summary: you are happy.

Regarding my trip to KAMPUCHIA, a friend asked this morning:

What was your favorite part?
My response. I think I said something about Angkor Wat and Western food. Well, that was honest, but here is the more accurate and more honest response to that question:
FREEDOM!!! (I'm just saying, it was nice to not have a curfew for a week.)

Or to put it another way:

Hannah, Ali, and I were walking down the streets of Siem Reap one night and a random tuk-tuk driver -- after propositioning us for a ride -- asked:
Why are you happy?
To which we answered:
Because we are on vacation!!!!

Or to put it another way: We like Vietnam but we simply needed a break.

Now the vacation is over. We arrived home safely this morning at 3 am (minor flight delays..). In response to the question:

Cam-pu-chia the nao (How was Cambodia)? from my co-workers, I respond:
Vui qua nhung rat met (Very fun but very tired.)

Here is a brief summary or a few notes to pique your interest:

Tet 2010 Trip:
When: Feb. 14-21
Who: Hannah, Ali, me. Also some random (great!) friends we met along the way. Also our MCC boss, Derek, and his family, who happened to be in Phnom Penh for Tet (Ana, Derek's wife, is Cambodian). Also, met up with some MCC Cambodia friends.
Why: We got a week off of work for the Lunar New Year. We heard about a big temple in Siem Reap we probably should see while we are in SE Asia (Angkor Wat). Better question: Why not?!
Where: Ho Chi Minh City. Phnom Penh. Siem Reap (Angkor Wat).
Modes of transportation: plane, bus (4x6 hrs.), tuk-tuk (cart pulled behind moto. see picture below).
Favorite activities: people watching (particularly guessing tourists' countries of origin and wondering how obvious ours was). eating. climbing stairs. getting to know each other (seriously. we told stories from our ancient history--i.e. middle school. it was fun to have lots of conversations that didn't start with "i don't know what to do in such-and-such situation with my host family.."). laughing. meeting random people. taking pictures. learning (we read aloud to each other from the Angkor Wat guide books). getting up early (well...maybe not favorite, but surprisingly non-heinous). shopping (silk scarves!)
Probable secondary activity: annoying everyone around us.
Primary mode of entertainment: ourselves.
Notable events: my birthday party on the plane, complete with decorations, food, and fun activities. naming our non-existent American band and taking melancholy/cool cover pictures.
or to summarize more briefly:

When we arrived at one of our destinations, our tuk-tuk driver said:
You are happy. You laugh a lot.

Case in point. (us and our Angkor Wat tuk-tuk driver)


tet is here

This morning I went for a bike ride and traffic was about as light as I've ever known it to be in Hanoi. Most of the motorbikes I did see driving around were driven by large trees--er, their drivers were hidden by the ornamental trees (often larger than the drivers) that they carried on the backs of their motos. Why all the trees? Tet is here!

Tet is the Chinese Lunar New Year. Because Viet Nam has had so much Chinese influence, it follows the Lunar calendar, at least for religious purposes, and Tet is the biggest holiday in Viet Nam. It's like Christmas is at home...except bigger.

The reason that traffic was so light this morning is that everyone has at least a week off of work, so a lot of people have left Hanoi and traveled to their home towns--the only people left are the true Hanoians (or people married to them). And me. And the trees driving around all over the place. The trees, I would like to note, are always the craziest drivers--the ones who weave all around and blast their horns in lieu of stopping at lights.

There are two types of trees that are used to decorate houses for Tet. The peach tree reminds me of a bundle of dead twigs, except that it has pink blossoms. The one at my house also has lights on it:

The other variety has thick foliage and small mandarin oranges all over it.

There are other decorations all over the place, too. A couple nights ago, I went for a walk around Lake Hoan Kiem and admired the multi-colored orbs hanging in bunches from the trees and the plethora of flowers spelling out "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" (Happy New Year).

I don't think anyone got much done at work the last week or so (Unless that was just me?!). It started out with a trip to Buffet (properly pronounced boo-fay) Viet for lunch last Thursday.

And ended with some cleaning of the office--everyone cleans like crazy before Tet. In between that, we had two different office Tet parties. At the first party, Hannah and I wore our ao dai and stole the show--I mean, were the show--with a rendition of this popular Vietnamese Tet song: Tet Den Roi There was a flower-arranging competition at the second party. Hannah and I reluctantly signed up together and ended up winning 3rd prize for our masterpiece:

Who knew that some veggies and mayo could earn us 100,000 VND? Should cover our coffee breaks for the rest of the month...(I realize that in this picture, the symbol in red resembles a deformed Valentine's bear..or nothing. It's actually supposed to be the symbol of Hanoi.)

At home, I have watched Tet pile up for a couple weeks--in the fridge. Apparently, food--especially Tet items--get really expensive (and sometimes even run out) before Tet, so a lot of people start stocking up early. So I have watched fruit, wine, whiskey, and cookies pile up around the kitchen for a few weeks already. Last night, someone delivered a huge box of banh chung, a traditional sticky rice and meat "cake." (Don't be fooled by the word "cake"--it is quite misleading. Anything remotely cake-ish, bread-ish, or pastry-ish--or made with any kind of "powder," i.e. flour--is called "banh (cake) something-or other.")

Last night, some relatives came to visit Ba and we sat around drinking green tea, eating fruit, and exclaiming over how expensive the fruit was. So I learned how much a bunch of bananas usually is (20,000VND) and how much they are around Tet (50,000VND!!!). I know that doesn't really mean anything to you. I mostly bring it up because I am proud of the fact that I asked about it and received the answer in Vietnamese. And understood the answer--that's key.

Tonight (Tet Eve) my family will take the traditional trip to the pagoda (temple) after midnight. This means that, according to Co Van, we will not sleep tonight. Instead we will sleep during the day tomorrow. Then starts the week of visiting various family and friends, bringing them gifts and "lucky money" and (of course) eating a lot. Co Van says that when you go on a Tet visit, it is important to eat whatever your host gives you, because the more you eat, the more lucky they will be in the next year.

So, in an attempt to preserve our girlish figures, Ali, Hannah, and I are leaving Hanoi tomorrow night to spend a week in Cam-pu-chi-a! (That's Vietnamese for Cambodia, and it's waaay more fun to say it that way). We are going the budget route, which includes four long bus rides; nevertheless, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's going to be a good time!

See you in the year of the tiger!



On Saturday, I went on a random roadtrip with some friends. Ali, Joel, and I (well, not really me--I let them do the "planning") picked a random location a couple hours outside of Hanoi. Then I invited a new friend, and the four of us drove there. First we went to a lake, which turned out to be fairly boring, then headed up a mountain. It was nice to not have any particular agenda; we took breaks whenever we wanted and for as long as we felt like.
After eating at the top of the mountain, we explored a little and had a photo-shoot on the porch of a deserted building, incorporating an old chair.

Then we headed home! Highlight of the trip home: my first motorbike driving lesson! I gave the villagers who lived on a quiet street at the foot of the mountain free evening entertainment...
I got home to find--as after any long motorbike trip--my face caked with dirt. Oh, so worth it...