My re-integration

 

Before it’s too late and my time in Asia doesn’t seem to be a thing that happened way to back in the Pleistocene I’ll finally go ahead and tell you what I’ve been up to for the last few months during my re-integration.

The culture shock, back home.

It’s been a couple months since I returned to Spain after leaving the nest two years ago. During those two years in Vietnam I never came back home. My only contact with the Western world was through the expats community living in Saigon, the people I met along my travels or the family and friends who visited me. So when the date of my departure came closer, I started freaking out about how my next culture shock would be – not the Asian one, but the Spanish one.

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Me the day I landed in Madrid. It was a hot one!

  • How different is different

Let’s ignore the obvious. My aim here is not to point out how different Vietnam is from Spain. It’s different and that is obvious. They are two different worlds separated by an immense ocean of aspects that play an important role in making this comparison happen. Vietnam is a country that has been rebuilt over old wounds. Proof of that is its society and their faces; their streets, their chaos and unstoppable rhythm; their perfect imperfections; their language and being lost in translation. And an endless list of etcetera’s that goes through spoiled seasons and their outrageous weather, their brave and charismatic landscapes and -oh god-, of course their delightfully fun food. Details, both little ones and not so little ones, that make you fall so deeply for that country and never let you go.

This one is just one of the many other gorgeous videos you can find online that shows a quick glimpse of the main country beauties.

Now, let’s leave sentimentalisms aside and focus on… other not so obvious aspects that are involved in a re-integration. Meaning, my re-integration. Because your re-integration either hasn’t probably happened yet, or won’t happen or will simply be different, as you and I, are different. Anyhoo, before you stop reading this and turn your back I’ll stop going on circles. There is definitely some useful stuff for you between these following lines.

 

  • Mom, I’m back

One of the most relevant things to deal with right from the start of your reintegration. Go back to your parents house ain’t easy after being away for so long and those who have been through the same would agree with me. I experienced this once after living in Belgium for a year, but back then I was younger and my life and goals were different. I live with my mom now and luckily the relationship between us has been always good. There is confidence and trust, however, communication sometimes fails and that is a problem that builds absurd confrontations that could be avoided. My friend Emma actually just wrote this useful article http://www.bustle.com/articles/182823-9-tips-for-living-with-your-parents-as-an-adult-from-people-who-have-been-there that can help you out and might make your daily life living at your parents smoother.

 

  • How easy is to be happier with just a few hours more of daylight.

The day I arrived home, my friend and I were sitting on human size chairs outside of a bar and drinking some ice cold beer–not containing ice cubes like in Vietnam, when I looked at my watch and saw it was 9:30pm and the sun was still shinning. It blew my mind.

Then, Autumn came and winter is here to stay. So days are shorter and weather changes but that’s actually wonderful because that’s what happens with…

 

  • Seasons!

No more wet or dry season. No more floods or brain melting heat. No more sweaty sticky skin regardless what day of the year it is. Did I say no more floods? Let me rejoice this. NO MORE FLOODS! Deep down I did love the sound of the thunderstorms through my room windows. A comforting and delicate melody that disguised the chaos outside. But my perspective was quite different when I was the one on the other side of the glass.

Recently, a number photos came up on Facebook from friends in Vietnam (and sorry about this) but I felt so immensely happy I was not going through that for another year. The scenes of rivers going down the streets of Saigon, in ways I had never seen before, were totally chilling. Rain, normal amounts of rain, is fun for a while…but that’s it. Not uncontrolled waterfalls running above and around you for weeks bringing you nothing but inconvenience. Yep. So glad that’s over.

This September, back in Spain, I left home and went for a walk and seconds after closing my house door I experienced something that felt new; fresh, sharp, cold air flowing through my nostrils and into my lungs. It was not a simple air stream—this felt different. It brought back some random memories from past travels in Ireland, Spain, Belgium and some other places. So I decided to call it European air. But this air meant something more, it was nature’s way of announcing an end of a season and beginning of another. Summer was about to finish and fall was about to kick in. It was a wonderful fall so far, until I fell and sprained my ankle. Which gave me the perfect excuse to spend two weeks on the sofa cuddling in blankets, watching how the streets got colder and rainy and the trees got naked.

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Classic fall foot pic showing off how I also go for walk in the woods

So yes, I was looking forward to spending a fall with rain boots – as soon as I could  walk again- and a winter under the duvet waiting for the warm weather of the spring and summer to show up again. To me, the seasons are about waiting for a change; a continuous evolution away from the routine of identical days. Something that Vietnam unfortunately lacked..

In Saigon my friend Martine and I would often discuss the seasons. She is a girl from New Hampshire who loves walking through the woods and appreciates how the weather plays with them along the year. Martine and I used to talk about how we missed seasons and how the lack of them can mess with our mood. Since there is no big change in the weather, days never seem to be different. And routine will keep you waiting for the rain to either arrive or leave. This situation becomes then an ordinary subject during expats conversations, but what seemed to be highly important to Western people it seemed to me that didn’t bother Vietnamese people.

This appreciation  became more solid to me after a passage in a book I read called Man, where the author Kim Thuy makes a reference that relates to this last thought I mentioned above: “In southern Vietnam we never talk about the weather. Perhaps because the lack of seasons, there are no changes. Or perhaps because we accept things how they are, without ever questioning the why or the how”.

 

  • Be able to drink tap water again like if it was the elixir of life.

No more ordering bottled water through the phone and pray for hours to get it delivered right. Or break into tears while driving to Circle K at 11pm because you just realized you ran out of water. And I could keep going, but why bother. Those days are over! Also, did I ever tell you how great the tap water from Madrid?

 

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A few of my pals after drinking tap water

 

  • Goodbye to the chaotic motorbike world

I really missed driving without listening thousand motorbikes beeping like maniacs from every corner and fearing for your life every second. And that, my friends, was stressing. They were just EVERYWHERE. According to the Vietnamese daily Thanh Nien, HCMC counts with nearly 8.5 million of motorbikes. And that number, in a city with a population of  8 million, is a helluva lot of them.

If you ever experienced this life challenge, as a pedestrian, could you answer what’s the longest time that took you to cross a street in Ho Chi Minh city with, of course, all your senses working overtime?

 

I remember the first day I arrived in Madrid, I crossed a street randomly when I suddenly realized I had forgotten how to cross ‘normal’ streets with ‘normal’ traffic. And I froze. My mum grabbed my arm and helped me to reach the other side of the road. To the day, no accidents -while crossing streets- have been added to my history and I’ve become an adult citizen who knows how to cross streets correctly. However it took me some effort.

Vietnam will soon welcome its first metro lines which will also mean a change in the public transportation scene, very poor until the date. During my getaways outside the country, any time I stepped in a metro or decent train, it felt like I entered into another dimension. I envied cities like Tokyo, Singapore or any of the Asian hubs for having such well maintained good transport systems. In fact, Madrid has one of the best Metro services in the world, plus a pretty good connexion around its towns. I missed getting on public transport and doing nothing other than reading a book, listening to music or people watching action – so much to look at around you.

But let’s put things in perspective. I was always aware of the advantage of riding my motorbike around Saigon and reaching anywhere in no time – except when I was stuck in those ridiculous and tiresome traffic jams. Nonetheless, to me having a motorbike was an absolute sensation of freedom. Having the chance to park right at the door of your destination – despite the fact of leaving no room on the paths or for you to get across was a dream. In Madrid, I can spend so long looking around for places to park my car. You do not want to be in the same car with me when this happens.

So there are pros and cons to living in both Vietnam and Madrid, involving health, money, social life etc. And finding happiness in your life is just about getting used to it or finding solutions to the cons…as in buying a motorbike to move around Madrid!? Perhaps…

 

  • Back to the mother tongue

You would not believe how rested my head feels now for not thinking and living constantly in two languages, Spanish and English. I was never a genius at Vietnamese so I had no choice but to turn my brain off. Now that I am back to the mother tongue, however, this rewarding sensation of being the native one sometimes falls apart when I feel I am listening to random conversations. Another little language related secret I am experiencing back home is thatI keep feeling strangely silly because I notice I am fascinated when I hear people from other countries, specially Asian people, conversing in Spanish. I think this is because of their different accents and their use of slang and witty expressions.

 

  • Where does the money go?

My wallet keeps crying and telling me how much it misses Vietnam. Because Vietnam IS cheap. I used to say how cheap Spain was too. Feck that!
Since the day I arrived I hurt about my money situation –let’s say that I’m not great at saving money either and my last travels in Asia were a bit out of my initial budget. It was a mix of hard and awkward to ‘survive’ this first month compared to how much cheaper Vietnam was than Spain. I regret every single time I thought it wasn’t. Everything adds: 3€ of petrol last for nearly 3 days and take you around Ho Chi Minh in no time. 3€ is almost the price I need to pay to get the train from my hometown to the centre of Madrid in25 minutes. Forget about getting coffee in your regular café for 1€ -the price I used to pay for my ca phe sua da –the delicious Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk and ice.

When you can get a decent dinner in Vietnam for 2€, in Spain you’ll need 7€ or more. In the land of pho I had absolute feasts for hardly no cost. Instead, if you go crazy ordering here in Madrid, prepare for your bill to reflect that craziness. Reencounters, parties and trips didn’t helped with my financial concerns either so it was about of time that I’d go broke and I took the hard choice of being an adult again and look for a job.

 

  • A re-integration of your digestive system also happens

Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world since it is low in fat, gluten-free and packed with vitamins and minerals from its rich diet in vegetables and fruits.

Now, what happens after getting your belly used to that for two years when you find yourself surrounded by heavy Spanish dishes including loads of good Jamón and cheese? Nothing good, guys, nothing good. I came back home showing off an incredible tan and a skinny and healthy body. Not my words, theirs.

After my homebound, I spent a few days in Asturias. This region in the north of Spain is famous for its amazing cuisine. Among the best seafood and the best meat, you can also enjoy their traditional dish made of white beans named fabada which takes around five hours, and a nap, to be digested. This trip took its toll after copious endless meals.

 

It’s a -fat- fact. Spanish food can be dangerous if you don’t eat it responsibly.

It’s been taking me quite an effort to say no to food and to all those restaurants that I’ve been missing and the new ones that have opened during my absence. Since the day I arrived home, I spent hours digging into food, literally. Honestly, I just couldn’t stop eating. I think I’ve created myself a thought that if I don’t eat until my clothes burst, I am being rude. Also another of the theories I have is that I have this bug inside of you that eats all what you eat.

I noticed that during my meals, my best companion is a big chunk of bread, which is something I barely, or ever had in Saigon. I think this can be the guilty culprit of causing my heavy digestion and bloating. Fried food is another enemy of the digestive system, but luckily this is not as large of a problem in Spain. Vietnam is known for their fried spring rolls for a reason!. But here in Spain you can dive in olive oil if you wish.

 

  • The Phở blues

I miss Vietnamese food SO MUCH. In a few attempts of searching for good spots where satisfy my cravings I sadly failed. This left my heart in pieces and it will be only restored when I finally dip my face in a big bowl of good phở some day. While in Vietnam, I didn’t miss Spanish food as long as I had some good ham and cheese in my fridge. I do miss a good Phở Ga  (the chicken version) which I could happily gulp down now that the weather is damn cold and which would  now make way more pleasant than having a bowl during one of those hot Saigon days. Or my favourite Vietnamese dishes I’m missing is the Bun Thit Nuong, which I could make disappear in less than two minutes. What I think I’ll miss the most are my Oc nights with friends. Those ones where I spent hours sitting on tiny tools surrounded by clams, snails of all the sizes and tucking into the last bit of salt and chilly crab. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can ever experience those good eats until I return to Vietnam. Although maybe I can convince my favorite Oc man who cooked the best seafood and treated me so well now that he found me on Facebook and misses his best costumer.

 

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This guy and I used to have the BEST English chats as you can imagine

 

  • Lemons or Limes?

I’ve realised that my palate has changed during the last two years. Therefore flavours that two years ago tasted in a particular way, taste different now. I could say that my palate has become more educated to the Asian way if you will. An example to this could be a silly experience I had with limes and lemons. When I arrived to Vietnam I spent hours roaming around the streets of Ho Chi Minh looking for some damn lemons. And to me, as to many of you, lemons are the yellow ones, the ones that have been the centre of discussion on so many of the Facebook expat groups. The longer I lived in Vietnam, I eventually no longer needed or missed lemons; limes were just fine to me and sometimes even better depending on the recipe. After returning home, my mom cooked an indulgent meal of some delicious grilled prawns and a bell went off, I opened the pantry where I remembered to have a relic. I had brought with me some Muoi Tieu Chanh, the salt and pepper that together with lime makes a simple but heavenly good dipping sauce. This condiment is easily found in every table in Vietnam where there is seafood involved. So there I was, holding the jar all excited as if it was the holly grail when I grabbed a lemon, squirted some in the bowl together with mix and got ready for the treat. You should have seen how my jaw dropped after my taste buds realised they were being cheated.

 

 

So always remember, when life give you lemons, throw them back and ask for limes!

 

  • Re-educating my music taste 

Cumbia, Electrocumbia…and some other words were kinda new to me. Some friends tried hard sending me some music references every now and then while in Vietnam but I was probably too busy listening some sweet and melodic Vina-house.

Oh yes, you’re welcome!

For years I have renegaded from Spanish music so I continued this avoidance and hardly listened to it while in Vietnam. Though it’s fair to say that Spanish music is more than reggaeton, salsa, bachata and all those rhythms that give you a chance to rub your body against your desired one.

The first night after I landed in Spain I went out in Torrejón. This town, which I consider a reggaeton Meca, is possibly the ugliest one in Madrid, and it’s also where I live. That night I danced to reggaeton all night with some friends, something I hadn’t danced to in years. I danced with no shame at all, although at some point it felt like my ears could bleed. This nightmare finally came to an end when a miracle from Barbados joined the club -meaning they finally played Rihanna. And this never gets old with me. Then, I stole the party.

 

 

This could be an infinite list of random aspects that make my life so different compared to the one I had in Vietnam.

To the day, I am not sure if my re-integration has been yet completed. Perhaps it will never be. The person who came back from Vietnam was definitely not the same one who landed there two years ago. Many reasons have made this happened and made me who I am now. Vietnam resulted like an aggression to all my senses in many different ways, and because of that I both hated and loved my time there and there is no single day that goes by without missing it to bits.

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Tears in turquoise waters

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She made a step into the waking world.
Tears dropped from the leftovers of a nightmare.
Like tossed to the abysm
She was found in a hall of mirrors
A hell in a hall of mirrors
Within the most beautiful stories
Stories of a life time
A time when she fell unstoppable
A time wrapped with inspiring words,
washed smiles and spoiled fantasies

Grasping each other loosely
Everything was full of everything
Empty with nothing
The hall kept spinning and spinning
And then his face, a face to die for
A masked face which said so little and meant so much
A tainted face with unfaithful lies, cravenness, shadows
Sunken in the infinity of echoes and whispers
Tangled by a reckless rope

And then she awoke fearfully
Future covered in nostalgia,
it’s time to fly away, she said
Time to escape the pain
To find the peace again

Love of my life, goodbye we say
Bye to the past that never was
And the days that’ll never come

Old fragile disaster, watch her leaving
She is so ready to go
She’s got the luxury of being gone
Don’t let the fear know
We are taking off.

Bali keeps singing

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Clouds cry and Frogs won’t give up their song.
Bells toll and drums beat from the remote
through temples breath
An incessant magic melody.

While sitting in the lotus position a new day begins
and Bali keeps singing

Though I am silent I still hear my thoughts thunder
I never knew the stars could sing
those stories that once were theories

And now unfold dreams turn time thinking of us
roaming the body down jungle paths
reaching rivers from a stormy soul.

And in a trice, the sun breaks the silence
bringing light to a new morning.
The clean infinite blue pushes clouds away
those clouds are now long forgotten.

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The Golden Triangle

Deep rivers run quiet
Golden beasts fighting for love until their
Dying echoes dissolve
Twilight and the spell is broken
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

Green hope and smoke clouds
Share that freedom with me earth mother
Heart like limestone:
Sharp, delicate but deceptive, it is unbreakable.
Body like bamboo:
Keep steady, grow steady.

What matters is what’s above you
The sun
And the sky
Not below
Enjoy the view, the stunning and magnificent view

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Vietnamese whispers

With only a few hours left to close what’s been the most challenging and life changing chapter of my sweet 26 years in this world. Living in Vietnam for nearly two years has given me ability to look into the past with perspective and downplay worthless situations that once stepped on my way.

The past that I leave behind hasn’t been a path of roses nor thorns. All these memories, good and bad, have taught me and brought me to the place where I stand now, a present with a future to look forward. Nothing lasts forever in this life, and for me Saigon wasn’t gonna be an exception. However, these last three months in Asia, the last bits of Saigon together with my travels, have been the best combination to send me on my way with a fulfilled and peaceful heart. At this point, I am happy. I feel happy for feeling proud and glad of the steps I’ve been taking to reach this phoenix’s resurrection where I find myself now. However the duel hasn’t been easy and it shouldn’t be put apart.

Not long time ago I let my feelings flow and as a result of many thoughts, tears and laughs I came up with the next words – which I read at my first poetry performance in Saigon (with shaking arms and a very sharp Spanish accent)

 

Vietnamese whispers…

Thunder welcome me through the plane windows on my arrival.
Lighting a route for me to follow, mysterious, undisclosed, terrifying, full of questions, empty with answers. Building barriers and gates, marring hopes and dreams.

Now just drive
Drive my life somewhere. The destination is unknown, future is unknown but drive me. Take me somewhere so I can turn around and watch.

Watch the roads, all those arduous roads that I don’t know yet. They are waiting for me. Roads that, at the end of my trip, when I turn and look back at them, I wont find a single hint of nostalgia, guilt or regret.

Even with eyes closed, I see how the world stares at me. Even with eyes closed I see only chaos. It is all harmony, coexisting together, but chaos, none-the-less. An overwhelming chaos.

Saigon, sticky city, madness impregnated in my body, scour it out.
Saigon, you weird, apparently correct, pathetically incorrect. And me, towards you, ingenious in a masked world that lies, that fails truth.
Saigon, where I battled for two years with its hustle and bustle day by day by day.
And your motorbikes, one after another will come to you and through you. Here I am fearless though, motorbikes are fearless, motorbikes are freedom, freedom roaming Saigon.

11 million people, 11 million smiles that embrace my loneliness in such a solitary place . That loneliness together with fear are constant guests in my house. My main companions in the daily challenges and adventures, my missteps and mistakes. They are always there. They don’t runaway, I do.

This is all for me, to me and because of me. There is nothing of you, there is nothing for you, there is nothing from you in me. This is only the roads and me.

 

Growing secretly, accomplice of myself, witness of the whispers, keep growing, secretly. There are changes ahead, there is thunder, again. Skies turn grey, dark, even darker, skies turn black. The storm caught us and so the rain begins.

Oh bloody rain, how much I missed you. Wash it all away, wash my face, wash my sins, wash my guilt, this wave of guilt. Let floods tangle up with rains, until I’ve drown upside down. And let me start, all over again.
Dark is gone, bring the light…

Guns and Jellyfish in Vung Tau

A few days ago some Spanish friends visiting Vietnam came back to Saigon after traveling the country. The country had just commemorated its 41st reunification anniversary and we had a couple of days off left so we decided to head to the beach and soak our butts in the sea to fight against this brain melting heat. 

After 20 months in Vietnam Vung Tau had never caught me. In my head it was ugly, dirty and overcrowded, but eh! It is said that prejudice is the child of ignorance, isn’t it?  Two hours ride, great company,  a decent beach, tons of seafood and Natalia couldn’t be happier.

Our home for two days  was Gecko hostel – it’s captivating how much they like to name things after that cute tiny animal, if I ever have a hostel I’ll def call it Gecko too.

Gecko

After checking in we went in to hunt for food with beer in hand. Hanging out with these guys and beer-walking (a term, I’m pretty sure,to whom my country gave birth cause we rock it like no one else do) made me realize how much I missed Spain, and how much I had missed that aspect of the Spanish culture. Doing the same in Vung Tau just made it even better.

No more than five minutes of beer walking later we found the first seafood joint. We had decided to go for a tapas style dinner, but the moment we were presented with all that mouth watering seafood we changed our minds and surrendered to it.  Hand rubbing and salivating we tucked into some huge gorgeous scallops with peanuts and scallions – a classic in the Vietnamese culinary scene– a boiling pot of chili and lemongrass clams and an impressive tray of crab cooked in a salt and chili paste – after a deep search through many crab-related sites I still have no clue what type of crustacean was the chosen one but one thing I’m sure about: there are way too many crab freaks out there.

Time to keep going with the beer walking and digesting that feast. After a couple of 333 more and some stops along the way we reached our limit and decided to surrender to one of those ‘I don’t know how to describe this except for bizarre, insane but fun’ things the country has rewarded us with: a beer club. Unfortunately it was an early night for the Vuvuzela staff so we just had time enough to drink yet a few more beers, snack some chili salted fruit and check the puke sink (specially designed for you to puke in it) in the toilets. Just a classic night in a Vietnamese beer club as you can see.

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Go for it! say the eyes of this lovely lady

 

Fresh as the coconuts of the Mekong we woke up the next morning  and had some Bánh mì Op La – omelette with bread for the non -Vietnamese speakers- at the hostel. We rented two motorbikes and made a plan: beach day! Well, that was easy. We drove for 20 minutes along the coast which gave us enough time to get a nice burn on our legs. Without many expectations we arrived at the place where we would have one of the best times I’ve ever had in this country.

The beach was nothing amazing, I’m not gonna lie, but interesting to look at. There was stuff everywhere. As soon as we put a foot on the sand we entered a busy world of Vietnamese blue round boats and fishermen bringing their catch to the shore. Small fish, crab, prawns squid, octopus,snails…some to sell in the markets, some others to sell it after spending some hot delicious time on the grill.

We continued our roasting walk and we spotted some umbrellas which were in the water and give shade which helps to avoid a very likely isolation. Such a good idea! Valencia you should write this down 😉 😉 😉 The next area was wider with some more steps until you reached the water and on the other side a freakin awesome resort, Vietnamese style always. Imagine this massive, outrageous resort which offers all kinds of things one would wish for their own leisure. Long Cung resort offers bamboo huts with deck chairs to host a scary number of Vietnamese people eager to drink cold beer and cook their meals on charcoal grills for hours, a swimming pool for those who fear the dangers of the sea, a restaurant and many other facilities.

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Once we had stablished our base camp at the beach side it didn’t take longer than five minutes for a curious Vietnamese guy to approach us for a successful conversation attempt. Three or four questions later we became BFF or as Hung said “very goos friens”. Almu and Fabio, intrigued by that way of making friends were absolutely loving it.  Since our new friends kept waving their hands we finally decided to join them

And so the hours of endless selfies and toast began for Amu, Fa miu and Anatinia -FYI these are our new Tien Viet names, we are still the same people, sorry for causing any confusion here. I was sold a few times to a shy guy who was sitting next to me who apparently spoke ”’perfect English”’ ; Fa miu was indulging in all those delicatessents Vietnamese fellows like to share with their guests like those always appealing chicken feet and Amu was having the time of her life watching the show. She was certainly delighted with the generosity of these people: during our time together they didn’t let us pay for a single thing, Amu even tried to get some ice-cream for the kids and one of the mothers immediately jumped on her to avoid such boldness.

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La famiglia

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I even had some time to troll Sara and made her believe that she has an admirer in Vietnam

Our new best friends headed back to Ho Chi Minh, and the three of us stayed guarding the beers that were left. On another attempt of boldness Amu and I had secretly gone to the bar to get more beers -since we had drunk all theirs- and when we showed up with 20 beers as a surprise oh god, their faces were priceless. Since they were leaving there was no chance for them to drink them so you could really see the guilt and disappointment in their eyes. They were so worried about us staying with all those cans and not enough people to help us to drink them. We immediately came up with a solution, said ‘goos byes’ and went for a swim with the jellyfish.

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Fa Miu is not really known from his swimming skills as you can see

No joke. The water was infested with jellyfish which were the size of your head. There was no really need to die that day so I really considered getting the hell out of that warm water.

Amu and Fa biu didn’t seem that much bothered, but I guess they gained certain experience after diving in Phu Quoc with some of them and even getting bitten (Amu had come back to Saigon with the jellyfish tentacle printed on her face). But then miracle! I saw two brave, chunky guys – I could say they were the closest thing to a David Hasselhoff Vietnamese version, and hope you keep that image in your head for the rest of the week, you’re welcome- carrying some colossal jellyfish barehanded.

Apparently those monsters were harmless and didn’t bite. So end of the drama, we could finally share the water with those creatures and survive.

 

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That was not what I meant with the Vietnamese David Hasselhoff resemblance, I swear

 

The rest of the evening was well spent with trips of no more than 30 steps between the deck chairs and the water, and what brings you joy on a beach day. It was 9 pm and we’re the only people left there so we decided it was time to get our shit together, which was a big one and walk towards the parking. And if the day hadn’t been bizarre enough, the peak was about to come.

 

The three men hosting the parking invited us to join them for beers the moment we arrived to pick up our motorbikes. NO PLEASE. NO MORE. But we literally had no choice, and if there was something we had learnt that day it was not to disappoint anybody for a couple of beers. So drunk and happy we welcomed a pretty scary situation which now I am glad to be writing alive. Tiger in hand, toasting with our hosts Amu confessed “Tú tú tú que tiene una pistola” which comes to mean in a very freaking out way “shit he has a gun, we’re all gonna die”. I am not entirely sure what was that man’s intention for holding a gun in his pants but we, as the smart people we proved to be, realized that that was none of our business and it had been a day too beautiful to end it up in that bloody way. Tiger blurred my memories and I can’t really tell you what exactly happened next. I am pretty sure there was no 007 performance and probably we just walked away smiling like we’d never done before. Basically we’re alive and happy to be so.

Summarizing this wonderful story: join the beer-walking, eat loads of seafood, jellyfish in Vung Tau don’t bite and to avoid gun situations take your motorbike to the beach with you.

 

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Randomly in Myanmar

 

Ay Myanmar, so much to say in so little time.

Probably many of you wonder how the new Burma looks and feels. It’s hard to tell so you may have to go and find out for yourselves, but here are some bites of what it looked and felt like to me. It´s a beautiful country, even more beautiful people, but you can’t escape its randomness. It’s a whole different experience full of contradictions which you try to make the most of.

Myanmar seems like the hypothetical son that India and old Vietnam could have together: unique, brimming with happiness and colors. With, why not, a bit of shit spread in many corners together with delightful smiles in many others.  Faces covered with Thanaka.

 

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And people that don’t allow Durian as restaurant costumers.

Sara and I landed in Yangon a bit confused with the time difference after laughing when the flight attendant told us the local time, which was half hour less than in Vietnam. WHAT?!? My bad. Curiously enough, I was reminded that the same situation happens in India, although I did NOT remember that.

Burmese charm

There are two main aspects that you will soon realize while looking at Burmese people. There is too much going in their faces. First, they cover them with Thanaka – a yellowish paste made from ground bark that is used as cosmetics. Secondly, their distinctive smiles that show strongly red stained teeth after chewing betel nuts.

-Thanaka pow(d)er

No matter how old or what gender you are, if you are Burmese, you will have some part of your body covered with this powder. Used as a cosmetic to hydrate the skin and protected from the sun, Thanaka is seen all around the country.

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-Betelmania

People of nearly all ages love chewing their betel nuts and the streets stained with red blotches are proof of it. Stalls with betel sellers are all-over the country. From them you can get betel nuts that are wrapped – with the help of a white paste made from lime- in betel leaves with the choice to add many different fillings like cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coconut among other ingredients. What is done as a national habit draws red/brown smiles in people’s faces but it also affects their breath because it rots the teeth – something known as the ‘betel breath’.

 

 

Those roads…

Another fact that surprised us was that the steering wheel was on the right side even though they also drive on the right side. It seems tremendously difficult to take over a row of four vehicles when all them are trucks. The driver can’t see what it’s coming from the other side! Imagine how fun it looks when he is doing it on a slope!

 

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And that’s why you should to travel by shark instead.

I have no idea what that newspaper cover says, but I can kinda figure it out and it’s a story where our friend Vladi doesn’t end up well.

Anyway, back to the roads!

There are 5 main routes but only one highway which connects Yangon with Mandalay. To reach the other cities you will have to take secondary roads and it will take you a long time to get from A to B. So if you are thinking of a big itinerary with many stops make sure you travel with time.

And now let me mention how terrible the roads are: it’s strange how, when you look at them, they look perfectly flat. Still, the bus will go all the way jumping on the road, so arriving at your destination in one piece is not easy. Actually I had the pleasure to be sitting next to a few ladies who threw up during the ride cause they could just not deal with all that shaking. We took from the best bus of THE WORLD to the shittiest one. Two of the trips will be always remind in my head like the worst bus rides of my life (and I know I already said that once, coming back from Cambodia but Myanmar topped that one!). The trip from Bagan to Mandalay was a constant fight for survival. Driving in a bus which was about to fall apart, with a thick layer of shit everywhere you looked and broken seats. Half of my butt was squeezing through the hole in my seat and Sara’s ass was bouncing on the guy’s head sitting behind. Just exactly what I could describe as a very fun ride!

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That’s me having fun.

 

 

 For that reason, follow my advice, travel with JJ!

JJ is a company that provides VIP service and their buses are just unreal. Actually there was an Irish man with a very thick Irish accent who claimed to his wife “This is better than a fucking airplane, I have never seen one of these in the West”. Buses with huge, reclinable seats TV screen with a great selection of Disney Pixar movies and a little table for the snack they serve you on the way. They even reward you with purple fluffy blankets which we borrowed and wore for the rest of the trip cause it was freaking cold!

We were lucky we got them at the very beginning of our trips. We arrived in Kalaw, one of the towns from which you start the trekking to Inle Lake, at 4:30 am. The moment we put a foot on the ground we started shivering. Wrapped in our blankets we went in search for a hostel in which to stay a couple of warm hours before the trip started.

The trekking was beauuuutiful and so worth to do. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip so put it on your list! We -Sara, two Frenchies, two Canadians and I- walked up and down hills, through chili and mustard fields. We found out that avocados grow from trees -thanks so much Jessie for your always wise words- and played card games wrapped in blankets. Because yes, it was cold.

 

 

Pack your bags smartly

Being used to the heat of Saigon does not help. I have forgotten what cold feels like and so have forgotten to estimate temperatures in other countries. The only warm thing I put inside of my backpack was a light sweater and I cursed myself every single day for not having checked the weather because I assumed it would be hot. IT WAS NOT. During the day the temperatures were nice and warm but once the sun went down…time to get into some JJ blanket action! We were not the most stylish girls around Myanmar, but we were not ashamed at all. We were creating smart fashion, or maybe we were only trying to stick to their longyi culture.

Longyies everywhere

This item is a cloth widely worn all around the country. Both genders in Myanmar wear these cylindric longyies folded and tied from the waist down the ankle. A similar garment is also worn in India. Watching women wearing these ‘skirts’ will not really catch your attention, instead, while watching men you’ll think “what an adorable thing”.

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This photo might be a better example

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And this one might be even a better example.

 

When you stop looking at that last photo, if you combine it together with one of the gorgeous shoulder bags they wear you just get the dream team. Every single person had one of these colorful bags hanging across their shoulders. There were many types of them, originating from different states around Myanmar. Still it was difficult to find a nice one which would catch your attention at the shop. For some reason I only liked the ones the Burmese wore. On different occasions I tried to negotiate with them but sadly I came back home empty-handed. This shoulder bag and many other things I had planned to bring with me stayed in Myanmar cause we had not planned the shopping trip well. So another tip here! Don’t leave things until the last day. I didn’t feel Myanmar was an easy country for shopping so any time you see something you like, go for it! Because you might never have the chance to buy it later!

Grab your wallets!

Yes, probably one of the things that most annoyed us while traveling in Myanmar was how ridiculously expensive some things were. I remember one morning I woke up whimpering Sara that Myanmar was the a country of lies. It was expensive and cold!

I was pissed that we had to spend all that money in accommodation and freeze at night (although the latter was probably something unfair to complain about). The reason why sleeping in Burma is such a steal – in Bagan we heard that a bed in a 10 beds dormroom was 30$- is because of the government taxes which are placed on anything from domestic airfares to government operated hotels, then the small business have to deal with these prices raising their rates. So here, the best you can do is smart traveling. Avoid paying unnecessary fees, support local businesses, try to book in guesthouses – these will require more time to find them- and spread the money you spend out in different cities and not only one. You can still do a budget trip is you try to stick to this.

When it comes to eat, if you are patient and daring, you can find good deals. Street food will be your best option and you won’t spend more than 1$ for meal if you are lucky enough.

The lemon salad was unreal and we also ate some kind of noodles salad which was seasoned with lots of different sauces and powders. The samosa thoke -a salad/soup made from samosas, chickpeas and lentils broth- was mind blowing too.

In other words…

There were things to laugh at but it was all good in the end. A country which is opening up to tourism and slowly learning but keeping its essence which is what it makes it so exceptional.

Bagan shared its magic through sunrises and sunsets. You’d never get tired of watching such a beauty.

 

It was a trip that we ‘planned’ during our flight to Yangon. And it all went great in the end with a few days left to enjoy the coast, stunning motorbike rides and fresh fish. Serg, one of our Russian friends who met along the way who was a master of cool cameras, would describe just as ‘magic and amazing’. And it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JAPAMAZED. Part I

Tokyo is…
Chaotic yet tidy: home to 25 million people who flow in streams surrounded by neon lights.
Kyoto is…
A evocation to the traditional Japanese past in which u can visit until 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, more than 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shintō shrines. So much history that now gets along with the new Japan.
Osaka is…
Opulence and frenetic consumption gathered in a 60 stories building with humungous and scary samples of food hanging from their walls.
Kinosaki is…
A stylish tiny town which invades a narrow green valley and drinks from its hot springs. Here the popular tasty big crabs are the kings.
Nara is…
Another jewel from Japanese ancient culture where a giant buddha’s magic seems to be spread around its green land invaded by cheeky hungry deers.
Hiroshima is…
Something more than a black episode in history. Yet an alive and vibrant place which never gives up and is there to remind us how love and peace should triumph in a world overrun with greed and conflict.
Miyajima… 
The small Island of Gods that hosts a majestic tori and resembles a door to get through the rich ancient times.
After dropping this sweet taste of the places I visited in Japan I’ll head to the fun part. There is so much to tell, so my apologies in advance for all this talk, which I’ll divide in two parts -for your own safety.


Japafacts 

A list of facts, notes, experiences that have made me love Japan for being such a gorgeous, cool, bizarre, and interesting country in equal parts.
Toilets
The reason I don’t want this to be a top 10 or whatsoever is mainly because I suck at making decisions, therefore I haven’t been able to decide which of the following two aspects would go first.
Toilets or Food. Food or Toilets.
Often there is a question which comes along in many conversations: “If you had to choose between sex and food what would you choose?” You sure agree with me that it’s a really tough one. Well, I think in Japan there might be another version for that question: “If you had to choose between Japanese toilets and food what would you choose?”
I am not exaggerating. Seriously, this place is a heaven for your bums, mine had never been as shinny and clean in my entire life, and believe me, I am a clean lady. Since I have a weird creepy thing for toilets that just a few people understand and in Japan they were like temples to me I had the best time visiting them. Whenever I had a chance I would check them out and for a while I could feel how happiness inhabited my every molecule. I wanted to share this happiness with you guys so I took some visual documents of the places and so you can come to understand why I am making such a great deal of this:
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The multitasker: starting with washing your hands before and after the action. The water flows from the sink tap when you flush the toilet. 

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So basically, most toilets tools include the stream, the flush and the fake flush (one that makes just the flush noise so nobody can hear a-n-y-thing. This one included also a drier. DREAM.

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Let it flow, let it flow…

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Don’t worry, you still can keep an eye on your kids while peeing too.

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A fluffy poo

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A fancy Moët & Chandon poo

Food and its passion for itself (Yep, sorry for this rough change).
Food in Japan is beauty, tradition, fun,patience, and actually it is not that expensive.
Carmen and I had a blast eating like queens for 12 days. I could say in Japan you can find restaurants every 15 meters. Many of them follow the same traditional Japanese distribution, a tiny and cute space well designed to fit both people, bar and kitchen. The kitchen or bar will remain in the middle or aside and around it there will be a counter where the costumers seat on stools and can watch how the cook prepares the meal they ordered. U can manage to find very special spots and have a feast for a not very exorbitant price. Lunch or dinners were normally from 15€ to 60€ for two people. For example we paid around 50€ for 2 sets of sushi…considering that it is sushi you could think that is ridiculous, though u might change your mind if you know you are eating in one of the best sushi places in town in which the fish served comes from just across the street where the world’s biggest fish market stands. That being the case then you sure think is fair enough, but this really depends on what ur food standards are. To me that was an awesome experience.
Food was just great during our entire trip, in every destination we tried to sample a different thing but sometimes some of the meals were so delicious that we had to repeat! Madness!
Sushi is all around the country since Japan is an island and it’s bathed by several seas with amazing fresh fish.
 

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Sashimi that melts in your mouth. This.


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The sushi above mentioned. Heaven.

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Serious sushi business

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The cool thing of this sushi place is that you have your own screen where you could order from. So deciding what to choose with all those photos and options would take you approximately 40 minutes.

Soba & Ukon noodles are the Japanese noodles version. You can have them either hot or cold. The latter will come served in a cute bamboo screen and a cold broth which to dip the noodles in.
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Cold ones on the left side, hot ones on the right! These ones come with some prawn in tempura. The little tray on the bottom part is sake.

– Besides this, Ramen even though is an imported dish from China, it’s gained its popularity through Japan. This noodle soup made of meat broth can lend u to a fantastic culinary experience for very few coins. We had our 1st Ramen experience in Kyoto and since then is definitely in my Japan yummy top 3.
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This was the guilty one

– There is also delicious Kobe meat which is cooked either grilled or breaded and fried afterwards. The latter was like sleeping on a 3*3 bed size with pure silk bedsheets after hiking for 4 days through the dessert. The intention in both styles is to hardly cook the meat on the outside so you can eat it a bit raw on the inside. Let me point it out again in case I didn’t make it clear, it was fucking sublime.
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My mom couldn’t avoid buying a few of those metal trays. Of course

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Kobe meat getting ready for the grill!

Okononiyaki is described as the Japanese pizza, and here, I’ll be honest, I choose the Italian one. It’s basically batter and cabbage cakes cooked on a griddle which u can combine with a few ingredients and sauces. I wouldn’t kill for it.
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I guess I wasn’t too bothered to take a better photo…

– We also sampled some Teriyaki style chicken in a tiny and hidden popular local place after following Anthony Bourdain instructions. Watching how this friendly man cut off an impressively fresh chicken and cooked every single part of it in his charcoal-grill in different styles without wasting any bird’s bit was a whole experience.
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The cute tiny restaurant

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The master of chickens

– Kinosaki is home for another japanese-like delicacy: crab. Even though we visited the town when it was not its season we still could have a slight taste of what it was. Sadly you were able to notice the season wasn’t indeed the right one.
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– Hiroshima is famous for its seafood and Miyajima coast hosts several oyster farms so most of the establishments there offer different recipes where to try this mollusk.
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Grilled oysters together with noodles and deep fried ones too in case there were not enough!

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Eel is impressively popular too

We didn’t have the chance to go a bit more southern, to Shimonoseki. This town is known for its seafood, particularly fugu, what gives the name to the potentially lethal pufferfish. But there are some other goodies which would scape from what we have in mind as a typical seafood menu. Here only-in-Japan food seekers can check how some sea urchin burgers and whale meat taste like.
Even though there is a big and rich variety of food and recipes I have to admit there is a lack of vegetables that you might miss after a few days eating in Japan. Edamame, even though is a fun appetizer, is not enough to cover the greens list for us, cabbage wasn’t either.
Before heading to the next point let me also tell you why restaurants in Japan are so great. The service, even the communication sometimes fails due to an English absence, is nearly perfect. Quick, efficient and so so meticulous. During our many restaurants visits we were delightful for how well thought and designed everything was.
Here some examples of what made our food experiences even better:
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That sesame grinder ❤ ❤ ❤ (Got it!)

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In most of the restaurants you could find a basket under your seat where as storage for your stuff. Good luck bringing that idea to Spain cause you would find it either full of leftovers, paper napkins or empty!

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I mean…….really? 😀

Asia is well known for its adventurous food. Although for some western people, as in me, this depiction might be addressed as weird or sometimes even gross. Japan has been a big entrepreneur at this aspect.
No, thanks.

No, thanks.

Fake food
I was always a huge fan of Imaginarium. I used to run inside the shop – always through the small door, something I kept doing until the age of 16- and mess around with all those cool toys you can find there. My favorite ones were the baby rubbers, the animals, and the fake food…When I started walking around Tokyo and realized how the windows of most of the restaurants, which receive the name of Shokudō, were covered with fake food samplers of what they serve inside. I just couldn’t believe it…I felt like I was in a dream where I went back to my childhood! Is here where Mr. Imaginarium got the idea? Or is it that Japan stole it from Mr. Imaginarium? Those classic life mysteries. Either one or the other I was submerged inside of a vibrant food dream, dribbling and staring at the glass watching all that food wishing I could play with it as when I was a little girl. A very bizarre dream you can imagine.

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At this shop you could find thousands of different fake food samplers

The art of queuing
Queuing at somewhere’s door means the place you are about to get into is well worth it. Said this, how good a place could be for people to wait for 4 hours to eat some sushi? After attending to the tuna auction at Tsukiji Market we headed to the little streets around the market where it’s possible to bite some fresh sushi, like the one I mentioned we had had before. There were a few renown spots and the queue for one of them, Sushi Dai, was 4 hours long!!!! 360 minutes!!!!! But hey! You never know when the perfect break to check how the NY stock exchange will knock at your door again. Obviously that was ridiculous for us and no way we would wait for it so we followed Lonely planet’s advice and went to the 2nd most famous, Diwai sushi, which apparently was as good as the other one. For us it felt double good and indeed double smart! This panorama was common to be spotted at many places while walking around the cities.
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The tuna auction at Tsukiji market

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Waiting for 3 hours to get some sushi

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Me about to get into the restaurant, meanwhile some losers queuing for hours

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Another of those queues

Money money money 
 

Prices is one of the cons of visiting Japan, even though as I mention before, eating won’t make ur wallet suffer too much, there are other things that will. As accommodation, which bears the brunt. The week before heading to Japan I went crazy looking for places where to stay that wouldn’t cost me more than my monthly rent in Saigon. In Tokyo we booked our stay in what seemed to me a nice hotel and also, one of the cheapest things that was left. So if you are planning a trip to Japan soon, book you accommodation long time in advance. Actually start booking it now just in case you plan to visit Japan any time soon in the next 12 years.
We were aware about the size of the room, and oh boy, they weren’t kidding. That place was as tiny as a matches box, still there was enough room for a 1m2 TV. Hilarious. Do you know what was even more hilarious? Chiefly, when after paying 450 f***ing € for 3 nights in a hotel u call the front desk asking for a wake up call and their answer is “wake up call NOTHING”. Boom! Eat that.  I thought the poor man was having problems to understand me when I asked for it -cause yeah don’t expect that after paying that amount of money the staff will come with a B2 Cambridge English certificate included- but mommy told me that normally 3 star hotels are not obliged to have that service… Well, let’s be clear, I dont give a poo if u guys have none or 1000 stars but considering the price I (my mom is) am paying for this -not to mention the discount I should get for not having my toilet bum spray working- u guys should even come to wake me up snd bring me breakfast to bed, with roses. Said.
Another nonsense situation was when after paying 100€ for one night at another hotel – this was a great Ryokan in Kinosaki which was more reasonable- I asked the front desk clerk if I could do a phone call and yet they make me pay for it! I just could not believe it and I actually asked them twice to repeat it, they were not kidding. I gave up and bashed my wallet against the floor.
But above all, the best part comes when you want to pay those painful bills and find out they don’t accept credit cards. Here is when you wonder both why are there so many contradictions in that country and how many people walk around with 500€ in their pockets like no big deal.
To be continued…
If you still want some more- which I am sure you do- stay tuned ! 

Off to Mekong with my Vietnamese family

Yes guys, I have a new family and it’s Vietnamese! Spanish family, I still love you and you are my very very best one. Everything started last September when I started teaching 1st grade kids at my first school, in Phu Lam, District 6. There I met Anna, the cutest and smartest girl in the world. I fell deeply in love with her. She made my days at school. This relationship always reminded me of the story of Matilda. Although instead of Miss Honey I am Co Na ta lí a. Besides the fact that Anna’s parents are actually cool unlike the those weirdoes that poor Matilda had as parents.

Both of those faces are priceless!!! When I realized that soon the school would finish and I wouldn’t get to see her anymore I got a bit sad. So I decided to write this creepy letter to her parents telling them about how nice and talented their daughter was and that I was willing to go to their place to teach her English once a week. After a few days she came back to class with a letter with her address and a lovely ‘Welcome to Natalya’ written on it. I almost cried. So well, I finally went to her house the next Saturday and met her parents and her brother Jack. After a super enjoyable English lesson Hue, the mother, asked me if I wanted to join them for dinner. Anna’s parents hardly know English and when I say hardly I mean the only words they can say is ‘Hello teacher’. We drove to this BBQ restaurant where a big amount of different goat recipes were served. There, while eating and playing with the kids, the mom asked me if it was true that I wanted to adopt her daughter Anna. The only way I can communicate with them is either through Jack, who is 11 years old and is clearly not bilingual and Google translator, which is the closest thing to shit. I gave them an awkward smile and kept eating goat. All that was very confusing and indeed awkward, as I didn’t know if they were serious. Since then Anna has kept calling me ‘Mom’ in front of her family. They really don’t seem very bothered about Anna having a second fake mother though.

Just after the awkward question

Just after the awkward question

After some illegible texts I found out that Hue wanted to invite me to go for picnic with her family the next Saturday. “Awesome, it will be a great experience” I thought. And it was.

Oh those messages

Oh those messages

We left to Tiền Giang around 18:30. I was driving with Jack sitting behind me impressed by how much his parents trusted my driving skills. I didn’t fail them. I even got rid of a police’s bribe and got some nice compliments when we arrived “You drive good. Fast and hard” they said.

On our way to Mekong

On our way to Mekong

We arrived at 21:00, I was exhausted; I thought we were just going for a picnic around the corner. When dinner was ready I was asked if I liked beer and hell yeah! So I sat on the table with all the men while the women where bringing us food and sitting outside on another table. Not sexist at all.

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Anna was there just for the photo, and the beer.

We had a Spanish-Vietnamese lovely dinner. I cooked Tortilla de patata and brought some amazing jamón. They loved it and I had the time of my life seeing how they grabbed the ham with their chopsticks. Such a good and stylish idea, I should bring it to Spain. After 40 beers and many Spanish-Vietnamese-English lessons they brought some banana wine to the table. So funny to see I was the only who could handle it among eight men.

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One of those many toasts

The banana wine sadly came to an end so it was the time for the only remaining booze at the house, some kind of disgusting roots liquor.

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That gross and dangerous liquor

My intention was to get as drunk as possible so the pain I would feel for sleeping in what would be my ‘bed’ was softer. When I first arrived to the house my words were “Ok this is not the Hilton but it’s cool” then I saw my bed and something broke inside of me.

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My bed table. Yikes

It was 2:30 am and clearly time to go to sleep. So I went to bed table, thinking “Aaaah it’s fine! Tomorrow I can sleep in”. 3 hours later I heard people cheering “Wake up teacher! Let’s go to the market!” in the most enthusiastic way you could imagine. Again something broke inside of me, this time harder.

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Early birds at the market

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MMMMANGO

The happy family and the zombie teacher walked to the market and while the teacher tried to stay awake the happy family ate their happy breakfast. Back home I could sleep for a bit more, on the table of course. They didn’t give me that big break, don’t you think so. “Nah fuck it, I’ll sleep tonight” I whispered. So we got on our motorbikes and drove through beautiful roads in deep Mekong until we reached the house of one of the family grannies. There, we walked around a garden which was full of jack fruit trees and culminated it with a delightful tasting session.

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Jack and jack fruit

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The tasting

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The family and the jack fruit. I could hardly open my eyes

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The Mekong

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The paths and the paddy hat. B e a utiful

All day eating, that is. We headed to the second visit of the day. Another of the grannies or aunts, I don’t know. So many people, so many things going on and me so freaking tired. It was 10:30 when we were waiting for lunch to be ready. In the genuine Vietnamese-style we sat on the floor and enjoyed some soup with rice (I loved this one, it reminded me of my mommy’s one) and some chicken with banana flower salad –or that was what I thought it was. Everything looked so damn cute.

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Yummmmy

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Guess what. Not so yummy

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Jeje

Sadly I had to rush and come back to Ho Chi Minh to teach in the afternoon. So I picked up my stuff and flew back to the city. Three hours speeding on my motorbike with a tank top and no sun block on my skin. So smart, you can imagine the result.