Friday, June 11, 2010

The Rainbow Room

I took Edie to Southbank today. The Luminarium art exhibit was on, a huge blow-up maze with colored windows. Edie and I both loved it, despite the fact that we had to wait an hour and some in line waiting to get in (she threw her Ernie doll to keep occupied). Brisbane is great for this kind of stuff, we definitely need to get out more often!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What a month...and what a chronologically confusing post

Hi all,

Last Thursday morning I woke up so happy. Tim’d been up north all week so it was kind of unusual for me to be feeling so great upon waking up alone…Usually when he’s out of town I’m trying my hardest to stay in bed for as long as I can…Either way, I thought I’d take advantage of my mood, slipped on my runners, popped a granola bar into Edie’s hand and took her for a run in the jogging pram. It was a great run. We saw her friend Bingo (a beagle pup), and Edie was ecstatic to find that Bingo wanted to eat her granola bar and then had a great time saying “Bingo, NO!” We also saw some Lorikeets in the neighbor’s tree. Lorikeets are very common here but Edie still gets really excited when she sees them. All in all, it was a great start to a great morning for us. We got back to the house, I put on a pot of oatmeal and we enjoyed breakfast together. As I mentioned before, feeling this good is kind of unusual when Tim is gone…For some reason, the worst luck typically accompanies Tim’s absence, and thus when Tim and I talk while he’s away, he usually gets bad news. But on Thursday morning, things were going so well that I thought that I’d give Tim a call and surprise him with a cheery good morning. I dialed Tim’s mobile and he didn’t pick up, so I prepared to leave an upbeat message. However, just when the beep signaled to leave a message, Edie projectile vomited her oatmeal all over the kitchen table. I hadn’t even had the chance to say “hello”, let alone “we’re doing great here!” I just stuttered into the phone “uhhhh…you didn’t just hear that or your daughter crying, uhhh, ummm, that wasn’t the sound of her vomiting…we’re actually doing great here! Gotta go!” So my good intentions were foiled again, and my good news conversation turned into the more familiar “what do I do? I don’t know what I’m doing here!” Poor Tim. Edie, it turns out, was nursing a stomach bug. It actually turned out to be a rather rough day, given the upbeat start. Thankfully, the bug was short lived with the worst being over by the time she went to bed that night. She did have a great time the next day pointing to her belly and saying “Go AWAY bug!” She’s sleeping now, and is hopefully sleeping all of that bad sickness off. I haven’t yet been hit with the bug, and I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t but I know that my chances at a clean bill of health in the next week are probably quite slim. Tim gets back on Thursday, and we should all be right as rain by then.

So, just before Edie went to sleep this morning (a week later) we made cookies together. It was a whole lot of fun. Zucchini chocolate chip. They’re fabulous and if you want the recipe, just let me know.

I got back from Viet Nam at the beginning of last week (just go with me on the timing thing, it's not important...I was in VN from the 10th to the 18th of May). It was a great trip, and maybe the relaxation factor from that trip has carried over into the relative ease at which I’m handling Tim’s absence this week, given the circumstances. I took notes in order to recount the adventure and hopefully the pictures do it some justice. I should start by saying that the freedom and lack of stress involved with traveling by myself was shocking. I’ve reflected many times since Edie has been born about how much of a stress-case I’ve become, but I can truly say that I left it all behind when I set foot on the plane to Darwin (I traveled Brisbane-Darwin-Ho Chi Min city-Hanoi). Not having to worry about whether there was an empty seat next to me on the plane for Edie to occupy was just the beginning of things that I didn’t have to worry about on this trip.
So I flew to Darwin and then on to Ho Chi Min city (formerly known as Saigon) where I stayed the night. I’m not sure if my relative familiarity with Viet Nam (having been there the year before) or the fact that I didn’t have anyone else to worry about , made my entry into the country pretty non-descript. It seems that last year when we stepped out of the airport into the sea of Vietnamese-speaking people, it was a lot more intimidating. I was able to grab a taxi very easily and didn’t care a lick that I was being ripped off for the ride into the city. I distinctly remember being super-peeved last year when we paid 20$ USD to get to our hotel, because all of the travel books had told us that we should pay no more than 10$...I suspected that I would have to pay 20$ on this trip being a white, female, english-speaking tourist, and I was right. But you know, I got to the hotel safe and sound and the 10$ extra probably would have been wasted anyway. I did chuckle when the taxi that took me back to the airport in the morning charged 7$, I gave the guy 10$ just because I thought it was funny. He looked like I had just handed him a gold nugget, which maybe isn’t that far off. The VND was trading at 1 USD=19,000 VND that day, and 19,000 VND could buy enough food to last almost a week, potentially.

Getting to Hanoi, again, was incredibly simple. I was met at that airport by Sebastien, the only white guy in the joint, and our friend Van Anh’s French-Canadian fiancĂ©e. In May, Sebastien and Van Anh were making their pre-wedding rounds in Hanoi prior to their wedding being held in Fredericton in June. Sebastien had spent the 2 weeks prior to my arrival totally immersed in Vietnamese life, and I think it’s safe to say that he was happy to see me. That being said, I’m not sure that it’s just Van Anh’s family, or whether it’s a cultural thing, but in Hanoi people come right up to you, say stuff in Vietnamese and expect you to reply back…it’s really awkward until you realize that it happens all of the time and people don’t seem to be too jilted by your inability to reply. But it’s kind of draining just not being able to communicate with words. It’s one of the only times in my life where I’ve been in a minority group, and I’ve come away thinking that everyone should be at least once in their lives. It’s a very eye-opening experience. In our situation we always had Van Anh to translate for us, so we were lucky. We could use public transport, eat local food, etc., without worrying about how to ask for it. We were also able to know what people were saying about us and in a number of cases, it was not very nice! In one situation a bus driver made the comment that if we wanted to sight-see, that we should get a taxi like all of the other backpacking tourists. Given that one pays the equivalent of 7 cents a busride to anywhere in Hanoi, maybe he had a point, and perhaps he was friends with a taxi-driver who wouldn’t get a chance to rip us off because we were riding a bus. But you know, there’s a reason it’s so cheap. It’s hot, crowded and pickpockets are everywhere. The seats are always taken which means that there are loads of people standing, holding onto the hand loops dangling from the ceiling, and did I mention it’s hot? You can imagine the smell of a hot, crowded bus where most people are riding with their arms above their heads. I couldn’t even stand my own smell! And those are just the busses in the city.

We did decide to take an overnight trip out to Halong Bay, which meant 6 hours in a bus on day one and the same on return. These busses we were actually able to sit in, but they’re rough. Traffic in Viet Nam is incredible, and indescribable…You have to experience it to believe it. No stop signs, no centre lines, no pavement in some cases and pretty much anything goes. Van Anh’s family are friends with a family who live near Halong Bay, and so the father of that family was our tourguide. He actually was in Hanoi when we were, so he traveled by bus with us to get out to Halong Bay. The funny part of this story is that he was getting picked up by our bus at another station the morning we left, and he missed the bus. He apparently didn’t see the bus stop. So he called Van Anh’s mom (who was traveling with us on the bus), while jumping on the back of a motorbike with some guy that he didn’t know, to chase our bus. Apparently he’d been chasing our bus for ½ an hour when he finally caught up, jumped off of the bike and onto our bus as it was still rolling along. He was still in conversation with Van Anh’s mom on his mobile phone as he jumped onto our bus.

Halong Bay was beautiful and I was really glad that we were staying with locals there (the family friends of Van Anh’s family put us up for the night in Van Don). We got to see a lot of local sites that aren’t on the beaten path and really got to rough it a bit. We slept on grass mats under mosquito nets in the sweltering heat, and I couldn’t have been happier. I tried fresh squid for breakfast that next morning…interesting. The fleshy part was good but crunching through the head was a little bit harder to stomach. On the drive to and from Halong Bay I was able to observe in peace, which I love doing. There were so many neat things to take in. Like the fact that most houses open up right on to the main road, and therefore are typically made into little shops where people wheel their stuff out in the day and take it back in at night. These houses are built very skinny, with tall ceilings for cooling, and the higher the building the better. As street-front real-estate is very expensive, most buildings have a shop on their ground floor and family space upstairs. And there are SO many barber shops. Almost every house I was in had a barber chair on the ground floor. I actually witnessed a child (probably 7 or 8 years old) who sat in one of these barber chairs for 3 hours getting his hair cut by an apprentice. What patience! And to think he’d have to get it cut again in a few weeks (Vietnamese hair is a bit wiley, it grows thick, fast and straight, so for men with short cuts, it’s tough to keep it from looking like a chia pet after a few weeks). That’s a huge amount of time for a youngster to invest in getting his locks chopped. I would have given the apprentice two thumbs up for the good job on the lad, but two thumbs down for the insane amount of time it took. Let’s hope he gets better.

Most properties also have walls surrounding them as well. These walls are typically topped with broken glass, which is really interesting in itself. Where does the glass come from? Who spent all the time putting it there? I spent a lot of time thinking of how I could overcome this kind of security system as well. Thick gloves, thick shoes, a bat to break off the sharp bits, seems too easy…So I came to the conclusion that perhaps the glass wasn’t only meant for security purposes. Vietnamese people have a lot of beliefs surrounding spirits and how to ward the bad ones off. A lot of houses have at least one mirror on the front to keep spirits away, maybe glass around property perimeter is another. But I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

I stayed the remainder of my trip in Hanoi with Van Anh’s family. They have a 5 storey house and I stayed on the rooftop floor by myself and loved it. Matresses are a bad idea in a place where humidity is greater than 80% for the entire year, so I got used to sleeping on grass or wooden mats. I also got used to cold showers and wet bathroom floors, and carrying toilet paper and soap everywhere. These two things don’t turn up very much in public bathrooms. The hospitality shown to me was second to none, and I can’t wait to go back. Viet Nam has grown on me.

Since starting this blog, Tim has been home from his trip up north and left again, I turned 30, and our friends Tim and Lindsay have had a baby- Welcome Baby Joel! Tim and Lindsay also had a birthday party for me on June 2nd (my Tim was still up north, and Baby Joel hadn’t joined us on the outside yet). I think it was the most thoughtful birthday party that I’ve had since my Smurfs themed party when I turned 2 or 3…My memory is a little foggy on that one. Anyway, we had homemade popcorn (which Edie pigged out on), stuffed fish and the most amazing cake that I’ve ever eaten, made from my favorite fair trade chocolate and fair trade peppermint tea. Unfortunately Miss Edie pulled the regular kid-at-a-birthday-party stunt, ate too much, and then tossed her cookies. I had taken 3 bites of the amazing cake when this all happened and it saddened me greatly to have to strip her down, clean her up and leave without my cake. Thankfully, Tim and Lindsay didn’t get sick, and also the rest of the cake was returned to us a few days later. It was just as delicious as I’d remembered from when before Edie yacked. Tim (of Team Jardine) called me on the morning of my birthday and told me to look in our picnic basket where I found a lovely note and two tickets to see Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf) for the end of the month. He won points there. After he got back from the trip up north we also took a Sunday night to dine out sans Edie, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. So the start to my 4th decade was an interesting, but good one.

Miss Edie had her first haircut on the Saturday past. She was surprisingly good, given that her frequency of tantrums has increased seemingly exponentially in the last 2 weeks. And who knew that the modern bob would be a better look than that Hulk Hogan mullet that she’d been sporting these past 6 months? She’s so very cute and funny and we love her to death.

Sorry for the long delay…And given that I’m on my own again I’ll be adding pictures bit by bit.

May-June 2010

Love to all,