Nha Trang

At this point I have gained 3kg. I do not have a beach body, but I am ready to be at the shore. I had heard so much about the beauty of Nha Trang. Only being familiar with Da Nang, I have a lot of coastline to discover. I was looking forward to some sun and fun. It was a 3 hour bus ride from Da Lat to Nha Trang. The hotel I reserved was nice, well, except for the color of the room and the refrigerator. It was pepto pink. The refrigerator kept turning off once you took the key out of its power slot. No cold drinks and no cold insulin. La Suisse was a block away from the beach. It included a breakfast in the price. It was also located in the most congested and touristy area of Nha Trang, surrounded by large luxury hotels.

The area is expensive and loud with Russian tourists. Those who vacation in Nha Trang are predominantly Russian and Chinese of the worst kind. They simply aren’t nice people. They never smile and expect you to get out of the way on the sidewalks or in the road. They’re cold even when sharing an umbrella on the beach. With direct flights from Russia to Nha Trang the city caters to them.

My first night there, I went to an all you can eat seafood bbq place. The coals and grill are placed on your table. A torrential downpour pushed a lot of people into this place. Staff insisted on grilling my food. I eventually had to push them away as one kid just flipped and flipped my shrimp overcooking it. I enjoy someone grilling for me, when they know what the hell they are doing. The kid just didn’t care and I could taste that in my shrimp.

The next day I walked along the beach and got too hot. After a break in the hotel I decided to take a cable car ride, but I didn’t realize that the ride took you to an amusement park, Vinpearl. I should have done my research because that’s not something I would do on my own. Within 5 seconds of realizing what was going on I wanted to return. I ended up getting in an argument about going back. They said I could only go back at 2130. Oh, hell no, get me off this island. They almost didn’t let me go back until I raised a little hell with the security who didn’t know what I was saying in the first place. If I had traveled with someone I might’ve stayed a bit to check it out. I was pissed at the amount of money I spent for the ride, but I guess it’s part of my Idiot Tax.

I made it back to my room to rest in some air-con and a bit of insanity called CNN. My head was still reeling from the amount of money I had spent. I tried to think about how I was going to get out of the touristy area for the cheap seafood. I didn’t have a clue as to where to go and didn’t think to blindly take a taxi. Considering I paid $10USD for all you can eat seafood, I didn’t think too much about it. It was fresh. It was also minutes from the hotel, so I just chose a place around the corner from where I was staying. I had some fried fish and French fries for dinner. It was $3USD.

Before I went to bed I booked a boat tour. It would include the boat ride to three different islands, lunch, snorkel, and cocktails with fruit. Let’s do this! I love boats, thanks to a good friend from college. I was the only American on the boat full of Vietnamese people, just the way I like it. One of the guides spoke really good English. He took good care of me.

Our first stop was an aquarium. I was the only one on the boat remotely interested in getting off. It was constructed of cement in the shape of a pirate ship.

Very kitchy.

Once I got back to the boat we went to do some snorkeling. I was excited to get into the water. Most people grabbed chairs in the shade and ate some food they had brought with them. Later, the guide told me how Vietnamese people aren’t strong swimmers so it doesn’t interest them. You need to be a strong swimmer there.IMG_1874

I took my mask and snorkel and jumped in. I wondered what the fish were like. I remember having a great time in Hawaii snorkeling. Well, the water felt amazing. It was the perfect temperature, clear and blue. Once I took my feet off the bottom I felt my body swiftly drift parallel to the shore away from where I started. I freaked out as I am not the strongest swimmer either. I tried to swim back and made little progress. Okay, this is not going to work out for me. I’m scared. I grabbed onto the rocks on the shore and crawled back to where I stepped into the water. Once there, I found my compatriots from the boat and began to splash about there. I kept the mask on and dunked my head under to see a bit of sea life. I saw a sea snake and I was done. Time to get back on shore.

Back on the boat, we had lunch together as we motored to the next spot. I thought we would swim some more, but instead we tied up to another boat and had some entertainment from the crew. It was a lot of fun with a little bit of drag. They gave a shot of a “cocktail”. It was some kind of hooch from a plastic water bottle. I began to feel real loose at this point.IMG_1901

We went to another island where parasailing was offered. Again, most grabbed some chairs. I met a guy from Houston, as I was wearing my Texas tanktop. There was actually a sandy beach here. I stayed to myself and tried to not let my Havaianas float away. I found some pigeons eating coconut and thought of my Northsiders.IMG_1908 I wondered if I would find a local football team to support while in Vietnam. With not much else to do I grabbed my clothes and drank a few beers before it was time to get back on the boat and return to the tourist harbor. On the return to the harbor I commented on a guy’s shirt. I gave him a thumb’s up and he asked me in perfect English where I was from. So, I had a chance to speak to someone else other than the guide. He had lived most of his life in Australia, but was from the countryside outside Can Tho.

The trip made me very happy, but my ears were beginning to hurt again. After managing to get some eardrops from a pharmacy I ate some crazy looking seafood. I had some mantis prawns.  I also had some scallops, tiger prawns and tamarind crab. All of that for about $20USD. That is an extravagant price, but I did it again the next night without the mantis prawns, they looked so alien. But I finally ate sea urchin. It was so good, tasting like the ocean.

I felt so good that night I decided to take a cyclo. It had led lights on it, so “Why not?” Even though I negotiated he price before getting in he wanted to leave me in a strange area for that price. So, he really took me for a ride charging me double to get back to where he picked me up. On the way back I had to fight off people offering me whores and drugs.

The next morning, I went on a motorbike tour with Mr Hau. He’s another Easy Rider I met through Tam. This was going to be an all-day affair. He picked me up at 830 and we were on our way to the countryside. The first stop was to see how they made grass mats and rugs. The grass used grows alongside the rice, but it grows much thicker and taller. It goes through a process of stripping and drying before it’s dyed and dried again. Using a loom, the grass is woven.DSC01806

We then crossed a toll bridge and saw a large group of baby ducks.

Rice being the main source of food in this country, the people enjoy some type of variety in how they eat it. I got to see how noodles and rice paper is made.

 

The day began extremely hot, but there were a few downpours that made us stop on the side of the road and wait it out. First, we stopped at a granny’s house. She sat in her hammock as people would pull off the road on their scooters and sit under the tin roof of her front yard. The rain let up a little bit and we got back on the road until there was another deluge. Our second stop was in an abandoned brick building along the side of the road.

Once it went back to sprinkles, we got back on the bikes to stop at a tiny roadside market. There we bought some flimsy panchos. It’ll stop raining when we put these on. Mr. Hau said. Sure enough, 3 minutes later we drove into an area that hadn’t seen any of the rain that we drove through. I was drenched in my own sweat under the suffocating pancho. There wasn’t any rain on our way to the pagoda.

This was the most impressive of pagodas I’d ever seen. Not pictured are some new sculptures being carved out of wet cement. Tru craftsmanship.

From there we went to Ba Ho Waterfall. It was chance to swim! You pay a small price to get into the area. You hike about 800 meters to a crop of boulders. After the path ends red arrows painted on the boulders show you the way to different pools to swim in. Mr. Hau suggested I swim in the first one. More treachery. Climbing to the first pool was extremely hard. I once climbed some stairs to see some orangutans on the island of Sumatra. The stairs were half the size of a three year old. I watched that three year old climb up like a champ. The boulders were ¾ my size. I was sweating so bad and when I finally reached the first pool it began to rain again. Soak with sweat I changed into my swim shorts as others were leaving the pool. I just earned a swim dammit.

The water was cooler than the rain. Jagged rocks were just under the surface of the water. I had to gingerly lower my body in and navigate around the rocks. I shortly began to feel little nips on my feet and shins. I brushed my body a few times and didn’t think of it too much. I just thought my skin was twitching under the coolness of the water. Then I got a barrage of nips. River monsters! I’m done! The rain had stopped, but there were things in the water with me.

As I toweled off, disappointed in my swim, I saw one of the river monsters…it was one of those fish that they have in tanks to massage your feet. I did that massage once in Cambodia, but I knew they were in the tank and I could see them. This time, I didn’t appreciate the massage.

I luckily made it back over the boulders without an accident. They were still slick with rain. Through the humidity there was no way I was going to dry off. Deep in my bag was a dry shirt that I had while everything else was soaked through. My shorts eventually dried on the bike as we rode back to the beach. Mr. Hau stopped a few more times. One stop was a fishing village and then a Cham temple. I saw my Vietnamese boat buddy again there and we chatted a short bit.

It was a full day and it was good, but I hadn’t had a full day at the beach. I decided to extend my stay one more day to lay on the beach and drink some craft beers. Beach body be damned. Compared to most of the Russians on the beach I was still looking pretty good.

I read more of Langston’s life, colored in my coloring book, swam in the waves, drank and napped. I found a place to eat nem nuong for a late lunch and took a nap before packing to leave for Can Tho. I was going to need to take the train and then a bus to get there. I was able to get the train ticket at the front desk of my hotel and for $.25USD have it delivered to the hotel. My last meal was seafood and went directly back to the hotel to finish packing. I went to bed early as I was taking the first train the next morning.

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5 days to Da Lat

I knew within the first week of the CELTA course I was going to need a vacation. It was the third week that I began to list the places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do. I knew that once I found work I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take the time I wanted to travel the country. Certain jobs don’t even have two consecutive days off. I might be able to manage a day trip, but that would be about it. Danang, Dalat, Nha Trang, Vung Tau and Can Tho were on the list. 

I chose Danang because it was the first city in Vietnam I really spent time in. I have friends I’d met in 2011 and it seemed like a good place to begin a motorbike tour. Da Lat because I’d heard such great things about it. There are cooler temperatures and tons of flowers. Nha Trang because of the beach and seafood. I thought of water sports, beach town vibes and there was a student during the CELTA course from there. I needed something mellow and something to quench my Aries fire. I put Vung Tau on the list for the same reasons. It is a day trip from Ho Chi Minh and there are more job possibilities than Nha Trang and Danang but, in the end I skipped this beach town. Can Tho because of the disappearing floating market. There is a little romance for me and the Mekong Delta. It is the place I first imagined before 2011 being the true Vietnam.

My first stop was Danang. This is where I would start my motorbike tour to Da Lat. I always liked this little city. It’s not as frenetic as HCMC. The people are nice. One of my CELTA classmates lives in Danang.  So I thought it would be a nice way to start. It was also where I needed some time to convalesce from a bad cold that I had developed at the end of my CELTA course. I stayed at Namunamu, with somewhat of a view of the ocean between new construction of high rise hotels. I did enjoy a sunrise on the beach.

I also took a dip in the pool.  As much as there are a lot of changes and development happening, it’s still nice mellow Danang. I wanted to stay. I always have. Schools have waiting lists for placement there. Not many job openings for ESL instructors. The turnover is very low. If you visit you will see why teachers don’t want to leave.

DAY 1: 21586569_10155588606492226_6000863706330353669_oI was still very sick and tired when we began our tour. Mr. Tam was nice enough to procure some cold medicine for me for the next few days. I packed my large backpack, he strapped it to the back of the bike and we headed on our way. It was almost within 30 minutes of riding that I wanted to pass out. I don’t know if it was the strong cold medicine, the lull of the engine or lack of a good sleep, but I wanted to close my eyes and wake up at our first destination. We made a few stops, but a key stop was at a Cao Dai temple. I think I had managed to close my eyes and bang helmets with my driver a few times before we pulled into a long driveway. They had rice drying at the entrance. Once I had my camera in hand and was about to walk around we were invited to a large vegetarian lunch. It was even a surprise for Tam.

It was quite delicious. An older gentleman could speak a little bit of English. He explained all the food and after eating he invited me to go into the temple, which I did and took a few pictures. This is when I didn’t really like my new telephoto lens. It would have been nice to have the wide angle available to capture everything. He explained a little bit of Cao Dai, and how accepting it is of all faiths. I liked the food, but I personally don’t care much for any religion’s message.DSC01201

Afterwards we got into some foothills. There we stopped so I can do a little swimming. It was really hot. I had a little flashback to the last time I tried to go to a waterfall in Vietnam. My blood sugar crashed after climbing and climbing and not making it to the top. Again, I had to climb. I began to get frustrated because I could hear the water, but the path was taking me away from it. As I turned around, ready to leave without swimming, I found the path. I quickly changed into my bathing suit and found the swimming hole. The last word of advice from Tam was, “watch your luggage”. Well, dammit. I walked from out of the trees to see about 15 teen boys splashing, climbing and jumping into the water. How was I going to watch my bag with camera and clothes and enjoy my swim? I wish I had changed at the motorcycle and left my bag with Tam.

So, unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the waterfall and new friends. I just didn’t want to reveal what I had in my bag. With bad feet on all the rocks, I kept my eyes on my bag and didn’t venture too far into the water. It was just enough to cool off and watch them do backflips into the water or play chicken. I didn’t want them to run off with my stuff. Eventually, a few came up to me and we began to compare tattoos. My lion impressed them and they showed me some of their stars and koi fish. I kept trying to introduce myself, but they never offered their names when I asked. My Vietnamese pronunciation is horrible. Then we took some pictures with each other. They used their phone. Again, I didn’t want to open my bag so they could see my shit. Terrain wise, they could have taken advantage of me. I was slightly scared.

When traveling alone I feel adventurous, but I also like to keep my belongings in tact. They were nice enough kids. As small numbers of them began to leave I thought I would climb higher to get a better view if not a chance to take some photos. They told me not to. I don’t know the reason, but I left the swimming area with them. Once we returned to the motorbikes Tam did a little translating. We talked a bit about tattoos. How much they cost, what it means to have a tattoo in Vietnam and such. You can see quite a few tattoos in Vietnam these days, mostly all black ink. They still have stigma in the smaller villages and towns. They told us that they get stopped by the police and they can’t get jobs if they have the smallest of tattoos. I feel a little silly not to have taken their picture and to have been so crazy about my daypack.

We stopped in the mountains right before the rain came down. Kham Duc. A shower and rest before dinner. Then a deep sleep. Riding on a motorcycle all day is exhausting.

DAY 2: I had just finished the cold medicine I had. The start of the ride was cool. I wanted to keep the mask of the helmet up, but I felt myself getting stuffy once again. I wasn’t convinced that I had enough cold medicine to make it to Da Lat. We pressed on. There was an opportunity to get into another waterfall, but the morning wasn’t warm enough for me. A swim is a nice treat in the afternoon when you’ve been on the bike for a while. I should’ve gotten in. There was a separate little section that was a hot spring. Bridges…not that great in this country. They ride and drive over them while I am nervous walking over them.

As we passed fields of tapioca I could only think of the tremendous lines in front of Boba Guys. After visiting Taiwan I could only think of the price people pay in the States for that drink. We stopped in a few minority villages, but we stopped in the largest one I had ever seen. I had my own little bag of coconut candy I had brought from my Mekong Delta trip. Children from far into the village came running for some candy. First there were five, then ten and then more. I was glad I had a lot. This time, with Tam’s help, there wasn’t the fighting that happened the last time I brought out some treats. These were the Van Kieu people.

Our stop for the night was Kon Tum. There was another large Catholic church. The oldest in the area. Tam explained that elephants had helped to bring the lumber through the jungle to build this church. Behind the church was an orphanage. We had some local food, banh xeo. Delicious. It was extremely fresh as she continually made the little pancake in front of us and grilled the meat right there. We rolled everything up in rice paper, I didn’t think I could get enough of it.

DAY 3: Another night spent in a nice hotel, nice enough for lovers. It’s just been reminder of how I am alone now. The CELTA kept me distracted from my real life, but travel in Vietnam has been a reminder of my travels with my ex in 2015. It was one of the things we could do together, deferring to one another when necessary. My reality was slowly sinking in at this point. Sleep would come, but reminders of why we aren’t together woke the next morning with me. Some of that loss and anger at loss would wake up too. In 2015 we did a similar motorbike tour, but we had headed to the north through the central highlands. This time I was headed south. Same country and driver, but different territory.

Tam, who I consider family, pushed us through day 3. There wasn’t much to view and we made few stops. Stops are important for rest and breaking up the day. It started off cool in the morning, but the temperature rose. I couldn’t help but reflect on 2015. It was blazing hot on that particular tour. It wasn’t until we hit a patch of rain that I decided to leave her on the highway in those mountains. I left her in the mountains along with the other lost souls from the Vietnam war.

That is something one cannot escape when driving through the country side. The remnants of bones, landmines and baby forests cover this beautiful country. While passing smaller and older motorbikes (scooters to be exact) a European face would appear. The legacy of the French and Americans linger as facial characteristics. Pepper, coffee and tapioca cover what once was jungle.

Tam’s face scrunches up as he talks about 30-40 years in the past, in the mountains. He’s reminded of the poor road conditions, lack of soles on shoes or even flip flops and very poor people. Then his face would light up as Mercedes and Landrovers passed us as we spoke on the side of the highway. It’s still quite evident how poor the people are in the countryside. Tok toks pull all types of lumber, feed and produce up and down the highway, driven by young poor farmers. They don’t typically look as nice and new as the picture.

3 days is the longest I’ve been on a bike tour of this kind. My hips have reached their limit, but I am 2 days from Da Lat. I absolutely love the central highlands and it’s beauty. The people are more relaxed and humble. They are curious about me and my tattoos. I don’t even mind the hard long stares. I laughed when they laughed without knowing what had been said. I imagine it was more about my weight than anything else. (My beer belly was creeping back with the lack of swimming and extra vacation beer).

Without the frequent stops my thoughts were trapped under my helmet with no where to go. Making it to this point I needed to cleanse myself. Each kilometer reached was closer to freedom and healing. With that freedom, debris needed to be cleared away from the progress I wanted to make emotionally. Day 3 was an exhausting and emotional day. I’m glad we finished when we did in Buon Me Thaut. Nem Viet otherwise known as Nem Nuong was dinner. I’m getting to the point where I can remember the food I ate and look for places to get it. This was my favorite introduction because of how fresh it was.

DAY 4: I visited Dak Lak Museum. I walked slowly around the building to stretch my legs and hips. I wasn’t quite ready to get back on the bike for the ride.

From there we went to a major waterfall. Getting there was a pain in the ass. Literally. The road was absolutely horrible getting to and from. The temperature was also rising. I thought I might be able to go for a swim. Not. Walking around, sweating my ass off I ran into an Aussie and his Vietnamese girlfriend. They asked me how I was getting around. A few comments at how dangerous it was to travel by motorbike. It was a short exchange. I got a few more shots in before stumbling back to the motorcycle. They were also on a motorbike, but with small suitcases, not tied down.

The Aussie’s girlfriend spoke to Tam for a bit claiming she was also from Danang, but her accent showed through and Tam found that she was from the countryside outside of Danang. They took off for lunch and we headed to Lak Lake. Funny thing though. As we made our way from the waterfall we noticed that they had left their guide behind in the literal dust. He couldn’t keep up with them. Bumps and holes finished, we came to a highway. I was grateful for every stop we made in the shade. There was a small damn and a fishing village on our way to the Lake.

This short part of the journey I thought I would wear my camera on my shoulder and take pictures from the bike. It ended up being switched on when I wasn’t using it.

Once we reached Lak Lake the camera battery died and I pulled out my iPhone to take pictures of the long houses. Some Easy rider tours will take their clients to the long houses to stay over night. Thankfully Tam didn’t think it was nice enough for me so we went to Lak Lake Resort instead. Before landing at the resort we saw the couple again and they told us how they had to dump their “guide”

Lak Lake resort also had a long house on the property. Beyond, I had my own room, but the television didn’t work. I could only charge my phone in the bathroom. My camera had gotten so hot in the heat I had to wait until the middle of the night until it was willing to take a charge. The room wasn’t the best, but the surroundings were quite beautiful outside the room and the dining room.

NOTES from Day 4…keep your knees in, less stress on the hip joints. Keep camera in the day pack to not have it switch on accidentally and get too hot. Lay down in the hammocks whenever possible. DSC01510.JPG

DAY 5: This was our last push to DaLat. I was ready for the end of the tour. I think Tam could sense my weariness also. He kept his humor, where I struggled. Our day started with a bit of coffee by the lake. I was able to Face Time with my parents. The wifi was so good in this remote area. We waited for a while for my elephant to come down from the jungle. I was going to take an elephant ride/swim. It was a little disappointing though. I thought about my first ride on the island of Sumatra. There we washed the elephants and fed them and then took a ride through the jungle and river. This one took a little dip in Lak Lake. It felt like we were moving backwards the whole time. The sun was blazing this morning. It was nothing spectacular. Not that I’m a connoisseur of elephant tours, but you know. The main thing I remember was not feeling secure in the carriage.

After the elephant ride we were back on the bike to Da Lat. Holy Shit! The roads were rough at the end of the tour. Emotionally and physically I relished getting off the bike for a rest. My body cried each time I swung my legs over the bike to get back on the seat. I had forgone my opportunities to swim earlier days. I sorely wished there was swim time this day. If you ever take a motorbike tour take advantage of each chance to swim. You never know when the next one will come up. It’s a life saver.

 

 

When we stopped for lunch the road was broken rocks. It looked like the government was waiting for drivers to tamp down the rocks before they made any effort to pave it. It was rough and full of ruts that at times were full of water so we had to swerve often to avoid them. It wasn’t a straight simple shot. Lunch was banh cuon. More rocks after lunch but after a while we were on a paved road again. The trees changed. They were tall straight pines. We could have been in the mountains in America or French Alps. The temperature was cooler and we kept climbing up.

It was a relief to reach Da Lat. We had passed flower plantations and pine trees coming into the city. The amount of traffic compared to HCMC was almost nil. There are a lot of people on the road, but it was so much more manageable. There is a large lake in the center of town and we rode around it to my hotel. I thought I would see more of a French influence on the city as a whole, but it was a Vietnamese city and very quiet. I still had to see what made this little mountain town so special and notable.

 

Sorting thumbnails suck…

So, it’s been a while. Five weeks really. I was super busy dealing with this CELTA thing. Done and done. You’ll have to go to my teaching blog to check out that post. I’m also currently trying to curate my photos into a google album so you can see more than what I post here. I’ve taken quite a few. The only problem is trying to choose. Those damn thumbnails are tiny and I haven’t figured out yet how to resize them to where I can see them before I upload them. I’m hoping to become. little more capable in this publishing thing.

Here’s a little something to snack on:

When I first arrived in HCMC I was expecting a bit more to my accommodations.IMG_1583 I first got a room with no window. The ever important AC didn’t work. It was also quite noisy. I spent three days in the room before opting for a larger room with a tiny balcony. DSC00909 Still problems mounted. Someone servicing my room took my iPad. Of course I turned on the locater but it still has yet to be located. The manager was so confused certain her staff would return it if it was “found”, but I wasn’t. I know it doesn’t take a lot for it to be unlocked and sent to away to be sold again. Then going to the balcony I cut the top of my head on a metal bar that held the AC unit. The room was musty and my breaking point was the bed. It was basically egg crate on top of plywood. There was no way I could survive 5 weeks in those conditions.

Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one who paid for the full package that included Vietnamese language lessons, language awareness and the CELTA course. I met this big Welsh guy and a bromance began. Ian and I went to classes, ate lunch together and eventually left the Green Suites together to a hotel much further away. As the distance could be a little inconvenient it worked out great. We had a rooftop pool, IMG_1586were the only foreigners in the area, and I had a bed with a true mattress. IMG_1585 Both of us moved to Vietnam for lifestyle changes. This was a great start. It didn’t cost us more except for the UBER ride which we split.

I think we were good support for each other. Right before the course our teacher took us on a field trip to the Mekong River Delta.

Her son Skippy came with us. Young, talkative and very friendly, Skippy was a super cute kid and a great representative of the children we will likely be teaching once finding jobs in Vietnam.

I am grateful to finally finish the whirlwind course. It was something I never expected. My main objective was to be an empty head and take in as much information in as I could. I’ve taught for about 6 years now, but I couldn’t interject any of my own ideas. That wasn’t going to work for me. I did have an opportunity to share what I know, but I needed to stay open. I met some wonderful people and came across some interesting personalities. IMG_1663IMG_1687

Being kept as busy as I was was a great distraction. Now that I have time to reflect, I need to organize some othese thoughts and feelings being out of the U.S. Watching the news and checking my newsfeed on FB has reassured me that I made the right decision to leave. I know that it isn’t the option for many people. As much as I wanted to escape I also need to focus on what I want my life to be. I want to continue to eat clean food. I want to be able to schedule in my exercise. I want to take time to escape into a book. I also want to get my words down because I have been quiet for so long. More importantly, I want to stay stimulated. The new, odd, questionable and sheer beauty of S.E.Asia is just that for me.

I hope that this is a good little appetizer for you. I just need to get it all together. As of now, I am sweating it out in Danang. I have a bad cold involving a cough, sore throat and an earache. A lot of my cohorts got sick during the course and I was able to stave it off until the last night. Sleeping at night is almost impossible right now and I’ve taken all of the cold edicine I brought from The States. In two days I get on the back of my friend’s motorbike and head to DaLat. Getting back on the Ho Chi Minh Trail excites me. This time we are going south. After cooling out in DaLat I will travel to some beaches and some smaller cities to do some recon on places to work.

Just allow for a few weeks and I hope to share the CELTA experience and get photo albums together.

 

Dreams Do Come True

Travel can be hard, tiring, and sometimes downright frustrating, but it is all so rewarding. It’s been two weeks abroad and I feel like it has been a lifetime already. I for sure think I have sweat all my body hair off. I didn’t really have a lot of arm or leg hair, but from what I can see it’s gone. So, I finally feel comfortable enough to compose something. My first accommodations, contracted through the school I am attending were sub par. It would have been fine if I hadn’t had my iPad stoled and was’t sleeping on egg crate and plywood. Another student, an older guy from the UK and I found a place further from the school, but has a pool on the roof and is super plush. Pics in a later blog.

The first week was fast and furious with travel. First, I went to Taiwan. When I mean dreams come true, they do. I have been an ESL teacher for 6 years. I have met some wonderful people from all over the world. Some of those people were the most gracious of students. Of course, they all say, “Come visit my country.”, “Tell me when you come.”, “I will show you everything.”, “I will show you traditional blah blah blah…” My students from Taiwan didn’t let me down.

One student hosted me in his apartment. 20258028_10212659381614513_2908390315955454039_nHe fed me in the morning and drove me around the country side. I ate stinky tofu. It stank, but tasted like tofu. It didn’t taste like the smell.

They took me to a baseball game.DSC00260

He also organized a small reunion of sorts and we ate a tremendous meal. After the meal we went to see some live music. 20292704_10214082459919468_7031791408513259374_nMy dream has been to get as many students as possible together and party.  Thanks Sean “Uncle” for making this happen!

Unfortunately, I was extremely jet lagged. There is so much more I need to see in Taipei, let alone the rest of the country. I also need to see more of my wonderful students. Honestly, Taiwan now rivals Korea as one of my favorite places. Watch out Taiwan. Next time, I will have an appetite.

Traveling from Taiwan to Thailand wasn’t so bad. I continued flying with EVA Air and then a small Thai boutique airline. I reached Chiang Mai wanting to do a lot of self care, like sleep. The hotel wasn’t really a hotel. It was more like a timeshare. DSC00399It had a pool and was very quiet. A friend recommended a place to stay, but honestly, from the pictures online it just looked like a big party…maybe next time.

The first day/night I didn’t leave the hotel room. Well, I didn’t after going to the market to grab some fruit to keep in the fridge. I slept, swam, and watched “Stranger”on Netflix. It’s a nice Korean mystery drama, starring Bae Doona from Sense8. The next day I walked around Chiang Mai old town taking pictures of Temples and checking out the sights.

I was really tired still so I didn’t do too much. I was glad on the other hand to use my new wide angle lens while photographing. Later that night I went to see Muay Thai boxing live. The ticket sales are heavily pushed on international fighters, so I had to negotiate and explain that I didn’t come to Thailand to see westerners fight.

They started young and light. There was even a fight with some tough females. I didn’t make it to the main event though. I was too tired. Come on, there are five rounds to each fight and they do a ritual before every fight, so…

Of course I made friends with the taxi driver from the airport. We had arranged that he pick me up and take me about the day after. Mongkol is his name. Super nice guy. He picked me up and drove me round in the air-conditioned taxi where ever I wanted to go. The first place was Soi du thep. This is a golden temple in the mountains. I walked up more than 300 steps. The drive up was cool. At the bottom, you think, such nice weather in the mountains, until you start climbing the steps. Sweating from effort, it never evaporates to cool you down. The breeze stopped and it was just sticky. Not oppressive, but you noticed.

From there we went to see the Karen people. Thais call them the”Long Necks”. This tribe is where the women adorn themselves with gold rings and it stretches their necks as they add rings. I wanted to take more photos, but felt very strange taking their picture. Other times I have taken pictures of people they ask for money. Here they didn’t ask, but I felt obligated to give it. DSC00642The village area we see is quite tattered. There isn’t much to it except for booths to sell souvenirs. Each booth has the same exact thing. If they see you buy one thing all of them try to pull you to their booth to buys something.

I picked up a small little bag to hold my money. After pulling sweaty money out of my pocket all day long, I thought they might appreciate getting dry money handed to them instead of soggy sweaty money. Actually, I’m sure they don’t care as it happens all the time. For me, it feels better giving people dry money.

I tried to get the driver to take me to the arboretum, I’m so accustom to going to places like that with K. Plus, I have a new camera with a lens that can get so much area, I thought it would be a great chance to get some good photos. It was also heavily shaded. Instead, the driver took me to the Royal Garden. No shade.

I’m not so interested in flower gardens. I like things a little more natural and not so manicured. Also, the sun had come out. It was like fire walking in the sun. I grabbed a few photos and high tailed it out of there.

After Mongkol dropped me off, back at my hotel after lunch, I arranged for him to pick me up in the morning for my early flight to Ho Chi Minh City. That evening I met with a friend for dinner. She lives in Chiang Mai and recommended a really nice restaurant. There was a garden where we sat. It was just far enough from the band playing so we could have conversation and catch each other up on our lives.DSC00721

Chiang Mai is a wonderful little place. Like Taiwan, I need more time to explore it. I was glad to get a little taste though. I know I will go back.

I’ve learned a new term since being in Vietnam. “Idiot Tax”. I’ve paid my fair share so far.   So, I left Chiang Mai to HCMC. I had booked my flight through Air Asia. You can get a deal with this airline, if you travel light. I mean real light. I should have stuck to a larger airline, as they allowed my luggage to fly basically free. One bag was overweight and I paid about $30USD extra to get “Rolando”, my suitcase has a name, to Asia. Well, Air Asia thought that Rolando was worth a first class ticket to Thailand from SFO…$1082USD.

As I sat on the plane, which was no better than a Southwest airline seat, I thought I probably should have just bought another ticket all together. It bugged me the whole way to Bangkok and then HCMC. Damn you Zion! Pay attention! Having spent the money, sitting on an uncomfortable plane compared to EVA, and being tired, I just wanted to get to Saigon. I was really more embarrassed than anything. I brought my world with me and that’s what it cost.

As I mentioned before, my previous accommodations were not that great. I just didn’t do more on my laptop than watch Netflix. I hope that I will have an opportunity to catch you all up with what is happening in Vietnam. Tonight is my first night sleeping on a proper mattress and classes begin tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the next month.

 

 

21 Day update

It doesn’t matter how many times I’m asked “How are you doing?”, in reference to my big move, I just don’t know how to answer. In that moment alone I could be feeling three different emotions at once. The definition of each emotion is blurred with how fast they change inside of me. I risk being called moody. I’ve been called this all my life in such a negative way. I was told in such a way as if I was suppose to change how I related to the world. I can see how it made people feel uncomfortable.

At the risk of seeming moody I remain straight faced when answering. I answer the questions vaguely. I often try to led people to their own powers of empathy and let them try to grasp what I might be feeling…play the scenario…How would you feel…? Can you imagine the range of emotions from just the past year? (troubled marriage, separation and divorce, or from layoff to moving to South East Asia…crazy right?!) I mean, yeah, I’m still processing the past year and now the ever changing feelings.

In general, I am all over the place. Once I recognize which emotion it is I feel another has moved into its place. Considering that I am constantly trying to organize what I got going on in my mind it makes sense that my emotions would shift. Sometimes, I just go into autopilot and just do what is in front of me because it needs to get done. Other times I spend time ruminating on how it is my first time doing something alone or even doing something in a really long time, but not being able to share that with someone close.

At 21 days before leaving for my new life abroad, I am nervous and confident. I am dreamy, expectant and anxious. I’ve been nostalgic for old times, old San Francisco, and certain individuals. I’ve never lived in one place for as long as I have lived in the Bay Area. 19 years! A tremendous amount of life happens in 20 years. Some of it was really great and there were a few shitty things along the way. I can’t imagine my life happening anywhere else…but, what a weird fucking trip it all has been.

 

 

 

The Purge: Bits and Pieces…healing, letting go, and moving on

I keep returning to that snap back. It’s a painful reverb that has yet to be tempered. A ringing, not in my ears, but in my heart. I remember all too well the last time she told me, “You expect me to believe you?” Why wouldn’t you believe me when I say the cats are fine? SNAP! Reality…I had to get back to me. In the narcissistic (Abuse/Victim) cycle I had become very distant from my true sense of self. I got away from any sense. When your idea of love includes the feelings of anxiety, withdrawal and frustration it’s time to take a look at the situation.

Something I had learned about myself is that lesson learning comes in threes. After two times of my ex telling me, a statement that still shakes me, “I don’t believe your feelings”, I understood it to be truth the third time she said it. She was using her words. This conflicted with what I had in my mind How could you not believe someone’s feelings? This conflicts with my idea of  avoiding conflicts , avoid conflicting ideas and feelings. Now, I know that feeling of being conflicted. It means something is wrong. I still can’t imagine not believing someone’s feelings, their truth.

It’s going to be many years and a lot of personal work to come back to romance.  I don’t even know what I am coming back to since my view of love is so screwed up. Being a late bloomer like I am, it is overwhelming to think of the prospect of the work I need to do on myself before even peeking into the possibility of dating and romance. I reflect on the therapy that has gotten me this far. The nine years of comfort, or better yet, complacency left me at a deficit, emotionally.

This deficit created a void deep in my core. It’s so deep I can feel the cavern inside of me. I don’t think I have ever felt this empty. At the same time, I am completely aware of what I might feel in any situation, but I just don’t. I definitely can sympathize, but my empathy is truly lacking. There was a time in my youth when I was bursting with affection. This wasn’t just the at the end of the night at the bar when taking last shots we entangle arms and shoulders and confess to our best buds how much they mean to us…I was prepared and waiting for love.

I have a bit of joy. I can experience joy. It’s just that I am almost completely depleted, exhausted. How can I ever look at pictures of us ever again? We were very different. They say opposites attract, but how do they stay together? How can I honesty look back and not be confused about the reality and nostalgia?  Memories reveal more that I can handle at times…What about her and that FB memories that pop up? Does she even look through them? Do any of these memories bring a smile? Does any image serve as a background for the moment? Is the moment the same as the person, can they be separated? Does the person in the picture make or break the moment? Will the whole picture taint the ‘snapshot’? Can it all be revised?

There have been a lot of comments and questions about what the hang up was in our divorce. We didn’t own property together. We had a tiny bit of debt on a credit card. In the end the issue was about money, my money. I received a monetary gift before leaving her. Without getting into the details of the dispute, I can honestly say this where I dug in. I felt conflicted because the first month after I left I went to divorce seminars, spoke casually to other divorced people. Divorce can get as crazy and expensive as YOU make it. I didn’t want it to be a difficult process, but I had to dig in.

I had to dig in because I make less than a third of what SF poverty level is. I had to dig in because I left a rent controlled apartment in the center of San Francisco,   to a market rate apartment in Berkeley near CAL, incurring an $8 dollar day commute. I had to dig in because I now had to pay for expensive Covered California, and insulin is outrageous. I got better coverage under Health SF. Reflection was never her strong point…but come one. She makes 40K not including bonuses more than I do.  I wish she had, you know counted her blessings before coming after something that was legally separately mine. In the end I settled for a fraction of what the court calculator determined to be fair. For me, I just wanted to leave. Her lack of reflection has made it difficult for me to let go, because when I reflect on all the times I did let things go, I have a lot of regret.

 

 

 

 

 

A Snap Shot…

Since leaving my ex, I have had to re-evaluate what is real for me. I had to rediscover tastes. Certain things didn’t have the flavor she claimed there to be. I had to re-evaluate things life the type of effort things actually took. Certain things were actually easier than she made them out to be. I had to re-evaluate the worth or value I put on things. Some of my things are worth way less than she told me. Each time I didn’t question reality I had a stomach ache. Something was upset in my core. I’ve been trying to really listen to my feelings. I have been working on putting my own value on my own thoughts and opinions. All of this is to regain that sense of self I had to attract people in the first place. People can’t see it, but there is a deep dark hole. The circumference isn’t the issue…it’s the depth.

For some reason this past weekend I started thinking about my ex. It wasn’t as loaded with hate as it once was. It was kind of nostalgic really. There is a particular photo I shot of her while she was watching the Vietnamese country side from out soft sleeper car. She appears to be in thought. She’s quiet and there is no cell phone in her hand. She is in wonder. This is the memory I have chosen to remind me of the good times. The woman in that photo caught in that particular moment is when I loved her the most. I didn’t believe I was going to have any good memories of her.

I went through my day giving this memory in my head, this photo, this snap shot in time good energy. I pushed down the many many negative things that came up as I held onto this image. I fought to keep it precious. I came home to find in my mail copies of the sign divorce paperwork that had been filed with the Court of the County of San Francisco. Another reminder of how real it is. A reminder of how sad it is. I remember that day. I felt so light. I remember how light I felt on the train. How can two totally different things brings such feelings?

I think another reason for the feelings is that I am returning to South East Asia, where we spent a lot of time traveling around together. I also spent a lot of time in S.E.Asia in 2011, when I first tried to work abroad. Facebook is also posting memories on my timeline about those times.

You know what though, even though there is a lot of energy and emotion surrounding this move, there is one thing I know for sure. I know I can get through anything. In the past year I did things for and by myself that hadn’t been done in 13 years or ever. I went camping at a music festival on my own. I went through the holidays on my own. I brought in the new year with friends and crashed and burned on Valentine’s Day…but, once I was freed on my birthday I just knew things can’t get in my way and I am stringer than I have been lead to believe.

So…I am moving out of the country. This is something I wanted to do before there was even the threat of Trump becoming president. First, it was for the adventure of being in another culture. Then, it became about the police indiscriminately shooting black people. Now, it’s about the economy and other sorts of civil liberties that are being taken away for fear of an equal country.

My initials plans are to travel to Taipei for a few days and visit with former students. I hope to eat until I pop. Afterwards, I will spend a few days in Chiang Mai. I’ve never been to this part of Thailand. I know a few people to visit with and I want to party in baby Bangkok. From there I will get to Ho Chi Minh City to settle in for five weeks in a CELTA program. I haven’t made any definite plans from that point. If I like it in Vietnam I will stay.

Healing, Letting Go, Moving on pt.2: The Narcissist’s: Words

The covert narcissist sets his victim up at home. They create triggers to set off their partner when in public knowing that the partner will not risk a scene. The victim clamps shut as the narcissist strokes each trigger tempting a scene.

  • Whatever.
  • You’re too sensitive.
  • I never said that.
  • I never did that.
  • You never said that.
  • You just think you said it.
  • You’re being dramatic.

As the narcissist is confronted about their behavior they begin to overtly manipulate or lash out when the manipulations no longer work. They will say things like.

  • Anyway.
  • You expect me to believe you?
  • I don’t believe your feelings.
  • I don’t want to change.

I didn’t realize how much I was isolating until I came out the other side of this divorce. It’s not uncommon for these situations to happen. In order to keep up appearances sometimes it meant that you don’t go out at all. I didn’t want to go out because of the eggshells I had to maneuver over and around. Measuring each sentence that came out of my mouth became too exhausting to deal with. I eventually retreated into puzzles and podcasts. I made excuses like, “I teach and talk all day with people. The last thing I wanted to was talk to more people.” That was actually her excuse for staying home and I just grabbed that line.

I thought that the past nine months of isolating would be healing, but, instead, it created a dome of anxiety and shaky footing. I did nothing to move on. I basically set myself up to hold on until the divorce decision was made. Now that the decision is in, I must steam ahead. I don’t know if I ever would have been able to use the nine months any more wisely than I did. The realizations of dynamics, friends and family, and work have been overwhelming in some instances.

Now I am stronger. I am stronger for doing it without anti-depressants. I’m stronger for getting back on the path to me. The words still echo in my head. I’v heard them and similar from more than one set of lips. The personalities that insist that these words hurt no one are feeling some kind of hurt themselves. Void of their own emotions and unable or unwilling to recognize this, they will insist they are the victims. Now I know I no longer have to languish under their words anymore.

 

Shit’s getting real…

Shit in my life is beginning to feel real. Things I’ve wanted to happen are becoming real in a way that is frightening, but that good frightening. I was caught in a dynamic that made me feel very fearful, but now I feel embolden to live. I am honoring my feelings and moving forward in my life without questioning myself.

Recently, I was laid off of my teaching job. Listen folks, times are going to get rough for everyone and every industry. Something is either going to give or snap. It wasn’t quite the way I wanted to leave. I kind of slid out of there quietly. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. Leaving Stafford House and my coworkers was more difficult than deciding to get a divorce. I truly loved my work life.

THE TEACHER’S ROOM…this is a sacred spot. It was once expansive and difficult to connect with each one. The move to a smaller space, I think, brought us closer together. We were in each conversation, rant, critique, joke and resource giving. You know, it all was like my morning radio show. Certain personalities needed to walk into the room say their piece in order for me to have a complete day. We all noticed when someone was absent.

I had been planning to leave the country for a while, but of course I needed to finish that divorce stuff. Once that was done I wanted to clear up business and make my way out in my own style and fashion. The universe must have believed I was taking too long. I was hesitating. With the loss of my job I have had to switch those gears and speed up my process. Let’s get it done.

I’ve put in an application for a CELTA program in Vietnam. I love this country. I recently scheduled a SKYPE interview and I look forward to moving to Ho Chi Minh and living there while I complete the course. I decided that if I can feel comfortable on my own there then I will try to stay on and find a job. Otherwise, I will consider the other countries I have on my list…Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even some Middle Eastern Countries like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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