Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Reunification Day Vietnam!

Today, April 30th, is Vietnam's Reunification, or Liberation, Day.

This day marks the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam that took place in 1975.

About a week ago I noticed flags lining the bridge and river near my place and wondered what they were for...

WELL... once I realized the Reunification holiday was coming up, I assumed that these flags had to do with this Vietnamese holiday... BUT, as I researched into this flag (just now for this post), I find that it is actually a Buddhist flag!

The picture below (roughly) translates to: Hail Buddha's Birthday.

(Looking into this more... Buddha's birthday was on April 28 this year.)

The picture below is near the big temple along the river in my neighborhood...

The entire street is lined in the flags...

NOW this makes more sense to me... as these flags are right near a Buddhist temple (ahhhh -- ooook).

So interesting. ...I continue to learn more and more in so many ways here ...on a daily basis. Now, I'm realizing what a prevalence Buddhism has in my area of the city... as I have not seen these flags much elsewhere.

This is one of my favorite views / spots on the river in my neighborhood.

May 1st is International Labor Day... so we have a four-day weekend... whoohooo!!

And a happy belated birthday to Buddha!

AND... a very happy birthday to my brother, Lenny, tomorrow -- May 1st!   :D
Love ya Len!   <3

4,500 dong ferry ride

As we left a roadside cafe, heading back towards the ferry and HCMC... the sky ahead of growing pretty dark!

We really lucked out... as it rained a bit for a minute or two but somehow we missed the bulk of the storm. The roads were wet and puddly but our timing was, basically, awesome.

The ferry ride (a short one... maybe 15 minutes?) cost only 4,500 dong... which is about a quarter's worth.

The sky was pretty cool as we were on the ferry...

This is what our ferry looked like:

The ferry is jam-packed with motorbikes and cars/SUVs/15-passenger vans, etc. And apparently, there is no rule about turning your engine off during the trip... so a tip: don't park your bike in between any big vehicles! It gets HOT.

Phu My Hung to Can Gio in the Mekong Delta

Our motorbike day-trip to the Mekong Delta was not the main part of the Mekong... but East of where the tours mostly go.

The trail to Can Gio from Phu My Hung in District 7 (south of HCMC) is really great! The road is decent and wide and there is not a lot of traffic. The biggest plus is the lack of traffic!

The map above is from Google Maps.

There is a Mangrove Biosphere Reserve in Can Gio [shown by the light green section in the map above], which you can take a two-hour boat ride through. (You can even feed alligators!) We chose not to do this, as we just enjoyed the ride to and from the beach... including a lunch and a couple roadside cafes.  :)  Can Gio is also where Monkey Island is!

Wild pigs!

We saw a number of wild pigs on our way back from the Mekong Delta.

They just wandered out of the woods... walked around a bit... and, these below, crossed the road through the traffic!

This piggie is extremely pregnant. She walked as if her belly weighs a ton!

I'm sure the lady at the cafe we had been sitting at got a laugh out of my taking pictures of the pigs!   :P

Sunday, April 29, 2012

friendly people in the Mekong

After lunch at the beach we were heading back towards the city. The ride to this part of the Mekong Delta was gorgeous. 

This lady flagged us down to pull over to her roadside shop and show us this crab!

These two are at the same stand... I don't know what the guy in the left has in his hand (an oyster??)... nor what he's doing with his other hand.    :P

The plastic bag of white stuff is the fruit from the pervious post...
it is called 'water coconut'.

Water coconut is surprisingly not juicy... and pretty tasteless. 
(We tried it in a drink at the next roadside stand...)

There are hammocks all over!

As we passed the roadside cafes, there were piles and piles of emptied pieces of water coconut. I think as they wait for costumers, they cut and peel the fruit pieces out. I'm not sure if this is some kind of fruit delicacy, or if it is just in season...

This is where we finally gave in and tried the water coconut.

This lady sat and dug the fruit pieces out the entire time we were there.
I think this is what she does all day.

mystery fruit... the 'water coconut'

We kept seeing bushels of some kind of (presumably) fruit along the side of the road at stands...

Finally, we stopped to check it out and found that the bushel parts are broken open and a small white-ish piece (in the bag E is holding) is the fruit to be eaten.

AND we found out that a bushel of this mystery fruit is super HEAVY!

We tried this fruit... which, after being home and searching the Internet, I've found is called a 'water coconut'... it comes as a drink (or at least it did at this roadside stand!). We weren't sure if the taste (or lack of taste) was good or bad at first... but after a bit of chewing, Sarah and I both had trouble swallowing it... I think it was more of a texture thing... and lack of taste than a bad taste. 

I'm glad I've tried water coconut once... but don't feel the need to ever do so again.   :P

Roadside 'cafe'

A bit into our trip, Sarah said we should stop when we saw a cafe...

This is the 'cafe' we found... haha... awesome!

The lady running the cafe came and sat with us the entire time.
Elizabeth made a good point that she's surrounded by men, probably all day, every day in this cafe... and probably wished she could talk with us!

These guys probably do this every day, all day. Seriously.
I still don't understand that part of Vietnam.

...And a little while after our cafe stop ...we made it to the beach!
We had lunch and relaxed for a bit in a nice outdoor restaurant.

Road trip and bridge views...

We drove over a number of bridges on the trip as we crossed pieces of the river...

The morning was really beautiful... 
it turned dark on our way back but we lucked out with the weather overall. 
(...And I have a sunburn and sweet lines to prove it!)

Sarah and Elizabeth... adorable.

Just fishing... fishing...

I realized that I have NOT done enough jumping shots in SE Asia...
And plan to fix that.

I love Sarah's jumping shot  :)

(And I plan to steal some of Sarah's photos when she posts them... so I'll share my jumping shot then!)   :P   ((is it even stealing if I know she's ok with it?))

...Here's one...

Sunday-Funday Motorbike Road Trip!

We have a 4-day weekend for Vietnam's Independence Day -- awesome!

Elizabeth, Sarah, and I decided to take a day-trip down to the Mekong Delta... we didn't get into the main parts of the Mekong but DID make it to the beach and the ride was beautiful. Getting out of the city felt great... the sun was strong, the air felt lighter, and the road was wide (it was basically one road the entire way!).

TOP GEAR style!

From District 7, we went through Nha Be, and onto the ferry (for 5,000 dong... about 25 cents!)...

It was a cattle herd of motorbikes onto the ferry...

This little girl stared at me the entire ferry ride! haha

Wide, open road... lined with beautiful flowering trees  :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Snap Cafe, An Phu

Sarah and I met up today at Snap Cafe in An Phu, District 2.

It's really cute! Spacious, comfy couches, and little shops to boot!

Aaand the food is delicious, well-priced, and visually beautiful...

Cute, old cyclos set here and there too!



(At least this doggie looks like a pet instead of a meal.)

Great Bistain

Ha! Nice...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vietnamese funeral...

I often see these fancy 'buses' cruising through the city. I was on my way to the pharmacy before work this morning and heard the music from this vehicle coming towards me.

...Come to find out, it is a Vietnamese funeral procession. The process of mourning is very important to the Vietnamese. There are specific rituals to be followed. I think a lot of the beliefs and reasons for the rituals are based in Confucianism.

Sometimes, large tents with tables and chairs underneath will be set up in my neighborhood... they become crowded with people all wearing white cloth tired around their heads... like those in the vehicle above. They do so for a funeral... the cloth is the 'mourning turban'.

I have been woken up early (5 am-ish) many mornings hearing marching bands going through my neighborhood... also part of a funeral... the 'mourning band'.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Props to Black Cat's smoothies!

I've posted about the website's awesomeness before... and how awesome their deliveries are for foods and drinks.

Yesterday Sarah and I decided to order smoothies... and Black Cat has the best, most comprehensive menu of smoothies. (We also order daily lattes from Black Cat... they are the biggest and the best!)

I chose a new smoothie yesterday and loved it... what a fantastic mix of goodness in one cup: blackberry, mango, ginger, low fat yogurt, and low fat milk. Yes, please! So, so good.

Sarah chose another winner: passion fruit juice, mango, carrot, and orange juice (she chose sans honey)... (funny enough... I just noticed that this is the smoothie I posted about last time in the post that is linked above!).

Black Cat is owned by an American guy... and was voted one of the "Top Ten Places You Must Eat in the World" by in 2006. Maybe this was the case in 2006 (I find that hard to believe though)... but I definitely wouldn't go that far today. Black Cat has good food... great choices for an expat from the U.S. wanting something more 'normal'. AND great costumer service if there is ever a mix-up, which sometimes feel hard to find here.

The Mexican food from Black Cat is decent too... really the only place in the city with food that can fulfill a craving for Mexican food. AND now... Jeff, the owner, has opened up El Gato Negro (also on a burrito and Meixcan food shop! Brilliant!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Summer Plans 2012

I'm pretty stoked about my summer plans... I've never had a summer break planned like this!
  • Rocheser, NY: First about 4 days after the school year ends, I will fly back Home to Rochester, NY.
  • Narita, Japan: AND on the way back to the States, I have a 9-hour layover in the Narita airport... so I plan to go out into the city! (This will be my first time in Japan.)
  • Denver, CO: After 5 days at my parents' house in Rochester, I fly Home to Denver, Colorado for two weeks. (WaterWoooorld!)
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Thennn it's time to get back to HCMC for a week...
  • Bali, Indonesia: Next up??... flying to BALI for one week... this will be a solo adventure trip... and my first time to Indonesia.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: After two days back in HCMC, my MOM arrives after a month's trip to Japan through a Fulbright program! YEEAHHH!
  • Hue, Vietnam: Mom and I plan to fly to Hue (which used to be the capitol of Vietnam... a couple of times)
  • Hoi An, Vietnam: After a day or so in Hue, we plan to take the train down to Hoi An (this stretch of the coast is supposedly one of the best views on a train in the world!). I'm really excited to get back to the quaint, colorful town of Hoi An and think my mom will LOVE it!
  • Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam:  We will fly back to HCMC from the city of Da Nang (closest airport from Hoi An) and hopefully have a few days back in the city to hang out before my mom heads back to the States
  • Thennnn it will be time for a new school year to start up... one more year of my contract with the American International School... thennnn...
  • Who knows?!?!...
Yes, yes, and yes, please!   :)

WHAT a summer ahead!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Soda Chanh

A very popular drink in Vietnam is a soda chanh... made by mixing fresh lime juice, liquid sugar, and soda water. It's deliciously refreshing.   :)

Lime in Vietnam is called lemon... chanh translates to lemon, although I'm actually not sure I've seen a [yellow] lemon here. If you ask for lemon in Vietnam... you'll receive the green one.


Book Week is a tradition at the American International School HCMC that is kind of a big deal for the libraries on each of the 3 campuses. I've been planning and preparing for Book Week... which is next week! It feels good to be planning for something that I love... and to feel that the staff and students are excited about it.

I wanted to create our own READ posters with the teachers... to hang as posters outside each of their classrooms. I think it's a fun way to share reading between teachers and students... you get to know a little bit about your teacher and what he/she likes to read, etc.

WELL... I'm so excited with how the posters have turned out! ...This is one of those instances where the finished product is even better than I had hoped for. The teachers at the AIS middle school are awesome... and they got into this... were creative, funny, and inspiring... and I want to share some of the poster photos here because I love them so much.  :)  (And then you get a chance to see great the people I work with!)