Let me just start by saying that this weekend was nothing less than incredible. Yes, there were times when I wanted to rip a few heads off, but then I just took a deep breath in, glanced at the distant islands that painted the skyline from my hotel room balcony. I know that I would never be able to find a resort like this one if I was traveling on my own. It's about seven hours away from Ho Chi Minh City Airport, and it's surrounded by security and government agents like the President himself vacations there. I only saw a few white faces though-- one Danish man and another fellow who were both with Vietnamese friends.
Apparently all of the Vietnamese families we saw there are very very wealthy. Vacationing at a resort on the coast is not something everyone can do...which I guess makes sense. This weekends excursion was planned to allow the Vietnamese coaches to travel somewhere new and experience things they would never normally be able to.
We arrived late on Friday night-- around 11:30 pm. Tired from a long busride, and even more sick from all the twists and turns on the unpaved single lane roads, we weren't really up for partying. Breathing in the salty spray immediately revived me a bit, but it wasn't until I looked up into the night sky and realized I could see full constellations. The moon was a small sliver in the sky, glowing yellow giving the starts an eery yet romantic look. I could only remember what one constellation looked like from my brief learning at the planetarium about a month ago. I found the scorpions tail from our balcony and pointed it out to Sophia and Anna. Then we took showers in a two-person jacuzzi bathtub, and snuggled up in the resort bathrobes. We found a crappy HBO movie in English about a man who goes back in time...I think it was the original Black Knight movie? No, not the one with Martin Lawrence.
Saturday morning we got up for breakfast at eight. They made us fresh fried eggs, with a side of pork springrolls, chom choms, sweet bread, and the strongest coffee I have ever tasted. Their coffee is much different here...kind of a mix of regular coffee with an espresso bite. This resort coffee however, hardly lightened up after adding twice as much milk. It remainded a muddy color with a bitter flavor that made me hold my nose to down.
At 9:30 we drove to a dock where a boat met us to take us to an island beach. And this is where the fun began. Seven girls crammed ourselves onto the front of the boat, while the other two Americans and the Vietnamese coaches sat in the back with life-vests and no idea of when the waves would come.
At precisely 9:43, I cracked open a beer with Sophia. Erica and Amy were drinking something out of a gatorade bottle, so the time was right. Bobbing with the waves, we waved and 'ooh-ed' to the passing boats. The salt water felt amazing on my skin, and for a while I actually felt myself missing the salty humidity in Miami. I felt at ease, but then I realized that I wasn't surrounded by yachts and jet skis...I was surrounded by old fishing boats, boat homes, with a new remote island popping up every time I blinked my eyes. Fellas, if you wanna be a part of a heist, the Gulf of Thailand is the perfect location.
Suddenly we all lunged forward and the boat halted to a stop. Our captain began shouting out the window to my left...in Vietnamese of course. Jerking our heads to see what the problem was, we saw a boat of about seven men gathering up a net, and the captain kept yelling. So one of the girls started yelling to the back to get a translation. But I knew what was happening...poachers. They were stealing fish from a fish farm. I guess it kind of made sense, minus the fact that we were practically in open water and there did not appear to be any lines containing some kind of fish farm. Either way, we floated a bit more until the captain scared them off with the threat of calling the cops. And then we were back to sailing along the choppy waters.
We arrived at the island wind-whipped and a little typsy about ninety minutes later. We were told to store our stuff in a little room and then we were free to explore until lunch at 12:30. There was an island about 400 meters away that had a sandy beach instead of a rock beach on the island we were visiting. Sophia, Keara, Ania, and myself all jumped into the water and asked where the path was to cross to the other beach. Turned out that the wall was being repared from recent monsoon weather so we would have to swim about halfway to a sandbar labeled with tall sticks and from there we could walk the rest of the way over. Shit, I tohught to myself. My mom is going to kill me if she finds out that I tried to be a big girl and swim in open water, with a beer in hand when I can barely doggy paddle more than ten laps in a pool. But the competitive, adventuresome girl in me took over and I headed out in my Vibrams with the other girls to make it across to the forested island. Swimming with a tiger beer in one hand and trying to stay afloat with the other, I found myself really struggling about halfway to the sticks. I've only known these girls for a few days, way too early for an anxiety attack, get it together. So I flipped on my back and just kicked, beer straight up in the air. Salt water got in my mouth with every wave and I felt like I was getting now where. And then I finally felt some seaweed wrap around my ankle. YES! Almost able to stand again. I'm not gonna die. Awesome.
When I got to the island I immediately claimed a hammock and started rocking away. Not five minutes later was I laughing out loud along with Morgan and Keara...Sophia's hammock snapped off at one end and she fell about six inches flat on her back. "Guess these weren't designed for fat Americans!" she said as we helped her up. And that's when the rain came. The wind took over and we had no where to go, and we weren't about to cross the ocean in the middle of a monsoon, even if the waves would have helped us a bit.
Then I saw a local wave to me from behind a little tiki-bar. He was motioning us to his home where we could sit until the rain passed. Since most of us swam over to the island, we didn't have money tucked away inside our bikinis to pay the man for a drink. He brought us a table and chairs and even some small bananas. The house was quaint, hidden inside the thickness of the jungle. The large white tiling stood out against the wettening mud all around us. Inside, I could see a bed with a brightly designed covering. It sat next to one of four altars in the room. Painted pictures and golden statues decorated every shelf of the cabinets. The man himself couldn't have been more than twenty five years old, wearing a Ralph Lauren polo and cutoff khaki shorts. Barefoot like the rest of the locals, he glided across the slippery flooring to hand us a place to sit while we blushed and attempted to cover our bikini-clad bodies.
Once the rain cleared we swam back to shore, amazed at how the suddenly larger waves did not in fact help our swim. I once again thought I was going to drown. But I didn't. So yay?
Lunch was put off by about forty five minutes, even though the table was set. The other girls who had taken a boat over to the island for 20,000 dong, were still there. Once the boat got them, they appeared to have mechanical issues around the sticks. So one of the girls jumped in to tug the boat, but for some reason the TH-director jumped in from our end and started to swim out to the dingy. The wind picked up and the boat drifted further and further from the director. I think he started to cramp up because suddenly one girl was swimming over to him while the other two were swimming after the drifting boat. Amy got him up onto a dock and Laura, our medical aid borrowed a canoe from shore and started trying to maneuver it towards the dock....meanwhile, Lindsay and Erica made it to the original motor-boat/dingy and Lindsay was now swimming a life vest out to Amy at the dock. I thought at least three people were going to drown. Laura decided to stay back after all and the boat started working. Moral of the story? No idea, it's too complicated and backasswards to even try to follow. Onto lunch, shall we?
Lunch was a long buffet of sea food, very practical I think. Fried rice with shrimp, crabs, oysters, fries, shrimp, veggies and watermelon. I had fries and rice to start since I had spent most of the morning drinking Tiger beer and salt water. I mustered up some guts to try one of the oysters but I must have scooped up part of the shell because when I started chewing I heard crunching noises. Trying to pick out the little pieces and continue eating, all I could taste was the fishyness of the meat. I ran over to the water to spit out what was in my mouth, but not quite fast enough. And up came the rice, beer, and salt water. Yay, Vietnam. After that, I stuck to the watermelon and a newly mixed drink of Vietnamese 7-Up and Vietnamese knock-off Absolut vodka.
The afternoon turned dreary and the storms returned. We ended up leaving the island around 2:30 and took our time getting back. The only brave souls to sit up front again were Morgan, Sophia, and myself. We wrapped our towels around us and cuddled through the wind and rain. Morgan and I found ourselves nodding off a bit, with one foot ensuring we wouldn't slip off the side of the boat. When we got back to the hotel I passed out for a bit, then showered and got ready for dinner. We started to watch Valentine's Day on Vietnamese HBO and were a bit sad to leave it behind.
Dinner was hot-pot, yet again, but this time we started our meal with beer we brought in ourselves, and some pork ribs that I literally drooled on. I knew the hot-pot would be made of entirely seafood, so I chowed down on pork and rice. And my beer, of course. The hot-pot came out and was full to the brim with fresh herbs and vegetables. But what we found beneath the mound were large pieces of fresh fish, scales still on. The waitress brought over a plate full of calamari, shrimp, and fresh octopus. Yes, all eight tentacles still in tact, head on top. Gross. And yes, I took a picture. I named him Roderick.
And then the night begun. After grilling the Vietnamese about their significant others on the island, I found out that Ricky's birthday was in fact Saturday. So naturally, the Americans decided we had to get him wasted in addition to corrupting them with our Western ways. The girls pregamed a bit and then once everyone was decently sloshed, we headed to the hotel's karaoke room for some more fun. Almost everyone was there, and we got three Vietnamese coaches to chug a glass of Vodka and Sting (the Vietnamese strawberry flavored Redbull). And then we sung the next hour away. At one point, I was understanding Vietnamese, and then the next I was teaching Ricky how to salsa to "Buy You A Drank". Yes, "Buy You A Drank". Yes, salsa-ing.
When karaoke ended, Amy, Morgan, Erica and I headed down the scary steps to the edge of the beach and had a long and deep conversation. Typical drinking behavior. After an hour's worth of star gazing and chit-chat, a few others joined us and we conjured up the brilliant idea that most drunken Americans get while at a beach, at night. Yes, you guesed correctly. Blue, one of the Vietnamese coaches, followed us on our mission. When she realized what was happening, she quickly said, "Okay, I think I go back to my room now." And the next thing we knew, she was booking it around the corner and up the steep cemented staircase. From that point on, what occured was sworn into secrecy. I will not answer any questions. I will tell you that I woke up this morning with wet hair and one of the girls' rooms had about five cans of beer in the bathtub. Oh, and one girl wet the bed. But I will not say who.
No, it was not me. And yes, she was sharing the bed with someone. No, she did not urinate on her bed-mate. Yes, they did cover it with a towel and fall back asleep for two more hours.
Okay, now I'm officially not answering anymore questions.
Sunday morning breakfast. Woof. I ate four fried eggs and fried porkrolls. Bring on the grease. The bus left at 9:30 for the marketplace. When we tried to leave the resort the guards asked us precisely where we were going and when we would return. So then I began to wonder if harboring our directors to take us to a local city was such a good idea. When we stepped off the bus at the market we got a whiff of fresh seafood and sea salt.
Wandering through the village, we got a lot more staring than in other cities. I of course narrated what the people said.
"Mommy, look at that white girl. She has such big eyes."
"Don't stare, honey. They don't like that."
Yes, Vietnam is comparable to the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement.
Most of the shops sold decorated sea-shells, or hand-made shell bracelets. A few others had touristy tshirts and random tea sets. I'm still holding out for the Ho Chi Minh City marketplace for a sand-made tea pot with teacups. Sophia and I wandered around and ran into what looked like an old cemetery. But there were tents and vendors surrounding the two above-ground tombs. And around the corner, along the shore, vendors sold fresh crabs, still moving their legs around in the baby pool. Some others sold fresh dragonfruit juice or popcorn. Even more staring and giggling occured. Sophia thought maybe it was weird to them that two young women were traveling together. I think it's because I'm just F.A.S and they can't handle it. Okay, ego-overload. Back to the story-telling.
At the end of our walk, Sophia and I took touristy pictures on a pier and I tried to imagine what it would be like to live and work how the Vietnamese do every single day of their life. No wonder it's so hard for them to take a vacation...their shop or their business is the only source of income they have. And they live on it day-to-day. There is no steady salary when you have to rely on people to constantly buy trinkets or small amounts of food from you each day. I suddenly felt guilty for expecting a vacation period once or twice a year when I start to work. And it's crazy that America is one of the only major countries who doesn't give ample time for relaxation.
As I walked back to the bus I came upon a cow. A beautiful white cow. Within touching distance. But Sophia said no. So I took yet another touristy picture and sighed my way back onto the bus. But then I saw another cow. And another. And another! We were surrounded by peacefully eating cows!!! And I wasn't allowed to touch any of them. So sad. So close, yet so far away still.
The ride back to Hoa An was rough. Morgan got sick. I felt sick the whole time, and the seats are designed for a person no taller than four foot six. Two hours to lunch. We had a 'normal' meal of pizza and ice cream. Then another two hours passed back to camp. Thank goodness for Midol. And iPods. And now that we're back, we have already planned for our lessons tomorrow. We will only be teaching in the mornings this last week because school is starting. So now our classes will have twice as many students, but only half the day will be spent teaching! I asked our campsite "Grandma" if she would teach me to cook tomorrow afternoon. And she said yes, so my first Vietnamese cooking lesson will start tomorrow at 3 pm. Sophia is coming along too. She is quickly becoming my booze, beer, butt, picture, and obsessive-ab-circuit buddy. Plus she loves peanut-butter. And all food.
Quotes from the weekend:
Sophia: Sorry, I probably shouldn't raise my arms in your face.
Me: It's fine, I'm not breathing anyway.
Me: Two things: one, I have never had this much ear wax. And two, I'm pretty sure I have diaper rash.
Sophia: Me too! Well, for the diaper rash thing.
Morgan: Is it normal to go to the bathroom here by yourself? Or do you have a buddy system like we do in the States?
Ricky: We keep secret!! It secret. We keep secret!
Anna: Holy shit balls, I can poop again!
Me: Hot-pot isn't even traditional, why are we eating it for the third time?
Morgan: Wait, it's not??!
Sophia: 'Cause it's easy.
Me: That's what she said! Eww, hot-pot is so nasty.
Me: Whyyy does this keep happening?
Keara: There is no answer. It's Vietnam. There are no answers here.
Off to read my espionage book. Hopefully I won't have night terrors for the millionth time. Stupid malaria medicine.
Peace, love, and motion-sickness.