Vietnam Day 4

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Today we went on the Tien Tien boat tour with Juliette and Jean. We started the morning going to the Tri Nguyen aquarium, and I do not recommend going there. The barren glass tanks were way too small for some of the giant beasts that lived there. The fish also looked really unhealthy, with many of them having cloudy eyes, not a good sign. So, save your money and avoid the aquarium, the ocean offers a much better view of its creatures anyway.

Next, we went to Mun Island. There, we went snorkeling for a bit. The reef was pretty small, but there were quite a few fish there, a couple of parrot fish were floating around, a trumpet fish stayed close to the sandy bottom, and a huge school of tiny silver fish darted around, trying to avoid the foreign bodies. Sitting in the water near the shore was really nice, just going with the ebb and flow of the waves.

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On the way to our next stop we ate an interesting lunch, there was a mix of seafood, what looked like beef, and some of the yummiest tofu I have had in Asia so far. Then we arrived to a place near Mot Island, just off of the dock, next to the aquaculture farm. There the fun really started. There was a small drum set, electric guitar and a bass on the boat, and one of our guides put on quite a show as he dressed in drag and sang to us. He even took B on stage and tried to give him a smooch. B sang, “I love you more than words can say” with “Obama”, it was a legendary performance. I especially liked the part where he groped B and tried to pull his shorts up.

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Our new friend Obama, as he has been named by visitors for his likeness to the Pres, told us there are some good opportunities to teach English in Nha Trang, more than in Saigon, which is pretty saturated with English teachers. He said we could rent a nice house for about $70 per month and just teach out of it. Sounds like an excellent idea, and I love Nha Trang more than words can say, so I am sold. After the music ended, they set up a floating bar in the water, we jumped in and enjoyed a few drinks while we floated around in some foam rings, cheers-ing all of our new friends.

Our last stop was Stone Beach, aptly named as it is a very stony beach. We drank some beer and skipped some rocks, well I tried anyway, but B and Jean are much better than me. Then we sat down to share a bottle of wine with a small group of Russians who live in Vietnam. They were really nice, and the conversation was as well. We found out that in Russia, it is customary for the groom to carry his bride across seven bridges that run over water. Seven because the number is lucky, but why bridges over water? “I don’t know!” The man replied. We smiled, rose our glasses, and took a drink together.

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On the way back to town, Obama brought me on stage for a rendition of “My heart will go on” as we embraced at the front of the ship, and as I tried to keep him from lifting my dress up in front of everyone. After I had fully embarrassed myself, he let me go.

Later, we went to the small carnival set up along the beach. At first glance, it appeared to be closed, but we were in luck, it was open for business. We bought two tickets, one for the Ferris wheel and one for the dragon. Since we were the only people there, we got the longest dragon ride ever. It was a blast, even though I think the ride is for little kids (my legs barely fit under the bar). I felt like the park had been closed just for us. It was fun to pretend anyway.

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We finished the evening with an authentic meal at a Vietnamese place along the beach. I had Pho (even though it is mostly eaten for breakfast, but I had been craving it all day) and fried rice, and B had coconut BBQ chicken. We left satiated and happy, and returned to HaVan for our last night of sleep in this wonderful beachside town.20111008-130752.jpg

Vietnam Days 2 and 3

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The last three days have been nothing but pure relaxation, which is all I ever really wanted out of this vacation. These days, sitting and doing nothing definitely excites me. If you are looking for a cheap vacation in an amazing place with friendly people, I definitely recommend Nha Trang.

Yesterday we woke up early and headed to rooftop restaurant of HaVan, our hotel, and had the free breakfast. The breakfast is amazing…Vietnamese coffee, delicious crusty baguette dragon fruit, rhambutan, watermelon, an omlette and a banana, all of which was included in our room rate (except a tiny bit more for the coffee). Then we decided to head to the beach, since it was the only sunny day in the five day forecast.

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Walking down the public beach, we found a popular spot for locals. It looked like a place for business deals and coffee with friends. We used it as a place to unwind with a lover. A few beers, gin and tonics, and a rain shower later, we walked back down to the beach and into the water. It was brown and sandy from the recent monsoons, but warm nonetheless.

We made our way back to the hotel and asked around for a good place to get massages. The friendly Frenchman who runs the joint mentioned two places, one of which was Su Spa. Su Spa was awesome and he, “…went and felt like, aahhh!” We had to go. So, we booked “The Su Experience” and boy let me tell you, was it an experience. We first walked in and were escorted to a seat next to the coy pond (which, thank God I didn’t put my feet into, I almost did, but then I realized the fish weren’t the sucker fish). A few minutes later we were offered robes, and eventually taken to our rooms of relaxation.

First the masseuse washed our feet in cool water and scrubbed them down. Next, two people rubbed us down from head to toe in oil. We just basked in bliss while four hands worked us over. Then, one person rubbed our scalps and one rubbed our feet, integrating hot stones into the treatment. The person working on the head area dug into our scalps in the nicest way and then worked her way into our face. Meanwhile, the person on the feet pushed hot stones into our pressure points. Back to the face. First, a milk and honey mask that I wanted to eat, then another seemingly edible concoction is slathered on from forehead to neck, mmmm. Then, the face is finished off with a cold cucumber mask. After that, a full frontal (meaning everywhere but the naughty bits) massage ensues. I have never felt more like royalty in my life. Needless to say, we did not do much else that evening, just ate an Italian dinner, relaxed and watched Animal Planet (which I really miss!).

Day 3

Today we woke up to another awesome breakfast and booked a private taxi tour to a couple places around town, the first place was the Long Son Pagoda, a beautiful temple with a 46 foot tall Buddha statue. It is said that you can see the statue from almost anywhere in the city. The feeling one experiences there is one of awe and peace (but expect to be asked to buy something or give money along the way). Next, we went to the Po Nagar Cham Towers, built in the 8th century, another place where one can experience beauty and peace. Traveling during rainy season has it’s drawbacks, but the one good thing is that there weren’t too many visitors around, so we were able to get some awesome photos.

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We stopped by our hotel for a bit of freshening up and then headed to the beach again. Along the way we encountered a group of friends drinking bootleg liquor out of a big water bottle. They poured us each a shot, it wasn’t too strong, even a little sweet. They have us some rhambutan and then we said goodbye. We ambled in the sand with smiles on our faces, and ended up at the beer bar we went the day before (which has an excellent choice of unique brews and tasty food), Lousiane Brew House, and there met a sweet couple from Brasilia, she works in Qingdao and he in Brasilia. We hung out, drank, ate some food, and planned our next day…a boat tour with our new Brazilian friends.

Vietnam Day 1

So, I am sitting here in Flamingo Suites HaVan in Nha Trang, sipping on a Saigon beer and watching a canton pop performance on TV, and life is pretty great. It’s pretty great in spite of the fact that one of the dudes in the boy band I am watching has the exact same hair color as me (unnatural blond), and in spite of the fact that I have a strange rash breaking out all over my body. So far, Vietnam has been ahhh-mazing, let me tell you why.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city late last night, 1:00 a.m., and finished the paperwork for our visa on arrival. As I mentioned earlier, I used myvietnamvisa.com to secure me and B’s travel visas for Vietnam. We selected the urgent option and received our acceptance letter via e-mail. We brought the letter, the name list with our names on it, and the visa application form. Super easy and the company is great. One thing I forgot though was $25, and only had RMB. The guy at the counter said, “OK, 300 RMB”, that is actually way more than $25, which would be 160 RMB, but I really wasn’t in a place to argue, so I forked it over. Finally, we were freed from the confines of immigration and set out to find a bed for a few hours.

We made the mistake of talking to the guy with a car that wasn’t actually a taxi and paid too much to get where we were going, but at that point, I did not care. However, anyone traveling to any foreign country probably knows that you should always take a legitimate taxi when possible (as you may know by now, I don’t always make the best choices.) Long story short, we made it to our destination on Bui Vien Street, and had three glorious hours of sleep.

The hotel we stayed at is called Hong Han Hotel. It is cute, new, clean, and the guy at the front desk is super nice. The area is interesting, well what I saw if it anyway, at 2:00 a.m. it was filled with people, travelers and locals, eating, drinking, and picking up last minute partners for the night. I wish we would have spent more time Ho Chi Minh, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

We arrived in Nha Trang at 8:45 a.m. and took a taxi into town, about 20 minutes or so. We didn’t have a destination yet, as our room wouldn’t be ready until 2:00. We sat at a nice restaurant for breakfast, meanwhile I Googled “armpit, inner forearm, thigh rash,” and after a short time was convinced I had shingles. We took a short trip to the hospital, found a really nice woman to translate for us, and I was given two prescriptions. I did not have a clue what the diagnosis was, or what the medication would treat, so I Googled once more, and inferred that the doctor thought I had some allergic reaction and gave me an antihistamine and a steroid. Well, at least I don’t have shingles (maybe? hopefully?).

We then went to our hotel, awesome by the way, and plotted out our next move. We decided that the mud baths would do us both some good, especially me with my increasingly rashed body. It turned out to be the best decision of the day. The place is called Thap Ba, and it is definitely one of the gems of Nha Trang. For 1,000,000 Dong, about $50, we both got a mud bath, mineral bath, foot massage, and hot spring bath. It was super relaxing and helped my rash tons (sorry to keep saying “rash”, I know, it grosses me out too).

So now I will drift off to sleep, hoping tomorrow I won’t have shingles anymore, dreaming dreams of blond canton pop stars.

P.S. I have noticed that a lot of my search referrals come from creepy search phrases such as, “old men kissing young girls,” and “where to get a nasty hot massage in Shanghai”. I guess it is my fault for the way I word things, but seriously, WTF?

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Learn from my mistakes

I should be in Vietnam right now, in Ho Chi Minh. However, I am not. Instead, I am on my couch, with my Chihuahua, writing this. Here is the story…

I thought I had everything planned out. Tickets? Check. Hotel? Check. Vietnam travel guide? Check. Passport and cash? Yup. I thought that was everything. So, we were in the taxi on the way to the airport and B asked, “Do we need a visa or anything?” I felt a pang of uncertainty, “Um, I don’t think so.” I brought out the trusty iPad, and after a quick Google search I realized that we probably weren’t going to make it to Vietnam, at least not that night. I think it was when I read, “If you arrive without a visa, you will be deported,” that I knew it was over.

I applied for a visa throughhttp://www.myvietnamvisa.com/ but they couldn’t process it until Monday at the earliest, so we rescheduled for Monday night. Now I have my fingers crossed that everything will be OK. It actually worked out alright, we will be there in time to catch out flight to Nha Trang, so it won’t be a total loss, as long as we don’t encounter any more obstacles. So, please don’t be like me and make a crazy mistake (I am probably one of the only people in the world who would actually do so) and try to get your travel visa to Vietnam early.

Also, if you want to travel to India, you will need to secure a travel visa first. You can do this online. I will be going to the India Consulate office here in Shanghai to get mine done, and will post how it goes.

So, next time I write I will *hopefully* be doing it from the beach. Wish me luck (and try not to make fun of me too much, thanks)!

You want to start a revolution

When I moved to China, the last thing I thought I would ever witness was a revolution. I have in fact seen two displays of organized protests from the lovely students at my school.

There I was, riding my scooter into the black iron gates of the school when I saw a mass of students and teachers outside of the cafeteria. Immediately I thought a student had been run over, or that there had been a fight (which actually does happen here, surprisingly). As I came closer I saw that the senior students were protesting.

Last year, the former senior class also protested. I was in my classroom, proctoring an exam when I heard, “Boycott!” I couldn’t believe my ears, was I really in China? Students in China are not known for their disobedience, quite the opposite actually. Students here wear their uniforms, respect the flag, perform exercises together and on cue, and they rarely speak out against authority. That is what a typical school’s students are like anyway, however, I do not work at a typical school.

The school I work at is for the privileged youth of China. Generally, students at my school come from wealthy families, many of which are able to afford a second child. In China, if your parents weren’t both only children, they may not have more than one child. However, if a family has $3,600 to pay the “second child fine”, they can have another child legally. That sum is nominal for the families of students at my school, who aspire to go to the world’s top universities, like Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and MIT and Stanford in the U.S. Parents pay hundreds of thousands of Yuan in school tuition, SAT training classes, agency fees (agents charge students up to $10,000 just to help students apply for the top universities, and by help I mean do it for them).

This new generation of Chinese is vastly different from the last two. Their parents are the new rich in China, while their grandparents suffered through the Cultural Revolution. The upper class members of this generation get what they want, when they want it, regardless of the cost. It reminds me of how things were in the states before the recession hit. This generation is not as afraid of “the man” as their parents and grandparents were (and are) so maybe “the man” should be a bit weary.

If the students at my school are protesting because they don’t like the schedule, the uniforms, the headmaster, what will they be doing as members of society? Will they be brave enough to congregate in the middle of the city to speak out against the powers that be? Perhaps. Will they be successful, or would history repeat itself? That, I am not sure about. Maybe students’ attitudes will change once they get outside the iron gates of school, maybe they are a bit too comfortable inside the confines of campus. Only time will tell how much these teens will take, and what they will do if they get fed up. My prediction? Things are going to get a bit crazy around here.

Men kissing girls

There are many things I love about this city. One thing I have come to appreciate quite a bit are the video advertisements in the back of the taxis. One reason I love it is because it distracts me from the chaos going on around me, another is because sometimes they are really funny. The new Budweiser commercial about the accidental designated driver dance hit for example, is hilarious. The WOW commercials are pretty entertaining too, with the guys in their tights and pink shorts, yet I still have no clue what the ad is about. Last night I sunk into the overused cover of the taxi’s backseat, and awaited my entertainment.

First commercial, Budweiser, yes! Second commercial, a new one. A bunch of people kissing. One guy holding a guitar kisses a woman, who kisses a man, who kisses…a four year old blond girl?!? It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a little peck on the cheek, but this is a full-on, eyes closed kiss that lasts too long for comfort. The ad is for lip balm, which explains the kissing, but how does one explain the prolonged smooch between the twenty-something Chinese dude and the little Dutch girl?

I guess they may be taking their cues from the U.S., where shows like Toddlers and Tiaras rule the airwaves and magazines. In fact, the merchants here have been very quick to pick up on this, manufacturing Playboy wear for young girls (I mean like 3 or 4), stripper shoes and all. They even make shirts in size 4T that say, “SEXY!” These clothes are not meant for little Chinese girls, who seem to dress age appropriately (thankfully), these clothes are sold in the markets geared toward foreigners.

I hope I don’t see the trend of waxing young girls’ legs in the name of pageantry and or other exploitations explode here, to see China begin to publicly objectify their young girls. It’s just nice to be surrounded by a culture that has retained some sense of modesty.

The youth of China is pushing the envelope however, listening to (banned) Lady Gaga and expressing themselves through art and fashion. Please hear my plea, new and powerful generation of China, let your little girls be little girls.