A Travellerspoint blog

September 2014

New apartment

Well, after almost three days of traveling from Vietnam to Honduras, I am in my new apartment. It's more like a hotel room converted into an apartment, but it's alright because there is an amazing pool!

As I was leaving Tokyo a woman from American Airlines told me I couldn't board the plane in Miami without a return ticket home! I started panicking because I wouldn't be able to book it until I got to Dallas, and also, I thought the maximum amount of time I could stay in Honduras was 30 days.

After a few emails back and forth to my boss, she told me I had 90 days in the country and it was OK to book my flight back home on Dec. 20. Phew. Then, when I got to Miami, nobody checked my return ticket! Agh! At least I booked a ticket I would actually use and not just a phoney one for immigration purposes.

Anyway, my mom and dad got me a room at the Miami airport hotel for my birthday and it was perfect because I was in no shape to sleep in the airport. I had a nice shower and soft bed, it was great.

Funny story. In the hotel restaurant in the morning a woman sitting nearby said:

"Wasn't that fire alarm crazy last night?"

"Uhm… what fire alarm?"

"Oh my god, they evacuated the whole building at 2:30 in the morning!"

"I did not hear that."

She bursted out laughing and said "Well that is shocking, they should have checked on you."

"It sure is. Wow."

That's how tired I was, I slept through an airport fire alarm, which must have been pretty loud.

I boarded the plane in Miami just fine with no questions about return tickets from American Airlines (ugh!). After some of the most insane turbulence of my life, I was so happy to get off the airplane in San Pedro Sula. The baggage claim and immigration areas were jam packed full. Two flights had arrived at the same time and turned the airport into chaos. We were corralled into something resembling lines and I joked around with some cardboard box salesmen the whole time. Seriously, that's what they were. Anyway, customs took forever and I felt bad for the people who were waiting for me from the school. My boss' brother Danny picked me up with his wife who bought me lunch at Applebee's afterwards where I had a ginormous hamburger. Something I have been desperately missing for months in Asia.

They drove me out to Santa Rosa, which took about three hours and we were stopped about four times by the police. Every time, Danny showed his registration and was waved on through. I guess he has a trustworthy face.

Santa Rosa is built on top of a big jungly mountain, and there are cobblestone streets in the historic part of town. This is where I live in a hotel that has been converted into apartments for us. We get to use this awesome pool in the centre courtyard. The privacy in my room is not too great, because the windows in my bedroom literally look out onto the shared hallway, but I guess I can suffer with it until June.

Bedroom, see the crazy window???

Bedroom, see the crazy window???


Bathroom, separate toilet!! Yes!!!

Bathroom, separate toilet!! Yes!!!


Pool

Pool


Kitchen

Kitchen


Common room

Common room


Pool

Pool

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

12 hour layover

Checkout time was at noon and I was feeling pretty OK, so I packed and left at that time.

The guy I met on the bus wanted to treat me to lunch and who could refuse? We had spring rolls, Vietnamese wraps and my last bowl of pho ever. I promise you this.

It was all delicious. Hung was taking an exam that day and had to leave quickly, so I said goodbye and then went to the airport on the bus.

So many people helped me lift my bags on and off the buses without a word. I really was touched. They are both at least 20 kg each!

I got to the airport around 3:30 p.m., but found out I couldn't check in until 9:30! Luckily, I met a couple from Florida who were visiting their son in Seoul. We chatted the rest of the evening and finally got on our planes. They had assumed they could check in at anytime, the same as I did, and we were both stuck in the lobby of the airport for hours.

I was very surprised when my bags were checked all the way to Honduras. You know what that means right? Twelve hour layover in Japan, my friend.

It was too late to try and hook up with Nicole, so I googled what I could do around Narita airport. Turns out, there's a quaint little Japanese village with a huge temple only one subway stop from the airport. I went to the temple and promptly fell asleep in the garden while listening to chanting monks. Quite possibly the best layover ever.

Then I bought some hand made rice crackers for the long haul to Dallas and had an early lunch of real Japanese sushi. Life goal #443 complete! Seriously, what is my life??? I did all that by about 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Amazing.

Japan, I am coming back for you.

Me vs. sushi

Me vs. sushi


Shinshoji Temple

Shinshoji Temple


Me vs. sushi

Me vs. sushi


Turtle pond

Turtle pond


Narita street

Narita street


Shinshoji Temple garden

Shinshoji Temple garden


Me vs. sushi

Me vs. sushi


Shinshoji Temple

Shinshoji Temple


Narita street

Narita street


Shinshoji temple

Shinshoji temple


Crazy tired on the subway

Crazy tired on the subway

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

French Grill six course dinner

My friend Jeremy wanted to know about my meal in excruciating detail so here it is.

On my last night in Vietnam I decided to splurge and spend all the money I had left on some crazy dinner. I looked on Tripadvisor and the top restaurant was about a 40 minute walk from my hotel.

This is how they described the "Chairman's Dinner" : Celebrate the weekend at French Grill and discover chef Raphael's 6 courses menu! Tuna & compressed watermelon, seared Rougié foie gras, consommé & roasted langoustines, scallop & Iberico ham, Kobe style rib eye, Signature seasonal dessert.

So, I got all dressed up in my traditional Vietnamese dress (ao dai) and walked over to the Marriott for a nice meal. The amount of stares and enthusiastic pointing that subsequently occurred was hilarious.

When I arrived, there were at least five people just waiting for people to show up at the door. Not sure what they were doing. I was ushered over to a table by the window by one of them. My view was of a dark pond in front of a highway beside some massage parlours. Not the nicest. I felt a little rushed, but the whole ordeal took about an hour and a half despite the waitresses running around at full speed to get my dishes.

There was an open kitchen which is cool, but I always feel bad for the chefs that work there, because they can never express frustration or happiness or make any loud noises since everyone in the restaurant would hear them. I prefer a kitchen I can't see because I think it's more humane, even if that means it's possible someone might spit in my dinner.

They had lots of wonderful soft brown bread with nice room temperature butter. Even though there are baguettes all around Vietnam, there is nothing like the bread at French Grill. The first course was an amuse bouche of tuna tar tar. They didn't tell me there was watermelon in there and you couldn't see it because it looked like the tuna, so I liked the surprise a lot. Good one.

Next was a huge chunk of fois gras which was perfectly seared and served with pears, beet sauce and edamame. Normally I hate hate hate fois gras, but this one was surprisingly delicious. Of course, at a French restaurant, I don't think you can get away without eating it. But I asked for a substitute anyway, and they wouldn't do that, so I just went with it. I was not disappointed.

The chicken consommé with mushrooms was boring, but the langoustine that had sunk to the bottom was soooo soft and amazing. Like little tiny lobsters that fit in your mouth and are shelled for you already.

Then they brought me a big scallop, sitting on cauliflower puree accompanied by some cured ham on top surrounded by saffron foam. Soooo gooooooddddd and the texture was amazing.

Kobe steak was the main dish, done medium and the softest steak I have ever had in my life. I think. Beside it, there was what I think was sweet potato and spinach puree decorated with a bunch of seasonal fall vegetables, carrots, artichokes and beets.

Dessert was all about figs. There was some sort of red (maybe raspberry) sorbet that exploded in your mouth with ginger, then stewed or steamed figs and "fig chutney", all served with cookie crumble dots of vanilla cream. I didn't really think this was up to par, but it was alright and went with the whole fall theme of the dinner.

So Jeremy, there you are.

Open kitchen

Open kitchen


Dining room

Dining room


Me vs. dessert

Me vs. dessert


Marriott hotel

Marriott hotel


Me vs. steak

Me vs. steak

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

International money transfer complete! STRESS FREE

Wow.

After being denied a ride back to old Hanoi with the rest of the teachers, my boss paid for a trip on the public bus back to the main bus terminal. Fine, thank you and goodbye. I hope I never see any of your faces again.

On my way there, I met a little angel. An investment banker traveling home to Hanoi. He helps tourism development in Quang Ninh, including bringing electricity to Co To island. Really cool.

Well, wouldn't you know, he brought me to a hotel and helped arrange a taxi to the airport on Saturday for me. With all my baggage and my illness, this was much appreciated. He got me a moderately priced hotel and even offered me a job doing proofreading for his company in the future. I don't really believe him, but if there's something I can help him with through email from Honduras, I don't mind doing it for free anyway.

Out of all the buses I've traveled on, all around Vietnam, I have only met one person who spoke English before this person. Sometimes it just amazes me, when you're feeling like everything is terrible and everything is falling apart, there always seems to be a light somewhere. Where did this man come from? He was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. So wonderful to meet such friendly amazing people when going through such trials.

So, basically I'm just hanging out here waiting for my flight. I'm eating a lot of pho, banh mi sandwiches and drinking coconut juice to keep hydrated. My money transfer is now complete so, there is no stress anymore about this job and it is finally over. Everything I worked for these two months is safely in Canada, away from the grasping hands of Ms. Lam and the rest of her evil crew. Phewwwwww.

On the illness side of things, I'm recovering and feeling a lot better. I'm still half deaf in my left ear and have to clear my nasal cavity of mucus every two minutes. Other than that I'm pretty good.

I've made reservations at "French Grill" in the Marriott Hotel for tomorrow night and my new dress is waiting for me to wear it, so I'm going on a date by myself!

Thuy Nga Hotel lobby

Thuy Nga Hotel lobby


My room

My room


Crazy fountain in the lobby

Crazy fountain in the lobby


New ao dai

New ao dai


My bathroom

My bathroom


Crazy toilets at the rest stop

Crazy toilets at the rest stop

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hospital! Party Time! Excellent!

Hello friends and relatives.

Well. I am sick. How about that.

It is the worst sick of my life. I don't know how I got it and the doctors aren't really sure what it is. They say it's something like a flu with an extra ear infection for fun.

I had a sore throat all Saturday and on Sunday I woke up with a runny nose and fever. I told my boss I couldn't go to work on Monday. She didn't believe me.

After stressfully arguing all day over email with her, I eventually decided to go to the hospital to prove to her I was sick. Surprise surprise they wanted to give me an IV.

At this point in time, the illness wasn't THAT bad and I didn't think I needed an IV. But, these things are normal here. I refused the IV and they said they would deliver me some pills in the morning. I said that's great, see you tomorrow. My supervisor went (alone) to the hospital in the morning to pay the bill. He came over to my place without the pills (of course) and told me he paid the first hospital bill. He also didn't have my passport for some reason, that was what the hospital kept for ransom so that we paid the bill.

I had woken up with an earache, so I wanted to go back to the hospital with this new symptom. BUT I had to wait for Ta (supervisor) to bring me my passport because you can't sign in without one. I was SO FRUSTRATED.

Finally, he brought my passport, and a bunch of bogus documents that I had to sign in order to get my last pay. I said I would sign them after he made changes to them, but I knew he wasn't going to change them at all. I would just have to sign them or not get my last paycheque. Choose sucker.

Anyway, my fever and earache became INSANELY WORSE over the rest of the day. I was barely alive, moving around zombie like, feeling out of it and extremely weak. I showed up at the hospital and basically collapsed.

An ear/nose/throat doctor came reasonably swiftly to examine me and he said I'd have to stay in the hospital until at least Saturday. OH GREAT! That's the day I'm leaving for Honduras. Hilarious, yeah?

Anywayyyyy the good news is that the doctors say it's not serious. But I'm flabbergasted about why I have to stay in the hospital so long.

They gave me some amazing painkillers and I get injections every morning and night. My ear isn't painful anymore, but I can't hear out of it at all. My fever is pretty much gone now and I'm getting back to normal.

I have moved all of my stuff from the former hotel to the hospital. So, I'm going through the big pile at the moment, deciding what is worth to bring to Honduras and what I should ship through the mail.

Everything should be back to normal soon folks!

Bathroom

Bathroom


My room, everything unpacked, getting organized

My room, everything unpacked, getting organized


My awesome view of Halong Bay

My awesome view of Halong Bay

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

So sick, still went to a museum

Oh my, I'm so sick. I'm not sure what's wrong with me, but I hope it's not dengue fever.

I had lunch with my students on Thursday. As soon as I got home I was sick in the bum. Then, I woke up with a sore throat, headache and stomachache.

When I got to work, they asked me if I would grant my class "permission" to leave at 10 a.m. for some special lunch. Excuse me!? Just last week, I got in "trouble" for sending them home early after they worked really hard and didn't have anything else to do. NOW, you're asking ME to give "permission"??? Like I have ANY authority at all!??!?!

Well, my answer is no. They can't go, sorry. Two minutes later, predictably, the director came to my class for the express purpose of telling me they HAD to go to this lunch. OH REALLY! YOU DON'T SAY! Asking me for my permission had ABSOLUTELY NO PURPOSE??? Other than to make me feel like I had made a decision??? Spare me the theatrics.

And so, five of my students came back after lunch and I left at the normal time, taking the bus straight from work to Hanoi. I got there and this time the ticket woman was not so nice. She told me I could only leave tomorrow morning. I was sceptical because I had left for this same town before at night. But, I believed her anyway and went to find a hotel.

After procuring probably the worst hotel room of my life, I went back in the morning to the bus station. No, they said I had to take a taxi somewhere first before I could get to Thai Nguyen. I am calling bullshit. I knew for a fact that was a lie because last week my bus stopped in Thai Nguyen on the way to Ba Be. I should have just left last night and not listened to these people.

So, of course, I found my own bus going to Thai Nguyen. There were a lot of them. I don't know why they wanted me to go somewhere else.

The first bus I found started packing people in around me, and when I refused to be smooshed he threw me off. The next one was fine, but I had to sit in the bus for an hour before we left.

Anyway, they dropped me off 7 km from where I actually wanted to go and told me to get on a random motorcycle taxi waiting there. Nuh uh.

Again, I had to slap people so they would leave me alone. I don't know how well this tactic would work in Honduras though. It works great here for the time being.

I walked a little ways and imagine that, a city bus stop. The bus took me straight to the museum for 50 cents. I hate taxis so much.

The museum was nice, and I suppose it was worth the trip, because I won't get to see a lot of the replicas in real life. For me, the outside was better than the inside because you could walk around inside various types of sample architecture and things.

After that, I walked around looking for something fresh to eat. I found some custard apples and sugar cane juice.

Then, I went home. The heat was unbearable and my throat was still aching. I was falling uncontrollably in and out of consciousness the whole time.

Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


WHERE DO YOU PUT YOUR KNEES?

WHERE DO YOU PUT YOUR KNEES?


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Finally leaving

Finally leaving


Inside that really tall hut

Inside that really tall hut


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Khmer temple

Khmer temple


Awful hotel

Awful hotel


Water puppets

Water puppets


Me vs. custard apple and sugar cane juice

Me vs. custard apple and sugar cane juice


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities


Museum of ethnic minorities

Museum of ethnic minorities

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Lakes and mountains in the park

It's only lunchtime on Saturday and already this weekend was pretty awesome.

My class on Friday ended two hours early because my tag team partner taught too much in the morning, leaving me with no material except some games that I have at the ready. As soon as the students realized they were done though, they wanted to go home. Who would have guessed? OK no game, go home.

I went straight onto the bus to Hanoi and it took FOREVER to get there. It didn't even matter that I left class early. We definitely spent two extra hours just looking for people to fill the bus.

At the station, the ticket lady had so much patience and explained to me how to get to Ba Be park. She even brought me to my bus! So different from China where they get mad at you if it takes you longer than 15.7 seconds to sell you a ticket. Don't even try to ask a question.

Anywho, I had another bus station egg sandwich and waited for my bus. I told the sandwich man which bus I was on and he ran around making sure I wouldn't miss it! The sandwich man!

I still do not fully comprehend the Vietnamese "stand around and wait" system of bus scheduling, but everyone else does, so I just went with it again.

They gave me the good spot at the back of the bus where you can lay down flat. So I slept like a baby until someone literally ripped my blanket off and pulled me off the bus. He got off with me at 3 a.m. and even called the hotel we had stopped in front of to wake the owner up. The bus didn't leave until they knew I was safe inside. That would also never happen in the People's Republic of China.

The hotel man was a little creepy giving me a really close awkward hug before I went to bed. I laughed loudly and pushed him out the door.

In the morning, I woke up with a strange numb feeling in my knee. I had heard from another blogger that he contracted dengue fever in this area. I had a new mosquito bite on that knee, so I wasn't sure what was happening to me. For a few minutes, I walked around weirdly and then it went away.

I got some rice things with pork for breakfast and attempted to find a bus to the park. Someone said there was one, but it didn't leave till 1 p.m. Ugh, too late, I started walking in the direction of the park hoping a bus would pass by, and eventually just flagged down a dump truck with two friendly guys sitting in the front. They took me a bit of the way and then they turned, so I got out and kept on walking.

Later, the same guys passed me and picked me up again! This time, they took me to Cho Ra (30 km) where I hired a man to take me into the park. His wife spoke great English and she saw me jump out of the dump truck and knew exactly what I wanted.

At the lake, I bought a 1.5 hour tour which was so relaxing, way better than Guilin, where it was way too crowded.

After that, I attempted to stay on the lake in a stilt house, but this was impractical because I don't think I would have made it back home on time if I did that.

So, a woman at the boat dock called Chu to come pick me up and bring me to his simple guest house.

His motorcycle broke down three times on the way (a 4 km journey), but we made it. They gave me a big plate of fried rice and I took a nap.

Chu offered to let me borrow his motorcycle to go to a waterfall 15 km away for about $5. I said thanks but no thanks. He said he could get another one, but I didn't want to bother him. So I just slept and read one of the English (!!!) books they had lying around in the lobby.

There was no power that day, so there was no air conditioning or fans, but there was absolute quiet, which was amazing. After dealing with retarded people all week, that's exactly what I needed anyway.

Chu asked me to eat dinner and at first I declined, but then I realized I probably wouldn't have any food until lunch tomorrow, so I went down after all.

They had nice spinach and bamboo pork with some strong Bia Ha Noi. We chatted a little about his business, but he seemed tired or unenthusiastic, so I just paid and went to bed.

In the morning, he came to take me to the bus (4:15 a.m.!) and I headed back to Hanoi.

The bus was awful. There were too many seats and I couldn't even fit. My knees smashed the back of the seat in front of me. I suddenly knew what it feels like to be tall. Also, a teenage couple in front of me were either slapping each other or wrestling awkwardly in their seats. I prayed to God for the end, as I rolled my eyes to the heavens.

We stopped once for some sticky rice banana thing and again to fix something on the bus. So yeah, I didn't really get any food till noon when I got to Hanoi. Impoverished people tried to take me somewhere on their motorbikes were caressing me, when I just wanted lunch. I had had enough dammit!

I started slapping anyone who touched me as I tried to buy my ticket and get some takeout. The number of slapped people rose to about a dozen. Good God.

In the end, the trip cost a fraction of the price I was quoted by the tour company. I was glad I went on my own, even though I had almost zero information.

Fairy pond

Fairy pond


Temple with dog

Temple with dog


Rice things with pork

Rice things with pork


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


Temple

Temple


Rice

Rice


Me and truck drivers

Me and truck drivers


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


Ducks and rice

Ducks and rice


Fairy pond

Fairy pond


Dinner with Chu

Dinner with Chu


First hotel

First hotel


Rice

Rice


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


rice

rice


Me on the boat

Me on the boat


On the boat

On the boat


Little fat baby

Little fat baby


Me vs. bamboo pork

Me vs. bamboo pork


Tru Dien Guesthouse

Tru Dien Guesthouse


Tru Dien Guesthouse

Tru Dien Guesthouse


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake


Rice with basket

Rice with basket


Rice

Rice


Rice

Rice


First hotel

First hotel


Rice

Rice

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

My "10 minute" walk to work

Someone wanted to see pictures of my "10 minute" walk to work.

My boss told me it was going to be a 10 minute walk, but it's actually somewhere around 45. On a good day, when it's not too hot and I have peppy music on my iPod.

My street

My street


This is where I get breakfast every day

This is where I get breakfast every day


First roundabout

First roundabout


First roundabout

First roundabout


This park is nice, but impractical for people

This park is nice, but impractical for people


Pretty, but useless

Pretty, but useless


Sometimes there are fountains here

Sometimes there are fountains here


Second roundabout, they LOVE UNESCO

Second roundabout, they LOVE UNESCO


Disgusting garbage stinks so bad

Disgusting garbage stinks so bad


Looks nice, smells horrendous

Looks nice, smells horrendous


Again, looks nice, smells terrible

Again, looks nice, smells terrible


Pretty, but gross

Pretty, but gross

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)