Thursday, January 28, 2010

a new adventure!

i'm starting a new adventure tomorrow! i'm participating in the 29 day gift giving challenge! basically i will give one gift, big or small, doesn't matter, everyday for 29 days, and record the gifts here, and i think also on the website,

so tomorrow i'll be back to let you know how day 1 goes!

Monday, September 7, 2009

the funniest day in china!

i forgot to write about this with the china stuff, but it was sooo terrible and funny. here is what foo wrote about it:
from guilin, we went to the longji rice terraces which was pretty amazing. we decided against a tour and took a series of buses there ourselves which wasn’t as complicated as we thought it was going to be. we had left most of our stuff in guilin and only taken enough to stay the night at the terraces. our goal was to hike to a village 4-5 hours away and stay the night. on our way to da zai, we met a group of minority hill tribe women who talked us into staying at their village which was halfway to da zai. after hiking in the heat for several hours and feeling drained from that, we decided to give it a shot, thinking that they seemed nice and cute enough. wrong. the room we slept in belonged to one of the women. nice enough. but for the same price, we had stayed in real rooms with attached bathrooms and such. then came dinner which was simple but delicious. it was rice accompanied by 5 dishes of various stir-fried vegetables that they had cooked using vegetables harvested from their garden. i felt good about that. while we were eating dinner, all the women were crafting and were excited about showing us their wares after dinner so we could see what we would like to buy. great. sure enough, after dinner, they brought out EVERYTHING they had. coasters, wall hangings, wallets, jewelry, table clothes, etc. i’m not sure if they made everything. the jewelry definitely looked too refined but i also don’t know anything about hill tribe women goods. short story is that we told them we had a specific amount of money – we didn’t budget for buying a whole bunch of stuff. there was a discussion about how much we needed to pay for dinner which we weren’t expecting because we thought that the price we were paying included dinner. wrong again. they wanted us to pay what we thought was fair. and what we thought was fair was much lower than what they wanted because they wanted us to pay restaurant prices. not fair. in the end, we only had enough money to pay for sleeping there and for dinner. they didn’t believe that we didn’t have any money and kept asking if we had a hundred yuan because they would provide change. it was an intense situation. but it ended with us not buying any crafts from them, going to bed early and sneaking away at 5.45 the next morning.

actually seeing vietnam

so we hopped on our sleeper bus to go south to hue. and got here the next morning. found a hotel for $10 per night, which i think we could have found cheaper, but i'm really relaxing about money. like i'm willing to spend a bit more for a decent place. we saw the citadel, which housed the emperors and many other people when hue was the capitol of vietnam. it was fine. then yesterday we went on a city tour. the itinerary was like this: visit 3 tombs of dead emperors, the village where incense and cone-shaped hats are made, have vietnamese lunch, visit the citadel, a garden house with mandarins, and then a pagoda and take a sunset boatride back.
what actually happened is that we went to the incense and conical hat making 'village' which was actually just a shop on the road to the first tomb. no village. we watched a lady make incense for about a minute then they just tried to sell everyone a bunch of crap that was probably made in a factory anyway. i'm sure they don't actually make that stuff there. they probably import it from china. haha. then we went to the first tomb for 45 mins (not enough time really) which was really just like a park with lakes and statues. no one knows where the emperor is actually buried. we went to another tomb but foo and i didn't go inside because it's like $3 per person to get into all these and we don't like tourism very much anyway. then we skipped the third tomb because no one wanted to see it.
then we went to our 'vietnamese lunch' which was at a traveler cafe called stop and go cafe. the food was, well, not vietnamese, that's for sure. then we went to the citadel, which foo and i already saw, so we got ice cream instead. then we went to the garden house, i can't say much about it except i'm not sure why we went there. then to the pagoda. seems nice. there's lots of chinese architecture in vietnam. then the boat ride back, where the tour guide passed around an envelope that said 'tip for guide'. classy. yeah tourism!
so today we are headed to hoi an, another city a few hours south of here. the good news is that people are friendlier here in hue than they were in hanoi. i hope this trend continues.

out of hanoi

so when we got to hanoi neither of us was really excited about vietnam. everyone we had met was really unfriendly. and even if we were buying something from someone, they still acted like we were just a pain in the ass. so when the bus rolled back into hanoi, we were like 'let's just check bus tickets to hue' (a city farther south of hanoi). so we got in a cab on the main road because the ones at the bus station seem extra creepy. and we told him we wanted to go to this other bus station farther south. and this guy starts driving, but really really slow. like ridiculously slow. and i was watching the meter, and i'm not really good at estimating kilometers, but it seemed like we hadn't gone as far as the meter said. so i asked foo if she thought the meter was going fast. she wasn't really sure either, but it seemed like it. eventually i looked at his odometer. and indeed the taxi meter was ticking at at least twice the rate of the car odometer. so we told the taxi man to stop and we got out and he looked all confused, but it cost 50,000 dong (almost $3). and we had no idea where we were. but if we stayed in the cheating man's taxi, it would be like condoning his behavior. so we waited for another taxi. this one didn't have a fast meter, but started his meter at 1km. so we lost about 50 cents there. uhhh. vietnam.
so after finally getting there we discover that buses no longer go to hue from that station. awesome. so we were really far from where we needed to be, were cheated twice, and couldn't get a bus out. so we sat down for a while and touts were swarming around us like mosquitoes trying to sell us tickets or cab rides. we sat and decided to just stay in hanoi for the night to regroup.
we walked outside the bus station, and magically, foo said, 'this bus goes where we need to go.' i don't know how she knew that. she doesn't know any vietnamese. anyway, we got on the public bus for 3000 dong each. that's like 15 cents or something. way better than our 87000 dong cab ride. we found a hotel. and decided to be nice to ourselves for enduring vietnam thus far. we got a 3 star hotel for $20 per night for two nights. so we sat down and decided to figure out what to do. the options were: fly from hanoi to cambodia, to thailand, or to singapore. this means skipping vietnam which seemed like an ok plan. another option was buying an 'open tour' bus ticket. so going through vietnam.
after two night and two rooms in our hotel (the first one had an a/c unit that made a really loud noise and vibrated the wall and bed. terrible) we decided to go through vietnam. foo had one good meal and i felt like it would be a shame to miss it. so after much research we found that actual sinh cafe, which sells bus tickets. but you can buy all your tickets at once for wayyyy cheaper. like $34 per person for buses through the whole country. after passing several copycat sinh cafes along the two block route to the actual one, we got there, bought tickets. and that was that.

an intro to vietnam

so the next day in hanoi we went to see ho chi minh. he's in a mausoleum. so we walked there and went through all the security and fortunately were told by security to cut in line because the line was really really long. when we finally got up to the mausoleum, we had to be silent and in two lines. we were ushered through and there was ho chi minh. lying there in middle of the room, embalmed in a glass box. i guess that's what he looked like when he was sleeping. we walked through and saw him for less than one minute. it was a thing that i felt like i should do because he is really really important to vietnam and vietnamese people. but also it seemed a little messed up because his will said he wanted to be cremated. but they embalmed him anyway. it feels sort of disrespectful to the person to stare at his embalmed body that he wanted cremated and in an urn somewhere.
we also saw 'the proposal' which was surprisingly not terrible. it was pretty funny. and betty white is in it, and who doesn't love betty white? mostly we go to movies in other countries to eat the popcorn. this popcorn was ok. not as good as the movie. also it was set partly in alaska, around mountains and forest and a lake. it made me want to move to a more rural place. and have a garden.
from hanoi we went to cat ba island. three bus rides and one boat ride later we were there. we found a hotel pretty quickly for $15, which we later found out was pretty expensive for around there. we ate some terrible food on that island. terrible. fried rice which was not cooked over a big fire, covered in tomato sauce. fried noodles cooked in a similar way. we did get gin and tonic. more than once. that was good. well, more like a diy g&t. we ordered the gin and tonic water separately and i ran across the street to buy a lime from some vendor lady. but we made it happen.
the next day we went on a boat tour. we never do organized tours but couldn't figure out a way to see the things we wanted to see on our own. so we did the tour. so we got on the boat and went out to ha long bay. we went kayaking, which was pretty fun. but also not really safe. without making sure any of us actually knew how to do it, we just got put in 2 person kayaks and were given paddles. and told to go look at the caves. where? over there...with a vague hand motion. there are tons of giant rock islands. so pretty much we were able to explore far away and out of sight of the boat for like 2 hours. in the ocean.
then we ate our 'seafood lunch'. foo said the seafood wasn't very good. they made me tofu. it was, well, it was tofu. we went to see a natural cave with lots of stalagmites and shiny things. i'm pretty sure it was harmful to the cave for us to be in there touching stuff.
we went kayaking/swimming again. and we went to this island with monkeys. we didn't do the hike to go look at monkeys. because we were tired from the whole day. but the monkeys came to us! (i don't like monkeys too much because one attacked me in nicaragua in college. they are mean beastly little creatures.) but like 10 monkeys came to the beach. and two mothers with little baby monkeys holding on to the mom's belly while she ran around. and some trying to drink beer out of the empty beer cans. we were all up to our knees in the water to avoid too close an encounter with them.
but we got back at 5pm or so. and we accomplished a whole day of tourism. foo wanted good seafood, and we were surrounded by the sea so it didn't seem like it would be too hard. we found a restaurant with grilled calamari on the menu. so she got it. and guess what. seriously, this is how they made it: they cut up squid into pieces and threw it on a grill. no sauce, no nothing. charred it a bit and put it on a plate. foo was really disappointed. it only cost like $3. but it was sure a waste of that money. so we got french fries to go from another restaurant and went back to the hotel to feel sorry for ourselves. the next day we went back to hanoi to decide where our adventure should go from there.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

hanoi, posted while i'm actually here!

we're in hanoi! and i can actually update the blog on time because vietnam lets me us blogger! so hopefully there won't be too much posting of 10 entries on one day anymore.
we got to hanoi by bus, and were dropped off not at a bus stop, but at some random location which we would never have found on a map. we got some cash and found a taxi, which amazingly didn't cheat us on our way to a hotel! and he even dropped us off where we asked, not some hotel he gets a commission from. we went to the old city hotel, which is secretly also called the queen star hotel. we read reviews online of lots of hanoi hotels, and all of them are either expensive or have really mixed reviews. but this one seemed ok. we got there and they showed us a room. it seemed ok, then the guy told us it was $20 per night. and online we could book it for $16, so i asked if we should just book online and suddenly the price became $16. we got our room and it was right next to the breakfast nook and lobby so it was kind of noisy. and the air didn't work very well and the bathroom drains smelled sometimes. not awesome. we decided to ask for a new room the next day.
we got dinner from a noodle place. it was just soup noodles, not too exciting. but then on our way back we found a cute little lady selling baguettes. so we each got a baguette sandwich for way cheaper than our noodles. mine had soft cheese, egg, and cucumbers. soooo good. then today our hotel didn't have any other rooms, but they showed us another hotel called the phoenix 2 and gave it to us for the same rate ($16). i'm not sure how that all happened but i'm sure commission was paid. and we also had our walk over supervised. i guess to make sure we didn't change our minds.
today we tried tourism. i got to pick our day's activities: we saw a temple with a giant embalmed tortoise, then went to the hua lo prison museum where US POWs were held during the vietnam war, and to the temple of literature. the tortoise was huge and neat but the temple was just any other temple. the prison museum was interesting mostly because it was not exactly objective. there were two whole rooms dedicated to how well US pilot POWs were treated in the prison camps. seriously. like there were tons of pictures of smiling pilots playing cards and guitar and stuff. and it talked all about how the vietnamese treated the pows humanely and through this convinced them that the war was wrong. two whole rooms of this. and there were all these pictures of john mccain and one saying how he was treated for injuries there. but i'm pretty sure that he's still jacked up from torture in this prison. and he tried to kill himself there. it also talked a lot about how terrible the french were while they were in viet nam. i'm sure some of what the museum said was true, but it was definitely a somewhat biased museum.
the literature thing was ok. not all that exciting.
we're going to see ho chi minh's mausoleum tomorrow. and plan some tourism.
viet nam is pretty intimidating. it feels like we have to be super on guard all the time. and that everyone is out to cheat us. everything is so sketchy. like both hotels we've stayed in operate under two names. and if any business here is successful, several other businesses open up and steal the name. there are like 10 fakes of every successful business. and it's hard to tell which is real and which isn't. and the ticket seller at the turtle temple shorted us 50000 dong in change. she gave us lots of small change so we counted it and realized it was short and went back to her, she didn't say anything, just took the money and gave us the correct change in bigger bills. she totally knew she shorted us. on guard all the time. oh my. i think viet nam might be a bit hard to do.


we got to nanning and found a hotel really quickly! it was pretty nice and was 80 yuan per night. it was kind of funny though because the bathroom, which was ensuite, had a frosted glass wall. so the person outside the bathroom could see all the goings-on with the person inside the bathroom. who needs privacy?
we found a street with lots of noise and people and food. we found a noodle joint and had pulled noodles, which are made with a chunk of dough that the man stretches, folds, stretches, folds again...til he's holding a bunch of noodles between his hands. then it is boiled and cooked with some veggies and sauce. it's really good. the noodles are all chewy and wonderful. we also got hand-cut noodles from the same guy. these noodles are even better! the guy uses a refrigerated chunk of dough and smashes it around a rolling pin. then he uses sort of a knife and just cuts off small slices of it into the boiling water. these are chewy but also a little thicker than the pulled ones. oh man i could eat these again. sooooo good.
we didn't do much in nanning. we mostly just rested, ate good food, watched old men play chinese checkers in the park.
i got my hair cut there. haircuts are super cheap in china. i got my hair washed, cut and dried for about $3 US. the wash was magical. it was the greatest hairwashing of my life. it was a wash slash massage and lasted for like 15 minutes. the cut was ok. my hair looks cleaner, but it wasn't exciting or anything. then on the walk back towards the hotel, we came across a jian bing place. we had jian bing in beijing and it was good, so we thought we'd try it here. it's basically like a huge crepe with egg, green onions, miso, and chili sauce, then they add this layer of delicious fried crispy and some lettuce and wrap it together. it's basically my favorite food ever. we got a huge jian bing from the nicest people ever for 4 yuan. sooo good. and they wanted to be BFFs with foo, so she talked to them for a while. that made my day. so good. we got more from them the next day because it was so good. and they helped us find the bus to the medicinal botanical gardens, which were really far away and also no longer exist. that was a failed attempt at tourism.
overall nanning was a nice place to hang out and rest for a while. i enjoyed it.
we left on a 7:30am train to hanoi, viet nam the next day...