But I Keep Cruising

Don’t care what the haters say, I love Taylor Swift too much. FINALLY A NEW SONG! 

No man can handle her because she’s too strong for them. Your guy will come one day, don’t worry Taylor. Keep bringing that talent to the world! 

Your songs make my drive to work worthwhile. #fangirling #donthate #queen 

#dontsettleforless

Have You Heard of Long Xuyên?

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That’s the adorable waffle lady I befriended at the market! One day I stopped by her waffle stand and we ended up having a pretty fun conversation. From then on she would always remember me and I’d also stop by when I have time to say hello. The last time I saw her I told her I was going to leave soon. She asked about America, my sisters, how I could speak Vietnamese so fluently, etc. I found out she’s actually only 26, but she looks older than her actual years. 

Almost every morning and afternoon I would walk through the market with my coworkers to grab breakfast and/or lunch. The market is walking distance from the office and I loved walking through all the fresh produce stands. They sold fish, rice, eggs, and just anything you can imagine, including mice (maybe you didn’t imagine that). Yes, mice. The mice is freshly skinned and cut, as if they were fish. Supposedly their meat is really good, but don’t count on me to try that. 

I always tend to buy fruits, sữa đậu nành (soymilk) and chè (traditional sweet Vietnamese dessert, beverage, or soup like pudding). Chè can be made with a variety of ingredients, including mung beans, jelly, aloe vera, lotus seeds, seaweed, pandan leaf extract, etc. I tried grapefruit chè (I don’t think they have that in California because I’ve never heard of it) for the first time and it’s pretty delicious. 

If you asked me to share one of my favorite memories from Vietnam, it’d definitely have to be grabbing breakfast and/or lunch with the staff and then walking through the market to digest all of our food. Those times were always fun and filled with laughter. It was easy to grab food with everyone because we always stayed in the vicinity and live in the area. We spend so much time together but seriously everyday was a fun day with them.

If the PALS office was not located in Long Xuyên, I don’t think I would’ve ever pinned it on the map as a “go-to” destination because it’s not known as a tourist attraction. It’s the capital city of An Giang province, which is located in the Mekong Delta. I’m so glad I got to live and work in Long Xuyên because it’s less crowded than Saigon and definitely quieter. I wasn’t used to it at first and thought of it as a boring city, but then I began to enjoy the calmness and it was a nice escape from bustling Saigon and the crazy drivers. Long Xuyên is such a cute city and definitely has a very special place in my heart. 

Vietnam I Love You!

Love is in the air. I love these notes and gifts from my amazing campers. Trying to sort through each one. At least this will allow me to practice reading in Vietnamese. <3

Love is in the air. I love these notes and gifts from my amazing campers. Trying to sort through each one. At least this will allow me to practice reading in Vietnamese. ❤

Last night in Vietnam… just read the notes that the staff at Long Xuyen put together for me and I want to cry. I also went through the notes from all the campers, and those made me want to cry too. I’m going to miss everyone so much. Every single one of them left a footprint and a huge impact on my life and my future endeavors.  I seriously adore and love the staff that I had the pleasure of working with, the university volunteers that helped out at camp, and the amazing young campers and scholarship recipients. Vietnam has been nothing but amazing to me: the food is cheap and delicious, the people are friendly and cute (minus that one trickster who lied about boat tickets), the culture is booming and bountiful, the city thrives with the working class and continuous economical development, and the countryside is gorgeous and fruitful.

I probably can’t survive too long in the countryside though. The mosquitoes will feed on me until I rot and I don’t enjoy the fob squat too much. All that adds to the experience though, and that’s what I enjoy about being in different areas and experiencing different living conditions. I appreciate and respect the environment and people here a lot. The Vietnamese people are hardworking and persistent: they will bombard you with questions and try to ask if you want this and that. People may ignore and yell, but I usually just respectfully decline because really, they’re just normal people trying to make a living. No need for me to get aggressive. It doesn’t resolve any situation and treating others the way I want to be treated has brought upon plenty of good relationships and karma. I’ve met many friendly and helpful people while travelling alone or with others here.

I still have so many adventures that I need to post but regrettably never had the time. Therefore I will continue to use this blog to post about my trip and relive some pretty great memories that I never had the chance to share yet!

Oh, I also got a bacterial eye infection. Of course everything would go smoothly until my last few days here. It’s as if Vietnam wanted to leave a scar for me because it’s been too good otherwise. As for  the eye infection,  I noticed the white spot last night. I knew it had to be bacteria colonizing my eye, so first thing today I went to the eye doctor at the American Eye Center. I was right about the infection, and the doctor said that luckily I got it looked at right away or it could’ve resulted in vision damage. Oh lord, thank goodness for sterilizing drops and hopefully my eye will get better!

Katy Katy

SO TOUCHED & AWKWARD = KATHY.

There are two main medical students that we hired to treat the kids if anything happened to them at camp. I originally thought they were lazy regular volunteers who just sat in front of the camp office because I often have to run around to do many different things, so sometimes I’d pass by and see the guys sitting there. I didn’t actually started talking to them until yesterday, which I regret because they’re such great people!

Tonight one of them (who never participated in our talent show) dedicated a song titled “Katy Katy,” to me, lol. I was just sitting on the judging panel tallying up points from a previous act when the emcee announced it and I was like HUH. I found out he had to beg the the lady in charge of the music to find that song for him and squeeze him in for tonight. He has also never performed anywhere before. Man…

Seriously though, what a sweetheart.

Here’s the original song:

Dumbfounded

Some examples of reoccurring themes & reactions from people in my surroundings:

“WHAAAT, your Vietnamese is so good..!!! WAIT, you are Vietnamese…….?” – bewildered & dumbfounded 10 year old Vietnamese boy.

His facial expression and reaction was so priceless, it’s ingrained in my memory forever. I was not expecting that reaction at all when I asked him a question.

WHAAAAT, how is your English so good…?” – group of surprised Caucasian people on a train when my Vietnamese coworker and I offered them some rambutan and they fell in love with it. They were super sweet and we ended up talking a lot throughout the ride. YES I AM FROM AMERICA y’all. 

Looks like I’m not doing too bad of a job assimilating 🙂

 

Also called "chom chom" in Vietnamese. We bought so many lbs of these because they're so cheap here!

Also called “chom chom” in Vietnamese. We bought so many lbs of these because they’re so cheap here!

Day 10

I don’t normally take selfies, but when I do, it’s because I’ve survived 10 days in Vietnam!! 😀 ❤

happy ^_^

The only time Vietnam will see me wearing a tank (I usually cover up when I’m outdoors to avoid the harsh sun and mosquitoes), which is unfortunate because it’s pretty hot. My skin can finally breathe now. #stillpale

Going away from the countryside and back to Saigon for the weekend for some business & a  little breather. The bus ride took forever and whenever you exit the bus, you are bombarded with taxi drivers claiming customers.

Things I am getting used to:

  • large cockroaches and their babies in living areas & buses
  • geckos/lizards on walls
  • maybe fresh vegetables..
  • creepy men – just ignore or put up a really mean mugging face
  • motorbikes
  • using the dong
  • secret service cop following  me during home visits to local homes
  • unexpected thundershowers

How to stay safe:

  • carry tissue everywhere (to use in bathrooms because some do not even have toilet paper, or when they do, it’s really yellow)
  • hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes (because some bathrooms don’t have soap, sorry I am a germaphobe)
  • mosquito repellent (forgot to spray my foot one day and literally got bitten 5 mins out the door. Result: swollen foot)
  • don’t use phone/camera on the streets (easily gets jacked. A South African acquaintance I met on July 4th got her phone stolen 4 times. Come on girl, stop using your phone at the corner of the street. Find a place to use it or cover it up somehow)
  • don’t look too American
  • aka try to blend in if you don’t want to be bothered (aka don’t be too dressy or expose too much skin, it’s actually kind of insulting to the locals. Despite the terribly warm and humid weather here, the locals are always covered up in long sleeves and pants. The working class is also pretty well dressed)
  • don’t say I’m from America
  • not much make up is ever needed, it’ll melt off your face anyway 😛

P.S. I will do a post soon on my first week on the job at the Mekong Delta. It’s gorgeous there!

Family First

Late post: Before I leave for Long Xuyen today and begin my actual volunteer work with PALS, I must finish this post. So here it is:

I always used to say: “I don’t have much family in Vietnam.” I was so wrong and ignorant. 

Family first is a philosophy that most of us tend to live by. Therefore during my first few days here, it only made sense for me to visit all the relatives that I’ve never met nor even knew existed.

The majority of my family here are from my father’s side. The moment they heard I landed they called me nonstop. They love my father dearly since he took care of them all back in the day. “Taking care” of them is an understatement, for he paid for almost everything, bought them cars and houses, and gave his family members (from young to old) so much money. He was very generous and well-liked, sometimes way too generous with his money some would say. This was before he lost all his fortune due to the fall of Saigon and other details that I’d rather not write about since I am currently in the country that brought him down.

My father is the eldest in his family and love his siblings so much, including anyone else that is blood. He instilled the importance of family in my sisters and me. Now that you can get a grasp of how important and respected my father was in his family, it will make more sense when I write about how excited everyone here was when they heard a daughter of his, whom they never met, was coming to Vietnam.

My phone was constantly ringing the moment I landed and I felt so adored and welcomed everywhere I went. I visited one aunt on the same day that I landed and met some cousins who were very sweet. Two days later I was to visit my paternal grandparents’ grave in Tay Ninh, which is about 3 hours away from Saigon. My uncle rented a van and we picked up relatives as we stopped by their homes along the way. Remember, this was my first time meeting them all, so you can imagine the excitement in that van.

According to Vietnamese customs, despite your age, if you were born to an older sibling of your father or mother, your cousins must still address you as chị (older sister). So although I was younger than most of them, but since my father was the eldest, all my cousins were all so respectable and called me chi. It was sort of weird to me and definitely took some time getting used to.

I loved being on the road and seeing the differences between the city and the countryside. At one of the houses, I got to picked some mangoes and ambarella (coc). My relative grew a bunch of other fruits including bananas, jackfruit, mangosteen, guava, and much more. We made a few stops and finally reached my uncle’s restaurant where he made really good duck soup vermicelli. This is my Uncle 7, he is the one that organized this whole trip to visit relatives and made me feel super welcome and safe. He is also a bit more well off than the rest of them.

We finally got to my grandparents’ grave, which was designed, built, and all paid for in the past by my father. It was gorgeous. I am so glad that I can tell my dad how well-rested his parents must be. After that we all went to another relative’s house and this was on a farm with dirt roads, lots of greenery, and a very popular mountain called Núi Bà Đen (Black Virgin Mountain) in the backdrop. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I wasn’t able to tour it. That was the last house we stopped at and we all ate and laughed together.Their living conditions are far from modern, and they live a simple life. It was beautiful.

Meeting and getting to know everyone felt so amazing and makes me very humble and grateful. It was brief, but the memories and emotions will last a lifetime. They still call to ask how I am doing and if I need anything, when I feel like I should be asking them that. They are definitely one of the main reasons why I will have to come back to Vietnam, hopefully with my sisters :).