Posts by Country

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

LA Reunion

Another benefit of being in California is that a lot of my family lives there. In fact, it was pretty much just my parents who decided to join the flood of Californians moving up to Washington - a lot of the others stayed put. On my dad's side, a lot of my family comes from the Huntington Beach area. And, as it just so happens, Anaheim, the location of the training I went down for, is just next door to Huntington Beach. So, I took a couple days during the first weekend for a little family reunion.

On Monday, the 3rd of July, I met up with my friend Chas and another trainee, Steve, for our drive up to Anaheim. It was there that we joined the Semiannual Summer Training, which preceded the emigration training for Germany that I mentioned in my last post about San Diego. This one-week training is done twice a year in order to encourage, enlighten and build us up together while providing us with the latest words of the ministry. Many other trainings and conferences are also held for this purpose, but these two are quite large as believers come together from all over the world in order to be trained both practically and spiritually. Needless to say, the world is full of darkness - it doesn't take a spiritual giant to see that! So, these trainings are provided as a way to shed a little light on how one can see, express and cooperate with God's plan. This plan is honestly not at all complicated in itself but, like many universal truths that encompass our existence, it's hard to accept, apply and trust in it without the proper context and experience. Hence, the training.

On Sunday, after the church meeting, I met with some of the Spanish speaking ones for lunch before heading over to Huntington Beach to visit some family. I took the opportunity to share with them a bit of what I had enjoyed during the training. Also, that evening, my uncle Mike cooked up a really nice meal - he's got a few skills in the kitchen this guy! The next day we worked together on the pool deck (see the first photo up top), had some grilled veggies and bratwursts, and went to Disneyland.

One of the rides, the original Pirates of the Caribbean, was really interesting because you could see where the movies got a lot of their inspiration. We also waited in line for the Indiana Jones ride or, as my uncle calls it, Indiana Jones and the Broken Down Ride... This, unfortunately, proved to be quite the prediction as, after we waited in line for probably half an hour, the ride actually broke down. Of course, I think the best ride was Stars Wars - must have been, seeing as the line was probably over an hour long! This was actually, according to my uncle, not such long wait for this ride when you consider its popularity. He would know too because he and my aunt go there all the time. Not only do they live around the corner, but they have discounted season passes thanks to my cousin Ryan, their son, who works there. He's also the reason why we were all able to get in for free during my visit.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

San Diego

In the final couple months before heading off to Germany, I decided to join a training that coincidentally happens to be about Germany - more on that later. This training took place in Anaheim, so I had to get to California. LA was looking a bit pricey, but then I had the thought to visit another city on the way. My friend Loi, who lives in San Diego, is always happy to have visitors and, as it turned out, the flight there was quite a bit cheaper. My other friend Chas, who lives in Vietnam but, unlike Loi, is not Vietnamese but actually comes from San Diego; he was also going to San Diego for the same reason as me - to go to the training in Anaheim. So, amazingly, I ended up with a cheap flight, a few days catching up with my former colleague Loi, and a ride up to Anaheim with my friend Chas who I met in Vietnam. I guess it was just meant to be!

On Wednesday, the 28th of June, I flew to San Diego where I had a couple hours layover. At 9:30 I was supposed to fly from there to San Diego, but I was flying United so... you might have guessed it - they overbooked. They then offered me a voucher for giving up my seat (a voucher that I think they know most people will never get the around to using). In the end, my ETA to Loi's place ended up moving from around 11:30 to about one o'clock in the morning. Thankfully, he didn't have a problem with that.

The following morning, since Loi was still not due back from work till later that evening, I did a little exploring. I started by walking around the neighborhood, then took a bus downtown. After loading a public transport card, I took a walk over to Seaport Village. It was a really nice day (of course, I guess that's standard for San Diego) so the waterfront was a good first stop. The little kitschy souvenir shops were nice to look at as well. I had soon seen enough of that though, so I made my way over to the historic Gaslamp Quarter followed by Little Italy.

The Gaslamp Quarter was cool (a lot of Victorian Era buildings) but Little Italy was far more my style. Not only does Little Italy have more to see but, in my opinion, it's more practical. I found more little hole-in-the-wall shops with items that suited my interests a bit better, such as unique foods and cultural appropriations. I made sure to stock up on some snacks before getting on the train from there to my next destination - the Mexican border. I only had time for one more activity, so I decided to visit the San Ysidro outlets there.

The outlet mall definitely had plenty of shops. I had a good kebab at a food court and even found churros and horchata. I also enjoyed using my Spanish to make friends with people along the way. On the other hand, I wasn't particularly impressed with the deals as most of the shops only had pricey designer goods. In any case, not a bad experience.

The next day I went with Loi and his roommate to get breakfast at Ikea for just $2 each - a crazy good deal for such a nice breakfast. We then went to the county fair, went on a ride, got some junk food, and watched the truck rally.

For the last day that we had planned, we used up the last of my groupons (I had bought them before coming to visit) to go stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).

A few hours later, we went for pizza at Venice pizza house before stopping over at Coronado for a bonfire that I had found out about on Meetup. The next morning it was time to head up to Anaheim. Chas and I weren't sure about our plan so I went to the bus station to find out if I could take a bus. Fortunately, I wasn't able to get the bus I wanted, so back to plan A. Loi and I grabbed some fish tacos, stopped at a butcher shop for some local jerky, and went over to Balboa Park to see what was going on there.

Balboa is pretty nice, and we even could have gone to the zoo with a special locals pass that Loi had but, after a short walk around, we decided to head back and get some Ramen instead.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Without a Raft

Ever since I first went rafting on the Puyallup with Chu Sum back in November, I've considered it as the hidden gem in my home town. I say "hidden" because I don't know anybody who's actually spent any time there. In fact, after all my years living in Puyallup, I only recently had the idea to go have a look. As it turns out, the Puyallup river has several sections where one can take on rapids of varying difficulty. With Chu Sum we had taken on the lower level which had only a few easy rapids, and not so many obstacles. With Austen, on the other hand, we didn't have that choice. Unfortunately, the section of the river that I was familiar with was not running at a safe level, so we had to go to a different section where the difficulty was a bit higher. Austen and I didn't see any reason why a little extra challenge would be a problem, so we went for it.

On Thursday, June 22nd, we met for lunch down by Graham before parking our cars - one at the planned exit point and one at launch point. We then pulled out my rafts. I had bought an extra one so that friends could come rafting without us having to all cram into one boat. I had found a good deal on one on the Walmart website for just 15 bucks. As we inflated the rafts, the reason for the low price became clear... The new raft was not only small but, as we would later discover, quite thin. Still, the level we were rafting was apparently not that much different than the one I had done before, so we had no reason to expect any problems. It also didn't hurt that we were both trained lifeguards with considerable swimming experience.

It started out really well. We were both cruising for probably an hour without any problems whatsoever. We hit a few rapids, and had to navigate around a couple of funny obstacles, but overall it was a beautiful day to be on the river. I had taken the older raft because I was taller and Austen had volunteered to take the smaller, newer one. This, of course, didn't end well for him. At one point, he got hung up on a branch which, after he grabbed onto my raft, resulted in us both getting pulled under the rapids. He couldn't quite get himself up far enough to free the rope so, as I recall, I ended up having to pull us both up so that we could get the rope loose. This was perhaps a bit of a close call, but we managed to get free and continue our journey down the river.

At another point, there was a tree blocking about half of the river. We both noticed it a bit late and weren't able to paddle around it in time. Austen was a bit further in where it was harder to get out and around. This was also the place with the most pointy parts... After I hit, we were both laughing, as he was presumably about to get stuck on the log as well, but then it happened... he disappeared. It actually took me a moment to realize that he was gone. It had looked like his raft was just folding a bit but then, suddenly, he went under.

It took a good five seconds or so, but Austen finally resurfaced about four feet down on the fallen tree. Holding on for dear life, he waited while I pulled myself over to him so that he could climb into my boat. I'm not sure if the life jacket was more helpful or detrimental for him - I think it was probably pulling him more up against the tree than out from under it. In any case, I was thankful that we were prepared enough to deal with the situation. While taking a short break, we confirmed that Austen was a little scratched up but, otherwise, none the worse for wear. We then continued down the river for the next few hours without further consequence.

Despite his brief moment of uncertainty, Austen was his usual lively self. At the end of our journey, we came to an old pipe bridge. After loading up the rafts, we climbed up on the bridge and had one last look over the river. All in all, it had been a pretty cool experience. Next time I'll just be a little more careful in selecting my equipment!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Renter Games

After returning from my last trip, I went back to working nights at the college, and days at my neighbors'. I spent time with friends and family, worked on my property, taught another friend how to ride the motorbike... and worked some more. I was quite busy, so the last thing I wanted was drama from my renter(s).

On Monday, June 5th, I went over to my dad's. Over the next couple of days I made my usual effort to clean up around my property - did some weeding, painting, caulking, and put in a new screen so that my renters could let fresh air in... Four days later, the emails began.

It had been a rough year with the rental. They had only paid on time once or twice, and the other payments were usually in the neighborhood of 2-3 weeks late. I was hoping this was just part of their flaky behavior that I had come to expect but, unfortunately, it was a prelude to what my mom likes to call The Renter Games. I hadn't expected that I could be so fortunate (sarcasm) but, as it turned out, I had myself some of those professional renters - the ones that like to take advantage of the renter-friendly laws in Washington State.

Things escalated pretty fast. First, they complained that I wasn't doing enough for them. Then they started messing with the neighbors - letting their dog poo on the neighbors' lawns, making huge garbage fires, and just being antisocial in general. Finally, I guess they were feeling pretty bold, because they started making excuses for not having paid the rent... by claiming that it wasn't their fault. Of course, I say "they" because my renter's boyfriend had moved in (a while back to be fair) and was now looking to take control of the situation. They decided that my attempts at communicating with the woman needed to stop - not that I had been having much luck with that in the first place. So, the boyfriend requested that I communicate only with him. I figured, "why not?"

Well, he was definitely better at responding to my messages. The only problem was that he responded with claims of being abused by me. I made an improvement to MY shed; he complained that it wasn't good enough. I asked for rent to be deposited; he complained that going into banks made his girlfriend nervous. I asked them to pay or quit; he threatened to drag it out for months without paying (technically possible if I wasn't willing to hire an expensive attorney). Finally, a week into it, I went to drop off the eviction notice. While I was there they put on a big show with firemen and police while filming and yelling that nothing there belonged to me. I gave them until the 30th. Surprisingly, they agreed to leave... on the 30th... at 11:59pm. This was technically a big win for me. If they had fought harder it would cost me more than just a months rent.

Nevertheless, we kept at it. After they removed their stuff from my shed, we spent a day cleaning up their remaining garbage, cigarette butts, residue, etc., and then re-keyed the shed. At this point, they thought it would be fun to leave their semi-truck on my property so that my new renter couldn't move on. So, we sent an email to the truck company saying that it was abandoned on my land - the truck was gone the next morning. Finally, the renters from hell had gone off to torture some other poor landowner. I hope he's more prepared than I was.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Korea Revisited

I'm pretty sure all flights between China and the States come with the option to stop in Korea. I like this very much because I have a lot of friends there. On Tuesday, the 23rd of May, I said goodbye to Chu Sum and his family again and started my journey. After stopping for one of my favorite snacks in Hong Kong (egg waffle), I took the bus to the airport to catch my flight to Seoul.

When I arrived I was greeted in the same way as my last visit - by two brothers from the church. Again they brought me to Ansan but, this time, we only had one day. It was a quiet evening as I recall, but this was a good opportunity to rest. The next day we spent the whole day in fellowship. We enjoyed a prayer meeting and went to a local university to join a Bible study group. There we had a traditional Korean lunch, went for smoothies and, finally, made our way to the bus station. From there I caught a bus to the airport followed by my return flight to the States.

As before, I was surprised at how much we were able to do during such a short visit. Still, even after my second visit, I can't help feeling like I haven't given Korea enough of my time. I've always wondered what would have happened if I hadn't gone to Spain after my year teaching in Hong Kong. Korea had been the plan until I got put off by the visa paperwork... which actually ended up being exactly the same for Spain! Perhaps someday the opportunity will again present itself and I'll end up teaching there for a while.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Da Nang

For the days following the wedding, Ayden and Carrie had a lot planned. On Sunday, the 21st of May, we all went to Ba Na Hills to start the first day of sightseeing and activities. Of course, I couldn't start the day without another visit to Anthony's hotel for the breakfast buffet.

We were pretty short on time after eating, and we had been warned that late-comers would be left behind, so I rushed down with Anthony to catch our GrabTaxi. Unfortunately, Anothony... got distracted. We both ended up making it in the end, seeing as the bus driver was willing to wait a bit, but Anthony wasn't happy about having to catch another taxi. We then spent a full day wandering around in the international sensation that is Ba Na Hills. It really did seem like we had left Vietnam behind as almost all of the workers there were tall westerners. In fact, this one guy dressed as a king was probably well over seven feet!

A good portion of the time was spent on the cable cars going up and down this mountain. One might assume that they just like throwing money around but, in such a humid country, I suppose I can see the value in putting your resort up above the clouds on a cool mountaintop.

They definitely spent some money putting this place together though. We saw a lot of hired dancers and costumed performers throughout the day as we walked around taking in the various attractions. The European style buildings, large cultural monuments, and various activities at the sports hall were all clearly meant to give the impression that they had spared no expense.

The main attraction was the toboggan. We probably waited 45 minutes to go on that ride - it was worth it though. I kind of felt like it made up for missing the one at the Great Wall of China.

Later that evening, back in Da Nang, we came together for a pool party at Ayden and Carrie's villa. We had some good local food, shot some pool and, of course, swam in the pool. We also had breakfast there the next morning before heading off to see Lady Buddha.

I had to catch a flight later that evening, so I followed the bus all day on my rental scooter. This was mostly okay except for the ride along the beach at which point I pretty much got sandblasted. We then went to Marble Mountain for a visit to the caves there.

I also wanted to take an elevator to the top but, lo and behold - another broken ATM. This proved to be a pretty big concern as I didn't have money for lunch, and we were running out of time. Thankfully, one the of the waitresses at the restaurant we went to was willing to hop on my bike with me in order to help navigate to an ATM that worked!

Lunch was another interesting meal consisting of some local and international elements if I remember correctly. When we were done eating, most of us had to take off, so we said some quick goodbyes, and I hopped on the scooter for one last ride. On the way back to my hotel I had to make one stop though... I had left my shoes at Anthony's hotel. Most people who know him were unsure I would be able to get my shoes back but, thankfully, with a little prodding from hotel reception, I was able to get him to open up. Overall, an awkward encounter to be sure, but I got my shoes!

Finally, I picked up the rest of my gear and caught a GrabTaxi to the airport. There I managed to get in one last visit with the brothers that I had met with a few days earlier.

As I reached my gate I saw another familiar face - Adam from the wedding. Back in Hong Kong, he introduced me to a little travel indulgence to which I hadn't previously given any thought. It turns out that airport lounges are more than just a quite place to relax. In fact, some of them are right up there with holiday resorts! Adam had a +1 option on the lounge benefits of his credit card, so he got me in for the free shower and buffet. Now, these two things may not sound like a holiday resort experience but, when you consider the contrast of a busy day of travel vs a relaxing shower and a good meal in a comfortable lounge, the feeling is right up there. If you've got the money, or your credit card has this benefit, I'd highly recommend giving yourself enough time to take advantage!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Wedding

When Ayden invited me to his wedding I thought to myself "I can't even make it to the weddings of people I'm related to so..." On the other hand, I'm not usually working a part time back home where it's easy to just pick up and go. It really was a no brainer; I could visit Chu Sum in Hong Kong, take a $100 flight down to Vietnam, travel around a bit, and stop in for the wedding... why not! So, a couple months later, on Saturday, May 20th, I joined Anthony for breakfast at his hotel.

We then went to the beach where the wedding would be held. Finally, we took advantage of the free messages offered by his hotel before heading back to the beach for Ayden and Carrie's wedding.

They had been worrying about the weather a lot over the last month. I think Carrie had even gotten sick over it. The forecast wasn't good but, in the end, the weather stayed nice for pretty much everything.  Of course, it was a bit disconcerting nonetheless when, during the wedding, the clouds cast a shadow over the whole event, and the wind picked up. Still, we even got through most of the banquet before the first drop fell from the sky. I'd call that a win.

After the banquet, I hopped back on my scooter and raced over to the dragon bridge for the fireworks competition. The security guard at my hostel was supposed to be my guide but, because of time, I wasn't able to make it back to the hostel to catch up with him. In any case, it was a pretty good show even from my distant vantage out on the main road.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mỹ Sơn

Mỹ Sơn (pronounced "Me Sun") is an abandoned group of temple buildings from about 400-1400 AD. On Friday, May 19th, I had my free egg rice breakfast that was included in my $5 hostel booking, and then started my ride over to Mỹ Sơn sanctuary. It was during this ride that I saw the most legitimate examples of bad driving that I've ever seen in my life. I had already witnessed some pretty interesting driving in the city - this shirt I bought says it all.

It turns out you can pretty much do whatever you want on the roads in Vietnam. For example, passing into oncoming traffic is routine here, and I can't even tell you how many times I saw people talking on their phones while riding. I even had a chat with Vinny the night before while he was giving me a tour on his scooter, and I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't even looking at the road half the time - even when we were entering an intersection...

Anyway, I thought the temple ruins were interesting but, for me, the ride over was the best part. The rural areas are also really nice in general. The rugged roads and natural beauty of the countryside were really impressive to me. The undeveloped areas give a nice sense of balance between civilization and untamed wilderness. If I had my way, and I know many would disagree, but I would like to see the whole world preserved in such a natural, "uncivilized" state. At least to me, the trade off seems well worth it.

After another few hours ride back to my hotel in Da Nang, I decided to find something to eat. As I was walking around the neighborhood, using my broken Vietnamese to ask about places to eat, a random guy on a scooter rolled up and told me to get on. Now I know what you're thinking, sounds like a scene out of a horror movie, right? Well, I didn't feel like the guy was threatening in any way and, in any case, I was twice his size. Worst case scenario he takes me a few blocks further than expected and I force him to stop.

As we rounded the corner, we came to a stop at a dirty little garage. I wasn't sure what to make of the place until a lady came out with a plate. Turns out he had taken me to a neighborhood restaurant! This was technically what I was looking for, so I sat down and had a look at the strange egg she had brought out. I peaked into the opening on top and quickly realized what I was looking at... this was no ordinary egg... this was Balut.

If you don't already know what Balut is; it's a boiled duck egg. The only thing is that this duck egg is fertilized... meaning that the bird inside is half-formed. I started peeling away the shell and eating the yoke (which was actually on the outside) when the guy put down his cigarette, took my egg and shoved his thumbs inside. I was then greeted with the lovely sight of internal organs, veins, beak, eyes and the beginnings of feathers. Still, I thought to myself, "how bad can it be?"

It's pretty bad. I've eaten a lot of weird stuff: Durian in Singapore, scorpions in Beijing, intestines as well as stinky tofu in Hong Kong, Haggis in Scotland, Kangaroo burger in London (imported from Australia of course), Possum in New Zealand, Dog Soup in South Korea, etc. But this... this was not an easy one to stomach. After eating most of one, along with lots of spicy greens, I had had enough... then they brought out another one. I didn't want to be rude, so I started eating the yoke on that one, but then realized I had a good excuse to stop - I was full. So, I did the appropriate gestures to show that I couldn't eat anymore - I had realized by this point that the Vietnamese that I had learned over the last month on Duolingo was pretty much incomprehensible to locals. I then got my host to finish it for me. Talk about dodging a bullet! Or, at least, to an extent. I'll never forget the texture of the innards, beak and eyes of that first egg that I actually had intended to fully consume.

I figured this was enough adventure for the day, but it seems my new friend had other plans. We hopped back on the scooter on our way to some random backwater street where we stopped at a bar. Before I had a chance to say anything (it was actually getting close to time for me to go meet my friends who I would be joining for a wedding the following day), he ordered the strangest drinks for us. I had a go at it - it was some kind of coffee liquor. Not my favorite. Then, as I had been dreading since having seen the drinks, we got back on the bike. Mind you - we had no helmets. My driver insisted that he would be careful (at least that's the message I got), so we slowly began our short trip back to his "restaurant". Slowly at first, but then he got it up to a reasonably uncomfortable speed as he swerved drunkenly along the road. Thankfully, we made it back safely. I walked the rest of the way to my hotel grateful that I wouldn't be later be telling the story of some horrible accident experienced on this, what I would call, an otherwise worthwhile, unique and exciting adventure.

Later that evening, I met up with the wedding party at a popular local restaurant scene called Tran Food. It was kind of cool because they gave us all of the stuff for making spring rolls in which we were free to put whatever we wanted - a welcome change from eating duck fetus surprise!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hoi An

Good evening, Vietnam! On Wednesday, May 17th, I arrived in Vietnam where I began my search for a functioning ATM. After ordering a GrabTaxi (similar to Uber), I went to the first ATM I could find at the airport only to find that it was not even plugged in. When the GrabTaxi arrived, I explained my situation and asked to stop at an ATM on the way to my hotel. The driver seemed to be okay with this idea... unfortunately, this was because he didn't understand. As we approached the hotel, I found myself awkwardly explaining why I didn't have money for him. Eventually, I found that pronouncing ATM with Latin pronunciation (Ah-Tay-Em) got my message across - this actually makes sense because of the French colonial influence in Vietnam. So, we found an ATM... but this one didn't accept cards with the security chip. Who knew that more security could be the cause of the problem? Visibly exasperated, the driver took me to another ATM where I had to wait in a line. When I finally got to the front, I found that this one was not working very well either. Fortunately, it was just a matter of mashing the buttons really hard.

Back at the hotel, I gave the driver twice the fare - $10. This would have been reasonable even if he hadn't driven me across town. The bargains didn't stop there - my $10 room had air conditioning, queen-size bed and a balcony! I would later discover that this was just the beginning of my budgeting dream come true.

Later that evening I took a GrabTaxi to a friend's place across town where I met with some fellowship contacts. Quang is a local in Da Nang and Chas comes from LA. We spent some time talking, reading, and eating some interesting local snacks, then I headed back to my hotel for the night.

The next day I found my next bargain - a scooter rental for $5/day! And here I thought the GrabTaxi couldn't be beat. I then began my journey down the coast on my way to Hoi An. My first stop along the way was a gas station. I think that was about $3 to fill up... and they even do it for you. As I was continuing down the coast, I came across Marble Mountain. This was actually one of the stops on my itinerary, but planned for another day. Nevertheless, I ended up making an unplanned stop. As I was riding along, another scooter pulled up next to mine and its' driver decided to start a conversation with me! The lady on the other bike asked me if I'd been to Marble Mountain and, when I told her that I had plans to see it, she insisted on showing me where to go.

I followed this lady up to her shop and we parked there. She then gave me a ride to the entrance at which point I explained that I was actually planning to come back with friends on another day. So, she took me back to the shop and started her pitch. Well, in retrospect, her pitch started back on the main road. This was all an elaborate scheme to get customers into her store and price gouge them. Feeling guilty that I had wasted so much of her time, I offered to buy a couple little items. I assumed that the prices would be Vietnamese prices... naturally, I was wrong. I chose a few small marble figures thinking that it would be no more than a couple bucks. She then went on to quote me over $100! Well, I had already agreed to buy something so I offered to buy one cheap one. She went on with all of the funny lines, like "you're on holiday - live a little!" or something like that. She clearly had assumed I was one of the average tourists with a bit of extra cash. Well, after repeatedly assuring her that I was not, she agreed to let a small figurine and a bracelet go for $25 USD... you can imagine my sense of buyer's regret after I left that place. Even after talking her down to a fraction of what she was asking, I had still gotten completely and utterly ripped off. I would later see these same items on the street for spare change.

Oh well! I continued my ride down the beautiful coastal road to Hoi An - a traditional Vietnamese village packed with tailors. I had taken the advice of a guy I met while wandering around on Hong Kong Island a few days before, and plotted my route to a place called Yaly Couture. Apparently, this place uses state-of-the-art technology to produce super high-quality suits at unbeatable prices. I later found out that, not only did the store I went to not use the high tech computer scanning tech, but that they actually give a pretty average rate for that part of the world. A few months later I would learn of $50 suits in Thailand - 1/3 of what I paid! In any case, I got measured twice that day and had a pretty darn nice suit delivered to my hotel that evening.

Meanwhile, I went to lunch and practiced my Vietnamese with a local named Vinny... Actually, his name was Vĩnh Trần, but I suggested what I thought was a fitting English name and he seem to like it. So, after I got to know Vinny over lunch, he offered to show me around his village. He had to work for a few hours though, so I went for a message at a place recommended by my hostel, called Su Bi. It was actually a lot different than previous messages I'd had. It started out with a tea based foot soak during which they gave me some really tasty sweet coconut to eat - this indeed was quite good, especially when you consider that I usually hate coconut! After that we went upstairs for a really nice full body message. I was surprised there as well because I usually don't enjoy the whole message - it's usually a bit too aggressive. At one point the lady was doing something that made a clacking sound as it hit my back. It was nice but I honestly couldn't tell you what the heck it was. Overall, my hour message was a pretty good deal at $10 (about 230,000 Vietnamese Dong).

Later on I met up with Vinny for some really awesome local Vietnamese food. First he took me for some street food (only like $1 - 20k VND) followed by a restaurant where I got clay pot steamed rice with chicken and a drink for probably about $2. Finally, we headed over to the street market to see the famous Hoi An lights, more street food (including the most delicious lemonade-type drink I've ever had), and souvenirs - which some guy promptly tried to steal from me as we were walking through a crowd. The cheeky little sneak tried to grab my stuff right out of my bag that was in my hand! You can imagine how shocked he was when he realized I was actually paying attention. Off he ran.

That evening back at the hostel, I met my only roommate and we had a good chat before bed. Backpackers in this part of the world are always on the coolest adventures. Thanks to the low cost of travel here, most people you meet are on a long-term journey - anywhere from a few weeks to several months... even years! It's hard to imagine living this way in most any other part of the world. Southeast Asia really is the backpacker capitol of the world.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Camping at the Cliffs!

On Sunday, May 14th, Chu Sum and I started making our way over to Sai Kung to go camping. Chu Sum actually went home first to get his stuff while I stopped off to have a quick lunch with Jo over in Quarry Bay. We caught up a bit then I continued heading over to Sai Kung where Chu Sum was having a panic attack - somehow he had left his wallet at home. This is strange because he somehow remembered his Octopus card which would have usually been in his wallet. It didn't take long though before we realized that he really didn't need it... or it may have been that he found it - I don't actually remember. In any case, we caught the bus to Sai Wan Pavilion and did the usual hike to the cliffs. Once we arrived we did a few cliff jumps then set up camp on the rocks.

We had planned on camping up higher in the grass but Chu Sum didn't feel comfortable scaling the wall with the gear. Later that night this proved to be more interesting than we could have imagined. Not only are rocks a bit hard to sleep on but the weather soon became a major concern. The next morning we woke up to rushing water... this had me fearing the worst. As I opened the door I found that the water level had risen almost all the way up to our tent! The rains had caused the river to flood so we were lucky to be just high enough that it didn't get us. Nevertheless, the loud waterfalls were enough. Unable to sleep anymore, we packed up our gear. The hike back was a bit different with the higher waters, slippery paths, etc. but nothing crazy... except for the giant snake hanging out on the path!

Seems heavy rains cause more than just high water. We were soon back at the pavilion where we waited about a half hour for one of the first buses to arrive. We then continued back to Chu Sum's where I started preparing my bags for Vietnam. I spent the next few hours getting to the airport and trying to check in for my flight... unfortunately, that didn't quite work out. Turns out Americans need a visa to go to Vietnam. I tried doing a VOA (visa on arrival) but, even with the paid services, that process wasn't going to be fast enough for me to use my ticket. So I missed my flight.

This left me with one option. I applied for an electronic visa (E-visa) through the Vietnamese government website and re-booked my plane ticket for two days later. Thankfully, Chu Sum and his family were happy to have me for a couple more days while I sorted everything out. It's also good that this happened in Hong Kong where the cost of my mistake was easily absorbed as a miscellaneous travel cost rather than the travel nightmare that it could have been.