Monthly Archives: December 2011

Day 12: Christmas Eve in Vietnam!

In my last entry, I accidentally failed to upload the last picture, which would explain the title, “Bring your own toilet paper”:

Public toilets in Vietnam range from a hole in the ground that may or may not flush (at a lot of bus stations) to standard dirty ones with no toilet paper (at shopping areas) to fancy, clean ones (at high-end malls). This sign belonged to the middle range.

Anyway, we arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City the night before Christmas Eve.

This is the hotel we spent most of our vacation in:

Both of our two hotels don’t change our sheets or covers, unless you emphatically request them to. The only thing they change are the bath towels. This one was a decent one, as you can tell from its ban on prostitutes:

I wish I could say the same for most of the “hotels” in our neighborhood, but most of them charge you per hour of your stay, if you know what I mean.

We went out for breakfast at one of those Vietnamese fast food-entree places.

Then we went here to buy more souvenirs and maybe get my brother a cheap “leather” jacket (no such luck):

There was this sign of what to do in case of a fire. I thought it was funny but my brother didn’t. According to the sign, in case of a fire, you’re supposed to sound the alarm, go to the fuse/electrical box and turn off the electricity, then you go put out the fire yourself, AND THEN you call the emergency 114 number. Maybe I’m naive, but normally I thought the first thing is to call Emergency (911).

Then we went over to my aunt’s husband’s sister’s relative’s house for a Christmas eve afternoon lunch-dinner (linner? dunch?). They had two tables set up exactly like this (I of course sat at the kids’ table):

By the way, I’m fascinated by the Christmas and New Year sodas that Coca-cola and Pepsi put out in Asia:

All the sodas here taste weird, like a different kind of sweet. My brother said it’s the replacement of high-fructose corn syrup with real sugar, but I don’t know…I’ve had Danish and Mexican coke before and I don’t remember it tasting like this.

Oh and I just realized what I just typed. Har har.

That night my brother and I went downtown to join all of my aunt’s husband’s young relatives. Because apparently the Christmas Eve tradition over here is to go down downtown and clog the streets, doing nothing in particular:

We finally decided to stop and have late night munchies at an overpriced cafe. This is my durian ice cream, right here. I love durian, but very few other people I do, I guess:

My brother’s caramel, and my cousin’s green tea sundaes:

Then we went around taking more pictures, but this time of us:


Oh and these following pictures were taken on a different date, but since they’re of downtown Christmas decorations, I’ll just throw these in there as well:

Oh and I posted this on Facebook earlier, but this is a very cute, but worrisome picture, especially on a crowded day like Christmas Eve:

The kid at one point turned over to me and smiled, but I didn’t have my camera out.

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Day 10 and 11: Bring your own toilet paper

Edit: I just realized I forgot to include the picture the entry is named after below.

I was all set and ready to work on this blog today, but the hotel’s Internet is super slow right now and it’s taking forever. Ugh.

In the last entry I wrote about going to two parks where park photographers hounded us. Well, on Day 10, we went to the estate of Vietnam’s former king, Bao Dai. Well, it was nice, but it was certainly no Chateau de Versailles.

We were greeted at the gate with this:

Tom and Jerry are HUGE in Vietnam. You see them on TV, on clothes, on shoes, on merchandise everywhere. I think they used to be popular in the U.S. a long time ago. For those of you who have never heard of it, “Tom and Jerry” is an extremely violent and sadistic cartoon where a poor cat is repeatedly tortured and maimed just because he wants to go to bed not hungry for once. If you ask me, someone needs to call Animal Services and report the cat’s owner, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, we went inside the palace and immediately were forced to wear these foot covers, which were ridiculous because several parts of the palace were filthy:

This is the former king, Bao Dai, who died a few years ago in Paris, France:

I don’t know much about him, so I gather that after the Vietnam war, he probably sought refuge in France, the country that used to rule us.

Here’s a bust of him:

This is (was?) the queen:

This was their conference room:

This was their living room, I think:

This was one of their family’ members’ bedrooms:

This was their garden, which the park’s employees were really excited about. But as I said, this ain’t no Chateau de Versailles:

And of course, nothing is too sacred here if a buck is to be earned from it. Tourists could pay money to dress up like the royal family and get photographs taken:

Tourists like my mom…:

Here I suppose she’s expressing disgust or shock at her supposed servants:

And here she is sitting in the former king’s automobile:

I actually sat in it myself and the seat was tiny, not much room for my legs.

Of course, there was a gift shop, and we bought this:

My mom was hoping it was made by blind children, but it wasn’t. (More on this in a future entry.)

Then we exited and the stupid bathroom was closed for renovation, so guests had to use a pay bathroom across the parking lot. I said hell no, and walked deep into the woods behind the park and was glad that my male anatomy allowed to do some things standing up.

Here’s a nice scene I took of the area while waiting for my mom:

Then my mom and her friend were talking about this lake, but it looked boring to me:

Afterwards we went to eat at a restaurant that was known for this:

The soup itself was really thick, almost gelatinous, which grossed me out, but my mom said that was the real proper way this dish is meant is meant to be served.

We went shopping again that night and the next day we took our 8-hour ride bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Along the way, we stopped at a very overpriced bus station where I saw these giant lollipops:

And by the way, I had to take a picture of this to show the reality of some public restrooms over here:

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Day 9: Pictures, pictures, pictures in Da Lat!

On Day 9 (our second day in Da Lat), we went to visit some parks that are famous in Da Lat.

Remember when I said everyone in Vietnam is always trying to make a buck? Well, at these parks, after you pay a price to enter the place, you will suddenly find yourself mobbed by the park’s photographers, asking if they can take pictures of you and make them into cards, calendars, etc for a low price. And you can’t just politely say, “No, thanks, I have my own camera,” because these photographers will keep popping out of nowhere and asking you to the point where you say, “Fine! Just take the damn pictures!”

But by the way, the pictures in this entry are the ones taken using my camera, and not the numerous photographers my mom paid.

Well the first park that we went to is the Flower Garden, which was advertised virtually EVERYWHERE in Da Lat.

And get ready, here are some of the awkward photos that we were pressured into and that I volunteered to be in:

By the way, the way it works with these horses is that you get charged by the prop handler (which may be a horse, carriage, car) for each pose you take. So if you’re smart and very frugal, you’ll stay in one pose and tell your party to take a bunch of photos and tell the prop handler to shut up about it. But if you’re new to this experience, you’ll probably be tricked by the handler’s suggestions to lean forward, or hold a prop gun, or wear a different hat, all of which you will be charged for. We were tricked only five or six times.

Also, my mom was tricked in a way that, well, actually shame on her. One photographer asked my mom if he could take a few pictures of us to make us a calendar. My brother and I said “Hell no” but my mom said, “Sure!” A while later, he came back with our calendar package and it featured some of the worst and most awkward pictures of us. One was a blown-up picture of me with my eyes closed. And they charged us $50 USD for that crap. My mom protested about the price, but the photographer said that the prices were posted everywhere in the park, and he was right. My mom learned her lesson after that. Not.

And…there were a bunch of pictures of me on horses, but they were extremely unflattering so I’ll include some some of me at the next park below.

So after that we took a taxi ride to the “Garden of Love.” Seriously, how many gardens are there?

(The two wine glasses above are made with hundreds of real wine corks.)

And we posed for more photos, but at least this time they were a tiny bit more flattering.

By the way, minus the hat, this was actually my outfit that I had left the hotel wearing:

Me with a probably unlicensed version of Mickey and Minnie:

By the way, there are some pictures of my brother, but I am being nice and trying not to post pictures of him online without his permission (because he can be rather vain, like me).

Oh and my mom got talked into dressing up like a member of the indigenous tribes who used to (and may still) live in Vietnam:

Maybe it’s worth mentioning that my mom occasionally used to be a model decades ago when she was really young before the war broke out (she had also been featured in a chaste calendar like “girls of Vietnam” or something like that), so she had fun kind of getting back into the swing of things.

My brother wanted me to take a picture of the photo pricing, because he thought the idea of the hoochie photographer was hilarious:

Then we went to visit a church or, um, I’m not sure what the place actually is, but I think it’s a religious landmark.

The only thing I remember about this place was that its gift shop was the only shop in Vietnam that we have entered without being followed around and hassled into buying something. The sales associates actually politely kicked everyone out at noon to close for lunch, something you would never see in any other Vietnamese shop.

So we went out for lunch too.

By the way, I keep forgetting to take pictures of most of the things we eat, but here’s one of the things we had for lunch that day. You basically wait until the soup boils at your table, and then you toss in all the ingredients:

Oh and speaking of food, our hotel in Da Lat had a very nice complimentary breakfast buffet every morning. It wasn’t the usual “continental” muffins, it was actually real food, but alas I kept forgetting to take my camera to breakfast.

And speaking of our hotel, here are some nice views at the end of our hall:

Then we went to shop at the big Da Lat indoor market:

Upstairs, it featured your usual souvenirs and counterfeit clothes booths. Downstairs it had a literal meat market:

Then we went to the downtown square some more:

This is a little bit disturbing to me, mostly because the fish have to swim all day in plastic bags:

That night we had dinner at a disgustingly unsanitary, but surprisingly popular restaurant. That “Food over rice” sounds especially appetizing.

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Day 8: Trip to Da Lat, the mountain town of Vietnam

I am going to skip over writing about Day 7 because it was mostly spent getting ready for the trip I took on Day 8.

So anyway, on Day 8, my mom, my brother and I packed our bags and took an almost 8-hour bus ride up into the mountains, to the lovely city of Da Lat. We passed by miles and miles of rural countryside, and yet somehow this countryside was lined with shops. And by shops I’m talking about the businesses these residents run out of their garages. It seems like there’s only one answer on the career assessment tests in this country and that is “shop owner.” (Yes, I made a lame joke. Yes, it’s in poor taste. Yes, well whatever). This is rather sad because I don’t know who the hell shops at all these shops. If they’re counting on vacationing Westerners, I’m sorry, but…location, location, location. Vacationing Westerners (the ones who don’t understand Vietnamese) are going to be on tour buses that will never stop at these areas.

By the time we got there, it was almost evening. Our hotel (and the price) turned out to be amazing.

It’s not always the case here, but for $35 USD a night, we got this:

And the best part:

The one major bad thing about this region is that the ISPs block/censor Facebook and other social network sites. My brother had to perform some hack called a DNS change for us to access Facebook.

 

Then we took a short trip downtown:

By the way, the best thing about Da Lat is that because it’s located high up in the mountains, it was cool enough for us to break out our winter clothes. Accordingly, all the vendors were selling thick warm counterfeit clothes instead of the usual thin, summery counterfeit ones.

You could get your fill of Dolce and Gabban:

Oh and I realize I haven’t uploaded any of the bowls of Pho I’ve had in Vietnam. Here’s one we had that night in Da Lat:

Stay tuned for the next entry, which might include a lot of awkward family photos.

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Vietnam day 5 and 6: Vung Tau beach town!

I think I’ve written about the weather here before and how hot it is in Ho Chi Minh City. I thought two pairs of jeans and several pairs of shorts would be enough for these few weeks but so far, it’s so hot that I’ve been sweating through them like crazy. And there’s no laundromat so I had to pay $1 USD for each outfit I have the hotel wash for me.

So it was a relief when my aunt’s husband announced he was taking all of us on a two-day trip to the breezy beach resort town of Vung Tau.  Here is what we did:

But first, here’s a picture of me in the way I look and like best— blurry:

And don’t judge my shorts, they’re board shorts.

The first thing we did when we got to the city was find a hotel. There were so many fancy ones, like this:

But they were too expensive, so we stayed in this shi- uh, motel instead:

During the course of our stay, the showerhead broke off (no tub by the way, shower was a hole in the ground), the toilet seat lid wouldn’t stay put, the faucet barely dribbled out water, and one of our beds was missing the covers and pillows. When my mom went to the reception to complain, the management was bitchy and accused us of lying about the missing items just so that we could score more things. Normally, this is the ultimate red flag and we would high tail it out of there, but my aunt’s husband was adamant on paying for the whole party and we didn’t want to make him pay for a more expensive hotel.

We then went to the beach:

I’m not a fishing expert, but, um, I think this guy should maybe go further out to sea:

Like everything else in Vietnam, everything is a way for people to make money.

As soon as we stepped foot on the sand, we were pressured to rent out these seats:

Then the vendors came and sold their wares:

Just what I was looking for, a t-shirt on the beach:

We then went out to eat. Some more food pictures for you:

My aunt’s husband’s family is a real big fan of the above, where you cook the soup on your table with a portable fire or whatever you call it.

Then we all tandem biking, because that’s exactly the kind of fun my aunt’s husband’s family is into:

Everyone else paired up and immediately rode away into the sunset. But my brother and I spent 10 minutes yelling at each other for not pedaling in sync before finally miraculously we were able to get it together and rode 3 to 4 miles down the road and back:

Then we went to watch greyhound racing:

Officially the most worthless minutes of my life. The races last about 1 or 2 minutes each. The rest of the time, they spend doing this:

And then this:

Then we went to eat at this classy restaurant:

Right after I took this picture, I discovered there were loads of tiny ants in my cup:

Then we went back to the beach and shopped at the night street market:

And I don’t know about you, but to me these large shells look really inappropriate:

Then nighty night.

The next day, we woke up right after sunrise and took to the beach again. I love sunrise.

My mom:

Then we went to eat at a fancy seaside restaurant:

So fancy people get to pick your own fish:

Some more food pics:

We then saw this thing and thought, look it’s a cool shuttle up into the mountain:

Turns out, it’s an entrance to a secretive amusement park hidden all the way up in the mountains called Cloud Lake Park. From the ground, you could only see this:

But when we got to the top of the mountain, it was this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And some nice scenery:

And I don’t know about you, but this set of rocks looks really inappropriate:

Anyway, then we took the ride back down and went home:

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Facebook blocked in this part of Vietnam

I am currently in the city of Da Lat. It is a beautiful mountain city and we got an amazing luxury hotel for not that bad of a price. One drawback though: FACEBOOK IS BLOCKED/CENSORED BY THE ISP IN THIS REGION. So I won’t be able to visit FB for a few days.

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Day 3 and 4 of Vietnam: Charlize Theron and pork-eating pigs

It’s getting harder to write these entries. I don’t have a lot of free time, and it takes a lot of time to choose and upload the pictures and then write the text. But as long as you are reading these, I’ll be writing them.

This chronicles Day 3 and 4 of my Vietnam trip. Since it’s two days, this entry won’t be necessarily in chronological order.

The first thing we do each day is eat.

After that first day, we no longer eat at high-class restaurants.

We now eat at restaurants that sell cell phone accessories:

(That’s my mom above)

Sometimes we eat at restaurants that are basically in someone’s garage:

And the food is served out of a cart…

I am kind of surprised I haven’t had to take those loose bowel pills that my doctor prescribed me yet.

On these two days, we did a little shopping. We went into this indoor bazaar where I got ripped off by a punk. (By the way, I didn’t take pictures of this place because the vendors all had “No Pictures” signs on their booths/stands. Jerks). Well the first little stand that we went into, I saw this little wooden keychain shaped like Vietnam that I liked. My mom and I asked how much they were and the guy said, “5.000 VND.” So I chose one, and when I went to pay, he said, “No, I said it was 20.000 VND” even though my mom and I both heard “5 VND.” That was kind of steep for something bought in Vietnam, but being the stupid tourist I am, I bought it anyway. And guess what happened? I found that the booth to it was selling the same exact keychains, but in packs of 10 keychains for 70 VND!!!!! If 20 VND hadn’t turned out to be only 1 USD and the guy wasn’t poor and struggling, I’d be pretty outraged.

In that same bazaar/market, my brother and I went down this scary t-shirt aisle. The t-shirts themselves weren’t scary, but the women selling it were. They were grabbing at us and pulling us toward their booths and shoving t-shirts in their faces. First off, shoving t-shirts in people’s faces is no way to get them to buy it. It might work for other things, but not t-shirts. Second, I wear a Large, and in Vietnam, that’s considered astronomically, morbidly obese (more on this later) and most stores here don’t have my size.

So we left.

And saw another one of these:

For some reason, every time I see a rickshaw here (four times already) there is always a white guy non-obvious Asian in it.

Anyway, next we went to a Vietnamese grocery store and I did one of my favorite things when I go to foreign grocery stores–look for funny products.

Here are some of them:

The picture on this “pork sausage” is gross. The pig mascot is eating a pork sausage. They had the same kind of cannibal thing for their “beef sausage” too:

Next, a Vietnamese diet/weight loss aisle.

Translated, the sign above says “Products for people that are dieting/watching their weight.”  Wait, what? WHAT KIND OF VIETNAMESE PERSON NEEDS TO LOSE WEIGHT?! Someone who wears a Medium, that’s who, Duh, says the Vietnamese voice inside my head.

Next, who wants Geisha fragrance, whose spokesmodels are apparently Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried? What will J’adore think when it finds out Charlize has been cheating on it with another fragrance?

And then either on that same day or the next day we went to this outdoor clothing market where, no joke, it looks like all the clothing came from those “Clothes and Shoes Recycling” bins you see everywhere these days in the States. And who are they expecting to buy all these clothes? I don’t have a clever remark about this, just some pictures:

And then we went to Biti’s! It’s the Skechers Nike EasySpirit I don’t know of Vietnam. It’s one of the biggest shoe brands in the country and makes sandals, athletic shoes, dress shoes and all other kinds of footwear.

And…..

Then that night we went to visit an old friend of my grandparents, and the old man basically was drunk and went on a rampage about how I am hugely fat and need to lose weight, not considering that I have a slow metabolism, that I work out like crazy, and that I am taller than most Vietnamese people, and overall it made for a rather awkwardly mean-spirited night.

Then since we were in the neighborhood, my mom took us to see her old house, where I lived the first year of my life. Turns out, it’s now surrounded by a metal cage/gate and the current neighbors say the house has been abandoned for years. Sad.

Stay tuned for the next entry when I blog about my trip to Vung Tau, one of Vietnam’s beach resort towns.

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Second Day in Vietnam: In Pictures!

This is the tale of my second day in Vietnam.

I woke up to the beautiful light seeping through my curtains:

We really lucked out and found a wonderful hotel. It’s not in the best neighborhood, but inside it is very modern and beautiful, with a flat screen TV, free wifi, and a huge bathroom. And it only costs about $25 a day.

We woke up pretty early and started walking around the nearby streets.

Yes, that store says “Phone New” next to a backwards Apple logo. From far away (and some obstructions), I first thought it had said “Honey Dew” which would’ve been way more funnier, you know, due to them both being fruits…get it? Never mind.

Here are some more shots of random street scenes just in case you didn’t feel I had included enough:

Food for sale:

I really liked how each of these vendors have different fruit in a different color, reminds me of the first iMac days:

Then we went to eat this, which for me, my brother, my mom and her friend together cost us less than $10 USD:

Afterwards we went to an outdoor bazaar/street market where merchants hawked their wares. I don’t know about you, but I really like these stereotypical colorful market scenes:

My favorite color in the world, GREEEEEN! (and some yellow). I bow down to this seller’s superior talent/power of color coordination:

Then we went on a 15-minute hunt of some snack chips my brother had tasted at the hotel and demanded more of, but it wasn’t very visually interesting so I didn’t take any pictures.

However, what we found next were one of my favorite foods in the world, Asian sausages (yes, har har, get all your jokes and giggling out now) which are filled with MSG and everything bad that you shouldn’t be eating but would:

Then we bought some coconut juice from this woman, who amazingly still has all her fingers:

Then we skipped back to our hotel and I took these pictures along the way:

My friend, Kevin, made this comment about the above photo, which I found funny: “I see the construction people in Vietnam are the same as the USA. One guy works and 6 stand around and watch.”

After that we were picked up by my aunt’s husband’s relatives who took us for moped rides back to their places of residence. We didn’t really do anything there so I didn’t really take any pictures. The best I could do was this:

Then later that evening we went to a birthday party for my mom’s childhood friend’s grandchild.

I normally don’t like to upload/include pictures of people I know, but this was such a Kodak moment: my mom’s childhood friend’s daughter-in-law is helping her son cut the cake that she personally baked for his birthday.

Then we had an enjoyable taxi ride home and I snapped this next picture. The family actually at one point smiled for me, but my stupid camera was not cooperating:

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First day in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City

So right now I am in Vietnam for a few weeks, and I will write blog entries for maybe every one or two days I spend here.  Please forgive the boringness of the text of this entry, I’m really tired but I wanted to eke out an entry or else I won’t ever get started.

Let’s start with the flight. Ours left San Francisco and took place at midnight, and the first leg of our trip was 14 hours, all the way to Taoyuan, Taiwan. It was an excruciatingly uncomfortable ride for some (namely my mother and brother), but after having been in a smelly bus from Denmark to France before with a phlegmy cougher for 20 hours, I would say this was not that bad. It was kind of rude how they made us walk through business class to get to our seats as if to say, “These are the seats you could’ve had if you had coughed up some more money, losers.”

Anyway, we got to Taiwan, and from the first look of it, it seemed more like a Greyhound station than an actual international airport. The bathrooms reeked and it was overcrowded, but…then we got through the security gate and ta da, it was a different world:

Then it was a three-hour hop, skip, and a jump to our destination, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

After I got off the plane, I handed my passport to the visa checker guy and he was trying to quiz me on my purpose for the trip. I learned later from my mom that these guys usually expect bribes and I was supposed to tip him. Whatever.

We got our baggage and exited the airport. The first thing I noticed was the hot humid Vietnamese air blasting me in the face, during what is supposed to be the winter of this country. I guess this is what it’s like in the South (of the U.S.)? We don’t have blood relatives living in Vietnam, so the closest thing was a beloved childhood friend of my mom, who is being kind enough to be our tour guide.

The taxi ride to our hotel was the scariest ride of my life, and this is coming from someone who drove an hour through one of the worst rainstorms in California.
In Vietnam there are very few traffic signals, and very few people obey them anyway. You basically just go anywhere you want, get however close to anyone you want, and maybe you’ll be lucky and not splatter anyone’s guts along the way. Oh and I have never seen so many mopeds before in my life. F’ing scary. I don’t even have to describe it, I’ll just show it:

As you can see from above, a lot of people wear face masks, I guess to filter the air, although I can’t detect a difference in air quality from what we have in the States.

That night we went to dinner at what is considered a high-end restaurant, which means prices were pretty close to what we pay at low end/regular Vietnamese restaurants in the States.

These were $5 or $6 USD I think:

Then we took a stroll around downtown and surprisingly there were a lot of high-end retail stores:

Most of the high end stores were located in the Vincom Center, which housed Versace and Emporio Armani and other stuff normal Vietnamese citizens could never afford:

And look, here’s a random poster for the current season of Vietnam’s Next Top Model:

On our way home, I saw this family. Cute.

That concludes the first day I spent in Vietnam.

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Hello world!

Hi everyone, this is my new blog. I am moving it from my old site at koryspondent.livejournal.com. 🙂

– Kory

 

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