Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Last Days in Hue

What do you do when you only have a few days left in a place you have come to love and appreciate??

Here's what I did during my last days in Hue:

- Ate as much delicious Hue foods as I could from street food and sidewalk coffee to home cooked Vietnamese meals to my favorite Vietnamese restaurants (you're not really surprised by this one, are you? :)
- Countryside motorbike ride to no where in particular, the main purpose being to just drive, drive, drive and experience real Vietnamese life as it happens outside the city walls
- Sang my heart out at karaoke with friends
- Chatted, laughed and shared stories with good friends at some of the city's best coffee shops from the luxurious 5-star Imperial hotel cafe located on the top floor, offering an incredible view of Hue city, to a hidden bamboo cafe situated on a secluded lotus flower lake
- Last dance at the city's only late night expat/tourist dance club with friends jamming and dancing away 'til the early morning

While my adventure in Vietnam has literally ended in the fact that I am now back home, the people and culture of Vietnam have certainly made an impact on me -- my likes, my perspectives, my way of life. So, while my original purpose for writing this blog -- to tell all of my adventures while in Vietnam -- has now ended, there is still so much to tell. And so much that I'm sure I have yet to realize and recall now that I am back at home and not immersed in the fascinating Vietnamese culture.

So, stay tuned for more soon :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

People Make All the Difference

I have loved my time in Vietnam for countless reasons, from the amazing food (that I'm sure you haven't heard enough about:) and beautiful natural landscapes to the country's vibrant culture and rich heritage. Yet, for me, this experience would mean very little without the many, many, many people who have shaped my time and experiences here.

Living in Vietnam has allowed me to make connections with people from various generations and ways of life:

- my energetic college-aged Vietnamese friends who have helped me to find my love for Vietnamese food, karaoke, music, coffee shops, bike riding and weddings
- the international volunteer community who understand the joys and challenges of volunteering abroad
- My dear VSO volunteer friend Pat who is over thirty years older than I am and yet very young at heart and always willing to lend a listening ear
- the Hope Center staff and artisans who have taught me how to better appreciate life and to live for today

To you all, thank you for sharing your friendship. Thank you for sharing your lives. You have all made an impression on me and I will never forget you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ninh Binh

I have been itching to get out and experience more of the beautiful Vietnamese countryside before I leave in just a few short weeks. I love the vibrant atmosphere that is present in Hanoi, HCMC and, on a smaller scale, Hue, but I also have truly enjoyed my time spent in Vietnam's natural landscapes -- from the never-ending mountains peppered with green rice paddies in Sapa to the white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of Phu Quoc island.

One natural landscape still on my list with only a couple of weeks to spare: Ninh Binh -- known for its towering limestone rock formations, picturesque traditional Vietnamese countryside and the Cuc Phuong national park.

The problem: I have no more vacation time.

The solution: My roomies very kindly agreed to go on two overnight buses almost back to back this past weekend to make this fun trip happen before I leave. We boarded the overnight bus on Friday night after work and stepped off the return bus in Hue on Monday morning in time for the start of the new work week. Success!

The result: While we were a little bleary-eyed for some of the trip and the food was not near as good as Hue (yes, I did have to throw one comment in here about the food:), the natural landscapes were just gorgeous. It was definitely a trip well worth the effort and lack of sleep :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An American Thanksgiving...in Vietnam

As I have mentioned on this blog too many times to count, I love food. I also love celebrations and holidays. So, naturally I had to find a way to celebrate the great ol' American holiday we call Thanksgiving in Hue.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, how do you have a real American Thanksgiving without access to all the good holiday favorites in Hue like yams, jellied cranberry, pumpkin pie, etc., etc. Oh, and did I mention that ovens are very rare and hard to come by in Vietnam, meaning that we do not have one at our house. Hmm...

Well, my roommate and I bought as many traditional Thanksgiving items as we could during our recent trip to Hanoi (in a very popular expat part of town around Tay Ho district). I also asked my friend whose family owns a bakery here in Hue (bakeries are about the only places that actually have ovens) if we could use their oven for an hour or two.

After spending a lot of time planning, trying to figure out how to make traditional dishes without all of the necessary ingredients, and with help from some friends, the final Thanksgiving menu ended up something like this:

- Roasted chicken breast rubbed in butter, oregano, pepper, thyme and a little bit of chili powder (no turkey to be found but the chicken actually turned out really good!)

- Sweet potato pie complete with lots and lots of brown sugar, butter, marshmallows, ritz crackers and candied yams...amazingly good! (the above picture just features the yummy toppings)

- Stovetop stuffing with vegetables

- Salad...a REAL salad complete with goat cheese, cranberries and vinegreatte dressing

- Jellied Cranberries...a Thanksgiving celebration isn't complete without them

- Pumpkin Pie for dessert

The end result: six individuals (4 Americans, 1 Vietnamese and 1 Norwegian) with extremely full, satisfied bellies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Flooded Hue

What do you do when you need to make an emergency visit to the office and your street is completely flooded? Well, just call over a boat floating down the street and ask them for a ride -- at least that's what my roommate Linh did when she needed to make a quick visit to her office and our street was nearly three feet deep of murky brown water.

The above shot was taken from my bedroom balcony. My roommate and I were cooped up in our house for nearly two days with no electricity due to the recent flood.

Boy, I am seriously appreciative of power and the ability to actually leave my house right now!