A Travellerspoint blog

Photo of the Day

this is what's up

I've decided that since I rarely have more than 20 minutes of Internet at a time, I'm going to do what many others have done before me and post a picture of the day. Hopefully I will keep this up.

So for Monday, March 26, 2007:

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Taken on the subway in Osaka, Japan.

The ever-growing tie! BEWARE! (what could this possibly be advertising? thoughts? suggestions?)

Posted by lrbergen 21:34 Archived in Japan Tagged photography Comments (0)

Babies!

babies babies everywhere and...something something something...

I realize this has nothing to do with traveling, or life in Korea, or actually really anything at all. But I have a new cousin (again...out of like 20, me being the oldest). AND! I am now an Aunt! (when using the word "aunt" and referring to myself, even though not part of my proper name, it will be capitalized).

I finally earned the title, not just accepted it as a mistaken sign of respect from my cousin. See, funny thing. My cousin Will, who is much younger than me, decided that I was way too old to be just "Lyndsey." So he instituted the title "Aunt." I am the oldest of eleventy billion grandchildren (so many, in fact, that I really don't have time to stop and count). A couple of months ago there was another one, Kate. (courteous of Aunt Cathy)
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Last month, there was yet another one, Thaddeus. (courteous of Uncle Phil)
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(With Miranda, courteous of Uncle Paul)

I suppose this has to do with life in Korea because I am here. Not there. I am missing all of this. And hopefully, all of this is missing me.

While I do love a new cousin or two (or 7, whatever), my nephew, Spencer William Bergen, was born two days ago. Holy cow. Welcome to the world, Baby Bergen! This is the first Bergen with that surname born since my brother (all the aunts had babies, but after marriage). The Bergen name is sure to carry on. I guess this is the closest I've gotten to responsibility.
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So congratulations, Zachie-poo and Beth!

And welcome to world, all you babies, you!

Posted by lrbergen 20:49 Comments (0)

Foodblog

prepare to be hungry

I cannot stress how much I LOVE FOOD. It drives me nuts, but fortunately I've started doing tae kwon do in order to balance it out.

I've done one food blog and I think since it's been a year, and I've eaten a lot more food, we should pay another homage to that which makes our mouths water, our bellies groan, and at times, brings a collective tear to our eyes. Le sigh.

First of all, Vietnam:

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Not only is it delicious, but look how gorgeous that pho is. This was from a famous Pho restaurant in Saigon, one that Clinton came to. There are pho restaurants in Korea, but they are sorely lacking.

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This was not as tasty. Featured in a previous blog, this is the pigeon that Mikey had for dinner in Ha Noi. We had always joked that the chicken we eat in Korea is really pigeon. Oh do we know differently.

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Now this is how we do it. My friend, Mr. Thanh's wife made this delectable spread in Nha Trang. Eating off of newspaper on the ground. Perfect. There were plenty of spring rolls, noodles, cucumbers, and pieces of tofu stuffed with beef.

Japan:
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One of the best Mexican restaurants I've ever eaten at. Amazing.

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Although I've had some really tasty sashimi and sushi here in Korea, Japan still wins. Ask anyone from that night, I was almost in tears.

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And because I had eaten pigeon and frog's legs (complete with toes) in Vietnam, I couldn't resist horse sashimi. Surprisingly it was really good.

Korea:

One of the things that I enjoy about living in Korea is the access to international food. Because on the daily I have to eat things like this, pic0108.jpg (when we took the kindies sledding, this was our lunch), I appreciate a good turkey dinner or gorging myself on Indian food. Hey. I deserve it.

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In Korean bars, there are often some pretty questionable side dishes. This is one of them. Purple salad dressing? REALLY?!

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And apparently, it's faux pas to drink without eating. This was part of the Korean Christmas experience. Very spicy, very questionable.

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However, THIS was another part of my Christmas experience. God bless Chantal, keeper of the oven that cooks beautiful things like turkeys, pies, cookies, bread, etc. Needless to say, I had to wear my stretchy pants!

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Butter chicken and mutton masala. Absolutely beautiful.

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This may fool you in appearance because it looks like baby food (or something that came out the other end). In actuality, it is the best thing in the whole entire wide world: saag gosht. We are lucky enough to have a beautiful Indian restaurant in Itaewon. Come to think of it, we are past due for a trip there.

Don't get me wrong. I still love a good kimchi chigue or sam gyeop sal. I'm just not as keen on the crappy stuff I eat for lunch. But not all of us feel that way:

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(Rosey stealing the kids' food)

Posted by lrbergen 22:16 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Nosewiper

i think that's the official job title...

Welcome back, all, to the fabulous life of an English teacher in Korea. We had a rough couple of months back there, but now I'm better than ever. New job, new apartment, additional friends. It's great.

I mostly want to talk about the new job here today, as my title suggests. I was teaching TOEFL (the most ridiculous English test in the WORLD) to middle/high school students for about 3 months for a small hagwon in which I was the only foreign teacher. I did not like it. We will not go into details exactly how much.

I've rung in the new year with a new job at a kindergarten in Jeongja, one subway stop from where I've always lived, Sunae. It's called Worwick and the kids pay an arm and a leg to go here. As you know, I had a relapsing dislike for children. Then it came back...but now it's pretty much gone again. I have 6 kids that I teach almost all day everyday, from 9-2:30. We learn subjects such as phonics, drama, reading, writing, and math. I am also the "social studies" teacher, where I go teach other classes while my students learn art, cooking, PE, and science.

So far, so good. Why I especially wanted to write this blog is to show pictures of the kids I see day in and day out. My students are 7 in Korean age, so about 5 or 6 in Western age. And let me tell you, people, they are almost edible they're so cute. Behold:

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This is John L. Every day he tells me new words in Korean. He is actually really smart - the kid's a whiz with math.

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This is John C., known as "Taco John." Without sounding racist, he is called such for his latino features. When I first started, he was the most depressed little 7-year-old ever, but now with his fascination of kissing me on the hand every 5 seconds, he seems to be a bit happier.

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This is Clara. She was described by the former teacher as having a "princess syndrome." She seems more mature than the others, and her table manners are great. Other than that, she is one of the sweetest students at our school, and also a very clever girl. I love Clara.

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Careful folks. He may look cute, but he will throw a tantrum, roll around in rice, or scream at any moment. This is William. He is overall a sweetie, but he has a really hard time following directions. Out of all of the students, his name is most often heard. Maybe I'll give him an award for that.

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This is Taco John again and John K. He is the tiniest, and the third addition to our "John" family. He is obsessed with running into things and flopping down on the floor in a slapstick fashion. His favorite phrase? "Don't liiiiiie!" Thanks, Jason teacher.

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This is Amy. She and Clara are the only girls. Amy is a little quiet most of the time and from day to day flits around with each student in my class. Meaning, I guess, that every day she has a new best friend. Overall, I like Amy but she hasn't really stuck out yet.

So that's my class. I'm one of the lucky teachers that has under 10 students. Honestly, I couldn't imagine any more. I suppose this job really is like a babysitting job. Everyday I help them take off their jackets and put away their stuff. I serve their lunch and snacks and make sure they eat them. I give them water. If one of them cries, I console them. I make sure their coats are all buttoned up before they leave.

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My classroom, Taurus.

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Of course there's playtime!

I can't believe I get paid to do this.

Posted by lrbergen 19:36 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

What You're All Dying to Know

...and what I don't know about it

Well, everyone has been in a tizzy over the recent nuclear tests by North Korea. Kim fired missiles a few months ago, once again turning the nation's eyes to the Korean peninsula. Then nothing happened. And now, again, N. Korea has fired. And everyone wonders, what will happen now?

Here is my understanding of the problem (and to be honest, my location in Seoul has not bettered my knowledge of this topic. I have the same access to the English-speaking news that you all do, and access to the Korean-speaking news that I do not understand, which renders it useless). For years, Kim has threatened that he would interpret any sort of UN sanctions as a declaration of war. As most of the American media says, this could be as it has always been empty rhetoric.

The Pyongyang government wants to see these sanctions lifted, as it sees its actions as defensive against the West, which would like to see a regime change, but has not declared so formally.

The North knows that it cannot launch a nuclear war without swift retribution, and indeed claims that it wishes to see a "nuclear-free Korean Peninsula." But fearful of appearing weak or submissive, the North has also said that another launch could happen.

So, in short, when asked what I think about this, I have been saying that I don't. While it alarms the recesses of my mind, it is not an out-and-out worry, and I hardly think of it day to day, particularly as time goes on. I worry more about getting paid on time, or how exactly I'm going to teach TOEFL speaking and essay to certain classes at my new job. So to my friends and family NOT living in Korea: that's all I have to say about that.

Posted by lrbergen 07:35 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Last round of Vietnam photos

Nha Trang, Saigon

Ok, I think this is it on my pictures. I finally got the last cards put onto a CD so here are some more pictures!

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Taken from the "bus" on the way from Quy Nhon to Jungle Beach. Note that the quotes indicate that this was the "bus" that was really a van meant for 12, but packed with about 21. Good times.

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View from the main house at the Jungle Beach resort. Rain. So much rain.

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My hut, separated from the beach only by a line of trees. No electricity whatsoever.

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The view from my hut, Jungle Beach.

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These were little shelters the guys set up to protect you from the sun. The beach was very secluded, populated every once in a while by dogs. Or cows.

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Look! It's me at the Cham Towers in Nha Trang! Exciting!

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More of the Cham Towers.

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And to spice things up, a black and white.

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Leaving for scuba at 7:30 am, Nha Trang.

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My first day of scuba.

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Pretending to ride Mr. Thanh's bike. I never did actually ride one. Don't let the pictures fool you.

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Taking a nap with a cigarette, here is the hard-working cook on our boat. He really did make fabulous food, all 4 days I was on his boat.

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Mr. Thanh's wife made this dinner for us and we ate on the beach under the palm trees. Fabulous.

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Mr. Thanh (left), his friend the coffee-maker, his wife and I having coffee.

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At Zippo's Bar, Nha Trang. Great bar, sage advice.

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View from our hostel, Saigon.

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With Una (Ireland) and Loren (USA). Spreading the peace sign wherever I go.

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Museum of Fine Arts, Saigon.

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A photo from the War Remnants museum, Saigon.

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Old American plane at the War Remnants museum, Saigon.

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Our crazy waiter with the flat top at Allez Boo bar, Saigon. Notice the fella in the background, not sure if he should smile because he may or may not be in the picture.

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Pho. Best. Food. Ever.

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Some government building on a beautiful day, Saigon.

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Posted on all of the lampposts, Saigon. Danger.

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A neighborhood I chanced upon when I got lost, Saigon.

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Statue at the Taoist temple, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, Saigon.

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In this pagoda, there was the "Hall of the Ten Hells" where there were mighty gruesome depictions of the fates of hell. Here is one of them.

Ok. On that note, Vietnam is finished on my blog. Kind of sad, really, but an accomplishment nonetheless. Enjoy!

Posted by lrbergen 07:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (1)

Photos

hanoi, sapa, halong bay

Alright people! Here are some more pictures!

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Hoan Kiem Lake, HaNoi. I thought it looked better in black and white. This was at the center of the "old town."

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Temple of Literature, HaNoi.

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This was taken from a balcony at a really cheap bar, Qua Bia Minh in HaNoi.

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The platform getting on the night train to Sapa, HaNoi. People scatter and dodge trains. It's crazy.

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Where we stopped for lunch and for a break from the rain, Sapa.

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I think she is Zao, and there were these yaks everywhere. Sapa.

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Children riding a yak, Sapa. Supposedly this is a really famous symbol of Vietnamese country.

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The sons of the family we stayed with in Sapa. They were very shy at first, but then we taught them "rock,paper, scissors" and they were very fascinated with the hitting part. Once I taught them the hand-slapping game, it was out of control.

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Sini smoking tobacco from the traditional bamboo pipe. This is also the man of the house.

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Traditional dress of the tribe. Needless to say, my big Western body didn't fit.

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This was our view from the house while eating breakfast.

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Waterfall in Sapa. This took a lot of maneuvering in non-hiking shoes.

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We didn't walk on this bridge, but other people did. Sapa.

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Mikey expected to stay at the Holiday Inn in Hanoi. This was not. The Manh Dung hotel, HaNoi.

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The cave we went into looked like it came straight from the Goonies. Halong Bay.

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Halong Bay.

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To sleep, our houseboat dropped anchor in the middle of the caves. This was Sunset, Halong Bay.

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This was the view out of our window in the morning, Halong Bay.

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We went trekking on Cat Ba Island, where we stayed, and it stormed and rained pretty much the whole time. This is the view from the top.

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Mikey and I, Korean-style. Halong Bay.

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A crazy-looking spider we had to cross to continue. This is when I learned to use the super-closeup function on my camera.

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People really live here. Notice the TV antennas? Also, they just dump their trash in the water which, along with the diesel, has severely polluted Halong Bay. Interesting lifestyle though.

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This was on the boat ride to the place we kayaked. The water is really that color.

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This is where the caves open up into the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong Bay.

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We needn't have worried. We did see some monkeys on Monkey Island, but it was from afar. Mikey lamented the fact that there were only 30 monkeys on the island, and there were more monkeys on other islands...so why is this one called Monkey Island? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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View as we were leaving, sunburns and all.

To be continued....

Posted by lrbergen 04:17 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

Photos part deux

hanoi, ninh binh province

More photos from HaNoi and the Ninh Binh province. It's a two-part series.

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Water puppets from the show, Hanoi. My camera doesn't do too well in the dark, so this is the best one out of about 12.

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Ok, so it's Thursday night in HaNoi. You're a high school boy. What do you do? Paint Precious Moments-style pottery, of course. I assume they paid for this, but at least they weren't doing drugs or trafficking prostitutes.

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Ladies would walk around with huge bunches of balloons like this, mostly featuring Mickey Mouse. HaNoi.

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This is fried pigeon, which Mikey insisted on ordering. What he didn't count on was the Christmas Story-style of head still attached. Not much meat, a little tough, but what can you expect from rats with wings? HaNoi.

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Taken from a speeding vehicle, Ninh Binh province.

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Small-town propaganda, Ninh Binh province.

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Snake wine sold at one of the rest stops. I didn't have the opportunity to have any, but supposedly it's good for all kinds of aches and pains.

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Fishermen, Ninh Binh province.

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Outside of one of the temples, Ninh Binh province.

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One of the guardians at a different temple, Ninh Binh province.

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These pigs, and other livestock, are just free to roam around the general vicinity of where they live. Ninh Binh province.

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See? These cows were just hanging out under one of the rocks at Tam Coc.

That's about it. There will be some more from Nha Trang and SaiGon as soon as I get them put on CD. Thanks, as always, for checking in.

Posted by lrbergen 04:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

More Pictures from Vietnam

this is going to take a long time...

Here are some more pics I just uploaded from one of 5 CDs. This is going to take forever to do, but at least I have a fast connection here back in Korea.

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Acrobats at the Independence Day celebration, Ha Noi

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And some more

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Platform shaped like a violin, Quy Hoa beach, Quy Nhon

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Old-school vehicle, Hoi An

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Myself, Lina (our favorite seller) and Sini, Hoi An

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Street, Hoi An

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Another street, Hoi An

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Propaganda against AIDS at the train station, Danang

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More from the Tam Coc caves

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A family on the boat, Tam Coc

That's all for now! This only took me about 20 minutes. Really!

Posted by lrbergen 01:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

When Worlds Collide

day 30-31: sai gon

I spent much longer in Nha Trang than I had thought and now I am in the crazy madhouse that is Sai Gon (or Ho Chi Minh City, whichever your preference might be). We arrived after 10 hours on the bus, tired, dirty and not ready for the bombardment of people greeting the bus with promises of cheap hotel rooms, motobike taxis, and cyclo rides. What I have been experiencing with these sellers everywhere in Vietnam was intensified tenfold in Sai Gon.

It's so overwhelming, everyone yelling "hello madam! motobike! taxi! cigarettes! cyclo! do you have a hotel? very cheap!" Etc., etc., etc. It comes from all sides. Then a 9-year old girl comes up to you selling cigarettes. At midnight. Five minutes later a woman carrying a sleeping baby tries to sell you gum. You feel helpless: propagate this kind of selling or give them a chance to eat tomorrow? You cannot walk down the street without being bombarded by everything.

What has struck me the most is that Saigon is nothing like I've ever seen. EVER. There are still so many old buildings and houses and historical sites and looking directly around, it looks like almost everywhere else in Vietnam. But then you look a bit further and see the huge neon lights popping up everywhere advertising Hitachi, Samsung, Coca-Cola, etc. There are actually high rises here, whereas everywhere else has had maybe 5 floors, maximum, even in Ha Noi.

There is still such a sense of disillusionment and extreme poverty after the American War as well. Many of the cyclo and motobike drivers used to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. but after siding with the Americans against the north, and after the Americans all but abandoned them, and after being relocated to re-education camps, they have no hope of ever regaining their former lives.

I met one such man in Nha Trang, Mr. Thanh, that took me around the city and introduced me to his lovely family. He gave me the gift of coffee, and I provided him with income. His wife cooked a delicious meal that we ate at the beach. Mr. Thanh worked for the Americans and was actually sent to Dallas for military training for 3 years. After the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, he was moved from his home that he had lived in all of his life. He has a university degree in science, but now he is a motobike driver, who while complaining about his lot in life, does so graciously and with no bitterness. He seeks out the Americans in Nha Trang so that he may practice his American accent so he can teach English to other adults in the city and earn money. He dreams of one day returning to America. He is 63 years old with 6 children.

Being in the north, I never encountered any anti-American sentiments, but then again, almost nobody was really connected to the Americans during the war. In the south, so many of them worked with our military to defeat the Communists and still have these memories, still feel the effects.

I went to the War Remnants Museum and saw the most touching, the most moving display of anti-war sentiments. There were rows upon rows of pictures of US personnel, North and South Vietnamese soldiers, families displaced by the war, victims of Agent Orange, journalists killed while covering the war, victims of the Mai Lai massacre, and other such pictures. It was hard and extremely emotional, and one display in particular of the journalists gone missing or killed. I have no pictures yet, but I have this that was written about them:

Photographs are the images of history rescued from the oblivion of mortality. Long after those who died to take these photographs are gone, long after those of us who knew them and survived them and remember their experience are gone in our turn, the images they captured will remain to show generations to come the face of the war in Indochina...
...Eleven different nationalities are represented among the dead - American, Australian, Austrian, British, German, French, Japanese, Singaporean, Swiss, Vietnamese and Cambodians. Nor can one fail to note the sacrifice of the seventy-six photographers, two of them women, who died on the Vietnamese Communist side.
Yet all of these photojournalists of Indiochina prevailed in the end. In a war in which so many died for illusions, and foolish causes, and mad dreams - these men and women of the camera conquered death through their immortal photographs.

- Neil Sheehan

And on that note, I leave Vietnam to go back to the developed world of Korea. In retrospect, Vietnam has been wonderful. I have lived in the lap of luxury, but I have also seen the face of poverty. Even this somewhat disheartening stay in SaiGon has opened my eyes to a different way of life, a people that have suffered so much and yet retain their sense of humor, their smiles, their grace, and their determined spirit. Vietnam has forever left an impression on me and if you're reading this, thinking of coming, by all means come. The people will be waiting.

Posted by lrbergen 21:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnamese Eye Candy

day 23: nha trang

sunny 34 °C

And by that, I do not mean a beautiful Vietnamese person, although that would be nice as well.

This is a purely photo-inspired blog, because it took me about 30 minutes to upload these huge pictures on the slowest computer EVER. Seriously. It is yellowing with age.

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The riverside as shot from a boat.

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The family from Segovia, Spain that I had met in Halong Bay and again in Hoi An. The boy on the left called me a monkey. But only after I called him one.

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A really cool painting in one of the bars we went to.

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One of the deserted intersections at the hottest part of the day.

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Danika, Juki, myself and Sini live in luxury.

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The moon rising during the full moon festival at Cua Dai beach.

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Way back to August, a house at Tam Coc, in between the caves.

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Spices in the market in Hoi An.

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Hall of Tortoises in the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi.

This is all for now because it took me approximately an hour to do all of this. No, really. And I'm in Nha Trang so I have to go do something touristy now.

Posted by lrbergen 00:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (2)

The People You Meet

day 20: quy nhon

sunny 40 °C

Sad to say, but I had to leave all the friends I've been with for much of my time here. They had to go to Saigon, while i have 10 days or so left here. Ten days that I am NOT ready to spend in Saigon.

So, to Sini, Juki, and Danika: farewell my friends. You have truly enriched my experiences here in Vietnam. I wish you nothing but good things in the future and a continuation of your travels. And I will also say that you had better keep in touch!

Now I am alone again in Quy Nhon (pronounced we-nyun). I am staying at a backpacker's hotel, a downgrade from my 2-star luxury hotel in Hoi An, which is run by a Kiwi who knows EVERYTHING. She has already helped me so much. Today I will go the Qui Hoa (pronounced we-wa) beach, which is actually a community where people with leprosy live with their families. The highlight of this: I will get to ride my bike a long way and be left to my own devices, without having to worry about the beach-hawkers. Yes, this is good. I am hoping tomorrow to go to Jungle Beach to sleep under the stars with nothing but a mattress and a mosquito net.

After that, I will head down to Nha Trang, which is a very beach-y place. There are scuba trips you can take for uncertified, first-time divers (which I am) and Surfing 101. For this I say, as has been the mentality of my entire trip, why not? I would like to also go down to Mui Ne, where I could possibly go sand-sledding. And I would also like to go to Dalat, further inland, to see the "Crazy House," which is described as something out of Alice in Wonderland. Then I will end my trip in Saigon and fly out at 1am on the 21st. So there you have it, in a nutshell.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but the computers here are so slow and my pictures so big, that I fear you will have to wait until I am settled again in Korea. Whenever it is that I move into my apartment.

PS - It is SO HOT here. If it weren't so beautiful, I would say that it was July. In hell. In an oven. Seriously.

Posted by lrbergen 22:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Real Silk Road

days 12-...indefinitely: hoi an

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Man...these pants couldn't fit any worse" or "This shirt is way too tight"?

Here in Hoi An, this is almost impossible. For $200 US, I bought 5 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, a winter coat, a light jacket, and two dresses, one of which was made from Thai silk, some of the best in the world. They took all of my measurements and seriously, the sky is the limit on different textures, styles, and patterns. They can copy anything and actually have several JC Penny catalogues for you to point and choose and for them to copy it with no problems. They take your measurements. You come back later after they made them (one is only 5 hours later!!!) and try them on, then take them away.

So instead of my year in Korea where it is skinny, skinny, skinny, and nothing fits and even if it does, it does just barely, I will have a whole tailor made winter's wardrobe.

More about Hoi An: it is very historic, with beautiful old buildings and motos and bicycles roaming the streets. There are several streets near the small river where motos and cars are prohibited.

There is a beach about 4km away, and Juki, Sini and I all rode to be surrounded in paradise, as long as you don't mind the constant offers to buy pineapples, cigarettes, jewelry, or foot massages. The hawkers there will say anything to get you to buy from them, including: "Why you drink beer? When you drink beer, shit happens. When you buy my pineapple, no shit happens. And you can make many babies because it makes you horny. You eat that other pineapple and you go to hospital." Pardon the vulgarity, but they really talk this way. The beach is surrounded by clean sand, palm trees and off in the distance, mountains. The water is warm and very clear with little flying fish. Who knew Vietnam was a beach destination?

The hotels are beautiful and very cheap. For a two-star hotel with a large room, a balcony, A/C, a tub, a TV, and access to the pool, I am paying $14 a night. I've heard that the 4-star price range is about $25.

The food is SO GOOD! Last night for dinner I had grilled tuna, which was basically like sashimi, with mango salsa and a small side salad. I had the best mixed drinks EVER, a mojito and something else, but full of fresh fruit. Today for lunch I had fish grilled in banana leaves with lemon juice, lemongrass, garlic, and whatever else and it was to die for.

Tomorrow I will be taking a cooking class where I can learn to cook these things. We leave at 845 am (not a problem when this has been my schedule anyway) and go to the market where we buy the freshest ingredients. We then get on a boat and go up to a little island, where we take the class and then get to eat what we make. All for $12 and with the rest of the day to spare.

Everyday I think things can't get better, and then they always do. I don't even have a favorite part of Vietnam, it's all THAT good.

Posted by lrbergen 02:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

The Best So Far

day 10-11: tam coc, ha noi

sunny 30 °C

Ha Noi is a nice city, don't get me wrong, but the heart of Vietnam lies in the countryside. The people are friendly and willing to do anything for you, so long as you buy some of the wares they are selling. The beer is cheap and plentiful, as is the food. The scenery is to die for, from the mountains to the sprawling rice paddies, topped with a clear blue sky and huge white clouds. Cows are EVERYWHERE, in the street, in the fields, hanging out under a big rock, near the train tracks. Fearless bicyclers brave the roads to larger-than-they cars, trucks, and semis.

People carry on with their business, but in a different way than the city folk. Things I've seen transported on motos: large titanium pipes, a crate full of live chickens, another of live dogs, a stack of towels taller than the driver with the woman on the back hanging on for dear life, a washer, a dresser, a huge box of 90's-style CD players, and of course an entire family.

This was all to and from Halong Bay and Tam Coc, and in Sapa. We took a day trip to Tam Coc, billed as the Halong Bay in the rice paddies. It was magnificent, even when it started pouring rain. Imagine me in the front, Mikey behind me with the 17-year-old girl paddling and in the back, rowing with her feet, the matriarch. We passed several secluded houses on the river, and saw several men and women fishing. A lady carrying her baby picked a lotus plant and put it on the baby's head as a hat. A family of approximately 10 or 11, on the same sized boat as Mikey and I, waved cheerfully and greeted us with "Hello!" and smiled for my pictures.

Contrast that to the blaring horns and often frustrating and always unnerving traffic of Ha Noi, where people want you for your money. Which goes to show, I think, that no matter where you go, things stay the same. The country vs. city dichotomy holds true in every country, but living in a city for so long, I've forgotten just how perfect it is sleeping next to a river with only the sound of crickets to put you to sleep, or seeing a 10-year-old boy herding cows, or seeing the rice fields dotted with pickers on an almost too sunny day. Or having anyone and everyone shout greetings to you. As it is everywhere else, so it is in Vietnam.

And my absolute favorite thing about Vietnam is that life is as it always was. There are no fast-food chains in from the west, not even a McDonald's or a Starbucks. There has been a big boom in hotels, but here, tourists can really get a sense of what it is to be in Vietnam. People don't change the way they are or live just to suit the tourists. Of course tourism has changed Vietnam, but not more than years of war or oppression. What am I trying to get at? There is NO McDonald's! There is no Starbucks! To say that is saying enough.

  • *Tonight I leave Mikey in Ha Noi and head south for Danang on the train, then on a bus to Hoi An to meet my Finnish friends before they leave.

Posted by lrbergen 20:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

My Fake Honeymoon

day 6-8: halong bay

So what is up with me being in the most beautiful scenery ever and paying only $50 (US)? This includes transportation from Ha Noi (about a 3 hour trip), a night on a boat, a night in a hotel, all meals included, trekking, kayaking, swimming, and transportation back. Yes, folks, it is truly ridiculous.

Mikey and I left early Sunday morning and got on a boat in Halong Bay. Our meals were delicious. Our room on the boat was boat-y and comfortable. We stopped at one of the sets of caves, the third of which looked strangely like something out of the Goonies. We stopped and went swimming in very questionable water. All the while, we were surrounded by over 2,000 islands and islets that are made of limestone and the most ridiculous sunset I've seen in a long time. To sleep at night? We went into the middle of a ring of these islands and dropped anchor. The sunset was incredible and the stars at night were plentiful.

The next day we came to Cat Ba Island, one of the most developed of Halong Bay. Despite the thunderstorm raging (not really RAGING, per se, but I can't think of a better word), Mikey and I and a family of Spanish tourists went on a trek through the mountain. This was on a very narrow path with tons of brush, wet brush, while wearing shorts and sandals. The views were great and we ate guavas right off the tree and disturbed a huge spider spinning its web.

After the two-hour trek, we went back to our hotel for lunch then onto a bus to a boat to a floating island to go kayaking. We followed our guide and passed floating villages (pet dogs included...or maybe they're being fattened for a feast) and ladies in small rowboats selling snacks of oreos, pringles, and other assorted junk food. We stopped in a little cove and went swimming, where the water was much less polluted and very very shallow. Then we made our way back to the floating village, hopped on the boat again, and stopped at Monkey Island. Even though there are only 30 monkeys, and there are other islands with larger populations, this one holds the name. We did see two monkeys fighting in a tree. The little Spanish boys kept yelling "Monkey! Monkeyyyyy!!!" in that cute little Spanish accent. Then the older one told me I was a monkey. Ha. Ha.

Then we came back and I took the first shower I've had since Saturday. It is now Monday. Lots of polluted-water swimming and sweating in the meantime. Mikey and I are staying another night to hang out on the beach and maybe do the waterpark. Our hotel will cost us a hefty $12 for the two of us. To be fair, they have three Vietnamese channels.

  • A note about the title of this blog: people refuse to believe that Mikey and I are just friends, so we have taken to telling them that yes, we're on our honeymoon. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride, I guess.

Posted by lrbergen 06:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

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