Monday, September 8, 2008

Reflecting back

As I settle back at home (and deal with my jetlag), reflecting back on my seven months in Vietnam, it seems like my time there went by very quickly. I achieved one of my two goals, to learn to read and write in Vietnamese. I would not say I "fluently" read and write. I am definitely still stumbling and I do not have a sufficient vocabulary to understand the prose-y way Vietnamese write. At least now I have an idea how things are pronounced when I read. I did not achieve my second goal of volunteering. It seems more difficult when you do not sign up for a formal volunteer placement.

I am very happy to have had the experience to live in Vietnam. I don't think travelling through for a few weeks would have had the same impact. I got to interact with locals on a daily basis and not just as a tourist. I enjoyed seeing the different vendors every day. They were all so friendly and wished me well when I got home. They also all asked me when I would come back. Maybe in the next thirty years (since it took me that long for my first visit!)?

As I finish up with this blog, I remember some post ideas that I never ended up writing. One was the "What If?" post, as in "What if my parents never left Vietnam?". Well, the obvious answer is, I wouldn't be Canadian and I would not have had as many opportunities as I have. Would I still have become an engineer? Who knows? Would I own my own house? Probably not. Would I have been worst off? I think both worlds has its advantages and disadvantages but I do realize Viet Kieu's are lucky. Our parents sacrificed a lot for us to have a better life.

One last note, I have really enjoyed writing this blog and writing in general. I've also had the chance to make good friends (like Miss Gastronomer) and to discover the world of blogging. I want to continue blogging so I've decided to start a new blog, based at home (probably no more travels for a while, sigh). I think it will be mainly about food with a side of house projects. Please check it out: Miss.Adventure at Home.

Seoul Layover

As I faced an 8 hour layover in Seoul (sandwiched between a 5 hour and 13 hour flight), I debated whether I should visit Seoul. Luckily, I was able to find a lot of information online, mainly from a Vancouver Sun article and from the blog adventures in the people’s republic of china and beyond. I decided that even if I ended up spending a couple of hours in Seoul, it would still be better than pacing around the airport for 8 hours.

My trip started less than ideally when I could only get a boarding pass from HCMC to Seoul because I was first traveling with Korean Airlines and then Air Canada. This meant that I would need to check in again in Seoul. I was hoping to save myself this task so I could save on time. When I arrived at 7 am I rushed to the Air Canada counter to get my boarding pass, but it was only opening at noon. So I decided the heck with it, I was going to explore Seoul!

I exchanged 60 USD for Korean won's. I went outside and found the bus stop that went to Insadong, my first stop in Seoul. Buses come at 20 minute intervals and their routes are very clearly illustrated. I went to buy a ticket for 9000 won (about 9 USD). It took about an hour to get to Insadong. Bus stops were announced by an automated voice in Korean and English. I arrived in Insadong at close to 9 am. Unfortunately, nothing was opened until 10:30 am except for a few souvenir shops. I could not even find a restaurant serving breakfast. So I walked around and took a few pictures.

On the way out of Incheon - looks like my previous employer, the big D.

Am I back in HCMC? Tous Les Jours Bakery just opened an outlet near my old place in District 1.

As you can see, Insadong was very quaint but still sleeping.

Only souvenir shops were open. They were rather pricey too.

It was a very artsy looking area.

The menus looked appetizing but I could not find an open restaurant!

I saw many cute stone statues.

I decided to move on and go check out Jogyesa Temple nearby. I have to admit that by now I was getting tired. I was dragging a carry-on and a laptop; it was getting quite heavy. So I just took some pictures.

Jogyesa Temple.

Then I jumped (rather dragged my carry-on down some stairs… ka-tunk, ka-tunk, ka-tunk) on the subway and went to the next station to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in the 1300’s. I decided to pay the 3000 won to go inside, but I was there for maybe 20 minutes. The visit was worthwhile though; the property is very vast and there is a mountain behind the palace. Very scenic! Unfortunately, I only saw a fraction of what was there.

Gargoyle in the subway.

As I was exiting the subway station, I could hear drums beating. There was some type of procession going on.

The Palace with the mountain backdrop.

I love the gargoyles here. Who would have thunk there would be gargoyles in Korea?

I love taking pictures of old doors.

Finally, I decided to have an early lunch at the cafe in the National Palace Museum of Korea by the subway. It was a chance for me to sit and relax. I ordered the bibimbap for 12,000 won and a Korean lemon tea for 4000 won. That was close to a $16 lunch; I haven’t paid that much for a meal in a while! I’ve been wanting to try this colourful dish since I saw it on Food Safari. I was imagining it with a raw egg like I saw on the show but this one didn’t have one. It was still very good; I especially liked the spicy pepper paste. The bowl was too much for me though and I couldn't finish it.

National Palace Museum of Korea.

My bibimbap.

Accompanying dishes: kimchi, red pepper paste and vinegar-y seaweed?

Korean lemon tea. I really like the rosemary that infused the tea.

From Gyeongbokgung Station, I found the airport bus stop. I wasn't sure if I had to buy a ticket so I tried to ask a shop owner nearby. He kept trying to communicate with me in Korean. Finally, I gave up and just waited for the bus. As it turns out, you just pay the bus driver when you get on the bus.

Airport bus stop.

It was a whirlwind visit. I was in the city for only three hours, but I still think it was worth it. I got back in time to check in and go through security and customs. The only thing I would suggest is not to visit Insadong if you're there early in the morning.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

HCMC Picture Hodgepodge

Now that I have access to my computer (thanks to H for fixing my virus ridden laptop!), I can upload my many pictures. Here are miscellaneous pictures that I took in HCMC that did not make it into a post!

View from our hotel room on our first night in HCMC.

Careful there! So many electrical wires!

Rex Hotel. Dammit, I never had a drink on the patio!! However, I did get a Swedish massage at the hotel thanks to The Gastronomer.

Old houses in District 5.

Line of vendors lined up, selling ... I don’t know what. I always meant to try it but never got around to it.

Vegetarian thali at our favourite Indian restaurant, Mumtaz, at 226 Bùi Viện. I’ve had many thali‘s and this is one of the prettiest! The Boyfriend and I ate there every few weeks!

Bánh mì thịt bò nướng, fancied up (and the price showed it!)

Bánh cam Vendor.

Can you say traffic?

Family friends from Montréal in front of city hall.

Park by Phạm Ngũ Lão St (near the backpacker’s district).

Carved stone depicting traditional Vietnamese musicians.

Bright yellow Jaspas restaurant from where we ordered 2-for-1 pizza on Mondays and Thursdays!

My cousin L’s twins! Aren’t they cute?

Not one but two TV’s loaded on a motorbike!

HCMC has luxe stores of its own.

Striped socks seem to be the trend for motorbike drivers.

…and fancy motorbike helmets…

Talking about luxe stores and motorbike trends!

Kids playing in a puddle after a rainstorm.

View of the densely populated city from the International Language Academy (where The Boyfriend works).

Can you spot the salamander(s)?