I don’t know where to start, it has been so long. I am in Dalat, a mountain town in Vietnam that is at least 20 degrees cooler than everywhere else. We arrived yesterday and couldn’t decide what to make of Dalat. It is called the Paris of the east, which is fitting since it dons a mini Eiffel Tower, there are swan boats that float on the central lake and everywhere you look is a cafe. It truly is Neverland. I don’t know how to feel about M.J.’s passing. I love his music, but not the man. He’s a legend of good and bad, but I was happy to hear his greatest hits belted out at a cafe situated along the Disney-esque lake while the fake swans floated by.
Dalat is a magical place, literally. This may not be true for everyone, but one of the strangest moments happened to me yesterday. My mom met a student in Dalat over two years ago. She has told me they keep in touch by email and that she sends photos from my wedding to her student friend. When my mom found out I was going to Vietnam, she made me promise to visit Hong, her friend. I promised, although my fingers were crossed behind my back. It’s hard to arrange a travel schedule around meeting someone, but luckily it worked out. So we arrive yesterday and after visiting four hotels with no availability, we stumbled upon the $9 Hotel, the actual name. They had a room for us and as I checked my email in the lobby, I struck up a conversation with the owner, whose American. I mentioned to him that I had to meet this girl (didn’t give her name) and said that I only had her email. I emailed her the address and I hoped she would check her email that night. As we’re talking about how I’m going to find “this girl”, a girl walks out of the back rooms of the hotel, carrying the owner’s baby. She looks at me, and walks by. When she returns, she comes right up to me and hugs me. It’s Hong!!!! She recognized me from the pictures my mom sent and checked our passports that were on file to see my name. Of all the hotels in this massive town, I ended up at the one that Hong works at as a babysitter. I don’t believe in fate, but this might make me a believer.
I have completely skipped over China, but I will come back to Shanghai and Beijing and teaching and all the spitting, and peeing on the ground in the next few blog posts. I want to tell you about Sapa, but first Halong Bay. These are in Northern Vietnam. We had a few hiccups on our Halong Bay trip, but it worked out when we finally boarded the boat – a small cruise ship that reminded me of the final moments of “Goonies” when the ship breaks through the cave and sails into the ocean. We met some great friends on the boat, the Four Guys, and they convinced us that it’s really fun to jump off the top of the boat into the water (they did it the night before while intoxicated). Since I’ve become an adventure junkie, I decided to give it a try, but not before jumping from the first and second floors to make sure I had the guts to leap from the top. Standing forty feet up is nerve-wracking enough, but I was in a bathing suit too! After several minutes of hesitation, I leaped to the water. It was exhilarating! Ben jumped too and we jumped tandem, holding hands (hey, we are still newlyweds, only two months until our one year). We spent the night drinking and talking and we’ll have great memories of Halong Bay if it didn’t start out as mystical as we were told it is.
Immediately after returning to Hanoi, we boarded the overnight train to Sapa. We booked a three day bike trip with Handspan (amazing! great tour! ask for Huong as your guide!). Our first day we biked 30 km down the Tram Ton Pass, whoa! My hands were knotted from gripping so hard. Our guide, Huong, let go, using his arms to make a bird shape. He’s not crazy, he’s NUTS! And funny and super smart. He took us to the different minority villages pf the North – H’Mong, Thai, Tay, Laos and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head. We helped pick tea (did you know the plant is strong enough to hold you if you sit on it?), we picked peanuts (they start as a flower and then lower into the earth and become a root), we watched as noodles started in a powder form, then liquefied, congealed, then squeezed through metal holes onto wooden planks and dried.
Everyone says “hello”. And the children yell it over and over again, the excitement to share the word with a foreigner to great to waste. The people were wonderful and we didn’t see another foreigner for all three days. We stayed in guest houses and ate and drank with the locals. Our last night, Huong’s friend invited us for dinner at his place. We all sat around on the floor with heaps of food prepared for us and a few other Vietnamese men. So, it’s me (the only women), Ben and Vuong (our host), Huong (our guide), the driver and two friends of Vuong. And drinks, and drinks and drinks. Ish cup, what they say when you ask how many, it doesn’t matter, just keep drinking. We had at least 10-15 shots of rice wine drank in a ceremonial manner, not religious, but out of friendship. Someone chooses who they want to drink with and you have a shot. That continues throughout the whole meal, until the wine is finished, along with the Bia Hoy (beer). So in between shots, we sometimes had to drink an entire glass or 50%, as they referenced, of beer. Without a common language, we had a party! It was one of the most fun dinner parties I have ever been apart of. Thank you Huong!
I have so much more to share but it will come in the next few posts. I have great news too – I was accepted to two MFA creative writing programs, both distance-learning, so my dream of going to graduate school is one step closer and Park City is home for as long as we like it to be!