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On Tuesdays and Fridays I particularly enjoy coming home as these are the days my maid has visited and I love returning to a sparkling clean apartment. I also love to turn the television on to see what she’s been watching.  The days when she’s had MTV on, I have to wonder if she’s been dancing around the house while mopping the floor, or if she just wanted some up-tempo background music.

When I turned on the TV this evening, I could see that she had been watching a local channel, probably some afternoon drama.  But the program being shown this evening was Vietnam’s answer to the Home Shopping Channel.  And I was captivated by these two silly men who (I’m assuming) were debating the value and quality of this chair.  I immediately whipped out my new camera and snapped a few shots (see below).

To you and I, this would be just a lawn chair that we keep folded up in the garage and take out when we have a party in the backyard, a picnic in the park or head to the beach for the day.  But for folks in a developing country like Vietnam, this is a piece of furniture which may or may not end up in the living room, kitchen or a top floor balcony.

The guy in red must be some television personality.  After the chair demonstration was over, the show cut to him live in a studio, in a different pair of silk pajamas, but same towel, glasses and hat. A lady had joined him in the studio to describe and promote a television stand (which was a very retro black plastic with frosted glass shelves). Folks, I am easily entertained.  ; – )



We all know that I’ve had my fair share of conversations with monks.  But I took a bit of time this morning to visit a few temples and was delighted to meet Somchit.  He showed me the paintings and carvings he’s working on and after I bought a painting, he invited me and my friend Aeng into his room for a polite chat.  HIs room is a humble swelling, shared with one other student monk.  He wears an untraditional red robe, a gift from his friend in Thailand.  He’s about my age, speaks decent English and will remain a monk for his life.  Some men join the monastery for only a limited time in order to receive education.  Somchit enjoys his life, and therefore will devote his life to Buddhism.

My conversation with Somchit came after a short conversation with two other monks at another temple.  The rain had just begun, but I wanted to get some photos of the Mai Temple.  I met Bo and Ki, who you can see in the photo below.  Bo had the best English, and spoke rather nicely, actually.  We talked about how many students in the temple, how long they had been studying, and the upcoming end of Buddhist lent, Bun Ook Pan Saa.  In fact, Pete and I have decided to go back to Laos and enjoy this holiday near the end of October.  I told Bo and Ki that I would probably be back, and so they asked for me to come back to the temple to see the boats they will prepare for the festival.

When I finished my conversation and took a picture of Bo and Ki, I turned around to see a few other tourists gawking at the two boys as though I had just spoken to monkeys or something.  I hope if you are ever at a temple, you’ll have the courage to say hello and start up a conversation with a monk you meet.  They are usually very interested to practice their English and can be a great source of information and history about the temple and city you are in! Try it!

Please be quiet

It’s Sunday, I’m trying to work on my website, to relax, and to write.  I was hopeful this morning because I woke up to a rainy day.  Hopeful that that would mean a quiet Sunday. But the rain is on pause for now, and all the little construction elves have come out to make as much noise as possible and drive me absolutely batty.  This is one of my favorite things about construction in Vietnam….A truck arrives, blocks the lane (it’s a tiny lane) and all the motorbikes trying to pass believe they need to honk their horns the entire time they are squeezing through whatever space is left for them to squeeze through.  Then, the back of the truck is unlatched and the entire load of gravel is dumped in the driveway of this villa.  This sound can best be described as rocks being scratched on a chalkboard…about a million all at once.

Then, the workers pull up these little wooden carts and shovel the rocks into the cart, making sure to give their shovels a good scrape against the pavement.

The jackhammers have started up again (they are destroying the roof of the villa) and I am considering two options 1. Blast my TV volume or 2. Put in the ear plugs.

I’ll say it in Japanese this time cuz I love the word, “URUSAI, URUSAI!!!”

p.s. As I am about to publish this entry, I am now at my desk, which I moved into the bedroom.  Someone banged around on the floor above me for an hour. And now the neighbors are in their swimming pool and the kids are screaming and squealing.  I seriously want silence. Quiet. Peace.


Hmong Mountain Retreat

Now that I’ve returned from Sapa and managed a couple days aback at work, plus the big Friday Night on the Terrace party at the Press Club, I wanted to make a mention of Hmong Mountain Retreat.  This is where we celebrated my friend Pete’s 40th birthday.  It was such a lovely party and absolutely beautiful surroundings, I’m still thinking about it.

And that’s just the kind of place Hmong Mountain Retreat is…the beauty and peacefulness you feel when you are there stays with you even after you’ve left.  Perhaps that’s the whimsical details lovingly placed throughout the retreat.  Perhaps its the terrific chef’s who cook with super fresh foods. Perhaps it’s the way the retreat lives in harmony with the surrounding nature, which just soaks you up and takes hold of you.  Or it could be the dainty little fireflies which danced through the night (I still can’t get over the fireflies.  Only the third time in my life to see them and I am simply in awe.)

Whatever features have caught me, l can’t wait to escape Hanoi again and visit Sapa and refresh and refill at Hmong Mountain Retreat.

Queen of Hearts

All over town I always see these playing cards on the ground.  The weird thing is, I don’t catch too many people playing cards on the street. This little known phenomenon is not unique to Hanoi or Vietnam.  In fact, I’ve seen playing cards in Laos and Thailand, too.  I just wonder how someone is so careless to loose a few cards from the deck, and then not care that they’ve flown out of their hands or bother to pick them up.

Every time I see these cards, I have half the mind to start collecting them to see if I can gather a full deck.  I can start with this Queen of Hearts, which someone, some where MUST be missing right now.  Right?

Gift of Giving

It always sounds a little weird for me to say, but I employ a maid.  It’s pretty much the norm here in Vietnam, but it’s the first time in my life that I’ve had hired help.  Hien comes to my house two days a week.  She helps me keep things tidy, does my laundry and occasionally my grocery shopping.  Even though I am a single gal and not particularly messy, my work schedule doesn’t really allow me the time to do these things.  I have only Sundays off, and the last thing I want to do on my one day of rest is laundry!  I’m super grateful for Hien’s help.

In my first apartment (the one that leaked really bad), she came to my house just once per week and I paid her 500,000 VN Dong per month.  When I moved to my current home, I increased her salary to 750,000 VN Dong, as she could come twice a week, for a bit more than half a day’s work.  I moved one year ago, and while I did give her a 13 month salary bonus for TET in February, Hien brought up the topic of providing her with a raise.

I knew before we negotiated that I would give her a raise, but I wanted to help her understand, too, that I am not made of money and that while I appreciate her services, having her help is a luxury for me.  I could do these things for myself, I just choose to have her assistance.  I also explained to her that if I gave her a raise, I hoped that she could think ahead (always a challenge in this country!) and make sure there was always milk in the fridge and that the bed sheets just get automatically washed on Friday.  I usually leave her notes, but I’m a creature of habit, so there are some things I like to have done, which should be common knowledge by now.

She understood that with the raise, it meant just a wee bit more initiative on her part.  I asked her how much more she wanted.  She requested only 100,000 or 150,000 VND more.  So I told her that I would be generous and would help her out a bit and give her now 1,000,000 VND per month.  This is about $13 USD more than she makes now, and a total of about/just over $50 per month, depending on the exchange rate.  You would have thought I actually was giving her hundreds of dollars more.  She was so happy and promised that she would never ask for a raise again.

I wanted to make sure that Hien knew that I valued and appreciated her.  Even though her job has not become more difficult or she’s working longer hours, it felt good to give her a raise.  It was the right thing to do.

For the love of enkai

One of my favorite things about life in Japan is enkai.  Enkai is roughly translated to mean a party.  Work enkai are very common.  There is always an end-of-the-year party and sometimes even one at the start of the year.  In the field of education, there are two in the spring; one for teachers who get transferred out and one for those who get transferred in.  Sometimes there are impromptu parties in summer time or if there is a weekend work retreat, or in the case of my farewell.

So on the occasion of my visiting Japan, I got to enjoy several enkai.  Usually they are held in restaurants who specialize in large group events.  The room is long, the one, long table low to the ground.  Everyone takes their shoes off and sits on the ground. Most often, sashimi and other dishes good for sharing are served.  Sometimes you get individual portions. With the constant flow of beer, the enkai becomes more lively and loud.  I always love enkai!

While I enjoyed seeing my former colleagues at all my enkai, I was particularly happy with one in Fujieda.  I was really touched by the attendance of a few teachers…unexpected and so very nice. It made me feel really special, and that’s always a good thing.


This is a photo of the sashimi dish and the nama biru (draft beer) served at one of the enkai.  It’s not an enkai if you don’t see this!


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