Feeds:
Posts
Comments

IMG_1615

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 IMG_1548the 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 IMG_1595helped 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!

IMG_1023

The second week in Laos was just as stimulatingly colorful as the first. We spent two days at the Tiger Trail Elephant Park Project. When we first arrived, we rode in the chair on the back of the elephant and I clung onto the wood with every muscle fiber in my body. I felt like we could slide down the side of the animal at any moment, but we didn’t. The Mahout (elephant trainer) led the elephant through the water and without asking, hopped off the two-ton grayish-pink animal to take pictures of us. Back at the main camp, we practiced mounting and riding an elephant…on her neck (all of the elephants at this camp are female). What I thought would be more unnerving than the sitting in the chair, was actually quite comfortable. I rode horses for the first half of my life and it was just like getting back in the saddle. But without the saddle, replaced with thick, wrinkled skin that felt like a worn leather chair covered in nylon bristles.

After practice, we each mounted our own elephant (with a Mahout sitting behind us). I rested my hands on Mae Pua’s enormous, whiskered head as the gentle giant led me into the jungle. A few steps into the woods, my Mahout jumped off and asked me if I was okay to ride alone. You Tarzan, me Jane. She slowly put one foot in front of the other on the mud path. I knew she was happy from reading the sign posted at the main camp because she flapped her ears back and forth against my legs, which felt like giant rubber mats stretched over canvas. I was sad to leave her after the 20-minute expedition; riding an elephant may be one of the most thrilling adventures I have been a part of so far. Both my husband and our friend Craig loved the elephants as well and Craig can now say he’s rode an elephant but not a horse!

We stayed the night in the lodge and early the next morning ventured back into the bush. We picked up our elephants (once again, I rode alone while my Mahout walked in front of us) and headed for the water. Mae Pua reached the river’s edge and apprehensively entered while dipping her long trunk below to spray a waterfall into her mouth. Quickly we found ourselves in the middle of the waterway, the elephants routinely submerging themselves while we squeezed our legs tightly not to slide off. Then we scrubbed. Using a handled cleaning brush, I rubbed meticulously around her head, reached forward down her snout and turned to wash her back. The village sign that informed me of what makes elephants happy, also warned never to trust an elephant. But at that moment, all I knew was trust.

Instead of taking a van back 15km to Luang Prabang, we kayaked down the lazy river for three hours. Ben and I only tipped once, but that was his fault. The following day we shuttled for six hours to Vang Vieng, a backpacker’s haven filled with pizza joints featuring TVs with your choice of “Friends,” “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons.” Totally random, but surprisingly fun, even though we were considered “over the hill” in comparison to the other Falang in town. We went to a bar for the first time on the trip and getting to it consisted of walking over a shabbily constructed bamboo bridge to a nearly deserted Cancun-like bar on the party island. The people who worked there were mostly tourists who were paid in drinks, food and accommodations. How they stayed a month in Vang Vieng, I’ll never understand. The main attraction of the town is tubing down the river while stopping at riverside bars for BeerLao and to test your luck on a rope swing. We had watched the rope swing videos on Youtube.com and had decided unanimously that it looked too dangerous. Once there, all three of us took several swings off the wooden platform and flung ourselves into the water. Never say never. The ride home on the bus was far worse than any rope swing could ever be. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang climbs steadily up the mountain along a narrow pathway that they call a two-lane road. I would say it’s more like one-and-a-half at best. After the bus broke down, it was quickly fixed and we managed to make it home alive. We were reminded of our luck when we passed a construction truck that had tipped over coming around a sketchy curve in the mountaintop pass. To celebrate the end of one of the best trips of our lives, we dined for a second time at our favorite restaurant in Luang Prabang, Tamarind.

As I sit in my new digs in Shanghai, I miss the laid-back vibe of Laos. It’s a country that I hope to visit again in my lifetime and you should too!

Lao Lao, Yummy Yummy

IMG_0810Laos is the most laid-back country I have visited. The people, the culture, the landscape is uniquely and beautifully exquisite. Right now, we’re in Luang Prabang, a bustling city surrounded by tropical rain forest, the Mekong River, mountains and temples. Compared to any other city, this is quaint, quiet, slow, reserved. But compared to where we have been the last five days, it is an oasis of action.

We spent the past five days biking and hiking through northern Laos. For reference, the country is pronounced “louse” and the people and language and religion is Lao (no “s”). All are Buddhist, but the people are split into three, agreeable tribes: Lao, Hmong and Kamu. Intermarriage between the tribes is now widely accepted.

Initially, I was petrified of biking next to traffic, but the further we made our way north, the traffic gave way to scenery sprawled outward and upward in lime, hunter, and teal greens. Mountains line the river and the dusty, paved road is the only means of travel. We did not see another Falang (non-native) the entire two days of biking, which was close to 120 km. The Lao children are especially friendly, and run IMG_0708from the cover of their village huts to the edge of the roads to wave Sabai Dii (meaning hello) and holding their hands out for high fives.

Our third night was the most unusual. We hiked six hours into the mountains to stay in a village. Along the way, we were unexpectantly accompanied by three young girls who lived in the village. They giggled and talked just like 15 and 16 year old girls would (keep in mind, they had already hiked to our starting point). We also encountered another type of company, but this unwelcome – leaches!! I now completely understand the saying: “You’re being such a leach!”

Just 30 minutes from the Kamu mountain village, it started to rain. A hurricane-like down pour. We arrived soaking wet and muddy to a village as remote as they come – no electricity, bamboo frames and livestock everywhere. Then came the fun part. As we warmed up around the kitchen fire, I witnessed my first chicken slaughter. The same 16 year old girl, Jan, who already IMG_0877walked 10 hours to sell some goods, then made up our beds (mats and mosquito nets on the floor of what looked like a human chicken coup, with dividers between made of woven bamboo), was carrying around a live chicken by its feet. Jan giggled when I took a picture of her and the chicken and then proceeded to kill it, de-feather it and cook it.

We ate our chicken soup on the floor of the deputy chief’s floor, Lao style. We also ate a chicken stir-fry made of ALL of the organs of the chicken as well as its neck and head, mixed with garlic and ginger. Yum, tastes like chicken!

The following day, Jan let me braid her long, dark hair, which the other girls admired but were too shy to let me braid their hair as well. I also tried squirrel, which was what our guide and Jan were eating for breakfast. Tasted like dark meat chicken, but a bit more chewy. Along this trip, I have sampled several unusual foods – buffalo blood and cow’s stomach – local delights.

A long boat ride down the Mekong brought us back to Luang Prabang to hotel Sala Prabang. Showering with soap and shampoo was such a treat! We even splurged and ate dinner at La Residence Phou Vao, the most high-end hotel in all of Laos, located outside of the main Luang Prabang city. However, the meals in the villages have been amazing but our fancy dinner will be remembered for the bread, not the dishes. The best meal was our first night in Luang Prabang at Tamarind, a tiny outpost serving traditional Lao food infused with chic presentation and a multitude of flavors. The icy drinks are the perfect way to cool down from the intense heat and sharing is the only way, the Lao way, to eat!

Tomorrow we head to the Elephant Refuge…more to come!

IMG_0516

Happy Mother’s Day to two wonderful mamas in my life! Hope you are having a day as wonderful as mine. That would include flying from Hong Kong to Luang Prabang, Laos with a stop in Hanoi. I’m writing IMG_0563from the business class lounge in the Hanoi Airport. I paid $10 US to gain entry, which allows me to play on the internet and eat and drink what I like. I’m sampling nectar juice, a favorite of mine from Peru, and White Fungus Bird’s Nest Drink, something new and unfamiliar. Actually, it tastes just like Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, but the name throws me off!

Our trip, so far, has been nothing short of amazing! We landed in Hong Kong on Friday night and after checking into our very hip, albeit reasonably priced accomodations, Central Park Hotel, immediately joined our friends “Assman and Robyn” (as they are fondly called at business school) for a night on the Hong Kong town. We ate at a small, divey tea house and sampled Chinese cuisine that wasn’t exactly exotic, but definitely tasty (actually, it might have tasted better since hubby and I missed the food served on the 15 hour flight and resorted to the ramen noodles offered in jest by the flight attendant). After dinner, the four of us headed over to Lan Kwai Fong, a raucus street lined with “American-style” bars, people (mostly non-Asian) spilling out into every crevice of cobblestone. Amazingly, despite the jet-lag, we stayed out until 1 am HK time. Not even sure what time it was back in Utah and have not tried to figure it out yet.

The next day was filled with touristy thrills, sampling dim sum for breakfast, riding the Peak Tram to the top of Hong Kong and hiking back down a grade so steep I prayed not to trip in fear of ending the trip before it began, buying a Coca-cola light at McDonald’s (which was packed with locals…sad!) and lunching on Thai food in HK’s famed Soho district. We finally hit our jet-lag wall and napped, but I have felt surprisingly great since arriving.

Rob and Robyn, ok more Robyn than Rob, really wanted to see the “light show” in Kowloon Bay. We navigated the subway and made it just in time to see the buildings light up in unison to cheesy music blasted on crackling speakers. It is not a show I’d recommend, but I’m glad we went, because the subway trip, clean and efficient, was an adventure in itself. The time passed quickly as we lovingly teased Robyn about the color of our dog, Frank, who she has met on at least four occasions.

Last night, we capped off the day with dinner at Scirocco, Craig’s (hubby and my bestfriend, who’s joining us for the Laos portion of our trip) favorite restaurant. We were joined by more HK friends and The Robs. Dinner was unforgettable, more than anything for the company, and maybe the outside seating didn’t hurt either!

Before heading to the aiport this afternoon, we hiked “1000 steps” in the Parkview area of Hong Kong. It felt more like 10,000 steps. My legs and lungs ached during, but I feel accomplished, like I climbed a mountain. Oh wait, I did.

Off to catch our flight. More from Laos after we finish our five-day bike and hike trek. Looking forward to sweating out of my eyeballs!!

1

Disappointment is a part of life. It makes you stronger. Blah, blah – we’ve all heard it before. Unfortunately, it’s true. I did not get into the only graduate program that I applied to, the one which caused me to spend the last few months laboring over writing samples and statements of purpose and studying for the GRE. Obviously, I am disappointed, but more than anything I learned something about myself. I’m not sure if I was always this way, if it’s increased as I grew older, or if it just showed up recently, but when I want something, I go for it 110 percent and I don’t give up. When I found out that I wasn’t accepted into the program that’s available in Utah, I at first felt doomed. What do I do now? I want to go back to school but I choose to live in a state with fewer universities than other areas. Moving isn’t an option.

So I did a little research and I can still work towards my MFA at an accredited university, but it’s accomplished almost entirely through the internet. It’s called a low-residency program and they are available through reputable, cool liberal arts schools. I can write from home and don’t have to move to the state where the university is located. Actually, it mimics the lifestyle of a writer more than traditional programs. I’ll meet twice a year for 10-day meetings and conferences with the professors and other students and then spend the six months in between working on my writing piece. Now the application process begins again!

Last week, when Obama celebrated his 100 days in office, I celebrated my 100 days out of office. Being laid off has truly changed my perspective. I am energized about life and what comes next. I am proud of my accomplishments, even when they have not worked out. I am excited about the adventure that begins in just three days. We will first head to Hong Kong, leaving at 1 pm on Thursday and arriving at 7 pm on Friday. We then fly to Laos, spending almost two weeks biking, hiking, hanging with elephants and tubing down a lazy river with our best friend. He’s the same guy who officiated our wedding. We may even be lucky enough to spend some of that time with a few close friends whose travel plans have overlapped too! After Laos, we’re onto Shanghai, the Paris of the east. My husband and I will be teaching tourism at the university for a month. Then on to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Who’s life am I living? It is crazy how I have inadvertently created so many new adventures for myself and it was all because I took a chance and moved out west. I love that! Stay tuned in the next two and a half months for postings on all of our adventures. Thank you to my family and friends who are supporting my ambitions to obtain a graduate degree and write a book (or two or three).

Earth Love

The ski season just came to an end on Sunday and life has been crazy lately! In the past few weeks, I turned in my graduate school application (my first and I hope to be my last), celebrated Passover with 23 people (and believe it or not, 10 were Jewish, and eight of those 10 live in Utah!), went to a wedding in Atlanta (story about that below), celebrated my 29th birthday, skied some pow, went to see my first Britney Spears’ concert, loved it, celebrated the end of the season at PCMR by snowboarding one run and then tailgating in the parking lot for 3 + hours, hiked in 70 degree weather and just enjoyed life!

A wonderful thing happened! One of my closest friends that I have known since first grade is having a baby. Well she isn’t pregnant, but her wife is! We were all wondering how it works so I will share a few details. They used a donation bank where you choose the guy like your looking at a Facebook profile. You check him out online, choosing by personality, career, education and athletics along side his baby picture. They went with the PhD student, so our kids could compete for Mensa. The whole process sounds kind of like Jdate to me, but you just have the guy’s baby and don’t have to date him! (Note: if you are not familiar with Jdate.com, it’s like Match.com but for Jewish girls and boys). Congrats to my girls!!

I had an “I love America” moment while we were in Atlanta for our friend’s wedding. We jumped into a cab to take us to the Jewish Synagogue where the ceremony and reception were taking place. Most of us in the cab were also Jewish. The driver was really cool and we asked him to turn on some tunes. He asked “mine or yours?” We said “his!” Turns out he was from Pakistan and we listened to rockin’ Pakistani hip hop called Bhangra on the way to the Jewish synagogue. While I might sometimes want to flea to Canada, this camaraderie is good reason to celebrate the U.S. of A.

My husband and I leave in two weeks from tomorrow for Asia. I am ridiculously excited! I cannot stop buying! This always happens before we leave for a trip. I go into Target for soap and sunblock and walk out with a receipt for $300. What?! Did I really need an instant stain removal spray? Maybe. What about the eye cream that smelled good? Well, that could go either way. I already have a few eye creams collecting in my drawer that I already choose not to use, but this one is organic and shall I remind you, it smells good. This is a problem of mine. I go into a store and spend hours studying the products. I have to try on ALL of the cute clothes and I buy things I really don’t need. I know there are millions of people out there like me, but I am trying to change. A friend of mine went with me and she witnessed, for the first time, my plight. She caught on quick that she needed to move me quickly from section to section of the store in order to save us hours of time. And she opened up a whole new world for me. Normally, I would have gone with my husband who gives a “yes” to every question. This is all very nice, but sometimes you want an actual opinion. That happened yesterday at Target. I received real feedback. And I still managed to spend $300.

So whatever your issue, maybe it’s time we all learn to love our idiosyncrasies. As hard as I’d like to change, I’m just fighting nature. I may live in Utah and love the outdoors, but I still LOVE to shop.

I leave you with some Pakistani Hip Hop:

shanghai

Too long, I know. I am sorry.

Where have I been? Reading, studying, writing, but mostly savoring this time of scholarly preparation. I have faced a few disappointments, and at the same time, some incredible opportunities have transpired. The GRE – blah! Why invent such a torture device? I took it twice, did okay, but previously had kicked the GRE’s ass on every practice test. So this was a disappointment. But you know what? At least I took it. Some people want to go back to school but fear of the GRE, or GMAT, or LSAT or whatever torture test they encounter makes them run in the other direction. I am not putting that behavior down, I am just saying that it does not hurt that badly to face disappointment, get up and try again. Well, at least I can say this weeks after taking that horrible test!

My faithful followers on http://www.Jewtah.com have been complaining due to the lack of writing. You see, I have been writing, just not sharing, here. I’ve been working on my creative writing sample, which has been thrilling and fun and renewed my passion for why I am subjecting myself to torture tests. I may not test well, but I unequivocally enjoy the art of writing.

I also had to write my SOP: Statement of Purpose. I love that name!! Essentially, it is a pitch about myself. I have pitched many things in my life – cameras, contact lens solution, travel, scanners, sandwiches, mountains, but I have not had to write a promotional piece about myself. I do quite well in interviews and I am a resume connoisseur but this was different. Luckily, I was able to cut down my crazy little life into three pages, succinctly-ish spelling out why the university should take me.

The moral of the story: Life is Wildly Unexpected. Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I were offered a teaching opportunity in Shanghai. The conversation with his advisor went like this:

“Hi, I’m Paula, so nice to meet you finally.”

Advisor: “You too. You work full time, right?”

Paula: “No, actually I was laid off.”

Advisor: “Great!”

I was shocked by her response. She is happy that I lost my job? I mean, I am happy to some extent, but what? She obviously was not happy about me losing my job, she was happy that I could go on this trip and teach. How cool! It fits a million cliches (which I do not buy into) but seriously, weird! Life is wildly unexpected. Go live it!