Happy New Year!

How about a quick 2013 post with my standard promise to post more in the new year?

2013 was a busy year for me. I moved three times, started a new job, started learning a new language, and did a fair amount of studying. Moving to Vietnam was definitely the biggest event that happened, but graduate school applications were a close second. I am SO close to being done with them and I cannot wait! More posts after I turn those in! 😉

Anyway, here are a few highlights from the past year that I’d like to share:

An early Hanoi picture of Hoan Kiem Lake. My first apartment was very near here.

I learned to drive a motorbike!

I met too many of these. Ick!

I ate a lot of fun new foods! (Black sesame pudding maybe?)

I celebrated a new holiday, Tet, the lunar new year celebration in Vietnam. Here I am visiting the temple with Hien and her family.

Perhaps one of the more challenging experiences this year was teaching public school classes of 50 + kids. I’m not sure I will ever really get used to it.

Max and his family came to Vietnam. This is from a cooking class in Hoi An. I’ll make an actual post about this soon. It was so much fun!

Trekking in Cambodia with Max.

I attended (and was in) the wedding of one of my best friends. Congrats Hien and Duy!

I made a quick trip to Bangkok by myself. I could have sworn I made a post about this already. I’ll make one soon!

Quick trip to Austria. Hiking in the Alps.

Thanksgiving in Hanoi.

A new favorite winter food. Fried potatoes, fried corn, and fried bananas! YUM!

There were so many things that happened in 2013 that I did not capture on film or don’t have on my computer, including my trip to the States, but I think you get the idea. All in all it was a great year! Here’s to the many new adventures and friends I hope 2014 will bring. Happy New Year!

Summer in Vietnam: My New Favorite Drink

I have discovered a new favorite-sugarcane juice! Small stalls began appearing around the city sometime in April, and while I first thought the idea of sugarcane juice sounded a bit odd, I decided to go for it while visiting Ho Chi Minh City and I’m glad I did! It’s sweet, but not too sweet, with a bit of added lime and ice and very refreshing. Another fun thing about this drink is the way it’s made, like fresh squeezed orange juice, but with a huge piece of sugar cane instead, which is rather entertaining to watch.

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I wish I had a better picture of this, but the sugarcane is pressed through this contraption that’s cranked by hand. The sugarcane is pushed through several times until all the juice is squeezed out and it’s completely flattened. 

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Finished product! Yummmm.

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Or get it to go. If you’re lucky you’ll get a fun Hello Kitty lid! 😉 

Temple visits

It’s been awhile since my last post. My apologies! I’ve been rather busy since I last updated, as Tet holiday ended and I started up work again. I also moved! I’ll post pictures as soon as I have everything unpacked and looking nice!

The day after Tet, I visited two temples with my friend’s family. It was a fascinating, but overstimulating day with what seemed like thousands of people, motorbikes, sights, sounds and smells. 

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This picture really doesn’t do give the true feeling of the number of people at the temple. Lots and lots of activity!image

An altar filled with gifts of paper hats and shoes, fruit, sweets and fake money, with maybe some real money mixed in as well. 

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Gives you a better idea of the vast number of people.

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Burning joss paper to send gifts to the gods. Gifts include paper money, shoes, hats, coins and flowers. Read more about this custom here

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On to the next temple! This man is writing down the family’s wishes in the new year in ancient Vietnamese (using Chinese characters). 

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Heading into the temple. So many people!

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Food picture:

Bánh đúc lạc. So far my least favorite. The pancake/patty itself isn’t too bad; it’s made up of rice flour and tapioca (and I read somewhere lime…as in the mineral) and has peanuts inside. The sauce, made of fermented soy bean paste, is what really gets me. Perhaps my tastebuds aren’t sophisticated enough, but it just tastes rotten to me!

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Tết 2013

Vietnamese New Year, Tết, is  Vietnam’s biggest and most important holiday, and Hanoi is all decked out for the occasion.  image

The one on the left is the symbol of Hanoi. 

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The timing of the holiday is based off of the Lunar Calendar, and as you may know, each year has an animal representing it. This year’s animal is the snake. In the days leading up to Tết, people were busy buying new clothes, trees for the occasion and offerings either to burn or put on the family’s altar. 

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I was lucky enough to be invited to spend Tết with my friend Hien and her family. New Year’s Eve was spent watching comedy/commentary of all that had happened in Vietnam in the past year, stuffing lucky envelopes, “lì xì”with money to give as gifts and preparing the altar tables for various gods and ancestors, as well as one for Buddha. 

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The money in the envelopes should be new, and some colors are more lucky than others. Red is considered a very lucky color. 

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This is the altar for ancestors. The offerings include fruits, paper money, sweets, beer, cola and cigarettes among other things. 

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One important part of the altar is”Mâm Ngũ Quả”, or “five fruits”.  Even numbers are unlucky so it’s important that there is an odd number of fruits; this odd number rule applies to everything placed on the altar. To the left is “bánh chung”, which is made up of rice, mung beans and pork and wrapped in banana leaves. You can read about how it’s made here

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The altar for Buddha. There is no meat or alcohol on this altar. 

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Mâm Ngũ Quả with Buddha’s hand fruit.

At midnight, we passed out the xì lì and shot off some fireworks filled with confetti. image

Khanh with his lucky money. 

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All in all it was a great night, filled with lots of fun and many interesting experiences. If you made it all the way through this very long post, then congratulations! 🙂 I’ll be sharing other great Tết experiences soon, including New Year’s Day, so make sure you check back!

Hoan Kiem Lake

My apartment is approximately a five minute walk from one of Hanoi’s most famous lakes, Hoan Kiem, or The Lake of the Returned Sword. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi, who was emperor of Vietnam in the mid 1400s, was boating on the lake one day when a turtle emerged from the water, caught hold of Le Loi’s sword and dove back into the lake. The emperor declared that the Golden Turtle had come to redeem his sword, which he had given to the emperor in order to defeat the Chinese. The lake was then given the name it bears today in honor of this event. 

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Today, Hoan Keim Lake is a popular tourist attraction and offers tourists and locals alike a nice place to relax. In the evening, many people come to workout at the lake, either jogging around it or doing push-ups and pull-ups on equipment set up next to the lake. I’ve even noticed a few tourists joining in on the fun! Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures. I don’t think I would want someone to take my picture while working out, but I guess they are in public after all. 

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Tháp Rùa-“Turtle Tower”

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These flowers started appearing a few days ago. It seems like more decorations are added every day. The whole city is gearing up for Tet!

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Ooooh, at night. 

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View of the Ngoc Son Temple and Huc Bridge across the water. 

Random food picture(!):

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Probably not what you were expecting, but I saw this at the grocery store. I think it’s hilarious that the “free gift” that comes taped to your box of Froot Loops is a bag of Famous Amos cookies. MMM SUGAR!

Street Food: Chè

I can’t say I’ve tried out much street food since I’ve been here, and that’s partly because I’m a vegetarian and much of the street food has meat in it. It’s probably time to be more adventurous though!  I have however, been introduced to the world of street food sweets. “Chè” refers to a kind of sweet, soup-like food. There are several kinds, and to be honest I haven’t really figured out the names. The stands are easy to pick out though as there will be bowls filled brightly colored foods.

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From what I can tell, each bowl contains a different variety of chè. There are different kinds of sweet beans, sweet corn, glass jelly, tapioca and fruit as well as coconut milk. Just have a bowl or glass filled with ingredients of your choice and top it off with a bit of crushed ice. My absolute favorite ingredient is lychee, which are the yellowish fruits pictured above.

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As you can tell, this isn’t from the same place as above, but is a much prettier one with ingredients that were chosen for me.

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Mix it all together and enjoy! Yum! Now I’m hungry…

Also, a bit of an update for you…I’m employed! I start tomorrow and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ll be teaching English to primary school kids. Yay for having a job!

Since this post was about food, I’ll end with something else. Remember those plastic animals from the night market? Well, I bought one:

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and look what he does!!!

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Definitely worth the 20,000 VND I spent. Oh, and please like my page on Facebook!

Night Markets and Things I Don’t Need

So I first realized that I might have done this a few days ago, but today it’s been confirmed: I left my camera in the U.S. AWESOME. I only moved to another country over 8,000 miles away. Why not leave my camera? Aarg. 

That just means that you’ll have a few more days (weeks?) of iPhone 3 pictures.

I live on an incredibly exciting (busy) street in Hanoi’s city center, in the  ”Old Quarter”, which has been around since the 13th century. At one time, each of the streets’ names corresponded with what could be found on that street. Everything could be bought here: silver, cotton, charcoal, tin, paper, combs, sails. The street I live on used to sell silk, but today it’s better known for selling clothing. The Old Quarter in Hanoi is chaotic, with hundreds of motorbikes, taxis, people selling all sorts of goods and a few tourists here and there. 

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I’ve shown you a similar picture before, but I want to compare day vs night.

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At night, my entire street turns into an open-air, pedestrian only (kind of ) market filled with clothing, shoes, toys, jewelry, decorative items and many other items that I don’t really need. 

The Old Quarter is rather touristy, so I’m pretty sure that’s the reason the night market is held on my street. Makes exploring easier, but it also means the market is fairly overpriced. 

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These are pretty awesome. I’m not sure what I would do with a beaded flower or bear, but I should probably get one. 

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YES. I want all of these. Especially the sheep. I don’t think I can keep myself from buying one next time. 

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This is not actually a stall at the night market, but a nearby shop. Need any balloons? 

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Just for good measure I’ll add a (blurry) picture of food again. I don’t know what this is. It looks like an egg here, but it’s not. I think the base is gelatinized rice and there are croutons. That’s all I know. 

I just spent 30 minutes on this post, but Tumblr decided to update itself in the middle of my writing so it didn’t get saved. Annoying.

Anyway, it’s been a productive week, only helped by the fact that I’m awoken every morning at 8am(or earlier) by loudspeakers. My biggest accomplishment has definitely been learning to cross the road by myself(woo!). I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered this skill, but it’s definitely getting there. I’ve also had two Vietnamese lessons. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing well, and other times I just feel like I’m making random sounds (Listen to the Vietnamese alphabet here.) My personal favorite sound is ng, which I don’t seem to have the ability to make. 

I’ve been gathering lots of pictures of tasty food, things sold at markets that I don’t need and some tourist attractions, but I don’t feel organized enough at the moment to create an actual post. So for now, here are some pictures of my apartment. 

I live on the second floor (first floor European) and I have a balcony! Yay! I would say this is a pretty typical house for Vietnam. Tall and skinny. 

This is the first floor/entry way to the building/occasional motorbike parking area. My landlady lives on this floor. 

Sorry this picture is such poor quality. This what you see when you walk into my apartment. 

My kitchen. Still don’t have microwave and I have one less burner than I did last year. I only have one saucepan though so I guess that doesn’t really matter. 

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Balcony that faces another building/”courtyard” with no grass. But I have a balcony! 

Bonus picture: a piece of jellyfish from this jellyfish salad. I didn’t actually try it though, so I can’t tell you what it tastes like!