Thursday, August 27, 2009

Asia Adventures - Post 14 (Hong Kong)

I’ve been trying to wrap up my Asia vacation stories since I am leaving in a few hours for my next big vacation (a cruise around the Mediterranean…yes it is okay to hate me). I figured it would start to get confusing. Plus it goes to show how awesome the past year has been where I have been too busy writing about my everyday life.

We flew from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam back to Hong Kong. Did I mention how nice the Asian airlines all are? It could be a 45 minute flight and we still got a meal and on demand movies. Domestic USA flights, you suck ass!

We met up with Evan again and he took us to lunch at a very authentic Chinese place (ie real fish heads and no one spoke more than a couple of words of English). After almost three weeks solid of Asian cuisine, we all were ready for something “American”. Dana took one look at the picture menu (yep yet another picture menu, God Bless Them), folded her arms and said very manner of fact “I want chicken fried rice”. Now in China, people don’t eat fried rice as a restaurant meal (shocker I know, like General Tso’s Chicken). They take leftovers the next day and throw them all into a wok and fry it up so it all tastes the same. It is like having turkey sandwiches the day after thanksgiving. Anyway, the waiter didn’t understand why she wanted “leftover” food. Dana repeated her request, this time emphasizing “chicken fried rice”. Now the waiter’s mom came over, listened, and vigorously shook her head in agreement. Later they appeared with a meal consisting of a fried whole chicken next to a plate of steamed white rice. They were SO happy to please a foreigner and presented their dish with immense pride. The waiter’s mom said “chicken fried…(pause)…rice” and pointed at the components. I laughed so hard it hurt. I think Dana wasn’t as amused but enjoyed the fried chicken (it was really good).

One souvenir Dana and Olga wanted to bring back was authentic Chinese herbal tea. We were dropped off in the medicine district that was full of dried shark fins, shriveled up lizards, pickled plants, spices and unidentifiable objects. It was a mixture of interesting and bad smells kind-of like walking through a nursing home. Of course everything was in Cantonese, so finding actual tea (as opposed to dried fish eyes) was an adventure.
Later that afternoon we visited a couple of locally historic temples. Again, I don’t know what it is with incense, but the smoke almost knocks you down. All of my pictures are cloudy because of it. For dinner, I had Korean BBQ for the first time. Why have I NOT ever eaten this before? I mean you get to grill at your table all the meat (and by meat, I mean bacon) you want. Sure they had veggies, but I didn’t even attempt to cook those because it would take space away from the sirloin or octopus (yes, I am a big fan of octopus and squid…and bacon). The best (or worst) story of the trip came on the very last night. I warn you that I am not editing down the story and DO realize I look like the biggest jerk in the world (so you know it is true). Evan took us out to a club/disco with some other French and Australian ex-pats. There were monstrous levels of alcohol consumed. Dana went home first because she was responsible enough to realize that we have an early flight in the morning and it would be good NOT to be hung over during the 15hr flight. Olga came home next and crashed on her bed. The room had two single beds and it was my turn to sleep on the floor. Evidently, she rolled to one side of the bed and puked all over the floor. This woke up Dana who now had to explain to the front desk we needed a cleanup. Of course the night crew spoke very little English, so Dana was like “mop, trash, bucket, clean, stomach, etc”. Luckily when they showed up and saw the puke they knew exactly what to do (vomit is the universal language). Now while they are cleaning up, I come home. Imagine my drunken stupor of walking into my hotel room and seeing a bunch of Chinese men (I am in the right room right). I apparently (note, too intoxicated to remember) started saying in my non-indoor voice “Asians…why are their ASIANS in my room”. Yeah, nine beers in and I am still the same non-PC person I always am. I later puked in the tub (hey it wasn’t the carpet) and still to this day feel incredibly sympathetic towards Dana. In the morning, I thankfully didn’t need to do much since I packed the previous night (before the drinky drinky). While I was getting dressed, I noticed that the clothes I laid out for the flight smelled funny. I had them in a folded pile on the floor near my pillow…near Olga’s bed…oh crap! Yep, she puked on my clothes. I was able to rinse them in the sink and still wear them (wet but clean-ish), and frankly I deserved some sort of punishment for my behavior last night. The funny part (abet now I can laugh, but at the time I was pissed) is that Olga woke up and was like “why are you washing your clothes”. Dana had to then explain to her the previous night. Ironically, when our flight was landing, the woman sitting next to Olga started to use her barf bag. Olga whispered to me, “oh that is so disgusting, she really should do that somewhere else”. Really, should you be the pot or the kettle? I laugh now at that whole situation.
Hollywood Ave Park
Fun with costumes at the night market
Bambo scaffolding. Obviously there is no Chinese OSHA.
Interesting name for a strip joint. eyed monster, the pink snake, okay you get the point Pictures of the Hong Kong skyline taken from the ferry.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Asia Adventures - Post 13 (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Here is kind of a pictorial tour of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Saigon River wasn’t as glamorous as we imagined it to be. Surprisingly, the majority of billboards were in English even though many of the people don’t speak it.
The reunification palace is the former South Vietnam’s presidential palace. It is also the location of where the war ended when a tank crashed through the gates and removed the south’s president from office. A tank replica is still there to mark the historic moment. We enjoyed looking at all the lavish rooms (it is like the white house) and secret war and strategy rooms in the basement.
Here is Dana reading a map in the map room (har har).
The War Remnants Museum was sobering…and really one sided. We quickly learned to keep our mouths shut so we could possibly pass for Australians and not Americans. Yeah we were the only westerners there and the museum is not happy with us at all. There was a whole panel dedicated to bashing the former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerry. Yikes. It was interesting to see the “tiger” cages they put prisoners in. The Notre Dame Cathedral. Gorgeous church in the middle of the city.
Right next to the cathedral is the post office. Okay that doesn’t sound glamorous, but it was the most elegant post office I have ever seen. Too bad the post cards I sent from there took over a month to get to my parents. A Chinese pagoda. Just down the street is a school. Everything closes down between 11am and 1pm, so they basically locked out the children. Here they are waiting at the gate to be let back in.
Caravelle Hotel. Well it is not a hotel anymore. It is a military HQ. I tried to take a picture up close (because it is a stunning building) and a guard came over “no pictures!!!”. This picture was taken about a block away.
A street vendor…on the go. The Ben Thanh Market. Very touristy but gigantic. We got lost among the hundreds of stalls. Again lots of people tugging on your arm to direct you to their stall. After a long day, we passed by a KFC and Dana caught glimpse of an ice cream sign. Yeah, after close to three weeks of Asian food, that was the best damn ice cream I have ever had.
Just a random sign we saw. I guess they are trying to change the public opinion.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Warrior Race

In July I signed up for an adventure running race because running four miles wasn’t challenging enough (note the sarcasm). My friends Becca, Tamera, and I drove out to Joliet at 6am on a Saturday morning. Note to those who ever want to visit Joliet, the town doesn’t have Jack Shit at 6am…not even by the prison. Our breakfast consisted of powdered donuts and a microwave breakfast sandwich (I use the word sandwich loosely, it was more like a compilation of questionable cheese, eggs, and bread) from a gas station.

The race gave us the address of the location and we typed it into the GPS…and ended up in a barren field…along with a dozen other cars. It was funny because a whole herd of people were just hanging out their windows asking “Warrior Race? Do YOU know where it is?”. One guy pulled out his I-phone and shouted “it says we have arrived at our destination..WTF”. Everyone was clueless except for one girl who was on her phone and finally said “okay I think I know where it is”. A whole convoy lined up behind her car. It was funny because we would signal people coming down the road to turn around (you’ll end up in a field)!

The race consisted of 14 obstacles. One involved jump over raging fire. When we pulled into the parking lot, the raging fire was like 6 feet high. Oh hell no…I seriously doubted surviving. Luckily by the time the race started, the fire had settled down to less than a foot high.

You know it is an extreme race when the waiver is a few pages long and involves multiple mentions of "bodily harm" "injury" "severe burns" etc.

Other obstacles were, climbing fifteen steep grassy hills in rapid succession that were all about 10’ tall each, walking across a 2x4 balance beam suspended over a ravine, scaling three 7’ tall walls (note, they were no hand holds, so you basically had to get a running start and hurl yourself over), climbing over a barricade of wagon wheels/wooden spools, crawling through some pipes/tunnels, navigating over and through abandoned cars (yeah it was fun climbing over the cars until I got to a hatchback and had to make a leap of faith). Did I mention, it was completely off road, so at times we were wading in weeds and prairie grass or lost in the woods.

My two favorite challenges were the swamp and mud pit. The swamp was about a swimming pool in length with a foot of mud covered by three feet of diarrhea looking water. People jumped in and immediately lost their shoes and you can see them panning for gold to try to find them in the deep mud. There was no way around it; you were going to get soaked from the waist down. My shoes gain twenty pounds which made running that final ½ mile super fun.
The mud pit was about half the length of the swamp, but double the amount of mud. Yep, more gooey smelly mud, yaaay. They advertized the pit would be strung with a cargo net hanging overhead to insure everyone had to army crawl through. Well instead of a cargo net, it was RAZOR WIRE! Yeah, real razor wire (I went over and touched it to make sure because surely they must be joking). People who didn’t want to get completely covered in mud slush would crawl on their hands and knees and they try to shimmy under the wire. Their shirts or hair would get tangled up and their mud covered hands would be no help. I decided why not (well and because I was already dripping with mud from the swamp) and did a full on frontal slide into the mud. I ended up with mud between my toes, in my sports bra, and even in my ear (in my ear, WTF).

At the finish line, there was a trash can full of shoes that people discarded. I would have tossed mine as well but I didn’t bring anything else to wear. I took four showers at home and I still was cleaning beneath my nails the following day. The girls and I figured out that just walking into the shower with your clothes on worked best.

The top three winners were presented with metal Viking warrior helmets. The race also included a costume contest. I thought about entering at Gumby (how hilarious would it be to see a giant green foam guy walk across a balance beam), but the fire pit changed my mind (hello foam…flammable).

You can’t really tell in the pictures, because the mud has dried on my legs and I had dark clothes, but I was coated in mud. I mean thick crust coated. It was tough, but hella fun.

Oh and here is the kicker, before the race, I heard my name shouted out in the parking lot. I turned to see some guy with a big grin. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because the guy was like "hey, its Jason, you know, we had a date last week". I gave him a lame excuse abotu the early morning, but man it was a wake up call about my dating streak.

The "BEFORE" picture

The "AFTER" picture

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Asia Adventures - Post 12 (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

After a few relaxing days on the Thailand islands, Dana, Olga, and I hoped a flight to Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. The people of Vietnam were not used to seeing a group of Western girls traveling alone because we were like C-List celebrities there. All the men working at the customs booths stopped what they were doing and walked over to our line. One woman searching our luggage pulled out something from Olga’s bag. Air port security “what is this?”, Olga “um…a tampon”, then the woman silently puts it back in the bag. While we were getting money from an ATM, a Vietnamese family was watching us and I immediately worried we were about to get robbed. Turned out, they had NEVER seen Western women before.

They are serious about the 3oz liquid limit rule at the airport.

In Vietnam, the transportation of choice is motorbike. EVERYONE rode one. They would cram anything onto the back of a motorbike, packages, furniture, livestock. Hell, we saw a family of five riding on one (there is no limit to what a length of twine can accomplish). The streets also didn’t have stop signs or street lights, so crossing was a game of Frogger. From watching the locals, you just step out and walk across the street at an even pace and let them drive around you. To make it more interesting (because stepping out into traffic isn’t daring enough), they would drive the wrong way on a one way AND on the sidewalk. Imagine this, you are looking out at traffic and take a step back only to get blindsided with a motorbike cruising down the sidewalk with a hog tied to the back.
Here is proof that five people CAN fit on one motorbike.

As opposed to Thailand, NO ONE spoke English in Vietnam. We stopped by a French-Vietnamese bakery and were given the picture menu. Actually, everywhere we went, they always knew to give us the picture menu. Dana pointed at a cheese sandwich and asked what kind of cheese came on it. The waiter smiled, shook his head, held up one finger and said “one”. Dana rephrased her question and the waiter held up two fingers and said “two”. Yeah, he thought she was ordering.

We wandered over to an open air market that the locals must use because the prices were dirt cheap. 32,000 dong was equivalent to $1 US, so seeing prices of 20,000d was jarring at first until we realized it was like a $1.15. We made some coffee guy’s day (week, month, year, etc) when we all bought several bags of rich Vietnamese coffee from him. His wife and two sons all came down to watch us and insisted with giant grins we take a few complimentary bags of lavender tea. Vietnamese coffee is roasted in butter and served with condensed milk (yeah healthy to the max).
Pictures from the open air food market. The saying "like shooting fish in a barrel" comes to mind.

We went to the night market and picked up beautiful large rice paper paintings for 60 cents, t-shirts for $2, lacquer boxes for 80 cents, etc. The night market also had impromptu restraints which consisted of a few outdoor lawn chairs and a hot plate. I tried traditional spring rolls (excellent) and pho bac (chicken soup with slices of pig skin floating in it…not so much). With the attention and exchange rate, I really felt like we were living large. The Vietnamese people do need a lesson on personal space though, because in the crowded markets, they would get your attention by grabbing you. I kept smacking hands and shaking my finger at them “no touch”.

Our first night out on the town, a 40-50ish old drunk American man approached us at the bar GO2. He slurred at us “let me guess, you ladies are from somewhere it ends in land…Poland, Finland, Switzerland…cuz you are definitely not from Ireland. Must be Finland…(we stare blankly at him)…you know why I like talking to white girls here…cuz it reminds me how much I love Asian women!” He then stumbled away and left us all shocked into silence. Later a Vietnamese guy approached Dana and attempted to say something (trying to hit on her we guess). He fumbled with his words , and before Dana could say anything, they guy walked away to another group of Western looking guys. We overhead one of the guys say to the failed suitor “don’t worry, we will work on that”. I guess he was getting coached or something.
At GO2 bar

Saigon Beer...yummm

Sampling the local 333 beer

The wiring in Vietnam is not quite up to code.

I think the signs say, beware of climbing electric poles or sticking your pick axe in the ground.

Dana cutting her meat with chop sticks. Ah ha ha

Enjoying a cool drink out of a coconut.

Eating at Pho 2000 - where Bill Clinton once ate at.