Vietnam

Vietnamese Foods

By Eva

We tried many new foods in Vietnam.  One of my favorites was Pho Bo/Ga.  It is noodle soup with Bo, beef or Ga, chicken.  I like it with beef.  In Ho Chi Minh City we ate at a restaurant called Pho 2000.  It is called Pho 2000 because in 2000 Bill Clinton at Pho there.

Picture of the picture of Prez Clinton and daughter Chelsea eating Pho

Egg coffee and egg hot chocolate is a Hanoi specialty.  We wouldn’t have ever found it if our guides Tra and Lingh hadn’t brought us there.   Egg coffee is whipped egg whites floating on top of the coffee.  It is delicious!

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

The word kem means ice cream in Vietnamese.  There is a really good ice cream place in Hanoi (the oldest ice cream shop in Hanoi too) called Kem Tien.  There is only one flavor, coconut.  It was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had.  The place is very strange.  It is in a warehouse and people ride their motor bikes right inside the store!

 

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Categories: Vietnam | 4 Comments

Happy Holidays

Posted by Amy

Just wanted to send out a Happy Holiday wish to all our friends and family.

We are observing our own version of Hanukkah this year.  We were in Ho Chi Minh City where our niece Jackie told us there was a great Chabad House.  We thought we would stop in, eat a kosher meal and pick up some Hanukkah candles.  Even though we mapquested the address, it was not to be.  We never found that elusive Chabad House, so no candles for us.  Our Hanukkah celebrations have consisted of saying the prayers and pretending to light the candles.  Instead of gifts, which would only weigh our packs down, we decided to do a touchy-feely Hanukkah.  Each night we pick a person from our family, and we all go around and say a special memory of that sister or parent from this trip.  I would say it is working out great so far.  No one seems to miss the presents at all.  Although when David suggested we forget about presents next year too and make this a permanent Goldman tradition, the kids strongly suggested we return to the present giving ritual once we get home.

We were also able to join the family Hanukkah party back home through Skype.  It was just like being there, only we didn’t have a chance to pick the Bedazzled Toilet Plunger or the extra large box of Whitman’s chocolates for ourselves.

What they were seeing

What we were seeing

We were actually surprised to find out that so many Vietnamese people celebrate Christmas.  Less than 10% of the population is Christian, but it seems like everyone celebrates the holiday.  Decorations are everywhere and people want to know where we will be spending our Christmas holiday.  When we try to explain that we are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas, there is a total communication breakdown. They aren’t Christian and they are celebrating the holiday, so our explanation does not make much sense to them.  Where back home, we might have some conflicted feelings about celebrating a holiday belonging to another’s religion, here they seem to have no such qualms.  On the other hand, I haven’t seen any decorations connecting Vietnamese Christmas to Jesus or Mary or Joseph, just Santa and presents.   They definitely got that marketing message.  And when they want to know what we do on Christmas Eve, and we respond that we usually eat Chinese food, well this is particularly funny in this part of the world.

How did the house made of bread tradition make it here?Chinese Lantern Christmas Tree

Chinese Lantern Christmas Tree

Wherever you are and whatever you may be celebrating, have a happy time doing it!

Wishing you peace, love and happiness this holiday season.

Categories: Vietnam | 8 Comments

If You Travel Long Enough…

posted by Maya

New friends, Paul, Zelig and Kylie

If you travel for long enough, you are sure to see some familiar faces. But running into a family that you’ve never met before multiple times in a country half way across the world from your own? How often does that happen? And yet, here we are in Vietnam, running into the Gaffney- Curtis family not once, not twice, but SIX TIMES.
The first two times we saw the Gaffney- Curtis family (we later found out that their names are Paul, Kiley, and Zelig) was in Sapa, way up in the north of Vietnam. The hotel we were staying at had a great restaurant on the bottom floor, and they had dinner there twice. We didn’t think it was that strange that we had seen them more than once, because Sapa was a small town and the restaurant was very good. Knowing us, most of you are probably surprised that we didn’t go over to talk to them, but we just assumed that they were French, and, (no offense to you Frenchies out there) the French are not always the friendliest people in the world. We figured, “Why bother?”
A few days later, we went back to Hanoi, where we had been before Sapa, and had lunch at a great restaurant called Koto (Koto has a great cause- you can learn more about it here: http://www.koto.com.au/en/about-us/koto-hanoi ). While sitting and waiting for our food, we saw them walk in. We thought that it was a hilarious coincidence, but we still believed they were French, so we didn’t do anything more than smile and wave.  None of us thought the whole thing was too strange until that night, when we went out to dinner with the Lyss-Loren family.  We were walking out of the restaurant when they walked in.   Later that night, back in our hotel room, we laughed about seeing them everywhere we went, and then dismissed the issue.  After all, it was late and we had a flight to Hue the next day.

And who do you think we saw on the plane? I’ll give you one guess (if you guessed the Gaffney- Curtis family, then you are correct).  By now, the whole situation was too strange to just wave and smile. We ended up talking in baggage claim, and we were very surprised to find out that they were not French at all, but very friendly Aussies!  We had only talked for a few minutes, so we didn’t have time to exchange names or anything, but it’s not like we thought we would see them again, right?  The odds of seeing a stranger five times by complete chance were very small, and it was pretty much impossible that we would ever see each other again.
But imagine our surprise when we stopped for lunch on top of a mountain while on a bike trip (in the pouring rain, no less!) from Hue to Hoi An, and the Gaffney Curtis family pulled up next to us and got out of the car!  We chatted for a while and found out that they were Kiley Gaffney, her husband Paul Curtis, and their nine- year- old daughter Zelig, from Brisbane, Australia.  Both Kiley and Paul were in the music business, Kiley being a singer turned college professor and Paul an agent for some Austrailian bands.  They were just as mystified by all of the chance meetings as us, so we decided to meet for dinner the next day in Hoi An which, surprise, surprise, was where we were both headed.

The next day, we were walking around the city of Hoi An and just about to sit down for lunch, when who walks up but Paul, Kiley, and Zelig! We decided to just do lunch together instead of dinner.  All 8 of us agreed that it just wouldn’t have been the same if we had planned a meeting, anyways.
We didn’t make a plan to meet again.  This was partially because we were finally going separate ways (we were going to Ho Chi Minh City and they were staying in Hoi An another night), and partially because it just wouldn’t be the same if we organized a meeting. I don’t think that we’ll ever see them again, or at least for a long time, because we aren’t going to Brisbane on this trip. But if we do, it will be an amazing coincidence.  Because some things are better left to fate.

Categories: Vietnam | 4 Comments

Riding in the Rain

posted by Eva

The before picture...there is no after picture

A couple days ago we decided to take a two-day bike trip in the freezing cold rain!  We rode from Hue to Hoi An.  It was about 80 miles.  It felt a lot longer because it was very cold and very rainy.

While riding we passed a ton of people who wanted to practice their English, especially the kids.  They would all yell out to us, “Hello, what’s your name?  How are you?”  We answered back “Sin giao,” which means hello in Vietnamese, and they laughed at us.

Duck farming

Along the way, I could see duck farms and cemeteries.  The cemeteries were very unusual.  Each grave at the cemetery was like a Buddhist temple, even though some of the graves had crosses on them.  The reason why all these people could afford these grand graves was because their daughters had married foreigners and moved to the US, Canada, or Australia and they were sending money back.  The tradition here in Vietnam is to honor your ancestors after they die with houses so they can protect the family in the afterlife.  It seems like even the people who are Christian still practice this belief.

Cemetaries like we've never seen before

The company that took us on this bike trip was named Phat Tire.  There were two boys who rode with us, Tinh and Gong.  There was a van that drove behinds us.  If we got tired we could just hop in the van.  Seven miles of the second day were literally straight up so, Rikki, Maya, and I all got in the van.  My mom tried for a little bit and then got in the van with us.  My dad did the whole thing!

10 kilometers climb up to the top of Hai Van pass. This pass is 500 meters high and its name translates as “Pass of the Ocean Clouds”

I had fun on the bike trip but I would definitetly had more fun if it were in a different season! Eva on the road

Categories: Vietnam | 5 Comments

If it’s Wednesday, It Must be Hanoi

posted by David

(This started as a simple email to tell the parents that we made it to Vietnam. It ended up being so long and informative that Amy decided to just stick it on the blog.)

Hi Guys,

We are in Hanoi, Vietnam!  We arrived yesterday from Bangkok and were met by a hotel van who took us to a cool little hotel in a neighborhood in the heart of Hanoi.  The place has great WIFI, which has actually become our most important criteria in choosing a place to stay.

After checking in and settling in the rooms for a bit, we went out to get a bite to eat.  First, we were approached by a young guy selling English language books out of a small box.  We have become immune to street sellers so we didn’t pay much attention at first, but somehow he engaged us and we ended up buying two books.

Almost immediately after buying the books with a combination of Vietnamese Dong and Thai Bhat (he was very willing to take the Bhat and exchange them for Dongs), there was a man crouching at my feet with a small bottle of Superglue.  He was gluing the rubber on the front of my sneakers, just like that!  He somehow spotted that a tiny piece of the front of the shoe was coming unglued, ran over, crouched down, whipped out his adhesives, and went to work.  I was too surprised to shake him off my foot.  When he finished, he wanted money, but we were still unfamiliar with the exchange rate and only had only Dong.  Really, there are only large bills in Vietnam as $1 U.S. is worth 20,000 Vietnamese Dong.  I had taken out 2,000,000 Dong earlier in the day but it was all in notes of 500,000.  I suppose this is one way to make everyone in the developing world a millionaire.  Anyway, a nearby shopkeeper saw what was happening and ran into his store, got us change and showed us what we should pay for the service, which turned out to be 20,000 dong or $1.

We then went and had a nice meal of Pho at a restaurant called #10 (we had dinner at #72…I’m not sure why the restaurants are named like this but I plan to find out), which consists of a beef based broth, rice noodles, veggies, and brisket.  It’s Vietnamese chullent and it’s very good.  I put a spicy red-pepper paste in mine.  Everyone (but Rikki) enjoyed it.  After lunch, we walked along the street and ran into the bookseller again.  He informed us that he had miscalculated the exchange rate on the Thai Bhat that we had given him for the books and he wanted an additional 150 Bhat which amounts to a little over $5 (the exchange rate is about 30 Thai Bhat to every $1).  He was very apologetic and seemed like an honest person so we gladly gave him the additional 150 Bhat and also ended up making a date with the guy to meet us this afternoon so he can show us a few nearby sites.  A lot of young Vietnamese people are anxious to practice English and will take you on a tour simply for the practice (and a tip at the end, I’m sure).  We are doing the same this morning with another student that we arranged through a website called Hanoikids.org.

We then went back to the hotel and the kids did their homework before we went out to dinner.  Walking to dinner was truly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done (I’m not exaggerating).  This part of Hanoi does not have traffic lights or stop signs and the streets are flooded with motor scooters, bicycles, cars, and trucks.  The sidewalks are impromptu parking lots for the scooters and any remaining space is taken up by restaurants that place tiny step stools and tables out for their customers, women selling fruit, and cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) drivers hawking their services.  So, pedestrians are forced to weave in and out of the parked motor scooters, the diners, the fruit peddlers and rickshaw drivers while also keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic which weaves up and down the street at breakneck speed with lots of beeping of horns.  Intersections are in a class of chaos all by themselves.  Because there aren’t traffic lights, the north south traffic flows at full speed until the east west traffic decides, en masse,that it’s their turn at which point they aggressively drive into the intersection, and miraculously they change the entire flow from north-south traffic to east-west traffic and then the whole cycle starts over again.  You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about the pedestrians trying to get across the street.  Pedestrians don’t really exist in the reality of Vietnamese person on a motorized vehicle.  If you are relegated to using your feet for transportation, you are on your own and must develop the skills of an NFL running back to stay alive.  So, I kept Rikki on my right flank and asked Maya to stay close by while Amy protected Eva and we weaved in and out of Hanoi traffic.  I know we did well because we made it back alive and without incident but there were some close calls.  I thought that the traffic in Shanghai was insane but Hanoi has it beat hands down.

People continue to be charmed by Rikki and Eva and anyone who stops to look at them asks if they are twins.  They especially like Rikki’s smile, her white skin, and chubby cheeks and they are not shy about touching her as we walk by.  To my surprise, she has become tired of this.  I thought that she would relish the attention but I think it’s overwhelming and she just wants to be left alone.  I can’t say I blame her.

Amy and I spent a good deal of time planning out the rest (or most of the rest) of our time in Vietnam.  We will be here until we leave for New Delhi on the 24th to meet up with the Katz’s and the Hersch’s which we are all very excited about.  We will leave Hanoi tomorrow evening on a train headed for Sapa, Vietnam, which is north of Hanoi.  It’s an overnight train and will arrive about an hour from Sapa at 5AM.  We will be picked up by the small hotel and driven to Sapa where we will be doing some trekking (that’s what they call hiking here).  We plan to visit some Hmong villages and a school before heading back to Hanoi on the 12th.  (the Hmong spread out over SE Asia and are originally from China.  There are many sub-groups of Hmong but essentially they are mountain people who live in small villages and are mostly subsistence farmers.  During the Vietnam War…which is called the American War here, the CIA worked closely with the Hmong who served as spies against the North Vietnamese.  After the fall of Saigon, the U.S.  Brought many of them to the States so they were not killed by the Communists for collaborating with the U.S.  Amy and I encountered many Hmong in Minneapolis when we lived there.  They lived outside of the city and continued their lives as vegetable farmers).

After Sapa, we are coming back to Hanoi for a night to meet up with another family that is traveling for the year. Our friend, Mike Moskowitz introduced us by email.  They live in Seattle now and have three kids.  We are looking forward to meeting them and sharing stories.  The kids are especially excited.  After this, we will head for Hue and Hoi An which are in the middle of the country (near the DMZ).  We are going to do a few days of cycling before heading towards Saigon where we plan to see the Cuchi Tunnels and also try to find a quiet beach to relax at before the whirlwind week that Greg has planned for all of us.  When we are in the Hue and Hoi An area, we plan on looking for various spots where our friend and neighbor, Bill Marker, was stationed in 1967 and 1968.  He outlined all the hills for us and asked that we take a few pictures that show the people there living their lives in peace.  He was discharged with a Purple Heart after being shot.  It’s hard to believe that the U.S. felt it was in our national interest to save the Vietnamese from communism.  What a waste.

We are now just over four months into our journey.  Everyone is doing well but we are a bit tired.  We are all learning a lot and having great fun together.  Overall, the kids have been absolutely amazing.  We forget that we are asking a lot of them on this trip but by in large, they are meeting and exceeding our expectations.  Of course, there is some kvetching, some bickering, and some stubbornness but it all works itself out very quickly.   Maya misses her friends but keeps up with them on Facebook and with Skype.   Making time for school on a daily basis has proved more challenging than we expected but Amy is still on the job persevering.  School has consisted of math, reading, and journal and blog writing in addition to all the informal learning we do on a day to day basis.  Maya’s online algebra course is the most structured and can be a bit stressful for her but she seems to be learning what she needs.  My intentions of teaching gym class everyday have failed although on the days we take a tour, we are generally walking a lot.

Our time in Pattaya with Harvey Price and his wife Phen (silent ‘H’) was very nice.  They own a beautiful house, actually three houses on joined lots, near the China Sea about two hours south of Bangkok.  Harvey showed us some phenomenal photos he took when he served in the Peace Corp in Thailand from 1962-1965.  He worked with hill-tribe people in the north of Thailand.  He returned to Thailand in 1967 and opened a law firm doing international trade.  The firm has grown steadily and he now works very part time.  He and Phen adopted Phen’s brothers’ children (four kids in all from two different brothers).  Two are grown and now live in Florida and two are still in school in Thailand.  One is planning to go to medical school, probably in China.  Phen told us a little bit about her life…she was born in a small village around 1950 and was delivered by her grandmother who was a midwife (she said her grandmother lived to be 112) where she was one of four kids.  They did not have electricity or running water and she did not go to school. She did say she ended up going to school for six years at some point.  Her father left the family when she was nine and became a monk.  Her mother moved the family to Bangkok where they also lacked electricity and running water.  Her mother went to work while she cared for the younger kids.  Later, her mom re-married and had four more kids but her stepfather was very abusive.  Her mom died at 42 and Phen raised the rest of the kids.  There’s much more to the story but this email is getting incredibly long…..suffice it to say that Harvey and Phen were incredible hosts and treated us like family, thanks you to you, Nison and Doreen.  so, I’ll leave it at that and tell you that we miss you all and are continuing to have a great adventure.

Love from all of us,

David, Amy, Maya, Eva, and Rikki

Categories: Thailand, Vietnam | Tags: | 2 Comments

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