hiding with heidi

we have been laying low in bangkok, staying at our friend heidi's house. she has lived here for 3 years and is currently a teacher and the de facto principal of an english school. it was great to spend some concentrated time with heidi. we have not seen her for 4 years and yet we picked up our friendship like we had been chatting once a week. it is great how that happens with true friends. she was a thoughtful and dedicated host.
she has been a fantastic host, taking us to the best thai restaurants, letting us use her laptop and laundry and showing us where to buy good spices.

here we are at the beautiful "suan thip", a thai restaurant with huge manicured grounds that were almost completely empty.

kylie and i have been zipping around bangkok on the onomatopediacally named tuktuks and the sky train (sky train is more descriptive than onomatopia). we have avoided the cultural sites like temples and the palace in favour of crazy malls and a/c movie theatres. this is not b/c we are culturally depraved but rather b/c we are saving those sights for our time here with julie and lowell and carlynne and dan, who will be meeting us in bangkok on may 10.

after the cultural immersion of vietnam (and the boggy heat of everywhere), it was nice to watch a 3D movie. before the movie, and smack in the middle of 20 min of commercials, there was a song about the king with a little compendium of moving scenes from his life, and we all had to stand the whole time and honour him. interesting.
the malls in bangkok put canadian malls to shame. the juxtaposition of burnished chrome and shiny glass with the grubby brick buildings and dirty sidewalks of greater bangkok is somewhat jarring.

this is the pier a 20 min walk away from heidi's appt, where you can catch a boat right to downtown. we will take one tonight to catch the night train to the islands in the south. our destination is bottle beachon ko pha ngan, as recommended by hav and scott.

listerine flavoured pepsi? the taste of a new generation.


Good Night Vietnam

We are back in Saigon after a quick trip to the Mekong Delta. Tomorrow we head to Thailand, then off to Cambodia and then back to Thailand to meet Marc's sisters and their respective spouses. We have booked a ticket home on May 18!!

The last couple of days have been spent wandering around Saigon, seeing a few of the sights we didn't see before. We went to the reunification palace, which was the presidential headquarters during the Vietnam War and the site of the official end of the war in 1975.
The palace grounds

The basement served as a communication centre during the war, here I am looking conspiratory.

Marc's excitation level is down, here he is trying to remedy that.

Later that evening we headed for a walk in the park and found a large group doing hip thrusting, mainly upper body aerobics to very loud dance music.

We were actually quite happy to be back in Saigon after our trip to the Mekong Delta, primarily because it is familiar but also because were not having to contend with EXTREMELY large meals being served to us. We organized a homestay on Unicorn Island with a very nice family who really thought that all westerners like to eat all the time.
This was our host Choo, visiting after one of the many meals we were served.
Our dinner the first night there. We ate most of it (and it was quite good! Including the frog. I did not try it, I am just taking Marc's word for it) but we left a little frog and some calamari. We were very proud of ourselves for consuming most of it but as our host came to pick it up he exclaimed that his mother would be so sad because we did not like her food and we must not be very hungry and the food musn't be very good etc..etc.. We assured him that we liked it, it was just a lot for us to eat but I think in order to satisfy a Vietnamese cook you must eat all their food and then ask for more! We also happened to be here at the same time as two Quebecois who really like to eat, so we were constantly being compared to the "other" Canadians who like their food. All in all an intersting experience, one that opened our eyes a bit to Vietnamese culture and definitely filled our bellies!
This is some weird fruit drink, tasted a little like pear but was as gooey and gushy as it looks. I saw a few people eating them in Hoi An and I mentioned to Marc that I was very happy not to be consuming one. I do not like food with thick consistency (ie yogurt, pudding) but I did manage to choke this drink down.

After a breakfast of beef noodle soup (with pork balls and shrimp) which we could not really stomach, we headed out for a bike ride around the island.

The first day of our trip was spent on the Mekong Delta. The Mekong is a large delta that encompasses a large part of southern Vietnam. We booked what we thought was a boat tour but it turned out to be a shopping tour of the area with a few boat rides in between.

On a traditional river boat, which is basically a canoe. Marc was exclaiming that he doesn't know why Canadians feel like we own canoes when there are canoes everywhere, including rural Vietnam. Maybe we can just claim the word canoe!

Here are the pictures in no particular order, a traditional song and dance, honey shop, candy shop and a few pictures of the Mekong Delta in between. Just like our tour - lots of shops, not much Mekong!

We have not yet posted any pictures of the clothes we had tailored in HoiAn, so here are a few of the highlights. Marc's got a dragon embroidered on his two courdoroy jackets, here is one of them up close. We are also posing in our new matching black North Face jackets we got for cheap cheap. Please ignore (or notice) the constant sheen on my face, it is hot here and I also apologize for the white washed walls in our hotel room behind us. But I think you get the picture. ;)

Lastly, one of our first impressions of Vietnam was all the women wearing masks. They are mainly worn on motorbikes (we think it is for dust and pollution but were also told it is to keep their faces white and beautiful). It is a bit disconcerting to see them everywhere as they make me think of disease, and it is weird not to see people's faces. But this will definitely be one of our main impressions of Vietnam-women wearing printed fabrics of different colours and logos. You can also get kids ones too with little bears and flowers.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and will always have fond memories of this beautiful country.

Good Night Vietnam, Good Night!


sizzling saigon

we love saigon! in fact we enjoy it here so much that we have been dragging our feet to go on to our next destination and may just skip it and stay here. this is a city like cairo; it's alive and buzzing with a frenetic pulsing energy. everywhere you look things are happening. people selling shoes, people shining shoes, ladies frying fish, families watching TV in their wide open front entries, people buying cameras, seniors exercising, business men doing bidness... but most of all, people zooming around town on motorbikes, just itching to buzz you and just about but not quite run you over.
following the leader, and focusing on the followers.

this lovely lady, who communicates through hand written cardboard signs, makes our breakfast. i enjoy witnessing (and supporting) this type of self powered entrepreneurship. oh, speaking of entrepreneurs, we (obviously) got a new camera! a canon SD700, one model up from our previous canon. no box, no cords, no tax... all camera!

this is our friend alan from bangkok. we went for vietnamese food last night at a true blue local restaurant... so local that they didnt speak a word of english. at the end of our sumptuous dinner (even the eel (middle plate) was excellent!) we were rubbing our bloated bellies and wondering what happened to make them think veggie spring roll=pork meatball (right), when a waiter came running down the street with a plate of 24!!! needless to say, we had to take almost 20 spring rolls to go.

we haved saved all our souvenir shopping (excluding tailored clothes) for saigon. above is one of two paintings we bought, pictured with the artist.
kylie knew she wanted mugs like joanna and kevin's, but she didnt realize how much selection there was!

here is the beautiful and efficient looking post office, where we hope to have all our purchases shipped home. much more reassuring than the post office in cairo! we will pack our souvenirs carefully in our tailored clothes and our new north face jackets. yes, kylie and i both succumbed to the monetary pressure and bought 2 goretex jackets for a grand total of $70.

we have been able to fulfill our fruit juice desires in saigon quite nicely. it is hot here (33-35 and sticky humid). our favourite is a mango slurpee from a street vendor that puts 7-11 to shame! frozen mangoes + ice +blender = aaaaah! i know that we shouldnt trust the ice here, but we just cant help it. there are street vendors everywhere that make a kickass iced coffee as well. we'll keep our fingers crossed.

we took a cyclo ride from the jade dragon pagoda to the war remnants museum a few days ago.
the pagoda was one of the most intricately decorated that we have seen. it also featured 20 lb koi and a pool swarming with turtles painted with ?prayers in chinese script.

at night the kids come out to play.

the war remnants museum in saigon was extremely powerful. we have been aquiring a more refined knowledge of the motivations and geography of the US/vietnam war over our travels, visiting monuments, grave sites, bombed out areas and museums. i have also started reading mcnamara's book "in retrospect", detailing his time as secretary of defense during the war.

a quick overview: 1945 - communist leader ho chi minh starts revolution to attain freedom from the french. the french fight back, with military and $$ aid from the US. both countries have substantial interests in vietnam's mineral wealth, eg. tungsten and tin (sound familiar?)

the west is booted out of north vietnam (capital = hanoi), but manages to hold on to and support a friendly regime in the south (capital = saigon). the US continues to fuel the south in order to destabilize the north.

1965 - communism is thought to be a direct threat to american soil. the US stages an attack on ITS OWN battleship USS Maddox in the gulf of tonkin and congress is provoked into declaring all out war, which it assumes it will win quickly due to vastly superior firepower. american academics, clergymen and citizens protest to no avail.

1969 - the US now has more than half a million soldiers on the ground in vietnam. also contributing soldiers are australia, new zealand, thailand, korea and the phillipines. with increased loss of american lives, majority sentiment is turning against the war.

1970-1975 - US begins to withdraw troops in response to public outcry, but continues to bomb the heck out of the country. the US dropped 10 times as many bombs on vietnam as they did during all of WWII.

1975 - US withdraws entirely and saigon is captured by the vietcong. somewhere between one and two million vietnamese have been killed, along with 50,000 american soldiers.

it is easy to demonize one side or the other in such a conflict, but what struck me at the museum was not only the barbarity perpetrated on the vietnamese, but the barbarity perpetrated on the minds of america's own young men.

a lot of the photos and articles in the war museum were taken from western publications such as life magazine and cbs news.

this is a good time to mention our visit to the famous "hanoi hilton", a military prison originally built by the french to hold vietnamese dissidents, but then used by the north to hold american POWs. john mccain was held here (pictured above). the museum contains a lot of obvious propaganda, but regardless it is pretty clear that the vietnamese treated the americans a lot better than the french treated the vietnamese.

to end on a happier note, vietnam today seems totally over the war. they have moved on and now welcome americans with the same cheerful capitalist spirit they show to other travellers with $$. kids wear shirts with US flags and when people assume we are americans they treat us quite nicely. i already mentioned the moving experience we had with the vietnamese war vets at the pagoda in hue. i suppose this speaks to the warm nature of the vietnamese.

well, its time to go find a duffel bag to ship our souvenirs home in. from here we plan to head to the mekong delta.