We are back in our happy place after an unsettling emergency in Laos. If you haven’t already read in my previous blog posts, Sue (Steve’s mum) had an unfortunate accident in the capital of Laos, Vientiane by slipping on some stairs and breaking her femur bone. As I write this fortnight travel journal up, poor Sue is still lying in a 10-star Bangkok hospital after her operation and Baz is staying nearby in a hotel with the plan for her to leave for Australia early Wednesday morning on a direct flight back to home town Melbourne. Steve is also still over in Bangkok with his parents and he’s due to be reunited with us in happy Hoi’An on Tuesday afternoon which we’re all looking forward to.
But our travel experiences continue and this fortnight marks the beginning of Term 4 for school. Unfortunately, ‘Mia School’ is all wrapped up as teacher Mia is having an operation on her shoulder in the new Da Nang hospital, and then she’s taking a month off in Thailand. So I have organised to take two of our school girls who are still finishing their distance education modules – Ash and Dacey – to meet Peta, another expat teacher who has been stationed here in Vietnam for over 10 years.
Our game plan is to finish all the school work in the next month. Billie has already completed the entire Year 7 curriculum, Charlie has plenty of revision ahead of her Health and Human Development Year 12 final exam scheduled in Melbourne in early November, Dacey will be able to complete her distance education modules in this time period and Ash will be catching up on her subjects. It’s all doable. So that as we move into mid-November, the girls schooling for the year will be complete. This frees us up considerably and we won’t need to be connected to great wifi from then on.
On another note, we are feeling the days pass by and the feeling of wanting to stay and maybe, just maybe, commencing a second year of travel has gripped us (well Steve and me). Things like life look quite different when you’re looking through the windshield versus the rearview mirror. It’s an interesting journey into how to make a decision that you want to happen, but your children do not necessarily want to happen. In summary it’s called agonising over making a choice, but please read on.
Nice to Be Home
As I’ve already mentioned it’s just lovely being back “home” in Hoi’An. It does feels a lot like home actually. Seeing all our friends again and catching up with our lovely landlords Dao and Chuong and seeing their smiling friendly faces is just so nice and heart-warming.
However, it is less than a perfect “home” for the kids as they continue to miss their friends back home, and peer socialising.
Great to have Steve back too with us!
We get back into our routine of riding to the local Cua Dai market to buy our fresh groceries and bread rolls each morning. The women folk who run the market are happy to see that we are back, but more happy to see their foreign man Steve back each morning. It’s a wonderful lifestyle here in Hoi’An.
We’re just scraping above our budget at the moment at A$301 per day (up until 10 October). Lots of money out on exploring Laos and changing up the routine, but we’re happy with this result as projected daily budget per day is between A$250-300 all inclusive. And I mean everything!
I have to coax Ash and Dacey to accompany me on push bikes to meet another potential expat teacher that is more than happy to assist them finishing their last term of school. The only thing is that she doesn’t have an actual address, so finding her is rather difficult. Funnily enough it’s a common problem in Hoi’An – no formal addresses for many of the out of the way homes, so getting around especially in these rice paddy back streets is all about navigation through particular landmarks.
I meet Peta with my hot, sweaty, complaining two daughters at the nearest local pagoda and we follow her on bicycle back to her home. The girls and I timed the ride from our place to hers and cycled a total of 25 minutes one way, so the sweat was flowing from their brows and their tempers flaring accompanied with snide comments such as, “Just letting you know mum I’m not doing this every day! Just letting you know okay.” The journey just getting there to meet and chat with Peta was amazing and serene though. I absolutely loved venturing out to the more obscure places of greater Hoi’An and appreciated discovering another world of little laneways, up and down rolling hills, more rice paddies and happy water buffalos.
But I had to agree with them, my sniggering sweaty daughters, it is way too far to travel in this heat just one way especially every weekday. However, their demands for instant gratification and solutions didn’t go down well with me – so my reassurance that I understood and we may (never say will as that’s a commitment and they’ll call you on it – yes I have learnt the hard way many times) have to look into hiring ebikes for them to get to school and dad and I would look into this scenario really should have set them at ease. But it didn’t. The two of them fed off one another and kept a level of contempt up that would test Buddha’s calm ways. They dug their heels in and a terrible, lingering attitude set itself in like a heavy fog. But I continued to keep my head just above water while we sat down with Peta and talked about what we could create for the girls. This is why I need to practice yogic breathing for instances just like this!
But isn’t it funny how things work themselves out. I happen to mention to Peta how long it took us to cycle here, and that I may need to look into hiring ebikes so the girls can get to her place quicker and easier during the weekday and she mentions to me that she has two spare currently unused ebikes we could borrow to travel to and from ‘Peta School’ for just a nominal rent of 1 million Dong per bike per month (A$55). So things start looking up and the fog starts to slowly lift. Slowly.
In the end we chatted with Peta and worked out that the girls would start this week and do three hours of school work at her place in the mornings and if the girls catch a taxi down on the first morning, they could ride the ebikes back in the afternoon. Perfect. The girls attitude picked up after that arrangement and everyone is happier. Love how the universe conspires to work everything out when needed. Now we have to make room for the two ebikes that require charging inside overnight.
It Goes in Threes
1. Chopping Hair – yep I decided to chop all my hair off! Shorter and sweeter and I’m so glad I did it. Ash came along to the hairdressers to get her hair dyed black and sat next me with that horrified look on her face informing me how much I’m going to regret chopping it off…but I went ahead against the millennial naysayer and held faith with the Vietnamese hairdresser. I did some research and BaLe Well Beauty had a good reputation with the expat community located here in Hoi’An plus I discovered her mother was a hairdresser (back in the day) and she learnt a lot from her mum. Her mum was hanging about in the back stalls of the shop and was such a lovely, little person, who wrapped her arms tightly around my waist for the group photo. Which meant I was extremely happy with the style! It’s so easy to keep and it’s lots cooler in this often hot and sticky Vietnamese weather.
- Adding Ink – yup I then decided to get my very first tattoo. Ash certainly wasn’t the naysayer regarding my decision to do this as she was with chopping my hair off! And I know, I know, I know. There’s the “I like tattoos camp” and then there’s the “I can’t stand tattoos camp”. And I really don’t care whether you like tattoos or not! People LOVE giving their opinion and you know what, great for your opinion! Keep it, feed it, stroke it – it’s all yours. Rant over (lol)!
So why did I get one? Because I’ve always wanted one silly! But I’ve never been sure or certain what I wanted and where I wanted the tattoo. But for some reason clarity arrived when I saw a tattoo on a Google search that the girls showed me and I was instantaneously, “Yes! That’s what I want!” It just so happens that there’s a new tattoo shop called 1984 that’s opened up here in Hoi’An along Cua Dai Road not too far from us. So we all bicycled down there with the girls one afternoon to check it out and chat to the artist. Now I have no idea about tattoos and time required and bookings needed. So I was all ready to go at 3pm to get a tattoo but when I arrived I was informed that I would have to make a booking for 9pm that night as they were already booked out all afternoon. Many might think that was my opportunity to turn away and cancel it, but I booked in an appointment for later that evening.
I returned the family posse (minus Billie) at 9pm and the tattooing session started. The two men were looking at the detail that was required from my tattoo – it’s a map of the world and I wanted it on the inside of my right wrist. “It’s a job for Milo – he’s the detail man…go get Milo,” one of them said. They spent quite a while printing out the map to get the right size that I wanted, but we got there with a few minor adjustments (not to the world map, but to the sizing on my wrist!). Not long after the final print of the map was agreed on, a little Vietnamese man walked in quietly. He looked like a young version of Ho Chi Minh with a wiry tuft of hair growing long from the point of his chin. Milo was the so called detail man who didn’t speak any English but was calm, focussed and friendly. What more does one need in a tattoo artist?
The kids surrounded me except Billie who was not in attendance as the thought of watching her mum getting her first tattoo didn’t thrill her to her core. But Dacey was there with my iPhone getting some video and taking photos. And as I lay down I found myself to be sure this is what I wanted (don’t worry naysayers!). I didn’t look over to my right side where tattoo artist Milo was seated with my right arm exposed and outstretched, instead I looked straight at Dacey who was standing on my left watching her with mouth ajar and an excited look in her eyes. And then it started. The noise and the pain. Yes, it hurt but once I got used to the feeling, I knew what to expect and I could breathe through it and it didn’t feel so bad after that. I have given birth naturally four times with only gas, so this was straight forward.
The funniest thing was that I was getting a tour around the world on my arm. As Milo was drawing the world on my wrist with ink, Dacey would say we’re in South America mum and what’s that one Russia? And finally we’re in Australia and he’s nearly finished mum. It was all over very quickly. I glanced over once it was done and saw the permanent black ink etched under my skin; a thin line of the world drawn on my wrist. I love it. I’m also so happy I waited until the tender age of 43 to get my first tattoo. Each time I look down and see my world map I’m always reminded of our amazing world and all of the amazing countries we as a family had the opportunity of travelling around throughout 2017.
- Will We Stay or Will We Go?
Seriously folks Steve and I do not want to come home. And lately we are putting some serious food for thought into this one. I think it’s officially out there for the three big Ds in our family: Debate, Discussion and Decision. There are plenty of pros and cons lists floating about as well as mindfulness and personal journal writing and plain old “you have got to be kidding” viewpoints but the reality of how I feel at this point in time of our traveling journey is that I could keep going, or put another way I really don’t feel all that excited about returning home to Australia.
Making the decision to stay or return is disruptive, and feels like the typhoon that’s forming off the central coast of Vietnam.
We have a lot of options for staying as well as returning home and everything is up in the air for the moment. It’s like a dust storm and I’m thinking the path will become clearer when the dust settles. No definitive decision has been made just yet and it’s become a complex multi-faceted life and family decision that is proving quite a challenge to find clarity around. We realise there’s much to take into account, including four teenage girls who are keen, extremely keen, to return home but there’s also Steve and me who are wanting to create a life out in our world home. There’s been many differing opinions coming from family and friends (thank you for your opinions and offerings) and it is a wild thought to contemplate another year away. So, readers, you’ll just have to stay tuned for the outcome while we six thrash it about like shark bait for a bit!
More On That Last Change…
We are changed people for sure through this year-long journey we have all embarked on and very nearly completed. One year of world backpacking travel has altered not only who we are as individuals but as a family. It’s one of the intentions Steve and I set out to create – change. But now, as the #days roll by, Steve and I are gripped by a possibility that we always shot down on previous shorter trips overseas: could we keep going? And if we did continue what would that look like for us and for the kids?
And when the possibility of a second year is real, like it’s actually something that we are giving loads of brain power to, it is real. We all know that as human beings we find uncertainty amplifies our emotions. We never want change or feel uncomfortable in the not knowing stage. It feels uncomfortable. But is there a way to decrease the uncomfortableness and design our life as we go along? I mean, rather than just saying, “The year’s over, thanks for the memories” is there a way to continue rather than return to what we left behind almost 10 months ago? And while I’m at it why oh why is it that we humans are usually focussed on one life plan? There are other options you know! What are life’s variations and how best can we choose the path best suited?
There are loads of questions swirling in my mind as you can tell.
And the way I see it, it’s similar to raising a child – with the first baby there’s so much change and life is not as we once knew it, it’s shifted. So is there a way to tame the problem of continuing the backpacking journey, just like how we have tamed our approach to raising our four children?
There’s no navigating this one with a GPS, but rather I feel it’s a process of way finding – one step at a time. So at the moment we’re stuck in this muddy pot hole for the time being. One step at a time.
We’re not physically back in Myanmar (Burma) but late Sunday night, after returning back from Hanoi, I sit in bed with my iPhone (I know it’s bad) and have a conversation with our young friend Janna who lives in Mandalay. And this conversation strikes right to the heart of so called problems we all think we may have, but we don’t really.
Janna shares with excitement that she wants to apply for an overseas scholarship to study. Canada. She wants to study anywhere in the world that will give her a flaming chance at making her life and her mum Rita’s life better. She asks me to help her and of course I would do anything to assist Janna. After Googling the scholarship entry conditions, I’m dismayed as they are all for high flying final year high school students who have money. Janna lives with her single parent mum and has already completed high school. I get her to send me her high school marks. The scholarship will only accept A/A+ students and Janna just doesn’t have those marks against her name.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for her to not have any viable and attractive options for her life. The education system in Myanmar is corrupt and getting ahead is a difficult pathway. I felt horrible having to tell her that she wouldn’t qualify for these particular scholarships. All she wants to do is get out of Myanmar and study something that is going to positively impact her life and make it less hard on her mother. But there is no magic wand, no easy solution, no blank passport out of her home country.
During this Messenger conversation I think about my four daughters and what choices in life they have at their fingertips all for the simple reason of being born white in Australia. I often think of our passports and how just having an Australian passport gives them access to the entire world. But for young people like Janna, life does not automatically provide a set of good options or pathways, rather there seems to be a series of dead ends and roadblocks.
Being in this conversation sends my ideas wild. I have a keen sense of justice – it’s one of my top personality traits – and I often think of all the people we have met along our way, who struggle but keep going and maintain hope for something better in their future. I send a little prayer (I’m not religious but it’s the least I feel I can do) to all the people in the world who are struggling for freedom and independence and just a chance of a better life. Refugees. Poor. Sick. The young people living in Mandalay, Buldhana, Berrechid – like Janna, Nikita, Awjula, Bohoka, Master A… We just have no idea what it’s like being them and I feel completely dismayed by other white, entitled Australians who think they can judge these people and place them in a box. Pfffttt!
On the other side of this conversation the complete opposite is occurring. Talk about chalk and cheese! A sense of entitlement and taking for granted from my four daughters. And then at dinner together eating fresh spring rolls and a variety of other Hoi’An dishes at Han Bao Restaurant, the mystery is revealed as to what Charlie and Ash got up to in Hanoi on our final morning. They couldn’t contain it much longer but I had to promise to not get angry. I pinky promised.
Charlie got a tattoo.
A Visit from Immigration
We noticed some police officers in their dark green suits outside the front of our home. They were on motorbikes. Wonder what’s happening? And then they’re outside out gate coming into the front door. Oh my god. I’m not sure if anyone else is like this, but the sight of foreign police officers in their suits is a little frightening.
I have no idea what’s going on, except I invite them to come inside all three of them. They take their black shiny shoes off and leave them at the front door and move int the lounge room where they take a seat. One of them speaks English and so we start to communicate. He wants me to provide our passports and check our visas. He asks how many people are staying in the house and how long we will be here for. The girls have congregated at the base of the stair case and watching intently to the green men’s unexpected visit unfold.
Our landlord Mr Chuong arrives, which I’m relieved to see and he takes over the impromptu meeting with the three officers in Vietnamese. It’s very strange listening to others speak in a foreign tongue as I’m unsure if their tone is serious or not. Plus Vietnamese language has six different tones which makes it hard for me and the girls to work out if the tone is serious or light.
Anyway they leave smiling. I feel relieved. But the Vietnamese immigration do random checks on foreign tourists staying in Vietnamese rental houses all the time. Glad everything was in order.
I’ve finally stumbled on a writing group in Hoi’An that meets weekly at the Community Co-Working Hub. I attend to see if it’s something that will benefit my writing as well engaging and energising my creativity. And it is. At my first writing session we are given a number a writing prompts to freely write about and in that 10 to 15-minute writing prompt session I came up with a wonderful idea for my travel book (my dream is to finally write a book about our adventures) that explores our 365-day world travel adventure. The first idea of what it could be called:
365 travel days around the world of connecting and disconnecting with four teenage
daughters. The ups, downs and roundabouts of global family travel.
Do you like it? It’s one of many approaches to mould a book out of our travels.
I attend each Friday morning with a spring in my step – writing is definitely something I’m obviously passionate about, and hand in a donation of 100,000 Dong (A$5.50) for the pleasure of the two hours of creativity, writing flow and meeting some fellow writers and journalese and find myself bursting with happiness as I cycle back home along Cua Dai Road. It seems that Hoi’An just seems to work for me in more ways than I can count. I walk away committed to reading and writing more each morning. I even commit to start writing each day at dawn while the household is still sleeping with a coffee and pure household silence.
We finally organise an authentic Vietnamese cooking lesson but not with any of the myriad restaurants offering authentic cooking experiences, but with our landlady Dao. She pops over at 7.30am, and we are ready to go with her to the local Cua Dai market up the road to purchase the ingredients.
We are already quite familiar with the local Cua Dai market as Steve visits it daily and has all his stall holder ladies who enjoy seeing him each morning buying produce for the family, but we’re unfamiliar with the produce we need to purchase to make the traditional Vietnamese dishes. I’ve requested with Dao that I would like to learn how to make Banh Xeo (country pancakes), fresh spring rolls, beef Pho, Vietnamese salads, morning glory and that lovely Vietnamese sweet and spicy dipping sauce.
The thing that surprises me most is that when I go shopping I seem to buy so much food, especially meat. It’s a dirty habit from living in such privileged western conditions. But alongside Dao I watch and take note as she buys only small amounts of each of the produce required. Small cuts of pork, and a handful of green prawns is all that’s required for our cooking session. The largest thing Dao buys is a bunch of green morning glory tied up with string! Oh I can’t wait to be able to cook this amazing food in our kitchen here.
We cook most of the morning, boiling, cutting, slicing, and then tasting and eating. Dao’s husband and our landlord, who we lovingly call Mr Chuong, arrives too and we realise that the cooking lesson has taken a bit of a turn. Mr Chuong is outside on the front porch with a small pot that he is using as a BBQ and he’s bought with him a bag full of large Tiger prawns that we skewer and place on the mesh straddling over the hot pot. The Larue beers are out too and the afternoon is enjoyed together over tasty food we have cooked. Mr Chuong’s father is a fisherman who has his own boat down by the river, so the Tiger prawns are an extra addition. But we share all the meals. I’m completely full. I’m so in love with Vietnamese food and the style of shared eating.
Here is the secret Vietnamese dipping sauce ingredients:
• White garlic (1/2 corm)
• Sugar (2 teaspoons)
• Secret flavouring ingredient (not quite sure what this “special” ingredient is)
• Fresh red chilli
• Fish sauce (can’t recall amount but know what it looks like in the small dipping cup)
• Water (splash)
In a mortar and pestle loosely grind and crush the garlic, and red chilli and add to the wet ingredients. Easy-peasy and oh so delightfully tasty! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.
Most of the girls are committed gym members now, and since the closure of Golden Sand Resort we had attended their gym previous to our school holiday visit to Laos. But the resort has not reopened since returning which means we need to find another gym. And SuperFit is a local gym that costs 700,000 Dong per month (A$40) which is a fair bit more expensive than what we’ve been used to paying up at Golden Sand as a family pass plus it’s a fair bit further away from where we are living just off Cua Dai Road near the beach. But on the positive, the distance is okay as we use the bike riding distance as a physical warm up to the gym session! Well that’s what we’re telling the kids anyway. Steve, Charlie, Ash and Billie join and really enjoy the new gym environment, unfortunately without a pool to dip into and refresh after a workout session. I on the other hand finally get around to attending a yoga session.
Gym combined with a healthy amount of bicycle riding around Hoi’An and an occasion swim in the South China Sea at Hidden Beach is making us all fit!
Daily Yoga Practice
I’m not keen to join the gym this time round. But I do purchase a 12-session pass to practice traditional, sometimes called classical, yoga for 600,000 Dong (A$33) and if you’re good at maths you’ll realise what an amazing deal that actually is: A$2.75 per session (and each session is for 1.5 hours with an English speaking yoga instructor). I really do LOVE yoga and practising it here in Hoi’An has strengthened that love. Yoga stretches my body, releases all the tension and anxiety in my mind and body and I’m meeting so many like-minded people from all over the globe who also participate in the yoga classes that this little community has become a welcoming home away from home. It’s taken me a while to finally get here, but an Aussie friend visiting Hoi’An, Darren, has been attending and suggested I come along and try it out. Here he is standing on his head in the Head Stand pose.
My instructor’s name is Jyoti which means light or flame. And she really is a ray of sunshine that greets her yogees each day in a bright yolk-yellow t-shirt and crisp white loose pants. She makes all of the poses we do throughout the hour and a half look easy-peasy and although I have no major issues with touching my toes and getting into all sorts of different positions and yoga poses, I’m gobsmacked at many of the poses me and my 43-year-old-4-child-unit-body is yet to realise.
Jyoti comes from a mountainous southern town in Vietnam called Dalat. She has a stunning voice and relaxed nature, and just looking at her while cross-legged on the yoga mats before the session starts is in itself a relaxing way to start the day. She explains that yoga is more about playing with the edges and maintaining a balance between relaxation and effort. I like what she says and how she explains it. It seems to make complete sense but why do we not take heed in our everyday lives?
She is often coming and going from the Annen Yoga and Vegetarian centre (located on Cua Dai Road in Hoi’An) to visit her family in Dalat and travel overseas to California where she undertook her 200 hours of teacher training. She’s leaving at the end of this month to return home and then head over to California to assist with teacher training and I’m really going to miss her. I think she’s back in mid-January which means I may not see her again (if we return home…). But she has arranged another Vietnamese yoga teacher, Lela (another beautiful Vietnamese trained yoga teacher) to take on her classes – 6am Vietnamese yoga, 7.30am, 9.30am and then 5.30pm classes. They are so dedicated and passionate about their yoga it’s so inspiring.
I invite my older daughters to participate with me, or even just have a go at a yoga session for fun and see what it’s like, but it’s not likely to happen. I think Yoga would be beneficial to Ash and she’d get a lot from it but I’m yet to make any in roads or score with this one. I’ll keep asking, you never know one day she may just come along and find how great yoga actually is for her.
A Vietnamese 1st Birthday Party
There’s always the occasional sound of loud, obnoxious music either early morning or late at night in our neighbourhood. I’m pretty sure it’s something that occurs throughout the rest of Vietnam. And on this occasion as we are cycling back to our house and just two doors up there’s a sound system bigger than my study blaring with music and a celebration of some type is underway. The guests at this party are adults, mostly men, some women and the odd young child being carried around in someone’s arms including the birthday girl.
We slow down and as soon as the Vietnamese see us, their foreign family neighbours, we are invited to come in, sit down and eat and drink and participate in the karaoke. We’re a little resistant at the start as we just want to get home and get to bed, but they’re all over us like ants and before we realise it they’re taking the bikes from under us and parking them on the kerb and ushering us (Steve, Ash, Charlie and me) inside. And what we can gather from the first few minutes of being there is that it’s a first birthday party celebration for a little girl in a pretty little frock.
What eventuates after we are seated down at a round table, used things pushed aside, are plates of food coming out from somewhere out back and being placed in the middle for us to eat. Chop sticks next and small cups that look like Vegemite sized glasses being filled with Larue beer. Charlie manages to escape as she’s got a headache even before we arrive and goes up to the chemist to buy some Panadol. But Steve, Ash and I are seated here and pretty much ordered to eat and drink (those commands don’t go down well with Ash) and of course Ash doesn’t drink beer, so she sits stony faced working out her escape plan, while the men cheers with Steve with a boisterous “Yo” which is like a bottoms up kind of cheers. In the meantime, they’ve handed me, actually prised open my fingers, the microphone attached to the karaoke machine and said, “you sing, you sing”.
How can I refuse.
Even if I wanted to, it’s a Vietnamese first birthday party and the least I can do is oblige with in a singalong. But I’m standing there with a Vietnamese DJ at the ready behind me waiting for a song name. “Um…ar…hmmm.” I’m looking for help from Ash and Steve but none is coming my way as the man seated next to Steve has his arms around Steve and “Yo” cheers-ing with him again! Ok I know what how about Happy Birthday!
It’s a hit!
I feel like a pop star and start moving my arms up with the high notes to add some effect and I think the crowd is enjoying my enthusiasm for singing. For some reason my mind goes back to seeing an old film that was recorded of Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to President Kennedy. Apparently she was sewn into her sequinned dress. I, on the other hand, am not quite sparkling, but it’s the closest I’ve felt to being a movie star albeit singing to a one-year old Vietnamese child to a group of nearly drunk Vietnamese men. I’m then accompanied by two other Vietnamese women holding young children, one being the birthday girl, either side of me who also enjoy singing along. It’s quite fun letting go and not worrying about what people think of me. But it looks like they’re enjoying my rendition thoroughly before I quickly pass the mic back and take a seat and sip on my beer.
Ash of course really can’t quite believe that I would agree to sing. YOLO Ash! For those who are not accustomed to the younger person’s language this means You Only Live Once. And before I can look around Steve has the mic in his hands and I’m sitting back to enjoy this one.
We end up excusing ourselves after the song and another beer. The volume exceeds our expectations, and I’m keen to keep my ear drums intact and my hearing. I look at these small children who are right in the thick of pounding decibels and wonder how the heck they have any ability to hear properly after their first birthday party.
So the question I posed to our friend Chau was – why so loud?
Well apparently in the good old days, when everyone lived in tight knit community villages it was customary for families to celebrate big and therefore loud with music, food, beer and people. Everyone shared houses – families were structured more like a community so houses were an open door policy in these villages. The loud music component meant an invitation for the community to come along and celebrate family milestones, such as weddings, birthdays and special celebrations. The tradition lives on today even through the change in Vietnamese rural society has occurred.
Milestone: 10 Months of Travel
Woohoo! The months keep rolling by and we are now celebrating double digit figures of living and traveling the world and there are now less #days until we are expected to return home to Melbourne. As of 19 October 2017 we click over to month number 10. Today’s 10th month celebration is unique as we’re attending our Canadian expat friends Evan and Lindsay’s engagement party at their restaurant bar called The Happy Buffalo.
Steve and I at least share a monumental, yet quiet celebratory drink, as we think back at all the places we have been to and all the experiences we have enjoyed with our girls. But the girls are celebrating the downhill slope to home now and the countdown is now reversed. It’s the number of days left traveling until they are reunited with their friends.
An Engagement Party
• Dress Code. I have nothing that is special, or even kind of special and engagement party dressy. Steve has his light weight easy dry travel shirts, and if I see him wearing one of those to this party I’ll just scream! So first things first – Steve and I ride the ebikes up to our landlady Dao’s clothing shop up near Old Town the day before and hope she can help us out. And she does of course – with a handmade shirt and a quick alteration to a Vietnamese style dress I choose off the rack. And this is the day before the engagement party! The Vietnamese are experts in making clothing happen within a day and we are happy that we will look a bit more special than what we usually get around in here (I think we scrubbed up alright!)
• A Present. We consulted many Vietnamese friends about what is given to a couple at their engagement party. Apparently nothing is required at an engagement party in Vietnamese culture (even though they’re both Canadian we were trying to keep it local and authentic!), and it was the wedding that was the special occasion that deserved a gift. Usually people hand the lucky couple a lucky little red envelope called a Baoli Xi with plenty of Dong inside. But if we weren’t giving cash, it was bed spreads or other household items. We looked far and wide for these little red envelopes and just couldn’t locate one! So we went freelance and purchased the lucky couple a lucky pot plant – a bonsai that grew from an oriental styled pot. The shop assistants were so lovely and small especially up against Steve!
• Family Affair. The girls were asked if they would all like to assist on the night with serving, cleaning up, managing the food and drinks and just having a good time with the guests. The girls had a great time and it was a very fun engagement party where we got to meet Lindsay and Evan’s side of the family, from both Canada and of course many of their close Vietnamese friends.
• Meet the Fockers. Steve and I are enjoying the social life here in Vietnam and we thoroughly enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them and Evan and Lindsay’s engagement party was a great opportunity to meet their families who have all travelled from Canada for the event. It’s been a great week hanging out with them while they’ve come to Hoi’An for the first time. Gotta love the Canadians!
Along our journey we have been involved in numerous family travel blogs and have been asked to be interviewed about our journey. And it was way back in Spain when I was interviewed for Nomadic Matt’s blogging course on how we do blogging and travel and family. The when we were living in Cyprus, Erik from Family Adventure Travel Podcast Skype called us and interviewed Steve and me live about our year-long trip with the girls. It’s a fun interview and I have listened to many of Erik’s podcasts pre-departure which helped inspire us embarking on our very own long term family travel journey and believe we actually could do such a thing.
Then we were approached by Brendan from Discovering the Wonder from the Family Travel Hub who also thought traveling with four teenage girls was an amazing angle for an interview and so unique! So I answered his interview questions, sent them through and you can read the final interview below.
Over the Bridge
Steve and I grab the ebikes and head out on an adventure together without the kids – exploring the outskirts of Hoi’An. The ebikes’ batteries last for 30km distance before they need to be plugged into a socket for recharging, so we travel up and over the Cua Cua Bridge. This enormous bridge was built in 2015 and it gives absolutely glorious views over the river below on the right hand side and towards the coastline and South China Sea on the left hand side. We stop on the side of the road on the bridge and park our ebikes – you can do these crazy things in Vietnam without getting swiped by trucks – and take in the view and a couple of photos.
We make a mental note that we’ll hire the girls an ebike each on the weekend so we can get out to explore more of the outskirts of Hoi’An. It’s so worth having a bike to get around and get further afield on. Unfortunately, we are unable to hire motorbikes over 50CCs as we are required to have a motorbike licence from Australia and if we manage to get a bike and we unfortunately are involved in an accident, our travel insurance (like most) will not cover us. So it’s a no riding scenario in Hoi’an.
We take a left turn after riding over the bridge and follow the road that takes us all the way to the fishing area. We know where we are as we can smell the strong pungent aromas of fish – fresh and drying. Here there are boats large and small bobbing out on the bay, and plenty of the small rounded basket boats that are used by fishermen with nets out on the river. Bright red Vietnamese flags flap high above the boats in the onshore breeze and the striking red of the flags captures our eyes. Looking back at the bridge we have just crossed gives us another perspective from down here and it just looks ominous. We ride back along the fishing village sea front to the other end of the road meandering through a rubbish dump to come to the end of the road facing a large seaside boat yard.
There are old non-working boats sitting here, drying out like raisons. But it’s not altogether a cemetery, as some of the boats have ladders leading up to sections of the boat for renovation or refurbishment. Grubby Vietnamese men tinkering and hammering away.
Sirens sound out along the streets and a line-up of black Audi cars efficiently drives up and down with motorbike police presence every 10m or so. These, we assume, are the drills for the upcoming APEC leaders meeting held in Da Nang next month where the likes of important world leaders will meet and not so important ones (ie. Trump) will grace Vietnamese shores.
On our Hoi’An Expats Facebook page, numerous posts are being shared showing black military guys scaling up and down high rise walls, decorated in their full gear and practice drills of sieges and terrorist threats. The place is going gaga and from what I hear from many longer term expats from here, stay away from Da Nang while APEC is on as it’ll be a closed city while Trump, Putin and proper world leaders are in town.
Sue returned home with Baz with a registered nurse by her side. She’s gone straight from a Bangkok hospital to a Melbourne hospital where tests and x-rays have been performed. The surgery was first class, but her recovery and rehabilitation will take many months. While she’s in hospital there is a ramp being constructed at their home so Sue, once she gets home, is able to get out of the house in case there is a fire or other emergency. She will be wheel chair and crutches bound for quite some time.
I’ve sent her many of the amazing photos from our short time together in Hoi’An and the first couple of days in Vientiane before the accident. That’s worth remembering and we are always saying this will be a story to share about and laugh about…one day.
Bits and Pieces
Enjoying sitting and eating at a little French Patisserie and trying the freshly home baked cakes with authentic Vietnamese coffee. It’s worth a visit to French Patisserie if you’re in Hoi’An.
Randy’s Book Exchange
Over another bridge (much smaller one) on the other side of Old Town, Dacey and I took an ebike ride out to Randy’s Book Exchange. It’s a house full of floor to ceiling book shelves. Second hand books can be purchased and after you’ve read them exchanged for half price. Just keep the sticker on the book to do that.
Smoothies at Hoi’An Central Market
During the day women open their stalls and serve tasty and delicious smoothies. Dacey and I enjoyed them immensely!
Out and About
I will never get sick of the landscape or the people of Hoi’An.