Tales From A Broad

My year of teaching English in Japan is up. Next mission: backpack Asia before going home to the U.S.A. Currently HOME!

sleeping with Vietnamese hill tribes

Tuesday, November 28

These women from the local tribes helpes us along the way.

Sapa is probably the best place Vietnam has to offer. This northern town is near the Chinese border and has the most beautiful mountains. After centuries of hard-work, the locals have cultivated rice terraces into the mountains. If there is a stairway to heaven, Sapa is where it is. These lime-green rice paddies look like large steps on the dark green mountains.

Mountain rice paddies = Stairway to Heaven

For only two day, I went trekking through these mountains to visit hill-tribes in their villages, eat their local foods and take lots and lots of pictures of the scenery. The hike itself wouldn't have been so difficult if it wasn't for the muddy floor and rainy conditions. Each person in my group took a bamboo stick and hoped for the best.

A 6 year-old girl from one of the nearby villages followed me the entire afternoon. She told me about how she walks these 9 kilometers every day with her sisters. In some ways, she reminded me of those pictures that you see in brochures from non-profit organizations for the poor. Her hat was tattered and her clothes were plain. For sure, she was poor. Once we got to her village, she asked me over and over again if I wanted to buy something from her.

My little buddy who took me to her village.

It struck me. Of course, these tribes are poor. Money was never an object in their lifestyles until tourism banged on their doors: a new opportunity to pry into another, otherwise, isolated community. This was the first time the word "poverty" didn't carry a negative stigma for me. These people were happy and self-sustainable without money (what a novelty), but now they're addicted to tourists.

That night, an old widower from the village cooked us dinner and let us sleep in her house. Dishes of friend garlic and greens, steamed rice, tofu and tomatoes, fried beef and ginger....oh man. I hadn't eaten so well like that in a looong time.

To finish us off, she brought 2 jugs of homemade rice wine to celebrate one of the Isreali's in my group's birthday. So you've got to imagine it: 2 Swedes, 2 Isrealis, 3 Russians, 1 American (me), 1 Danish, 1 Ozzie, and 3 Vietnamese taking shots from this old lady who didn't stop pouring our glasses until we passed out. They sang traditional songs. We sang the "Happy Birthday" song in our respective languages. They exchanged farming stories. We exchanged traveling stories.

Everyone congratulating Roi for being born a couple decades ago.

Group shot right after dinner. Mmmm...

Iness shwowing our hostess the Russina way to drink.

The next day, we continued our trek through the mountains in our hangover haze. Along the way there were schools to visit and farmers in conical hats to see. The trip was practically over and I was soon on myway back to Hanoi.

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Good Morning Vietnam!

The scariest and most painful journey of my life was getting from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Going 90 MPH over a dirt road with pot-holes in a mini-van with worn down suspensions in the middle of the night isn't exactly a vacation. Alas, we made it alive, so I can't complain.

In less than one hour of arriving into Vietnam, I'd witnessed an angry woman scream and throw a bicycle at another angry woman; a restaurant-owner boast about his virtual immunity from the corrupt policemen and his drug trafficking across the Vietnam-Laos border; and the bus driver push my friends and me to the back of the bus with the suitcases, a [probably broken] computer tower and a bag of bananas.

Vietnam and I were already getting on a bad start.

What was it about the Vietnamese that pissed me off? In my 3 weeks in that country, I found a lot of them (at least the ones who deal with tourists) to be liars. It's sad that I have to write them off like that, but I found that to be true more times than not. A driver would assure me that he really was taking em to a market, only to take me to his brother's shop. We'd pay for a kayaking trip only to get taken to a restaurant-boat. Some may say that maybe it's a misunderstanding, a language barrier. I say that they know perfect English when they're selling something to foreigners. They tell us what we want to hear, no matter how false the reality really is.

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I knew this would happen

Sunday, November 26

I knew I'd come home and be so consummed with seeing everyone and doing everything that I wasn't able to do while I was away, that I'd completely neglect my blog. Seeing family, friends, doctors, unpacking, calling, job-hunting, sleeping...i've been B-U-S-Y. So here's my last attempt at remembering the rest of the trip-Laos, Vietnam and Hong Kong--and I'll try to get it done ASAP.

This woman was one of the many locals feeding the monks at dawn. This is commonly known as the Morning Alms.

VanVieng, Laos was one of the hardest places I pulled myself away from. The people i met, the kids I taught, the town itself, swimming the Mekong Delta, everything about it was addicting. Alas, time and money were running out so i headed north to Luang Prabang. The charm? It has on of the biggest monk populations in Asia, and any walk down the streets at 5AM proves it.

It's called the Morning Alms and it happens every day in this religious little city of Laos. Dozens of lines of about 15 monks of all ages walk down the streets with urns strapped around their shoulders. They use them to collect food from the local people who have wait patiently on their knees to donate food to these monks on their daily walks. Usually balls of sticky rice, the local people place it in each of the monk's urns for blessings.

To see the otherwise vacant streets with dots of bright orange is one of the best wake up calls I've ever had. Before the sun rises, men and women faithfully get on their knees, everyday to feed the monks.

Other than that, the city has the usual wats (temples) and a calm night market to buy lots of local crafts like woven blankets and handmade fans. The second biggest draw though, is the massive waterfall a few kilometers outside of town. I had befriended a couple of American guys who came with me to the waterfalls. These were people I had met when during our tubing trip down the Mekong River where one of the owners of a restaurant negotiated the price of his daughter--in dirt--to these guys. Despite the "No Swimming" signs, we got in for some good ol' catching up on that ridiculous day.

Buddha Park.

I also didn't get to write about going to capital of Laos (Vientienne) where the random Buddha Park is. There had to have been at least 30 Hindi-Buddhists statues strewn across the lawn of this massive park. Monks and tourists alike come here to compare heads with this bug Buddha statue.

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asian classifieds: calling all monks

Thursday, November 16

Tired of your faded red bamboo mat? Sick of being the only monk in town?

Dream no more because Luang Prabang, Laos is the perfect monk-friendly community. Bask in Buddha glory as you and your new monk friends frolic through the rice markets in the afternoon.

4AM wakeup calls getting you down? Set your gold bells with your new friends!

After midday meditation, enjoy the smells of sandalwood incense from some of the more than 60 wats (temples) in Luang Prabang--a gentle reminder that this is one of the world's largest communities for monks just like you!! There's something for everyone in Luang Prabang, whether you're a novice or you've attained enlightenment:

  • Eat all of your rice and lemongrass meals along the Mekong River.
  • Fasting? Stroll by Western restaurants serving meat to supress your hunger and scoff at their sinister ways.
  • Get all of your Buddhist festival gear at the local night market.
  • Not holy enough? Enjoy self-mortification at one of the many stunning watrefalls just a few kilometers outside the city's center.

This holier-than-thou city community comes complete with many spectacular views, including this one over the city.

If dreams of new orange robes and friends to match have been keeping your pensive chants away, come to Luang Prabang, Laos!! Buddha's #1 choice for holy living.

stay tuned

Friday, November 10

I'm home in Jacksonville, Florida and there's so much to write. Here's a preview:

Waterfalls . . Angry women throwing bikes . . A 33 hour bus ride . . Vietnam . . Trekking through the mountains . . Sleeping with hill tribes . . Rice wine . . Night cruises . . Caves . . Singing on rooftops . . 10ยข beer . . Water puppets . . A new tailor-made wardrobe . . A cute Englishman . . Remote Vietnamese island . . Night swimming . . Glow-in-the-dark plankton . . Bungalow on the beach . . Stung by a jellyfish . . Scammed out of $140 . . Underground tunnels during the Vietnam War . . Haircut in Hong Kong . . A cute German . . Mountaintop at night . . Flew to Los Angeles . . Ungodly amounts of cheese . . Jetlagged . . Visited relatives there . . In N' Out burgers . . Halloween party, 4 Mexican guys and an Asian. The set of MTV's Pimp My Ride . . Flew to Florida . . Sooooo jetlagged . . Sick from all the cheese . . Trick or treated with Ferny . . Disney World's International Food & Wine Festival . . Jury duty . .