Volunteering With Fardos

I have grown incredibly attached to my Syrian friends, whom I volunteer with at Catholic Charities in Atlanta. Fardos, who had needed computer literacy help, was my first volunteer case.

She was always so gracious and thankful of my help. She had shared so many of her culture’s cuisine with me. I would have so many foods to bring home to share with my own family. She shared food with me that I would not have known about otherwise.

She is a wonderful woman, with 5 beautiful children: Hanin 10, Nemin 8, Hazem 7, Nagham 5, Reffef 3. These kids are full of energy, questions, intelligence. They love watching Youtube cooking shows and hacker channels.

Visiting her reminds me of my family when we first immigrated to the United States. Seeing her small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment be enough for all 7 people.

I had loved her since my first visit, how she had learned so quickly. Our bond had grown over the 3 months that I have volunteered with her. We talked about our cultures and our religions. There is still so much to learn. She was a fiery ambitious, life-loving, dancer and it was exhilarating to see her around her children.

They are moving today to Nebraska, where they can make a better living. I’ll miss them all.

Today, I played Can’t Help Falling In Love on the Ukulele

This song was played really badly, I’ve been meaning to learn finger-plucking, and just did the simplest technique.

I think it goes quite nicely with the song because I’m “rushing in” to playing this song. I’d prefer to not edit it because this would be a good marking point to where I started out playing. I want to see myself get better! But I’m dedicating this to my boo friend <3

 

Today, I drew rain.

After yesterday’s resolve to post more, I had already almost not done anything for today.

My boyfriend says it looks like a woman with an umbrella head, but it’s okay, because I like it.

Really, it’s not too bad, right?

I like the rain. I like listening to it and looking at it. I don’t like it so much while caught in it though.

I accidentally set off my workplace alarm system by trying to get in through the backdoor. Troubled a friendly officer, having to come check the place out.

In other news, I’m completely hooked on Ender’s Game, a childhood favorite of mine. And, I’m looking into signing up for Krav Maga classes to keep life interesting. Neh?

Cheers!

Hey everyone, I drew sadness.

Trying something new to improve my skills.

I used to be good at art. Now, after years of letting go, holding a pen (and the fact that I’m using a pen, not pencil) to draw art makes me feel like a newbie.

I don’t really know why, but I felt very motivated to draw “Sadness” from the movie inside out.

And I don’t really know why I chose to draw something sad, which was what I searched up on Bing. I just started a new job, so it really should be a good thing going on for me.

Maybe it meant that I’m not doing all the I have the potential to do? Like, what is a hobby?

As a resolve to change my busy bee way of life, I’ve decided to take a picture of something I enjoy doing at least once a week (I’ll try for once a day, if it works out).

img_1284

By the way, sorry this picture is so bad. I thought about redrawing so that it looks better to put on my blog, but I wanted it to be authentic.

My family is pretty artistic, and by “pretty” I mean that my brother and sisters put my newbie drawing to shame. Seriously, they’re, like, 10 and they have a Youtube channel with animated videos. Feel free to follow them!


My sister, 12 years old, animated this one:

She is literally obsessed with art. She spends 10 hours a day in the summer, just drawing. And when we come home at night, she still wants to draw.


My brother, 10 years old, animated this one:

He has lots of talent, which I think is such a waste that he spends most his time watching Youtube videos.


My other sister, 15 years old at the age of drawing this, is super talented. It’s a pity she’s so ambitious and is boggled down with 6 college and high school classes in a semester. I’m really pushing for her to continue drawing, but we’ll see.


I wonder if it’s the commute that’s bringing me down. For the first time, I have to commute 30-45 minutes by CAR. New York doesn’t count because at least I got to sit down in the subway train, and read a book. /sigh/

Well, thanks for stopping in!! I really appreciate your reading my blog. ūüôā

 

 

Three Day, Three Quotes Challenge: Day 3

On the last day of my quotes challenge, I decided to choose another song. Here is one of my all time favorite songs.

It’s a lot of pressure to find a perfect quote to end this challenge.

Since my first two responses have been lyrics from songs, I feel a strong desire to do one for today as well.

What a Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too 
I see them bloom for me and you 
And I think to myself 
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white 
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night 
And I think to myself 
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky 
Are also on the faces of people goin’ by¬†
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’¬†
“How do you do?”¬†
They’re really sayin’,¬†
“I love you.”

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow 
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know¬†
And I think to myself 
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself 
What a wonderful world

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow 
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know¬†
And I think to myself 
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself 
What a wonderful world
What a wonderful world

I hope you enjoyed the song! This song has been my go-to cheer up song, each line encapsulates a beautiful feeling. Some things in life are just beautiful in its simple ways. Ending the day with jazz and a sip of wine is my way to go.

The ability to do something isn’t so much a problem as keeping it consistent. Hope to be back for good now. I may be joining a blogging challenge again pretty soon. I just need to build up a solid discipline foundation. See you in the next post!


I am nominating:

Three Day, Three Quotes Challenge: Day 2

Every birth year, I look back and reflect on what life lessons in that year resonated with me most. I have been 24 years old for 4 months now, and I have experienced by far the most internal struggle I’ve ever been through. I’ve met and dealt with situations beyond my comfort zones.

For my 2nd Day’s Quote Challenge Response, I am choosing another song that I have come to appreciate more and more over the years. This song outlines the goals in my life.

“My Way”

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way

Yes, it was my way


I am nominating:

Three Day, Three Quote Challenge: Day 1

iWinta was nominated by Simon at To Cut a A Short Story Short, and please check his blog and many creative short stories!

The GUIDELINES are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post one quote per day over three days.
  • Nominate 3 blogs per day to take part in the challenge.

It’s entirely voluntary and there’s no time limit for completion.


 

My first quote is going to be from a song that struck a chord in my heart most recently.

Smile by Judy Garland

Smile though your heart is aching 
Smile, even though it’s breaking¬†
When there are clouds, in the sky, you’ll get by¬†
If you smile, through your fear and sorrow 
Smile, and there’ll be tomorrow¬†
You’ll see the sun come shining through¬†
If you’ll….¬†
Light up your face with gladness 
Hide every trace of sadness 
Although a tear, may be ever so near, 
That’s the time, you must keep on trying¬†
Smile, what’s the use of crying?¬†
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,¬†
If you’ll just….¬†
Light up your face with gladness 
Hide every trace of sadness 
Although a tear, may be ever so near, 
That’s the time, you must keep on trying¬†
Smile, what’s the use of crying?¬†
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,¬†
If you’ll just….¬†
Smile

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN8oLGBNXpE

There are tons of great quotes I want to use. The fun part of this challenge for me is finding one that fits my feelings best.


And my three nominations for day 1 are:

  • Rhythm in Life¬†– an inspirational blogger on the beauty of life
  • A Walk and a Lark¬†– follow her on her beautiful hikes where ever she goes
  • Life of Angela¬†– a sweet character that shares her world with the world

WL Reflections: May and June 2018

How much can you change in a year? It’s been more than a year after my reflection in May 2017. I have my journal and blog to thank for keeping track of my reflections and goals of in the past, present and future.

As with a lot of things in life, less is more. Here are some things I did the past couple of months!

Highlights:

I moved to Atlanta!

Since last May’s reflections, I have moved out of NYC and onto Atlanta. I have also taken a lot of time to travel and worked remotely in between. I spent 3 months in Vietnam in 2018, and recovered a little bit at home before launching my new adventures in Atlanta.

So I feel like my life is a bit of a mess right now, but at least it’s¬†my mess.¬†I’m doing the things I like to do, and following my guts to get me there. So far, so good. Except for initial panic of being alone.

For the first time in a long time, I was by myself. 

Having no pre-aquainted friends or family in the city,¬†the strange new city was intimidating to me. I was afraid of the crazy traffic, and the notoriously highway I-85 with a horrible accident rate of at least 1x/day. The summer heat of high 90 degrees also didn’t help. I wanted to give up and run away, back to the safe haven of my small mountain town.

Thankfully, with plenty of encouragement from loved ones, I calmed down. I spent the 1 month rent money; if worse comes to worse, I will just pack up my car and drive home. I stayed.

Things I learned in my solitude:

The importance of making connections

I was elated to find out that my classmate, from studying abroad in Singapore, happens to live 20 minutes away from my apartment. I also have relatives going back generations, also living 20 minutes from me. Great news! They want me to move in with them until I can find a job that can support me!

blog-lastsight

A time to self-reflect

Being alone allows time to reflect on the things I want to do and my goals in life. I started pursuing my hobbies again- something I haven’t done since HIGH SCHOOL. There’s a good 8 years washing along the waves of life. These days, I have been spending a lot time reading, writing, up-keeping photography, listening/playing music, and exploring the city.

greenisthenewblackOn a Hedonic Treadmill

At this point in life, I’m finding many things I do or want to do quite confusing. Chasing after things will get boring after awhile, as happiness comes down to equilibrium. It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness. I’m struggling with what I want to do.

A Proud Sister and Daughter!

While I enjoy living on my own, I also learned to appreciate my time with family a lot more. I particularly appreciate my parents for their support.

My 12 year old sister and 10 year old brother are animators on Youtube now! I’m so, so proud of them!

Please check it out and I would love to know what you think!

Winthanh, my 12-year-old sister is borderline obsessive with her artwork. Her DeviantArt contains amazing digital art, so proud of how far she’s come!

10-year-old brother takes after his artistic sister, creating his own style of animation. I don’t get the music they’re into these days, but the talent is real!

My parents are taking more time to relax and travel, which I’m very proud for. They have been working too hard in life, and it’s time they let loose a bit and relax.

famhome

Trying New Things

  • Volunteered at a refugee assistance program, something that I’ve wanted to do since coming to the United States.
  • Made artichoke for the first time. It’s so delicious, my favorite method is roasting them! This is the recipe I used for roasting.
  • Gardened for the first time, which is a big deal, because I have a deep-rooted fear of earthworms. I’m now thinking of starting my own hot compost pile!
  • I now have a fitness tracker! At first, I resisted, for fear of becoming too reliant on having fancy technology attached to me at all times. After 2 months of use, I disabled most of my notifications, and now loving the sleep tracking, step tracking, calling/messaging, and waterproof feature!
  • Audiobook of the MonthDante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an amazing audiobook read by Lin Manuel Miranda, and talks about philosophies of life in the eyes of a teenager.

Inspirational Thoughts:

Studies show people who their deathbeds’¬†5 top regrets in life:¬†

  1. I wish I’d the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life that others expect of me.¬†
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. 
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 
  5. I wish I let myself be happier. 

33706290_196059917712793_6057893887442157568_n(1)

Habits Retained:

  • Writing my thanks every night.
  • Writing my goals every morning.
  • Reading every day (books, audiobooks, Quora).

Some useful resources:

  • Blinkist (read/listen) – a great site/app for book summaries
  • Quora– general curiosity
  • Medium– my new Quora, coming up with thoughtful articles on life, personal development

Best Quote;

By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected. Рfrom this amazing book by Dale Carnegie

Thoughtful question for YOU:

What do you want to be remembered for in your Eulogy?


Recent Blog Posts:


Next month’s goals:

  • Find work that I’m passionate about
  • Write 2 blog posts/week
  • Work on 2 more chapters of my book
  • Passive Income Projects

 

Mindfulness: Nothing Like a Blank Page of Paper

I almost wanted to publish this blog post blank (Heh). I don’t think that would have helped clear up anything in my head.

Noise, noise, noise!!

Not the kind that the Grinch hears, but the kind that fills up your brain even though you’re not doing anything.

The kind of noise that having many tabs or a phone near your work space can do to you. It was a lot easier back in middle school and high school, where decisions — where you don’t make any big decisions. I was barely allowed to do anything, so that didn’t matter. Now, there’s just too much I want to do- no,¬†can do.¬†

How many times have you opened a new window or unlocked your phone with a clear task to do in mind, but quickly forgot it because you saw something distracting?

There is chaos in options overload.

Your browser is cluttered, and so is your mind.

Your mind thinks so far ahead of your performance capabilities. Sometimes, you wish you’re able to catch your thoughts before it flies away.

Before you know it, your mind will take off into space, thinking about everything you want to do in a day, quickly short-circuits, smoke coming out of your ears, and reduced to a ball of panic.

Often times, your phone and computer are your enemies. They coax you into doing things you didn’t want to do. The crazy thing is, you don’t feel their power most of the time. One notification, and productivity goes down the drain- there goes the last 15 minutes.

It sucks that social media is considered a necessity in networking and marketing. These are two things needed to be a successful Business/E-Commerce site/Blogger/any professional. It’s easy to blame the internet for helping and hurting, right?

Well, it really isn’t its fault. It’s yours. If you know how to moderate yourself, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Self Discipline and Mindfulness

The key is to declutter the mind is to practice self-discipline. And mindfulness. The most successful people in the world practice meditation and mindfulness.

There’s no one else willing to discipline you but yourself. I love his videos because he inspires me to do my best.

Nothing can be forced. Things will happen when they happen. They will especially happen when you work hard to make it happen. As mentioned in The Alchemist, when you really want something, the universe will conspire to help you. I guess that could also mean you are your universe??

I am at a point in life, where I’m not sure of anything anymore. I just know what makes me happy and what doesn’t right now, and I’m willing to follow that where it takes me.

When there’s just so much to write, it just makes more sense to flip the page and start over. Close all the tabs.

Start over with a blank page of paper = Close the tabs

When there is too much noise in my head, I crumple my piece of paper and start over. The close all my tabs and rework through what is really important.

I write a note to myself to read up some posts on decluttering my mind- does that work?

Despite what anybody says, I thoroughly enjoy writing and as usual, I spend a lot of time writing on my journal and on my website.

Things that help when stressed out

Feeling cluttered?

Here are some of my favorite ways to destress

  • Reading – could be a book, manga, Quora
  • Talk to loved ones- they know me best and know how to unwind me.
  • Going for a walk/hike OUTSIDE
  • Being in nature
  • Yoga/breathing exercises
  • Watching some motivational speaker
  • Listening to music – classical, timeless oldies, instrumental
  • Eating food- don’t go overboard!
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Look at some events coming up in the area
  • Taking a hot shower
  • Playing a game
  • Crafting
  • Playing an instrument
  • Last, but not least, laying down and doing nothing.

What you should do is dependent on who you are. Sometimes, it’s easy forget that certain things relax you until you do it. ūüôā


Thanks again for stopping by!

Thoughts on Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I’ve never been a huge fan of self-help books.

My siblings and I come from a small town, population: 3,500. We only recently opened a super-Walmart (which is still kind of small).

We don’t get to see the big city often, but when we do, our favorite thing to do is go to Barnes & Noble.

No, really. We love it there.

It’s crazy how excited we get come the day we get to go. It is, in fact, the only thing we do in Atlanta. And we go there just to read all day long! We would yearn for the weekend to come just so that we can spend an entire day sitting under the store’s tree nook and read.

This time, I chose to read¬†The Alchemist¬†by Paulo Coelho.¬†I’ve heard of¬† this title through various lists of books one should read during their life, and it seemed short, so why not?

The book captivated me.

It was a perfect dose of fantasy and reality. It asked questions that I’ve been asking myself, such as: What was I meant to do with life? What if I just wanted to enjoy life versus working the life expected of me?¬†

But it didn’t write the book in the typical tell-you-facts kind of book. There were adventures, adversities, and realizations.

Published in 1988, in Brazil, The Alchemist started out modestly. Copies of the books were sold through word of mouth, but exponentially grew as Coelho had appealed to an American publisher to translate and sell it in the United States. Then, everybody was reading it. 

The Alchemist tells a fictional story of an Arab “boy” (as he is referred as throughout the whole book) who has a recurring dream and the tug of fate to pursue it. He is discouraged by many obstacles, but always has guidance “omens” to pursue what his legacy is. Along the way, he learns to read the signs of the world, understanding how everything in the world is connected. As he reaches the “X” where his treasure is supposed to be located, he finds out that it was buried alllll the way back where he started.

It wasn’t a life changer like¬†The Four Agreements, but I was hooked and finished it within 3 days. The short 200 page book (100 if you read on the phone) had given me a lot of thinking on my current life phase.

The book highlights his resilience, quick wit, weakness, bravery, compassion, logic, ambition, sorrows, and regrets. The boy is so human. 

Yet, there were magical elements, which reminds me of all the fantasy books I used to obsess over.

Time and again, I found myself rooting for the boy, wondering what happens next, as if it were happening to me. I want him to reach his treasure, as I yearn to reach mine- whatever that may be.

I related to the book on a personal level, because I felt it throughout my life.

There is an impression that seems like the book has an overdone cheesy, silly, time-wasting story of you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-heart-to kind of attitude. I don’t believe that the book is meant to be taken seriously by any means.

There were many important lessons I enjoyed through the book, such as:

The book highlights the boy’s resilience, quick wit, weakness, bravery, compassion, logic, ambition, sorrows, and regrets. The boy is¬†so human.¬†Yet, there were magical elements, which reminds me of all the fantasy book I used to obsess over.

If you want something bad enough, the universe will conspire to help you

If one wants something to happen, they have to go after it like crazy. I find that when I search for things, there are always ways to make it happen. Sometimes it comes from a different place than expected, but the signs are all there.

Awareness of the disconnect between people and the surroundings

People don’t listen to the signs in nature. The book also teaches us that all things are connected.¬†The life and energy of every living being can affect all others around it.

Nothing is insignificant, knowledge and sincere, hard work will pay off on the long run

In this part of the book, the boy had gotten all of his life savings taken by a thief. He is left with nothing in a strange land where he begins working at a jewelry store. Slowly he helped the shop-owner expand his business over the months. The business amazingly takes off.

The book spoke out to my naive self, that dreams will eventually come true, if you keep pursuing it and not lose sight of your treasure.


Thanks for stopping by! Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Do you know of similar books that is similar to this and can recommend? Thanks!IMG_0281

On Religion: “You know what… I’ll pray for you”

DSC_0250… was what I was told as soon as she knew that I wasn’t religious. “Huh,” I thought.

It seems like a really nice and considerate statement, but then it had seems somewhat closed and short. Like the topic was over. It had bothered me.

You know what? I’ll pray for you, and that the lord will find you and lead you to a better place.

Wasn’t that statement a little passive aggressive?


Religion and I

Since little, my parents had given me a strict set of guidelines of things I can and can’t do, must and mustn’t do via religion. I was told to sit in a meditation posture and pray, without really knowing what it does.

It turns out, I was supposed to see my “master” in my inner conscience. If we pray and meditate a lot, with enough focus, we would be able to see her. I suppose it is similar to Jesus or Allah appearing in your thoughts when you ask for help.

My family’s religion,¬†The Quan Yin Method,¬†developed by the Supreme Ching Hai, is similar to Buddhism. Raised with this religion, I was vegetarian all my life. I meditated for most of my childhood, not knowing what I was doing. I was told to chant my “master’s” name before I slept so that I would be blessed. If I did everything right, I would see her in my inner thoughts.

Well, hard as I tried, I never saw her. 

I felt like I was doing something wrong. Like I wasn’t good enough. How come everyone else seems to be on the right path, but I couldn’t see it?

Doubts, Questions, and Insecurities

As a child I was really confused, but I was scared of asking for fear of adults scolding me. I was also scared of being slow and that everyone would know that I’m too shallow to understand the depths of my master’s teachings.¬†

I felt like I was just sitting there, waiting an eternity for the 30 minutes to end so I could go eat and play.

When we lived in the Philippines, Christianity was the dominant religion. I didn’t participate in Bible study, so I had a lot of time to myself while my friends hung out and talked about Christ.

I enjoyed reading stories about Christ. How God created the world. The story of Adam and Eve. The three kings and baby Jesus. Christmas was also my favorite holiday!

Then, I was also conscious of Buddhism, from books and TV shows, there were lots of fun lessons to learn. Buddhism taught me the importance to question everything. I needed to be conscious of my way of living.

If I want to throw fire at someone, my hand would be burnt first.

The more people I meet, the more my mind opened to what all was out there. I began to respect religion in so many ways.

If there is a god, then I think my feelings towards him/her right now would be much¬†respect.¬†I’m sure it must have taken a lot of effort to make such a large and intricate universe, down to every speck.

I see every religion has a point. A system. And if each religion says it’s right, then which is right? It’s hard to imagine that there’s only one right answer, leaving the rest of the ancient religious systems wrong.

The truth can be quite tricky a lot of times, tangled up in a ball of invisible truth yarn.

Judaism. Buddhism. Sikhism. Hinduism. Islam. Christianity.

Who’s to say which is the true one?

I used to say that there’s just too many religions, and that I didn’t believe in any particular one. I go on with my life.¬†

It worked while I was young, carefree, and somewhat ignorant of everything.

My Evolution

My perspective changed when I was faced with a question of – how do we raise children with regards to religion?

Today, I believe in every single one. I believe in the values they create within each person. All religion teaches the importance of values.

I admire that religion gives one such strength to get through difficult life ordeals. That it brings a family, a community together. Its ideals are to strengthen the resolve to be the best person you are. I studied a little on every major religion, and all I saw were good things.

Through travels, I have had many wonderful opportunities to meet with people around the world with their own unique religious beliefs. I love talking to people about their religion, especially those who devote their entire lives to one.

I¬†don’t¬†believe in demeaning other people, like what happened to me today. The conversation had baffled me, making me feel as if I needed to be saved or leaving me feeling like I’m not good enough.

I think religions are great, especially if they are interpreted well and foster actions and feelings of:

  • Spirituality and mindfulness – be in the now and appreciate all else around them
  • Way of living – cause no harm to others
  • Values and Integrity – teaching honesty, work ethics, cooperation, punctuality
  • Responsibility – be a good person to a family, a community
  • Give strength – to get one through hard times

I have a lot of respect towards religion bringing people to different countries of the world to bring love and care to those who don’t have enough.

People could be in their own bubble, but they chose to spend time and money to take care of others.

So to those who says I will “go to hell” or that I needed saving and “pray that the Lord will lead you the right way,” I say-¬†Thanks, it would be cool to see God, but if I don’t, then I will learn from the lessons he teaches through his religion. God is a part of us all, isn’t he?¬†


Thanks for tuning into my little segment on religion! What did you think? Have you encountered anything similar?

On a different note, here are some less controversial topics I’ve written about recently:

 

10 Reasons Why Didn’t Want to Leave Vietnam

I remember arriving in the Atlanta International Airport after a 24+ hours long flight (with a canceled flight night in Seoul, Korea- an adventure I will write about next time).

In three words, it was: quiet, cold, and lonely. Where were the loud honkings? Where were the street vendors on every corner? The dozens of people trying to sell you tropical fruits? The motorbikes? I distinctly remember all those things being really annoying and obnoxious, but without it, I suddenly feel empty.

Reverse culture shock is a real thing. When I went home, all the trees were bare, the house was empty. The neighbors stuck to themselves. It was like I had never left.

I missed Vietnam a lot. I still miss Vietnam, and fondly remember all the people I’ve met and cherished. On this quiet night in a mountains of North Carolina, I want to dedicate a post on what I really wished I had right now.

Noise, Noise, Noise!!!

The grinch would have hated Vietnam. To properly pinpoint a specific noise is a difficult task since there are so many contributors to it. People. Motorbikes. Music. Cars. Honking. Dogs. Roosters (and their roosting). Cows. Cats. Machinery. Trucks. Boats. Noise is everywhere (unless you live in a really mountainous town or tiny village).

Yes, I realize I’m listing the 10 reasons why I didn’t want to leave Vietnam. However, I strongly feel that the cons were Vietnam’s¬† pros. So hear me out.

DSC_2937

Perhaps one of the most memorable traits of Vietnam is that 80% of vehicles on the roads are motorbikes. And 99% of the time, they are honking. I understand it’s something that could give someone deep migraines as a newcomer, but after awhile, I learned started to find it quite practical. See, with technically no constant enforced laws on the roads, motorbiking around will look reckless and dangerous.

Honking is a constant form of communication between drivers of automobiles and motorbikes. It’s a way of saying,¬†“Hey! I’m here, just a quick reminder…”¬†

Crowded

I miss being able to jump on a motorbike and go pretty much anywhere. Being on the road in Vietnam is like playing MarioKart in real life. Sure, there are pot holes on the roads and no room to ride between all the legit motorbike riders out there, but it’s the thrill of being in the open and riding next to your family members.

DSC_2914

Haggling in the markets is a culture trait I despise taking part of while in Vietnam. However, I can’t deny that the markets would not be the same without the loud, and oftentimes intimidating, bartering back and forth. There is a beauty in it, once you listen for awhile. If you listen even longer and not afraid of being embarrassed, you could barter just like a local.

Dirt. Cheap. Food.

Vietnam is definitely in my favor as a vegetarian. The country is 70% Buddhist and vegetarian meat substitute are abundant and have stellar quality.

Not only that, I could get one big bowl of quality vegetarian stirfry noodles or pho (noodle soup) for less than $1!!

DSC_1804

Kilos of tropical fruits with value of over $10 could be bought for $2. In my many posts in the past, I have divulge that I’m a huge fan of good cheap street food. Only in traveling to other countries do I get a chance to try delicious cheap street food (unlike the $5 for a tiny serving street food in New York).

Landscape

With three main regions in the long “S” shape strip of a country, Vietnam has everything to offer. It has beautiful islands, lovely ancient cities, famous plantations, undiscovered caves, and beautiful mountains.

DSC_2755

Some of my favorite sightseeing moments are driving by rice fields and looking at dilapidated houses.

A picture speaks more than a thousand words. Need I say more?

Cheap Everything Else

Overnight buses cost $5-$10. Compared to overnight buses to New York, Vietnam buses are heavenly. Nice 3-4 star quality hotels costs range from $10-$20 a night!

Motorbiking

I’m addicted to being on the road. Cuong and I would often argue over who gets to drive first. We were like kids riding a bicycle.

20180304_053748

(I can’t believe I’m including this, but…. ) Soccer/Football

Soccer/Football, the one you play with your feet, is a huge deal in Asia. While we were in Vietnam, we were in the midst of a U23 international soccer competition. Vietnam supporters were very passionate about our country making it to the almost-top. I’ve never been a sports fan in my life, but I have found soccer to be the easiest to understand.

When the time and day arrives, all of Vietnam’s eyes were on the TV, no matter where they are. It’s amazing how even the people with the biggest differences all sit down and watch the same thing, cheer for the same things. If there’s anything I found out from soccer games, it’s that the Vietnamese are united and proud, not of the communist government, the the people and the country itself.

DSC_2084

When Vietnam won the semi-final match, we all stormed the streets. Hundreds and thousands of people took their motorbike and rode through town with the flags in the air. “VIETNAM UNDEFEATED!!!” they chanted.

Enjoy Tet Celebration in Its Entirety

Something I got to do differently this year was take part in the searching and buying of flowers. We had a seven foot tall lime tree sitting in the back of our motorbike while one person drives and one person holds it up. The vase took 5 people to carry, and was huge! When in Rome, am I right?

Another favorite new experience of mine is cooking the traditional Banh Tet! We spent over 7 hours cooking outside with wood fire to completely cook a giant pot of banh tet. I wrote about the entire experience here!

Family and Communities

When my parents fled Vietnam in the 1990s, they had left behind their entire family. We’ve been back as a family a total of 3 times in 20+ years. I did not meet my extended family until I was a teenager. When I came back, I feel like a part of me was missing, because, well… they’re like family to me. Now, whenever I have problems with my parents, I can’t come running to my aunts for safehaven or advice anymore. Now, I have to deal with my issues like the adult that I am. /sigh.

20180121_002830

See, Vietnamese people have a very special and close-knit bond with each other. Families live near one another and children often live with their parents in their old age. Neighbors come to one another’s house to play board games, eat, cook, party, and especially gossip on a day to day basis.

Way of Life

Vietnam is so different from the United States in so many different ways. Some for the better, and some for the worse. Cuong and I often mention how we were able to freely make decision in Vietnam.

Children wander around on their blocks and ride their bikes out to the beach (up to 3 miles from home).

We like living a minimalist lifestyle.


Vietnam is truly beauty in chaos. It’s hectic, it’s loud, it’s dirty, but it’s endearing. I’ve never felt so much at home. I understand everyone and everything, and can feel where my roots are.

Perspective

‚ÄúForces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄĒ Viktor E. Frankl

Not taking things personally is perhaps my biggest weakness. Sometimes, it just takes a little reminder from loved ones.

I’m quite lucky that no one has given up on me no matter how stubborn I am.

Vietnam Transportations: To Motorbike or Not?

Motorbikes are riding within inches of each other, the loud whirring sound of the motor and fumes fill the air as everyone’s idling at the stop light, the crazy woman driving a 10 ft tall lime tree with the man sitting in the back holding it up (that was us), etc.

It’s easy to say, “I’m not doing that.”

motorbikefiasco

To Ride or Not to Ride

Motorbikes are riding within inches of each other, the loud whirring sound of the motor and fumes fill the air as everyone’s idling at the stop light, the crazy woman driving a 10 ft tall lime tree with the man sitting in the back holding it up (that was us), etc.

Looking at the driving conditions in Vietnam, it’s easy to say, “I’m not doing¬†that.”

Then you settle in and realize that everybody does it.

It sure beats being stuffed in a giant bus that is taking passengers that is over the capacity it’s supposed to have. I have paid as much as everyone else for a seat on the floor between the aisles. There, my motion sickness gets real.

Pros of Driving a Motorbike

  • It’s the most convenient way to get around in the city.¬†It’s also much faster. Motorbike riders can get up between cars and zoom off while cars gets between a sea of bikes.
  • Fun and free feeling of driving in fresh air. Everything feels real when you ride through the streets at night, feeling the sea breeze. Or if you go through villages that could best be experienced on a motorbike. There’s a freedom of being able to control where you go and go anywhere you want to.
  • Feeling cool. Being able to ride alongside family and friends is pretty fun. Whenever we go out, we would take at least 5 motorbikes and head on to the beach. One the way home, we don’t even worry about soaking up the bike seats.
  • Experience the authentic way of navigating Vietnam.

motorbike

Cons of Driving a Motorbike

  • The chance of getting caught by the traffic police. In certain destinations like Nha Trang and Hoi An, traffic police generally let tourists alone. However, cities like Sapa and Saigon, there is low tolerance of drivers with no licence.
  • The chance of getting in a motorbike accident. Accidents happen day to day. It’s a result of drivers going so close to each other. Most of the accidents I’ve seen are small ones, where motorbikes run into each other at slow speeds. Most people just apologize and go on with their day.

Renting a Motorbike

One of the greatest things about motorbiking is that you’ll get to rent a bike for under $5. Most places will try to take your passport, but I have gotten by with giving them my US driver’s licence. If you book your bike through your hotel, they will rent your bike without needing ID. Generally, I’ve found that hotels will charge more for a bike than a motorbike rental shop.

rentedmotorbike.jpg

Don’t forget to haggle for your motorbike. Since motorbikes that aren’t rented out would just be sitting their anyway, you can use that to your advantage in haggling with the owner. We’ve rented motorbikes for as little as $2-3! Though don’t be surprised if they hand you a bike that is all out of gas. When that happens, just go to a local shop and grab a $1 bottle of gasoline to refill as you go along.

Driving Advice

If you do choose to ride in Vietnam, here are some useful tips that has helped me during our trip there: 

If you’re scared of driving, then there are excellent moto taxi driver services that allows you to ride at the back of an experienced driver. Use the apps Grab or Uber to ensure you know exactly how much you pay before you get on the motorbike or car. Grab is a Southeast Asian “Uber” that includes motorbike taxis. In my experience, Grab is generally cheaper.

If you’re scared, drive slow. Other experienced drivers will go around you, nobody wants to get in an accident. On the other hand, don’t drive too close to other bikes, as they can change their direction at any moment.

motorbiking

Don’t be afraid of using your horn. Yes, actually, you should beep every 30 seconds, every time you turn a corner, every time you pass another driver, every time you feel like it’s been quiet too long. It’s not rude, it’s just letting other people know that you’re there.

There will be times where it makes sense to go down a one way road. Do it, everyone does. But if you see a traffic police, turn around and hope you don’t get caught. We’ve seen people get their bikes get taken away, and it’s not fun.

If you get caught by a traffic police without licence, you¬†will get fined.¬†It’s not personal, as they do it for everyone. Though get this, if you don’t have the ridiculously high amount of money they’re asking for, they will settle with whatever you have in your wallet. So just don’t carry a lot on you, yeah?


Have I missed anything? How is motorbiking in other countries compared to Vietnam? Did you have a different experience?

Do check out my other posts about Vietnam here!

 

A Blogging Post to Get the Ball Rolling

What is the definition of procrastination? 

I’ll tell you later…¬†

Ha, get it?

I saw that joke in a video on the internet, and related to it too much. Which reminded me of the blog posts I have not been writing and the endless list of things I want to put on there. It’s been awhile since my last post and I have not updated on my Vietnam trip.

It really is a lot easier said than done, while everything is a work in progress. The more things I do while traveling, the less time I have to write about it.

But as I am too familiar with it, all it takes is to get the first post out to get the ball rolling. I hope my readers will forgive me for my absence and understand that I also owe it to myself to have a good time on vacation. This post will be one that will hopefully kickstart my routine, so it’s really for me, not you.

As I get back into the groove of being in the United States again, blogging is not the only thing on my priorities (though it is, because I did decide to buy a hosting plan that costs plenty of monies). I’m once again making money by¬†working from home.

A short version: Vietnam was awesome. We had absorbed so much during this 2.5 month trip with family. I’m in much more control and aware of myself and my surroundings.

Though I did not come up with as many posts as I’d like, here are some that I had written on Nha Trang. Please peruse and enjoy our photo adventures of Vietnam.

Sunset in Hoi An, Vietnam

 

Vietnam: Hiking and Swimming in Ba Ho (Three Pools), Nha Trang

Ba Ho is a must-visit destination for a day trip while in Nha Trang. Regardless of local or tourist, Ba Ho is a popular place to visit for a day out in nature. Highlights of this trip includes waterfalls, clear pools of water, rock climbing/scrambling, hiking, river cruising, campfire, and great photo opportunities!

What is the Entrance Fee?

Upon arriving at the parking lot, we first pass a booth with employees taking fees for entering Ba Ho. 

The cost is 50,000 VND per person (~$2.2 USD) which is well worth it, in my opinion. With the attention it is getting from tourist, I recommend going while price is still low. 

The River

Suoi Ba Ho (Three Pools River), the base of the hike, is easily accessible from a 10 minute walk in from parking. There, we see several stone tables and swings by a shallow river, safe for kids to play in. We set our camp here for all our food and bags to rest while we explore the park.

The trail doesn’t actually start at the river. Passing the large clearing, follow the dirt path on the left that will lead to Ba Ho (the Three Pools). You know you’re on the trail when you cross a small bridge that is shortly followed by large rocks.

The Hike to Ba Ho (Three Pools)

Five minutes into the trail, the Ba Ho climb instantly became one of my favorite hikes in Vietnam. Prepare to spend at least 2+ hours hiking to the top and back. The hike is incredibly fun and beautiful, navigating across large boulders. With so many possible paths to take, and no wrong paths, we could have explored the rocks for hours!

Hiking large boulders at Ba Ho

Feeling like we’re in an adult playground, we took our time playing with different paths to take.

The red arrows markers leads us to the best way through the three pools in case we encounter difficult paths or get lost. The arrows were clearly visible and easy to follow.

Follow red arrows on the hike!

We had so much fun through the hike that we didn’t even notice any tiredness (which settles in the next day), only excitement! Each pool is clearly marked with a big red “1,” “2,” and “3.” Once we passed the second pool, the hike became noticeably more difficult and dangerous for children to continue. It requires wall scaling and crossing watery rocks to get to the other side.

Is it Safe for Kids? 

This hike is a great time to let kids try out their ability to climb on real rocks. We brought children from 6 to 15-years-old along on our hike.

Making it through a tough hike to the waterfall with the children!

We are extremely careful while holding on to younger kids, but still allowing them to take the steps on their own. It is priceless to see the children’s excitement of taking the right paths on big rocks.¬†

Shorter children will need to be carried on to the next boulder from time to time, but should be be fine if progressing slowly.

Can we Bring Food? 

Absolutely. We brought in large bags of banh mi (Vietnamese baguettes), boiled corn, fruits, ruou nep (rice wine), and other beverages.  

Other Notes

  • Prepared to see a lot of backpacker-style travelers seeking adventurous hikes. Luckily, unlike Yang Bay, we didn’t see hoards of tour groups to this site.
  • There are lots of photo opportunities! Be creative, and being there will bring out the kid in you!

 


Thanks for reading! Here are some posts you might like:

Visiting Nha Trang? What are your favorite places to visit?

Vietnam: Yang Bay, Nha Trang and Why I’m Not Impressed

Yang Bay Eco Park is a tourist destination approximately 1 hour away from the Nha Trang city center.

On a beautiful Sunday morning, our family group of thirteen decided to take a day trip to Yang Bay. All we’ve heard of Yang Bay thus far is that it has hot springs.

The Cost

Package prices as of January 2018 are as follows:

Standard Package (train transport, landscape, animals, crocodile, pig racing, instrument performance)

  • Adult- 120,000 VND
  • Child- 90,000 VND

Package 1 (Standard package + Hot spring) ** We chose this package**

  • Adult- 200,000 VND (approx. $9)
  • Child- 140,000 VND

Package 2 (Standard Package + Hot Mineral mud bath)

  • Adult- 290,000 – 360,000 VND (depending on number of guests, more guests=less expensive)
  • Child- 200,000 VND

Package 3 (Standard package + Mineral Cosmetic mud bath)

  • Adult- 550,000 VND
  • Child- 300,000 VND

See here for more information on package and attraction costs.

*Current money conversions:

  • 1 USD =¬†22,709 VND

The Journey

The majority of the car ride from Nha Trang city center to Yang Bay was pretty dull, with several impressive pot holes. As we get farther away, we get to the rural areas with sparsely littered buildings.

Only ’till the last 30 minutes prior to arrival is beautiful, with luscious green mountains and plantations. We see cows walking on the road right along side our car.

landscape

The Attractions

Fresh Water

  • Yang Bay, Yang Khang are natural falls right by each other where guests can get in and swim in the water. At this time of year, the water is very cold and shallow, coming up to our knees. It is a very safe place for kids to play in, so long as you don’t cross the ropes marking “STOP.”
  • The cool part is that we’re able to swim right next to the falls in the relative safety of a lifeguard watch. I got out of the water about 15 minutes in because the rocks underneath my feet hurt with every step we took.
  • There are some photo opportunities with a path leading right near the Yang Bay Falls.photoop

Hot Springs

  • Famous for its hot springs, Yang Bay attracts many locals as well as tourists. The pools drain water at 3:30 pm, so if your highlight was to go to the hot spring, remember to make time to visit the site early.

Wildlife 

  • Wildlife enclosements are available for viewing by everyone. Certain ones allow guests to get up close with the animal, which costs extra money. The Bird Garden (additional 30,000 VND) looked really fun as you can go inside and be in the garden itself. There is also a wonderful display of peacocks spreading its feathers. On the way into the park, we also saw a dozen white horses tied to a tree.

Feed the Fish with Baby Bottles

Exactly as it sounds, for an extra 12,000 VND, we can feed fish with a baby bottle filled with fish food. It was an intense several minutes were dozens of large fish jump halfway out of the water to feed from the bottle.

screenshot_20180110-222226-011180289057.jpeg

The aggression of the fish lead us to believe that they leave the fish to starve through the day so they can amuse the tourists.

Fish Massage

Costs an additional 30,000 VND per person. If you’re really patient and still as a statue, you might get a few nibbles. Otherwise, it really depends on the people. Out of our group of 13 people, only 1-2 of us had a decent “massage.” Waste of money when we could be going to a natural spring where we get fish massage for free. ūüėČ

fish-massage

Crocodile Feeding

Costs an additional 10,000 VND per bait. As one free bait was supposedly included in our ticket price, we were peeved when the rep said that it was no longer in it and had to pay for it ourselves.

crocodile

Sneaking Food In

Unlike most amusement parks like Vinpearl, Yang Bay’s isn’t too strict with food restrictions. We can bring food and drinks in through the gate and most of the park.

yangbayfamily

Once we reached the hot springs, the employees requested that we leave our foods and drink behind. We left behind a cooler with some ice and water, and kept our food hidden in our bags to eat once we got in.

Overall

Yang Bay, though with several good photo opportunities (if you’re into Instagraming-Facebooking your travels), was full of hidden costs and mediocre attractions that could be better provided elsewhere.

For the distance it takes to travel there and back, I felt that by myself, I probably wouldn’t go again.

Luckily, I was with my family, with nine kids, it was well worth it because they’re having fun and we’re having fun!

fampic

Vietnam: Making Traditional Bánh Tét During Lunar New Year

It’s pretty cool to have family in Vietnam.

Unless we have a Couchsurf host arrangement already made, we typically spend our time visiting popular free destinations in the country. We’ve been here for a week now, and all family we’ve made have been incredibly hospitable. Experiences like riding motorbikes, grabbing tropical fruits like coconuts and mangoes from the garden, eating traditional (vegetarian) foods, etc. There is no better way to reconnect with our language and culture like getting acquainted with family.

Vietnamese foods that take 2.5 hours to get to back in the US are accessible here within a short 5 minute motorbike ride, and at a fraction of the price. The closer we get to the holidays, everyone celebrates by making lots and lots of food.

We’ve been so spoiled with all the vegetarian foods available to us.

Vietnam has a prominent Buddhism background, which means that finding artificial vegetarian meat is pretty easy. It also helps that a lot of our family in Vietnam has been buying at local vegetarian shops all these years.

Today, we’re making banh tet!

Bánh tét, a traditional rice cake with mung bean filling, is usually eaten during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

My mom and I have made banh tet back in the United States as well, but this is a whole different process. It’s not so easy when you have to keep a fire alive in heavy rain, keeping the smoke from your eyes, and trying to evade mosquitoes.

When it comes to making banh tet, my grandma is a pro. She’s been making delicious banh tet for decades, and her techniques are near flawless. Years ago, she made 100+ banh tet’s to sell at our local market during new years. Today, she makes it specially for family and friends only.

grandmabanhtet

The ingredients of banh tet is pretty simple: sticky rice, banana leaves, mung bean (fried and seasoned to taste), and any additional filling you may like. There are many variables to make good banh tet, which is where my grandma comes in.

  • quality of sticky rice
  • well-seasoned mung bean filling
  • wrapping techniques
  • cook time and method

Compared to our banh tet in the US, my grandma’s are¬†much bigger, almost twice as big! She also uses¬†a different kind of fiber that is really strong, and (I’ve noticed) used to tie up a lot of vegetables at the market.

makingbanhtet

Setting Up

My grandma’s banh tet can afford to be so big because it’s made over wood fire in¬†a giant pot. Because they make it in such large size and quantity, Vietnamese people typically set up a giant pot outside and cook it outdoors (back ‚Äúyard‚ÄĚ). It’s pretty cool how we used just scrap wood and log pieces to fuel the fire. We have to cook it a total 7-9 hours, depending on how consistent the heat is!

banhtet

We set up several bricks to support our pot of banh tet. Thank goodness I’ve had experience with camping, as it made me not so ignorant in front of my more experienced aunt and grandma.

settingup

Dark Clouds Settle In

Receiving news that an incoming storm, we had set up a raggedy umbrella right by the pot to save the fire from getting soaked. We also put on a tarp to keep the wood from getting wet. The umbrella had done a wonderful job in protecting me from the pouring rain. However, the smoke and steam caught under the cover is highly deadly.

umbrella-rainSitting around for 7+ hours is a perfect time to connect with family. During this time of the year, families would gather around the fire, tell stories, and listen to festive Tet melodies.

under-umbrella

Power outage, reminded me of my first time in Vietnam where the power had cut out every other day. Today, the internet in Vietnam is better than the United States (where I live anyway).

Despite the gruesome, humid, dirty, hot, dangerous conditions of making banh tet, this is the most authentic experience making it.


What are some tough, but worthy, experiences you’ve had while exploring culture?

Vietnam: Layover Fiasco, Conquering Jetlag, and Meeting Our Pet Pig!

I’ve never used an airport intercom before.

After 15+ hours of our first leg of the flight and suffering from heavy jetlag, we landed in Incheon Airport, South Korea. We have two hours to transfer to to the flight we were on next. The line at security was long enough to worry whether we’d get to our gate on time. Fortunately, we made it through with 20 minutes to get to run to our gate.

With only minutes before doors close, my dad and uncle had wandered off for a quick smoke for awhile already. Why is it so necessary to go right now? I frantically came up and ask the representative to call for their names. I have heard people being called from the intercom many times from being at the airport, but never had that happen to me. The representative was very kind and helpful as she handed me the microphone for the intercom.

I have to say it’s pretty cool that I was able to grab the intercom mic and use it. The¬†of scene from Home Alone¬†popped into my head, except this time the adults are the ones left behind (the irony).¬†I heard my voice on the intercom, which wasn’t as composed as most of the announcements I hear, but I hoped it did the job.

Seeing no point in six people losing their seats, we decided that we’re taking the flight with the kids, and that mom will wait for them to catch the next flight.

Fortunately, they had held the plane and was able to board the flight at the last minute. I don’t remember too much about the flight, except that my ear felt as if it was about to explode. This usually happens to me with smaller flights, though I don’t know the exact reasons. The food was better the other flight. And, ice cream!

Vietnam is exactly as I remembered.

Very hot, humid, and loud. Even in the cooler seasons, the heat is real.

We were stuck in a two hour long standstill traffic at 3AM. Cars drove 1 inch away from each other to squeeze their way through narrow sidewalks and get past each other. Truck drivers falling asleep while waiting in traffic is apparently a normal occurrence here.

Saigon is about 10 hours away from Nha Trang by car. We traveled through the night, which is great, because it saves time and money while we sleep anyway. I woke up sporadically through the ride and caught wonderful glimpses of the changes from city to county, scenes of acres of plantations, and cool side shops of people doing their routines.

Vietnam offers sleeping buses, where we could travel through the night on a bus with bunk beds for comfort. Pretty fancy and convenient. Our transport is a rented van and driver to take us straight to Nha Trang, which is best for the number of people and luggages we have.

We took many breaks, as much for our driver as it is for us. Stopping by one of the many side road hammock cafes that serve food and refreshments. Meals are as cheap as 20,000 VND, which is a little less than $1!

Jetlags usually don’t bother me too much. Recovering from jetlag is pretty rough.¬†I‚Äôm constantly taking naps. Not the typical 15-30 minute naps, but one of those legit 2-5 hours blackout naps. The naps help me not get too sleepy before bed, but still have enough energy to sleep before it gets too late.

Home, sweet home.

The past few days have been a blur in travel, crash sleeping, eating, and sitting, which is surprisingly very exhausting. After bringing all of our stuff in, we were startled by the giant pig standing in our driveway. This is MŠĽći, our pet pig. She’s over 2 years old and weights many, many pounds.

She may seem a bit intimidating at first, but is actually quite tame. We give her most of our leftovers, which is great for not wasting food! Her hair is prickly, what I would imagine a porcupine to be like, but overall, quite cute! She typically lazes around and usually moves when we give her a good rub on her side.

Overall, not many super exciting things happening the first few days, but I’m grateful that we made it safely. It definitely feels good to be home.¬†