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I’m Comin’ Through

The biggest fear so many people have, me included, when first coming to Vietnam is the traffic and nonsensical driving regulations. It’s both wildly exciting and utterly terrifying. At first glance, the driving seems more confusing than the US tax code, but when you boil it down, it’s not so bad.

 

The mentality is basically: I’m sure we can put this on a motorbike.If you haven’t yet seen pictures of the crazy things people do here: here are just some of the things that I have seen riding down the street. (A quick google image search is recommended as well). The best I have seen while driving are:

  • both parents as well as 3 children on a bike (yes, 5 in total)
  • various animals sitting in front
  • a refrigerator
  • rebar carried on a shoulder
  • another motorbike on the motorbike

Over the past 9 months, I have just accepted how the traffic is one gigantic mess. But one day, after thinking about how driving works logistically, it all comes down to one simple change. Oncoming traffic yields. #mindblown

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In America, aka normal traffic, incoming traffic yields. When turning left, turning right, or merging into traffic, the person turning yields to oncoming traffic. However, in Vietnam, the person who is driving in oncoming traffic yields to those who are merging. Its a small change that drastically affects driving here. And then of course all the lawbreaking that also happens on top of that. In essence, the Vietnamese are driving on the wrong side of the road, side walks, on the walls, in between cars, running reds, phasing through traffic, bouncing on cars, sleeping, talking on the phone, and all while honking like there’s no tomorrow.

Even I joined in on the fun of carrying obnoxious furniture. I bought a shelf and drove it on the back in true Vietnamese fashion.

More on Vietnam life soon,
Perry

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Living Your Own Life

What’s stopping you from doing what you want to do?

In the last eight months, I’ve heard repeated comments and compliments of what an incredible journey I am experiencing. Absolutely, I am having a marvelous time exploring Vietnam and getting a taste of the culture here. But I also hear comments about how others envy my life and are jealous of the path I have chosen to explore. Comments like  ‘Wow Perry, I am so jealous of your life. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.’

I had a moment to reflect about this (… in the shower, naturally). And it prompted me to think about whether I am envious of anyone else’s life. Am I happy with where I am and what I’m doing? The abbreviated answer is a resounding yes. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else that I want to be – at least for now.

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The purpose of this post is to not convince you to sell all of your stuff and book a one way to a foreign country (although I support that decision), the point is to ask yourself: Are you living your own life?

Loaded question, many meanings, complicated and confusing; I know. To answer, self-reflection is required. It’s easy to get lost in the illusion of happiness and stuck in routine – coasting on the comforts of the past and riding on the coattails of previous successes. Day in. Day out. And ultimately day lost. Tara Branch says “The way you live your life today… is the way you live your life.” In other words, your life is not only the compilation of days you choose, it’s everyday.  If you spend today dreaming and lusting after someone else’s life, who’s life are you really living?

This isn’t a one and done kind of mentality; it’s constant. Constantly thinking about what you’re doing, if you’re happy, and where you want to be. Without a doubt, there are barriers to following these worthy desires. These are the few questions I had to ask myself when I wanted to make a change. Be forewarned, they can’t be simply answered with yes or no.

Do you have the means? AKA the dinero; can you afford this decision? Saving up for a big adventure sometimes isn’t always realistic. Set something up where you can make money as you are pursuing your passion (or get a daddy). While money isn’t everything, it plays a role in you eating. So make sure that you have the ability to eat.

Is this something you want or just like the idea of? Often I get caught up in the fantasy of the unknown. It’s exciting and it’s perfect. But reality has a stark difference in opinion. Don’t blindly make a decision and hope for the best. Do your due diligence and research. Be prepared… And hope for the best.

What’re leaving behind? Regardless of what you do, there is some cost. If you seek a new job, you have to let go of the last. If you want to move, you have leave behind people you love. If you want to get out of a relationship, don’t ask me for advice. There will always be an opportunity cost for any decision. It’s not only about what you leave behind; remember, you will gain something from your pursuit.

So I ask you again: what’s really stopping you? Don’t live vicariously, simply live.

Ready, set, go.

Loneliness and Living Abroad

At some point in our lives, we will be alone: driving in the car, talking a walk, or living in a new country. It’s inevitable. But being alone and feeling loneliness are different. The feeling of loneliness can often accompany being alone, but being alone doesn’t always cause loneliness. And the feeling can happen anywhere: living alone, moving somewhere new, and even while surrounded by friends. I have come to realize that the feeling of loneliness is unique when living abroad.

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It seems redundant to point out that when living abroad, you are literally miles from family and close friends. But the point that is often missed is that the physical distance equates to a temporal distance as well. While I’m awake, all my friends and family are fast asleep. Meaning that when I miss my friends and call them, it’s often in the middle of the night (ngl, I forgot and it has happened a few times). On top of that, being abroad can be harder to make friends. There’s a cultural and language barrier on top of all of the typical friendship making barriers.

It’s a special combination: distance, time, and culture that make you feel truly alone in another part of the world.

But you know me, I’m a glass full kind of guy and wow what an incredible experience it is to feel these emotions. It challenges you to learn to be comfortable doing to do things on your own. It teaches you how to try new restaurants alone, go to movies alone, and have dates with yourself. It pushes me to overcome my fear of talking to strangers and making connections to people I otherwise would have never met. Lean into the discomfort as my friends would say. We may feel alone, we may feel loneliness, but we always have other people supporting us.

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I write this not to discourage others from going out, I say this to invite people discover these new experiences, despite doing them alone. (Also to express my feelings in a healthy way, rather than wallowing and sleeping all day). My advice? Let yourself feel the full range of you emotions but don’t allow yourself to wallow in despair. Find passions and achieve greatness (cheesy I know).

See ya soon,
Perry

Finding Motivation

“How do you spend your free time?”

Its a question as an English teacher I ask fairly often to my students. It struck me that when the students asked “and you?” I have been responding with superficial answers. I think it’s time for some self-reflection and to remind myself to find purpose in what I’m doing.

I recently spoke with a friend who is taking strides to live with purpose and reason, which really resonated with me. This isn’t meant to be some ultra-deep altruistic philosophic meaning of life. I simply mean to critically think about simple decisions made in everyday life. Is the extra 10 minutes of sleep really worth it? Should I really watch the next episode? What is something I could be doing with my time?

Living in Vietnam has taught me many things, one of which is the luxury of free time. Day in and day out, I walk by the same people working for hours from dawn to dusk, barely having time to catch their breath. Here I have the time to get a head start on things I really want to do. So I ask myself should I really be spending it propped on my bed wasting my day away?

To be frank, I have been really struggling with finding motivation for doing regular daily tasks. You know, the things you want to get done but have really low priority. So to get my butt into gear. Rather than wallowing in pity, I’m setting some small goals goals for myself to hopefully get a slight edge on life:
1. Wake up and get up at a regular time. Luckily, I have trained my body to wake up everyday at 6:30. The problem is that I struggle with getting out of bed. I will strive for getting out of bed at 7:30 and getting tasks done.
2. Eat regularly. I have a bad problem with not eating appropriately having 4 meals one day and only one the next.
3. Drink water. Time and time again, I have read articles and posts telling you how important water consumption is yet here I am dehydrated daily.

These are just a few things I plan on doing, but would love some feedback on how to find more motivation to do the things that need to get done.

Updates to come soon,
Perry

Time Flies By

Home sickness comes for most people within the first few weeks. For me, it hits after a few months. Today is my three month-aversary living in Vietnam and it still feels like I arrived yesterday.

While have adjusted to living here: finding regular places to eat, figuring out a schedule, and avoiding getting hit by traffic daily, there are things that I miss about America. Here is my simplified list of all the things that I don’t have living in Vietnam:

Spending time in a mall – living in a smaller city, all the shopping places are boutiques and a grocery store.
Food – of course, there is a different cuisine here. The melting pot of America isn’t so prevalent here. Where are my tacos, poke bowls, and burger joints?
Happy Hour – drinking beer is common here but there’s not a designated time where friends meet together to go out.
Heating and Cooling – our apartment doesn’t have heating, so now in winter, we blanket up.
Sidewalks – the sidewalks here are made with tile that is now old and broken, making it difficult to walk anywhere.
Baking – in our apartment, the stove is gas only and there’s not an oven to bake with. That means no baked chicken, desserts, or roasted veg.

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While I miss these things about America, I miss more often the people who are there. While I have friends here, you miss those people you instantly click with. I’m still happy to be here but have an itch to go home already. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Hope to be back soon,
Perry

Traveling Thailand

 

When you travel to a European country, most of the time, the language is some form of Latin script based language. Thailand, however, uses a derivative of the Brahmic family, a script that is completely incomprehensible to me. It’s full of loops and squiggles, even the numbers were in Thai script! Though I have traveled before and consider myself a novice, traveling to Thailand was an entirely new (and exciting) experience.

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Thailand is unique is so many ways; for one – it’s full of temples. I think while Kyle and I were in Bangkok, we visited over 10 temples… in only 4 days. Some were small, some took hours to walk though, some were just ruins of a temple, some were just completed. It was astounding to see; the temples themselves were almost always elaborate with gold finishing. The buildings, called “wats” were built high and pointed toward the sky at every opportunity. When two sides of the roof met, there was an intricate piece of gold that squiggled up to the heavens above. Wat is borrowed word from Sanskrit, meaning “enclosure,” although I’m not sure why. All I know is that they are very distinct. There were some unique wats, specifically the temples in Ayutthaya. The temples there have been destroyed and are now in ruins. Nature took its course and began to grow in and around the statues and towers; even one Buddha statue was entrenched in a tree.

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One of the best parts about Thailand was the diverse transportation. Staying in Bangkok, there was the an abundant number of ways to traverse the city. There was a sky train, a subway system, and public buses; then you have taxis and tuk-tuks (3 wheeled motorbike); but what I found most fascinating was the River Express Boat. Yes, there was a public transit system on the river and its insane. The boat is crowded. The ride is anything but smooth. To top it off, there is constant whistling from the person in the back that guides the driver in the front. It’s funny to think that riding public transit is a must do in Thailand.

Like Vietnam, street food is very prevalent in Thailand. Down any street, there is a food truck like stand selling an assortment of food, anywhere from full meals to a light snack. Favorites include: mango sticky rice, so sweet with a coconut sauce poured on the rice; pad thai, salty, sour, and sweet all in one; and the infamous meat on stick, pork, beef, chicken and even fish! Not only were they delicious, they were so cheap too. Pad thai was only $1.50! Where can you buy that in America? Ahh right, no where. Then you have the not so savory food stand, selling a variety of crispy insects. My soul was not so brave to try any of the crunchy creepy crawlies. Seeing a fried roach is enough for me.

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After a long day to sightseein’, food-tourin’, and temple-splorin’, we decided to “relax” with a thai massage. Let me tell you, it was anything but relaxing. Thai massages are all about pressure points and targeted pressure. The masseur was basically pushing his thumb into my bone. Yes, INTO. It was not pleasant. I may have cried. Like one actual tear. Then, to top it off, we tried the fish tank, the one where fish eat your dead skin cells. It felt THE most strange… But surprisingly exactly how you would think it should feel: like tiny little fish biting your feet. It was slightly painful, slightly pleasurable, and abundantly ticklish.

Bangkok was truly a spectacular place to visit. The city was full of delightful and, at times, quite frightening surprises. There is plenty more to explore, but that’ll have to wait. Gotta keep traveling to new places in the world.

‘Til next time!
Perry

Saigon Ơi, Saigon Ơi!

Luckily, the English center I teach at is flexible about giving time off when requested. I decided to take advantage of this… which resulted in my first extended and out of Vietnam trip since arriving. First a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and then over to Bangkok. This trip was absolutely incredible and loved getting the chance to explore more of Southeast Asia. Of course, vacations are no fun alone, so I met up with Kyle and we traveled together around Vietnam and Thailand. The plan was 5 days in Saigon and 5 days in Bangkok.

Arriving in Saigon, it was hot and I was hot. The weather was similar to how you feel after an hour at the gym: sweaty, sticky, and feeling like you need a shower. Regardless, I was excited to see and explore what the largest city in Vietnam. I went when I was 6 but don’t remember much and didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s the real first time I have been in the city… and without a doubt, it’s my favorite place in SE Asia so far.

One of the first things I noticed about the city is how diverse and well populated it is. There are tons of people everywhere from all different parts of the world, of course with a crap load of Vietnamese. Even as I was walking around, I met a woman who was from Boise! She had to, of course, fill the role and stereotype — she was there selling Idaho potatoes!

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Saigon is much different than I thought it would be. Living in a different part of the country, I had expectations of what I thought it would be. I thought wrong. I thought it would be like the quiet little town I live in where everyone knows each other and all take day naps and live life one day at a time. Incorrect. The big city is just that: big. It feels like a global hub.

Converse to Vinh,  the streets are more developed and you can actually walk on the sidewalk. There’s also an absurd amount of people who live in the city, being the largest city in Vietnam, with about 3.4 million people. The massive number of people equates to an equally massive amount of motorbike because it is still the best method to get around quickly and efficiently. So for two days, we rented a motorbike to traverse the big city. Driving around is… stressful to say the least.

Of course, we were on vacation so  we had to see all the tourist locations. Saigon is a hip-happening place with so many places to visit. We tried to fit as much as we could in and found our way through: the art museum, Bixteco Tower, the walking street, the war museum, etc. etc.

A exceptional place we visited was the Cu Chi tunnels. Similar to the war museum, it is focused on the Northern Vietnam perspective of the Vietnam War. It was interesting to see the tactics that were used against the Americans. Our tour guide Lin, eloquently described horrible conditions these people had to live in. They were civilians turned militia and forced into the battlefront, solely due to their location. Because of the war they ended up living in an underground maze network. No, it’s not a bomb-shelter type network, it was a dirty, unbreathable, and narrow shaft. Think of a shaft needed for an army crawl, and now think of a smaller version of that, and that’s how these people lived.

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The weirdest part was how this place, and really all of Vietnam, is that they described fighting against the Americans, how they would get honors for killing Americans, and are proud of these accomplishments. Its strange to see how “the other side” views the war and switch perspectives.

Aside from the war, there are plenty of other amazing places to gander. Even just walking around, we found such interesting events. One of which was the Southeast Asia Cultural experience while walking down Nguyen Hue street. During that month, Vietnam in coordination with South Korea held traditional dance and music performances to showcase each country’s unique culture. We sat in on a performance and  had the chance to view traditional Thai dancing – which was super amazing to watch. I interpreted it as some sort of fish dance and bringing it home to the wife.

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Beyond that, I visited some of my extended family; my family’s heritage is from Vietnam, specifically the south. That means I have some cousins who still live there and had the chance to meet them. Last time I had met them, was the last time I was in Vietnam… and what a difference 12 years makes. My cousin, Ngoc took me around the city to all the places she could think of for food, we had Banh Trang Tron, Trung Nuong, Kem Chien, Banh Trang Chien, Tra Sua, and so much more (trust me, it was good food). When we headed to their house to see my great aunt, who is almost 100, she thought that Kyle, who is white, was me! She was giving him kisses and talking to him in Vietnamese. It was the funniest thing.

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Saigon is such an amazing place, I love it so much. It has such a special place in my heart. But after the five days here, we headed to Thailand! More to come.

See ya soon,
Perry

A Traveler’s Nightmare

This week, Raychel and I again decided to take a quick 2 day trip to explore the beautiful sights of a new city. Ninh Binh is a short 4 hour train ride from where I live. I thought it would be a quick and easy trip… I was wrong. Usually, when you go traveling you hope for the best but plan for the worst. In Ninh Binh, the worse came.

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As we got onto the train, the problems began. The scheduled time for arrival was 9:30am and the train conductors knock on your door to let you know you have arrived at your station. The train arrived at a station at 9:25 and I was slightly panicked because I didn’t know if this was the stop we got off. The train stated moving again and we decided to ask a stranger which way Ninh Binh was. “Ohh no,” he said and pointed in the opposite direction of the train “Ninh Binh.” Panic.

Train rolling along, Raychel and I sat for another 15 minutes discussing options: maybe lets just go all the way to Hanoi or get off at the next stop and wing it. The train stopped yet again and then the train conductor knocked on the door. “Ninh Binh,” he said. Surprised? Me too. We were just late…

The reason we chose to head to this city was, to be frank, a gorgeous picture we saw on Instagram. After further investigation, the city is known for its stunning views and intricate cave system. However, when we arrived, it nothing but clouds and rain. No beautiful sights to be seen.

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Again, we rented a motorbike as a means of travel and again, we ran into another problem. The motorbike wouldn’t start. It was extremely finicky and the ignition had to be pressed in the right way with a strong tug on the throttle. Finally, it started and we biked to our hotel… in the pouring rain… with cheap plastic ponchos. Needless to say we were wet and needed a hot shower. When we arrived, you guessed it, another problem.

The hotel was wet. Okay, I am being a bit dramatic, but the floor near the window and bathroom was wet. And that left everything else in the room damp. Do you know the feeling of your clothes when you dry it but its 10 minutes shy of being completely dry? Those were the blankets I slept on.

Even though I was under the weather (ba-dum-tss), we decided to roll with the punches and head back into the rain to explore the city. By this point, the rain was coming down so hard, it caused flash floods around the city. We rode around for about three hours in the rain to find an Instagram worthy photo. None to be found. We couldn’t even get to the “Mua Caves” because of the flooding.

Finally, we headed back to the hotel to take a break from the rain and regroup. It had already been such a long day and it was 3pm. We headed back out to find dinner and another problem struck. The motorbike had a flat back tire. I pushed the motorbike to a street corner where this older gentleman started tearing the bike apart. In the end he was just pulling out the tube and putting a patch on the tire. The long day turned into a super-long day.

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The next day was the saving grace. Sunshine. Warmth. Views. First we headed to see a pagoda of the city. And encountered another problem – actually more of a funny story. This time Raychel was captain of the bike. We got off so she could push the bike up a curb. She pulled the throttle a bit too hard, it ran into a wall and the bike fell over. She immediately looks up at me and says “Perry, I dropped the bike,” at which point I chuckled to myself. It fell on the opposite side where she was so all was good. Except maybe the scuff left on the bike.

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We again headed to the Mua Caves to see the city from a different perspective. When we arrived to the Caves, we left the motorbike on the side of the road in order to ride a paddle boat over to the flooded entrance. Then walked on a flooded walkway to the start of the hike. It was definitely an interesting experience. After all the problems that were encountered, the view was more than worth it. The only downside was that it went from cold to sweltering. I was literally dripping in sweat which meant mosquito bites.

Of course, it wouldn’t be travelers nightmare without another problem. As we were leaving and picking up our bike on the side of the road, I locked the keys inside the bike! Vietnamese motorbikes have a compartment under the seat so that you can store a backpack sized item while riding. We had a sweet french couple to help us out and finesse the seat to grab the key.

Let’s not forget, there’s always a big finish. To round out the problem ridden trip, the train back got cancelled due to flooding! But we headed to the train station without that knowledge and by some turn of fate, the train was rescheduled to run only 30 minutes later. Thinking this train would be only 4 hours back, we booked a seat. But heres the twist. The train took 13 hours to make its trip. 13 hours. It was parked for 8 hours because of the flooding.

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Overall, this trip was chock full of problems. But hey, that is part of the adventure of traveling.

Until next time,
Perry

Vietnam & Vinh City

1am struck. I made it. Finally arriving in Vinh, I was tired and sweaty yet surprisingly happy. And I had every right to be. I landed in my new city for the next year. I was excited to experience what Vinh has to offer. All I needed was a hot shower and a good nights rest first. Unfortunately, I only got one of the two. 

Waking up at 9am the next day for orientation, I was exhausted but excited to explore my new city. After orientation, a few of the other foreign teachers showed me around and I learned how to ride a bike in Vietnam. You’d think it would be the same… but the rules of the road are “a bit” different here. Here’s a quick breakdown. There are no rules and don’t get hit. (More about this later).

If this sounds scary, you’re correct – it is. Drivers here know the exact size of there car and how fast they can go to not hit anyone. Incorporate that with motorbikes weaving in and out of roads and you have traffic in Vietnam. It’s the definition of wild.  But I do have to say, I’m getting it down and it’s been just a month. 

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And in this month, I have learned a lot about the city and the country.  For one, Vietnam itself is hot and humid. The weather forecast may say 85 degrees, but the humidity is anywhere from 50-90% making it “feel like” 100+ degrees. Because of this, I am sweating constantly. Many of the teachers shower twice a day to be clean and sweat free. 

Another interesting tidbit about the country is that because of the heat, almost all stores and shops will close at high noon (11am-1pm) to avoid the heat, eat lunch, and take a nap. Siesta exists in Vietnam! Who knew? It gets surprisingly quiet during this time too. Traffic is riddled with honking but what I love about Vinh is that at night, everyone goes home and the streets are quiet and peaceful.

Vinh compared to other cities is cheap. Wicked cheap. CHEAP AF. A bowl of pho in America can run you anywhere from $8-10. Here it costs D25,000 ($1.10). Most meals eating out won’t cost more than D70,000 ($3.10) and that’s a fancy dinner. The majority of foreign teachers will opt to eat out rather than cook because its so inexpensive and theres no clean up. On top of that, going to the grocery store and cooking cost as much if not more to cook.

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Of course there are things that I miss back in America. Low humidity weather. Craft Beer. And of course, food. There are no tortillas to be found here! I miss tacos…

It’s a lot of new but I am adjusting and enjoying the time I have here.  More updates to come.
Perry

Down to Da Nang

Apart from teaching, all the foreign teachers at our school get two consecutive days off. This is just enough time to squeeze in some light traveling to different cities within Vietnam. Take the night train or bus, sleep, and spend two full days in a new city. Sleep again on the way back and work the next morning. Yes, it’s tiresome but it’s a great way to get in all the exploring you can.

This week, Raychel and I headed down to Da Nang. In the forecast, it was all rain but surprisingly, it was nice and sunny Vietnam upon arrival. Da Nang and the neighboring town, Hoi An, were absolutely amazing places to visit with lots more to do than where I’m living. So many places to explore and eat!

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The 8 hour train arrived at around 9:30am and I was ready to hit the town and see what this city had to offer. After getting the motorbike, I was off to see the Marble Mountains, a recommendation from a fellow foreign teacher. And it was a great recommendation. The firs battle was getting up the 1,000 steps to the mountain. It was really one of my first experiences with a pagoda in Vietnam.

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These pagodas were a bit different than the ones you’re thinking of because these were built inside the mountain. YES, inside the mountain. There were statues both outside and inside THE MOUNTAIN.  It was an amazing sight to see, the statues were so ornate and I was just a little overwhelmed by the sheer size. And the fact that they were INSIDE the mountain. When thinking about it, the cave openings are too narrow for the statues to be brought in, meaning they were carved perfectly from the rock while digging out the cave. What amazing feat!

After the hike around the pagoda and a good sweat, I took a quick 30 minute ride to Hoi An. Raychel and I booked a hotel to stay for the night. Since it was so humid outside, we decided to find another place… with a pool. That’s when we discovered  the haven named “The Villa of Tranquility.” It was beyond amazing and only $12 a night for two people to stay. The best was the perfect firmness and THE PILLOWS… I was tempted to steal a pillow they were so soft.

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While relaxing poolside, we met a cute Australian family that told us that the Hoi An night market was a must to visit. We found a place to grab dinner and headed over to over. While walking around the market, I was stopped by a woman to take a candle lit night ride around the river. Of course, we had to! Raychel bought a little candle lantern to place in the water. As she placed it in the river, the candle immediately extinguished and it was one of the saddest sights.

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The night market was stunning. It is well known for its ornate lanterns and were strung up all along the market. With the night set, the lanterns lit, and candles in the river, the city was very picturesque. There was even the smell of sweet foods and tasty dishes all around. The cheerful buzz of children playing. Elation for all the senses. I ended up with a few souvenirs from the vendors and a cute lamp for my desk.

 

The next day, we headed back to Da Nang for the remainder of the trip. We decided to walk around the city and go to a famous taco infusion restaurant. It was an hour and a half walk but I thought we could do it, so we returned the bike. The distance and time wasn’t too bad. It was the distance in combination with the heat, humidity, and the weight of our bags that made it a little unbearable. And when I say a little, I mean showering in sweat pools.

The worst part: when we got to the restaurant, it was no where to be found. It was permanently closed. We had walked almost 2 hours for a restaurant that was closed. The distraught. The agony. The hunger. But most disappointing, the uneaten tacos. Eventually, we landed at a Mi Cay (spicy ramen) place and ate there and relaxed at the beach before heading out to catch the sleeper bus on the way home.

More updates your way soon,
Perry