Thursday, January 24, 2008

Action Reaction

The reaction to my trip has been mostly positive, sometimes funny. Summary again: I’m heading out to Vietnam for six months in about 10 days. The plan is to visit family for Tet (Vietnamese New Year) then travel around Vietnam during the month of February. The boyfriend and I will then head back to Saigon where he will teach English and where I will... [read below]. I am able to do this after taking a severance package from my employer.

Shock. Yes, I left a well-paying job to go travel. As my mom put it when I told her my decision “why would you leave your job if they’re not making you (i.e. laying you off)?”. Luckily, she’s now more focused on worrying than disapproving.

Excitement. Food. Good food. Cheap food. Sapa. Halong Bay. Hue. My Son. What’s not to be excited?

Good for you! If you’re going to do it, this is the right time to do it. Which means I have no kids, I have no commitment. I’m still (relatively) young. Agreed. Let’s move on.

Where is Vietnam? Followed by “Is it in the Middle East?” and “is it in South America?”. I was very disconcerted to hear both these questions at the travel clinic I visited. That explains the cheaper fee I guess. If I get some tropical disease because I was not properly immunized, it’s because the doctor thought I was going to South America.

Do you speak Vietnamese? Poorly. At the level you would speak if you spoke a language, mainly to one person: your mother. I know how to count and know Vietnamese dishes very well. I’m not sure I need anything else!

Does your boyfriend speak Vietnamese? I’ve actually had variations on this question. “umm… ahh… is your boyfriend… the same origin as you?”. (Oddly, this came from my family doctor. Doctors?!) People are also puzzled by how my boyfriend will teach English if he doesn’t speak Vietnamese. (so no, he doesn’t speak Vietnamese. nor is he the same origin. and I don't know how you teach English, without speaking the students' mother tongue. maybe sign language.)

Have you ever been to Vietnam? No, I traveled in Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong) in 2001 but did not visit Vietnam. My mother was still quite paranoid that something bad would happen to me. She’s still worried, just a bit less.

Do you have family there? Yes, I have aunts, uncles and cousins, none of them I have ever met.

And finally…

What will you be doing there (while the boyfriend teaches)? I don’t know. Mainly taking it easy. Because I can. I’m hoping to learn Vietnamese, written and spoken, maybe by taking some private lessons. Maybe do some volunteer work. And write my new blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tedious To-Do's

There are about three weeks left before I leave and so I’m amassing quite a pre-trip list of to-do’s. Unfortunately, most of these tasks are boring, tedious, painful and expensive. Take a look for yourself at a random sampler.

1) Getting a travel visa. Rating: Very tedious and very expensive
Steps for a visa were well outlined on the Embassy’s website. What was lacking: the fees. Contacting the Embassy was stupid. They didn’t return The Boyfriend’s calls. When I sent an e-mail inquiring about the fees, they sent generic reply e-mails, with no fee information. Fortunately, other people had ranted about this on a travel forum and I found my answer. The total process was very costly: $133 (for multiple entries) + $6.50 for the bank draft + $18.99 (for passport pictures, don’t get me started!) + FedEx shipping (the Embassy’s preferred choice, I’ll find out the cost tomorrow)

2) Getting immunization. Rating: Painful (not physical pain, rather boredom) and very expensive
I’m a big procrastinator and so doing this 3 weeks beforehand is not recommended. So far, I’ve gotten Twinrix for $182.15 and Dukoral for $74.88. (Actually, I could have avoided the Twinrix had I gotten my booster shot 7 years ago. Yes, I’m definitely a procrastinator…) I’m going to a travel clinic for $30 and who knows what else they’ll recommend. Not sure how much will be covered by my insurance.

3) Getting insurance. Rating: just expensive
The travel agent quoted over $700 which blew my mind. I’m still mulling over it.

4) Getting sleeping bag and backpack. Rating: I’m sure it’ll be ok since it does involve shopping. I’ll do it this weekend.

5) Meeting with the bank. Rating: painful, especially having to think about the future
Ok, this is not a pre-trip to-do, but rather a leaving-your-job to-do. But it still has to be done pre-trip.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Packing for 6 months

I am a girl; hence, I like clothes. I like clothes; hence, packing for six months is pretty much a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Can you hear the theme song starting? Actually, packing for six months isn’t really the problem. Packing lightly for six months is the real mission impossible.

Over the holidays, I randomly surveyed people on how much I should pack. Here were their opinions, in no particular order:

1) When talking about tops, The Boyfriend said 5 to 10 tops. 15 is acceptable if I leave half behind. And why would I do that??

2) At the other end of the spectrum, my friend MC said everything that’s not winter clothes. She’s my kind of gal.

3) My sister, who likes clothes more than me and most, was actually very reasonable. Three weeks worth should be good for six months worth. She’s backpacked before; I haven’t.

4) My mother thought I shouldn’t bring too much. At worst, I can get clothes made for very cheap. However, she’s also the one who has bought me literally five pairs of shorts and pants for my trip.

The main packing problem will be for the three weeks that The Boyfriend and I will be traveling. I have a feeling that if I overpack, I will not be getting much sympathy from him. The other issue is that I’ll probably have to hand wash some clothes. I don’t even currently hand wash “hand wash” clothes. They just risk their little clothing beings in the machine, on the delicate cycle if they’re lucky.

I’m also debating about what I should bring for maximum comfort. I like sleeping, but that implies that I’m able to fall asleep. Usually a nice pillow and some clean sheets help. But I think I might be pushing it. I’d also love to bring my laptop but am unsure it’s worthwhile. I won’t even start on the shoe situation…

Well, it’s good that I have a month to figure it out. Maybe I’ll touch on this topic later to update on how I made out.