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....

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.  Be sure to like my Facebook to follow life as it unfolds in Vietnam.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


       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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Singapore Travel: Sing Sing Sing.

I’m sitting here at Changi International Airport staring at the swivel suitcases vertically positioned to follow their owners. Some ladies look like they’re about to hit the clubs following landing. Some people look like they haven’t showered in days. I regret not showering this morning. The Changi airport is interesting in the sense that new arrivals into Singapore also share the same area and terminal as people about to head out. You have a mixture of the old and new without any separation. I get that same eerie feeling in Saigon too whenever I leave the airplane and walk through to see people getting ready to board my same plane for the destination that I just left. It’s Tuesday shortly after noon and there are thousands of people here just traveling randomly as if they didn’t have a job or something. The weekends do not permit migration. We ourselves allow it or not.

So I’m sitting in the back of Terminal 1. As far as Terminal 1 will ever go at the very last gate. My face is red and raw from the sun’s torture yesterday. The sun hit really hard in the midday Singapore sun.
I’m sitting here alone, Tien took an earlier flight back, so I have to sit here listening to annoying Vietnamese people discuss how they felt about their trip to Singapore. All I could wonder is how were they able to travel without knowing much English. Then for a brief moment I thought about my mom. A little boy is flaying his arms in the air jumping around in circles in front of me.

On the night before leaving, I went over to Nina’s family home and saw her after so long. Her boyfriend, Seb, was suffering from food poisoning issues and they were both completely immobile. They were sick. Too sick to be off on their own. I was in town because I needed to get a haircut so I swung on over there. So Nina will be here for a while. Look for her very soon in videos, shortly after I release a few Singapore travel videos. I’m tired.

The past three days with sleep deprivation kicking in at full force, I’m completely drained. Heading back though I know I have a full workload at my plate the upcoming three days. Tien will be in Saigon for a quick bit, and that means a lot of fun and less sleep. But even before she’s gone, I already miss having her around.

I never thought I would travel back to Singapore again. I never thought in a million years I would come back. But I’m so glad I did. Singapore is a cool place lots of diversity. It’s a shortcut at visiting China and India in a sense. It’s a modern sprawl that people in lesser developed countries could truly appreciate. The skyscrapers wrapped around me, and I appreciated the modernity of the human will. Singapore doesn’t just have a skyline, it has multiple skylines all around. Its orderly vibes make you feel safe enough to use your smart phones freely. You can let your guard down at times because prices are set and written clearly. Singapore has a lot to offer. As a family trip, you can easily spend four days or so here. I just fell asleep while sitting and almost lost my laptop to the ground. Singapore is like one big downtown after another. It never ends until you get dirt roads.

Flights from Saigon are affordable. You can get them as cheap as 150 dollars round trip. The costs of hotels on the other hand is a big potential deterrent for some people. Hotels with the least bit of comfort will cost upwards of 100 to 200 dollars a night. You can stay a hotel in Vietnam for about 15 dollars a night and it would be a lot roomier and spacious than a Singaporean hotel in the main area. Chinatown and areas closer to Orchard would be decent to stay in. Don’t expect the star rating system to actually be reliable unless you’re okay with forking over several hundred a night. For a good option with lots of amenities do consider the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It’s the one with the big ship looking thing on top with a bunch of plants.

So what is there to do in Singapore?  Two things come to mind right away: eat and skyscraper gaze. Besides luxury dining consisting of American or over American prices, what I love about Singapore are the food courts. Each stall individually prepares familiar dishes for very affordable costs. You can get full for about five to six dollars. If you’re into egg noodles, duck and chicken dishes, sweet pork and such, there’s lots of options for you. Indian food for instance, Malaysian, and occasionally, you’ll see a Vietnamese stall or two. This time, I didn’t care too much about finding Vietnamese food. The last time I attempted this was relatively unsuccessful and disappointing in Bangkok. My constant crave for duck noodles fueled my constant thrive for more and more. Portions aren’t big. Being on vacation mode, I just ate and ate. The satay grilled meat with peanut sauce was also quite delicious. The oyster omlette was pretty awesome too.

I met up with my minder in Singapore named Annabelle and she showed Tien and I around to various places and eateries. I left Tien to plan this trip for us throughout the week because I was editing the Hanoi videos all this week. She didn’t do very much planning. I came into Singapore knowing very little about how to get to certain places that I wanted to go to. I knew I wanted to focus on Chinatown because I enjoy visiting Chinatowns and eating Chinese food. I enjoy that ambience of being around Chinese people, young, and especially old. I love how older Chinese people just sit in the mornings and chill around some tea and talk to other in Chinese and stuff. The first night there Tien and I stumbled upon some concert venue near the Chinatown Heritage Center and Wong Fei Hung’s theme was sung. It felt very much like China. I was pretty happy even though I was exhausted.

The next morning after food, we rode the open roofed city tour bus around. We checked out the domed Gardens by the bay. The heat doing a number on us. I wish I had an umbrella. Seriously bring an umbrella if you want to explore during the day time. It’s a must. We saw the Singapore Flyer, the Merlion, Gardens by the Bay, yay a yay a. yay a. Iinstead of listing everything we did, which I completely forgot,

I just want to conclude that Singapore is a brilliantly beautiful place. I’m glad I gave it a second chance. You just have to be careful about talking too much crap in the streets because people will understand you. A special thanks to Annabelle for showing us around and being our friend for the day. Singapore is so worth it. It’s like Planet of the Asians… where Asians control the streets. I thought several times how I could possible live there, while staring up at the rows and rows of sky rises and their glass.

Maybe. Enjoy the pics. A few videos to come up really soon in the next week or so.

That Singlish... though.. that Singlish

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hanoi Night Market / Enter Tien.

       The ride from Hanoi's Noi Bai airport into the city was relatively uneventful. I made sure I hopped into a Mai Linh and avoided the random hawkers in the front. I arrived at my hotel without much difficulties even though it was on a blocked off part of the street. This time around, I wanted to be as positive as possible. I had strong hopes for Hanoi. This trip was about redemption for my perception of this city. Then I was let down almost immediately.

         When I got into the hotel, I handed my passport over and told the girl behind the counter that I had booked on Agoda. She looked at me for a little bit and decided to make up a story about how Agoda didn't send her any information and that she was not aware that I was coming. She claimed that it was Agoda's fault. This has never happened to me before. I had booked at least two days prior. I was a little bit shocked that she had the audacity to lie to me like that. I've used Agoda at least a dozen times already, and I never had a problem, even in countries like Nepal and Myanmar. This was no excuse. She asked me if I wanted to stay in the dorms. I shook my head as I grew increasingly annoyed. I called her out on her bluff. She was too determined not to lose face to back down. She agreed to pay me the total costs of the rooms then and there minus the Agoda service fee. I didn't have time to argue with her because I had to rendevouz with someone at a very specific time, and I was already running late. Long story short, for time reasons, and over a few dollars, I didn't want to keep pushing her because it got me no where. I left and found another hotel for slightly more money, and much louder hallways not too far from the area that I wanted to be in.

         Running late, and not wanting to risk it in a cab, I spoke to a random xe om dude who wanted 50,000 Dong to take me to Pho Tinh on Lo Duc. Of course this was too high, so I talked him down to 30,000. Then when I got there, I just gave him 50,000 because it was actually pretty far. Long story short, I got there, met up with Tien and her aunt. Tien is a Viet German girl who has been to Vietnam over 10 times annually. She's based out of Hanoi though because that's where her family is from. She describes herself as someone who is family obsessed, dreams of living in Vietnam for a long long time, and she's quite quaintly poetic and graceful. Over a bowl of salty pho, crowded with Hanoians who didn't seem to break a sweat in this 95 degree heat, I felt a sense of nervousness. Maybe it was because this was the first time I had met Tien's aunt. Maybe it was because I had just rushed from the airport to the hotel to the other hotel to the pho restaurant on the back of a xe om driver without wearing a helmet because I didn't want the helmet hair because I didn't want Tien's aunt to judge me. Either way, when I asked for tra da, and when the waiter replied back that they didn't have tra da there, I was shocked and surprised. Where was I? Was I in another dimension? Another country?
No, I was in Hanoi.

         So the pho was pretty awful. It was salty, but I was starving because I hadn't eaten all day. The fried dough made it bearable though, but Tien's aunt paid, so I can't complain. Either way, pho in Saigon is far superior. I can't wait till Tien can try some here when she'll be in town in less than a week's time. After the brief dinner, we walked the desolate Hanoi wide downtown streets towards the opera house. I wanted to get some tra chanh, but for whatever reasons, we found ourselves at Highlands Coffee and had some lemon blended with ice instead, not bad, but not tra chanh either. Afterwards we hopped in a cab and wanted to ride the electric golf carts around the lake, but it was too late, so we opted to visit the Dong Xuan Night Market instead.

        So night markets are quite simple. People sell stuff. People come and walk around. Night markets are pretty over rated to me because I'm so used to them. On this particular Sunday night, the crowds all came out to see Trung Tu or Moon Festival goods so they packed the Old Quarter streets like ants after sugar cubes. It was packed. We flowed through the rows like sheep awaiting a delicious meat packing ending. Delicious. The occasional breeze made me happy because it was at least 95 degrees. The heat was so strong that it felt like the sun was shining on me. My face and body was drenched. I wore two shirts because I wanted to impress Tien's aunt with a collared dress shirt. Yeah. Not a good idea in Hanoi's humid heat.
Since we had an early meeting time tomorrow, we called it a night fairly early. We walked around for a bit some more, and bid each other goodbye. I was somewhere in the Old Quarter by the Long Bien Bridge. I reassured them that I could find my way back to my hotel with ease even though I was pretty scared. Sure, I had GPS, but I was fearful about whipping my phone out. Years earlier, I had witnessed a Korean man get his camera stolen in broad day light there.

         So I walked and walked and found myself in the middle of dark alleyways and suddenly Hang Ma came to view. It was packed and crowded. My inability to read maps also made this little stroll rather difficult. I could have walked around Hang Ma. But I got trapped in it for thirty minutes. There were so many people packed in there going in various directions. The human traffic flowed like caramel. Vendors sold masks, little lit up toys, glasses, trinkets and beads, and other goods like phone cases. How any business actually happened, I have no idea because people were shoving and pushing left and right. I wanted to film something, but I wasn't able to because people kept grinding up against me. When I finally made it back to my hotel, I was so relieved. That must have been the longest and most crowded Vietnamese experience I've ever had. Experiences like that aren't always the greatest, but they sure build character.

          So is the weekend market worth checking out at night? Sure. If you're in the Old Quarter already, it's something to do. If you're in need of some shirts or gadgets... even a bra or two, the night market offers a wide variety of pretty much everything. Check back soon for a lot more updates from Hanoi.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Visiting Hanoi, Vietnam: Redemption.

Domestic flights within Vietnam aren’t always cheap.
In fact, it’s costing a little bit more for me to fly to Hanoi this weekend than it’ll cost for my Singapore flight. But sometimes, I wish tickets were a little bit more expensive.

I was really pushing it on Sunday. I was extremely late because I just had finished morning commitments, hurried home under a storm, ate some miniscule rice with some chicken, and rushed to the airport. I was hoping that because it was a holiday weekend and it was Sunday, people already left the day before or not at all. I was wrong.

I rushed towards the usual terminal. The same one that I’ve used many times before. I couldn’t Viet Jet Air anywhere. Having run into the terminal, now I had to embarrassingly run back out again and I still didn’t know where I was supposed to go. I went into a restaurant. Everybody stopped eating to stare at me. I rushed back out, and saw arrivals and thought I missed it. I went back towards the original terminal now only dealing with Vietnam Airlines passengers. Too bad, I’m too poor to fly with them. So I wasted another ten minutes scurrying about like a headless chicken. Eventually, I figured it out. The Viet Jet Air check in counters are located after the domestic arrivals on the right side. Blame me and my lack of meter perceptions to understand what 80 meters meant from the posted signs.

Every single check in experience is like the one before. Some dolled up Hanoi girls who looked like they were about to audition for the next Twilight movie from their unnatural bleached skin casually walked in front me. I let them pass because I was too annoyed with their spoken dialect that sounded more like they were bickering at each other. One of their carry ons was over the weight limit. They dragged it off the scale and placed it in front of me as they tried to move certain items from one to another. I spotted a bottled cleanser. One of them looked like she just had some work done to her face, including her nose.
I hate that. I’m not a fan of cosmetic surgery, especially the kind where everyone can pretty much tell you have plastic surgery. As I waited some people grew a bit restless. The guy behind me suddenly made a move to move in front of me as I gave the girls space to squat around their suitcases. Great. So I had to make a decision. Either get all aggressive and step in front of him, which would make me too incredibly close to the ghouls, or I would just let him move forward and hope that he was considerate enough to note that I was standing ahead of him all of this time. Just then, the worker behind the counter placed a closed sign up. I heart sank. If I didn’t get checked in within the next five minutes I would have to beg my way through security because time was winding down. Just then, an older lady three or four lines over started yelling to the front of the counter about how some people were given check in priorities. She might have been Viet kieu because she said something about “moi ve” or just returned to Vietnam. She was dressed like a local though. So I was a little bit confused.

I checked in without a problem.

Security was a little bit more problematic because I accidently brought a metal chalk hotel with me and security wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. So the screener, and I spoke for a bit as people behind kept going through as if I wasn’t even standing there. Some lady forgot her cell phone in the tray. I glanced over and saw that it was a SKY phone, whatever that is. Right after security, I couldn’t help but smile a bit because I made it with time to spare. Then I looked up on the flight schedule board and noticed that my flight was delayed by thirty minutes.

If you’re going to fly domestic in Vietnam, make sure you no one on the other end is waiting for you. If you really have to fly, I recommend Vietnam Airlines. You do pay a little bit more, but at least you’ll be on time. Remember, the last time I flew to Hanoi six months ago, the flight was delayed by three or four hours and I landed in Hanoi in the middle of the morning. At least this time the delay was minimal.

I’m sitting on the plane now as I write this. The total delay was an hour. I had no room for my carry pack on the overhead compartment. Typical. As expected someone before me was already in my seat. I looked at her and asked for her seat number. She was in my seat, so I just gave up and sat in hers. I wanted the window seat so I could rest my head and perhaps get some shut eye because I was already sleep deprived. With the current workload, I only had a few hours of sleep last night. I really need to be 100% because tonight, and the next two days will be intense. I’m going to try to capture as much of Hanoi as possible. I’m going to get my money’s worth.

Be sure to check back soon and in the next few days for a lot more updates.
I’m going to go on a video hiatus for a few days. In the meantime, don’t be shy to check out this SoJournaling Vietnam video I made of Hanoi two years ago.