Air Asia totally pwned me.

Flying makes me nervous. Not because I’m afraid of crashing, but because I’m deathly afraid of missing my flight. I always try to get to the airport abnormally early.

And for some reason, I had a bad feeling about my flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my cousins’ stories:

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It started when I realized that the checked bag weight limit for Air Asia is 20 kg, or 44 pounds. That’s 6 pounds less than the 50 pounds I’m used to.

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After I stuffed all my excess stuff into my carry-on, my family kindly dropped me off at the airport. I checked in:

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I also had a small suitcase and a backpack, as those were complementary on my flight from America. However, apparently it wasn’t for this one.

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WHAT?!

Oh-my-god. That’s, like, a month’s rent. I didn’t have that kind of cash on me! What do I do?! 

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She directed me to the other side of the airport, where supposedly there were phones. I ran through the terminal…

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I desperately asked a man at the currency exchange booth where the phones were. Perhaps sensing my panic, he lent me his own cell phone.

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By some miracle, the phone had enough juice for me to place my call. I called my uncle– but, by this time, my Vietnamese had flown out the window.

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Luckily, his son (my cousin) speaks English, so I was able to explain the situation more coherently. He told me to wait– they would drive back to the airport to get my bag. The drive takes 20 minutes, though, and by this time I only had an hour left before my flight.

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I handed my cousin my Australian address and my bag, then sprinted off.

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Of course, I still had to go through security.

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I flat-out sprinted to my gate.

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I arrived at my gate RIGHT before boarding… or so I thought.

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I spent my 12-hour flight in a state of physical and mental exhaustion. Oh, Air Asia. How I look forward to riding with you again at the end of semester.

Though I did make it to Sydney in the end, where I probably made a great first impression.

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Vietnam is breathtaking, in more ways than one.

Boy, have I been neglecting this blog lately. I’ve been wicked busy what with flying to Australia, moving in, and registering for classes! Sorry about that!

Vietnam is a country of both incredible scenery and unbelievable pollution. As I mentioned previously, the roads are so smoggy that it’s common to wear masks while driving around. Tap water is not safe to drink. I was shocked by some roadkill I saw on the street:

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But Vietnam, for all its problems, is an amazingly beautiful place. My family here was kind enough to take me to a beach resort in Bình Thuận, a province north of Ho Chi Minh City. We rented a bus with another family and enjoyed the 4-hour drive through the countryside.

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A dragonfruit farm.

A dragonfruit farm.

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The word “resort,” for me, at least, implies a sort of luxurious hotel where all entertainment is provided. Our resort was more of a hotel, though it did have some fun features that we certainly enjoyed.

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The area is famous for its beaches, so I was very excited. I was a bit surprised by the amount of litter on the beach, though.

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And the ocean was completely filled with odd red bits. I’m not sure if this was from human or natural causes, but either way, the murky water left your body unnaturally sticky.

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My family quickly tired out the pool and karaoke, so we decided to sight-see elsewhere.

Luckily, nearby was Núi Tà Cú, or Tà Cú Mountain. The mountain is about 2,129 feet tall and is a popular tourist attraction. And I was about to find out why.

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Tà Cú Mountain is home to a Buddhist temple, though it used to house a previous queen. If you can get up the stairs…

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…you’ll be welcomed by three large statues…

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…and this incredible temple.

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What amazed me the most, though, was this 45-meter long statue of a reclining Buddha. I honestly thought it was a building at first.

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Afterwards, we paid a visit to the Ke Ga lighthouse. Since the lighthouse is on an island…

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…we stuffed what was probably too many people into one of these traditional fishing boats.

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In order to get to the top, we had to climb up a rather intense set of stairs.

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But the end definitely paid off.

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How can such unbelievable natural beauty exist in the same place where we found dead cockroaches under the bed…

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…or pay for a hot spring where, upon entry, we found most of the pools totally empty?

A hot spring for feet-- completely empty.

A hot spring for feet– completely empty.

I was only there for a week, but I already sensed it: Vietnam is a country of contrasts. There’s abject poverty and extreme wealth. I saw equally shocking beauty and squalor. It’s a country struggling with its chaotic history and difficult government. It’s a country still growing into its own.

And when I was there, I also sensed without a doubt: Vietnam was my country. For all its problems, Vietnam is an incredible place– and I admit, I’m proud to be of Vietnamese descent. I already can’t wait to return in December!

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Though I can stand a few more months of listening to people with Australian accents.

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(Australia’s pretty cool, too.)

Sayounara, Weight Watchers. Vietnam’s got you beat.

I’ve long since bid a temporary farewell to Weight Watchers. It just isn’t possible with my generous family here in Vietnam.

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My family here in Vietnam has been set on feeding me pretty much all of Saigon. This is no easy task, as this place is teeming with all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine. I’m Vietnamese, but there’s stuff I’ve rarely seen or never even heard of. My family here likes to eat at the various vendors that line the roads. Food carts will often offer seating:

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Or, if you’d like to be a bit more comfortable, you can enter a street restaurant:

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The plastic stools may be flimsy, and the tables may be simple steel or plastic, and you may have to wipe down the chopsticks before using them, but man. So far, I’ve been able to ignore all the cons for two huge pros: first, the cheapness–

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–and second, the deliciousness. Honestly, I’ve found that the cheaper the food, the tastier it is!

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Of course, I’ve also been quite lucky. Street food, while delicious, is treated with caution even by native Vietnamese. I’ve been warned not to eat any uncooked vegetables and to check any produce before purchasing it.

But that hasn’t held us back. My family here doesn’t cook much– since it’s so easy, for every meal, to go out and grab some cheap grub. Typical breakfasts have included:

I believe this is called... "hu tieu"?

I believe this is called… “hủ tiếu”?

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And this one was ” bò kho mì.”

Bún bò Huế.

And finally, bún bò Huế.

Street food is often fatty or oily, but never fear! Just make up for it by picking up some of the various exotic fruits, sold cheaper and fresher than in the United States! Interestingly enough,the apples and oranges and pears that are so commonplace in America are “exotic” in Vietnam.

Rambutan.

Rambutan.

Dragonfruit.

Dragonfruit.

Mangosteen.

Mangosteen.

Vietnam is pretty hot, though, so sometimes all you want is a cold beverage. Hey, no problem! You can find various types of chè, a sweet dessert drink typically made from mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, tapioca, and fruit, all over the city. There are a million different varieties to try!

This type just happens to be green.

This type just happens to be green.

My cousins here really like getting nước mía, or sugarcane juice. Vendors will squeeze fresh sugarcane right on the streets.

A lady working the sugarcane press.

A lady working the sugarcane press.

The resultant juice.

The resultant juice is sweet and citrusy.

My favorite will always be cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s made by brewing finely-ground, dark-roast Vietnamese coffee in a drip filter and then mixing it with a bunch of condensed milk. Then, add ice and you’re golden!

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Before…

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…and after!

I admit, not everything’s to my taste. A lot of our dried fruits and candied spices are often a bit tangy for me.

Mystery dried stuff.

Mystery dried stuff.

Though most of the time I find the food impossible to resist. The seafood here! It’s so fresh!

Grilling some scallops.

Grilling some scallops.

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Crab.

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I honestly forget the Vietnamese name for this, but just know that it is delicious.

So, in all this food-tasting, I may have put on a kilo or two. Which is unfortunate, since I’m already a size XXL in Vietnam and all the clothes here is so darn cute.

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Shh. Don’t tell my doctor.

If I don’t get run over by the end of this, it’ll be a miracle.

Rules of the road in Vietnam: there are none.

One of the things I resolved not to do in Vietnam was ride on a motorbike. The US government travel website advises strongly against it: traffic signals are rare, the roads are congested and polluted, and helmets are flimsy and insufficient.

I can confirm that all of these are true, and can also give several more reasons not to ride motorbikes. For instance, motorbikes don’t have seatbelts.

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Since there are no turn signals, you turn left by slowwwwly nudging your way into the opposing traffic lane until they have to stop to let you go.
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People weave crazily in and out of traffic.
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The roads are always cramped– so some cyclists will cut onto the sidewalk…
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…or into the lane of opposing traffic.
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Pedestrians here cross the road much like cyclists do left turns: they slowwwwly walk onto the road until cars are forced to stop for them. (And, similar to the US, everyone jaywalks.)
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The roads are so smoggy with exhaust that everyone wears masks.
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I’ve even heard that people will grab your handbags and purses as you ride on the road.
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And finally, the tropical Vietnam is prone to sudden and intense rainstorms. Since everyone litters here, every time it rains, tons of garbage are caught in the water. The trash then clogs the sewers, causing muddy water to flood the streets:
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So, all in all, riding a motorbike in Vietnam should be a hair-raising, terrifying experience. We’re not quite up to American standards, that’s for sure. I shouldn’t even want to go near the things.
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So why is riding motorbikes here so damn fun?
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It’s honestly my favorite way to travel.
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How to survive a long flight

HOW TO SURVIVE A LONG FLIGHT

(By Vy)

1. Sit impatiently as the plane is delayed due to technical difficulties.

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2. Run the battery out on your phone playing Candy Crush Saga.

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3. Watch the plane take off.

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4. Ask for tea from the flight attendant. For some reason, it tastes like seaweed.

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5. Stare out the window for at least 3 hours. Once in a while, glimpse a nice view.

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Clouds over the Midwest.

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Mountains in Alaska.

The shoreline of what I'm pretty sure was an Alaskan island.

The shoreline of what I’m pretty sure was an Alaskan island.

The Japanese countryside, near Tokyo/Narita.

The Japanese countryside, near Tokyo/Narita.

Pretty clouds are pretty.

Pretty clouds are pretty.

The sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.

The sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.

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6. Discover that your flight entertainment system has J-pop. Jam out.

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7. Watch the obligatory crappy rom-com, then watch it again.

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8. Realize that your flight’s only halfway through.

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9. Go to the bathroom when you don’t really need it. Discover that your legs are painfully asleep.

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10. Constantly check the time in both your starting point and destination. Get confused over how many hours are left in your flight.

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11. Resign yourself to the fact that your flight it pretty much going to go on for infinity, so there’s really no point in trying to calculate this anyway.

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12. Arrive at one of your layover points a half hour before you need to catch your next flight.

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13. Discover your next flight is another 6 hours long.

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14. Finally manage to fall asleep…

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15. …for 15 minutes.

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16. Wait.

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17. Suddenly realize, 10 minutes before landing, that this is really happening. You’re about to go to the country you’ve been the most scared to visit. Your heart rate goes up. You get the butterflies. Your knees go weak.

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18. And away you go.

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By the way, Vietnam is freaking awesome.

Looks like it’s time to visit the homeland.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to Vietnam! For the first time!

That’s right. I’m Vietnamese but I’ve never actually been to Vietnam before.

That’s about to change, though.

You know how I’m going to Sydney next semester? Well, my parents decided that if I went to Australia, we would all visit Vietnam once my semester was over. I mean, if one kid’s already at that side of the world, they might as well follow suit, yeah?

So we decided it would be cheapest if I got round-trip tickets in and out of Saigon, and another set of tickets from Saigon to Sydney. Therefore, I’ll be visiting Vietnam both before and after my study abroad!

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Ok, so “scared” is a little dramatic.

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And not without cause. There are exactly four things that are making me fret:

1. My grandmother.

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When your mom wants to buy you diarrhea relief medicine, it’s probably not a good sign. Speaking of my mom…

2. My mom.

My mom and dad had very different reactions to me traveling to Vietnam.

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My mom, the ever-protective mother bear, has given me wonderful tips about traveling in Vietnam.

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3. The U.S. Government travel website.

I read through the US travel advisory for Vietnam, where I found lovely quotes like these:

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Well, at least the advisory wasn’t as bad as the travel notice for Nigeria.

4. I’m Vietnamese and my Vietnamese sucks.

My Vietnamese is rudimentary at best and heavily accented. I can understand Vietnamese better than I can speak it, a fact that some of my more-distant relatives didn’t realize when I was a kid.

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If I was of Caucasian heritage, being able to speak any Vietnamese would be impressive. However, since I’m Vietnamese, my lack of skill opens me up to criticism and judgement. Better yet, I’m staying with family. Family that I’ve never met before and who speak a different dialect of Vietnamese. Whelp. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

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Well, I’m sure we’ll communicate somehow.

And nervous or not, my tickets are booked. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to Vietnam!

By the way: Rumor has it that WordPress is blocked in Vietnam. If that’s the case, I might not be able to post anything until I arrive in Sydney, which will be on July 20th. So an extended absence from my blog either means I can’t get onto WordPress, or I’ve been kidnapped by some Vietnamese ruffians. Cheers! 

I know it’s the fifth time we’ve said goodbye, but I swear this is the final one.

There’s only so many goodbyes a person can take. Though as it turns out, I can take a lot.

It started when the semester ended. A bunch of my college friends went back to their hometowns, meaning it would be a while until I saw them again.

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It was sad, but at least I wasn’t left totally alone. Some of my friends, like myself, stayed in Boston for the first half of the summer.

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In fact, there were enough of us left in Boston that the friends who had initially returned home came back to visit.

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Though, of course, I had to say bye to them again.

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The summer winded on, and it got closer and closer to the day I would leave Massachusetts. With every visit, and every goodbye, our farewells got more and more urgent.

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Especially since we all have such disparate schedules. My friends were scattered around the Greater Boston area, so we never knew if this was the last time we’d be seeing each other.

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Finally, the final weekend of my co-op rolled around. It would be my last full weekend in Boston. My high school friends, realizing that my departure was soon, came up to visit me.

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I also had to say goodbye to my college friends for the last time.

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It was a melancholy moment. I’ve grown attached to the beautiful and friendly Boston over the last two years. And I love my friends, so I was certainly sad to leave.

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Sorry guys.

But now I really am out of Boston, and back in the Philly suburbs! I’ve been busy with moving out/moving in/unpacking/packing. After all, I depart for Vietnam in a week!

Which reminds me.

By the way, I’m going to Vietnam as well.