Monday, October 26, 2009

Mui Ne

Hooray, my internet works once more. Daphne and I just got back from a Japanese tea ceremony in a really nice, quaint tea house I found in a hidden alley. The matcha wasn't of the highest quality but the ceremony was beautiful and we felt like we could stay at the tea house forever[Daphne even took a small nap in my lap].
Daphne returned from her intensive yoga trainer's program in Dharamsala last Sunday. It was really like a dream to see her again. We had spent the last six weeks talking every day on Skype, but even so it was almost unreal not have a screen between us anymore. I took a couple days off work and we took a morning bus the next day to Mui Ne, a beach resort town[with an unusually large amount of Russian signage] located four-five hours from Saigon. We stayed in a cheap but roomy place called Ngoc Suong and spent most of our time playing in the waves and soaking up[a bit too much] the sun.

[Kite surfing is big here, but too expensive]

We took one day off from the beach and, renting a bike, went looking for some sand dunes that were supposed to be really neat. On the way we stopped by the Mui Ne fishing village where we were greeted by the locals by getting waved away from most streets we wanted to explore. Perhaps they just assumed we were looking for the dunes, or maybe they just wanted to be left in peace. I got some good shots before we moved on.

[Fishing boats]

[Operation Deshell Clams]

[The devastation left behind from above Operation]


[Daphne, taking an even better picture of the baskets]

After taking lunch, we headed to the yellow sand dunes, which looked more like an anti-oasis, being that it was a saharan desert just less than a kilo away from the beach and surrounded by trees. When we arrived and parked at the foothill, a little boy runs up and says he's going to guard my bike. Being that the bike and helmets were all locked in I didn't really mind. Another boy came up to us and followed us along the sand dunes, playing as our guide.

[Laziest 'guide' ever]

[Desert, forest, ocean]

After enjoying the serenity and [near] solitude of the dunes we walked back to the bike to find the boy guarding it had been gone. One of the helmets was no longer locked in but resting on the handlebar, and the seat was covered by one of the raincoats which was supposed to be locked in the compartment under the seat. Another teen walks up with the second raincoat, letting us know that the kid had squeezed his hand through the seat looking for money. Then, after packing the coats back in and getting ready to leave. Our 'guide' had the nerve to say, 'you give me money now!' To which I reply, 'go find your friend, ask him for money.'
We hit the road again and moved on to see the sunset at the white dunes, another 40 minute drive away. Where other children rented sheets of plastic to sled down the dunes[Daphne is very aerodynamic on a dune sled].

It was a good little holiday and gave us a chance to reconnect outside of the bustle that is Saigon.
But its good to be back home and living a life with so much in it to do, even when we're not doing that much. I'm back at school and Daphne's on the hunt for a job[will she be a yoga teacher, english teacher or one of the many other things that she's more than qualified to do?].
Just living in the present, and loving it to bits.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bun bun bun!

[Second part in a series on Vietnamese food]
If you know about one Vietnamese dish then its probably the soup known as Pho. Cheap, healthy, filling and very good. But 'Pho' isn't the name of the soup, its the name of the noodle. Noodles aren't just noodles here in VietNam. When you look at a menu, the food is listed by its ingredients, the word for rice, com, or one of the words for noodles always comes first in such a list. So Pho Bo, means pho noodle soup with beef[translation sounds longer,eh?] Even if you get an english menu, its good to look at the accompanying vietnamese text to know what kind of noodle you're getting. Among the ones I've come across there's pho[/fa/], a flat and tender rice noodle, mi[/me/], a thin, round egg noodle, bun[/boon/], a thin, round rice noodle, and mien, which is vermicelli.
One of my favorite lunch time meals is a Bun dish. I've only found a few places that serve bun in this manner, usually its served in some kind of soup, like pho. But fortunately for me, there's a stall that sells it right behind my building.

Nem Nuong is a grilled meatball, Cha Gio is a fried spring roll, Chao Tom is minced shrimp wrapped around a piece of sugarcane and grilled, and the Bi...I don't know, roommate's asleep so I can't ask him. So how do I order? I say 'Bun' and then do a wave of my hand over all the food to show I want everything in it[the same technique I use for baguettes].

[The chef prepares the sauce]

[Cha Gio]

[Chao Tom]

[First, some chopped lettuce, basil and some sprouts]

[The rolls are cut up and the shrimp paste gets sliced off its stalk]

[It's garnashed with shreds of pork, lightly pickled carrot, chives, peanuts and spices] about some dessert for after? You see that woman who's not doing anything?

[The round textured ones are my favorite, but I don't know what any of these are made of]

It's very common for stalls to be side by side and even work together. While these two women sell completely different products, I often see two stalls selling the exact same thing next to eachother, with the same display and same prices. Very strange.

[I don't like eating from a box]

[I was almost too hungry to keep taking pictures]

And there you have it, though the small stall behind my building has fewer options than a street restaurant might have. A place close to my school has four different kinds of grilled meats in their Bun. The sauce in the bag is a fish sauce mixed with Ot[spicy pepper] which I pour over the noodles.
Wow, I'm hungry just looking at it, but its too late for a meal so its off to bed. Daphne will be returning in just a few days and we have a small trip planned. No hints, you'll just have to read about it next week.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Happens at T & R

The best laid plans...Wednesday was the first day of my Vietnamese lessons, a free perk of the job, but before going I had a plan laid out for the morning. I was going to go climbing, even woke up earlier so I'd have time, but I had to stop by the bikeshop first to get my motto fixed. What was wrong with it? I'll get to that later...
I was planning on stopping back at the house after climbing for a shower and change of clothes before class. The class was taught at the same school I teach at, but only for us teachers, and taught by one of the Vietnamese TA's. The school has a dress code for teachers that we have to follow even if we come in on a day off: pants, tucked shirt, tie and shoes. I don't adhere to this, but I still didn't want to come to school in my sweat-stained climbing clothes.
So, a bowl of cereal later, I'm downstairs driving to the bikeshop. The repairs end up taking FOREVER. I was getting the bike rim replaced because its was dented, but I also got talked into a much needed replacement of my gear chains, an oil change, tighter brakes and I had to replace a passenger footrest that came off somehow. The chains take quite a bit of time to do, my ice coffee long drained. My butt goes numb from sitting on a metal stool that is barely a foot off the ground. After the mechanic's done with that there's still the rim to do. So he hands it over to another worker and motions for me that we need to go eat. He speaks no English. So we go around the corner and have a small lunch at a rice stall. I get some eel with ginger and meat stuffed tofu. The mechanic keeps trying to guide me through how I should eat. Showing me to wipe the chopsticks before use, making sure I drank my soup, that I used a spoon for the rice instead of sticks and even told me to wipe my mouth at the end! When we get back the wheel's done and I pay up. But when I drive a few meters down the road I can tell that the bike still has the same problem that I brought it in for. So with a quick u-turn I'm back at the spot shaking my head. The mechanic takes the bike for another spin, comes back and questioned me with the gestures of his arms whether I had crashed it into something. No, I try to explain, but...
The night before, not drunk but drinking, I had convinced my friend, Rob, that he needed to have a lesson, then and there, since the streets were pretty empty and he was still afraid of getting a bike. Rob, drinking and drunk, though I didn't think him to be, agreed very reluctantly under my ill advised persuasion. Outside of T&R Tavern I began to explain how the bike works, but he had already had a lesson and supposedly knew, so I got on the back and told him to drive to the end of the ally. Which he did. The short way. He drove across the street, straight into the metal shutters of a business that was thankfully closed. No fear, family and friends, there are no injuries to report at such a low speed and distance. After I managed to get him, to stop saying 'oh my god' repeatedly and turn the bike off I found myself laughing, as well as our friends across the street. Rob was the only one that wasn't. He was shaken with guilt and was down with a drop in confidence that he'll ever drive a bike again. I gave him a ride home, then noticing that my bike was having difficulty maintaining a straight line and that it kept wanting to turn left. Rob did the gentlemanly thing, offering to pay for repairs, but I declined. Partially because it was my fault for not knowing better than to let him drive drunk[without really knowing how to drive at all], and also because bike repairs are cheap to do, even at the worst of times.
So anyways, I try to gesture what happened to the mechanic, and he tells me that the bike has to get its frame hammered even. So he drives it off, I sit my self down on the stool that an eight year old would feel too grown up for, and look at my watch noticing that I have an hour till class. No time to climb. No time to even shower. So I leave my bike in their hands, after finding out its going to take an hour to fix, and grab a xe om[motorbike taxi] to school. Walking in with my helmet still on, ashamed to show my unkempt hair.
I had to take a driver back, too and got caught in some nasty rain, my coat still attached to my bike. But the bike was fixed and is now in better shape than ever before, so I guess that can count as a happy ending. Moral of the story: teach 'brake' before you teach 'accelerate'. There's another one too, can you guess what is?

[Side note: For those on the other side of the world watching the news about all the bad weather, I am in a pretty safe spot. We don't get earthquakes, and it is central Vietnam that gets the typhoons and flooding every year, not the south where I am. Plus, the Philippines serves as a protective wall against tsunamis(sorry Philippines). So aside from daily rains, nothing to worry about in my slice of Asia.]