Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

After spending a day exploring Ha Noi, Jordan and I decided to spend two days and one night in Ha Long Bay, which was recommended to us by many. Unfortunately, we were looking for an adventure filled with hiking, kayaking, swimming and cave-exploring and we ended up getting a vacation that revolved around a booze cruise.

We didn’t realize that we should have opted for the senior-citizen cruise until we were surrounded by a bunch of 20-something, drunk, obnoxious, 3/4-naked foreigners cleverly trying to round up a game of spin the bottle. Nontheless, we did enjoy beautiful scenery, swimming, a short kayaking expedition and brief cave exploring, so it was hard to complain.

The Vietnamese used hidden caves like the one we visited (Jordan and I pictured above) as secret hospitals to help the wounded in the Vietnam/American War. The Americans weren’t able to see what was going on from planes above and never suspected Ha Long Bay as an area assisting in the war effort, and this cave with remnants from the 1970’s is one of the few places in Vietnam to remain untouched, and it proves how resourceful the Vietnamese really were.

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Making It Count

I would like to make a formal apology to my readers for not having posted since December. Contrary to how my blog appears, I am not stuck in Hanoi with no internet access; I have been home since Christmas and, for the most part, resumed with my life pre-Asia. So, sorry mom and dad for not keeping you electronically updated.

The purpose of this blog was to allow my friends and family to follow my travels, and once I was home, proved I was alive and well and could tell the stories in person, I feared that my blog lost it’s appeal, thus I neglected it for  few months.

But, I have decided to pick up where I left off, and I hope that this blog turns into more than just a record of my trip.  I plan to write about the adjustments I’ve made at home since this life-changing trip, and how, as a direct result, I am fulfilling my new quest to live more minimally and to donate 10% of my income (as I explained we all should during my Kim Kardashian rant). Additionally, I plan to read a book a week, and write everyday (even if only something short)  in the hopes of spreading awareness and opening dialogue about issues that I learned are far too real and too close to ignore.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Jordan and I said goodbye to Dawn and prepared for our solo journey through South East Asia, starting with Hanoi, in northern Vietnam. Although Hanoi is technically a city, it has a village feel due to unpaved, narrow streets lined with small markets and local vendors. The buildings are limited to only two or three floors, there is no public transportation and very few cars. Instead the streets are filled with people and thousands of mopeds.

 

“Black Friday”

On thanksgiving day, facebook was filled with heart-warming posts about reuniting with friends and family, good health and non-tangible things. Material things very rarely made the cut on people’s list of what’s most important. But the next day, the posts did a complete 180, and they were about people’s excitement about taking advantage of the “Black Friday” deals, and less than 24 hours after being thankful for the priceless things in life, people were ready to open their wallets again.

What is our obsession with material things? Thanksgiving is evidence that we all know better, but then we still return to our conditioned state of constant consumption.

Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? Spent on people who didn’t go to bed on Thursday night with a full stomach?

This post isn’t meant to be accusatory, I am guilty myself of many unnecessary, overpriced name-brands dangling in my closet, and Jordan and I found ourselves caught in this moral dilemma even in a place where poverty is around every corner.

For the most part, the goods in Southeast Asia are extremely cheap, and so purchasing them has been easy to justify: hand-made bags for 3 usd, shirts for 1, a silver bangle for 5. We’d ask ourselves if we really needed it (of course the answer is no) but then reason that it is the perfect souvenir and this might be our only time in this part of the world. But why do we need something tangible to prove it?

As cheap as the goods are here, it is equally cheap to feed a family, provide transportation for a child to go to school, or fix a leaking roof. I don’t think anyone would argue those things aren’t worth 3 usd, but then why do we buy the cheap pair of sunglasses instead, and then shrug our shoulders when they break three days later?

Nick Kristof, a New York Times columnist recently (and rightfully) tore apart Kim Kardashian who spent 10 million dollars on a wedding that lasted only 72 days. He named all of the other things that ten million dollars could have done (built hundreds of schools across the globe, thousands of goats so families could start farms and become self-sufficient, or malaria nets for millions of people who die unnecessarily to the preventable disease every year) and all of these things would have lasted exponentially longer than 72 days. I agree with Mr. Kristof that Kim Kardashian’s wedding expenditures are absolutely ridiculous and it’s especially frustrating because that money could have done so much good and she could still afford to live a luxurious life.

But it’s easy to just point fingers at celebrities and at America’s 1%. If we are going to play the blame game, shouldn’t we also take a look at ourselves? Aren’t we doing the same thing as Kim Kardashian every day just on a lesser scale? Me choosing a crappy pair of sunglasses instead of feeding a child is equally wrong but just not as  noteable because it’s a small sum of money. But if people like me and you turned down a pair of sunglasses a day, or a beer at the end of it, we could really make a difference. And just like Kim Kardashian can donate a massive sum of money and still live luxuriously, we could all donate a smaller amount of money and still live comfortably. Shouldn’t we be held accountable too?

Jeff Singer, a philosopher whose ideals have stuck with me since I read his “Practical Ethics” in college, suggested that everyone should give (minimally) 10% of what they have. I agree.

Most of the things we are thankful for are things outside of our control (supportive family, good health) and by giving something small we have the ability to pay it forward and provide those things to someone in need. And as a bonus, I’m sure the feeling is more rewarding than a great deal on a pair of jeans.

Much to be thankful for!

Though we’ve experienced some speed bumps along the way, Jordan and I have much to be thankful for on this American holiday in November.

Some casualties thus far:

  • I left my i-pod charger in Beijing.
  • Jordan left her phone charger along with my flip flops and sunglasses in Hong Kong.
  • I left my copy of A Thousand Sisters in Hanoi with only 50 pages left to read.
  • Jordan left her copy of Lonley Planet:Southeast Asia along with postcards and memorabilia tucked into the cover.
  • Jordan left her Tiffany’s heart and favorite Egyptian pendant on the boat that took us to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
  • I nearly lost my WHOLE backpack when it was put on the wrong boat up the Mekong River on our journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, but it was thankfully recovered (I cringed at the thought of squeezing into Jordan’s clothes or having only one spare set that would make me smell worse than I already did).
  • Jordan left her (new!) hiking boots on the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, where I lost and found my memory card containing 800 pictures!

But, everything we’ve lost is replaceable. Luckily, we have our photos, passports, wallets and eyeballs. More importantly, people who care if we’ve made it to each destination safely, who take interest in a silly travel blog, and to send postcards to back home.

In a place where poverty is rampant, it is obvious that we could all focus less on material things and re-prioritize what is really important and I think we’d all be surprised how easy it is to do without the things that we once deemed necessary.

I haven’t had a traditional Thanksgiving in years. Last year I spent it eating Ramen noodles in Japan, the year before I had an emergency appendectomy, and the year before that I spent it on a bus to the Honolulu airport eating a subway sandwich and praying that Jordan wouldn’t miss her flight home just because we decided to soak up some extra rays.

The point is, it doesn’t matter how or where we choose to spend the holiday, but I think it’s important to atleast recollect our priorities and note what we’re truly thankful for. Here’s a thanks to my friends and family, good health, and to the car that very thankfully didn’t claim Brian Denelle’s life.

Hong Kong!

Spotty wi-fi signals and 15-minute time limits on hostel computers paired with our ambitious schedule have made it very difficult to plan our next move and let our families know we haven’t yet died of malaria,  never mind blog. Though I hoped to post more frequently, I will have to fill in some of the blanks once I get home.

Jordan and I headed to Hong Kong, and I conquered my fear of heights when we ventured into the mountains to visit the world’s largest Buddha by way of cable car. Though it was  foggy out (as were the following two days) the view from the cable car was pretty awesome.

Jordan and I met my friend Dawn (who I also met in Japan), a Hong Kong native who showed us around some local spots where Jordan and I tried sweet milk coffee, mango mochi and crepes on the street. (A quick aside: it’s been really easy to have a vegetarian diet here, and no I don’t think a piece of dog or cat has been slipped into my soup. )

Dawn also showed us some fashion-forward stores (I told my boyfriend James he should be grateful that I am travelling by way of backpack and therefore do not have room for the matching outfits they sell at “couples stores”–a popular trend in both China and Hong Kong).

Then Dawn pointed us in the way of a winding, mountainous journey to Stanley Village, where we saw great views of Hong Kong and a glimpse of a relaxed, island life outside of the city before our next stop to Hanoi!

The last photo is for my mom, whose only request for my blog was that it include a picture of me, and,  some good news from China: Nick reported that pictures of Jordan and I have since made it on the dive bar bulletin board, not once but twice!

 

Dalian, China

Look who we found! After Ayuki and Reba’s departure (and promise to meet the next time in America) Jordan and I flew to Dalian to stay with Nick and Dave. Nick and I met two years ago, briefly lived together in a 7-person house and ventured to Bonnaroo Music Festival this past summer before he left to teach English in China.

Nick gave us the tour around Dalian, a smaller, coastal city known for its cleanliness where he has been teaching since August. We toured the markets, seaside, and foreign-friendly bars where local legend Nick Montella is greeted by name when he enters and has already scored his picture on a dive-bar bulletin board.

While Nick was at work Jordan and I went into the city together, encountering real-life “frogger” scenarios while crossing the street filled with vegetable wagons, makeshift motorcycles and bikes, and brand new bmw’s, none of which had any mercy for the pedestrian.

The sidewalks were filled with people and their portable ovens selling hot dumplings, sweet potatoes, and corn on the cob, along with people selling palm readings, mismatched socks and puppies.

Jordan and I went out for our last night in Dalian, but had to head home early at 2:30 am (yes, that’s early-Nick predicted that the bars in China close when the last person leaves) because we are headed to Hong Kong at 7:30 am!

Look who we found!