Until we meet again, Vietnam!

On my last day in HCM, I chose to sleep overnight at the airport instead of staying in the hostel for a night and then cabbing to the airport. This was because I had a morning flight at 7am. The alternative would be to wake up at 3.30am, cab to airport at 4am and to reach at 5am for check-in. Me being me, I chose to sleep over because, well, if you remember, I am quite intrigued by airport-overnightings. http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ – The Guide to Sleeping in Airports – a website I first snorted aloud when I chanced upon the existence of it (people actually review sleeping in airports??) has become an eager site I scroll through when I have an early flight.
In any case, I feel some sort of regret not reviewing the other airports I’ve slept in (!! i can hardly remember the experiences) so I’ll note this one down.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport

I can only comment on 1. Wifi 2. Plugs 3. Temperature 4. Seats
Here, I slept at domestic airport terminal. I couldn’t enter the departure hall – it would only be open at 4am, the security guard said, so I had to choose a seat at the outer areas. There was an automatic door about 500m away, occasional traffic honkings can be heard, so the earplugs came in handy.

1. Wifi! – works! Connect to the airport wifi, just have to click some agreement button and it worked. Not sure if there’s a time limit but it was pretty fast and was working well during the time I had my laptop.

2. Plugs – Some 300m away I spotted a plug. When my laptop was dying I excitedly sat myself on the floor and plugged in, turned on the switch but it didnt work. Sadly watched my laptop switch off at 0% – in good time anyway, it was midnight by then and I should sleep. So plugs – NOPE, DIDNT WORK. On a brighter note, people-watch and sleep, you.

3. Temperature – not freezing, no particular blasts of cold air. Normal, night-time temperature. Neither exceedingly cold nor warm. GREAT.

4. Seats – No ‘sofa seats’ – i took the red ones at the back, if you can see. I stretched my legs on the whole row, feet dangling out a little bit (but I took off my shoes and curled in), hugging my valuables (day pack) close to me, covered with my outerwear, while sleeping on my backpack. Is it comfy? Well, depends on your personal expectations and definition of comfy. As an experienced sofa sleeper that prefers the sofa to my bed, I found it pretty decent and caught some reasonable sleep, only waking up 10 minutes to 5am. No pokey bits, just a row of chairs that were ‘flat’ enough to lie upon. Decent.

Oh, around that time I woke up because I could hear some buzz around me. There were many Viets sitting around me at 4+++ near 5am (there’s a clock on the right, big red numbers that allows you to know the time) and they were chatting. That woke me up. Just as well. Earplugs or opt for a quieter seat elsewhere.

Additional note: WOKE UP WITH MOSQUITO BITES. Ugh, they would try biting every bit of exposed skin – even up to my feet. Covered my feet with some clothes in my bag and covered other parts of my skin. Also wore my insect repellant band. Because this annoyed me the most, I would advice others to avoid this seat. Mosquitoes were present probably because it was accessible from the open-air exit.

I realise the next morning that I was in the domestic terminal, and that I have to go to the international one. I guess my future self (ever? when im older and richer, probably not) would opt for an area away from an open-air exit, and be less lazy in my search.

Still, it was an experience. Another airport to my collection (?) !

Bye bye Vietnam, this must have been one of my favourite trips. A mixture of gorgeous sceneries, nature, culture, good deep long conversations, heightened awareness of thought-provoking global issues, favourite exhilarating moment(s), KNOWLEDGE AND HISTORY, couchsurfing, local ways of life, introspective time and GOOD COMPANY. Sigh, the ideal mix indeed. If I could choose, I’d love to have all my trips like this.

Then again, such chanced encounters and complementary events are what makes this one special and memorable. Thank you!

The Vietnam War (Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum)

More poignantly it struck me how much geography was intertwined with history; borders and geopolitics, territoriality, how existing inequalities of today and geographies of wealth and power are shaped by historical roots.
 War Remnants Museum with the Cu Chi tunnels tour.
Here, visitors were allowed to pay some money to shoot from heavy-looking guns. I assume some of these were instances of weapons used during the war. 
I could hear the shots from some distance away, even before I saw the shooting sites. These auditory effects were complementary in enabling me to visualize how it might have been for the soldiers at that point (though i acknowledge that what i can picture is not even the very tip of the iceberg, of course.) 

from a quora answer:
‘It is my understanding that Vietnam is not under a communist regime, the same way China is not under a communist regime. Both party call themselves communist, but none of them are actually communist. Vietnam went through a similar economical reformation in 80s, and is now a capitalist country.’

I asked Brian about this, and he did mention something along these lines. I didn’t manage to ask a Vietnamese about this, but this is a question I’ll keep in mind for the future.

Reading through pages on Vietnam and the Vietnam war. Really happy to do these, it’s time I understand things like these, history I’ve always heard about in passing but never attempted to comprehend. I find that my interest in the history of places has grown over the years – another slow change as I seep into adulthood (and beyond). I know my teenage self was pretty apathetic; travelling then was more about sights and beautiful pictures. They still consist of that, but my present self seeks to understand more about the country – the culture, the history, their thinkings and perceptions, their ways of living. Compare their perceptions and framing of history to what I know. I would like to return home more enriched than before, I think that’s the most important of all. Sigh, this is me in my years of young adulthood. I think back to what my respondent said – the meaning / purpose of travel changes with age. I wonder (as always) about my future selves.

I wish I had three lives – as with a computer game

In these days I am reminded of my reasons for travelling alone. Maybe because I am still in the midst of exploring myself. All too often I get influenced by what others think I am – and perhaps that was an innate need for me to break free, to explore myself and to be capable of making decisions, assessing my own risks, planning my own interests, my ways of doing things. I needed to understand what I could be – not what I have shaped myself to be perceived to be. These points would always be proven and reinforced in a cyclical manner, I needed to cut these chains and divert myself to another direction of understanding of myself. I guess that’s one of the pushing factors. I’m unclear of the person that I am, and I wanted to understand more.

All of it is self-imposed, I know, I know.

Da Lat’s Crazy House

Still in the making, the ‘Crazy House’ (dubbed by past tourists) was an interesting site with its architectural quirkiness. The designer of the building, with a PhD in architecture from Moscow, apparently gathered some inspiration from Gaudi’s designs. No wonder it struck me how similar the style was, the trunk-like, nature elements in the buildings. Apparently she wanted to remind people / bring people closer to nature, too. 
I like places like these. Ah, if only my house could be as quirky as this. Full of character! Colours! Strange unexpected holes at unexpected turns! I like. (because i dont live in a place like this, hah. functionally, well..)

must do crazy face right? 

some propaganda art (they do call it as such!) in a lovely shop. I love these vintage-looking posters!

Final days in HCM and its memorable moments

we met Brian in our hostel. it was morning, we heard him speaking Vietnamese to the hostel receptionist and curiously asked about his background. that was where our first interaction began, where our stimulating conversations unravelled and greatly made my trip to Vietnam more meaningful after that night.
traveling – traveling as a form of consumption. how do i make myself feel less consumer-ish? and in doing so, does that even matter or is it to elevate myself on a moral high ground? in attempting to focus on reflection and personal growth other than pretty pictures i hope to extend other facets of myself; perhaps these are ways by which i try to distinguish myself from a mass tourist- well, it’s hard to escape.
dinner with brian last night was absolutely lovely. it was another one of those times that reminded me why i loved being abroad and meeting new people – the stories each individual holds! their years of histories, mistakes, knowledge. their memories, their changes, their proof of how life was fleeting as much as it is long and jam-packed with events that could take abrupt turns.
with brian we talked about many things – ‘out of four world issues, we’ve solved two and a half,’ we laughed. The issue of US and the Vietnam War, beliefs and memories and their (un)reliability, global warming – we jumped from one thread to another, leaping from the global to the personal, the past and the future. 
Some things that struck me – 
beliefs and one’s reality. as a US soldier that was drafted, all too often it was with the full belief that what they did was right, and good 
and that turning point (he snapped his fingers) was the fateful day he saw that tiny news notice about Thailand on the papers. That single notice that turned the clockworks in his head, that shifted his reality. that they had a point,. 
the passing of his friend, and his voice that echoed for him to find out the truth, to not let him pass away in vain – surely that formed part of the fuel that kept him burning, that carried him towards his dreams in all these years?
him, giving 10usd to the sick girl each month – ‘not to get a girlfriend,’ he laughed, but because this sum to him comparable to her made a huge difference. i wish i would stop buying things i don’t need. a part of me knows the root issue of global warming lies with our capitalist economy and endless productions and throwaways and our attempts are seemingly futile at present; if we wanted to truly curb or slow down its exacerbating effects it would have to stem from the self. having said that and acknowledged it, and as i’ve mentioned to them, i know these and a part of me wants to boycott capitalism – stop accumulating all these things, stop the unnecessary buying (which i would like to think I’ve greatly minimized, except i just got that Pride and Prejudice notebook yesterday sob) – but the other (lazy) part of me thinks, life is short, allow me to indulge in this hedonistic life that i can lead, to embrace the consumerist culture because it is easy, pleasure-inducing (however fleeting!), and somewhat experiential within this short frame of time i have on earth.

more pertinently, i think it is the estrangement i have from the true implications of global warming. yes, i have studied that sea levels are rising, strange things are happening to our climate, low-lying lands of southeast asia are already experiencing its implications, and who are its primary perpetrators! us and the North! upon the South! but do we feel it? might i experience its full-blown implications in this lifetime? i am unsure, i am detached and estranged from direct harm, and perhaps that is why, armed with the knowledge that i have, i remain relatively apathetic. yes, i know this this this and why, but can i really do something? the reality is Yes, of course! it always stems from the individual, the self. i get these momentary spurts of understanding, and then i forget, and i indulge. after all, life is short, and i am merely a quiet fog blending into this careless generation.
i guess this forms one of those momentary (or not!) self-awareness. but i am going to try okay brian, i am going to try! boycott capitalism! don’t fall prey to this consumerist culture! (leech on sis where necessary hahahaha) Sigh. i will still travel (and contribute to the amounts of air pollution) but I will be more careful with my purchases, okay! okay! 
i suddenly recall the conversations I had with German writer on the bus in Cologne, with Paco, the Indian shopkeeper in Barcelona, Beck. These long conversations that evoked such similar feelings. It’s strange to think that I still remember them, and as always I wonder if our meeting struck them the same way it struck me.

I chanced upon the ABC Bakery and Cafe along Pham Ngu Lao. It had a lovely ambience as I sat down for an afternoon break.

42,000VND for SMOOTHIE + danish apple pastry + wifi + aircon = $2.70sgd

On my last night, I met Dũng. He took me on his motorbike around HCM. We zoomed down along the roads, me with my helmet, hands carefully placed on the shoulders of a stranger I had only met about half an hour ago (with 60 references! I am no complete idiot) but sometimes, sometimes, I wonder how my older self would be. Would i still be like this? acting inconsequentially? (but was this so? hmm not for me, not for this, for now.)
We talked about music, movies, culture, dreams. I love hearing about people’s dreams, what they strive to achieve. It always interests me how people my age (or further) hold ideals that are different from mine, lifepaths they set to lead that I wouldn’t have conceived of. For him, I hope his English education will bring him further, his motorbike tour company will take off and maybe someday his sincerity will bring him to great heights. Perhaps when I return to Saigon again, he will be his own boss.

Golden Dunes of Mui Ne

5 hour bus ride from HCM to Mui Ne

I love long bus rides, the time I spend in limbo – asleep and then awake, reading till i decide to doze off, then waking up again. listening to the right soundtrack while the world rolls by, the cool breeze finding its way in.

chasing skylight

The beautiful sand dunes of Mui Ne. It stretched beyond my expectations – the sky was blue, the sunrise was glorious, the soft breeze caressed our hair. I was with my friends of a decade in a setting like this. It was lovely and the key highlight of the trip.

We woke up before the crack of dawn. At 4.30am, the jeep picked us up at our hostel. I vaguely recall techno music blasting loudly as we sailed along the streets; I was barely awake and nodded off for awhile (but I do remember my other 2 cray friends laughing for no reason I was aware of HAHHA)

Mui Ne – Fishing Village and Fairy Stream

In Mui Ne the Sand Dunes tour was clearly the highlight. Only costing $7 USD, it’s truly a great deal considering the spectacular scenery we encountered. We opted for the private sunrise tour with our hostel (Mui Ne Backpackers Village) for $12 (or was it 10?) USD so the three of us had plenty of time and flexibility in our schedule.

I’d dedicate an entire post to the dunes; here’s part 2 of our tour after the dunes:

the backbone of a stream

planting my feet on mother earth

1. Fishing village

These reminded me of Kampong Luong. How are they? At this moment, were they stretching their backs to the crack of dawn, slicing the fishes and preparing prahok? Were there young children learning how to row from their silver round tubs? Were they splashing happily on the lake? When we eat our fishes, it really slips our minds that these came from the efforts of fishermen (or women) with stories, families and homes.

Next was the way to the fairy stream:

Gradient of colours. How beautiful! Mother Earth, mother earth, moments like these I feel a deep gratitude for being able to witness another of these beautiful landscapes and landforms.

So rude,

Da Lat – Night Market

12.30 – 4.30 – a 4 hour bus ride from Mui Ne to HCM
We went to the Da Lat market at night. Here, we asked a man for directions – he glanced at the map, nodded, and beckoned for us to jump on his motorbike. We got on at the back of his seat and rode off. Within minutes he brought us to the market. Ah, the kilometers we would have had to walk!
Not that I minded walking of course. Long walks were also strangely one of my favourite parts in exploring a city.
But his kind gesture and the surge of thrill I felt as we rode off in the wind just reminded me of how much I love this. This was part of why I loved exploring, where random kind acts happen, like you chancing upon a gem in the middle of the street. Of course, there was always the possibility that we might have been brought to be sold off – i whispered to lyn to mentally prepare to jump off if anything felt too dodgy. still, nothing happened and we arrived to a bustling street.

^ i dont know the name of this, but it was one of the best thing i’ve tasted in vietnam, no doubt

Motorbiking in Da Lat

verbal garbage – basically, a sum of questions and typical over-thinking by yours truly

I’ve realised that I draft thoughts in my head. Whole paragraphs of lines flowing through my mind – like I’m writing. Is that normal?

I got some knee scrapes from today. They stung a little, but that was all. It reminded me of the cycling in Hue, where I got similar scrapes. And the netball days, those knee scrapes. The white cotton bandage and tape, my younger self was sitting on the bench in the canteen in my PE shirt. All too familiar.

Ugh, I wonder if these will continue when I’m 70. It suddenly occurred to me how perilous my later (older) days will be. Falling wouldn’t be dismissed by an unbothered shrug then, it would mean being able to walk or not. Real consequences. Sigh.

We took the easyrider tour today with the hostel. We had a tour guide who would pillion one of us, and another motorbike available. One of us would ride, and swap places after.
After scraping my knee lyn suggested we swap places. I’m pretty curious – how would you respond? Would you swap immediately, or would you continue riding until the halfway mark and swap then? Would(n’t) the right thing be to continue? The Capricorn in me reared its stubborn head – I didn’t want to swap, it was but a silly scrape and swapping might leave a psychological fear of falling if I ever embark another motorbike. I didn’t want that psychological mark, and riding a little while longer would ease it out, I knew it would. So I didn’t, stubborn as I was, and I rode on, a little slower at the corners, and I didn’t fall again.
It was the right thing to do, if I do a quick cost-benefit analysis at this point. In another scenario there would be a version of Me with a fear of riding motorbikes alone, but that was not the Me in this version, as I am grateful and thankful and relieved to say.

Was it dangerous? Well, I’m still alive. Frankly, if I knew it involved weaving in and out of the Vietnam traffic I might have hesitated (a lot more) and opt to be pillioned. If I were to see a video of the biking route prior to my ride, I probably would have hesitated going on. It’s a series of overcoming fears though. A lot of things were mental – as I’ve come to realise – and in these years I wanted to overcome these mental barriers. I feared certain things, but I wanted myself to learn that much was mental. (Or was it?) Isn’t that really important? To test your limits? I think this phase of my life will pass. But as I live in the midst of my naive youth-hood I wanted to try, to try, to try again. To fail and to try again. In some ways I suppose it was symbolic – I wanted to overcome closet inner fears. I wanted to grow.

Was this growth? Is this necessary? Was this symbolic? Was it not? Why am I so stubborn? Or is this really being stubborn? This was, afterall, a mundane local thing to do – it didn’t mean much. Was it a mere desire to just do it? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. But I think I’ll eventually stop taking too many chances (was I taking chances?) – for now I just wanted to. (Do I really want that streak in me to stop? I don’t know.) Frankly, I have answers for none of these – everything is clear only on hindsight. Afterall, we make decisions only with all the knowledge that we have now. And decisions… they become stupid only when we live with its (undesirable) implications. How tricky.

I guess I’m in the midst of figuring myself out. As I will continue to be. And there are certain facets of me I was exploring – what I could do, what I truly couldn’t, what I was willing to risk, what I assessed as risk. It would be interesting to look back upon this post decades from now and be clearer about the person that I am now (that I was).

Some things aren’t to be teased with and I know it’s luck and luck and luck and a million possibilities could happen and I’m always, always grateful to be well, and perhaps eventually things may take a toll but I’ll always be grateful for life.

lines in my head as I rolled down the windy mountainous roads of Da Lat –
this was amazing and I felt alive. It was times like this I love, breathtaking times like this. All the mental images I told myself to keep – I told myself to remember, to remember, to remember this. At one point the cool breeze had turned a little colder and as I rode up the windy road and down again, the beautiful mountainous landscapes embraced me. I felt an immense indescribable joy – that I was alive. I felt freedom soaring through my veins. I was in my little bubble, some distance away from their motorbike, I had the wind in my hair – each time some giant truck rolled by or the perilous honking sounded behind me I quivered. A little part of me shriveled up and wilted each time I rode past them. I cussed each time I had to evade potholes (successfully, or not) and more than ever I felt a swell of appreciation for the roads in Singapore. You know these things, but it isn’t until you come face-to-face with it that you internalize its significance.
And for each giant truck that passed, each car that honked and weaved its way through, each 4-way traffic I successfully crossed, I felt a jolt of adrenaline that reminded me that I was alive.

the perilous (to me) winding roads
the roar of the gigantic truck
kicking up the mini-storms of road-dust that enveloped me as I rode on with my helmet
looking to my right and feeling overwhelmed by the mountainous view, the sun streaks peeking from the clouds
weaving within the traffic like I was local – I felt like I could live here – more than ever I felt acquainted with Vietnam, I was part of that chain of relentless motorbike traffic, evading strolling pedestrians and fellow motorcyclists, part of that rhythmic pattern I had only the opportunity to observe in my last visit

in the wind, in the sun, in the midst of the honkings

I was alive, and I’m happy to be alive, and I loved being alive, and I loved being reminded that I love life. It is this facet of myself that I hope will always stay within me, even when my hair turns grey and my metabolism slows down and my teeth are no longer aligned. At 23 this is what I genuinely think: I love life, I love life, I love life.

featuring: fresh scabs
my kneecaps will heal

Easyriders Tour with Tiny Tigers Hostel

our easyriders tour started at 8am in the morning. our itinerary had several places of interest – the flower farm, the coffee sites, the elephant waterfalls, dalanta waterfall, some mushroom farm (we chose to scrape and opted for crazy house instead).
picture spam

well, I had my first weasel coffee at the two coffee sites – one was handmade, the other was machine-made. undeniably, as lousy as a coffee-taster as I was (too much coffee gives me heart palpitations) I could tell that the hand-made was far superior. I gladly say (with the limited coffee knowledge that I have) that the hand-made weasel coffee is the best coffee, most fragrant coffee I’ve had in my life.

yummy. waterfalls.
i don’t know why, but when I look at these sites of nature, I think they’re absolutely beautiful and the adjective that comes to me is ‘yummy’, yum yum, consuming it, licking my lips thereafter, yummmmm

Da Lat – Datanla Waterfall

posted this separately because! it’s the second time i’ve tobogganed, and I love it for some strange reason. it wasn’t exhilarating like the rollercoaster, but it enabled some form of control. the jerky, stopping parts could be annoying, but i love how i could stop in the midst of it to gaze at how high i was, to take in the cool breeze, to know i am suspended somewhere high