Losing track of time

One of the hardest parts of living in Vietnam is that I have lost all my awareness as to what time of year it is. I feel like I’m living in a perpetual state of Mid-June. Last week I was at a training and happened to glance at the computer of the person sitting next to me. My reaction was “Wait, it’s November 20th?” and I proceeded to check my watch and phone. November… almost December… how did that happen. The funny thing is, I always know the date. I think I just forget that it actually is November. Not having seasons is a weird thing. (Yes, I know San Diego doesn’t really have seasons but there is a temperature and light differences that happens as you go into winter. Here it’s 80-90+ degrees and dark by 6pm everyday.)  It’s not even really the seasons, it’s the sunlight. My brain is used to less light in the winter more in the summer. It really messes with my head sometimes.

That being said, Thanksgiving snuck up on me…. Kinda. Myself and several people having been talking about a Friendsgiving since the beginning of school. I work with several people who have never experienced Thanksgiving or pumpkin pie. (Take a minute and let that sink in!) So, we planned a Friendsgiving. Even with all the talk it still snuck up on me and before I knew it, it was here!

I love Thanksgiving. Hands down, my favorite holiday. I have really fond memories from my childhood of waking up the to smells of food cooking, my grandma making a pie for each of us, helping at a soup kitchen, and eating way, and I mean way, too much jellied cranberry sauces (I’ve grown up now and make my own. ha ha). Thanksgiving just feels less stressful to me then Christmas.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving away from my family before, but this Thanksgiving I had to work.  Not going to lie, I was a bit sad and bitter, but I made the best of it. I decided to dedicate the whole day to teaching my students about Thanksgiving. Most of my students had never heard of Thanksgiving. We made Thankful turkey hats, our buddies came and made hand print turkeys with us, I made cranberry sauce for me kiddos to eat, and read many Thanksgiving themed books. The kids loved it!

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The orange feather says “I am thankful for my teacher.” ❤

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Then, during our grade level meeting we had a bit of a Thanksgiving feast!

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That night I ate at the cutest vegetarian restaurant. It was hard having to work and being away from family, but I think the day turned out well.

Black Friday. It’s a thing here! I went to use the ATM at the mall and it was insane! Not America insane, but still pretty crazy. The sales here start in the evening after everyone gets off work. It was an eye-opener for me because I’ve always thought of Black Friday and an American thing.

We held our Friendsgiving the Saturday after Thanksgiving because most of us were at a training the Saturday before. That morning was our schools Festival Bizarre. I volunteered to be one of Santa’s helpers and then checked out the shopping before I headed home to bake my pumpkin pie.

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I bought a “living coaster.” The condensation from my cups waters the succulents!

For Friendsgiving, I was in charge of the pumpkin pie and the cranberry sauce.

Turkeys aren’t easy to find in Asia so we ordered one from a restaurant, which was such a good idea! It came already cut up!

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Turkey in a box

The food was great and the company was better. It was fun sharing Thanksgiving with friends who had never celebrated it before.

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Now that Thanksgiving is over I’m trying to get into a Christmas spirit My apartment complex put up a Christmas tree, then took it down, then two days later put it up again with decorations. I started listening to Christmas music and watching cheesy Christmas movies, but I feel like I’m cheating. It’s too hot and just didn’t feel like Christmas. Thankfully in less than three weeks I’ll be in snow.

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Holidays away from family are hard and I hope they always stay that way. I don’t want it to ever become my “normal” that I’m not with my family.

Blogging is not something I’m necessarily good at and autocorrect and I have a love/hate relationship, so please ignore any typos, misspelled words, or all together wrong words. 😉
(***because I’ve mentioned the school where I’ll be teaching I should probably mention that everything on this blog will be my thoughts, not those of my employer***)

 

 

 

 

 

AQI

AQI…. Air Quality Index. This is an acronym I have become very familiar with. Living in SE Asia means you live with air pollution. It’s just a fact of life. I thought I knew what air pollution was, I mean, I lived by LA, that’s air pollution, right? Boy was I wrong.  Most mornings when I look out my window there is a heavy haze over the city. It looks like fog. I love fog. I wish this haze was fog.

AQI is color coded.
(This table is from Air Now).

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My school uses three colors and this is how I like to think of them Green = woo hoo! Go outside, take a deep breath, and enjoy the day. Yellow = not so good, but you can be outside. Red= Students aren’t allowed out for recess and you should avoid exercising outside. Since I have lived here we haven’t gone over red. If you want to see what a maroon city looks like check out what New Delhi is currently going through.

We graph the air pollution in my class instead of the weather because the weather doesn’t have much variance to it. Last month we had 1 red day. Last week we had 3.

October graph vs. November graph

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AQI sign when you walk into school.

So I finally did it. I bought an air pollution mask. (Well, to be completely honest I accidentally bought 10.  Ha ha! I bought them online and thought I was buying one nice one but in reality I got 10 disposable ones. At least they are the best disposable ones you can buy! 🙂 ) The pollution makes me dizzy and gives me head aches. Some mornings you can taste it. I’m not exaggerating either. It’s gross.

Below are a few pictures of what the air pollution looks like.

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Yesterday’s AQI-Just to put it into perspective.

View out my apartment window. Red Day vs. a Green Day

 

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Walking to work on a red day

I’ve been told the air pollution is from several different things; factories burning at night, construction, motorbikes, and wind blowing it in from other places. Where ever it comes from its gross. But, ever city has its downside. Right now, air pollution just happens to be Saigon’s.

I feel like Bane from Batman, but at least I’m prepared for more red days!

Blogging is not something I’m necessarily good at and autocorrect and I have a love/hate relationship, so please ignore any typos, misspelled words, or all together wrong words. 😉
(***because I’ve mentioned the school where I’ll be teaching I should probably mention that everything on this blog will be my thoughts, not those of my employer***)

Fall Break: Hanoi, Sapa, Ha Long Bay

I’m super lame and started this blog three weeks ago. Then, I got food poisoning and was sick for five days. I even tried to go back to work and they sent me to the doctors. It’s was miserable and I’m not sure where I got it from. I did realize that I had stopped taking my probiotic because during my trip. I had just forgot about them and then forgot about them when I got back as well. So I partially blame being sick on that. Anyways, I started, I got sick, and then I forgot to finish this blog. So here I am, almost a month after my Fall Break trip I am finally writing about it.

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Fall break happened the first week of October and I, with two of my friends, spent 7 days in Northern Vietnam. I need to emphasized that pictures do not do justice to the places we went. They were stunning!

We decided to book with a tour company (Halong Bay Tours) because in all honesty we were too tired to try to figure everything out on our own. It wasn’t like we were on a tour, it was more that they booked everything for us so we didn’t have to worry about anything. Best money spent! Especially when things went a little sideways while we were in Sapa.

Day One

We flew into Hanoi on Saturday and were picked up at the airport and dropped off at our hotel which greeted us with welcome drinks (aka Tang). We spent the evening walking around Old Hanoi and the night markets. Hanoi had so many more tree then Ho Chi Minh!

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Night Market

Day Two: Hanoi City TOur

Sunday morning we were picked up for a day tour of Hanoi. We started out tour by seeing  Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh was the first president of what is now unified Vietnam. His mausoleum holds his embolden body. We weren’t allowed in because his body is currently not there. For two months out of the year is shipped off to have “maintenance” done. We toured the ground and then went to see how lacquer painting was done.

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Presidential Palace

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Ho Chi Minh’s House on stilts
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A pagoda

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Lacquer painting

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After the lacquer painting we head to the Old Quarter for some yummy lunch.

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Old Quarter

Next we went to the Museum of Ethology.

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House on stilts at the museum of Ethnology

After the museum we went to the Temple of Literature which was Vietnam’s first  National University.

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Temple of Literature
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These stones had names on them of the people who passed the University Exams
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There was some sort of graduation going on.

And last, but not least we went to Chua Tran Quoc; the older Buddhist temple in Hanoi.

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After our tour we explored Hanoi a bit more and had dinner before catching our night train to Sapa.

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Fake North Face anyone?

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View from the restaurant we ate at

Day Three: Sapa

Sapa is a mountain town in Northern Vietnam along the Chinese border. It is surrounded by tiny villages and mountains and mountains of rice fields.

Sunday night we took a night train to Sapa and arrive around 5:30 AM.

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Our cabin on the night train

I didn’t think the night train was that bad once it started going. I was also on the bottom bunk so that may have helped.

We were picked up at the train station and driven to our hotel. Although we were unable to check-in the hotel had showers and bag storage we could use. Our guide picked us up from the hotel and we went on our first hike to the Cat Cat Village. This village is more of a tourist village then a local one.

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Sapa is gorgeous! So green!

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There were a lot of little shops on this hike.

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View from where we ate lunch

After our hike we decided to walk around Sapa and have smoothies at one of the brand new hotels

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This view

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Day Four: Sapa and Hanoi

It’s rained! And not just a little rain. It rained enough to cause landslides which then caused the train to stop running (this is where things went sideways.)

When our guide picked us up she recommended we rent rain boots. They were every penny (we only paid USD $1.50). Life savers! It poured on and off the entire hike. We hiked through the rice fields and down to a small village for lunch. About an hour into the Spanish couple  with us got a call from their travel agent explaining the situation with the trains and informing them they would have to take a bus back to Hanoi. This meant we would not be able to hike after lunch and would instead need to a bus back up to our hotel. At first I was bummed but as the rain continued and the paths got more and more slippery, I was thankful to be done at lunch.

 

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Rice fields cut into the side of the mountains
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Walking through the flooded rice fields
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Water buffalo

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This is one of the ladies who followed us down the hike. They are not hiking guides. They are local women who live in the hill villages. They help you down and in return you buy their hand-made goods.

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Our lovely guide, Sue.

Our tour company ended up booking us a sleeper bus and sending us the details.  I am so glad we didn’t have to figure this out on our own! Sleepers busses are not as grand as they may sound. I’ll take the sleeper train any day over the bus. Thankfully though we got back to Hanoi at 10pm, were picked up by a driver, and brought back to our hotel.

Day Five: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is in the Northeat of Vietnam and is know for it’s 1969 limestone islands.

We were meant to leave Hanoi at 8am on a bus to Ha Long Bay. We waited.. and waited… and waited…
After contacting our tour company it turned out the bus forgot to pick us up! The tour company sent out one of their employees to pick us him in his SUV. We thought that he would be driving us all the way to Ha Long Bay. That didn’t exactly happen. He sped through traffic in the rain, spent more time on the left hand side of the road then they right side, and eventually  caught up to one of the local busses. It was a bit confusing as the what was going on. We had ask to use the restroom and he pulled over and then ushered us to the bus. This bus was not the bus the tour company had booked and everyone on the bus seemed a bit confused as well. But, we made it to Halong Bay where we caught our boat.

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Our boat “Lavender”
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View of the top deck
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My room
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We were told you don’t often see blue sky in Ha Long Bay.

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We had lunch and then went kayaking and hiked to the top of Ti Top island.

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Safety first

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Through the cave…
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……and into a beautiful little cove where we saw monkeys! 

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Getting instructions from our guide
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Hiked up a bunch of stairs in the rain to get to the gorgeous view.

When we got back we were given a lesson on how to make spring rolls. Which then turned in to a race of who could make spring rolls the quickest.

 

Spring rolls have become my favorite Vietnamese food.

I don’t usually take a photos of my food but the presentation of our dinner had to be documented!

They were vegetable cutting artists!

Day Six

We went to the largest cave in Ha Long Bay and then did a little hike before heading back to the main land.

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Not a bad view to wake up to.
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Local fishermen

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Largest cave in Ha Long Bay.
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Inside the cave.
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Inside the cave.
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So many tourist boats

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James Bond Island where one of the James Bond movies was filmed
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It was hard to say good-bye to this view!

When we got back to Hanoi that night we ended our trip with a nice dinner and a beautiful view!

 

 

For our last night in Hanoi we stayed at the Hanoi Trendy Hotel & Spa. It was a cute little boutique hotel in the old quarter that was really hoping for good reviews on trip advisor. (They told us this! Ha!) They welcomed us with fruit and beverages, breakfast was fun, there was a spa on site, and when we left the staff came outside to see us off. I’d recommend them if you go Hanoi.

Just for fun…..

Things on motorbikes in Hanoi!

 

Sorry this post was so long. Next time I’ll be more on the ball and spilt it up!

Blogging is not something I’m necessarily good at and autocorrect and I have a love/hate relationship, so please ignore any typos, misspelled words, or all together wrong words. 😉