21 December, 2006

For the Birds!

Oh, man!

Yesterday I get out of the shower and Kenny is staring at the computer screen with a funny look on his face. The headline on the BBC World page is :

"New Birdflu Outbreak in the Mekong Delta!"

We looked at the article, we looked at the map. Are we going near where the outbreak is? Um, yes. We'll be in the boardering province. Crap. Should we still go? Part of our tour is to the floating markets, which means a good possibility of bird fecal matter. Plus, the article said that farmers have been dumping the dead birds into the water, which is everywhere...

So, after thinking it through, we decided that since the Mekong is not going anywhere, we can wait to do a little tour through it until March, when we'll be back down south, and who knows, maybe the outbreak will have petered out by then. We are probably being overly cautious. But it doesn't make too much of a difference if we go now or later, so why risk it?

We cancelled the tour, and will be taking a bus straight down to Rach Gia. This means we get to spend one extra day in the city, which is good, since I had forgotten to do going-to-the-beach things such as buy a giant bottle of sunblock and towels and get money out of the the bank and stuff like that. So while Kenny finishes his law school applications, so as not to have to think about them while we're cruising around the forests on rented motorbikes, I will go take care of errandy things.

Also, yesterday was my last day of tutoring. I handed the job over to Ciarna, who instantly wowed the kids with her cool games and funny faces. They're in great hands. And now I have two little pen-pals. :)

19 December, 2006

Argh, Packing

The snake pictures are online, buuut the video's not. We move out of our room in 48 hours and our days have mostly been spent doing practice packings and making give-away piles, during which we each open our suitcases and hop gingerly around each other in the teeny tiny amount of floorspace, and attempt to fit lots of stuff into our (suddenly too) small backpacks. I will definitely be needing to pay for an extra piece of baggage. Le sigh.

Quick news of note, each of which deserves a blog of its own, which just might happen: tonight the bus tried to race a dump truck full of gravel, which was surprisingly speedy. The other week we went to see the water puppet show and the best part was the full-on yowling cat fight taking place on the think plastic ceiling above us, climaxing when one of the toms, a scrappy-looking black and white cat, actually fell through the ceiling and into an empty chair in the audience. Wow. Also, my tutoring job ends this week, and along with it, any last source of income, which I think makes me a real backpacker, and no longer "cooler than a backpacker because um, I *live* here." Ah, well.

We leave on Friday morning (Thursday night for those in the states) for a two-day tour through the Mekong, which will land us in the little coastal town from which we catch our flight to Phu Quoc Island. Sunrises and freshly caught shrimp with limes squeezed on top. Hammocks. Novels. Long sandy walks. And motorbikes. Merry Christmas!

15 December, 2006

Baby on the bus

This little cutie was sitting in front of me on the ride home tonight, which was great, because 40 minutes of toddler giggles sure do drown out the constantly blaring bus horn. We played classic bilingual games such as "wiggle the fingers" and "no, you can't have the iPod!" I think his Mom was glad to have a break. He was pretty high energy. I taught him to say bye-bye.

So! Tonight we went to the snake resteraunt. I've got some really great pictures and videos documenting the adventure, so I'll make sure that tomorrow's blog tells the full story, but for now let me tell it in brief:

order the kind of snake you want (we went for the cobra), they bring it out to you and let it wriggle around by your feet, then they break the jaw and slit it open, squeezing the blood into one bottle of homemade rice liquor and the bile (yes, the bile!) into another. Then they cook the snake meat and you eat it while you take shots of blood and bile. Pictures coming soon.

11 December, 2006

Place Orders Here

Handwoven Material from Northern Vietnam

My Aunt Jane had a suggestion: that for any friends and/or family who may be reading my blog, I create a little online opportunity to have me bring home some of the great deals on beautiful handmade things that I can get so easily where I am.

[Since I don't really want to start up a comprehensive online store right now, I'm going to stick to one item: the handwoven pieces of material that are made up North. Since they have already sold this material to stall-owners in the markets here in Saigon, I will not have the chance to meet the actual creators of the material; if this kind of thing bothers you and feels exploitative, I understand. Shop here instead. But I figure I'm not too far from the source--I'm paying tourist prices, which guessing from the smiles I get at the markets will help to feed the families of the stall owners I'm buying from.]

So, basically what this is for is if you look at the material below and think, "hey, that looks great! I want Jess to bring back a few of those for me!" you can let me know how many you want and what sort of colors I should aim for, and I'll gather 'em all up and put them in a box before I fly home.

You won't get the material until March, because I don't want to risk your order getting lost in the Vietnamese postal system. Sometimes it's reliable and sometimes it can take months. So... to cover the excess baggage costs, let's say each piece of material will be $8.00. I'm guesstimating but I think that will cover my costs as well as be a good deal for you guys. And hey, no hard feelings if you decline. I'm putting my feelers out there, seeing if this would be welcome to anyone. So here goes!


Here's an overview of what the material looks like when folded up. Keep in mind that while I haven't altered the pictures in any way, I was taking the snaps in fluorescent light. This means that the colors, while true enough, are a lot less grainy and more vibrant than it looks like here.


Roughly 2' by 5'. These are handmade, so the size varies by a few centimeters from piece to piece. You can definitely make a blouse or skirt with one piece, though. The Vietnamese make them into handbags, camera cases, waterbottle holders, you name it.

Ok, here's the fun part. They're always different from one piece to the next, but I've noticed a pattern in similar color schemes. Here's what I've picked out as example pallets:

1. The Standard (orange, red, purple-- the most commonly found)

2. The Pastel (beautiful ashy pinks and lavenders)

3. The Christmas (forest green and red- made even more wintery by the snowflaky pattern woven into all of the pieces)

4. The Maroon (this one is like the standard but with a deep red instead of the firey orange)

5. The Purple (seem to be woven a little thicker; more indigo hues)

Here are some macro shots of the woven bands of pattern that separate the main blocks of color.

Click the "add a comment" link below. In the name box, you can choose anonymous or type in your name, but either way please fill out the commentbox like this:

I think we'll either do checks written to me, COD. Unless I can figure out my Paypal account before then! I'll work on it.

This entry will continue to be online. I'll write other journal entries, but you can navigate back to this one by using the archives on the right side of the page. In March, right before I leave, I will hit the markets and collect as close to what you would like as possible (keeping in mind that since these things aren't produced through a company, they're going to vary a little bit). When I arrive back in the states, I'll mail them to you (or if I'm lucky, I'll bring 'em to you myself).

Hope this doesn't come off as too enterprising. And now, back to your regularly scheduled travel blog. :)

08 December, 2006

playing poke 'er

It started a few mornings ago. I woke up suddenly because (I thought) my nose was bleeding. It was dark so I couldn't tell, but there was definitely a nose gushing feeling so I stumbled into the bathroom with my hand cupped under my nostrils to make clean up easier. But when I turned on the light, all I had was a cold. Since that morning, my throat has been scratchy and raw and my head has felt full of concrete. Blowing my nose is just wishful thinking. So my yoga teacher Suzanne has given me the name of her acupuncturist, and I'm going to call him this morning. Apparently he's this sweet old doctor who makes house calls and uses new needles for every patient and only charges 50,000 (currently $3.09). So far the acu-sciences seem to be spot on here, but I've only tried acupressure during a foot massage and some crazy "hurts so good" points along my neck. Whether proper needles will expedite my sinuses clearing out, we shall soon see.

Yesterday we went down to Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpacker's district. Really it's only a few streets, not a whole district by any stretch of the imagination, but one can easily spend hours there, stopping by the little cafes, the touring companies that offer one to three day sightseeing trips (the mekong delta, the cu chi tunnels, etc), the big travel agent places where you can arrange your flights home, and of course the souvenir shops. I guess it's because I've got my plane ticket home that my mind has been suddenly switched into "collect" mode: whereas before I could walk right past a little shop full of beautiful carvings and silk shoes and handwoven tapestries, now I have this personal shopper in my brain going, "ooh, Mom would like that. Gotta remember to get those Tintin shirts. Those are Lauren's size. Find silver earrings for Jules" and so on. There are so many beautiful things here and they're really not too pricey. I know that I should wait, though, until we're on the road, because if they're affordable in Saigon they must be cheaper closer to the source (wherever that is). I know my Dad wants a silk bathrobe with a dragon on the back. What do you guys want?

Anyway, we went down there in order to check out a rumour that Kenny had heard, and it turned out to be very true. There is a store (well, there are probably many) that has oodles of copies of popular software titles and sells them for pennies on the dollar (dong on the dollar?). For example, we got Finale 2005 and Apple Soundtrack and some games and the newest Office suite for about $15 total (Ken says this would have cost about a thousand at home). So, here's to saving over nine hundred bucks via blatant copyright infringement! Can we console our guilty consciences with how much these companies are making? I don't know, we'll debate it later. As for now, though, I'm having so much fun playing You Don't Know Jack, my favorite trivia game from when I was a kid. It's like, if Wait Wait was a computer game with a really juvenile host. And a inexplicable pirate theme. With extra points if you 'screw' your opponent by forcing them to answer when they're unsure. And not about current events. It's like that.

So we bought our illegal software and got some breakfast at Allez Boo cause Kenny hadn't been there yet. Really what we were doing was pretending we're tourists. Trying to get a feel for what it will be like next month. There seems to be a pretty amiable atmosphere between backpackers, and we were hoping to run into someone who would just start rattling off great places to go to in CTandL (I'm tired of typing out Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos... oops) and we could pick their brains and work on our itinerary. But no one made a move, so we ate breakfast and bought cookies from the place where they take in people from the streets and help them learn how to make cookies and then tourists by them and it's better than begging. And then we went backpack shopping. We both needed something bigger than a regular backpack but something smaller than the huge internal frame packs we already have. Kenny needed one with a built in hard case for his camera. We found what we were looking for (mine is small on purpose to encourage myself not to overpack) and headed home, secure in the knowledge that even if we're not sure where we're going or if we can afford to stay away as long as we want to, at least we have good backpacks. P.s., not sure if I've mentioned it, but since Northface and Spyder and Colombia, etc all have their factories in Vietnam, you can find reeeeally cheap packs and winter jackets and ski suits and fleeces here. Before we come home we're doing winter jacket shopping in a big way. It's hard to believe that before I came over I was excited that I found a good breathable rain jacket for only $98. Laughable. And so sad to know that I have to get used to American prices again. Alas.

05 December, 2006

charity and bathing suits

Back home I was graaadually getting into good enough shape to run 5ks. I was in two of them, and I've told so many people so many times that I ran two of them, that sometimes I forget that I didn't actually run two of them. I ran most of the way, certainly at the beginning and the ends, but there was some definite stopping going on in the middle parts, so I can't honestly say I completely ran two different 5ks. Oh well. And that was when I was "training" (ie letting Kenny coax me into tying on the sneakers, pulling on the shorts, and huffing and cursing my way along the rolling hills of Warren Wilson College). There was a brief habit of running in the morning this summer, thanks to my being included in a huffing, cursing mob of like-minded foodies, but since arriving here on the tenth parallel, I've let most of my exercise be the nice calm yoga type or the speed walking on a treadmill in the A/C type. I mean, there were a few long beach hikes. But nothing in the way of getting me in any kind of shape to run a 5k, or even most of it. So when my Canadian friends started going all 'Terry Fox this' and 'Terry Fox that' I knew I should probably join up, cause the money goes towards some great cancer-treating hospitals and also I could increase my worldly know-how by being able to encourage an alliance with our maple-addled friends to the North by participating in the annual Terry Fox cult activities. So I walked a 5k with 5,000+ people in the suburbs of Saigon, moving en masse down a freshly paved highway in a sea of white and red shirts and ball caps.

Since we're spending Christmas on a mostly deserted island, I treated myself to two new bathing suits. Now, it is no secret that most western women are quite a bit larger than Vietnamese women. Larger, certainly, than sizes sold in Vietnamese stores. Luckily for us big-butted expats, there are several tailor-made suit shops in town, and the one I prefer is called Ly Ly. They'll make a western sized bikini for 180,000 (currently $11.20) in any number of colors (you choose the material and if you want any padding, lining, fancy details, whathaveyou). So to celebrate the whole "I'm tan in December!" thing, I got a white one and a coral-colored one (mom would be proud, she's been trying to get me to wear that shade for decades). They're skimpy, but you know, deserted island and all.

I'm reading The Beach by Alex Garland. It's thrilling and disgusting and I just realised that reading it gives you the same dichotomous feeling as when your mouth waters and you feel hungry and sick at the same time (this happens to other people, right?). It reminds me a little of Lord of the Flies, and Heart of Darkness, probably because of the jungle island thing. I haven't seen the movie. I don't know what's going to happen. For me, the fascination is brought home because of how plausible going there next month could be. Of course, it's not the same island anymore (which is kind of a theme in the book), but still. Thailand.

04 December, 2006

Durian and the US Consulate

As if the fruit isn't bad enough...

-last week we discovered that the grossest tropical fruit in the known universe, durian (or sâu riêng), is not only stinking up street corners and market stalls in southern Vietnam, but is also a flavor of condoms available for sale here.

-what registering with the consulate is good for: we just got an email alerting US citizens in Vietnam of the approaching Typhoon Durian (I'm still laughing). It's supposed to hit tonight. In order to be well prepared, Ken and I went out on a nighttime trek to find pirated DVDs and M&Ms, enough to keep us from chewing on our own limbs if we do get "typhooned in."

In other news...

-getting very excited about this upcoming tour of asia! the plan is as follows: go to Cambodia. travel north into Thailand. travel northwest into Laos. re-enter Vietnam up in the mountains. do north Vietnam, then travel down the coast, making it back to Saigon by the beginning of march. spend a few days here wrapping up stuff, saying goodbye to friends, and buying last minute souvenirs. fly home on march 4th. I can't put down Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. My current drooling-over location is Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand.

-I just put a ton of new photos up on the flickr site. Includes: our ragtag thanksgiving, the terry fox 5k, and our trip to Saigon's amazing Chinatown. Click away!

I'm on Flickr a lot.

Jessica K.. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr