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Welcome Mette!

I recently mentioned how it was such a pleasure at Christmas time to bake all those cookies (and eat them) and prepare the Christmas lasagna. I miss being in the kitchen and cooking!  It’s not like I had an inability to cook in Vietnam, but frankly, I didn’t have the time and never had much confidence in the products available at the street markets.  Since I had a meal allowance, it was much easier to eat at the Press Club and had my main meals there.

My Danish friend Mette arrived from Vietnam last night, and I wanted to have her wake up in the Bright house to the smell of brewing coffee and freshly baked brownies and cookies.  These items would be considered a luxury in Vietnam and I wanted to make sure to start her vacation in comfy mode.  Plus, it was a good excuse to bake up a storm and enjoy some of my morning in the kitchen!

It’s Mette’s first time to California and so I have a San Diego/Los Angeles tour planned out for her this week.  Today was rest and relaxation, an introduction to American football (which Mette says she never needs to watch again) and a shopping trip to Target (a good initiation into Americana).  Target helped her get a few basic items which are hard to find in Vietnam, as well as fun stuff like plastic tumblers and teeth whitening strips!

The Golden Globes were on tonight, and so we enjoyed watching the stars parade in their formal attire while we ate a variety of chips and dips and drank wine.  Heaven!  Pure heaven!

Time to get some sleep and prepare for the World Famous San Diego Zoo tomorrow!  I haven’t been to the zoo in years!  Hooray!





Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  It’s 2011!  How about that!  What did you do this year for the holiday? Where did you celebrate? I enjoyed O’Brien’s with Sarah, much like I did ringing in 2008, but this year I did NOT kiss the bartender at midnight! ;p

I think it’s safe to say that most of us are happy to put 2010 behind us.  For many of my friends, it seems, this past year was a struggle.  I think we are all welcoming a new year, a breath of fresh air in with open arms and lots of optimism.  I am definitely ready to start anew.

As many of you may remember, I’m not one to make a long list of resolutions each year.  Sometime while in Japan, I decided to just make a theme for the year.  2010, for example was “Rise to It” which was part of a movie quote “Life is an occasion. Rise to it.”  And that was how I was feeling at the beginning of 2010.

My theme for 2011 is – The Reinvention of Shanna B. – I think it’s perfect for what lies ahead of me this year. I’m in new surroundings (sort of), I am leaning towards starting my own business versus getting a job, I need to figure out where I will live (SD or LA) and have the greatest hope that love will be mine.  I think that all gets summed up nicely in “Reinvention.”

I’m excited for this year, excited for all that is to come and ready to move forward and toward great things.

What would your theme be this year?


Here’s another shot of Sarah, Jake and I – the terrible threesome for the evening:


Meet Aeng!

When Pete returned from Luang Prabang with his friend Josh, he told me how much he fell in love with the UNESCO protected city. And he told me how he met Aeng, a tuk tuk driver which became tour guide and friend.

Aeng is from a small and poor village just a bit outside Luang Prabang.  This is s story typical of most people in Laos.  His father is much older, about 70, Aeng is only 21.  He has a handful of brothers and sisters.  His mother is deceased.  Upon being widowed, his father was called to the temple, where he is now a monk.  One of Aeng’s brothers is also a monk at that temple.  And Aeng was a monk there for several years, as well. (You can remember from my monk chat in Chiang Mai that not all boys/men who join the monastery stay on as a monk.)

Aeng now drives a tuk tuk to make money and pay for his schooling.  He wants to study English. His story is similar to others in that most young people are working in hospitality and tourism to pay for their schooling.  While Aeng is fortunate to live pretty close to Luang Prabang, others are from villages which are four, seven or more hours away by bus. Those students are usually working seven days a week and live in a shared room (like six people to a small apartment).

After Pete and Josh first met Aeng a few months ago, they decided that they wanted to sponsor him and his education.  Now that I’ve gotten to know Aeng, have met his father at the temple, have visited his family, I am really glad Pete and Josh found Aeng and that they are equipped to help him.  When Pete goes back to Luang Prabang in December with his mom, I think I’m going to chip in as well because I believe this young man needs a chance to make his life better and is responsible enough to see his plans through and assist his family as well.  I’m really thankful to know him and to have him as a friend.  In the least, he keeps me humble.

Meet Sith!

Pete and I had the great privilege to spend a lot of our time with Sith.  Pete had met Sith on his last visit to Luang Prabang, as Sith worked the front desk of the hotel Pete stayed in at the time.  Sith took us to a few sights in the city, and hung out with us for a good portion of our stay.

Sith story is so much like most young people in Laos.  He comes from a large and poor family, raised in a small village which is a long bus ride away from Luang Prabang.  He’s studying at university and working full time, seven days a week to pay for his schooling.  He works everyday so he has a place to sleep.  While Sith studies IT and has three scholarships, some of the other young men we met (significant because the young women don’t seem to be able to break out of the cycle as much as the boys) study to be a teacher or English teacher.

What was inspiring about meeting the youth of this city is that they have a vision for their future.  This is something that many in Vietnam do not have.  One young man, Sai, said that he wants to return to his village after he completes his education because he wants to see his village progress and wants a better future for his family and community.  In a situation which is pretty desperate, that selflessness is tremendously admirable.  And humbling.

Sith might be the one who is in school right now, but in the course of six days we spent with him, I learned a lot more about life than any school could teach.

Meet Ross & Tom!

Meet Ross and Tom!  These two were introduced to me through my friend, Joe, whom I met while living in Japan. Joe now lives in Osaka, and that’s how he met these two characters. Tom is studying human rights policy at Kanasi University and Ross is teaching through a special English program sponsored by Disney (which sounds really awesome).

Joe remembered that I was in Hanoi, and so when Tom and Ross mentioned their plans to travel to Vietnam, he put us in touch.  The day after the boys arrived, I met them at Le Pub to show them a fun local joint and to also get an idea where they planned to travel. I wanted to make sure they knew which taxi’s to ride in, how to get train tickets, what the cost of some basic items are and what not to do.

We got acquainted over a “boozy lunch,” as Tom called it, and I sent some emails to Pete in Sapa, Viet in Hanoi and Onslo out in Halong Bay/Cat Ba Island.  My new friends decided they would spend the majority of their time up in Sapa, as they wanted to get in a few good hikes and unique culture.  Viet helped me secure their train tickets and also two motorbike drivers who would shuttle them around Hanoi so they could see the city.

I met with the guys tonight and was happy to hear they had a fantastic time in Vietnam.  They loved Sapa, having signed up for a long, guided hike and a homestay.  Even though they were met with some heavy rains, they made the most out of their time there. They also squeezed in some time in Halong Bay, even though they couldn’t make it over to Cat Ba island for some kayaking. They were happy to see this amazing wonder of the world.  Halong Bay is magical, no matter how much time or money you spend to see it.

I’m super glad I could be here to meet and greet Ross and Tom.  They are fabulous people, funny guys and my kind of traveler – open to new experiences and willing to just go with the flow.  The summer months are coming to a close here in Vietnam.  September – December is a wonderful time of the year to visit with mild temperatures, less humidity.  Let me know if you plan a visit! Would love to meet up with you too!

Good luck Trung

I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to live in the home that I do.  I have a two bedroom apartment and the landlords are just about the nicest people I have met in Vietnam.

Both of their sons, Trung and Duc study and speak English.  Trung has served as the liaison between the tenants and his parents.  I’ve enjoyed the handful of times they’ve invited me into their home to have a meal, chat about their schooling or my lack of a husband, and other significant topics.

Trung is 23 years old and he seeks a better opportunity to speak English fluently and to gain international experience. So he’s signed up with a program in Australia and Deakin University.  In order to send their son to Australia, Mr. & Mrs. Phan have moved out of the two-story apartment in the building and enclosed the downstairs, ground-floor area which is not really set up for living. Prior to being their apartment, this was the motorbike parking.  It had been set-up with gas and water connections, but I would never anticipate the area being walled-up to serve as an apartment.

Trung’s parents will live in this one-room apartment for two years while he’s in school.  I’ve already had the conversation with Trung about the sacrifice his parents are making for him.  I’m in such awe and admiration that they would sacrifice so much to further his education. They are truly wonderful parents!

Today Trung left for Melbourne.  I saw the family for a bit last night after I returned from my trip to Bangkok.  I met up with them again this morning to take photos and say goodbye to Trung.  Tonight when I came home, the family had their front door open and I said hello.  Duc recounted that many family members went to the airport with Trung and everyone cried upon his departure.  Mr. Phan still had tears in his eyes, but said that he was ok.  To me, he just looked like a loving father full of pride. Same look you’d find in any father anywhere in the world who was able to provide the same for their son.  So touching.

Duc is researching exchange programs in America.  He starts his senior year in high school in September.  If anyone knows of a good exchange program he could participate in, please let me know in the comments or via email.  I’m happy to see this family so eager to provide a good education for their kids!

Trung – you have an amazing support system here in Hanoi.  Keep in touch, keep us posted and make your mother and father even more proud than they already are!  We all miss you already!!!


(Trung is in the green shirt)

Silly Saturday

I spent a lovely evening last night with my dear friend Mette at the Metropole’s restaurant, Angelina.  We had the intention to catch a party at the tunnel bar, but as we often do, we talked and talked and laughed and shared and caught up.  We arrived at the restaurant at 8:00pm. We left at 3:00a.m.  That’s a good girl’s night out! We love dining here for the menu and cocktails, and because it’s a nice and civilized break from the grit and grime of living in Hanoi. The expense of it only allows me to do this once a month, but it is well worth it!

After just four hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed to go to work Saturday morning (oh that .5 in the contract!!!).  As I was gaining momentum for the morning, got an e-mail from Pete at 8:58am “Lunch today then a massage? Want to go to Tamarind?”  Tamarind Cafe is a great vegetarian restaurant in Hanoi. My response, “Oh my dear. Mama’s got a headache. Can do lunch. Decide about spa then? Need sleep!”

So lunch we did.  First item ordered was fried cheese. Oh my yum. Perfect after a long night and maybe one more cocktail than needed. We also ordered crepes and nachos and bruschetta. Coffee, juice.  We were both recovering from a fun Friday night. Slowly, the color came back to our faces.

We brainstormed some names for some of Pete’s new business ventures.  The thing with Pete and I is that once we get creative, we get creative.  And we start being silly and taking silly pictures like this one.  Those are Pete’s glasses which he said looked good on me.  I wasn’t willing to take a normal picture. Do the glasses look cute?  Our lunch turned into a four hour+ conversation filled with lots of laughter and imaginative ideas, as well as concepts so stupid and comical we cried hilarious tears.

We stopped at the CD/DVD shop where I picked up the GLEE set, a few music CDs and where Pete bought me the DVD set of Little Britain.  I’m set for entertainment for awhile.

Next stop was the spa and a total indulgence of a two hour hot stone therapy massage.  Oh my silly putty.  Had a quick bit to eat and now that I’m home and all squeaky clean from a hot shower and vigorous loofah, I am soooo ready to hit the sack and venture off to dream land.  What a fun, spontaneous and totally wonderful day!

Tell me about one of the friends in your life you can be super silly with…


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