Sunday, March 25, 2007

an ode to che

no, not THAT che, silly, i mean the indescribably perfect beverage/meal popular in vietnam. i've decided to become its amabassador of goodwill to the united states. boba tea be damned, if you want something sticky and sweet, hot or cold, chewy and filling, che is for you. the key is the sweetened coconut milk. what do they put in it? um, lots of things. beans, tapioca balls, mochi, lychee jelly, other types of jelly, and my favorite is bits of corn and sweet glutinous rice, which is apparently called che bap. don't bother to learn what the words mean, just track down the woman with the cart that has the word 'CHE' on it, or trawl the local market (not the grocery store, the market, enclosed or open, where pigs feet and dried squid compete with cheap aluminium pots and yards and yards of silk) for the che stall. often there's more than one, and the women (always women, never men. they're too busy sleeping on their motorbikes or drinking coffee...) fiercely compete for your attention. my method is to keep patronizing the same stall, that way i can exhaust my options over the course of a few days. the stall that i go to in the Ben Thanh market, which is a Saigon landmark but not as 'authentic' as the others, it's been cleaned up as much as possible for the tourists but is still pretty stinky, serves all the hearty savoury stuff, like the corn. most places model themselves more after the boba stalls, more fruits and sweet dessert-y things. Che for dessert? why not? but for me, Che is more like an afternoon snack, something just rich and hearty enough to tide you over til your second bowl of pho for the day.

the other thing i learned is that coconut juice is rich in electrolytes. i was feeling pretty sunbeat and after sipping from a freshly hacked open coconut, i felt much revived.

oh, and i thought i could avoid getting a suntan, but it looks like saigon is going to win out. what will all the vietnamese girls think? they admire white skin because it's almost impossible to maintain here, and four new england winters finally eradicated all of my proudly attained tan lines, so lots of salesgirls have complimented me on my fair skin. but now i have a sun burn and frankly, i've stopped caring or feeling proud of being white skinned. there's nothing wrong with a little vitamin d, maybe it'll fix whatever's been ailing me since i stepped foot in cambridge.

7 full days left, 1 day on the plane, and i'm back in wonderful, lovely, adorable southern california where i can check out the new stores at south coast plaza. marni's opening a branch there. could there be a more perfect mall than scp? i think not.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

no end in sight.

the days drag on and on. this is my 13th day. hanoi was dull, polluted, cheap, and the food was pretty good. my new favorite is bun cha, which you can get at pho pasteur, but it isn't nearly as good as the street vendors' home brew of fish sauce. the pho in hanoi is different, not so heavily spiced as in the south. i swear by street food, it's so much cheaper than the tourist restaurants, and i'm convinced it isn't much more unsanitary than the more expensive stuff.

hue was boring boring boring. my room was only $7, so i guess i can't complain. although, i find the vietnamese tourists to be the worst. there was a large group of 15 in my hall. they would leave their doors open so they could yak at each other while watching tv at midnight or 6 in the morning. whatever.

hoi an, which is 4 hours south of hue, is much nicer because the preservationists have managed to clean it up for the tourists. lots of lovely 'authentic' 17th to e. 20th c. courtyard houses that are a hybrid of japanese, chinese and vietnamese building traditions. the more evolved state of tourism here shows in the prices. dinner is $3 rather than $1.50. but who cares, it's all so damn cheap. although, i admit i get indignant when i have to pay 5000 Dong rather than the 3000 in Hanoi. we're talking about 35 cents rather than 20. oh, and the reason the bus trip took 4 hours was because it travels about 40 miles an hour. why? god, i keep asking myself this, but there's no good reason for it. the roads are fine, although only 1 or 2 lanes in each direction. there's hardly any traffic. this country makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

so i ended up buying a painting in hoi an. i really didn't mean to, but i have a hard time saying no once i'm dragged in. the artist is about 60 yrs old and an ardent anti-communist who, sadly, never made it to the states. it's a pretty tame painting, but at least it's by someone who actually could be called an artist.

the problem with vietnam and its fledgling tourist industry is that everything is the same, everyone sells the same shit. the so called art, be it lacquer paintings or oil, really is more of a craft. people churn out the same thing, so if you want a sentimental painting of a vietnamese woman in an ao dai, you could buy some variation of it in any city. this is a nation of copycats. hoi an is known for custom tailored clothing. the problem is, of all the shops i've seen, none exhibit anything that is different from the others. and the street vendors sell the same terracotta whistles and tiger balm and god knows what else. i am sick and tired of the women calling out to me: madam, you buy something? and the men: madam, moto bai? madam, cyclo? madam, taxi?

and what the hell are all these tourists expecting from their trip? so many self-satisfied french who can't seem to stay away from their beloved indochine now that they're feeling so beautifully nostalgic. so they sit in the chic restaurant in town and order huge amounts of wine when the average monthly income in vietnam is $150-200. they're seeking something that i don't care for, adventure, atmosphere, stories, whatever. if i didn't have to be here for research, i would never never travel to vietnam. i am so sick of tourism in developing countries. ecuador was more pleasant, probably because i wasn't traveling alone. there has to be a better way to raise the standard of living in places like here. something more dignified than prostrating yourself in front of the fat, contented, jolly tourists.

maybe i'm just bitter because none of the vietnamese can believe that i'm american. it's always been tough in the states, but it's the same everywhere. i'm so sick of people telling me that my english is perfect. well, i would hope so. but here, when i say i'm american but my parents are korean, vietnamese ask me if i'll return to korea to work after i've finished school. why would i move to korea? i hardly speak the language, and even if i did, i really really would rather live the rest of my days in the states, in spite of everything.

so, i'm probably not going to post much more for this trip. just thinking about what i should write makes me so angry. i'd post photos, but the computers here are too damn slow. i'm really not suited for places like this. i've always hated visiting. especially places as poor as vietnam. i hope saigon is better. or at least i hope i accomplish something that'll make this trip worthwhile. i only should have stayed for 2 weeks because right now i'm just killing time and being a tourist until i leave for saigon on friday. oh, and i can't wait to take the plane rather than the bus. there's no way i'm going to get on one of those open tour buses again. horrible, smelly, slow things. the $60 is worth it. unless the plane is crap and it crashes.

i hope i never lapse into nostalgia about this trip. it has been awful most of the time, tolerable at best.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

week one in hanoi

so i ate something, maybe the fruit cup (?), on the plane, that gave me food poisoning. after an uncomfortable travel time of over 20 hours, i was glad to see that immigration was quick and simple. by the time i arrived at the hotel, i was definitely sick. after throwing up, i decided to go to the doctors. note to self: try to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs. my fears of cholera or whatever else that is awful were unfounded. the doctor sent me packing with antibiotics, anti-nausea pills and rehydration solution. he probably thought i was overreacting. of course i was. i'm a hypochondriac traveling alone. the last time i had food poisoning in a foreign country, i lost 10 pounds in a week because i refused to eat anything, and developed an irrational fear of food for 5 years. that was when i was 11. right now, i have nightmares of contaminated food and cringe at the thought of street pho.
needless to say, i have not been having a good time. i did, however, muster the energy to book a different hotel for monday-thursday night ($10 rather than the $24/night i've been paying) on a quieter street, but no elevator and definitely less luxurious. they failed to tell me there is noisy construction from 7am to 8pm every day, including sunday, so i'm high tailing it out of here. plus, the room is too big for me, gives me the heebeejeebies.
i also made the trek to a reputable shop to buy a cell phone. if anyone feels like calling, my number is: 011-84-936-714-389. it doesn't cost me anything to receive a call, but it's about $2/minute otherwise.
it's noisy and hectic, although i'm pretty good at crossing the street now. it smells pretty bad, especially the car exhaust, which makes me nauseated. all in all, i wish i were home. frankly, i have no idea how i'm supposed to get any 'work' done. they speak much less english than i had hoped, and the architectural university is quite far from the central city. i think hue, hoi an, da nang, da lat, and saigon will be better. i've decided not to go to Ha Long Bay, which is every tourist's must-see objective, apparently. i don't really like Nature anyway. in fact, i might even take a plane ($53) to Hue rather than the open tour bus ($30 from Hanoi to Saigon) which takes 14 hours. um yeah, sounds like great fun for a girl traveling alone without a padlock to chain her luggage to the rack. maybe i'll sleep sitting on top of it. but then again, maybe the bus is safer than the plane? i fear crashing into a rice paddy somewhere in northern coastal vietnam. oh god.

i do not travel well.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

i'm off!

the Flickr link should work now. i did something stupid with the html and finally figured it out.

i'm leaving for the airport in 1 hour. looking forward to over 17 hours on the plane, plus a 3 hour layover in Taipei. too bad i can't leave the airport to check out the city, i'm sure it's a gas.

pictures to follow.