I may have gotten a little lax on the blogging front. Oops! But I am doing a week of rewind posts! From the Chinese New Year, to the Pinxi Lantern Festival, to petting a sheep and everything in between…theyre comin at ya!
Rewind Post #1: Winter Vacation in Vietnam
In Taiwan, they do not have spring break or Christmas break but they do have almost the whole month of February off for the Chinese New Year. As a Fulbright ETA, we are allowed to leave Taiwan for a total of two weeks during that time. So, the minute Mid-Year Conference was over, I was headed to Vietnam with Lakyn! We thought we deserved some pampering to celebrate our half way point so we booked an all inclusive resort in Mui Ne, Vietnam. We arrived at the airport to be greeted with our name on a huge sign and warm summer air. It was so nice to have hot weather, coming from cold and rainy Yilan, so we were excited already! Our driver did not speak much English, but we were excited to be able to see Vietnam on our 3 hour car ride to the resort…..how very very wrong we were. Our three hour car ride turned into six. Out of those six hours, about two of them had any kind of view whatsoever. Mostly it was flat, dark and empty. On top of that, Vietnamese drivers are SCARY (worse than Taiwan if anyone thought that was possible). Our driver was swerving around huge tractor trailer trucks with cars coming toward us in the other direction….because that sounds like a good idea, right? UGH.
We finally arrived at about 2am and were exhausted. But, the second we saw the resort, we knew it was totally worth the ride. It was gorgeous. Straight out of a movie, gorgeous. We went to our room and went to bed, ready for an early morning of exploring. Although we were both very tired, we couldn’t sleep in. We were too excited! We woke up and explored the resort. We walked on the beach (very windy!), saw the pool, the massage area, the multiple restaurants and the beautiful flowers, fountains and rivers everywhere. It was perfect!
We started at a huge buffet breakfast, where I grabbed all the bread and toast in sight. Good bread is rare in Taiwan, and we have no access to a toaster so I was SO excited. I also got hash browns, fruit, an omelet, and muffins. Yes, as always, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, but it all looked so good, I had to! Then, we went down to the pool to read and tan. The pool was overlooking the beach but they planted palm trees to block the crazy wind so it was much more pleasant. It was also near the drink stand, so I ordered banana and chocolate smoothies all day! (:
After a VERY short time in the sun, I realized I was burning. Within a few days, I would realize just how bad. See war wounds below.
Even with the burns, I had the best week ever. I got a massage every day! The first day, we got them outside, which was so cool! I also got a mud wrap (never again…its hot and sticky and slightly claustrophobic…but had to have the experience!), got my nails done, and had a hot stone massage! It was GREAT. Most days we relaxed by the pool and read, and ate, a lot. Three big meals plus snacks…but hey we were on vacation.
In the last few days, we decided to explore. We woke up at the crack of dawn to see the fishing boats come in to the Mui Ne port. Mui Ne is a small fishing town, so we wanted to get into the local culture! It was stunning. The boats (if you could even call them that) were all brightly painted, the beach was covered in bright shells and the ocean was clear. I could have stayed all day. We walked around the beach and talked with some fisherman before making our way down the streets of Mui Ne. We stopped to buy a coconut milk pancake (best thing Ive ever eaten) on the side of the road and wandered through the village.
Mui Ne is extremely poor. It was like things Ive only seen in magazines and newspaper articles. People living in shacks they made themselves, sleeping on hammocks, and not wearing shoes. You could tell this small town had next to nothing as far as material wealth goes. And it really got me thinking about my experiences this year, my expectations and my realities. I thought when applying to Fulbright that I would be put somewhere kind of like this. Poor, rural, in great need of help. I wanted to help change people’s lives and in turn I expected this year to change my life and my being as well. Instead, what I got is “rural” Taiwan. Taiwan, for an Asian nation, is extremely modern and western. Their idea of rural is still a huge city. Both Luodong and Su-Ao have so much more to them than Mt. Vernon or even Augusta. That’s crazy. These supposedly rural places are equivalent to the capital of my state….not really what I was expecting upon arrival. I thought this year would be difficult for me. I thought it would be challenging and one of those years where I would “discover” myself and whatnot. But, it’s really been fairly easy. It has been….inconvenient. That’s probably the best word to describe it. None of my struggles here have been anything more than inconvenient. Yeah, it’s annoying when my Chinese is not good enough to convey what I want. It’s annoying when I order something and a completely unexpected, weird, and gross dish comes out instead. But, it’s nothing life changing. This year has maybe made me try more foods and be more patient but nothing super extreme…and I’m in one of the poorest schools Yilan Fulbright partners with. But, my students remind me a lot of kids that would live in Mt. Vernon. They might wear pants that are too short because they can’t afford new ones, but they are in no way the poorest of the poor like I expected. Mui Ne really got me thinking about this and what I wanted from this year. I really wanted to be placed somewhere like that. Somewhere where I can’t run to the grocery store and find America brands. Somewhere so out of my comfort zone, it fundamentally changes my life. I think, as much as I have loved this year, I still want that. I still want to go somewhere different. Somewhere not western, not a city. I think if this trip taught me anything, it is that that’s what I want to do. After grad school maybe, I want to spend a chunk of time somewhere more meaningful, where I have to find my own way and learn to be an independent, problem-solving person. I think Taiwan may have been the first step, but I definitely want more. I have the travel bug…so hopefully Mom and Dad want to come visit me in rural Africa some day! (:
Anyway, back to Vietnam! I really did fall in love with Mui Ne in such a short time. It was a really great experience. In fact, Lakyn and I loved seeing the town so much, we decided to go back out that same day! This time, we went to Fairy Stream. Fairy Stream is this stream surrounded by huge red and orange sand formations. It looks like it’s man made, but its all natural, and so cool! It was really stunning. See pictures below! (:
After Fairy Stream, Lakyn and I took a Vietnamese cooking class. (Yes, I am now a certified novice Vietnamese chef according to the Pandanus Resort. Impressive, I know. I even have a laminated certificate to prove it…) It was SO much fun! I must admit, I made the most delicious food ever! Besides the fact that the resort chef was telling me exactly how much of everything to put in, when to put it in, and how to cook it…I totally did everything else myself! I made spring rolls with rice paper, tofu stir fry with mixed veggies, a sweet and sour soup with tofu and veggies, and then a tomato sauce tofu dish. It was SO good! I ended up ordering my dishes off the menu a few more times before we left because I loved them so much (but the ones I made were best!)
Our last adventure in Vietnam was to the famous red sand dunes. We went to watch the sunset and it did not disappoint. It was stunning. I found a dune all by myself and just sat for almost an hour, just taking it all in. The dunes went as far as the eye could see. Nature really is impressive.
So between having an all inclusive extravagant vacation, to seeing the poor town of Mui Ne (ironic I know…), I learned a lot on my short trip to Vietnam and I am so glad I chose to spend my week there. It is a beautiful place full of amazing people (and really really hot sun!!!). Up next in my adventures, Japan!