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Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 in Vietnam | 2 comments

Cold + Wet = Mold

 

I thought I understood wet weather, I am from the Pacific Northwest after all.  But I didn’t really understand humidity. The humidity we have here isn’t like the humidity from the east coast of the USA, it is completely different.  It isn’t like I wasn’t warned of the cold and humidity – I was warned many times, but it still surprised me.

First it was the damp cold of January and February.  Although it wasn’t really cold (lows in the mid 50’s to low 60’s) it was difficult to handle because we don’t have heaters. Most of the homes in Vietnam don’t have heaters and many don’t have A/C.  The house is made of concrete, so when it got cold outside, it got really cold in the house. On the occasional warm day I would open up the doors and windows to let the warm air in. I thought I was pretty smart by leaving all my heavy winter clothes at home and bringing only a few light sweaters, a fleece and one lighter down jacket. Not so smart as most of January and February I dreamed of my husbands chunky brown sweater that I loved to borrow, sitting quietly in storage, so far away. Thankfully I had my cozy socks to keep my feet warm as I snuggled under a blanket while watching TV.

In March came the dampness.  So damp that under the windows and doors, water leaked in, and it wasn’t even raining.  Water clung to the windows making it difficult to see out.  I would climb into the sheets at night and they felt damp.  I would wake up in the morning and my skin felt wet and oily.  Laundry was another issue. We don’t have a dryer and so we hang our clothes to dry.  They would not ever completely dry, for weeks on end. Everything started to smell.  I dreaded taking a shower in the cold bathroom, trying to dry off with a cold, damp towel. The covers curled on all of our paperback books. The loose papers in the house felt damp.

Also with the dampness came mold.  Our leather shoes grew white feathery mold. I paid a guy 100,000 VND (about $5) to clean them.  He only asked for .50 per pair of shoes, but those 4 pairs were so bad. Going into the extra room to pull out the luggage I realized that all of our suitcases were covered (inside and out) with mold.  The mold in the closest was picky – some items got the mold, others weren’t affected.  My pillow grew strange colored round spots.  The red and yellow pillowcase in the guest bedroom was covered with what looked like grey powder.

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Even the water tower is effected.

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It seemed like overnight these circles appeared on our pillows.

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Even the extra charger stored in the drawer grew some interesting fur.

 

The kitchen was the most fun.  My cinnamon toothpick holder box turned white. The hot pad holders did too.  I would search through any open box before I used the ingredients to make sure that they were OK.  The sugar and salt lumped together in their containers. Everyday I needed to wipe the floor next to the refrigerator where condensation gathered.

And then suddenly along with the dampness we had a burst of heat. I opened the windows to warm up the inside of the house and the mirrors all steamed up, just like they do when showering. An influx of small mosquitoes found their way into the house, but only on the first floor and just in the bathroom.  A couple of squirts of Raid and a tightly shut door and a couple of hours later I was sweeping up a couple hundred dead mosquitoes off the floor.

As quickly as it came – it went.  At least for now. I made it through my first winter in Vietnam. The air has been warmer and dryer.  Two days in row now I have had a dry towel.  Next year I will buy a dehumidifier and heater. In the next few weeks it will turn hot again, and I will be longing for the cold, cold days of our short winter. Coming soon is monsoon season, I can hardly wait.

 

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Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Life Reimagined | 5 comments

Yoga in Another Language

yoga

4-3-15 UPDATE – After one month of learning the Yoga Dance – I finally made it all the way through!

I love yoga!  When I do yoga regularly I feel so much better and I believe I am a better person.  I can find my Zen in yoga that I can’t ever seem to do when trying to meditate.

I am not good enough to be able to get myself through an entire practice without a teacher.  I have tried to do yoga online by watching a yoga tape on Amazon Prime or this awesome website I found called Do Yoga With Me.  Internet streaming always has its issues and my 60 minute yoga class can take up to 90 minutes.  The video will play for about 5 minutes and then buffer for 30 seconds; play for 5 minutes, buffer 30 seconds.  On bad days it is the other way around.  Try holding a balance pose for an extra minute while the video tries to play.

I finally got the opportunity to take yoga in Vietnam with my Expat friends; by a Vietnamese teacher who speaks very little English.  Thankfully I have taken enough yoga I usually remember to catch myself when I am doing the post incorrectly, but it must be super hard for someone who is new to yoga.  I can remember hearing my teachers over and over, lift your kneecap, keep the knee facing forward, keep your shoulders down and back.  I am sure that is what our teacher is saying here also, although I can’t understand her.

What I like

There is some added Zen in listening to the instructions in Vietnamese.  Our instructor has a beautiful soft voice and she tells us to breathe in, hít thở; breathe out, thở ra; bend to the left, uốn cong bên trái; bend to the right, uốn cong ở bên phải. The bonus is that I am picking up a few extra Vietnamese words.

We do self-massage.  Every class we spend about 10 minutes massaging our face, shoulders, arms, legs, feet and even mid-section.  I tend to forget to care for my hands and feet by massaging them daily and can really feel the difference it makes.

What I don’t like 

Since I don’t understand her I have to spend more time with my head lifted looking at the instructor.  I don’t understand the words in the relaxation at the end but I have done it enough times that I can work through this one my own.

What I am not sure about

Almost all of the poses are different than what I am used to; not a huge difference, just different.  We also do the Yoga Dance.  The Yoga Dance is called Kaoshikii  which comes from the Sam’skrta word ‘kosa” meaning “sheath” or layer of the mind. The dance is especially for women and develops not only the body but the subtler layers of the mind. I am naturally uncoordinated so this is very difficult for me – but I vow to keep trying.

 

“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

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Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 0 comments

Cooking in Vietnam – Do I Have To?

People are always asking me what I cook in Vietnam.  If you follow us on Facebook you probably think we eat out all the time, but we seldom do.  We usually eat dinner out when we get invited out or when we are traveling, and we have lunch out a couple times a week. Most of the time we eat at home.

When people ask me what I cook for some reason I always imagine that they think by some magic I have all of the sudden learned to cook Vietnamese foods.  The answer to that is NO! It is hard to cook Vietnamese food.  Here the woman (usually a woman) who is in charge of cooking goes to the market twice a day; once to gather food for lunch and then again for dinner.  The refrigerator in the homes are usually quite small.  The food is fresh for every meal, therefore there isn’t a reason for a large refrigerator to keep food for later in the week or leftovers.

It has taken me a long time to pick up any of those customs.  I love that I have several fresh “farmers” markets within a short bike ride, that are open every day. The food is brought from the farm or bought from the wholesale market early every morning.  The meat is delivered twice a day right from being butchered.  Early in the morning for the lunch meal, and around 2pm in the afternoon for dinner. Chickens and ducks are waiting patiently for you to select them for your next meal and the pigs are delivered whole (but gutted) to the market butchers who cut them to your order.  I haven’t had the nerve to select a chicken and have it killed, feathered and cleaned for me.  And there is no way I can bring myself to bring it home and handle the job myself.  I think any 12 year old is capable of doing that in Vietnam.  I did follow a motor bike with several large pigs into the market one day and selected my shoulder cut right from the lady who was dissecting the it.  It only took me 6 months to buy meat at the market.

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We have two large grocery stores in town.  Big C and Metro.  There is also the locally owned Intimex which is where we buy all our wine.  Big C is like a Fred Meyer – that is as close as I can come to describing it.  It is very close by and you can buy clothes, household goods and groceries.  This is where I do most of my shopping for everything that I can’t get a the market. Metro is across town and has more international items and the meat sometimes has English wording. What is really difficult for me is that I can’t recognize the cuts of meat.  I know thịt bò – beef, and thịt lợn – pork.  Chicken is easy to recognize and that is what I usually buy for protein.  I stay far away from thịt chó and thịt mèo.  I will let you figure those out – not at the grocery stores but you can find it at the markets and in many of the local restaurants.

There are several things I can’t get in Hai Phong; cheese, whole wheat bread, sour cream, greek yogurt (or yogurt without sugar), cream, many herbs and spices that I am used to, green chilies, pinto beans, baking powder, flavorings, etc.  Some of this I can buy in Hanoi but they are expensive.  We save that for special treats and are trying to learn to live without the rest.

Besides buying groceries that I am familiar with; the other difficulty in cooking in Vietnam is that there are only two burners on the stoves in most homes and they are hard to adjust. I know it sounds silly – but just try to cook a meal with only two burners and no oven.  Really – try it, and think about doing it every day.  Simmer is really medium – I have even burnt rice because there is no low.  I have to keep turning it off and letting it rest otherwise it will burn.  I tried doing stove top roasts but I couldn’t get the temp low enough and there were always burned, dry and tough.  I finally broke down and bought the biggest toaster oven I could find.  It took me awhile to learn to cook with that also – everything, always got burned on top.  My next purchase will be a hot plate so I can simmer. There is also no counter space.  I had to use the kitchen table for the oven so now we don’t have a table which I used to use as a counter. We have pretty high counters in our kitchen, most places the counters are about 6 inches lower than what we have in the USA.  Perfect size for petite Vietnamese women, pretty uncomfortable for this large American.

With all that whining aside – I have finally got a pretty good repertoire of dishes that we enjoy.  I love making stock and I can get chicken backs and feet at the grocery store for cheap.  I make my version of Pho by adding shredded chicken, whatever veggies I have on hand, and noodles.

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my version of Pho

Right now the lettuce is awesome so we can have lots of salads. In the summer the lettuce bolts and so we only get leaves that are picked off of the lettuce stalk.  If you have ever grown lettuce in your garden you probably know what I mean.

I can get pasta here so we have lots of pasta.  With the abundance of tomatoes I have even learned how to make gazpacho. I had to buy a blender for that.  I am reluctant to buy appliances because we can’t bring them back with us but we have got a lot of use out of the blender.

My proudest accomplishment was the turkey for Thanksgiving.  I had to pay over 200,000 ($10) just for the taxi to go across town to Metro.  They have imported meat and I can even get ground meat there.  I bought the smallest turkey which was around 15 lbs.

Thanksgiving turkey

Thanksgiving turkey – what you see in the photo is all the counter space I have

I keep most of my recipes that I make on my pinterest page at this link.  With my oven I am able to make bread and roasts.  I have also made yogurt several times. Most fun is when we have had friends in town and taken cooking classes in Hanoi. I make them go with me to the market and cook with me in my kitchen.  Best food ever!  Of course my husbands favorite food is still burritos, which often wind up on our menu, especially when we can find tortillas.

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My first pie attempt in Vietnam

 

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 0 comments

Cat Ba Island

Some days everything turns out better than expected. When one of those rare days happens it seems like all is right in the world and it makes me extremely thankful for the opportunity we have to experience life in Vietnam.

Ever since moving to Hai Phong we have talked about visiting Cat Ba Island.  The reviews I have heard were mixed, not much to do, not much to see, lovely place, so much fun.  We really weren’t sure what to expect, so we went without expectations and decided to enjoy and explore no matter what. It helped that we had some wonderful friends to accompany us.

Cat Ba Island is off the coast of Hai Phong.  We decided to take the Hydro-foil from Ben Binh ferry station at 4 Le Thanh Thong. The boat goes down the river to the coast of the South China Sea. The water was quite rough for about 15 minutes once we were out into the open water.

We had help from a friend who we met doing what she does – helping tourists.  She bought our tickets and at our request hooked us up with a guide and motor bike rentals on Cat Ba.  We opted to do this ahead of time knowing we would pay more, but also knowing we would get a good guide and reliable bikes.  You can rent bikes on the island from $5 and up.  We paid $15 each for two bikes and didn’t have to pay for gas.  Our guide asked for $20 for the day and we didn’t even try to bargain with him.   If money is tight I am sure you can get a much better deal but for us that seemed well worth our time.  The hydrofoil each way was 150,000 VND per person, each way.  Our friend probably got a kick back so you could get it cheaper, or it could cost more.  Several people rushed out to offer us tickets as we got out of the taxi so I am sure the price fluctuates.

The windows on the hydrofoil were very dirty so there wasn’t a view on the 45 minute ride.  We got off the boat to see a young lady standing there with our name on a piece of paper and were escorted to our bikes and guide.  With a few minutes of instructions we put on our helmets and off we went.

On the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island

On the hydrofoil

Our rental bikes - super easy to ride - we didn't even have to worry about shifting gears.

Our rental bikes – super easy to ride – we didn’t even have to worry about shifting gears.

From the moment we arrived we were taken with Cat Ba.  We were there in the off season so there were no crowds. The Tet New Year was over but not everyone was back at work so several shops and hotels were still closed.  Our first stop was Beach 1 (Cat Co 1)- probably the largest of the beaches, from there we went to Beach 2 (yes that is the names).  Beach 2 was a part of the Cat Ba Sunrise Resort,. Even with the cool weather (low 70’s) there were people out sunbathing.  The resort is built into the rock walls that come almost right down to the water.  There is a nice size beach where we hammed it up a little.

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Beach 2 (Cat Co 2) at Cat Ba Sunrise Resort

Things kept getting better.  Our guide San, took us to all the touristy spots and we loved them.  Often we were the only ones there.  Our next stop was the Cannon Fort.  We drove back through town and up wound our way up and up to one of the highest points of the island.  The fort was built for the war with the French and consisted of many tunnels, cannons and a museum.  We paid 70,000 VND (about $3.25 US) each to enter the park. The views were spectacular and it was an easy walk through a jungle like trail to go from spot to spot.

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Our guide San, pointing out one of the plants in the park

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Looking into one of the man made bunkers

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one shot of the incredible view

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one of the cannons at Cannon Fort

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some of the incredible flora from the park

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the trail

 

We also visited the floating village, the hospital cave and several spots in Cat Ba city. We had the best seafood hot pot I have ever had at a place that was trashed by tripadvisor reviews. We visited our guides uncle’s hotel which is right across from the pier – great view, but a bit noisy.  We laughed, took about 1000 photographs and had the best day ever.   At the end of the day we spent a total of $3,040,000 or about $75 per couple.  This included food, boat, bikes and entry fees.  On top of that we gave our guide a $10 tip.

Next time we go to Cat Ba (and there will soon be a next time) we will spend time at the national forest on the island and tour the entire island on motorbikes.  We will take a trip to Monkey Island and kayak through caves.

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Floating Village

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baby goats

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photo from inside the hospital cave

It was a perfect day.

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