Friday, January 15, 2016

The end of my tour

Sitting in the Nobai airport in Hanoi, it strikes me as amazing how the simple process of going through customs instantly makes coffee that costs <$1 on any street corner or in any cafe quintuple in price.  It must just be black magic.

So yesterday I had a pretty quiet day.  Thuy was teaching classes so I was on my own for most of the day.  I went to a coffee shop and sat there for about two or three hours, smoking a pipe and having a few Vietnamese espressos.  I was slightly confused with how they were served and I may have had it too weak the first time (and waited too long the subsequent times letting it drip through so that the coffee was cold--but the guy brought a glass with a single ice cube, so maybe it was supposed to be iced coffee?)

At any rate, it cost me slightly more than a dollar for two of them, including the 5,000 dong tip I left, so I can't really complain--it tasted pretty good.

That night, I had Vietnamese hot-pot with Thuy's family and it was pretty good.  I may have mentioned this, but I think I prefer Sichaun hot-pot because it's so much more spicy and I love spicy.

After that, some of Thuy's older students (grade 11-so 17 years old I guess) came over and we talked and had some fruit.  For the first time I had tamarind--something I previously thought was only useful for its seeds, but apparently there's enough fruit around it to eat.  I enjoyed it--it was a bit of a pain to get it out of its "shell' and the shell often shattered making a big mess, but it had a sweet-sour flavor that I liked.

The students were a bit different from the students in Thuy's other class.  There were more guys and while they were more outgoing and talkative (the guys at least--the girls were very shy, especially once the guys started talking), but they had a bit more of an attitude.  For example, I tend to talk with my hands when explaining stuff, they noticed it and found it funny--imitating it.  Ok, I get it, it is a little odd, so we can have a laugh.  But they kept mimicking me throughout the evening, to where it wore out its welcome and felt like they were mocking me.  I didn't confront them about it, so maybe it's a little passive-aggressive to write about something I didn't tell them bothered me, but on the other hand I chalked it up to that lack of filter that seems present in Vietnamese people, as I had with comments about my weight.  Personally, I dno't get what's so weird about using your hands to express stuff--it helps me think sometimes if I can't find the word right away.  But to each his own.

Anyway, other than that, it was a pretty nice evening.

Nothing of note happened today--took the sleeping bus back to Hanoi (seats seemed a little longer, so it was more comfortable), got picked up by Thuy's brother-in-law, and spent an hour driving under 40 mph and trying avoid motorbikes.  This was probably the busiest I've seen traffic here in Hanoi, but it was bad.  They don't stick to lanes (cars nor motorbikes) and motorbikes seem to think that lights are suggestions, so often we found ourselves in gridlock because a column of motorbikes had decided to push through their red light and cut us off mid crossing.  It was infuriating.  Glad I didn't have to drive.

Flying back tonight, it's a four hour flight to Seoul, then a six hour layover there.  On the plus side, I should be able to enjoy some overpriced Korean food--but it still might be cheaper than in US.  We'll see.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Caves, Chicken, and Chinese Chess

Sorry about not updating for a few days--I've been a little bit tired.  So, two days ago, I had a chance to explore a little bit around Ha Giang city with some of Thuy's students.  They're pretty nice, about grade 10, so I think around 15-16 years old and their English is pretty good.  One issue I'm having though is that they tend to be very soft spoken, so outside it can be very hard to hear people because of all the honking on the street.  I've noticed that even when speaking in their native language, Vietnamese people talk a lot quieter, than say the Chinese.  Actually, this is a huge relief--one thing I found really, really irritating when I visited China was how loud everyone was when talking and how the mandarin sounded like jackhammers in my ear.

Here's a few of the sites around Ha Giang.

That night we had dinner at a restaraunt that specializes in chicken.  We had boiled chicken and then some fried chicken.
Luckily, I can't say this chicken was smiling at me.

They had fish sauce and some salt with lime juice.  A lot of the food is meant to be dipped--though I find things get way too salty that way.  

I'd also like to note that this place would not be popular with PETA:

I talked with the students for a few hours afterwards and then came back and went to bed.

The next day, Thuy came by and we had to go to the police to get premission to go further north because we're so close to the border.
After we got that sorted out, we headed up to the Dong Van Geo Park area.  It's up in the mountains and the road up there was windy and rather narrow.  On the way up there we stopped at a temple that was poking out of a hillside.   It was a steep climb, but the view was pretty interesting from the temple.

Afterwards, we headed up further into the mountains and saw the twin mountains.  Which were actually more like hills.  It was hard to see them though, through the fog--we had to wait for a break in the current.

You can barely see them from here.

We descended from the "Heaven's Gate Road" and headed to the market in the nearby town.  It was smaller than the market in Ha Giang, but it was still neat to see all the meat and fish on sale.  While we were there, we ate some rice-cake snacks.  One of them was like those bean filled rice balls Sarah likes, but bigger.

Once we'd eaten, we got back into the car and drove to the entrance of the Lung Khuyu Cave.  It was a 2 kilometer path from a village, which didn't seem too bad on the face of it--but turned out to be a real butt-kicker.

I did see an interesting plant--the red on the top are leaves--just leaves.  Really odd.

But seriously, this path sucked, but I saw some great views.
The cave itself was breathtakingly beautiful,  but unpleasantly humid and warm.

I had a great time, but the trip kicked my butt.  On the way back, we stopped by the Chinese border, where I picked up a set of Chinese chess (for like $1.25) and one of those old fashioned safety razors for my WWI impression ($1.5).  

Today's my last full day here in Vietnam, though that's not 100% accurate as my flight leaves tomorrow at like 1140 PM.  (Small aside, I don't get why my boarding pass doesn't use military time--it actually said things like 1000 PM and 1140 PM.  Which is fine, but one of my passes didn't print the PM so it said 0600 and I thought I was going to be at the airport all night-but they meant 0600 PM.  Still, it's needlessly confusing.)

Tomorrow, Thuy will be busy, so I'm going to the bus station myself-where I'll be finding one of those sleeper buses (actually she said the cab guy's help me get my ticket and make sure I'm on the right bus) and then I'm getting in touch with her brother to help me get the souvenirs I left there and head to the airport.

I've had a wonderful trip and I hope I'll be back someday!

I'd like to make a small point-I'm geo-tagging these posts, but I have no idea where I'm actually saying that I am.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ha Giang Pronvince

So it turned out Thuy didn't get back until 8 PM last night and so stayed another night in Hanoi.  Before she showed up I had some beer with her brother on the street.  It was the Hanoi beer again and we had boiled peanuts, some shishkabob, and a pork belly sausage.  A little while later was when Thuy arrived and after she'd had a chance to get showered, we had Vietnamese hot pot.  It is very similar to Sichuan hot pot, though the broth isn't spicy.  The beef we ate was cut in different style and was strongly flavored with ginger.  We also had some dry tofu, but instead of the long shape, it was a flat square.

It was good, but as I'd already eaten stuff on the street, I wasn't terribly hungry.

Today, we didn't really do much--got up, had breakfast, and took a bus to Ha Giang. It was a six hour ride--though I don't think we drove any faster than 40 mph, so I can't say how far away Ha Giang really is from Hanoi.  The bus was rather interesting because it was a sleeper bus.  Instead of regular seats it had reclined ones--and two levels.  They'd have been more comfortable if they were slightly longer--and if the bus wasn't weaving and honking to avoid stuff on the road.  I can't tell exactly what they were because I was on a bottom bunk and couldn't see over the window.  I assume it was to get around the motorbikes on the road--because there's a million of them and there appears to be a system of honking communication here in Vietnam between bikes, cars, and buses.  I can't really tell you how it works, but it makes sense to them.  I do know that you should honk before you pass a corner so you don't need to stop and check if someone else is coming.

I'm at a hotel in Ha Giang because Thuy's home doesn't have a room for me.  She made me dinner at her home and I met her husband--her kids were at tutoring so I didn't get introduced to them yet.  Some of her students came by, though, and we talked for a bit.  They were really excited to see me. Thuy's got to work this week, so I think during the day I'll be on my own, but this should give me a chance to relax and unwind.  I will be able to explore a bit and she and her husband were going to take me to the border--apparently this village is a stone's throw from China.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

In Praise of Vietnamese Toothpicks and Denouncement of "Body Positivistism"

Sitting here on my (hard) mattress in Hanoi, struggling in vain to get something out of my teeth, I bitterly regret not grabbing a toothpick at the little hole in a wall place where we grabbed lunch.  It may seem odd to make a big deal out of a toothpick, but here in Vietnam they're tiny--not short, but much narrower than in the US.  This means you can actually put them through the gaps in your teeth that only flossing will get in America.  Seriously, it's great.  When you've got that really deep stuck meat between the teeth--Vietnamese toothpicks'll get it out like it's nothing!

I suppose I should talk about lunch too.  It was great--had some spring rolls and this salad like thing made with shredded guava, beef, and jerky in a vinegary sauce.  We also had this pork and shrimp thing wrapped in a rice cake.  One thing I've noticed about Vietnamese cooking, is that in many cases it's not heavily spiced, but everything kind of brings its own flavor that is combined when you chew it--the tartness of the vinegar, the saltiness of fish sauce, the meat, and a bit of mint leaf--you notice it all, but just a little bit.  It's very interesting.  I'm kind of surprised it's not more popular in the US--it seems a lot more friendly to a Western palate than Korean, Thai, or Chinese food.  I'm enjoying it a lot, anyway.  I've been lucky too, nothing too fishy.  I'm not sure if that's because the family I'm with doesn't care for sea food (other than tiny shrimp and fish sauce), they're being mindful of me, or if Vietnamese food isn't as fishy tasting as I expected.

Today started with a nice bowl of pho (noodles are for breakfast--rice is for dinner and lunch), then took a cab to an old part of Hanoi where we had some coconut ice cream and coffee while we waited for the museum to open.  The coffee shop we chilled at was called "Cong Caphe."  And if you're going "Wait, like Viet Cong?'  Yes, exactly like that.  Cong means communism (or communist--I'm not 100% sure on the grammar) in Vietnamese.  The fact that a privately owned business was making profit under the name "Cong" in Vietnam did not strike anyone else as ironic.  Even when I looked up the word "ironic" in Vietnamese.  I think I must have not clearly explained it.  That or I'm crazy. It's hilarious right?  Right?!

Anyway, the coffee was good--very sweet and creamy.  It was iced.  I enjoyed a cup of it, but declined another offering.  Something came up that made me think--my hosts, though gracious, we're not quite as tactful as Americans might be about weight.  After bringing up how often I worked out (seldomly, so I mean, I can't really argue the point) out of left field (or is it center field when you're in a Left wing communist country?) and making the suggestion that I shouldn't drink beer--including showing a blog post of a guy who stopped drinking and lost a lot of weight.  Apparently--drinking beer is bad for you, but having Vietnamese frappechinos and sugary coffee does not contribute to weight gain.  Though again, everyone here is as skinny as a bean pole, so maybe they have a point.  Ironically, this discussion didn't seem to matter, as the next day, Thuy's brother invited me to have some beer on the street with some pork belly sausages and shishkabob--though his suggestion was that I needed to do sport because I "looked pregnant,"

(A small aside, I have tried some Vietnamese beer--called "Bia Saigon." I'm not a huge fan--it's a lager style beer, but it is really, really light.  I'm kind of reminded of Korean or Chinese beer.  It must be part of their palate to like very, very, very light tasting beers.  Lately, however, we've tried a local beer from Hanoi and it is miles better than the Saigon beer.)

Well, it's tough when you are in a situation like that.  I mean, it is true, I've put on a lot of weight and I'm lazy and don't exercise enough.  But, no one likes to be told that, no matter how nice it is.  And thus, we get to the inexplicable part of this post's title--or second inexplicable if the tooth pick thing is still throwing you.

This post got interrupted last night because we went out for dinner.  I had a longer part written about my issues with this whole "body positivism" and the women and girls who are pretty much the opposite of Mom and think Carrie Fisher looked great and were outraged someone asked her to lose a bit of weight for her role as General Organa.  But it didn't get saved.  Rough summary is: I didn't think Leia looked that bad, but she didn't strike me as very military like.  She looked more like the Resistance's grandmother than a leader.  Gone was the Leia who stayed at her post and had to be dragged away by Han at Echo base and in was a pleasant old woman who said comforting things to a defecting Storm Trooper, was worried about her kid, and hugged Rey.  These people who were outraged she should have lost any weight argued that we wanted to see her back in her slave costume (pro-tip: I don't think anyone wants to see a woman in her late 50s early 60s in that) and whined about our unrealistic beauty standards forcing women to have 0% body fat.

Yeah, 0% body fat is unhealthy, but in a country where one third of adults are obese and most ppl of my generation (myself included) couldn't pass military PT tests if we were drafted, I don't think we really have an issue with people not accepting their bodies (the term some people I talked with on Facebook used).  In fact, I think (myself included) the bigger issue is that we've accepted being fat and get upset when people challenge it.  Military leaders have standards they should meet, Leia is a military leader, ergo Leia should meet military standards.  Carrie Fisher was asked to lose weight for a role, as an actress she should have done so, rather than go "No, this is who I am."  If she was auditioning for the role of Leia in this movie and had never played it before and said this, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have gotten the part.  It would have gone to someone who fit the director's image of what a military leader in this galaxy would look like.  I don't understand this cheering and "you go girling,"  Men add and drop weight for roles all the time--not just becoming buff action heroes, but also letting themselves go to play a middle aged slob.  If a man was told "You need to get in shape for this role as a Navy SEAL," no man would sympathize with a response like "This is who I am."  It's dumb to praise Carrie Fisher for it.  I'd also point out that I read that they asked Mark Hamil to do a bit of work--and he did (a bit is an understatement--he lost 50 lbs for the role

I like to think I hold people to the same standards.  Or, maybe I realize that Leia is a fictional character seperate from Carrie Fisher and I have a higher standard for Princess Leia/General Organa than I do for a Hollywood actress. Princess Leia was a charismatic leader in the Rebel Alliance, often fighting in the front lines or holding her post until the last possible second.  I think as a general in the Resistance, she'd have kept that attitude and led by example.  Maybe I'm just sexist.

Anyway, as to yesterday...

We went to the Museum of the National Revolution.  It was interesting, but I was a little disappointed.  Most of it was artifacts or pictures with a single line caption.  No transitions or anything to different eras in the fighting and no greater details.  A lot of it was unclear to me "Photo of Waterfall from Quang Chen battle against French Colonists" (a made up example, but based on a real one) or "So and so leader of the X uprising," what they did besides lead and what the X uprising was, I'm not sure.  

The focus of the Vietnam War was interesting.  They discussed American massacres like My Lai less than the travel guide I have (it mentions it like 4 times) and focus more on how many aircraft they shot down.  Obviously they ignore anything negative the North did in the war, like POW torture or massacres at Hue (but my guide book also ignores Hue).  I found it very interesting that the Tet offensive is relatively unremarked-only thing I saw was a photo of troops at Hue castle.  For an event that is seen as so pivotal in our history of the war, it was not touched upon.  Something they made a big deal out of was the relocation of peasants into the strategic hamlets--so I guess that must have been effective and very frustrating for them.  They also put more emphasis on moral support from leftists in Europe and American hippies than they did to actual material aid from China and the Soviet Union.  I think that may be because the war is shown as a national struggle, so unity and self reliance is the main focus of it (no mention of Montangards or groups that fought with the US/French at all).

Also, the  museum didn't really have a gift store, which was disappointing.  I still need to find a few more souvenirs.  Something I did find out at the museum was that it really is "Uncle Ho."  I was asked about him, literally "Do you know Uncle Ho?" So that's a thing.''

That night, for dinner, we went to a restaraunt in down town.  We had this fish thing called Chu Ca (I think) that had no fishy taste.  Dinner was very good and afterwards they took me into the night market area.  We stopped down a street popular with ex-patriots to have a snack (right after dinner--I was full, but that and my overweighted ness didn't really matter.  At any rate, I enjoyed some Hanoi snacks--Tahitian Apple, some fried meatball, and a kind of mozzarella stick.  

Today, we went to an English club and there were a ton of people.  I was asked to step up and say a few things and people were very interested in talking to me.  I should add that most people have been very polite and friendly to me (with the exception of a rickshaw driver who grabbed my arm and I had to pull it free) and haven't made a big deal out of me being a tourist.  Hanoi has a lot more tourists than I expected.  Another minor exception is small children--they seem to be very shy around me and are always watching me, silently.  The couple I'm staying with's daughter is one such example.  Around her family she's very talkative and outgoing, but when I'm around she kind of shuts up and starts watching me, like she's not sure what to make of me.  It was funny, when we were having the beer on the street, we ate some boiled peanuts.  She couldn't open them up, so she handed them to her dad.  One time, he was on the phone and she wanted him to open one, so I grabbed a peanut and opened it for her.  However, she refused to take it--even after her father took it from me and handed it to her.  This kid is in no stranger-danger.

Tonight Thuy is coming back from the South, so I think we'll be taking the bus to her village.  I'm not sure how far away it is, but I don't imagine it'll be that long of a bus ride.  At any rate, I'm leaving some of my stuff back here, like my pottery and my second bag.  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Going to pieces

Alternative title: Still haven't found Charlie.

Slept all right--though the hard mattress ensured that I woke up a few times during the night and was a little bit stiff this morning.  Still, can't complain too much.  Had some authentic Vietnamese "pho" for breakfast today.  I don't remember if I mentioned it, but I found out that when you say "pho" with an o, it means street, but with the "uh" sound it is the food.  I was confused earlier because it seemed that there was some strange advertising strategy with all these street signs saying "Lan Troc Pho" and I figured I had vastly underestimated the popularity of pho.  

Today we went to Bat Trang village (spelling is probably butchered to hell) a village famous for its pottery. I rode on the back of a motorbike.  Somehow there seems to be an understood method of communication--you honk, then you do whatever the hell you wanted.  Signaling is optional and apparently not recommended.  We took a pretty interesting route to the village--across an old French railroad bridge, which apparently had a system where you drove on the opposite side of the road like in Britain (this too is apparently optional--we saw a couple guys going against traffic--but honk and all is understood).

Bat Trang is pretty well known in Vietnam for its pottery and has a long tradition of selling it to Hanoi and places like China.  The pottery was very impressive--a lot of it was very similar to Chinese porcelain, the white and blue kind, but they also sold many other kinds.  I personally liked the earthy looking ones and they also had some plates and paintings on them--some of scenes of life, others of Vietnamese leaders (Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap were the most popular).

I picked up a few souvenirs and stuff was pretty inexpensive (I think).  I still haven't been to an exchange yet, but I was able to give Khai $20 for some of the stuff I bought and he got a few things that I plan to give to the Gerges cousins.  At Bat Trang, we had some milk from a coconut--the big green kind with a straw sticking out of it, and some sweat potato cakes.  

We went back home and I took a nap--but I did help with dinner. Well, I boiled some broccoli and cauliflower.  But I helped!  This was completely negated because during dinner, I was so bad at rolling the stuff, they all felt bad enough for me that they rolled stuff for me.  I think I would have been better at it, but since dinner is always on the floor and I'm not too good at sitting cross legged, this makes things more of a challenge.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the Museum of the National Revolution.  I'm excited to see that and I hope that I'll be able to get to an exchange and I can find some nice souvenirs for the boys.

I forgot to mention, outside our apartment there's some fields where people farm.  I think they're cooperatives for the apartments, but I had a chance to walk through them and see what people grow here.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Goooooood Evening Vietnam!

Arrived late last night Hanoi time.  Thuy arranged for her brother to pick me up from the airport and I slept pretty well, though the Vietnamese also appear to ascribe to the belief that the harder the mattress, the better.  The mattress looks normal enough, but when I sat down on it, there was almost no give at all!  But, when in Rome, I do as Romans do.  I've been fortunate enough that all the toilets I've seen so far are normal ones--or at least I had the choice to avoid the squat toilets.  The weirdest experience in that department was in Japan's airport, which had a heated (oh God, I hope it was heated--otherwise the person before me has the warmest butt in the history of the world) toilet seat.  Which was weird.  And a boudet.  But that's optional (again, thank the maker).  The only really negative thing about Vietnam so far has been that chairs seem to be an option feature in homes here and the furniture in general seems to be a lot smaller--my knees are banging the top of the desk and the one folding chair in this apartment is too small for my wide behind (though that may be just as much my fault as anything else).

Thuy's family has been extremely hospitable and today we went and saw some historic sights in Hanoi, such as Hoan Kiem Lake--which has a legend very similar to the Excalibur one.  An ancient Vietnamese King received a sword from a tortoise there (the tortoises there are huge--the preserved one in the temple there must have been five feet long at least) and used it to defeat the Chinese.  Then when he went back to the lake, the gods took the sword back and it's supposedly still in the lake (no word if the sword or the king will come back at Vietnam's hour of need or not).

Before we went to Hoan Kiem Lake, we had a very nice breakfast at a small, hole-in-the-wall (almost literally) shop.  I found out that noodles are apparently eaten in the morning, and rice tends to be eaten for lunch and dinner.  For breakfast then, I had something I think called "muong suon" (or something to that effect).  It was kind of a noodle soup like pho, but there's pork with bone in it and it was delicious. They had me put some green lemon (I thought they were tiny limes, but the taste is more like lemon, I think) some pickled garlic sauce, and some chilies in it.  It was hearty and flavorful.  It was filling at the time, but I think it wore off quickly because we had lunch shortly after the palace of literature--which must have only been three hours afterwards.

After walking a short bit around Hoan Kiem lake and seeing this island temple built in the middle of the lake, we took a taxi to the first university in Vietnam.  It was built in the 11th century and it had all of its graduates' (or a large portion of them--there seemed to only be a few years--relatively speaking) names written in stone on these big tablets resting on the back of turtles (they must be a very important animal to the Vietnamese--I saw lots of turtle statues).  The university was pretty well preserved, though a section of it (the temple to Confucious) had been destroyed during fighting in 1946 and was completely rebuilt (ironically enough with the help of American Express in the early 2000s). 

Afterwards, we went to lunch at a place that specialized in Hue cuisine.  I had a ton of the things we saw on that Anthony Bourdain show--the in-shell shrimp in the rice thing and that clam soup thing.  We also had some pork belly that we rolled with basil, pineapple, and cucumbers in a spring roll type thing that we dipped in a shrimp-chili sauce.  We also had this fried pork thing with shrimp and bean sprouts that we also rolled in spring roll type stuff.  Everything was very good--the different things in the roll all had unique flavors that really came out as you chewed--pineapple, cucumber, papaya, basil, radish, the meat, and the sauces.  I have photos of the food--but it's all on my camera.  The shrimp on a wafer in the rice cake thing was especially good--you didn't notice the shell at all.  Actually, despite having sea food (shrimp anyway) in everything, nothing tasted fishy.  With the exception of the baby clam thing from Hue--though even that wasn't too fishy, but it was still my least favorite part of the meal.

After lunch we went and had coffee--first I tried a Vietnamese espresso--which basically had a ton of sugar or something in it.  Then I had a Vietnamese frappe chino--which had coconut and a lot more cream or something (a huge part of it was white and that had the coconut flavor) and I really think if Starbucks or someone tried selling it in the US, it'd do well--the coffee wasn't too strong and the hint of coconut was great.

From the cafe, we took a taxi to the Vietnamese opera, which is near the museum of the national revolution and the National Museum of Vietnam.  Today we went to the NMV, hopefully tomorrow or the next day, we'll see the museum of the revolution.  The NMV was smaller than I expected, but had a lot of bronze and Stone Age artifacts, as well as a great deal of pottery and images from the wars against the Chinese and Mongols for Vietnamese independence.  Vietnam's been invaded a crap ton of times from the north--one of the battles that turned back an invasion was interesting because it was a naval battle, which took place in a river and the image of it showed the Vietnamese land soldiers charging into the shallows of the river to hit the Chinese soldiers wading in from sinking ships.

We had to leave that museum and come back to Thuy's brother's apartment at 5 to pick up his daughter from day care.  I spent most of the day with Thuy's sister-in-law and her brother-in-law (extended families seem close here).  Unfortunately I'm butchering their names--I think the brother-in-law is Khai and I'm going to have to ask her sister in law again...

Vietnamese is very difficult to pronounce--and from what I'm learning, they have just as difficult a time pronouncing English.  One odd thing I've noticed is that I feel a lot more comfortable here since I can at least read the script than when I was in China or Korea.  I think there's something about being able to at least recognize the writing on stores and shops makes it less alien, though it's just about as foreign as China was, and arguably more foreign than Korea!  I also found it strange that there were a bunch of foreign tourists--but the most seemed to be French or English speaking.  I only saw about two people who spoke Russian, which surprised me, as I expected the close Cold War ties between Russia and Vietnam to lend to more tourism from there.  Apparently the ties to France and the West seem to be growing much faster than I expected.

It gets dark very early here.  I started writing this at about 5:50, and by 6:45, it's completely dark outside.  We're having dinner here and I'm going to try to stay awake until at least 8 or 9, then go to bed.  I believe I'm heading out by motorbike with Khai to a village that specializes in pottery.  Hopefully I'll be able to exchange money soon so I can start grabbing souvenirs.  I at least hope to be able to get something at the museum of the revolution--I saw some neat post cards that had old propaganda images on it.  I expect there'll be some cooler stuff there.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going to Kansas City

Today's my last day in Almaty and by extension Kazakhstan (obviously).  Technically, my flight takes off around 4 AM tomorrow morning, but I won't see another sunrise in Almaty.  Though, to be honest, I didn't see too many of those anyway--our window faces west and the sun comes up at a stupidly early hour.  But that's besides the point.  This weekend has been a lot of fun--Friday night I had a chance to go to  the Arasan Public Baths in Almaty.

Arsan is  A soviet era public baths/health spa.  It was fantastic.  I'm not sure I ever felt so clean and refreshed--especially after Friday had been another balmy day and I'd been sweating like a pig.  The change from broiling hot in the banya to icey cold in the pool...was just amazing.  Just lovely.

Afterwards, Alibek (my host and one of Marah's students--thanks again Marah!) took us to...a rather interesting club--at first they wouldn't let me in because I was wearing my sneakers--I'd put away all my other shoes away.  Eventually they let me in, but it's kind of a typical club, other than not letting me in.  

The next day, Alibek invited me to his nephew's birthday party, which was a very interesting experience.  We went to a small village near Almaty known as "Kalinina"  so called because there's a statue of Kalinin (think Kaliningrad) in the middle of the village.  I had a chance to try Shurbat (camel's milk--not that great, but tons better than Kumis).  These people welcomed me to their family celebration with open arms and smiles and I had a great time.  

I'm going to miss this very much.  Fortunately, Alibek says he has plans to visit the US and do a road trip, so I hope to be able to return the hospitality.  As well to Marah and her family if they come!  As excited as I am to see you guys again (and of course the pups), but the more I think of going back to Lawrence, the less exciting it gets.  I guess I'll have to deal with it, but...egh, Lawrence again.

Still, looks like I'm heading back to Kansas City!