Tuesday, December 29, 2009

White Christmas in Saigon

I arrived in Saigon early afternoon. As I stepped off the plane and into the airport, I looked out and saw lush greenery, I inhaled floral scents (jasmine? orchid) and looked around at the very modern airport. Hmm... doesn't LOOK communist. After going through immigration and customs, I stepped out and hopped into a cab.

My first impression of Saigon/Vietnam: It reminds of New Orleans! Albeit with a massive amount of motorbikes. Y'all, this be crazy. I have never in my 26 years seen anything this frenetic. Think of a river choking with salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Hopefully you get the point. And if you still don't watch this video:

So after arriving at my hotel, Nhat Tien, I decided to venture out into the city and explore. My first stop was the Ben Thanh market, an assault of the senses. There were vibrant flowers, glitzy necklaces and bracelets, nose clogging scents, basically sensory overdrive. I wandered through the stalls looking at the knick-knacks and souvenirs made in China. I walked through the food stalls and tried to figure out what was what.

Done with wandering, I tried to make my way over to the "backpacker district" but had absolutely no luck finding it. I was starving and really wanted to find a good pho restaurant (apparently there are a ton beside the market) but came short. Now, for those familiar with Vietnam/HCMC I know what you're thinking, "you can find a bowl of pho ANYWHERE." Yes, there are hundreds of stools outside of buildings with an old lady sitting over a stove on every street. These street stall getups are probably the best place to have a steaming bowl of pho. But remember, kind readers, this is my first solo sojourn and I still need a smidgen of modern comfort.

Turning up short on pho, I walked over to a restaurant that had a big neon pho bowl on its side and walked in. Unfortunately, I did not see anything resembling pho on the menu. FORTUNATELY, I DID choose a dish that was delectably right! It was like a Vietnamese version of pad thai. Vermicelli noodles, pork, shrimp, egg, bean sprouts, onion, peppers, carrots. Deliciousness when I needed it the most. Plus a refreshing Lipton iced tea loaded with lime and sugar! I was indeed satiated and quite pleased with this discovery.

This gave me the energy to brave the steamy Saigon evening. As I walked along a park, watching the procession of motorbikes, it hit me that tonight is Christmas Eve. Despite the twinkling lights, and the little kids all dressed up like Santa, it did not feel like Christmas. Who eats ice cream on Christmas Eve? I did! I spotted Fanny's (a joint I read up on in the Lonely Planet book) and thought a chili chocolate ice cream with candied oranges might put me in a holiday mood. It didn't, but it was still an interesting taste. I did manage to play peek a boo with a little Vietnamese Santa Claus. He was a cutie.

Jet lagged and stuffed with good eats, I went back to my hotel where I promptly had the best sleep I've had in a very long time. I woke up the next day refreshed and revitalized. Yes, Saigon was doing good for me and my bones....

A Word of Caution Brought to you by my Parents

After a very long procession of emails back and forth, I was finally about to Skype with my parents this morning in Bangkok. As planned, I am going down to Koh Samui to meet up with Jamie but instead of taking the overnight train, I'll be taking a bus. (I'm in a PC cafe waiting out the next 30 minutes).

Anyways, after updating them on my itinerary my parents wanted to give me a piece of advice:

Mom: Casey, your father and I watched a show about the tsunami that happened in Phuket 5 years ago. Be very careful. I want you to notice anything that does not look right with the water. Watch the water.

Dad: Yeah, but watch out, 'cuz those things happen really fast.

Mom: That's right. So if you see anything strange- RUN! Run very fast!

Dad: Go where the animals go. No animal has ever died in a tsunami. They know things. We don't. But they do.

So instead of relaxing on the beach, working on my tan and sipping a fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it, I'm going to have to spend the next few days checking on tidal discrepancies and monitoring irregular bird migrating patterns... in case I need to save the people on Koh Samui and ensure that we will all be here to see 2010 (which is ONLY 2 years away from 2012...).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

The Christmas Concert went fabulously! I am so proud of Yellow Class... I hate to brag but we were the best (duh.). I'll be putting videos up when I return from my trip.

But I wanted to leave you all with a few videos spreading some good holiday cheer, brought to you by Fruit By the Foot.

Despite the fact that I'm on the other side of the world from much of my family and friends, I must say that I feel the warmth and love that you all have given me from many miles away! I'm thankful for so many things in my life, who would have thought a year ago (just 12 months ago I was one of the many unemployed during the holidays) that I would be blessed with so many things. I don't take these blessings for granted and am so appreciative of the love that I have from so many people.

Mom and Pop, above all, you are truly wonderful for EVERYTHING you have done. From sending my birth certificate after I lost my passport, to my kickass Christmas Care Package (despite my efforts, it has shrunk considerably), to letting my bank know I'll be spending copious (hopefully not TOO copious) amounts on my travels for me, to just letting me BE here to experience this all. I sincerely wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

OK folks, signing out from Seoul... see you (maybe?) in Saigon... and if I don't, as they say in Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,

"Chúc Mừng Giáng Sinh!!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Packing with Lil C

I will be plane bound in a few days and yesterday I started to pack. Yes, I feel like the night before the first day of school and I have my looseleaf paper in my Lisa Frank binder, along with 5 mechanical pencils, 2 blue pens, and 2 red.

I think Little C (aka Casey aka the Cat) knows something is up. She's been observing me cleaning the apartment, opening my closets and putting clothes in. Taking clothes out and putting them back into the closet. Giving me the side eye fueled with suspicion. I'm taking her to Nabiya tomorrow after work, the apartment will definitely be quiet without her. I'm hoping my neighbors will appreciate the silence from my apartment for the next few weeks.
"Oh. I see what you're doing here."
"Iz nots happy and Iz wants to go with yous."

Has anyone tried to go backpacking with a feline before??

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Beach- a Back Packer's Cautionary Tale

I watched The Beach tonight... I probably shouldn't have.

Sure the island shots are gorgeous and yes, I think this certain beach is what every tourist has in mind when they think of Thailand... but the grungy, disgusting shots of Bangkok and Koh Phangan just... don't make me too excited. And apparently they CGI the hell out of that imaginary beach.

Perhaps this does work in lowering my expectations as they might have been a little too high.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gettin' Antsy With It

So, today is December 15. On December 24 I will be en route to Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon.

Still waiting for my Visa for Vietnam along with my new E2 Visa to go along with my new passport because I lost my previous passport. Hope there won't be any complications...

Dec. 24- Arrive in Saigon
Dec. 25- Celebrate Christmas with a steaming bowl of pho. I have yet to try pho and am a little nervous about it, but have been assured it's like beef chicken noodle soup.
Dec. 27- Fly from Saigon to Bangkok
Dec. 29- Take an overnight train down to Koh Samui to meet Jamie
Dec 31-1 Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan hopefully??
Jan. 1- Take overnight train back to Bangkok
Jan. 2- Fly out of Bangkok
Jan. 3- Fly back to Incheon/ Recover in Seoul
Jan. 4- Teach class.

Is this crazy? Will my body be able to take this? Will I psyche myself out once, twice, every day? Yes, yes, yes. We'll see...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lots of what?!?!?!?

What would you do if....

Jack: I won't be here Monday. I go to trip.

Me: Where are you going Jack? Can I come too?

Jack: I don't know where I will go. Bangkok!

Me: Ooooh! Well I will go there for Christmas, too! Why are you going to Bangkok?

Jack: I don't know why I go to Bangkok. We go..... *thoughtful pause* There is lots of Banks! And lots of Cocks!!

*horrified pause* What do I say? What do I do? How do I react? Meanwhile...

Jack: Yes! Banks and cocks. cocks and cocks and cocks and cocks! In Bangkok! Bangkok has many banks and cocks. Is right, yes?

David: Yes! Cock cock cock cock! Like chicken say.

Jack in the background: We go see lots of banks and cocks in BANGKOK!

Honestly, how am I supposed to act? Do I just pretend not to hear anything? Do I chastise him or tell him not to say that, thereby letting him know he is saying something he shouldn't be saying? Do I laugh? I just do the next best thing and drag Mindy into my classroom so Jack can tell her where he is going this weekend...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Adult Education

Waiting for my kids to line up for Library Class (yes this is a class where kids check out a book, read it, and then take a quiz on it) I eavesdropped on a conversation:

Jasmin: You cannot kiss when you are married in a church.

Louis: Yes you can! My parents marry in church and then they kiss.

Jasmin: No, you cannot kiss.

Sera: No, Louis is right. You can kiss when you marry.

Jack: No no. You get marry and then you go to love motel and kiss. Right, Casey?

I just look at them dumbstruck.

How do kindergarten students know what a love motel is?? For those outside of Asia, love motels serve several different purposes, emphasis on LOVE and not so much the "motel" part. Although I do know plenty of new teachers who have had to shack up in these places for the first part of their stay in Korea. Apparently you get a choice selection of "movies," "toys," and contraceptives.

Like I said, my kids are too smart for their own good...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Big Fat Korean Wedding

This morning, I dragged my sleepy heiny outside and braved the cold for Sunny's wedding. Sunny is one of the accountants at our school and a COMPLETE sweetheart. Had the wedding been for someone else, I probably wouldn't have gone. But I'm happy I did! We boarded a yellow bus and headed to Happy Suwon. At the wedding hall, slyly named Hotel Ritz (the Ritz was not so ritzy but still very elegant) we witnessed a Korean wedding similar to the ones going on simultaneously on the 8 floors below it.

The Korean wedding is a head scratcher for most foreigners. From the oddly outfitted ushers who more or less resemble Korean Air flight attendants, to the nonstop chatter from the wedding guests throughout the ceremony. Yes, we even saw the father of the bride on his cell phone during the ceremony smack dab in the front! Everything is more or less for show, with the western traditions (cutting the cake and vows) practically empty with significance. These are just photo ops to go into their wedding album. Is that so bad? Might they actually have a point? Doesn't a wedding equal one big photo-op?

However you may feel about Korean weddings you have to go if only for the GREAT food. The buffet was delicious. I filled myself up on salmon, chicken, ox tail soup, chap-jae, crab legs, ribs, and yummy dessert before piling back onto the bus with Mike, Michael, Mindy, and our Korean supervisors to head back to Seocho by 4:00. Oh yes, did I tell you the whole affair only lasts about 1-2 hours? It's bada bing bada boom because, of course, there's another wedding at 2:00.

Mom's March, don't ask why the lighting effects are green...

You should see these girls with nunchucks.

Korean cast of Glee

Nothin says classy elegance like a fake champagne tower. Is that Cristal?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mika in Korea

Thankfully the music industry has taken note that Korean fans are hardcore... I was lucky enough to catch Lady Gaga in her second trip to Seoul and while I thought her concert was amazing I will not be so enthusiastic to go to a concert if I'll be in the mosh pit again. Beyonce was here a couple of months ago and the Killers are coming in February.

I was simultaneously elated and heartbroken, however, when I saw this. Man I would have loved to have seen Mika in a hanbok!!