Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Last weekend I came back to Japan after spending two weeks traveling throughout Vietnam.

The adventure really began in Osaka. If you are planning on visiting Vietnam you should know that you need to obtain a visa BEFORE you arrive in Vietnam. As a matter of fact you won’t be allowed in the plane unless you can prove that you have already obtained a visa. Which was fine because I already knew this and had gotten my visa way in advance. Problem was that I forgot the printout of said document at home, so there I was 45 minutes before my flight running around the airport like a chicken without my head looking for a printer. All is well that ends well though, and before I knew it I was on my way.

Arrived to Saigon at 2:00 am to find all the ATMs and Exchange Offices closed and so the bargaining for a decent taxi fare began and I got ripped off $5 within the first 30 minutes of me arriving in Vietnam. I always knew that would happen though. I am the world’s worst haggler didn’t excel at it while in Thailand and I think I only got worse at it while in Vietnam.

In Saigon I spent a lot of time visiting museums and walking around the city. I feel that I had never really been taught about the Vietnam War, but it is clear that the after effects of such horrible years continue to have an impact on the country and its society. I visited Reunification Palace which will always be remembered  from the dramatic photos shown throughout the world of the first communist tank that arrived on 30 April 1975 and crashed through the gates of the Palace, followed by pictures of a soldier running up to the 4th floor balcony and unfurling a VC flag. They  have all of these photos displayed and I realized that I had seen  so many of these photos throughout my life but I have never really understood what I was seeing and thought of it a something that had occurred so many years ago in a place that I never thought I would visit.

The most shocking place for me was the War Remnants Museum which houses hundreds of photos (most of them extremely graphic) of the events that happened throughout the war. The most shocking was to see pictures of the effects of Agent Orange on children up to this day. I have also never seen so many incredible pictures in one place. On the third floor there is an exhibition of photos taken by journalists during the war, some of them died while doing their jobs but their works survived, and I have never seen photos like those. It was definitely the most difficult place to visit, but one that had probably the biggest impact on me.

Not everything was heavy stuff though. In Vietnam I indulged  by eating everything that my little heart desired so I ate some of the best food I have ever eaten and had on average 5 meals a day! My favourite places to eat where at the markets. I loved having people shouting at me and telling me to just sit and bringing me food without really asking me what I wanted, and drinking tons of iced coffee (one of Vietnam’s main exports is coffee and it is indeed amazing!). I also loved walking through the markets and buying things here and there, and finishing everyday with ice cream while watching the 2 million motorbikes that plague the city zoom by.

In Saigon I also took part in a Vietnamese cooking course, which was tons of fun! First we had a tour of the market and had all sorts of Vietnamese candy and then we went to an actual culinary school. We made 3 dishes and in the end I got a certificate and a book with the recipes of all the dishes we made.

On my last night in Saigon I met up with Phat who helped me with my visa and was able to meet some of the English teachers in Saigon. It was really interesting to hear about their experiences and how things differ when working in chaotic Saigon compared to Japan that can even go to the extreme of organized. Went on a motorbike ride around Saigon and by the end of my stay there was able to cross the street in less than a minute, which believe me is quite the accomplishment when you have 2 million bikes going around you and there are no traffic lights (or if there are, they don’t work).

3 months update?… Sorry!

So it has been forever ago since I last updated the blog. Sorry! Lots have been happening since my last post but I have been truly busy at work and just enjoying summer. So I’ll try to give a quick summary of what has been going on over here over the last few months.

Well, the last post was about my trip to Thailand with my mom. Can’t believe how fast time goes by! That happened 3 months ago already. Alright , so I got back from Thailand and began working really hard. Right before Golden Week my co-worker and good friend Sarah left us, so some changes took place and I got some extra classes that left me with little time for much else.

I’m also taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Course. I think I chose the wrong time of the year because with all the summer activities I haven’t been the most studious person around here. But I’m getting through it slowly but surely.

Summer is most definitely here! It is ridiculously hot, 32C seems to be the regular temperature at all times of the day and night.. and it only gets hotter from there. Last week I had to teach a kindergarten class and I saw the temperature rise steadily from 30C-33C in the one hour I was in that non-air conditioned classroom. Some good things about this heat? I’m drinking tons of water, which I’m not very good at in winter, and I know that I am quite thin but I definitely put some extra unnecessary  pounds during winter and I can tell that they have begun to go away. I have also picked up swimming as my new hobby. I’ve been going to the local swimming pool almost everyday for the last 2 months and the first time that I went I swam 50m and thought I was going to throw up right there and then. 8 weeks laster I can proudly say that I can swim 1000m almost on a daily basis. I didn’t even know that I could do that! So I am planning on getting a membership at the local club once the  local pool closes for the season at the end of August. Swimming has definitely taught me some discipline and as mum says: everything is 1% inspiration and 99% hard work.. no kidding!

Summer time is a bit of a sad time too though. Is the time when the ALTs that decided to finish their contract go back home and new ones come instead. Goodbyes are never easy or fun, and this year was no exception. 5 people left us and so there were a lot of goodbye dinners, get togethers, trips and parties. Some tears were definitely shed, but we all had a great time together and who knows where life will take you, right? So most likely this is not goodbye, but see you soon in America/Canada/Scotland/Paris?!

Summer is so full of activities: I went rafting twice already and had an absolute blast! I went on a bike ride across the Shimanami-Kaiko bridges and got the worst tan ever and found the ice cream shop closed! (disappointing), there are many fireworks festivals, dance festivals, the rice fields are growing steadily, the children are on holidays, you never stop sweating and you discover the biggest and strangest creatures you have ever seen in your life crawling across your kitchen floor every so often. Summers in Japan are the best! ..

Keeping you posted!