Some stuff I miss

Because I know I've neglected this little blog, I will try to post some photos and words in the next few days. Here are some shots of things that I miss:

Being able to take photos like this one, taken at Phu Quoc Island

And already I've run out of steam! I just can't think of what to write at the moment. It's strange being home, because it almost feels like my whole Vietnam experience might have been some sort of weird dream. Because now I'm home acting like many post-grads act--I'm unemployed, I'm hanging out with my friends, I'm loafing around...essentially, I'm useless. And when I'm unproductive (I know, going to the gym, etc. is productive, but it doesn't feel like it) I get super restless and down on myself.

Ugh! Just writing this is making me down on myself! I'm going to stop, and think about it some more, and watch the Uruguay vs. Netherlands World Cup Game. Ok?

Talk to you soon, hopefully.


Homeward Bound

Good movie.

Anyway, that's what I am today. Flying back to California! I'll try to do a post when I get there wrapping things up. But we'll see. Right now I'm too nervous and excited to write.

But I love you.



A Collection of Band Names

Inspired by Kevin and Bean of KROQ in California, I’ve collected a list of band names. Or rather, phrases that sound to me like band names or song titles. Some have taken on their own identities in my head. Hope you enjoy this randomness. One day, when MTV debuts the video (do they still play videos?) for the hit single “Nothing to Declare” by Spendthrift Hedonist, you will laugh and remember when. So here goes:

Transient Orcas: I believe this came from a Skype conversation with my mom, in which she was describing the nature show she was watching.

An Unexpected Camel: From a description in a book from about 1915 of the paintings of Biblical events, that sometimes feature an unexpected camel. I personally think “The Unexpected Camel” could be the sequel to the book “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. It has a similar ring.

Spendthrift Hedonist: Another from my mom, which came from a conversation in which she was trying to talk me down from a financial freakout, as I assessed the status of my bank account. Imagine the tone of voice as she said, “Arielle, it’s not like you’re a spendthrift hedonist.” That woman, she has a way with words.

Madmen & Martyrs: From World History of Art. This would be an emo-punk band, I’m guessing, featuring several skinny-jeans-wearing dudes with thick-rimmed glasses and swooping hairdos. Maybe a blond guy as a lead singer. What do you think?

Swiss Chards of Pain: From Katherine. Vegan straight-edge emo band from Switzerland?

Nothing to Declare: I just like the poetic possibilities of these airport signs. I always wish that I had something to declare, but usually don’t.

An Orgy of Love and Blood: Another foray into emo-dom (emo-hood?). An actual phrase from World History of Art, describing the Middle Ages, or something.

Flock of Zeros: Comes from Rachel and I playing the binary game in Pai. I can’t really explain it further.

Herding Cats: Cute girl band? Not sure.

Obigustal Fkench: A typo from a text we’re working on. I’m thinking an indie/hipster band from Sweden or something. Lead singer Sveta Hüdsbjorn: tall, skinny, red hair covering one eye, lots of eye makeup, smoky alto voice that can also scream quite well. What say you?


Ready to go

Hello, interwebs! (Note: something is going on with the formatting, and it keeps previewing all wonky. I will fix it soon.)

I know, it's been forever. I'm sorry I haven't written more, and I'm sorry I haven't put up more pictures. If you're my facebook friend, you can see them, or you can email me and I'll send you a link. But the internet at my house isn't strong enough to upload to blogger at the moment.

I also haven't written lately because there has been so much in my head that I've been too overwhelmed to get it out in so many outlets. I talk about it with my parents and friends, I write in my journal about it, and at the end of the day the blogging gets postponed.

I wrote a post a while back discussing my general feeling that this time in Vietnam, while it is my life right now, doesn’t feel like my real life, the way I imagine my life to be. I’m not saying that this experience doesn’t “count”, I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity and I think that it has helped me evolve into the person that I am always striving to be. However…

I’m ready to move on. I’ve already stayed longer than I expected to, having extended my contract six months past the expected end date in order to gain more work and life experience. But what I’m feeling now is that I’m approaching the limit where the experience can be growth-inducing and where it can be detrimental to who I am. In essence, it’s wearing me down. My tolerance for culture clash is growing smaller and smaller, reducing me to feeling like a racist asshole who can’t stand “the Asians”, which just isn’t me. As I’ve explored before on this blog, it’s a constant battle between my occasional frustration with this foreign culture and then my immediate guilt trip and self-consciousness at feeling said frustration. And it’s exhausting.

Of course, I have a lot of dreams and ambitions for the future, some that have only developed recently. I now know that I like working in publishing (albeit not in…certain circumstances), and would like to keep trying it, in different genres, working my way towards getting involved in the fiction world. And I know that I need to go to New York, and I’m impatient about getting there and starting a new adventure. And now that I know these things, being here just feels like I’m stagnant.

And much of it has to do with culture. I’ve said to my friends (with a deep guilt at saying so, mind you) that I look forward to having first-world problems again. These are problems I know how to manage: having little money, working all the time to pay rent, finding an apartment or room to live in, finding a job, writing cover letters, getting around places, managing my time to work, see friends, relax. I look forward to being able to focus on these challenges without, say, the constant fear of being hit by a motorbike while walking on the sidewalk. Or the annoyance of having “Hello! Where you from! Motobike you?” shouted at me five times daily. I look forward to being able to pay my own bills because I will be able to read them, and not have to ask the neighbor for help to order more drinking water.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m a control freak. When I’m not in control of a situation, I go a bit bananas. The more control I have over a situation, the better I feel about it. I recognize when I don’t have control, and as long as I’m aware that I don’t, I can adapt myself to keep control over the things that I can, and accept the things that I can’t. Here, the things that I can’t control seem far more than I’ve handled before, in Chicago, Paris, and Los Angeles, and they are more constant. Here I am constantly assaulted by the things I can’t control, and it’s tough.

I know when I get back to the states, I will once again be overwhelmed, less with traffic and food choices and communication, and more with reverse culture shock and unemployment and moving to New York. But these are things that, in some form or another, I have dealt with before, and I am ready for it.

As far as specifics goes, this is my “plan”. My last day of work is April 5 (Wooooooooo! Sorry, had to get that out). My parents will be here April 3 to the 23, and we’ll be travelling a bit in Vietnam, and they’ll go to Angkor Wat to get all templed out. Once they leave, I will (Visa providing) head to Laos for a week or so, then back to Saigon to gather my belongs, and fly home to LA the first week of May. Once home, I plan to do many things, such as: sleep on my tiny twin bed, surround by stuffed animals and pillows, for at least 2 days; play with my puppy; have a welcome back party for myself at my house; overdose on In-n-Out (sp?), Mexican food, and diners; drive around LA a lot; and—most importantly—plan for the future. In a perfect world, I would somehow figure out how to do a cross-country road trip with NY as the final destination: I’m thinking drive up the coast, then over the Northwest, stop in Chicago for a bit, then over to NY. However, the logistics are tricky, as I have no car, I don’t want to buy a car only to sell it in NY, and renting one is pricey. So it probably won’t happen. Yet. Eventually, yes. (Have I talked about this on here before? I feel like I’m repeating myself. Oh, well.)

In any event, this is my plan. And I’m excited about it, and thus my excitement about being in Vietnam is waning. Has waned. You get it.

But I don’t want any of the negativity that I may feel towards being here to overwhelm my last months. I want to end on a high note. I think having my parents here will help greatly, as I will get to show them things, and participate in their experience of a new place (they’ve never been to Asia before), as well as have some family adventures (hopefully all good ones). We’ll see.

For now, I am working on dividing my thoughts between the future and the present. On the one hand, I am excited about my New York adventure, and on the other, I want to enjoy my remaining time here, one day at a time. So I am doing that, while still preparing myself to depart and embark on a new journey.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. Love!




For my Tet holiday this year, I'll be heading to Thailand with my friend Rachel from work. I am super excited! Here is a map of our plan, roughly.

[The map looks blurry in small view: click on it to make it clearer.]

We'll fly into and out of Bangkok. The day we land in Bangkok, the 10th, we'll take a night train (hopefully) to Chiang Mai (that's the blue trajectory on the map), and then a bus to either Pai or Chiang Rai, depending on how we feel. Then, with the largest leg of travel done, we'll be working our way south, hitting Chiang Mai for real, then Lampang (where there is an amazing elephant conservation park and I will be frolicking with elephants to my heart's delight), then Sukhothai, then Ayutthaya, and back to Bangkok. And anywhere else in between that strikes our fancy.

I'm looking forward to some adventure, as well as cooler weather, and--most importantly--ELEPHANTS. Elephants elephants elephants. I am obsessed with them, as you may know. And Thailand is famous for them. YES. I am sooooo excited.

So Rachel and I will be cruising around Thailand, and I will take a ton of photos to document our adventures. I'll keep you posted!



Noticed into invisibility

I recently read a book called Shantaram that aptly described one of the most significant aspects of expat life over here, and it got me thinking. To paraphrase, the narrator of the book, a New Zealander living in Bombay, describes himself at being stared at into invisibility. As in, it doesn't matter who he really is or what he is doing (In the book's case, he is involved in some illegal activities, in broad daylight, because no one is watching him. Or rather, people look at him but don't see him.), because all people see is an outsider, whose personality and characteristics they will define as they see fit.

I also started thinking about what I called cycles of invisibility--when I was in middle school, for example, I wanted to be invisible. In high school, I wanted to be noticed, to stand out. In college, it was a mixture. Living in Paris (and I think I've discussed this before in an earlier post), I was happy to be invisible, because it meant that I belonged. Here, most days, I would love nothing more than to be invisible. Because here I am highly visible and highly misunderstood. I am misinterpreted every day, seen only how people want to see me and not how I wish to be seen. I understand that this is always a problem, in any culture, because at home I have at times felt the same way, at a different level. But here I am confronted every day with the fact that I cannot control how I am seen by the world, that I have no say in the matter. I can't say, "No, look, you've got me all wrong," because I will not be understood.

I think this is what I am thinking about most as I head into the next phase of my life, that I miss being understood. Or, at least, better understood than I am here. In New York, or wherever, I am certain that I will be invisible at times, noticed at times, misinterpreted at times. But it will be a different kind of misinterpretation, a more familiar kind, and I welcome it.

I should be getting to bed. Just wanted to share these thoughts.




I apologize for the lack of photos. My camera remains broken, and I haven't picked out a new one yet.

Today I drove to Chinatown to get a birthday present for Mareike, and ended up driving back around dusk. It was strangely beautiful--me on my motorbike, zooming along, and everything bustling around. In Chinatown, land of fabric stores, people were out buying meters and meters of fabric, in sequins and leopard print and bright colors. It was nearing dinner, so street vendors were grilling pork on the sidewalk, and ladling out steaming bowls of noodle soups, while diners dug in, hunkering down in their little plastic chairs to slurp up noodles.

The air smelled unusually good, as well; I wasn't as overwhelmed as I usually am by the exhaust in my face, and was struck by the dusky, smoky scent in the air. It made me smile while cruising along.

I may have my issues with where I live, but there are still these moments when I can calmly just be in this city, smelling the smells of everyday life, driving along as one of the horde of scooters, feeling quite pleasant about life in general. This was one of those moments, and meant a lovely way to begin my Sunday evening and finish the weekend.

That's all that I have to share at the moment. Love.


Things I’m Thankful For

I decided to list some of the many things that I am thankful for this year, at this exact moment, in no particular order besides the order that they pop into my head:

1. Having a job in this economic climate, albeit a job that drives me insane. It pays, it gives me experience in the my chosen field, and for that I count my blessings.

2. Having friends here, especially friends that I work with, who make work much more bearable and even enjoyable.

3. My health, which is in general very good. At the moment, I have a pretty gross head cold, but comparatively that’s not too bad. I haven’t been afflicted with swine flu, dengue fever, malaria, the runs, or any other serious illnesses. I can handle a little bit (ok, a lot) of mucus. I’m sure you needed that mental image. You’re welcome.

4. My friends in general, who keep me sane, and have let me reach out to them when I have needed to.

5. My parents, who are amazing, and who know I’m crazy and don’t mind. My crazy is their doing, anyway.

6. Puppies. Because they still make me happy. Especially the one who lives near my office, and lets me pet her and wrestle with her, and gives me happy puppy nips.

I think that's all for now. I am grateful for many other things, I'm sure, but they're currently eluding my mucus-addled, nap-needing brain.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Love!



The title lingo is from Cute Overload. I live there right now.

Anyhow, I've been meaning to write for a while. And gotten a smidge of pressure on the VisageTome about it, so voilà, here I am.

First, some business of sorts: I never finished writing about my 3-week Vietnam adventure, for a few reasons. Primarily, I lost the momentum, and it took so much effort to get all the photos up on Facebook, due to internet troubles, that once I got 'em up there I felt done with the sharing. Secondarily, work got super stressful, leaving me with very little energy to write about the trip, when I just wanted to get home and vent about work. Which I also didn't want to do, so I avoided blogging altogether. My apologies. All my photos, minus those taken by new friend Katy in Halong Bay when my camera was broken, are online now. If you're not a Facebook friend and want to see them, let me know, I'll send you the public links.

So. There's that.

Today's topic is: stagnation. And, I suppose, perspective. Usually I am good at perspective, knowing when something really, truly matters and when it doesn't, and how it'll work out in the long run. Something that I am really bad at is being nice to myself. I never really let myself off the hook for stuff, such as watching too much television, or not "going out" enough, etc. I tell myself that I am lame, and a loser, etc. And I'm working on this. However, it's even harder after returning from my trip, because my trip was exciting and adventurous, and I had no time to loaf around like I generally do. Then, returning to the grind and being thrown back into work, where I am frequently thinking What the hell am I doing here, I lose the adventurous steam that I was running on before. I'm exhausted, I get home, I find a show to watching online, I do crosswords, I lie around. And I feel utterly useless. And then I get to calling myself names, and it all gets depressing from there. And, frankly, it sucks.

Recently, while wallowing in my perceived loserdom, a friend of mine gave me a reality check. Some perspective. He said, "Look Arielle, so what that you're not out tonight, and that you're home loading CSI: NY online, and feeling sorry for yourself? You are NOT a loser." He reminded me that, while on that particular night I felt like a loaf, like I should be working out or doing some art or--ahem--blogging or reading or something, when in fact I didn't want to leave my bed, that I am, in truth, not a loaf. In the grand scheme of my life. Lazy bums with no motivations or ambitions do not move to Ho Chi Minh City for a job. They don't go gallavanting around Vietnam by themselves for fun, the don't go to Cambodia on vacation and hug elephants (see much earlier post for those details). Put into perspective, I am an interesting person. And I have to tell myself that a lot, because then maybe eventually I'll believe it.

It helps that I have amazing friends, who will a) give me reality checks when I need them (and when I think I don't, which is also when I do) and b) think I'm interesting enough to want to read my thoughts here, on the interwebs. I feel super appreciated, and I hope you do, too. Thank you.

That'll be it for now. Love.



After 4 days in Hoi An, I was ready to head north to Hue, a city located directly in the middle of Vietnam. As I was heading north, I could tell that I would be leaving the sunshine and beaches behind. Hue is more inland, and north enough that it starts to cool off. So, after a week of lazing around in the sun, I was welcomed to Hue with rain.

I arrived in the evening and immediately sought out dinner, followed by an early bedtime. The next day, I booked myself on a river boat that goes to several tombs of Vietnamese kings, as well as a pagoda. It was nice, if gray. After one day of this, I knew that I wouldn't need to spend much more time in Hue, so I booked my bus to Hanoi for the following night.

The next day, more rain. Lots of it. Unlike Saigon, where it rains for a few hours at a time and then stops, Hue has rain like we get in California--steady and long-lasting. I got myself up and walked to the Citadel, where the Imperial City was located when Vietnam had a king. Soon after getting inside the Citadel, I dropped my camera, and it promptly broke (this was the second time my camera had broke during the trip; the first time was in Hoi An, was not my fault, and I got it repaired). This time I will admit that it was entirely my fault. All my photos then looked like this:

Luckily, I was leaving Hue anyway, and could get the camera fixed in Hanoi.


The next stop, Hoi An

My next stop on my great Vietnam adventure was Hoi An. Tom and I were on the same sleeper bus, which was...loads of fun. As in, our driver was nutty and I think determined to hit every single pothole along the way. I'm a light sleeper, so you can guess what that means. I did a lot of lying awake listening to my ipod, staring at the sky. In fact, I saw two shooting stars, so I guess that part is nice. Tried to doze, but only managed maybe an hour or so of the eight.

We arrived in Hoi An at around 6 a.m., and almost as soon as Tom and I got off the bus we spotted Steffi getting off her bus. So we collectively chose a hotel (Steffi and I shared a triple room, Tom got his own), sought out breakfast, and then decided to rent bicycles (about 60 cents for a day) and head the 4 km to the beach.

Spent the day at the beach, then met up again later for dinner and drinks. And this was basically how the whole 4 days that I spent in Hoi An went, except Tom and Steffi headed north earlier than I did, so I had an extra 2 night and day on my own in Hoi An, bicycling and strolling around.

Hoi An is gorgeous. Sun-soaked stucco, children running around, silk lanterns hanging everywhere, excellent local cuisine, people selling fresh beer for about 20 cents a glass...the recipe for a leisurely few days, for me. The two main things to do in Hoi An are stroll around and shop. Well, three things, including going to the beach.

If you know me, you know that I hate shopping, unless I have a clear goal in mind. I can't just wander around trying things on aimlessly, or I get tired and cranky and my head starts throbbing. However, in Hoi An I had some vague goals: I know that some day soon I plan on parking myself in New York City for a while, and for that I will need more winter coats than I have (last I checked, the 2 that I have from H&M in Paris are getting a bit tired-looking), so I had that on my list. I ended up getting 2 winter coats handmade. Then, as shoes are hard for me to buy here, because I have giant Western clown feet, I decided to get some leather shoes made--and ended up with 4 pairs, including knee-high leather boots for New York. I was a bit baffled at my shopping in Hoi An, but the way I see it, these purchases are good investments. They're hand made, tailored to my body and feet, and will last a long time. Hopefully. Plus, I allowed myself to spend a bit more money than I'm used to, being that I was on vacation.

So, shopping happened. And when you're working with tailors, it tends to structure everything else. I would go order something and have to be back the next day to try it on and have it adjusted, then return to pick it up. Between these appointments, I'd stroll around, or bike to the beach, or get a juice in a café and read. (I always had a novel with me.) The sun was glorious, the air was clearer than Saigon, and the feel of the town is rather Mediterranean. Excellent.

And, on my last day, during lunch before heading to the bus for Hué, I struck up a conversation with Katy, a brassy New Yorker, who I would later meet up with in Hanoi and tour Halong Bay with. Another new friend! More about her later.

Photos from Hoi An are here. Enjoy!



Beginning at the beginning: Nha Trang

After wrestling with my camera, my laptop, and Facebook, I have succeeded in uploading photos from my work computer. Not during work hours, of course. [Cough.] Never. So I now can write about my adventures and link you to the albums as I create them.

On Sunday, September 13th, I left Saigon for Nha Trang, which is a city on the coast of Vietnam (see my map in the older post for a reference). The bus ride was easy enough—the bus wasn’t full, the 9 hours passed uneventfully, and the weather was nice. I arrived around 5 p.m., found a hotel that was $6 and run by some friendly folks, and then set out looking for somewhere to get dinner.

[Me on the first bus]

While strolling the backpacker/tourist district, I was beckoned over to a table already covered with empty beer bottles, and introduced to some new friends—Sheri, a Canadian, and Tom, Andy, and Steffie, all German. Later we met Thomas, another German, at another bar.

Something to explain: Nha Trang seems to be known for primarily 2 things: the beach and the bar scene. It is a party town. Practically every bar had ridiculous drink specials (For example, the bar where I first met these guys was having a happy hour that lasted all night, where you could get 2 bottles of beer for 15,000 VND, which is about $0.85.), and because all the bars are competing with each other for business, they all keep things super cheap. We went to one place where a double cocktail (2 shots of vodka, splash of tonic or whatever) was 10,000 VND. That’s $0.60. And most places gave you a free shot just for walking in. Needless to say, once I had found a good group of people to hang out with, we did a fair amount of drinking. (Nothing unsafe, Mom and Dad, I was responsible, I promise.)

So, that first evening, I made new friends, and we drank some beers together, had dinner, and then played pool (or, as I like to say, “playing pool,” as I have zero pool skills whatsoever) over more beer. The next day 3 of them (Sheri, Andy, and Steffie) went with me on a boat tour of some of the islands off of Nha Trang. At the first island, we were given snorkels, and waded into the sea. The water was clear but the marine life was limited, save for millions of these small, translucent jellyfish that stung us; they are harmless, just annoying, and leave little bug bite-looking marks all over one’s body. After snorkelling we got back on the boat and had lunch, followed by a “floating wine bar,” where all of us hopped in the ocean in inner tubes and drank local wine from plastic cups. And met more jellyfish, some of them less friendly than others, and these were fished out by the guides. Following this, we went to another island to chill out a bit, and then went to yet another to go to the Nha Trang aquarium, where they had sea turtles that looked incredibly disapproving, and giant fish and moray eels, looking sufficiently intimidating. After returning to Nha Trang in the afternoon, we all went back to our hotels and hostels to shower and rest a bit, before meeting up again for dinner and drinks.

The next day, Sheri, Thomas, Steffie and I rented 2 motorbikes and headed off in search of a waterfall that was supposed to be scenic. Thomas had ridden one before, Sheri had motorcycle experience, and I was just eager to try it. It turned out to be a nice little motorbike adventure—not enough traffic to be truly terrifying, and enough straight highway for practice. On the way out of town we stopped at a temple with a few giant Buddhas, which was exciting, as I’ve been working on a book about them for months, and there they were. Then, after 40 km of biking and a few near accidents in puddles (I now know that instead of trying to swerve around them, you should just power through them, otherwise you have the tendency to lose your balance and topple over), we found the waterfall—only to be vaguely dissatisfied. But the ride was a rush, and now I feel a smidge more comfortable on a bike.

[Sheri, rockin' it on the bike]

I was never planning on spending more than a few days in Nha Trang, since I had expected to be on my own. However, since I had connected with a good group, I was easily persuaded to stay longer. So, on my third day, we all slept in and then headed to the beach, where we had some wine, listened to music, read our books, and just chilled out.

That evening, we parted ways, somewhat: Sheri was staying in Nha Trang before heading south to Saigon, and Tom, Steffie, and I were heading north to Hoi An. It turned out Tom and I were on the same sleeper bus that evening, and as soon as we arrived in Hoi An we spotted Steffie getting off her bus. The group was not disbanded! The three of us ended up exploring Hoi An together.

So: Nha Trang was a great introduction to my trip: the weather was beautiful, I got the beginnings of a tan (for those of you who know me, this is a feat), and I found some awesome people to hang out with, so I wasn’t wandering around on my own as I had anticipated. The photos are here, and there will be more to come soon.



And I'm Back

I have just returned to Saigon after 3 weeks of delicious adventures, and will be writing about them soon. Possibly tomorrow.

For right now, I am, as I like to say (and I think I got the phrase from my mom), decompressing, as well as uploading oodles of photos.

More to come.


Hittin' the Road

So I'm off! Vacation time. To the right is a map I shoddily drew on using MS Paint (Totally old school, I know, but I did it at work on my PC that doesn't have Photoshop, so Pbbbbbth) of the route that I plan to take. There are numbers that indicate the order in which I will see things.

Basically, I have an "open bus" ticket, which means I've paid for the whole ticket, which includes certain cities (in this case, Saigon--Nha Trang--Hoi An--Hué--Hanoi), but I don't have all the dates yet. So I have the first leg, Saigon to Nha Trang, which leaves at 7:30 a.m. this Sunday, the 13th. After that, I book each leg in the next city, so when I get to Nha Trang I'll tell the bus company that I want to go to Hoi An on Tuesday, and when I get to Hoi An I'll tell them when I want to go to Hué, etc. I don't plan on using the bus the whole way--for example, I've heard that the train from Da Nang to Hué is really beautiful, so I'll be doing that instead of the bus. From Hanoi to Halong Bay I'll have to take a different bus, probably. Then once I'm in Hanoi I'll take the train to Sapa.

Once I'm in Sapa, I'll have to see how much time I've spent getting there. If I've taken my time, then I'll just go back to Hanoi from Sapa and fly back to Saigon from Hanoi. If it's possible, I'll fly back from Sapa, but I don't think it is.

However, if for whatever reason I've gotten through Vietnam quickly, then I'll figure out how to get from Sapa or Hanoi into Laos, to Luang Prabang, where I'll hopefully do an elephant trek. And see other stuff. But obviously the elephants are the main draw for me. I'm seriously in love with elephants.

But anyway, I'll see. I don't absolutely have to see Laos on this trip--I'll have other times later in the year, for the Tet vacation (depending on if my parents are here or not), or after my contract ends in April, before returning to the good ol' USA.

This trip is about a few things. It's about seeing this country that I'm inhabiting, seeing a lot more of it, and getting a larger view of it. It's about taking a break from work, and from my routine, and just going with the flow, on my own time. I'm traveling alone, so I won't be coordinating schedules with anyone else, and I can see things as quickly or as slowly as I wish. And, lastly, it's about seeing new things, and meeting new people. Shaking things up a bit. Reminding myself that I do in fact know how to keep my eyes and mind and heart open.

I'm seriously looking forward to it. I'll be stopping into internet cafés to check email and facebook, so I'll try to keep those places, and here maybe, updated at least with my location. Then when I get back I'll be adding a gazillion photos, most likely. So I'm not lost and gone forever, don't worry. Just on hiatus.

I'll be in touch. Soon.



So, a decision has been reached! I will be completing the project that I am currently working on, our 2010 catalogue, and then I will have a holiday from September 13th to the 31st. I plan on using that time to take the trip that I'd been planning to take anyway, after my old contract finishes. I'm looking north, and will stop at many places along the way--Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da nang, Hue, Hanoi, and Halong Bay, hopefully. I don't think I'll have time to go into Laos this trip.

Then I'll come back and start again on Oct. 1, working here for another 6 months, with a fairly generous raise. And we'll see what happens.

I think I'm making a good choice, because I'm being offered a job (a rare occurrance these days), a little bit more money, and more work experience. I'm by no means giving up on my New York City adventure--don't worry, that is definitely in store for me. I'm just postponing that plunge, so that when I do finally get there I'll have a bit more money saved up and a bit more job experience under my belt, to hopefully give me a leg up on the competition. We shall see.

That's the update. More later.



Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

A more serious blog post.

I have been here almost one year, and my contract with my company is up September 8th. I have not made the best of impressions on my company, and had not thus far been asked to stay on with them for any more time, like one of my more diligent coworkers had been. So I was prepared to go on my own way after the end of this contract, moving on to other things in my life.

If you've talked to me recently, you know that my personal compass has been pointing in New York City's direction, to the center of the American publishing world, and a new exciting place to live, filled with loved ones and possibility. A new adventure, if you will. I'm terrified and stoked at the same time, and I've been starting to gather together a plan for my travel in SE Asia post-work, followed by my return to L.A., followed by my plunge into NYC. It's a lot to handle, but I can do it.

Now, today, I am offered the possibility to stay at my current job, possibly with a slightly higher salary (but I don't expect much). What was actually said, in so many words, was "We are impressed by your progress [read: from crappy employee to slightly less crappy employee] and would be content if you would like to stay with us, or if you would like to return in the future and we have a position open." So, they don't hate me. This is good.

However, now I've been thrown for a loop. Just this morning, before this new development, I was just wrapping my head about the planning I need to do for my travels, and for my return trip: finding train schedules through Vietnam, searching for someone to take my room, shipping stuff home if necessary, buying people gifts...it's a lot. And now this. I could stay, or come back, if I choose to.

I had a profound thought yesterday, that has been building inside me for a while, as I've been pondering the future, and my romantic ideas of New York, mixed with the harsh realities of the economy and employment situation, mixed with my feelings for Vietnam and my job here, etc. The thought is this: This is my life, but this is not my life. It is my life in the sense that I am here, living, gaining work experience, making friends, and so on. But it is not my life in the sense that it is not how I envision my life to be, in the long run. It is not the life that I want to be living for an extended period of time.

So I have to think about this--do I want to continue living this life, here, and postpone living the life that I feel I am striving for? There are many options to consider: I could possibly travel in SE Asia, then go home for a bit, then return here to work. Or I could finish here as planned, travel, return home, and see how I fare in NYC, and have the option of contacting Parkstone and seeing if there would be a position for me, if I find nothing in the States that holds me there. Or I could just stay, and postpone all travel altogether. I'm just not sure.

Luckily, I don't have to decide this minute. I do need to decide something soon--at least what I'll be doing for the next few month--as those few months are fast approaching. But I can let it marinate, talk with my parents and my therapist and my friends, and see what my internal compass points to. I would love to hear your thoughts.




Schnitzel (Mareike) made me a cake! It was yummy:

We went to a swanky Italian restaurant, and I got ravioli with ricotta and spinach. Heaven.

Then to La Fenêtre Soleil for a delicious mojito, and to watch some hot salsa dancers.

I will write more later. Promise.


When I've spoken to many of you, I've discussed how exhausting it is to live here. I've thought about that a little bit more. Ok, a lot more.

First of all, Vietnam is simply more of a sensory stimulus that any other place I've ever lived. Noise of motorbikes, people yelling, people trying to get your attention simply because you look different, and they're curious, even though you really just want to be left alone, and have one moment where you don't feel like some sort of exhibit to be stared at and heckled. Smells of exhaust and frying foods and urine, assaulting your nostrils, and no one else seems to even notice. Constant worry that the sky could open up at any moment and empty itself on you, and you forgot your umbrella and poncho at home, and you don't possess the mysterious sixth sense that the Vietnamese have for knowing when the rain is on its way. Then there's the cars and motorbikes, who stop for nothing and no one, who act as if both the roads and the sidewalks are theirs alone, and what right do you have to be walking on them? Motorists who never look before they merge, or turn a corner, or back out of a driveway, and act as if you, the pedestrian, are the offender. Every day I almost get run over, and I'm the one that ends up feeling guilty about it.

There are other factors such as these, but what is almost harder is the mental and emotional strain that goes along with it. As I was typing the above paragraph, I could feel (and I'm sure the tone is coming across) the resentment rising up within me. And I feel it almost every day, when I'm out in this strange new world, dealing with the sounds and smells and the motorists. Not only do I feel like I'm doing battle with the world here--fighting for my right to walk on the sidewalk, for my right to walk in peace and not be heckled by teenage boys, for my right to pay the same price for things that the Vietnamese do--but I'm also doing battle with myself and my ways of thinking. Because my mind does get invaded by thoughts that are negative and prejudiced and ignorant-sounding, and I judge myself for them. I do catch myself thinking, How can these people act this way? How can they treat me like this? How can they treat themselves like this? How can they drive this way? When I'm tired and I'm irritable and I just can't understand, that's when it's the hardest. Because I don't want to label a whole group of people as stupid--different does not equal stupid, by any means. But sometimes I'm just not up for gaining perspective and embracing this new culture, and instead I just want to shake some of these people and yell at them, "How can you let your children ride on motorbikes, while all the adults are forced to wear helmets?? How is that in ANY WAY logical???"

So it's exhausting. Thinking that I'm bigoted, that I'm racist, that I'm exactly the kind of person that I've always thought I wasn't. And then convincing myself that this isn't true. I just try to keep in mind that this experience, as strenuous as it is right now, is giving me this new perspective. I'm learning about another culture, and I'm learning about myself in the process, which is never easy. It's worth it, but it's never easy.

I'm running out of steam. This moment of musings brought to you by Arielle's exhausting Friday night.



You. Are. So sweet. So sweet!

Hello all! How are ya? I apologize for the lack of updates lately (again). I was waiting on a time when I had new photos to post, but then I found out that my camera is a vampire that sucks batteries dry even when it's turned off. It's all, "Mmmmmm! Battery acid! (slurrrrrrp)." So no new photos. You'll have to be satisfied by my words for the moment.

If you're curious about the title of this post, watch this video. It's wonderful. I've been bopping my head to this song for a few days now.

Along that vein, I had a wonderful early birthday present given to me. I have been really excited about the newest Regina Spektor album, "far," for a very long time, and wanted to buy it on iTunes. However, since my wallet got stolen in Da Lat, I haven't had any cards besides my Vietnamese ATM card--the new plastic got sent to my house in CA, and sending them here is not the most secure idea. So I went on iTunes and discovered that you can now "gift" music to people: but it and send it to them, essentially. I went on the magical world of Facebook and posted a request for the cd, not expecting a real response, and surprise! Eric Hwang, who I not seen or heard of in at least 2 years (I believe), got it for me, reaffirming my firm belief that I know some damn good people.

So this CD, I have to tell you, is amazing. If you're not up for buying it, you can take a listen here, as pretty much all the songs are on YouTube. Her songs are at times haunting and uplifting, always witty and whimsical, and her voice is incredible. I am particularly fond of "Eet," "Laughing With," "Human of the Year,"and "Folding Chair." And...all the other songs on the album. I've listened to it about 5 times since getting it a few days ago, playing it every time I get home. Take a listen, and tell me what you think. Especially if you like it, because then I'll feel good that I shared some music with you.

As for today, I'm listening to Regina, then going with Mareike to get a 90-minute massage, which is much needed. Much. Then more laziness. Woo!

I hope all of you are well, and remember that I am thinking of you. Every single one of you is appreciated, because you are all awesome. Don't forget, ok? Ok.



About a month ago, I moved to a new house, and someone was sad about it, hanging out while I packed:
But he managed. I've heard he now has 4 new brothers and sisters, making that house a 7 cat household. I'm glad I got out.

I'm also making some new friends. This is Caitlin, who I met in the Pub on Quiz Night, who told me about the International Choir of Ho Chi Minh City, which I then joined. We just had our concert and are taking a break (that will last until I'm getting ready to leave the country), but Caitlin and I are still going to hang out. This is at Wally's 2nd birthday party, and Caitlin is obviously excited about all of Wally's toys.
She's kind of awesome. Also kind of awesome is the birthday girl, who got--among other things--a new apron from her grandparents. I have no idea what she's pointing at.
She's holding some of the wooden kitchen set she got from her other grandparents--wooden cutting board, knife, sliceable wooden fruits and vegetables...she also got a laptop that plays very loud techno music. As you can imagine, Julia was not excited about that gift.

Last weekend Mareike (my housemate, coworker, and friend--no, we haven't gotten tired of each other yet) and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts. The art itself wasn't that exciting, ranging from 7th century Buddhist sculptures to contemporary lacquered pieces, but the building itself was beautiful. It's a colonial mansion of sorts, complete with beautiful windows:
And a courtyard that felt oddly Mediterranean to us. Gorgeous, in any event. It helped that it was a bright sunny day.
Afterward we wandered around and found the antique store neighborhood that I talked about in the last post.

All in all, it's going ok over here. I'm in the home stretch, with just under 3 months to go. I'm really happy in this new house: Mareike and I are getting along well, and the other two housemates (1 American guy and 1 older British guy) are pretty nice, too. It's comfy, social, and spacious, and I'm glad I came here. Work might be driving me crazy, but I'm happy to come home and hang out.

Anyway, I feel like I'm running out of things to say. I'll muse some more and come back later.



Random weekend shots

There are supposed to be more photos up here, but after uploading these three my internet decided that it wanted to have its own lazy Sunday and stopped doing what I wanted. So here's what I've got so far.

On Saturday Mareike and I went to the Fine Arts Museum (of which I have photos to be posted later), and then strolled around the neighborhood, which turned out to be where the antique stores are:
Like I said, I have photos from the museum that I'll post another time. Then I had my last choir concert with the International Choir of Ho Chi Minh City, followed by several beers at a bar that has, inexplicable, stairs to nowhere:
I really wanted to see someone get reeeeaaaaally drunk and try to climb them. As long as that someone wasn't me.

And, finally, a photo of my new room, which I have been decorating enthusiastically:

So there's that. I hope everyone is well. Oh! Tomorrow marks my 9-month anniversary at my job here: only 3 more to go! I'd better make the most of them...


Rest in Peace, Old Lady Dog

Last Thursday, one of my dogs passed away, so I want to pay a little homage to her today.

The day before my 6th birthday, a little brown dog showed up on our doorstep and wouldn't leave; my mom was afraid she'd bite the mailman and we'd get sued, and she seemed nice enough, so we adopted her. Then we found out she was pregnant, and on August 3rd (My due date--I was prematurely born on July 16th. We took this as a sign that these pups were meant to be with us.) Skimmer had 7 puppies. We raised them a little, then gave 6 of them away and I chose Streak to be kept. At the time, she was a tiny pup--I could hold her in the palm of my hand. (I apologize for the lack of photos, but that was--GASP!--before the digital age.) She was a little roly-poly black pup with a small white streak on the back of her neck, which quickly disappeared after a few years.

She started out spunky, playing tug of war with me and old socks, and wrestling with her mom and our other dog, an older German Shepherd named Ember. But Streak got old pretty quickly, and while her mom was still going on 15-mile hikes with my dad, Streak wasn't exercising much and developed arthritis. She had a thyroid problem as well, and was on lots of medications. It feels like she's been an old lady for a long time--at least 6 or 7 years. But she was always sweet, content to just sit next to you at the breakfast table and have her chin scratched, raising a paw to say "More, please."

In the last few years, she really embraced her crotchety-old-lady persona, I think. We had younger dogs wanting to play with her, and she'd just yip at them crankily, but her tail would be wagging, betraying her actual level of irritability. It was like she was happy to be asked to play, but was just too tired to engage. She would lie on our back porch and yip at nothing; I think she was just making sure the world knew she was there, and she had something to say about it.

And, evidenced by these photos, she was really good at giving coy facial expressions.

I like to think that now I have 4 dogs up there in whatever heaven all dogs go to (Analyze me all you want, but while I have no problem questioning ideas of God or Heaven when it comes to human beings, I need to believe in a heaven for dogs. It just comforts me.), wrestling and napping in the shade, and indulging in a never-ending supply of chew bones.

She had a good run, and she will be sorely missed.


Update? Dunno.

I've been feeling a lot of things these past few weeks, which has prevented me from updating this here blog. However, I'm determined to start back up again. And I'm going to take baby steps.

I just moved from one house to another, nicer house, and I'll be putting up some photos as soon as I clean up my room and photograph it. This house has less kittens (0 kittens, to be exact), but more friendliness and sunshine (Literally, because my room now has a window to the outside world. Such luxury!). And communal cooking--always a good thing.

In any event, at this moment it is 12:18 a.m. on a...Sunday morning, technically, and I'm not all that tired, but I'm not all that awake either. I'm in that weird in-between state where I don't really want to DO anything, but I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep well. I think I'm going to try sleep. I'll leave you with this, taken in Da Lat, at a gas station:


Going on a small vacation

Hello everyone,

I know I've been terrible about updating lately. I'm going through some rough things over here, and just haven't had the energy or the inspiration to write. I'm focusing on me for a bit, getting my body healthy, and my head and heart back to normal.

So what better time for a vacation, right? We have a four-day weekend for Liberation/Reunification Day (April 30th) and Labor Day. So me and my friend and coworker Mareike are heading to the mountains, to a village called Da Lat, to see something new and hopefully escape the oppressive heat of Saigon.

It takes about 7 hours to get there by bus (on a windy, narrow mountain road, I'm told), and we've got out hotel booked for 3 nights. So, armed with out Lonely Planets and cameras, we'll head off to hopefully see some waterfalls and pagodas, as well as take in some mountain vistas. We shall see.

I am only hoping that I can relax enough, open my mind and heart up to this new place, and have a good time. I think I will. Again, we shall see.

I would love to hear any friendly voices right now, so if you're bored, shoot me an email. I'll reply. Unless I'm in on a mountain somewhere, in which case...I'll still reply. Just later.

More soon. Love.


I'm melting!

Today I woke up around 10:30 am, expecting to have a choir rehearsal (I have joined the International Choir of Ho Chi Minh City) at noon. So I got up and walked to the market to get fruits and veggies, and in the 20 minutes that I was out there (actually within the first 5), I was drenched in sweat. Lovely, huh?

So I got picked up by Long, my motorbike driver, at 11:45 and dropped off at rehearsal, only to find that it had been cancelled. It being relatively (maybe a 30-minute walk) close to my house, I walked home. And man--it is BOILING out there.

According to weather.com, it's 92 out there but feels like 104. With 60% humidity. Jeebus.

So I picked up a Ngoc Nghia--a sugar cane juice with lots of ice--and am now home, in my air-conditioned room, trying to dry off. Oy.


I'm not all that talkative lately, in this forum

So, we may have a new kitten. I don't know if he has a name yet, but it might be Curry. He's tiny-tiny. And his ears remind me of the bat (Batty? No, that's Ferngully...) from the movie Anastasia, the one who says "and I geeve her a HA! and a hi-YA! And I keeck her sir!"

Also, in my last weekend at Mui Ne, I went back to the sand dunes and there were ponies munching on lotus-lake grasses:

It was super hot, so that seemed like a good idea, I guess.

That's all I got for now.


Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!

Shot from my commute: morning/evening