Smile #119 – Date with my Bed

I have said before and I’ll say it again, my favorite date is a date with my bed!  Especially after any holiday or vacation, the best feeling is hopping into my bed and just sleep until who-knows-when.  🙂

Coming home after  three weeks away, my bed and I need some serious alone time together.  Nothing beats a night in my own bed.

So excuse me while my bed and I get reacquaintance again.  🙂

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Smile #116 – Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh [Part III]!

Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Part III]!

Out of the many list of Ho Chi Minh must visit attractions, I really wanted to experience the Mekong Delta.  Thankfully, many friends in our work group also does too!  With enough interest, RK, MR, LF, RY, SK, EG, GG, CC, and I booked a private tour!  🙂

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I woke up in a panic after sleeping through my silent alarm.  Guess I got too excited for the trip and forgot to switch on the sound.   We were supposed to meet up at 7:30 am in the lobby and I woke up at exactly 7:30 am.  I stormed around the room like a tornado and got dressed within 5 minutes.  Phew!  Thank you everyone for not leaving me behind!

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We set off for the three hour drive to Cai Be.  On the way to the port, we saw the rural countryside with beautiful green terraces, large extravagant temples, and undeveloped land.  It was a quite a contrast from the busy commercial center, Ho Chi Minh City.

Arrived at a small fisherman’s dock, we boarded a motorized boat and headed for the floating market.  Mekong Delta is known as Vietnam’s “Rice Basket”, a fertile area spreading nearly 50,000 sq km.  Villagers rely on the river as a major trading channel.

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Along the river’s bank, we passed by stilt houses, docked houseboats, and natural creeks.  Since trading began before the break of dawn, most of the businesses had concluded their day.   At this hour, villagers were either relaxing on their houseboat or busied with chores.  We were very excited and surprised to see a little boat paddling up to another boat to trade a variety of fruits.  What a sight it would be to see all the commercial activities take place!

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Our boat dropped us off nearby a village where we walked through several local shops.

At the first shop, we first sampled honey tea and some dried fruit snacks.  While we were browsing the shop, CC and I found the legendary snake wine!  Little cobras were soaked inside mini bottles of alcohol!  How do they fit them in so perfectly?  Are the snake actually dead or simply drunk?!

Side Story:  CC and I were looking at some postcards when all of a sudden she screamed.  Apparently the postcards were set up right above a snake cage!  We were standing right next to the cage!  Holy cow!  That was a close call!

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We made our ways to the next shop.  A lady was making the rice paper used for Vietnamese spring rolls.  She spread a thin layer of batter onto a cloth that is stretched over boiling water.  A few seconds later, with a long narrow stick, she gently lifted and moved the cooked sheet to a cooling bamboo rack.  And this is why rice paper often has a design on it!  Who knew?!

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The next shop is a coconut candy factory.  A worker stretched and pulled the salt water-taffy/toffee-like paste until it  is long and flat.  Measured against a ruler, he quickly sliced each piece.  Then another worker individually wrapped each piece with rice paper.  I am not a fan of coconut, but it tasted pretty delicious!  I even bought a pack to take home!  🙂

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We continued down a path to an old lady’s home/shop.  She makes these crunchy rice cake.  The sample we had was delicious!  She was super sweet by constantly feeding us.  🙂

The last shop we visited is a rice popcorn factory.  A man walked us through the steps of popping rice.  He poured rice into a large hot pan with black sand.  With just a few stir, the rice began to pop.  All the contents were then pour into a pan to filter out the sand.  Rice popcorn tasted similar to popcorn but more bland and healthier.

We headed back to the water for the most memorable part of the day.  We switched to a rowboat to paddled down a small canal.  Palms and ferns lined the river on either side.  It felt like we were in a different world!  🙂  The ride was very scenic and serene experience.    I even got a chance to wear the comical hat! 🙂

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Our motorized boat picked us up at the end of the canal and we headed to a small village cafe.  We were offered drinks and local fruits to sample.  I reconfirmed my disliking for jackfruits…thought my taste buds had changed…nope!  We were treated to local performance by a Vietnamese couple.  It was pretty entertaining!  Their performance reminded of me of those canto operas that Grandma used to watch.

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Finally it was lunch time!   A waitress brought out a number of dishes to us.  A fish with all its scales is the most interesting.  We attempted to figure out some of the foods, whether it is fish or pork or chicken.  Unfortunately, our tour guide was nowhere to be seen, we took wild guesses.  Our Muslim friend, LF accidentally ate pork for the third times during this Vietnam trip…#wereallyneededatranslator

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After lunch we boarded our boat for last tour of the floating market.  With that, our one day tour of Mekong Delta concluded.  We were all exhausted and readied for a shower.  We bid farewell to our friendly tour guide for sharing an eye opening look to the life on the Mekong Delta.  🙂

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Smile #115 – Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Pampering Edition]!

Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Pampering Edition]!

The most exciting discovery of the week had to be the little spa next to our hotel, Jolie Spa.  After this mentally challenging and exhausting work week, all of us can agreed a massage is well deserved!  🙂

Aside from being the practice dummy for local community massage therapist students, I have never experienced an authentic massage session.  Go big or go home, why not try it in Vietnam?!  Especially when it only costs a fraction compared to what it does back home.  So RC and I walked over and booked ourselves an appointment.

There are quite a variety of message options.  Do we want body massage with relaxed oil?  with hot stone?  or with herbal?  What is the difference?  After a round of contemplation, we settled for a 60 minutes relaxed oil massage session.  🙂

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Immediately, we learned a couple things about body massages.

  1. Each room is divided into pairs
  2. You are to change into a towel and the spa’s shorts

With that said, you might want to choose carefully whom you invited to join you at the spa.  Nothing like getting to know each other than being half naked!  LOL!

After we changed into our new towels, we laid down on the massage bed.  We had no idea what to expect.  Our massage ladies began wiping us down with a warm towel.  She placed fresh cucumber slices over our faces and began working on our tensed muscles.  Starting with my skull down to my legs.  She utilized different strokes, movement and pressure point application.

Despite I was physically awake, my mind was off wandering elsewhere.  In fact, in the middle of our session, someone called our names, I wanted to acknowledge the person…my brain wanted to say ‘Hey, I am here!’..but I was too relaxed to make a single peep.  Mystery remains who that could have been.

60 minutes flew by.  Every tension is released from my body. My skin felt so smooth and soft.  What a heavenly experience it was!  We wished we found this place earlier.  I could totally get used to this!

For now, I am ready to curl up in my bed and sleep.  🙂

 

Smile #114 – Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Part II]!

Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Part II]!

To get to learn more about Vietnam history and culture,  RC, LY and I spent the afternoon at the Cu Chi Tunnel.  The extensive system of underground tunnels served as a hiding place, living quarters and barracks for soldiers during the brutal Vietnam War.  Today, this site has transformed into a popular tourist attraction.

On the way to the tunnels, we stopped at an eggshell lacquer factory.  Using pieces of egg shell, the factory worker carefully pieced the design together.  It is quite a labor intensive process!  Who knew eggshells can turned into such beautiful artworks!  We truly admired these workers’ concentration!

After 1.5 hours bus ride through motorbike swarmed streets and unpaved bumpy country roads, we arrived at the entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnels without any bruises.  I literally almost hit my head on the roof of the bus during one of the bumps!  First time experience of the rural land!

Our tour guide is a 67 year old war veteran.  He served as the second lieutenant during the war.  During our walk through the site, he recounted personal experiences of the war and shared intimate details of Vietnamese tackles against the Americans.  To capture and inflict pain on enemies, a number of traps, such as window trap, folding chair trap, swinging up trap, clipping armpit trap, sticking trap were set up.  While these devices are strategically creative, it is also horrifying.

Soldiers would swing this torture device at the enemies.  The spikes are designed to rupture man’s most sensitive area.  Our tour guide picked a guy from the group to demonstrate.  “You be ladyman after this?  Do you want to be lady man?”, our guide asked, “You go to Thailand and be lady man.”  HAHAH!  Slightly inappropriate but definitely lightened the mood.  🙂

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We were lead to an underground trap door used for hiding.  The door was built for small petite framed soldiers.  A soldier slided in the small opening, shut the top and it is completely camouflaged by leaves.  I volunteered to go next.  I was a bit nervous because I had no idea how deep the hole is!   Once the top shut, it was absolute darkness inside.  I can’t imagine living underground for so long.  After the top is shut, our guide would yell “go back to your country!”, “go back to China!, “go back to America!”.  His language shocked us, but also made everyone laugh in a I-Can’t-Believe-He-Said-That kind of way.

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For the first time, being short finally comes in handy!  🙂  We had to half-kneel/half-stand to crawl through the stretch.  Inside the tunnel is very stuffy and hot.  With only dim lights to guide us, we made it the first exit without getting lost.

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The network of tunnels is so impressive.  Some tunnels were built to conceal smoke from their cooking and other tunnels leads to the first aid station and meeting room.  Although staying underground was a safer option at times, it also caused permanent eye damage to many men.  Their eyes were accustomed to the dark for so long that the light exposure blinded them.

When we walked passed an original American tank was on display, our tour guide challenged some of the Thai guys to lift up on cannon opening 10x.  The guys struggled to lift up a few times.  Our tour guide teased them for being so young and weak and proceeded to show us how to do it.  With one arm, he effortlessly pushed the cannon open up 10x!  Everyone were impressed!

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The last stop is the shooting range, the liveliest section of the site. RC, LY and I bought some bullets and had a go at it!  We were nervous but very excited.  I actually screamed a little after I pulled the trigger.  Although my intention was to hit the target…I actually have no idea where the bullet went.  Regardless, it was definitely a highlight of this Vietnam trip!  🙂  Funny how I am from America, the land with rights to bear arm, yet I shot my first bullet in Vietnam.

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A trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels was well worth it.  To be in a place where a momentous event in recent history took place makes it an intriguing experience.  With our war veteran guide, the tunnels come to life.

Smile #113 – Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh [Part I]!

Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh [Part I]!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is exactly 9212 miles away from Charlotte.  26 hours original planned flight time turned into 32 hours actual flight time from Charlotte to Ho Chi Minh City.  Thanks to this trip, I smashed my personal record of longest flight time.

Our agenda for today is a city tour of Ho Chi Minh City.  Please be on time and bring two bottles of water were the only notes we received.  This lead us to believe we will be walking around the city in 93 degrees heat.  #firstworldproblem  We felt quite relieved to see a big bus pull up!

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First stop, the Reunification Palace, a major landmark in Ho Chi Minh City.   We took a stroll around the perimeter of the building and saw a tank stationed on the yard.  It is the same model tank that famously ended Vietnam War!  Our tour guide explained the architecture design of the building was inspired by Eastern philosophy concepts.  The building overall structural plan is a rendering of an ancient ideogram meaning ‘good fortune’.  The inside featured many different rooms – living room, ceremony room, dining room, sitting room, office and more.  Much of the decor is kept in the same condition since the end of Vietnam War.  The more interesting part of the tour is when we went down to the bunker.  Dim lighting, tight space, minimal amenity.  In fact, for the president’s hideout, there is literally one twin size bed.  So where will Mrs. President sleep?!

After the tour, we hopped back on the bus to our next stop:  History Museum san history lesson.  The exhibit displayed many interesting artifacts from Vietnam and around the world.  No tour guide to direct us and a lack of display material, it was up to us to interpret the history.  So I think this might be…possibly…maybe…potentially.. what happened back in the days….?

At the conclusion of the museum, our tour guide reappeared to hand us tickets to a Water Puppet show.  This ‘puppet’ show is quite different from the common interpretation of ‘puppets’.  These puppets are controlled by performers standing in waist-deep pool of water.  A host narrated each scene in Vietnamese.  One scene consisted of two boys running around trying to catch a fish and another scene consist of a three boys fighting off a cat.  It was eye opening experience for us.  It showcased traditional Vietnamese entertainment.

The red bricked Notre Dame stood majestically in the center of Ho Chi Minh City.  It served as a good reminder of the French colonial influence.  Adjacent to the church is the Saigon Central Post Office.  This post office was designed by the famous Eiffel Tower architect, Gustave Eiffel!   How neat is it to find his design so far away!  Inside the post office was little souvenir shops tucked away by the front entrance.

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A tour wouldn’t be completed without a stop at the Ben Thanh Market.  Endless shops selling all sorts of everything!  From typical souvenirs to knock off handbags to dried fruits to teas and coffee.  It was slightly overwhelming between elbows bumping with every other shoppers and vendors inducing you to buy everything, ‘$1, only $1’.  This type of shopping requires lot of energy and strategy.  Let me brush up on my negotiation skills first!

This tour was a good introduction to the city I’ll be calling home for the next two weeks.  I can’t wait to explore what else Ho Chi Minh City has in store for us!  🙂