they don’t even have a day off to appreciate weekends. Daylight was breaking as we crossed the Thi Nghe Bridge. The morning sun playing peekaboo from behind the clouds didn’t make me feel sleepy at all. I failed to eat anything for breakfast like usual. As we approached the terminal, my jaw dropped because I saw how long the security line was. In fact, it was the most packed I’ve ever seen. The line extended from terminal to terminal. The check in process was relatively painless. Typical fashion of people cutting in line, and a guy even had the audacity to poke me to move. So I just turned around and gave him a creepy look until he looked away.

Aside from the annoying guy next to me who sat in the wrong seat, played his phone game too loudly which actually disturbed the baby in front of us, and his attempts to talk to me in the northern dialect, which I didn’t quite understand, nothing else was special or extraordinary.

My destination was the Vincom Towers, but I wasn’t quite sure which one, I was about forty minutes early, even when the cab broke down. The check engine light came on and there was a shake and the car just lost its power. Luckily, there were plenty of other cabs around. After exploring both towers, I decided to head across the street to eat something because I was starving. I sat down to a bowl of disgusting bunh moc. Arguably, the worst 50,000 Dong bowl of noodles I’ve ever paid in my life. But, it did help give me energy because by 10 o’clock I was starving. Afterwards, I headed over the nearby Starbucks. Now this was my first time ever ordering something. But I just had to be there for vantage reasons. I felt so out of place ordering because the girl behind the counter couldn’t understand my rendition of caramel macchiato. She also said something was for free. I didn’t know what she said. But I told her that if it was free I’d take it. It was a free cup of black coffee. So I had two drinks, both of which I could barely drink because I haven’t been a coffee a drinker in a long time. One sip of the macchiato, and it didn’t taste what I used to drink at all. I went upstairs on the balcony under the sun to try to get a good vantage view of what was going to happen underneath. I felt incredibly awkward walking into a room full of hipsters on their lunch breaks, and even more weird holding two cups of coffee that I couldn't drink myself.

At 10:30ish she showed up. And as soon as I saw her across the street, I felt as if nothing transpired between us the week before. I completely forgot about the soul breaking goodbye exactly one week prior. I forgot about all the tears. When she stepped in, she ordered something, so I waited for a bit until she came into view again as she waited for her drink. Our smiles greeted each other from across the room. She sat down and placed two cups of coffee down next to mine. She said she didn't quite understand what the cashier was saying either, so she just accepted. We both aren't coffee drinkers. So there she was sitting across from me as if nothing happened the week before. As if our farewells magically canceled each other out. It was incredibly difficult to get her out of the house because of restrictions placed on her by her relatives. I have to thank Chi and Phuong for helping me with this. Seriously, if it wasn't for you guys, I wouldn't have been able to see her. So we caught up briefly, and I was paranoid about the potential of her being bugged and GPS tracked, but then I realized that it was Vietnam.

We hopped into a taxi full of suspicion as if we were being followed. The tinted windows really helped. I joked around with the taxi driver about not wanting my "wife" to find out that I was with my "girlfriend" so we wanted to go far from Vincom as possible. So we went to Vincom Royal City instead. After wandering aimlessly around, we couldn't help but notice how similar it was to Vincom Times City. There was a gigantic waterfall and an ice skating area too, which were both kind of cool. We checked out some food options. I was starving, but she wasn't, so I opted to not eat. We walked around, trying to find some boba tea, another forbidden entity. When you throw two people who are horrible with directions together, you tend to get lost for a while. The desolate mall meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves. When we wandered through the various restaurants, employees tried to hawk at us to come in. I didn't know what to do or how to reject them. Eventually, we settled for Kichi Kichi because it was something she had never tried before and because we might have passed it a dozen times without realizing. And the weird thing was the playlist there seemed to have captured our story and our experience together really well. I don't recall any specific songs, but the lyrics at times in every song felt as if it they were singing about me or her or narrating our sad situation of having to say goodbye. It just felt so right eating hot pot with her. 

So we got out of the Vincom after I found a highly rated boba tea place with origins in Taiwan nearby. And this is is where we sat, in a little basic place with very little aesthetics, but the boba milk tea was incredibly delicious. The boba was some of the best I've had in Vietnam for sure. So this is where we sat for a while, completely forgetting about how I wanted to go to a few more places in Hanoi to film, and we just sat and talked about each other, about the past, and about the future. At times I fought back tears with quivers. My voice cracked a few times. Even with an hour left of time together, it didn't set in yet. And the 60 minutes between 4 and 5 PM were the fastest I've ever experienced. I would look down at my watch a few times, but even with a few minutes left, it still hadn't full set in yet. It still hadn't set in that this was going to be our final goodbye, at least for a while.

I flagged down a cab, and by the time I dropped her off, I was trying so hard to fight back tears. The music on the radio, now in Vietnamese, also acted like a mean and cruel soundtrack to taunt our sorrow.  It was hard for us to both look at each other. Suddenly, her street came into view without any anticipation. It happened so suddenly. I panicked. I didn't even have time to panic. Then she was gone. She opened the door, and walked out, and I stared back at her through the words and telephone numbers decal on the back of the rear windshield, catching only glimpses of her and the motorbikes swarming around her. Then I sat back down when I could no longer see her red dress and red Nike shoes. And then the tears finally came. came came came. came. The taxi driver just stared back and didn't say much.

By now, it was close to 5:30, and I was still near the Hanoi. The taxi driver opted to take a faster road that looped around the traffic. Of course, this was way more expensive, but he insured me that it was the only way if I wanted to make my 7:10 flight. I was praying that the plane would get delayed for once. By 6:15 - 6:30, I had no faith left. I was pretty sure I was going to miss the plane. I quietly accepted this fact. When I finally got to the airport at 6:45, and I swear those was the worst driver ever because he didn't even know the domestic drop off area, I paid him patiently, giving him the extra amount that he was able to extort from me. And then I ran as fast as I could. I was imagined myself like a slow motion cheetah with pants that were about to fall down as I just ran and ran and ran through the terminal. I begged a few people to let me go in the front. The staff yelled at me for a bit. I ran into the wrong security gate and ran down the terminal again to the right one. By the time I got to my gate, I was the last one to board, but I wasn't that late because there were people still waiting to be seated on the plane. I ran so hard I had a massive headache, and I could hear my heart just pumping away. I made it. And deep down inside, I was hoping to miss my flight because I wanted to at least spend another night in the same city as her. But that didn't happen.

So.. Monday the 22nd of the year 2014 marked the first time I ever cried on an airplane.
Luckily, I was given a row to myself.

When I landed at the airport, I didn't want to leave the terminal. I knew that there wouldn't be anyone waiting for me through the glass doors. It'd just be me, finding a taxi, and going home to an empty apartment by myself 17 hours afters after I left.
Everything was completely worth it. I had a few friends who were against me spending money and time flying up. But I'm so glad I did. Things are more clear to me now. Being away from her for a week wasn't easy. But I got through it. So I know I'll be able to get through it again. Once she's back in her home country, life will begin again. Things will go back to normal for both of us. But I'm okay with her leaving because she has a chance to progress in life. I don't want to keep her back. The future is uncertain for both of us, but one thing is for sure. I'll see her again soon. Not in Vietnam, but somewhere else. If there's a will, there's a way. As of now, my will is quite willing. Who knows what the future will bring. I'm glad I saw her. It's always good to spend time with someone you admire.

If things never work out, I'm still completely happy. I got a chance to meet an amazing person who will now set the standard for anyone else that I meet and date. I know exactly the kind of girl I want now. Someone just like her. I never thought there would be another person who I would get along with so well. I've never been the patient type or the easily forgiving type. That all changed when I met her. When relationships or friendships end, the parties always forget about the good times. I won't remember the bad times because there weren't any. There were annoying times, yet all I can think about now are the good times. I wrote this entry for myself and for her so in the future if we ever forget about the good times, we can always go back and remember them. There were a lot of good times.

I'm going to miss you so much. 



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kathmandu, Nepal Travel Documentary.

So it's finally out. I managed to compile a few days into only 8 minutes minutes because I don't know what I did with two more days worth of footage in Nepal. I might have never copied the files over. I really don't know. I've been a little distraught over it. I lost many good scenes that would have made this documentary more complete. Nevertheless, it's still very watchable. I hope you enjoy. And if you had no idea that I went to Nepal, you should search for entries of my trip to Kathmandu on this blog. and I'll link the playlist on YouTube as well. As always be sure to share the video with your friends, especially if you want to see more. Next up- the Hue travelogue.

Other Kathmandu and Nepal videos




the Kathmandu / Chitwan National Park Travelogue

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Family and friends in Vietnam - A pioneering gathering.

I’ve always had this abnormal fantasy about mixing my friends and family together in a grand spectacle of food. Last week this event came true.

My grandfather mentioned several times prior to me about bringing friends over. Kim not too long ago paid him a visit and he seemed to get a kick out of that. So when I called him about bringing foreign friends over, he was joyful about such an experience.

The plan was simple. Get on a bus, go to Bien Hoa, experience family and semi-rural conditions, stuff our faces with food, go home and sleep. I saw this chance as an opportunity to throw a party for my family, which I’ve never done before, and for my friends who seldom might get a chance at such a Vietnamese cultural tradition.

Living in Vietnam, I’ve taken visiting relatives for granted. Prior, the main reason of visiting Vietnam was to spend quality time with relatives. Eventually, they got annoying, and I’ve distanced myself largely due to distance and my hectic schedule. But I figure, from time to time, it’s important and valuable to share a meal and to catch up. In fact, Uncle 7 from America is still lounging around in Bien Hoa like a local. He’s been eating well.

In the morning Nina, Seb, Kikki, Tien, and I met up at the local Dunkin Doughnuts for a quick breakfast. Then we made our way over to the Le Hong Phong Bus Station to catch the number 5 towards Bien Hoa. We were a tad bit behind schedule and the sun was blaring down on us as usual. Fortunately, the bus still had seats left for the girls, but Seb and I sat on the aisle in the back. The good news was we still had seats, even though they were hot from behind directly over the engine. I’m sure you all know my thoughts on public buses to the provinces in Vietnam. But this trip wasn’t that bad. I might have offended a woman because I confused her daughter for a son. It’s not my fault she chose to give her daughter such a ridiculous haircut. Sometimes being on a bus is the safest feeling in the streets of Saigon simply for its sheer size and volume. The bus ride itself wasn’t that memorable. There might have been one quick stop incident, but aside from that it was relatively quick and smooth for a Sunday.

When we got to Bien Hoa it was a little bit difficult to find a taxi because they were all parked across the street and Bien Hoa seems to have more of the smaller four seater Kia morning taxis. Either way, the five of us all piled into a three seats and headed a short distance away to my cousin Dung’s house. If you remember, her husband recently passed away. This was the first time that I had returned since a month and a few weeks prior. The front of her house was back to business as usual. My grandmother’s house still relatively looking desolate next door. It’ll be for sale soon, and I’m awaiting a massive power and money struggle between my aunt and uncles as they attempt to write my father out of any money. We’ll see in the next few months. Dung wanted me to give my grandfather some potted plants, so we stopped. I also collected a giant bag of oatmeal that my mom sent a long time ago. She looked relatively distressed when I saw her. But she looked like she gained a bit of weight too. Our time together was relatively short. And already it was weird for my friends to be there. It was so weird for my universe to blend together like that. I usually have family time or friend time, never together. Water was passed all around in the form of La Vie bottles, as we bid her farewell as we called for a seven seater taxi headed towards my grandfather.

My grandfather lives about forty kilometers away from the center of Bien Hoa in the Trang Bom district on the road towards Mui Ne and Nha Trang. The ride was relatively painless as well. Once again, mixing my friends with my grandfather felt quite abnormal to me. Watching them shake his hand as he spoke some French, was a pure mental trip. My friends and my grandfather. That was just weird. Tien mentioned how she felt like she’s been there and how familiar things were because she watched the video I filmed not too long ago. I wish we had more time, but our schedule was pretty strict because I wanted to squeeze in as many moments as possible, so we didn’t stay long. I had requested that he didn’t prepare any food. Some light fruits and drinks were plenty for us because we were expecting a massive feast at my cousin’s house later on. We sat in the living room under my great grandparents’ altar chit chatting about whatevers. My grandfather’s adopted granddaughter’s daughter took a liking to Kikki, and she’s usually quite shy around people. Then we left.

Heading back to Bien Hoa, I had a hard time locating my cousin’s house in Trang Dai. She lives far from the main areas of Bien Hoa deep in a developing khu dan cu area. Just six years ago, the area was desolate with no other houses. My cousin’s house was one of the first ones in the area. Now, all sorts of houses have sprung up. The road in is still as bad as once was. Now, her house has a lot of fond memories in my heart because I spent a lot of time there during my first two trips to Vietnam. Miserable nights without AC and gecko poop everywhere. Those aspects still haven’t changed either. By random luck, we stumbled on her house after aimlessly driving around for a bit. The taxi driver entered through a different way, and I was completely lost.

Uncle 7 came out to greet us. At first he thought everyone was American. He attempted to throw some English towards us, but in the end he got his point across despite not making much sense. His point was, just drink and eat. Most of my cousins were there. A few cousin-in-laws and one cousin was absent, but most of them came out. Why wouldn’t they? This was a feast. In fact, there was every single kind of protein there, from chicken to beef to seafood to pork and vegetables. When I told my cousin to get a lot of food, I didn’t expect her to buy the whole market. We barely touched half of the food. When she told me she wanted to do a BBQ, I didn’t know she meant we were going to grill the food inside the house next to us while we bathed in smoke. Either way, the food was excellent despite the salty clams. She went a little bit overboard, but I didn’t mind paying for once, because I wanted to do something for my family for once. I definitely want to throw more get-togethers like this one in the future. It was just even more weird for my female friends to help set the floor up, working side by side with my cousins. Watching Tien and Nina interact with my cousin’s daughter, watching Kikki conversing with Uncle 7, and his wife, and watching Seb drink with my cousin Quang. She was really drunk. Seeing how old my cousin’s kids have become made me feel quite old. I remember a time when they were tiny with baby fat. Now they’re all approaching at least five and growing up quite rapidly.

The afternoon showers came down like clockwork. It made things quite fresh and soothing. I wish I could eat more, but I was pretty stuffed. The original plan was to visit Giang Dien waterfall before, but my cousins rushed me to come over, so we skipped that. I wanted to go back to the pomelo orchard. Some cousins warned me that there likely wasn’t any left. I didn’t trust them. So I made the call to get into a cab to go out there as everyone disbanded. Shortly before leaving, we took a post rain walk around the neighborhood checking out a small farm nearby and some other houses amongst the tall grasses. I used to fly a kite out there years before. Now, power lines and other houses would prevent me from doing so.
Nina said something about how her family is a lot like mine. They both stress each other out during moments of decisions. The ride coordination was hectic. Some cousins were planning to go home, while some wanted to join us. Uncle 7 needed to go home back to my mom’s old house, and his wife needed a lift too.

When we got to the pomelo orchard, the mud and the fact that there wasn’t any more pomelos discouraged me. I wanted so badly for Tien and Nina to have buoi Bien Hoa to bring back for their families. It was a big deal to me. Unfortunately, the money spent on the cab ride could have bought us a wagon full of pomelos from the market. Oh well. It’s about the experience. Remember that

Heading back to Uncle 7’s house to drop off my cousin and her daughter, we came in in a little bit. By now, I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that my friends were in my mom’s old house. They sat underneath my maternal grandmother’s altar. For a brief moment, I sat and appreciated that fact.
Because it was already getting late, we all bid everyone farewell. I thanked Uncle 7 for not embarrassing me too much, and my cousin for her troubles going and shopping. My cousin's daughter was upset that all the pretty girls were leaving so soon. I've never heard her speak so much before. She's not the friendliest towards me, but she's definitely one of the most intelligent and free speaking six year olds I've seen. She even sang a song about a girl leaving a guy while we were in the cab.

We hopped back into the cab and took the 50 kilometer drive back to Saigon in relative silence. We were all beat. The heat and the food did a number on all of us.
Vietnam’s great. Vietnam’s really great. It’s better because of the people in my life- family and friends.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Untitled.

       I stood and watched her go through security effortlessly in my complete sunken state. Each breath I took through my mouth returned with quiet whimpers as my frown grew and grew. A final wave in my sullen direction. Fighting back tears with clenched fists to my side, she ascended up with the rising escalators and eventually out of sight. I waved back, but it was too late. She was out of sight and out my life.

       I exited the terminal right away through another exit to not raise suspicion because technically I wasn't allowed to be in there. Each step I took felt as if sandbags were tied to my feet, and I dragged them all the way out to the front. I wanted to stay in there to be as close to her as possible. I stared at the buildings and sunlight for a bit before hopping into a car.

       The driver was the same man who drove us to the orphanage two days prior. I was happy to see him because I would have felt less embarrassed when the the tears would finally fall again. We greeted each other, and almost immediately he complimented on my tall friend from the other day who was very cute. And almost immediately tears began to roll down my eyes uncontrollably.

      I'm already having a really hard time writing this.

     When I got home to an empty apartment, I wandered around a bit like a newly captured animal in a pen confused and dazed at what just happened. A few hours ago we were sitting on the very same couch tears streaming down our faces, and now I was sitting there with my face in my hands angry and sad about how what could have been won't be now because I'll never know when I'll see her again. I got up to wash my face, but my tears just mixed with the tap water. I felt like I just went through a forced divorce that neither of us wanted. I felt like I lost my best friend. I felt like I lost a sense of motivation. And worse of all, I felt like I lost a sense of purity and light in my life.

    Oooh the days ahead seemed pretty damn dark. I decided then that I would fly up to Hanoi to see her before her final departure out of Vietnam. That helped the crying a lot.

     I really thought I wasn't compatible with anyone until I met her. Despite the differences, somehow we clicked along quite well. When I think about her, I can only see the positives. I can't see any flaws, except my own. That has never ever happened with anyone before. So for once, maybe, just maybe, I thought this could have been something. But living in Vietnam means that people come and go in and out of your life all the time. I've never cried this much over anyone.

    Simply cherishing her isn't enough. I respect everything about her. Her love for Vietnam, especially. Her career orientated mindset. Her kindness. Her intelligence. Her presence.

    I'm going to miss her so much in the long days and nights to come.

The way that she stares at herself in the mirror, making that pouting face with her head tilt down, while adjusting her bangs over her forehead. The way when I admire her elegance and glance over at her, and as she catches whim of my eyes, she utters a shy, "What"?. The way when I ask her how something tastes, and she nonchalantly says, "It's good." Sometimes she'll even attempt an awkward thumbs up. The way she brings back references of days events and past happenings, surprising even me and just how thoughtful and clever she can be. The one time when she smiled, revealing one dimple, and put another finger on the other side attempting to perhaps drill another one out. Oh man. Her stride. Oh her stride. The way she walks in public, with such an urgency to to get her step count up is one thing, but the way she glides barefoot at the end of the day. I've never seen such elegance just floating about. Her thoughtfulness at trying to improve my life one clock battery, one pair of chopsticks, one bowl, at a time meant so much to me. The thought of her being there, front door unlocked, when I came home drove me to excel harder and faster each day. Our domestic life together, though brief, proved to me that with the right person, I could happy being with someone. Knowing there would be someone so worth it there waiting for me was the best feeling ever. The food she cooked. Her awkward movements in the kitchen, yet she was trying, and she loved doing it, and I loved eating it. The time when she insisted my leftover rice be fried instead of just microwaved. The way we bantered on about the proper ways of eating string cheese. The way she would just collapse stomach down on bed when she was tired. The way she would sit down all limber like with loose arms and a tilted head. The way she would eat noodles with a spoon and try to blow on the portions while keeping the spoon a foot away from her face. The way she smiled with teeth showing. The way she smiled bigger with eyes closed. Her bursts of laughter. The many ways she would ask me to plug in her phone. Our bad sense of direction together. The way she was so meticulous when she mopped the floor even though I no longer own a mop. The one time she texted me asking if I wanted her to do my laundry. I couldn't help but smile at the thought of someone so caring. The way she held that boy at the orphanage. The way she spoke to my little cousin with BBQ smoke, just blowing into her face. Her many hairstyles. The way she wore my fitted cap slanted to the side.
Her dresses with "matching" shoes. Her lost dowel experience. Her excitement over having so many things in common with Nina. Her subtle excitement at Korean things. Her shaking hands when she got nervous or scared. Her quiet worrying that would escalate. I'm so sorry I ever doubted how much mosquitos love you. Her compassion. Her concerns and fears for the well being of a child with an injured hand, and her desires to visit him again the next day. Her love for sweet tofu. Her innocence. Her neatness. Her messiness. Her trust in me. Her trust in my trolling and her anticipation of it. The way she always asked me if I wanted a photo too. Hot Hanoi nights together. Hot Hanoi days together. Her hair blowing in the the back of a bus. Her selfies make her look 10 years younger and 10 times more Chinese. Her hesitation to eat too much meat. Her gentleness. Her demeanor. Her gentle demeanor. The way she cleaned the scratches off of my helmet's visor when I was sure I needed to buy another helmet. Appreciated dearly. Delicious radish. And so much more.

     Still in a state of shock, I crawled back into bed and covered myself up. My blanket smelled of her perfume. I went through the house again realizing just how empty it was. It never felt like this before. Then moments when I was on the computer, I would glance back expecting to see her standing or leaning against my door frame. Eventually I stopped crying, but for the past few days at least a dozen people have asked me why does it seem as if I have a cloud of somber looming over me. And that's exactly what I have over me now that she's gone. At least I'm content knowing I met someone extremely compatible with me yet the universe won't quite allow us to be together. yeah.
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Top things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam.

      I must have searched this entry's title a dozen times when I was in Hanoi. Most of the time the typical tourist places come up the Old Quarter, Temple of Literature, Mausoleum. One Pillar Pagoda, Museum of Ethnology, and so on and so forth. But today, I present you a quick list of what I did in a day (or two) in Hanoi. Now, the video you see is rather limiting because I didn't get to go to all of these places or didn't get a chance to film. Either way the conclusion is Hanoi has plenty of things to see and do. You can easily spend three days or so exploring the city itself.

In no specific order.

1. The Old Quarter. Now this is a fairly typical recommendation. Every list or travel website has this place towards the top. The interesting and notable thing about The Old Quarter is despite being where most tourists and backpackers stay in Hanoi, Vietnamese locals also call this place home. It's a place where foreigners and locals converge. Markets and actual shops selling particular produce or products line the streets called "Hangs". You can definitely find western food as well as decent Vietnamese food here. The main difference between The Old Quarter and Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien, and De Tham in Saigon is the fact that The Old Quarter is not only massive, but it's definitely more authentically Vietnamese. It has a unique vibe about it in its own rights.

2. Bun Cha. This dish consisting of grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, optional egg rolls, and a whole lot of sweet fish sauce is a local staple. Writing this now makes me kind of drool a bit. I love bun cha. In the south people will call it bun thit nuong. Either way, this place is off the hook. The Dac Kim place is a bit expensive, but it's probably the best I've ever had in my life. This is definitely a must try. Well worth the trip to Hanoi alone probably.

3. Tra Chanh. This is a simple lemon honey tea that is served with ice during the summer and during the winter can be warmed up. Students and young people drink this while eating sunflower seeds. Night time seems the most popular for this drink, but young people tend to be thirsty all the time too. In the video, I had a drink right infront of the St. John's Cathedral. Any of the lakes should be better though.

4. Hoa Lo Prison. During the colonial period, the French used this prison to torture and confine rebels and patriots. Now, it's a museum reflecting back on this nation's past. John McCain's fighter pilot outfit is on display here because he was actually shot down and spent time at this prison. You can spend around two hours or so here checking out the displays and such. I highly recommend this place not only as a history guy, but as a reminder of Vietnam's recent history.

5. Snake lunch. Head on over to Le Mat Village and pick any of the assortment of wild animal and snake restaurants. Green snakes are around 40 dollars for a seven course meal. Cobras costs more. Eat it for the novelty, not really for much hunger appeasement. Oh, and they don't have any desserts. Snake tastes like whatever it's cooked in. The meat can be sweet and similar enough to chicken or frog. There's barely any meat though, so be warned. Oh, and if you have the guts, try to the snake heart in vodka.

6. Egg coffee. I'm not a big coffee guy anymore, but whenever I'm in Hanoi, I make sure I get the egg whipped coffee. I don't know why but it's not available in the south or it's not common at all. This is so yummmmy for lack of a better word. On cold Hanoi mornings this stuff is the best.

7. The Vietnamese Women's museum. This is one of Vietnam's better museums because the displays are nicely lit and there's air conditioning through out. For any Vietnamese girls out there, this place is a must visit. It's also a great place to hide from the midday sun. But either way, I really liked it.

8. Times City. it's a gigantic underground mall. Why is it on the list? Because I like the modernity aspect of Hanoi as well.

9. Times City light and water show. At 8 or so the pond area infront of Times City will unleash its presence upon the people. Color lights and waters jetting up to the sky to the music of today's most popular artists. This show is relatively an issue of brevity, but be sure to watch out about getting wet.
The best part is this place is also free, but extremely beautiful.

10. Landmark 72. This didn't make the cut on the top things to do in video, because I ran out of footage because I had used most clips for the stand alone video. Pay about seven to 10 dollars and you'll have access to an amazing manmade engineering masterpeice. The best time to visit would be during dusk or so when the city lights turn on. There's a cafe there too so you can sit and chill and soak in the lights with a nice cup of whatever they sell up there.



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Friday, September 12, 2014

LOL. I'm Alive.

Blog entries that start off with an apology aren't fun. So I'll start off about talking about blog entries starting with an apology. Okay. I'm sorry. Content has been slow and will be slow in the next few days because life requires me to live it than actually record it and edit it or write about it for your pleasure. Stay tuned. I'll be right back very soon.