Monday, April 28, 2008

At least I'm not a chicken

Yep, those are chickens on the back of this bike, on the road from the Mekong Delta to Saigon:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Unleashing my inner Evel Knievel

My cousin Gene took this photo of me when we were leaving Hoa Bac School in Nam Yen: I was the first of many of us to hitch a ride from one of the teachers at the school. Getting there by van had been a slow, rough ride, so I was thrilled (and a little nervous) about going back to the party offices, where our bus was parked, on the back of a motorbike:

I sent a link to the photo to Uncle David and made some remark like hey, I haven't been on the back of a bike since 1975.
He corrected me--it was the *front* of a bike. His bike:



And I think I was wrong on the year, too. That had to be 1973 or maybe 1974, and back then one of my favorite toys was this crank-up Evel Knievel motorcycle. (I can remember making little Barbie-doll size Evel crash his motorcycle in my grandparents' living room. I was probably inspired by Evel's televised stunts.)

What is with me not wearing a helmet? I can't say for the older photo, but there is now a helmet law in Vietnam for the drivers (and possibly all adults), but there were no extra helmets around. I was stupid, though, for not wearing a hat in that sun. Got a little sunburn on my scalp that my hairdresser noticed when I got home.

I wish I'd taken photos or video on that ride through the rice paddies and down some meandering neighborhood path, but I was too afraid I'd drop my camera.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Household appliances and computers

I'm having a rough day with household appliances and computers. Tonight, my vacuum cleaner died, and I went online, read some product reviews, headed out to Best Buy, and came home and assembled my new bagless super-duper metallic red vacuum cleaner. It ate my cat's fishing wand toy before I had a chance to get it out of the path of destruction.

All day at work, I had problems with Microsoft Outlook. The IT support guys said I was one of many employees moved to a new server, which had two drives, one of which failed. (Try scheduling meetings when it takes ten minutes to change an Outlook calendar item!)

And now tonight, I was going to post a few photos here on Blogger, and the photo uploading isn't working.

When we were in Vietnam and had problems with irons, coffee makers and Internet access, I kept pointing out that we were in a developing country. But why didn't I remember that these things happen in the so-called developed world, too? It all makes me want to unplug everything, take my cat under my arm and go sleep under the full moon, somewhere where it's not allergy season for me, and somewhere where it won't go down to 48 degrees Fahrenheit tonight.

But instead I'll crawl under the covers of my bed (in my carpeted bedroom) and dream about being back in Vietnam. That's what I've been doing every night since I've been back in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Photos and video clips

I've been spending so much time at my computer working on my photos that I've given myself a headache and a sore shoulder. I have some video clips on YouTube.And I've started uploading and organizing photos on my Flickr account.

The weather here--cloudy and rainy and cold--is making me miss Vietnam very much.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Schoolgirls at Hoa Son School

Friends of Danang built the Hoa Son School ten years ago, and here's a photo of four of the school's students:

The school's principal hopes that one day some of the students will attend college in the U.S.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Bridge dedication

I think this boy was trying to get my attention...he got it!

Cyclo ride in Saigon

Here's a video from my 2006 trip, a cyclo ride in Saigon:



Cyclos will be leaving the streets of Saigon in a few months...so that was my first and last ride.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

We're home!

We landed in Pittsburgh at 6pm. I went with my mom to Tram's Kitchen to get some shrimp fresh spring rolls and some fried wontons and vermicelli. I talked to the waiter there and he said his friend's bookshop in Hoi An is near the Japanese Bridge. I must have walked past it...something to look for when I go through my photos.

Hotel California

I'm sitting in the lobby of the Hacienda, close to LAX and I'm expecting the Eagles to show up at any minute--this place has this funky old LA motel vibe--but it was great to get a little sleep. We missed our connection in LAX last night and EVA Air put us up for the night.
I'm not sure who is going to wake up but I have my vouchers and I'm ready to get some food in the diner...maybe look around for some aging rock stars.
EVA has been wonderful with all of this, but my encounter with a US Airways ticketing agent yesterday was horrible. After that I was happy *not* to get not a flight.
We are flying to Philly and then to Pittsburgh and if all goes as planned (who knows with US Airways) we should be in Pittsburgh at 5:20 this evening.

Monday, April 07, 2008

We made it to Taipei!

This is the first chance I've had to get to a computer in awhile. We're in the Taipei airport and Chinese is the default language on this computer. I couldn't figure out how to log into Yahoo! Mail, so I got to Blogger and once I signed in I got my interface in English. Yippee!
We have two hours and twenty minutes before we board our long flight to Los Angeles. We had a nearly empty flight from Saigon to Taipei, and I had an entire middle row in EVA Elite Class to myself. What luxury! We were on a Boeing 777 and I have the same seat assignment on this next flight, so I'm assuming it's the same aircraft.
We had arrived in Saigon yesterday and went on a wild shopping trip to the market, and last night we had dinner once again at 13. The place is wacky, to say the least...I'll explain more later. Then after dinner I did a bit more shopping (I couldn't help it...I walked past a store loaded with dragonfly things), and then a bunch of us headed up the MBar on the top floor of the Majestic, our hotel.
This morning after breakfast I tried to get a massage, but they were booked, so I went to the salon and had a facial massage and a facial and a reflexology treatment before I got ready for our long flight.
We've been dwindling, as several of our trip mates have taken side trips, and one, Tom Fallon, left Saigon on an earlier flight. Thanh stayed behind in Saigon, so now I'm in charge of rounding up my other eight travelers. We have a two-hour connection time at LAX, which is going to be crazy...we have to get off of the flight, go pull our bags (which are checked through to Pittsburgh), go through customs, put our bags back on the conveyor, and then walk down to the next terminal to check in at US Airways.
As of right now, we're all on the red eye to Charlotte. We're scheduled to get into Charlotte at 6:17am, and then we board a little before 8am, and arrive in Pittsburgh at 9:40am.
At this point, I don't mind that extra flight, because it means my mom won't have to wake up way too early only to have us sit through rush hour traffic from the airport into Pittsburgh.
As far as rounding everyone up when we're running low on sleep....that will be a challenge. I'm going to change into slightly warmer clothes before the long flight (it's warm here in the airport and it was hot in Saigon, though the new Tan Son Nhut is a beautiful airport with air conditioning, but the sun beating into the windows there is pretty intense.)
The nice thing about these later Saigon to LAX flights (as opposed to my trip two years ago) is that we watched the sun set before landing in Taipei, and it should be dark most of the way over...we're leaving Taipei a few minutes before midnight local time and we arrive in LA at 8 or so in the evening.
Gene is trying to charge his laptop somewhere in this terminal...I've seen him sitting on the floor in two different places now. I told him to settle up with the room charges that he needs to get me a Hello Kitty shirt here at the shop in the airport, but we'll see if he'll ever put his computer away. He's been computing away in every airport so far...even the Danang airport has wireless internet now.
We're in need of water (at least I am!) so I'm going to go chug a few $2 bottles of water in the next two hours. I've gotten pretty good at noticing when I'm dehydrated. In Vietnam it's hard to keep up with replacing the water that's sweating out of us!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A day of relaxation and retail therapy

I just checked the weather, and the sun's gone down and the temperature is 81 degrees Fahrenheit, with a heat index of 87. And I'm at the beach and we're getting an ocean breeze...I feel like I need a sweater. Guess I'm adapting to the climate!
The humidity is so intense here that any sort of paper is soft.

I had a great day--slept until I woke up at 7:17am, showered and dressed, had a delicious bowl of pho (this time I added some chili peppers) and strong black coffee. I followed that up with some sushi and fresh pineapple and mango. Then I picked up my custom-made silk clothes from Thang Loi, the shop we went to a few days ago. After I dropped those off in my room, I came back to the lobby to meet with my Vietnamese friend whom I met on the last trip. He invited me to come back for a longer visit in Danang and to spend time with his family. (When I told him I took a cooking class at the Rex, he offered to have his wife teach me how to make Vietnamese food.)

Then it was off to shopping again in Hoi An, and we went to Yaly (you can find both that store and Thang Loi on the internet). It was amazing...silk lanterns were $4 (I skipped those because even when they were folded were about the size of a foldable umbrella and suitcase space is an issue). I picked up some pearls for my friend Nancy, bought a few small gifts for some of my other friends, and bought some two-toned silk. It was $6 a meter, and I'm sure each meter could be made into three scarves, so that was a bargain in American terms, but still expensive in Vietnamese terms.

Then I packed (tomorrow we leave for Saigon), went to the beach, and then got an orange soda at the poolside bar. Off to dinner shortly...bye for now!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bridge Dedication Day

We're back from the bridge dedication. It went very well! The lighting was wonderful and I took lots of photos. (Not just of people, but also of dogs and water buffalo...I am sure they will use the bridge too.)

On the way to the dedication, I sat next to East Meets West Foundation's director of large construction projects. We talked a lot about the needs here, and about how inflation combined with the demand for construction materials is making it very difficult to complete certain types of projects. Our bridge, for example, would have run us 40% more than it did when we committed to the project. He emphasized the need for public health education and clean water projects (in homes, rather than people having to go to wells) and the need for Western-style toilets in homes in rural areas.

In case you're wondering why there is a need for clean water and improvement of public health conditions in Vietnam: The party office had a flush toilet. The medical clinic had a squat toilet. And Hoa Son School has buckets.

On a happy note: I got to hitch a ride on the back of a teacher's motorbike today after we went to another school near the Hoi Yen Bridge. It was a great ride! The path was no wider than most American sidewalks. I would have gotten my camera out but I didn't want to drop it into a rice paddy.

And at the bridge dedication, I picked up a rock for Jimmy. That's all the shopping I've done today, save for a wide brim floppy hat with a chin strap...I need that here. Even after two applications of SPF 50 sunscreen, I can feel my face and my arms burning. I keep changing the part in my hair but I'm sure my scalp is fried.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Schools and medical clinics

Hello from the Furama Resort! After a wonderful but long, hot day yesterday we arrived at the Furama. I hopped in the shower, got dressed for dinner, and by the time everyone gathered in the lobby at 6:30, I realized I was very tired and not at all hungry. I stayed behind thinking I'd get some ironing done, and all I ended up doing was drinking lots of Orangina and bottled water, eating a few PowerBars and some fruit, and sleeping. I woke up early enough to get showered and dressed in time for sunrise on the beach, and I took a few photos and headed here to the business center. The Furama breakfast buffet opens in seven minutes and I am looking forward to coffee and pho and fresh fruit before we leave at 6:40am for the bridge dedication.

I'm using a Dell right now, which is a much nicer computer than any of the other hotels had. Computers here are more expensive than they are back home. And speaking of, we stopped at this roadside cafe yesterday and I peeked into the internet cafe. Imagine a National Geographic photo of exotic-looking people and colors, and then this long, dark room filled with people sitting at computer kiosks. Bizarre.

I took lots of photos there and at Hoa Son School. I even got a few video clips there. Still photos don't do these kids justice.

We also stopped at an OB/GYN medical clinic and they have four midwives there--no doctors. We'd asked some questions through a translator, and one of their big health problems is liver cancer. I talked with a translator who told me that hepatitis can lead to liver cancer (which is correct; I know that from work), and he said that they now have vaccines for Hepatitis A and B. One was offered free of charge, and the other people have to pay to get--I'm not sure which was which--but he also was aware of Hepatitis C.

He asked for me if they ever have had any doctors from the U.S. visit there, and the director's reply was "Not yet". It made me happy that she didn't say no.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How much tiger prawns can I eat?

It's 4:41am here, and I really should go back to bed, but I'm enjoying the quiet here in the Sandy Beach Resort lobby. I had an incredible day yesterday. We had lunch with Foreign Affairs at a seafood restaurant on My Khe Beach (we called in China Beach but it sounds like Vietnam wants to rebrand it). The pictures I took don't do the place justice. It's the most beautiful beach I've ever seen.

Later, we went to Marble Mountain and climbed the mountain (150 or so steps which were each about 10 inches high). The view up there was incredible, and the pagoda reminded me very much of the one I saw in Hue. Climbing down was tough--the steps are stone and I had to take each step carefully--and then I did a quick, like two-minute, shopping trip into the Marble Mountain workshop. Two white happy Buddhas, $15.

Then it was off to Hoi An, and I spent an hour and a half in the Thang Loi silk workshop. I picked up a few clothing items off the rack, and I had two skirts, a top and a jacket made. I bought silk for Celia, and I picked up a couple of other little things.

I knew there was something I had to get--I was having a brain cramp--and the shop was pushing me out of there (I think it was closing time) and I realized later that I forgot to get silk there for my friend Sami. I'll have other opportunities, but sheesh, I could kick myself!

We went to another China Beach restaurant for dinner. I had so many tiger prawns yesterday, really big ones, that I might turn into one.

George and I had a few drinks last night in this bar at the hotel...got to see young Filipinos do some covers of Blondie and Bob Marley.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Our warm Danang welcome

Friendly, but hot as well...it's hot and humid here!

We're at the Sandy Beach Resort and in an hour we're going to lunch with the wonderful people from the Danang Ministry of Foreign Affaris. Their director is a veteran who is from Tam Ky, and he said that his mother died in the US hospital in Chu Lai--the same hospital where my dad died. I'm sure we'll talk during lunch. I need to check into my room and iron. George has told me that my dress is too dressy for "smart casual".

We're now going to wear polo shirts for the bridge dedication, so no wearing a dress out there. (Bummer!)

Cooking Class

I went with one of my new travelmate friends to a cooking class today at the Rex Hotel. We made Vietnamese pancakes filled with ground meat, shrimp, julienned white onions, green onions and mushrooms. We also made the dipping sauce: fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, julienned chili pepper, minced garlic and water. It was very much like making pierogies, only rather than boil them first, we fried them. They were great! We had them for lunch with lettuce, Thai basil and cilantro. Lunch also included rice, sour soup, fish cooked in soy sauce and some Vietnamese version of fried greens. I'm stuffed once again! (This was after a breakfast of seafood soup--no pho here today--and fresh fruit, grilled salmon and cheese. I can't pass up the French cheeses here!)

In a few minutes, we're off to the hotel salon to get our nails done. We have to leave very early tomorrow morning for a 6am flight to Danang. I have one bag packed, several shopping bags of things that will be stored here at the Majestic (we come back here our last night).

Cousin Gene just walked in. He says he wondered around and got lost for an hour after coming out of a different door of the Rex (after trying to get to the casino which was supposed to be opened but wasn't.)

Gotta run!