Sunday, August 30, 2009

Plans.

Some of you may be curious about what we'll be doing for the next few months before we make our return to the homeland just before Thanksgiving. This is the rough outline:

I'm going to leave Cat Ba in the middle of September and head off to the Yunnan province in southern China on my own. Matt is going to finish September on Cat Ba trying to squeeze in as much climbing as he can. His friends, Gregg, from home is also coming to Vietnam to climb with him. I'll let them climb their faces off, while I explore a bit of China.

I'll meet back up with Matt (and maybe Gregg) during the first week of October back in Vietnam. We're going to make a fairly quick exit for Laos for about two weeks, then back into central (Hue and Hoi An) and southern (Saigon and the Mekong Delta) Vietnam for a bit. Then we'll cross into Cambodia to Phnom Penh and to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. Then, last stop Thailand, we'll fly out of Bangkok and we'll leave tropical, steamy, fruity and spicy south east Asia for sweaters and pumpkin pie on the east coast of America!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A weekend in Hanoi


This past weekend, we headed up to Hanoi for a few days. I basically wanted to get off the island for a few days to do a little sight seeing, shopping, and soaking up a little city life. 
On Friday night, we went to a concert. We heard "the world's best beat boxer" was playing that night and decided we couldn't pass up a chance to see the world's best beat boxer, so we went. It was our first hip hop show and was pretty fun. I'm not convinced that Killa Kela is the best beat boxer in the world, but entertaining none the less. There was also a sweet break dancing dance off between two teams of boys from Hanoi. 
Here's a video of some beat boxing, he's making all the sounds with his mouth. 
video

Our hotel was on a little alley street in the Old Quarter. The street was a little bustling market in the morning, but very quiet at night. 

On Saturday morning, we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. They keep Ho Chi Minh's body preserved and mummified in this shrine. It's pretty bizarre. You must silently and respectfully shuffle around the mausoleum in a line. You cannot take your camera inside. The mausoleum is chilled and dark and only open three hours a day. Imagine if you could go see Jefferson, Lincoln, or Kennedy or any or all of our president's bodies preserved for the public to revere. It's a very somber visit for the Vietnamese, but for foreign visitors it's so bizarre to us, it's almost like a side show.  Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread across Vietnam, but those in charge after his death created this giant spectacle against his wishes. 
Inside the Ho Chi Minh museum. 

This is the one pillar pagoda, which is very near to the mausoleum. It's special because it's on one pillar!


Then we hit the next big tourist spot in Hanoi, the Temple of Literature. It is a temple dedicated to higher learning and where many Confucius scholars studied. 

Then we did a walking tour of the Old Quarter. It was originally the merchants quarter with each street selling a different type of goods, from an herb street to a towel and tin box street. Now, the Old Quarter is the main district for travelers. There are many hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners. 

There isn't actually too much to do in Hanoi besides drop money! There are plenty of shops and nice restaurants. We splurged on a few meals while in Hanoi (meaning we spent $15-20 on a meal for two rather than the $5-10 we usually spend in Cat Ba). I bought a new dress since the only dress I brought here got lost in the first week when our laundry disappeared from our hotel's laundry services. Matt picked up a few new books. We sought out a movie theater and enjoyed a movie resting in the cold air conditioning after a lot of walking around town. 
Below is Matt whining about being hot and tired. "Aaaashley, my feet hurt, I'm tired, I'm sweating through my shirt.....  don't take a picture of me!" Also, his beard is getting ridiculous. I threaten to cut it at night. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Korea friends visit Cat Ba!

As a few of our friends from Gwangju contracts were up, they stopped by Cat Ba and Halong Bay on the beginning of their journeys through Southeast Asia.  Caitlin and Justin were the first to arrive and we rented a boat for a day and a night to cruise around Halong Bay.

Justin tries his hand (s and feet!) at deep water soloing. 

It's feeding time at the floating fish farm.


Kelly arrives after a storm delay and a detour to the north. We are rad on motorbikes. I kind of want one when I get home. 

Enjoying some afternoon bia hoi and Justin cleans the mud off Caitlin's leg by spitting water on it. 

On Saturday, we went Lien Minh, a village on the island where a lot of the climbing is located. We didn't get to climb long before we got shut down because the cliff is in the middle of lease negotiations. We spent the rest of the day lying in hammocks and trying to slackline. 

This boy was very enthusiastic about having his picture taken and taking our cameras to try his hand at a bit of photography. I now have many photos of this water buffalo and his friend.

Trang's family was visiting Cat Ba from Hue. We were really lucky to be invited to a big dinner in Lien Minh with Slo Pony folks and all the people that help them here. Trinh and Nha facilitate climbers at Butterfly Valley. I teach their son, Tuan. Also, Quang and his wife. Quang is a very important man around Cat Ba and owns the boats Slo Pony uses for their bay trips.  This dinner involved a food and a lot of homemade honey rice wine! 

This is Dinh and Vu. They are Trang's younger brothers and Slo Pony rock climbing guides. I'm teaching them English and I just love them! They're really great guys and super cool, just look at Dinh's hair. (He's only 20, but I just found out he was a hair stylist before getting into rock climbing.)

The honey rice wine was flowing and Trinh and Slo couldn't help from dancing!

Caitlin is getting a Vietnamese lesson from Tuan, also a really great young man that I'm teaching as well. 

This is Trang, Dinh, and Vu's youngest brother, Vinh. He is the cutest (and sneakiest) thing ever. Whenever my back was turned, my rice wine glass was suddenly full again.  Usually, I want to steal children under three or four years old, but I would steal him. 


Here's a group shot of our extended Vietnamese family dinner. It was really a great night and I'm glad our Korea friends got a chance to share it with us! 

Rainy Season Begins....

Last weekend, we were rained in all day and cabin fever set in hard. All the boats on and off the island were cancelled, which delayed our Korea friends a few days, but more on their visit later. They tell me that this past storm was hardly a storm at all, but it look like a whole lot of rain to me! 
This was the bottom of the main street after the rain stopped. There was a huge pile of rocks from the steady stream of water running downhill to the harbor. 
This isn't a very good picture, but where the water changes color is the line between where the water is brown from all the dirt runoff coming downhill and the regular water. 

Brian's motorbike got a bit too soaked to start up again and instantly had a team of Vietnamese amateur motorbike mechanics. I believe they broke it while trying to fix it, fixed what they broke, then, in true Vietnamese style, asked Brian to pay them for fixing what they broke .

A few of the girls who work at the Noble House. 

This is Llet (sounds like "let" with a long l and a hard t). She is the sassiest of Noble House girls. She is always hitting Matt and telling him his beard makes him look like a monkey. I'm pretending that she is tormenting me because she usually is. Here we are having a cabin fever photo shoot in the kitchen. 

I'm pretty sure we will be rained in many more days before the summer is through. 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Photo update....

This is the giant neon arch in the center of town. Why an island that isn't exactly affluent spent a quarter of a million dollars on this neon monster, I don't know. 

This is my classroom at the National Park. 


Kayaking in a Slo Pony kayak. 

I had to cajole Matt into letting me use his dry bag so I could bring my camera in the kayak. He doesn't like to let go of his dry bag. 

Sometimes, it just rains.....

The view from the watchtower in the  National Park. 

The scary, rusty watchtower in the National Park. 
Very very sweaty from hiking. 

This is the entrance to Hospital Cave. It's a Vietnamese secret hospital they used during the American War (as they call it here, we know it as the Vietnam War). It's three stories inside a natural cave.  I don't have any good pictures from the inside because it was so dark, but it was mainly empty concrete rooms. 

This is a very tiny kitten that belongs to Trang, Erik's wife. 

Vietnamese tourists. The beaches are beautifully quiet before 3:30pm, then the Vietnamese come out in force when the sun is a bit less fierce. 

Matt is getting a massage from Mr. Vu, our massage guy. 

An empty beach before the tourists fill it. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A few videos...

video
This is a time lapse video that I shot from the roof of our hotel. It's about 30 minutes condensed into about a minute and a half. This harbor is where many of the tourists on the island board their Halong bay cruises and is quite bustling in the morning! The littlest boats are actually the loudest and start waking us up around 5:30am. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cat Ba Update

I have been a bit lax with updating this blog. I don't always have the Internet right in front of my face here!

Since my last update, we have been settling into our jobs and lives here. Matt has started guiding and working in the office for Slopony and I started both of my teaching gigs last week. Teaching here is incredibly different than in Korea. Here I'm totally on my own, which is both a relief and a challenge.

I started teaching my classes at the National Park last week. I went on Monday afternoon for a meeting to organize the group of 34 students into three classes. However, it seems there was some sort of party celebrating rangers visiting from another National Park. About half of my students were too drunk to show up! We organized the classes anyway, but now they are being reorganized because apparently drunk organizers don't organize classes well!

The National Park classes got off to a rocky start last week. Most of them have a very low English level. I have been telling them that we don't need a translator, but one of my classes went and retrieved one during the break. There seems to be several sets of expectations about what will be happening with English lessons at the National Park, which is difficult to balance. Our main goal is to improve their pronunciation so we are using simple vocabulary. Many already know these words, so they think it is not helpful and they are bored. I'm trying to get them to understand that if no one can understand you, it doesn't matter how many words you know! This coming week should be better as the classes are being rearranged by level. I go there three afternoons a week and meet each group for about 2.5 hours.

My other English teaching post here is to work with the Vietnamese staff of Slopony. They are the wife of one of the owners and two of her younger brothers who help belay and guide on trips. I'm also supposed to teach the son of the farmer who owns the cliff with most of the climbing on the island. He didn't come to the first lesson because he was sick, but I think he's worred he can't afford the lessons. I need to tell him that I don't really want any money from him. He's a sweet, smart kid from a poor farming family and I really couldn't take any money from him. He leads trekking trips for SloPony sometimes. They are all really nice and sweet. Two of the boys are about 20 and the younger brother is about 18. We have lessons three times a week also, but I see them all the time so I'm trying to verbally quiz them everytime I see them. If they can speak English, at least conversationally, they will have much better opportunities living on a tourist island. I think I 'll see a lot more improvement with this group.

In other news, I learned to drive the motorbike this week! It was the first step on my list of things to become badass. I can now drive myself all over the island. Also, I have somehow managed to catch a sneezy, snotty, sore throat cold in tropical conditions! I haven't been taking many pictures, but I'll pick up the slack on that too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We're in VIETNAM!



We left our home of one year last Tuesday afternoon. We headed to the train station and took the KTX train to Seoul. We stuck near the train station because it had everything we needed, an airport bus stop and a giant jimjilbang. We got a room accidentally in the red light district. I didn't know that Korea had a red light district, but our hotel was on a street with sliding glass door store-fronts and girls in tight pants and bikini tops. We were surprised that Korea could ever be that open about prostitution (or whatever goes on behind the store front). But anyway, we saw a movie and got our last jjimjilbang fix, slept then got on the airport bus early in the morning.

We arrived in Hanoi without any problems. Our flight was really good. We had the emergency exit row and they showed Slumdog Millionaire for the in-flight movie. Our visas went through without a hitch and our pre-arranged airport pickup was waiting with a white sign with my name on it!





We checked into our hotel and wandered around the Old Quarter of Hanoi a bit. We had some good food, walked around the lake, and dodged motorbike traffic. We watched a water puppet show. The stage is a pool of water and the puppeteers stand behind bamboo screens and operate these marionettes. The puppets don't have strings, but are on the end of a long bamboo pole. It was pretty cool. Pictured above is bustle of Hanoi and this cute boy about the enjoy a meal with me in Hanoi!

Thursday morning, we began our trek to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi. It starts by taking a 2.5 hour drive to Hai Phong, the largest port city near the island. In Hai Phong, we get off and wait for another bus to take us the the ferry port. Then we hop on a high speed ferry for about 30 minutes, and finally get on one last bus that took us to the center of Cat Ba Town. It sounds more arduous and difficult than it really is. You buy one ticket in Hanoi that covers all the transfers.
We walked into Slo Pony and met our boss and other Slo Pony employees. Our room was still being occupied for one more night, so we stayed in a hotel for the first night on the main drag of Cat Ba Town. There were speakers blaring with a karaoke contest. The Vietnamese are also huge fans of karaoke, like Koreans. However, Vietnamese karaoke seems to be better if everyone on the street can hear you.


The main drag along the harbor of Cat Ba Town. The bright orange building on the right is Slo Pony headquarters and Noble House, the restaurant that hooks us up! We've already befriended all the girls that work their. They are quite curious as the why Matt hasn't married me yet! He tells them that I am too dangerous!

On Friday morning, we were able to move into our permanent room here. We had to load ourselves and our heavy bags onto motorbikes to get there. We are staying in Ben Beo Harbor, which is only a few minute ride from the main part of town. Our room is very nice. We have our own bathroom, mini-fridge, and air-conditioning! It's pretty hot here. Our room has a waterfront view. We can throw a pebble from our front door into the harbor. It's by far the best view I ever had from a living situation. It's quieter than town because there is less traffic and people, but there are plenty of boat engines to get you up at sunrise. Ben Beo harbor is where most tourists board their Ha Long Bay cruises on the island. Above is Matt standing in our doorway, modeling the view from our room and below is our room is the state of unpacking!



The exterior of our new home.

As its our first week here and we are both working out the details of our working situations here, we've been going to the beach almost every day. The beach is quite nice and we are working on our tans despite slatherings of sunscreen.


(A view from our motorbike tour of the island- Jurrassic Park could have been filmed here!)

Our mode of transportation is no different from any other Vietnamese person. We ride a motorbike like everyone else. Matt is doing all of the driving right now, but soon I will learn to drive it myself. I will need to drive it to get out to my lesson in the National Park. Aaah! It's scary, but it's my first step in becoming badass. On Saturday, we rode the motorbike all around the island and did a tour. It only takes about two hours to drive all the main roads on the island.
On the days we haven't gone to the beach, we tagged along on the climbing trips Slo Pony offers. On Sunday, we rode out the Butterfly Valley (and the name doesn't lie, there were tons of butterflies). This is the main climbing spot on the island. It's a huge cliff on one side of a farm. Matt climbed, I watched.




Yesterday, we were able to tag along on a trip out into the bay! The climbing in Ha Long Bay is called deep water soloing. You aren't tied into a harness or with a rope, you just fall or jump into the water when you're finished climbing. I only watched this activity, too. I did a bit of kayaking, sunning, and beer drinking while the rest of them climbed up cliffs to jump back in. In the bay are fish farming villages. There aren't many fish left in the bay, so people have created fish farms on the water and grow the fish from babies in nets all around their small homes on the water. Entire villages live out there and there are convenient stores on small basket boats that paddle around selling chips, fruit, and drinks. Matt is swimming and browsing at the same time.

So, our life here is pretty good. We don't have a kitchen to cook in, but the restaurant below Slo Pony give Slo Pony employees fifty percent off everything, but booz. We'd drink them out of business if they did. So , we have been eating there a lot. We have been going to bed early and waking up early, which is a nice change from our previous hours in Korea. Vietnam is an early country and Korea is a late one. Not many things are open before 10am in Korea, but in Vietnam you are considered physically ill if you sleep past seven!


Our place seen from the harbor.
This is kind of a long update! We'll try to get on the Internet more than once a week!I'm still going to post to this blog. I'll have to change the title, I suppose, but I'll do that another time.