Monday, October 24, 2011

The Imperial City

Saturday, August 6, 2011 – Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day 1

We woke up the next day with a few things we still needed to accomplish in Hoi An. After breakfast, I biked over to the tailor shop to grab my finalized dresses. The saleslady who had been helping us seemed sad and a bit stressed. I had found out that her sister had gotten Dengue Fever the night before. She broke out in the telltale rashes with high fever. I told her to go to the hospital if she gets worse just because Dengue can be fatal if left untreated. In fact, the only treatment for hemorrhagic Dengue is IV fluids or a transfusion because patients experience such low blood pressure. I said goodbye for the last time. Scott and I packed up as quickly as we could, so that we could go see the rest of some of the ancient houses and historical sites. I have no idea how we make such a mess everytime we stay somewhere with only spending 2 nights there! It always takes us at least 45 minutes to pack up and shove all of our stuff into the backpacks. The bus to Hue was leaving at 2 pm, so we only had 2 hours to eat lunch and go site seeing.

We first stopped at one of the ancient houses of Hoi An. It was a beautiful house made of dark wood that sat right on the river. They checked our tickets and seated us on some beautiful, hand-carved chairs and gave us some tea. We learned that the wood they use is extremely durable and water-resistant. In fact, each year during the rainy season, water floods the house. The biggest flood was back in 1964 and it was 10 feet high, covering the entire first floor. They showed us the tick marks on the wall of the different water levels over the years. The wood still looked brand new. I have no idea what the name of the wood is, but it was incredible. We then went to see the temple and get some pictures, and then went on a search for more chopsticks, but this time in the Central Market, meaning noisier, more crowded, and less expensive. Scott and I biked in and stopped by stand after stand asking for prices. Some places quoted us higher than the nice tourist-friendly shops! We played good cop, bad cop. I was good, and Scott was bad. I would nicely as for a price, ask Scott in English, and he would sternly shake his head no, and head off. At this point, I would try to lower and joke that “Ong Xa”, slang for “this man of the house”, says no, and “Could you just do me a favor and lower the price.” The women sellers here were tough with big walls. They were about as stubborn as we were. No one was giving in, and we had gone to about 5 different stalls. Finally, a lady gave in to $6 USD for 2 packs of chopsticks, and I caved in.

Satisfied, Scott and I were ready for lunch, so we chose a Hoi An favorite called “Mermaid Café.” This was the first restaurant opened by Ms. Le, the lady who basically owns all the popular restaurants in Hoi An, including our favorite, Morning Glory. The food was less expensive, but not as good and fresh as the food from Morning Glory. We were not that impressed. Moreover, Scott and I had developed picky palates that were attuned to food that tasted truly authentic versus food that catered towards tourists. This restaurant fell in the latter category. It was authentic but it lacked some sort of umph. We hurried back to the hotel to check out and rushed to get on the bus. It would be a 3.5 hour ride to Hue.

The ride wasn’t as treacherous as the road to Nha Trang. Instead of driving around the mountain, we drove through it in a really long underground tunnel. We finally arrived in Hue, and it was nothing as I was expecting. Hue was the Imperial City where the emperors lived up until the Vietnam War, yet it looked like Saigon. I was expecting a more “old world” feel as I did in Hoi An. We got off the bus and were completely bombarded by the locals asking us if we needed a ride on their motorbikes. Scott and I were used to it, so we just gathered all of our belongings, and stood against the wall, quiet and still. We observed a young, flustered man, pink from the sun, who was from England, being completely harassed by a Vietnamese local to get on his motorbike. We overheard him say, “Lovely country, but I have been screwed over so many times by you people.” Scott and I tried to stop him from getting on the bike by saying that Mailinh Taxi drivers are the safest bet. He got on anyway. We wondered if he ever caught his flight at the airport.

Everyone cleared from the bus station, while Scott and I waited for our ride from the hotel we had reserved. A woman in a blue ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) drove up on her motorbike and told us that she made a mistake and only booked a room for one person. I kept asking her if 2 people might fit, and she kept insisting that we go to their “sister” hotel for $16/night. The hotel was located on the busiest street in Hue, and our room was on the 6th floor with no elevators. I wasn’t impressed and was really disappointed that we were being referred to a hotel that I didn’t book at and didn’t get time to review (history will repeat itself in our future endeavors). Scott and I got back in the taxi and spent 2 hours shopping around for a place to stay. So many places were booked to the max or too expensive or too dirty. We finally settled on one place for $20/night that was decent. By the time we were unpacked, it was time for dinner. We went downstairs to ask for some recommendations by the receptionist, and she tried to sell us a $35/person tour of Hue and its tombs. No way! On top of that, I could not understand her at all. The Hue accent is so thick that I was smiling and nodding the whole. Who knows, maybe she said it was only $5/person.

Scott and I wondered into the street and just walked along sidewalk trying to find our way to a restaurant she had pointed out. We couldn’t find it, so I stopped and asked a watch merchant where all the locals go. I asked for a place with no tourists. She pointed down a dark alley. Scott and I wandered down it, stepping over puddles. We looked into what seemed to be a house with some tables and people eating at them. We walked in and nobody looked up, so we knew we were in the right place. A true local gem doesn’t care about the tourists. Scott and I shared a table with another customer and took a look at the menu. There were 5 choices, each for 50 US cents, so we ordered all of them. We had the famous Hue banh beo, which are small white rice pancakes covered in shredded shrimp and that you eat with fish sauce. We got other similar dishes wrapped in and steamed in banana leaves. Scott took out his camera, and that’s when everyone started looking at us. The waitresses got a real kick out of the fact that we were taking pictures of their food. Scott and I ordered seconds on everything and inhaled it all down. The food was delicious, tasty, and simple. As we were leaving, we saw some tourists wandering through the alley looking for this small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Maybe we weren’t as special as we thought. Regardless, we were completely full and satisfied as we walked home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear Readers

We apologize for not keeping up with our posts! Scott and I got back from Vietnam, and I had to immediately start my second year in medical school (I arrived 2 days late). Since then, Scott has also started medical school up in San Francisco, so we have both been busy trying to study and manage our schedules. However, we will be continuing to post pictures and journal entries from the rest of our trip, which was absolutely incredible. We can't wait to share the rest of our adventures with you. We hope that you continue to read throughout the next few months!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 2 in Hoi An

Day 2
Scott and I had to wake up at 4:30 am to catch the tour bus to My Son, ancient Champa ruins from the 2nd century and older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was our first experience on a tour. We had done our best to avoid them until now because we preferred to do things on our own, but Bac Di recommended that we just do the tour because it is easier—rather than renting a motorbike and trying to find the place. I stepped onto the bus, and it felt odd. Here I was in my safari getup—polyester shirt with multiple pockets and breathable underarms, Northface hiking pants, and a safari hat. Women on the bus were wearing miniskirts and flowered tanktops; so much of their skin was exposed. Didn’t they know the dangers of mosquito bites and Dengue fever. Moreover, sometimes it’s hotter to be wearing short sleeve versus long sleeve. The sun beating down on bare skin can be very uncomfortable.
Scott and I fell asleep for the one hour bus ride and woke up to the bus pulling into the site. Everyone disembarked, and followed the tour guide in. She was a short, tan woman in her 20’s with short black hair. She didn’t look Vietnamese to me, almost Cambodian. Then again, people from every region of Vietnam looked different, and to me, there was no true “Vietnamese” look. The guide explained that there would be 3 main sites we would be going to. During the Vietnam War, the communists used My Son as a base camp to hide away. America bombed the camp, and in so doing, left it in ruins—no pun intended. We walked in and could see huge craters, greater than 15 feet across, making its presence known amidst the ruins. The first group of temples was stunning. The ruins were restored back in the 18th century when they were first discovered, and the restored bricks were more dilapidated than the original. The mystery of the ruins is the brick. No one knows for sure how Champa people put the brick together, but there is no mortor. Each brick edge is touching its neighbor without the gray, grainy mortor in between. Several theories exist, but no archealogist has been able to prove them. The original brick remained a bright red-orange and in great condition, a stark contrast to the brick that was laid down 16 centuries later. Maybe there was a time when magic existed. The temples where the god, Shiva, was once worshipped were beautiful and eerie. Thousands of years ago, people walked these grounds and lived a life. Here we were, taking pictures of what was left. 

My Son
Amongst the forest
Put in perspective
Scott is a little bigger than your average Champa
Beautiful and to ourselves
The mini museum
Statue of Buddha with our tour in the background

Because we were on the 5 am bus, we had the place to ourselves, and it wasn’t yet overcrowded with tourists. Scott and I wondered into the different temples and took many pictures. The group moved to the other 2 sites which were in much worse condition, and we couldn’t see much but what looked like piles of brick under shrub and overgrowth. We also learned that 58,000 American soldiers died at this site. My Son was seeped in history. Not only was it the site of Champa temples, but it was also a bold reminder of a war that happened not too long ago. The tourguide didn’t say much more and told us that her focus was on the temples. We took a long hike back through a pathway of tall trees. A small foxlike dog was leading the way the entire time. Scott and I got back on the bus and fell asleep on the way home. We got back at 9:30 am, the time we usually wake up.
Scott and I planned out the rest of our day and wanted to go to Cua Dai beach. We rented bicycles from the hotel and made the 5 km journey to the beach. It was a fun ride, though it was hot. It felt good to be active and moving again. We arrived at the beach, and so many people were lounging under the shade of the coconut trees. Between the shade and the water, there was a stretch of white sand that was scorching hot. To get to the water, one had to walk on fire. Scott and I, basically burning, ran and jumped into the refreshing water of the South China Sea. The sun was really beating down on us. The water was clear and blue and calm. We laid out on the beach and tanned for an hour, sporadically jumping into the water whenever we were overheated. I later found out that this was the same beach that my grandfather took my mom and the immediate family to vacation during the Vietnam War. Was I lounging where my mother once built sandcastles as a child? It is strange to think about because Vietnam seemed so impossible to visit for the longest time—a country far away that left my family refugees in America. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit Vietnam, and there I was, tanning on Cua Dai Beach.
Scott and I started getting hungry, so we took the long bike ride back to another restaurant we had read about on Tripadvisor. It was called Mango Rooms, and it was trendy. The interior was colorful and tropical and reminded me of Costa Rica. We sat out back and ordered some colorful and fresh mixed drinks and appetizers. In fact, they were probably the freshest and best mixed drinks that I have had. There were passion fruit seeds floating around in mine, contrasting the color of the fresh watermelon cubes. The full meal was too expensive. For the main course, we went to another place that turned out to be a disappointment, and their Hoi An specialties, such as white rose dumplings, were not nearly as good as Ms. Ly’s at Morning Glory. We pulled another bus-to-Dalat fiasco and realized that we were short on cash. Luckily, we weren’t too far, so Scott had to bike home, grab our ATM cards, and get money. What’s worse, we were only short 75 cents.
After lunch, we went back to our room to rest and shower. It was time to go pick up the suit and the dress! We were anxious about it, since we had heard horror stories about shops cheating customers or refusing to fix the clothes if they did not fit properly. Sometimes, you just don’t know who to trust in Vietnam. Vendors are very good at sweet talking. We first went to buy tickets to visit the sites in Old Town. Many of the original houses, temples, and assembly halls were still standing, so tourists can buy a ticket for entrance at these sites. We then apprehensively approached the tailor shop, not knowing what to expect and knowing that we had already paid 80% of it. There they were, suit and dress waiting for us. Scott tried on his suit, and it was beautiful. The color was a sandstone, and it matched Scott well. We had to make a few minor adjustments, such as making it slimmer and changing the buttons, but other than that it was quite wonderfully made. I tried on my dress, and though it was not quite how I wanted it, it still showed off the pattern of the silk how I wanted. It was a little big for me, so some adjustments were made, and we were to pick them up later. We biked to see the Museum of Trade Ceramics (not really worth mentioning) and the Assembly Hall before dinner. Since it was almost closing time, no one was checking for tickets, and we just wandered into both places, and no one else was there. We did our picture-taking thing and left. Scott and I made reservations for dinner at “The Lighthouse,” the same restaurant that had eluded us the night before. We biked in the dark across the bridge and turned right onto a darker and smaller pathway along the river. Waiting for us at the end was a house lit up by lights, or the “Lighthouse.” We took a seat upstairs, and I felt like I was in a restaurant in France. We had a beautiful view of the river and Old Town Hoi An, and a table in the middle of what looked like a yellow villa. As we sat down, there was a noisy beetle or flying cockroach buzzing around, which scared me a little bit. I tried my best to hold it in, but I had to let out a small squeal. Dinner was tasty, but not the best we have had in Vietnam. We tried their white rose dumplings, shrimp in tamarind sauce, and stuffed squid. All the dishes were the right amount of Vietnamese savory, but it was lacking a certain gourmet feel that the interior of the restaurant had. After dinner, we took a nice bike ride back, our stomachs content. We stopped to pick up the tailored suit with its adjustments before heading home. Once again, we felt like we had accomplished so much in just one day.
 P.S. See all our full-size photos on flickr (sorry for not linking these ones):

Portrait fun
Posing at the Hoi An temple
Like we owned the place!
Playing around with more abstract (ie blurry) photography

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The ancient town of Hoi An

Thursday, August 4, 2011 – Saturday, August 6, 2011
Day 1
We snoozed the alarm clock so many times, we ended up missing out on our planned 8 am trip to the beach. We woke up rushing to pack all of our clothes. There was no systematic way to how we pack or unpack. It often involves a lot of pulling things out, throwing them in a pile, and then shoving it all back in again when we have to go. I take care of all the toiletries, and Scott takes care of the packing and squeezing-everything-into-our-bags part. We dropped off the motorbike and said goodbye to Bac Di and headed to the airport, 40 minutes away from downtown.
The road there was two lanes on each side and very modern, but it didn’t seem to matter because everyone still drove in the middle of the road as if there was no lane divider. We passed by some miniature pure white sand dunes and finally arrived at the airport. The entire time I was thinking that if we were flying from Nha Trang to Danang, two major tourist areas, we were definitely getting on a big plane. We went to our gate, and there was even the walkway out to plane. I told Scott that I was absolutely sure that we were getting a big plane. I mean, look at all the people! It was double the number of the small prop plane. I saw a prop plane land and insisted that it was not for us. Boy, was I wrong. They called us to board, and we walked outside of the airport where a bus picked us up and drove us to that darn, small plane. There was double the number of people because there were two airplanes; one for business and one for economy! Let’s just say that I faced another hour of intense-Scott-handgripping, and I was happy when we landed, though it was A LOT less turbulent than that first flight from Rach Gia to Saigon. The airport was small and packed. Water was dripping from the ceiling, and there were people from all over the world waiting around in the baggage claim area. We picked up our bags and went outside to find a guy holding my name up with a sign. We got an entire bus to ourselves and were driven Hoi An, the ancient town, which was an hour away.
Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such, has retained its ancient homes and buildings. Back in the day, Hoi An was an extremely popular seaport village, and its access to the ocean brought in ships from other countries and facilitated trade between Vietnam and countries such as Japan. The houses and shops are situated along the river, and each year, during the rainy season, the river floods over and water fills the houses, meters high. However, the people of Hoi An have adapted to this change, and the wood has been built to withstand water damage. Hoi An is also known for its abundance of tailors, silk, and silk lanterns. The character of the town is a mix between Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Japanese cultures, and so is the cuisine. 

Exploring the city
Hoi An lanterns
Beautiful lanterns
Scott and I checked into our hotel and were extremely pleased with what we got for $28/night. It had marbled floors and counters, blissfully cold air-conditioner, and plenty of space. We looked up some places to eat and found a popular one by both Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor called Morning Glory. We set out by foot, and it was hot. There were absolutely no clouds in the sky, and the sun was beating mercilessly down on us. We wondered into the ancient part of the town, and I was amazed by its beauty. Many of the houses were old French villas during the colonial times and painted bright blues and yellows, typical French colors. The shingled roofs were slightly moldy and archaic, just how I liked them. We found Morning Glory, which was a restaurant built inside an ancient French villa. Aside from the weather, I didn’t feel like I was in Vietnam anymore. Scott and I got the window seat and read about the owner, Ms. Ly. This restaurant was about making the Hoi An street food specialties more gourmet. Ms. Ly has opened several restaurants in Hoi An, and she offers premier cooking classes. The menu was amazing. Scott and I ordered white rose dumplings, summer rolls, chicken and rice, and cao lao (a Hoi An specialty consisting of thick udon-like noodles and pork). The food was so fresh and clean.

White rose dumplings (Hoi An specialty)
After lunch, Scott and I walked through the town, which had mostly been transformed into a town of souvenir and tailor shops. We went around and asked prices for different items to get a feel for bargaining. The first store we stopped at was non-profit craft store supporting disabled Vietnamese. They invited us to take pictures of the workshop and I bought a really cool bracelet carved out of a water buffalo horn. I also wanted to find a tailor shop because all the travel books said that this was the place to get suits made for men. Some places asked for $120/suit, some for $90, and we found a place for $70 after some vigorous bargaining and pretending indifference. Scott went next door and bought himself some tailor-made shoes as well. Scott got measured for his suit, and we picked out his fabric, a sandstone color that looked really great on him. I got measured for a dress from some leftover fabric I had. By this time, it was getting dark, and the town started to wake up. 

Fine artwork
Working outside
We walked to the river and saw the old Japanese bridge lit aglow with lanterns. Old women were selling candles in paper boxes that you drop in the river, silk lanterns were hanging from the trees, a small cultural show was being performed, and women were dancing on stage. I felt like I had just stepped back in time or into the Disney movie Mulan. The streets were packed with tourists and locals alike. This city, just like all the others, was so different and unique. I have always wanted to put a lantern in a river, so I bought Scott and myself one and watched it float about 7 feet to get pushed into the bushes on the side of the riverbank. Anti-climactic to say the least, but it was the thought that counted. Scott and I started getting hungry again, so we went in search of a restaurant called “The Lighthouse.” We walked for so long my feet started to hurt. We crossed a bridge onto a smaller island where it was supposed to be, and no one on the island knew where it was. We gave up, took a taxi back that cheated us, and went back to Morning Glory. We had another glorious meal. Scott ordered shrimp curry in a coconut, and the only thing he said the entire meal, or rather, sang, was, “My shrimp is in a coconut! My shrimp is in a coconut!” I ordered wonton soup, and we shared white rose dumplings and a mango salad. We just couldn’t go wrong with Morning Glory. We headed back after a long day of activities and quickly fell asleep. We had another activity-packed day ahead of us.

Curious little boy
Audrey puts a lamp in the river

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photo series #8: The Reading Glass Project

Sorry to bring you back a few weeks, but I never had a chance to post these pictures. Here is another series of pictures from the hospital when we were testing eyesight and handing out reading glasses. I will never travel to another developing country without bringing reading glasses along, it completely enhances your experience and brings even more meaning to your worldly adventures. We share conversations, take pictures and leave glasses.


P.S. Read more about the amazing non-profit that gave us the opportunity to give glasses to those in great need:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nha Trang, Day 2

Day 2
Scott and I had an extremely early wake-call. We had to meet Bac Di at his house at 6:30 am. Once there, we followed him to the pier where we would dock the boat to go spearfishing. On the way, we stopped to buy some banh mi, or barbeque pork sandwiches, to go. At the boats, we met up with three other men. One was a mechanic and responsible for driving the boat. The two others were spearfisherman by hobby. One man was older, wore glasses, and had a mustache. He was a pun master; he liked making jokes by playing on words. The other person was a young 19-year-old man who used to work at a scuba shop before he quit because the owner was not paying him fair wages. Bac Di was a retired cop from Orange County, and an avid spearfisherman. Scott and I felt like we were on some sort of black op mission, and we were with the best guys out there. 
We piled onto a small speedboat and made our way out to the islands dotting the coast of Nha Trang. During this time, we had our breakfast sandwiches, and they were so delicious. The baguette bread was extremely crunchy, the pork was perfectly marinated, and we could have eaten 2 more. The islands we boated to during breakfast were made mostly of stone jutting out from the water. Surrounding the perimeter of the islands were small huts with a red flag and which housed a guard. If you got too close, you would be shot at. These guards protected the coveted and lucrative swallow’s nest. The saliva of the swallow binds the nest together, and it is the saliva that is harvested as a delicacy. The company that runs this is extremely powerful, and soon, most of the island’s coast will be private property, sad news for spearfishermen like Bac Di.

Heading out to sea
The deadly guard shacks
We made our first stop, and all the fishermen geared up to get in the water. They put on wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, and loaded their spear guns. One by one they jumped into the water in search for our lunch. Scott and I stayed on board with “The Mechanic,” or the boat driver. We waited in anticipation as the sun beat down on our bodies and the slight lull of the small boat started to make us feel sick. Just as we were about to be let off on some nearby rocks to beat the seasickness, “The Pun Master,” waved his spear in the air. He climbed aboard and hooked to his belt was a freshly speared rabbit fish. Its silvery skin was still shining, and its face looked like a rabbit’s. We picked up Bac Di, and Win, the youngest. Bac Di also had a fish strapped to his belt. The Mechanic dropped the men off at another fishing spot, and dropped Scott and me off at a small, floating lobster farm.
Bac Di and Audrey
That looks sharp
The hunter
Heading into battle (with fish)
In the middle of the farm was a small wooden house with one large living space inside. Surrounding the farm was water and gridded plank walkways. It looked like a checkerboard, but instead of black and white squares, they were all blue, looking straight down into the ocean. We pulled in, and five miniature black dogs ran out to greet us. They looked like soldiers, all standing guard and at attention. They sniffed us to make sure that we were part of the good guys. The farm swayed a little as the weak current pushed it to and fro. I had a bit of a perpetual stomach ache since we left Rach Gia, and it was acting up again. Scott saw the bathroom and says, “You don’t want to go there.” But in a time of need, you do what you gotta do. I walked the plank to the bathroom, which was a small rectangular, plastic box that went up to my waist. I opened the door, which was attached to a small stick with a plastic fishing string. The toilet was a hole through the wooden planks that opened straight into the ocean. You can guess what the newspaper was for. Let’s just say that it was a success and compared to other squat toilets, quite pleasant.

Shrimp fisherman (lookouts standing in the front)
Beautiful view from the shrimp farm
Our welcoming party to the floating house
Dogs in floating villages are hungry too
What a life
Floating village bathroom experience!
Plain and simple toilet
 Scott and I explored the farm and walked from plank to plank, always in straight lines. We watched the dogs do the same, maneuvering through the farm with ease and comfort. The entire farm had a strange smell to it; it was somewhat fishy, but not quite. I would have to say that it was “shrimpy.” After 15 minutes, The Mechanic came back with the rest of the crew and picked us up. Our next stop was a smaller floating fishing farm where we would cook our lunch. The boat maneuvered through the floating fishing village, and Scott and I admired its charm and beauty. The people who lived here worked hard for a full year to raise lobster to sell to the eating communities. Lobster in Vietnam is very expensive; double to triple the price in the States. However, raising lobster is no guarantee because they can easily die, and one small mistake can put a year’s work and living at jeopardy. Bac Di told us that, recently, at another village, one farmer poured some chemical into the water, and it killed all the lobster being raised in that entire village. Life in Vietnam can be very difficult, even if you work hard. 

Walking the planks
Audrey checking out the shrimp
While waiting for lunch, Scott and I jumped off the side of the floating house and swam to a nearby island. I got stung by some jellyfish on the way, which was not enjoyable. We played around for a while until we were called back for lunch. I piggyback swam on Scott’s back to avoid anymore stings. Scott was my shield. Everything was set up on the floor for us: bowls, chopsticks, drinks, and food. I looked to the side, and the fish was grilled on a small barbeque, the size of a coffee pot. Bac Di’s wife had prepared some food for us, so we had fresh salad and grilled pork chops. Each of the fish caught was slowly brought out and cooked in different styles. First, we enjoyed grilled rabbit fish. The meat was white and tender. Next, we had stewed fish. Finally, we had fried fish. All the while, the men (including Scott) drank rice wine. This alcoholic beverage is sipped from tiny shot glasses, and to me, it does not taste good. It burns more than vodka. The men drink this, one glass after another throughout the entire meal. A black dog came and sat next to me, eyeing my food the entire time. I fed him my left over bones. Even dogs in Vietnam have iron stomachs. Koby would never be able to get seasoned ribs without getting a stomach ache. The owner of the floating house was a tanned old man, whose smiled reminded me of Tien’s mom’s. He had crinkles at the corner of his eyes and a very kind face. He asked me to call him “Uncle”.

Floating village #2
Rugged and beautiful
Audrey getting artsy
More Vietnamese hospitality
After Scott and I could not possibly eat anymore, we asked if we could take the circular bamboo boat out for a spin. They explained to us that the boat was difficult to steer, so Win, the youngest, went out to get the boat. Next thing we know, he is sitting in the boat, stirring the water to and fro in a very peculiar manner. We get on, and it was so wobbly. Circular boats do not balance well. We each sat equidistant to each other on the perimeter and rowed around the house. Win taught Scott, who caught on well. All the men then asked us if we wanted to eat some squid. The owner of the house seemed eager to share, so Scott and I agreed. Before we knew it, they had caught a gigantic squid! I had never seen one so big. They let me hold it, and take pictures to pretend that I caught it. I would love to take credit, but I can’t. The squid was orange, and its sides were squirming and rippling. It shot water out of its mouth about 3 feet and scared me half to death. The Uncle cut off the tentacles, gutted the squid, pulled out the ink sac, and offered it to us to eat raw. We hesitated for a moment and agreed. We thought, “Why not? This is our one chance!” I also thought to myself, “My stomach is going to hate me later, but I’ll deal with that when it happens.” I put the live tentacle into my mouth and chewed more vigorously than I ever had before. I didn’t want it to try anything funny. Scott put one in his mouth, and he said that he could feel the tentacles sucking his tongue. He had to physically put his finger in his mouth and pull it off the roof of his mouth. The meat was crunchy and sweet. I wasn’t careful enough with the second tentacle, and it sucked my tongue. It was the weirdest feeling and totally freaked me out. It would be rude to spit it out, so I smiled, crunched the darn thing between my molars and swallowed. It was a strange experience, and I am not sure if I would do it again, but at least I can say that I have tried live squid. Scott was offered the raw mouth and told to make sure not to swallow the beak. He couldn’t say no, so he ate it with courage. The fisherman grilled the rest of the body, and we ate it. Throughout the meal, the pun master would say cryptic things such as, “When the meat of the squid turns white, it is ready to eat. If the skin of your wife turns white, be ready to run.” I could imagine him with a long white mustache and beard, stroking it as he told us his puzzling adages. We sat awhile longer with the men and enjoyed the turquoise of the water. The men finished another liter of rice wine. Storm clouds were brewing, so The Mechanic got us all on the boat to get back before it started raining. We said goodbye, and Uncle said words so reminiscent of Tien’s mom, “Don’t forget to come back again and visit me. Remember me when you got back home.” We said that we would.

Touring the floating village!
Scott giving it a shot
Pretending to catch the MASSIVE squid we ate
Freshly grilled squid!
Back on the small motorboat, we got to learn more about Bac Di. He is a retired cop from Orange County and had so many stories to tell us about his adventures and the dangers of his job. We were fascinated. Scott and I could not believe all the great people we had met in Vietnam so far, Vietnamese and American alike. Being in Vietnam had enabled us to make new friends. It seems that traveling to a different country brings people closer together. Travelers are a tight knit group of people, and Vietnamese friends are loyal and loving. After we docked, we said our goodbyes and biked back to our hotel to freshen up before exploring the long stretch of beach that is Nha Trang. The beach was extremely crowded. People were parasailing, jetskiing, tanning, lounging, and playing in the water. It was pretty much the direct opposite from the peace and quiet of Phu Quoc Island. Scott and I tanned and fell asleep on the beach, and then decided to go to a famous brewhouse in Nha Trang, Louisiane Brewhouse. We got lost a few times driving along the main road mostly because it was so crowded. We had to stop and ask a taxi driver how to get there. Anytime I pronounce an English word in the English pronunciation, the locals never understand, so I have to add a little Vietnamese twist to it, and all of a sudden, they know what I am talking about.
We finally found the place, and it was quite nice. We walked in, and there were large copper vats in the entrance. The dining area was luxurious, and there was a pool in the middle of the outdoor seating area. Scott and I sat down. At first I spoke to the waiter in English, decided that I preferred Vietnamese, and surprised them. They always seemed happy that I can speak Vietnamese even though I am sure that they would rather practice their English than listen to my broken Vietnamese. They are usually nice enough to give in and converse with me in Vietnamese, at which point, Scott guesses what I am saying by my body language and the few words he knows. He is usually spot on. We tried the beer tasting sample. The owner of the brewhouse is from New Zealand, and his mission was to bring microbrewed beer to Nha Trang, which was right up Scott and my alley. I was tempted to jump into the pool, but was told by the waitress that it was only for daytime use. The place looked like it could house a really hoppin’ party. Scott and I headed home early again only because all the activities of the day had tired us. We had woken as the sun was rising over the coast of Nha Trang. Though it is worth it, traveling from place to place can be exhausting, so before we knew it, we were asleep, and it was already the next morning.

Scott cruising on our motorbike (picture taken from a taxi)