Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm in Love (Part 4)

I don't know what they do to oranges in Dalat, but they are freaking good. I swear, there's vanilla in there somehow. My only regret is that I pigged out on pomelos while I was in Dalat and didn't try my lone orange until after I arrived in Hanoi.

Minor crises

Now, those of you who know me well, know that I have pretty severe grass and tree pollen allergies. Spring and summer are generally toxic seasons for me. So you'd think that I might be trepiditious about visiting a place known as "the city of eternal spring." You might also suppose that, with my vampiric complexion and no regular access to the sun, I would think to slather on some SPF, even on a cloudy day. You, my friend, are giving me much more credit than I deserve, which is why I spent my second day in Dalat wrapped up like an Italian widow in a scarf, cardigan, and long pants, wheezing and popping Benadryl.

Flower Garden

My first day in Dalat, I just wandered around the city, then decided to walk the perimiter of Xuan Huong Lake. I ran into the Dalat Flower Gardens and decided to go in. But as soon as I did, I noticed some ominous clouds off in the distance. So I stuck near all the covered areas. And then I saw a few cracks of lightning and heard thunder. Still, I wasn't going to panic (although I was surrounded by trees and metal poles and other things lightning tends to like) until I felt rain and then I'd just take a taxi back to the hotel or something. I hung around, waiting, for 2 hours. And I never felt one drop of rain.

What I did feel, however, was a passionate need to have a garden and/or grow orchids (as you can probably tell from my pictures).

Xuan Huong Lake

Dalat is known for being a lovely mountain city with fresh air, trees, and all that crap. One of the main attractions in the city is Xuan Huong Lake, which is named after an eighteenth century lady-poet. I spent most of my time in Dalat on the shore of the lake, being totally feminist. Ho Xuan Huong was, in some ways, the Chaucer of her time and culture--she wrote in the venacular language, based her form on folk culture, and was really, really sexually explicit. The book of and about her poetry (oh, don't act like you didn't already guess that I researched this woman the moment I heard about her) points out that since Vietnamese is a tonal language, you can make really dirty stuff seem high-minded, which is what she does. A translation of least dirty poem is below:

Spring-Watching Pavilion

A gentle spring evening arrives
airily, unclouded by worldly dust.

Three times the bell echoes like a wave.
We see heaven upside down in sad puddles.

Love's vast sea cannot be emptied.
And springs of grace flow easily everywhere.

Where is nirvana?
Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten.

Finally, photos!

Click here for the main page for all my albums (I made one for each city). The Hanoi album only has photos from the hotel thus far, but I will update, edit, and create captions soon, I swear.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Technical Difficulties

I'm trying to post more pictures, but the computer in Dalat does not like me using Picasa Basic Uploader. Will get them up when I can.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I'm in Love (Part 3)

I am only in love with food and drink (well, not counting the man in Brooklyn). This time it is Dalat red wine. It tastes strangely familiar--fruity, with a dry finish. I'm not a wine expert, so I won't get too over my head in descriptions, but if I can bring this stuff back with me, I will.

A Very Lazy Day in Saigon

It's very easy to justify being lazy in Saigon--it's just too darn hot to anything besides order another beer. So on my second day, I slept in late, eventually got some pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and decided to head towards the Museum of Vietnamese History. Thing is, the Museum takes a long lunch break and there was no way I was going to get there before noon. So I wandered over slowly and when I ran into Regina Coffee near the post office, I decided to do my duty to my paternal grandmother and go in. I'm not actually sure how long I stayed there--juice turned into lunch, turned into writing in my journal and then reading an old issue of The New Yorker. But eventually I got over to the museum, and got dragged into another student survey. But I was lazy and didn't feel like fighting the rush hour traffic again (the day before I ended up walking home at 5PM--motorbikes six abreast, then more driving on the sidewalk!), so headed home early.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm in Love (Part 2)

Vietnamese coffee...there really aren't words. With condensed milk it somehow isn't as cloyingly sweet as that I've had in the States. Black and over's perfect. It tastes like chocolate, very, very dark chocolate that doesn't give you the sugar shakes or anything. It's surprisingly kind to your stomach (although after nearly 15 years of daily coffee consumption, I just may be immune to all that now). Lucky for all of you, I accidentally purchased a kilo of weasel coffee to bring home--presents!

First Full Day in Saigon

I decided to eschew the motorbikes and do a walking tour of Saigon instead. Despite (or because of) the traffic, I really enjoy walking in Saigon. I am probably missing out on something by not biking, but I really don't care. Okay, so the highlights:
  • Ben Thanh Market: food! old-timey men's pajamas! junk!
  • Ginger ice cream and coffee at Fanny's: the ginger ice cream tasted like, well, ginger and cream. Nothing weird, no non-ginger aftertaste.
  • Art Museum: beautiful yellow and white building that was formerly something oppressive and probably french
  • History of Ho Chi Minh City Museum: another beatiful old building, this one with tanks in the yard; more taxidermied animals (is this a staple of city museums of which I was somehow unaware? I'm pretty sure that the NYC building doesn't have taxidermied squirrels or rats--which is not to say that they shouldn't).
  • Post Office: um, nice telephone booths? General waste of time, but whatever.

Really, the sights are only an excuse to traverse the city and give me something to do between meals. Also, Uncle Ho is everywhere.

I'm in Love (Part 1)

Oh, pho--where have you been all my life? I've had noodle soups before, but it's never been like this. None have been soothing in the morning, surprising in the afternoon, and sophistacted in the evening. None went well with beer. If only I could learn to consume you more delicately and not leave an oily patch on my chin or broth in my eyes (I am a slob).

Travel Fashion

I don't know what it is about being on vacation that makes everyone want to dress like a slob. It's not just being comfortable--I spend most of my life in jeans and sneakers, but ever since I left JFK, the dressiest garment I've worn was designed by Old Navy. I brought nicer shoes, which are completely impractical. I even packed a silk shirt that somehow doesn't wrinkle (maybe it's part mystery-material, it's silk-y at least). Both are currently taking up space in the suitcase

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Updates in progress

Trying to get myself up to date as I can. And I hope it's obvious to everyone that spelling and grammatical errors will be fixed when I get a more stable internet connection. I'm tagging all posts with the cities to which they refer, so you can organize your reading that way.

Saigon Traffic

Yes, it is as bad as you've heard.

Foot Traffic

Although I've lived in NYC for over 10 years now and consider myself a pretty well-seasoned urbanite, I can't say that anything prepared me for the amount of freakin' PEOPLE in Hong Kong. In NYC, you have a little buffer zone between yourself and other people and those who invade that zone pay the consequences. Such a zone does not--cannot--exist in Hong Kong. To make matters more claustrophobic, they have barriers on the sidewalks of most major streets so one can't jaywalk or run into traffic and kill onself. If you want to cross the street you may have to walk several blocks to find an opening or a footbridge or a subway.
And the footbridges kind of fascinated me. Partly due to my fear of heights, but also because these footbridges are often connected to malls. Now I'm a born-and-bred mall girl, as much as I hate to admit it. My veins run with Orange Julius, my heart is a Mrs. Field's cookie. But these malls are not like that. It's designer store after designer store. Posh restaurant after posh restaurant. Incredibly intimating when you're lost and confused and sort of sweaty.

Hong Kong Waterfront

Hong Kong, like NYC, is not a particularly beautiful city. Paris or Rome, you walk around and think "wow"--Hong Kong, you just worry about getting where you want to go. That said, the skyline is impressive.
On my beautiful sunny day, I wandered back to Kowloon and had every intention of going to the Arts Museum, but instead sat on the steps outside the Arts Museum and got slightly sunburnt and read a book. I was approached for three different surveys being administered by students of varying English-language capacities. One group of particular chatty girls wanted to know where all my friends were. "I don't have any friends in Hong Kong." They were horrified. I tried to explain in a few different ways that I don't actually live in Hong Kong and I've never been there before, so not having friends there doesn't make me a total loser. They left, pitying me.

HK Park

My first two days in Hong Kong were rainy and overcast, but the third day was sunny and perfectly hot. So I trekked out to Hong Kong Island to visit the Park. First I had to climb up a series of precarious, calf-torturing steps (found out later that I could have entered through a walkway/mall that had air conditioning and escalators). Once I finally got up there, I sat by the fish pond for awhile (pictures coming) and went to the Museum of Teaware. I don't have any special fondness for teaware unless it is holding an especially nice tea, but if I ever get the chance to open a museum dedicated to one of my esoteric interests (Renaissance feminism, Marilyn Monroe studies, lesbian artists), I'd like to think that others would visit, so I try to pre-pay the favor.
Then I went to the aviary, although I'm not sure why. I never see any BIRDS at an aviary, just hear them. And I think of Hitchcock. At the very end, however, I see this big, mean blue bird with a crazy tuft of feathers on its head looking at the little girl in front of me like she was lunch.

NYC Humility (Part 1)

See, the thing is, NYC is the best place in the world to be. And New Yorkers are used to thinking of our city (and ourselves) as excelling in all the important areas: we're the biggest, richest, thinnest, most fashionable, coolest, most diverse, etc. And, for the most part, when we travel, that is proven. But there are a few cities that can outdo us in a few (very few areas). Hong Kong is one of those cities. A few examples:
  • Subway system (actually works, is clean and quiet, cheaper than NYC)
  • Diversity (they at least give us a run for our money--there is no way to tell a "local" from a tourist in HK unless said person is holding a map and/or has a dumbfounded look on her/his face)
  • Skinny fashionable girls (maybe it's to save room that everyone has decided that 95 lbs is the absolute limit)
  • Designer everything, all the time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Mostly from Hong Kong Museum of History:

Women's Market and Goldfish Market

I believe the Women's Market is named that like Broadway in the 1920s was named "Ladies' Mile"--women (or ladies) are no longer their main target audience, but the name stuck. Basically, it was a market. There were designer knock-offs, souvenirs, jewelry, and dog outfits. It was bustling and loud. While it was fun to walk through, I'm never sure what's expected of me in these situations. Although I am a New Yorker and therefore not impervious to the clarion call of designer status bags for a portion of the price, it's not like such things don't exist in New York. So I didn't get anything.

The Goldfish Market was another story (although I didn't purchase anything). It clearly has a purpose and was a joy to see. It's not really a market, just a row of shops for a couple of blocks with tanks and bags of fish, turtles, and aquarium paraphenalia for sale. Also, cats, dogs, and rodents for brief period. I loved, loved it, although I did get stares when I pulled out the camera.

Hong Kong Museum of History

So this is the first museum that I have ever visited that begins the history of the city in paleolithic era. It's somewhat odd to walk in from the thriving metropolis (even on a Sunday) and start examining fossils and types of rock that have existed in the area for millions of years.

That said, y'all probably know that I dork out for any kind of history, even the arrowheads and "fish salting" procedures. You throw in taxedermied animals and paper puppets and I have found a new home away from home. The History Museum was also strong on creating "sets": a typical home in the 17th century, a pawnbrokers shop, a tea house. They also liked to add soundtracks to their exhibits, which can be heard several exhibits ahead. So while you're examining sandstone, you hear the roars of a tiger (from the Flora and Fauna exhibit) and from Flora and Fauna, you can hear the Dragon Dance, which actually sounds like two girls having a swordfight. It's sort of like when you're waiting in line for a roller coaster and you can hear the people screaming at each loop and bump. Ominous.

Getting Lost

As some of you may know, I have lost any faculty for giving directions anymore. How do you get to the brunch spot Suja and I always go to? That Cuban place Ellen loved despite its terrible service? My own apartment? You just...get there. Maybe it's the influence of Google Maps or HopStop (or early-onset Alzeimer's), but the idea of not knowing how to get somewhere has become ridiculous to me lately.

And then I got to Hong Kong--a city in which few streets bother to go North to South or East to West, but rather meander like streams whose intentions are not for humans to guess. Pretty much anytime I exit the hotel, I get lost. Last night, I went out for dinner and literally every time I had to make a decision on the direction, I went in directly the wrong direction. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing--I wandered on Argyle and Nathan roads, stumbled on the goldfish market, figured out the nearest MTR stops. It was nice, actually, to not know where I was going.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jet Lag

Just got in a few hours ago. The flight was 16 hours and I could only sleep for six. A few things worth mentioning:
  • On my flight was a student choral group from mid-Pennsylvania with matching bags and t-shirts, both of which had the students' names embroidered on them. Folks, if you are ever approached to buy candy or get your car washed by kids who want to travel abroad and feel they need such items, please dissuade them. Apple-cheeked teenagers will be targeted enough by ne'er-do-wells, why offer their names as well?
  • Luckily, the students did not start singing, but on the bus from the subway to the hotel in Hong Kong, a little girl sitting behind me started singing about Jesus. She was sweet, making up songs the way I used to. A sample (from her, not me): "And Jesus he is praaayyer and if you forget the name of the hotel, Heeee will tell you it if you belieeeeeve." Indeed. Her mother did not recognize her genius and just shushed her.
  • Hong Kong airports offer disenfectant for use on the toilet seat. Why doesn't everyone do this?

So, haven't seen anything of the city yet. Going to do an early dinner and rest tonight so I can spend tomorrow exploring.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Okay, so here's the plan:

Friday, Mar 21: long flight to Hong Kong

Saturday, Mar 22: arrive in Hong Kong in the afternoon

Tuesday, Mar 25: arrive in Saigon

Friday, Mar 28: arrive in Dalat

Monday, Mar 31: arrive in Hanoi

Sat, Apr 05: return to the States, via Hong Kong

Sun, Apr 06: arrive at JFK late at night

Not sure how much time I'll actually have to update this, but I'm going to make a valiant effort.