Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It's been a while. Lots to update on:

A few weeks ago was spring break. I spent the week with 5 of my friends on an island off the south coast of VN called Phu Quoc. It's basically your stereotypical beautiful tropical island: clear blue water, white sand, bungalows on the beach, really bad sunburns, the works... It was really touristy, but I had a great time there. There are some great coral reefs off the coast of the island, and our group took a boat out and went snorkeling. The reefs were beautiful, and there were lots of really neat fish and some terrifying sea urchins with huge spikes. I had a great time swimming around until I saw a huge jellyfish (maybe a foot wide) about 10 feet away from me, at which point I swam back to the boat as quickly as I could. The rest of the week was mostly spent reading and eating some really good food. There was one restaurant that we went to a lot. It was almost always empty, but the food was amazing, and there was this adorable little girl who would run around and alternately play with us or just be super super shy.

We've gone on a bunch of fieldtrips in the past few weeks. The first was a trip to the Mekong Delta, where we got to walk around a "handicraft village" (products they made included coconut candy, puffed rice, rice paper in several different forms, and bricks and ceramics). We also spent a morning helping out with the harvest in a rice field, after which we had lunch at the farmer's house. This was a particularly great experience because it was the first experience I had where I really felt like I gained a truer understanding of the daily life of normal people here. We were staying at a guest house along one of the waterways. It was such a peaceful and relaxing place to be.

Last weekend we went to the Cao Dai Holy See and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cao Dai is a strange Vietnamese religion that was created in the 1920s, combining a whole lot of different religions, as well as having a few historical figures as their fairly odd list of saints- for example, Victor Hugo. Yes, that's right. Victor Hugo. The Holy See is a fairly large, extremely colorful temple complex. The inside is beautiful (though a bit gaudy), and we got to see part of a service. It was basically just a lot of chanting for a really long time, but it was incredibly interesting to be able to observe some of the rules and traditions of practicing the religion, and not just the art and architecture that surrounds it. After lunch, we drove to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were an extensive, complicated maze in which the Viet Cong lived and traveled to avoid US bombs. We got to see some of the original tunnels, as well as learning about how life in the tunnels functioned. On our way home from the tunnels, we stopped at an animal rescue center. I got to see a leopard, and a bear tried to attack me through the bars of its cage, which was quite a surprise. Luckily it didn't get me though.

While I'm in Ho Chi Minh City, I mostly am busy with classes and homework. Other than my main school classes, we have some extra-curricular classes, including bamboo flute and chinese calligraphy. The calligraphy class is my favorite. It's calligraphy with a brush,not a pen, but we're writing english characters, not chinese. It's not enough to just write the word, the lines must be drawn in a specific way. We spend 2 hours every monday night just practicing a few letters over and over, and I find it oddly relaxing. Last week I started to write whole words and not just letters, and I'm really proud of how my work is turning out.

I've been having a great time hanging out with our roommates. Usually I have class in the morning and they have it in the afternoon, but I almost always go out to dinner with some of them. Often we'll just go to restaurants near our guesthouse, but the best is when we take motorbikes to a restaurant in another district. The whole city seems different when you're sitting on the back of a motorbike, you become a part of the chaotic traffic in this city and have an odd connection to all the people on motorbikes around you, while at the same time being in your own private world. The city at night has a different feel as well. It is so much cooler once the sun goes down, and it feels so much more relaxed while still being an extremely lively place.

I only have two and a half weeks left before I head home. It's a little crazy for me to think about; I get homesick a lot, and I'm ready to see my family and friends again. At the same time, I'm finally feeling really comfortable in this country and I really enjoy living here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Greetings from Saigon

So I stopped updating for a while there. My bad. As a result, you'll get a really brief overview of our central region tour, and then I'll tell you about Saigon, and maybe if you're lucky I'll go back sometime and give a more in depth description of the central region. But probably not.

Day 1: Hue. The day before Tet. We went to a beautiful old Pagoda, and went to an orphanage, and toured the Imperial city and some emperor's tombs.

Day 2 & 3: Hoi An- a really touristy town, near the beach. The only academically interesting thing from our time there was our visit to the My Son ruins, which were pretty awesome. We also had a great cooking class, along the river in a totally surreal location. Other than that we spent our time swimming, eating, and walking around the beautiful town.

Day 4: Long bus ride along the Ho Chi Minh trail (now a highway) through jungle still visibly damaged by the war. We spent the evening in Pleiku, a fairly uninteresting city in the highlands and well off the normal tourist path. The highlight of the day was walking around a minority village while taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. (The dirt there is redder than in Utah, and contrasting that with the green of rice fields makes for some intense color.)

Day 5 & 6: Ho Lak. After visiting a museum and a beautiful temple, we drove to Lak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Vietnam. We stayed in a traditional longhouse at a resort, and saw a performance of traditional dancing our first night there. The next day we rode elephants (I felt a bit guilty- I doubt they were humanely treated) and then walked around another minority town, in which we were chased by children who screamed and ran away whenever we looked at them. Then, best of all, we learned how to properly make a cup of Vietnamese coffee.

Day 7: Bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), which took 12 hours.

I've been in Saigon for about a week and a half now. I have a new roommate named Yến, who I get along with very well. I'm starting to know my way around the city. Classes are in full swing now, which sucks because we have so much less free time, but oh well, this is supposed to be school after all. We live in District 1, the downtown area of the city, so we're in a more expensive part of town and it's fairly touristy, which has its good and bad sides. We're actually about 2 blocks away from the US, British and French consulates which is kinda neat. The traffic here is crazier than in Hanoi, which I would not have thought possible. It hasn't been as hot here as I was afraid of. I definitely need the air conditioner on in my room, but it's never so bad outside that I don't want to leave my room. Overall, I really like the city so far.

Last weekend we went to a resort town called Mui Ne to get to know our roommates better. We spent the whole morning on the beach/in the hotel pool, and in the afternoon we went to a sand dune area nearby that made me feel like I was in Africa or on the moon or something. I ended the day extremely sunburned.

Well, that's all for now. I'm sure there are many more interesting things I could tell you about, but I can't think of a single one at the moment. So, goodbye for now.