We are glad to share that Sue has arrived back into Melbourne safe and sound with Baz and she is currently staying in hospital until her condition can be assessed and details and timeline about moving forward can be determined and put into action.
Steve’s back in Hoi’An after a tumultuous time going to and fro from the Bangkok hospital to various locations in Laos and dealing with travel insurance company mishaps (there were many!). At times it’s been a real circus and I don’t wish the experience we’ve had – of broken femur bone or managing insurance companies and all the rigmarole that ensues – on anyone. So moving right along…and finishing that chapter. Unfortunately for Sue, the journey continues back at home to get her back to health.
Steve is completely exhausted after dealing with red tape travel insurance mishaps for two weeks regarding his mum’s health care overseas. He’s been through the ringer (an Aussie term for hardship) so he’s slept a lot in the first few days of being back here with us in Hoi’An and has been able to unwind and process exactly what happened all those weeks ago.
This fourth fortnight of our family living in Hoi’An is different yet again. We all hire an ebike and have some family fun, while I go and see a Vietnamese Sharman who provides me with some interesting insight. Then we hang out with a traveling family from World Family Travel who are a couple traveling the world with their two boys (aged 13 and 11). They’re coming up to a five-year travel milestone. And I get the low down from Alyson from World Family Travel how to start monetising my travel blog. Exciting times.
Then of course it’s Halloween and we discover Dacey’s unusual talents of creating life-like open wounds and bullet holes using her own home made concoctions and her creative pursuits are high in demand in Hoi’An for Halloween night. Plus, there’s an array of authentic Vietnamese dining occasions we get to enjoy with our landlords and a special meeting with a young Vietnamese man named Jimmy who is committed to making a real difference to the poor people of Vietnam with his soup kitchen charity. Charlie and I at the end of this fortnight prepare to travel back home to Melbourne for just one week so she can sit a final year exam. Whoa! Overwhelmingly busy.
It’s been another amazing time in Hoi’An and I wouldn’t swap our experiences for the world. So special. We even tried fresh river snails out at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant with Dao and Chuong but passed on the eels which are caught en mass during the middle of the night with lights just once a year in the rainy season (which is now) in Hoi’An.
Online with Alyson
So if you’ve been reading this blog post from the start, you’ll know that way back in Portugal we declared that we were intending on starting an online business called Itching2Travel. And although it has been in my thoughts, often filed way up the back of my mind, it nevertheless is still a seed of an idea that I want to plant and grow. But time and distractions, like traveling and enjoying the moment, plus just keeping up with my travel journal here have taken priority. That was until I met Alyson.
After spending a couple of hours with Alyson at Mia Café (one of the best coffee cafes in Hoi’An) early one Friday morning before attending my writing class, I was full of information and so many questions on how travel blogs can actually be transformed from a lovely family-friendly travel journal to a travel blog that makes money. And as I already knew, there’s plenty of things in the big online blog world that I don’t know or understand, but I am intrigued and certainly interested in how Alyson has successfully created her own online travel business and makes money from which allows her and her family of four to continue traveling the world. And of course I want to know how to do that for Sixbackpacks or Itching2Travel!
It’s not an instant hey-press-here-and-earn-heaps-of-money kind of thing, but with hard work and plenty of steep and stretch learning, it is possible. I think it has more to with commitment and tenacity and I kind of like that proposition. There’s obviously a steep learning curve involved from the get go – it’s one thing to blog and upload travel pics, but an entirely different thing to make money from your blog. It’s a mixture of technical knowhow and science with a bit of creative juice thrown in for good luck! I think I can see myself doing this.
I mention to the girls some of the concepts I’ve acquired within my 2-hour session of ears open with Alyson while drowning smooth cups of café lattes at Mia’s Café (the bonus of online businesses is that you can work from cafes). The girls have no idea what I’m on about, their eyes roll (this is becoming standard protocol lately) and they’re not trying to hide it all that much either. These girls of mine think I have no idea what’s involved to make a living off of this blog. And maybe they were right a little while ago, like two hours ago, but now…I think I have some sense of the possibility now.
I need to make a commitment to the direction I want to take. It’s not possible to be half pregnant and I think my session with Alyson and listening to what she knows from five years of self-learning is what it’ll take to transform my baby blog too. Watch this space folks!
Hidden Beach Disappears
In the afternoon Steve and I take a casual bike ride down to Hidden Beach with Billie and Dacey who are keen for a swim in the South China Sea. But we’re taken aback by the sight that greets us: Hidden Beach has virtually disappeared (pardon the pun but the beach is certainly hiding since we last visited). Cubic metres of sand have completely eroded away and what remains is a cliff-like beach and an angry swirling sea.
The Vietnamese women have arranged their wooden deck chairs up much closer to their restaurants now, and it’s no easy feat trying to get to those seats without part of the remaining part of the sand cliff falling down. But nothing stops the younger two from having some fun when they’re in that mindset (yay for that!) so they relish the fact that the beach has disappeared and the effort required to get down to have a swim in the sea is almost like jumping off a cliff.
Steve and I watch Billie and Dacey frolic together in the water, but the Vietnamese woman watching approaches us and tells us they move to the right as there is a strong current on this part of the beach. We watch them with relaxed smiles coming across our faces as they really have some fun together. Frivolous free fun. Lately the air within our family unit has been strained and somewhat withdrawn as we try and come to making a decision about whether we return home at the end of this year or if we stay and take on another year of travel. The kids are not liking us for wanting to continue and our decision (if we make it) to continue is a little in the uncertainty window right now.
Steve and I also take a dip, and the ferocious South China Sea waves and undercurrent feels more like I’m being pushed and pulled and beaten up out here. But it feels exactly what I need right now: a release of baffling emotions that seem to have made their home within me and our family. I look down at the ink on my wrist – the world map and smile. It’s already been two weeks, as of today, that I have had my tattoo and I’m all okay to venture into the sea water, so I take the opportunity to dive under and let the salt water wash all over me.
Dripping with salt water and trying to stand upright in this wild South China Sea, I scream out up to the clouds above and right over to Cham Island, “We are staying! We are staying here and continuing the travel journey!” The release from my voice is at once liberating, and I don’t care if I look like a fool from the handful of keen expat beachgoers or disappointed tourists who chose the wrong day to visit the beach in its state of disappearing. No bliss here especially with me in the water! But it feels so good to express myself out to the Cham gods (or whoever may hear my heart) and the sky and the unrelenting waves until they tear me down and shut me up.
PS The decision once made was straight forward and liberating as you can sense from my description. But once we shared that decision with the kids…there was outrage, shaking heads and plans of a teenager revolution. With four of them on side, it’s a bit unnerving. I’m starting to doubt myself and our decision already! What better way to get some advice from people who know us and our children, or those who are traveling the world longer term with their kids, or who have attempted what we are attempting to do – not return home. It was a mixed bag of advice and suggestions. But I enjoy taking on all of the advice and seeing if it helps make the decision any easier. It doesn’t.
We even hold a family meeting and Charlie takes control with pen and paper and writes down the pros and cons of travelling as well as the pros and cons of returning home. Everyone gets to build the P&C list with a suggestion on each side, regardless of personal preference. Then we wipe out the suggestions that really don’t play an important role in making a final decision. There’s good reasons on both sides. It’s not an easy or straight forward P&C list where the one with the most pros or least cons wins.
What is concerning is that our family is split, or divided, down the middle. On the one hand we adults are very keen to keep traveling and on the other the teenagers are very keen to return home. I think we may have to meet somewhere in the middle and make “life” beyond this year somehow work for all of us.
We made the decision after a long process of yes-no yo-yo’ing. A visit down to Hidden Beach we made that decision. While looking out over the South China Sea, the usual clarity of Cham Island across the water was missing. The sea rough and wild, taking with it huge chunks of beach away. But there I stood, in the choppy, restless water feeling relieved. We had made our decision to stay longer, to continue traveling with our family and somehow make it work.
I dipped in amongst the churning sea that pulled me in all directions, but I was no longer churning internally. I was content and could hear my heart beat pounding in my chest. A definite turning point, a moment to remember.
But a week later, I attend a three hour session called Yin Yoga and journal writing with Kersten who also facilitates the weekly Hoi’An Hub Writing Classes. The purpose is to delve deeply into yourself or an area of your life that you’re wanting an answer to or seeking clarification about. A journey into self and calm reflection while holding yoga poses for up to five minutes at a time sounds perfect for me, and I bike my way to Yoga Nomad last Sunday afternoon armed with an open mind.
The journal writing is extraordinary throughout the Yin Yoga Reflection session accompanied with Himalayan bowls. We answer guided prompts after holding poses for a while and then write down our thoughts. It all flows. I love it. Questions posed for contemplation:
- Who am I?
- If my body could speak, what would it tell me?
- If my heart could speak, what would it tell me?
- What are my most frequent thoughts?
- What am I avoiding?
I depart the Yin Yoga session on a natural high, centred and calm and ride my bicycle back home to my family. The family that I’m not going to ruin if we stay on the travelling road.
The weekend means we’re hiring ebikes and heading off for a day of exploring in and around outer Hoi’An. The new ‘Peta School’ didn’t last much beyond the first week for various reasons, so daily classes stopped and so did the informal hire of the two ebikes. But Steve has managed to find a local supplier up along Cua Dai Road who can supply us with six ebikes for the weekend. They cost 80,000 Dong each for the day and they’re heaps of fun to get around on.
We venture out along the coast past the resorts and stop off at the ferry crossing juncture where a small light house sits. On the way Ash screams and lifts both legs up while driving her ebike as she’s run over a snake (again). It’s already dead and mangled, but we pick it up and throw it into the scrub. Then we head back onto Cua Dai Road and turn left to go over the enormous Cua Cua Bridge and veer left at the end of bridge and cruise along the fishing village foreshore. Then we take the back road into Old Town and enjoy lunch at Mix a little Greek restaurant in Old Town and enjoy a tasty kebab for 50,000 Dong. The girls leave us there, and take their ebikes on their own adventures around town while Steve and I sit and contemplate life.
We finish the day by exploring over the river and enjoy a magical view of the sunset across opposite the Old Town at a place called Nem Restaurant. Steve and I relax and rekindle on a sofa with a cold beer. Nice.
We enjoy a nothing day on Sunday 28 October. We stay in our PJs all day and have fun inside. Late in the afternoon, Steve walks over to our landlord’s house by the river and we are invited to a riverside dining experience with Mr Chuong and Dao – Banh Xeo and morning glory, noodles and salad. It’s delicious and nice sitting with them.
It all started with Dacey trialling out her home made open wound putty. Made from Vaseline and plain flour mixed together (as finding proper silicon products is impossible here in Hoi’An) she would leave and go into a bedroom for 10 minutes or so and come out with some horrific wound or head injury. It looked so real – the illusion was amazing. She used Hershey’s chocolate sauce mixed with honey as blood, so it was edible too and soaked tissue paper into the blood mixture to create flappy bits of skin in and around the putty part of the wound. I was so impressed with her creations that I posted them on the Hoi’An Expats Facebook page that if anyone wanted a wound created for their Halloween party, Dacey could do it. Well I didn’t realise how much attention and requests she received.
Here are some examples of her Halloween creations.
Quite a few people messaged me asking for an appointment. So I started booking her up and only asking a nominal fee to cover the costs of the ingredients. Then the manager of the Hoi’An Vietnam Backpackers invited Dacey to come down for two hours and create the special effects makeup of open wounds and bullet holes for the Halloween night and she was paid 500,000 Dong plus dinner and a drink (soft drink of course).
Dacey was a little nervous about the idea of applying her homemade flesh, blood and tissue to other people, but once there she was fine. She coaxed and trained Billie up too so she had a wound moulding helper. Here they are working diligently on faces, arms and necks.
Time is running out before I pop down to Melbourne for a week. So I’m cramming things in before we depart. And one of those crams things is to meet up with a Vietnamese man named Jimmy who operates a Soup Kitchen for poor people in hospitals. Fellow Aussies Wendy and Rudy have been volunteering with Jimmy while they’ve been living in Hoi’An and we met them while looking at houses to rent in Hoi’An and I happened to mention that my background is in marketing. Wendy contacted me and asked if I would be happy to meet with Jimmy and maybe get involved or assist his charity in gaining more traction (and more donation) to help his efforts. Of course!
I ride my bike up to Old Town and wait near the ATMs. Wendy meets me there and we move through the large cloth market of Old Town, passing by stall after stall of fabrics. There I meet Jimmy at his recently opened jewellery shop. He’s a young Vietnamese man who organises a weekly soup kitchen delivery for Vietnamese people who find themselves sick or recovering in hospitals in and around the Hoi’An district. Many of the poor do not have enough money to buy food for their sick ones as all the money goes into purchasing medications so that’s where Jimmy and his local support crew come into it.
Jimmy has a weekly early morning Friday cook up session at the Captain’s house (I have not yet met the Captain) called chop-chop from 6-9am where all the vegetables (many donated by local Vietnamese) are chopped and diced and prepared for the cooking. The soup is cooked very early on Saturday morning between 3-5am and the poured into 30litre containers so they can be transported to the hospitals in an old van. At 5am until 8am Jimmy and his soup kitchen crew travel to three hospitals, some an hour away by car with between 8-15 volunteers following on bikes to assist with the distribution. Jimmy is a lovely man with a heart of gold, who just wants to be able to make life better for some who hit hard times. And he’s committed. I love his charity already.
He also organises three visits per year out to the remote hillside tribes where his charity donates clothes and shoes, and arranges hairdressers to perform haircuts. This chat with Jimmy makes me realise how protected we foreigners are living and traveling in Hoi’An from the harsh reality of poverty and sickness that many Vietnamese experience ongoingly. And they are just an hour away, living in rural villages.
Of course I would love to get involved, I have ideas oozing from my brain cells. But I am also nearing the end of our stay in Hoi’An (I think). The only commitment I can give him is that if we return to Hoi’An next year (2018) to live out our second year of travel, I would happily help him with his charity and get more foreign people involved. This Saturday he is visiting one of the remote hospitals departing at 5am and returning at 8am. It is also the same afternoon Charlie and I fly out from Da Nang to Melbourne – I’d love to make it to experience what happens but the reality of it all won’t work.
My Sharman Experience
A friend, Jane, who is living long term in Hoi’An had told me about her experience with a Vietnamese Sharman. Jane is a beautiful woman with a broad smile and a huge heart. But Jane has been through (and continues) the cancer journey, and although she’s okay now she’s not out of the woods. But her telling me about her experience with the Sharman got me curious and I asked if I could also see the Sharman.
Long story short, her friend arranged an appointment for me to see the Sharman one night in Hoi’An. I was given an address but told not to share this address with anyone else. The Sharman, Diep was a woman who tended to the local Vietnamese market rather than the foreign tourists and I was only able to see the Sharman because I was friends with Jane and if I was friends with Jane that granted me entry because it meant I was an open, respectful and trustworthy person. Lucky for me.
I found the place where I had to meet the Sharman at 8pm. I had no idea what it was going to be like. There inside the house was a vacant room downstairs, so I wondered up the flights of stairs until I saw someone and introduced myself. I was the first to arrive. I waited in the hallway, watching people prepare the room with incense, candles, and other paraphernalia. There was a large wooden cabinet at one end of the room, and on its top were a number of beautiful flower posies and plenty of candles and incense. Other Vietnamese people were climbing the stairs and also waiting with me outside the room in the hallway to see the Sharman.
I watched an older Vietnamese lady walking past me, and enquired to one of the other Vietnamese waiting outside if she was the Sharman. They nodded and continued talking. Whenever I undertake something that has to do with a religious order or spirituality, there’s a part of me that goes straight back to formal private girl school days where we were not allowed to rejoice in the religion, but rather it was something that was feared due to the strict code of silence placed on entering the scared space which in term constricts my energy and the energy force around me. I didn’t like it one bit, and I still don’t like it.
But this place is different. It’s calm and open and not constricting. Of course I was quiet, but the Sharman was relaxed, so too were the other visitors that night. I felt like I belonged – although I really didn’t – but it was a sense of being welcome and accepted as one even though out of a bunch of locals I was the only white, English speaking non-Vietnamese person there.
We entered the room. It was a large room with the wooden cabinet at one end and a set of fold out window doors that were open at the other. We sat on the carpet directly in front of the wooden cabinet and the Vietnamese began their prayers with the Sharman at the front holding a bunch of long, red burning incense sticks. I stood at the back with my hands clasped in front of my chest, in my usual yogic prayer position watching. Then we sat down along the wall and waiting our turn to see the Sharman.
As part of my visit, Jane’s friend organised a translator, the Sharman’s daughter, to sit with me and translate what the Sharman told me. My turn, towards the end of the night, was perfect as I got to witness what the Vietnamese do when seeing a Sharman.
One person at a time sits near the Sharman at the wooden cabinet end. There’s a bench where the Sharman has thin white pieces of paper on and a thick red Texta. She writes continuously on these pieces of flimsy papers and then grabs the person’s hands, palms facing up and starts looking at the meaning in the folds and creases of both palms. She pinches parts of the palm and squeezes others and then lets them go and continues writing and talking. At the end of a Sharman session the person is handed the white paper and it is neatly folded into a small square and handed to the person. This piece of folded paper is meant to bring luck to the Vietnamese and should be carried with them at all times.
My experience was different but lovely. Cost of the experience – nothing. There is no charge for an authentic Sharman reading. The whole idea of seeing a Sharman is to pose your own question or thought that you seek answers to or gain clarity around. Of course mine is: will we continue traveling or will we return home? Sure a Vietnamese Sharman is going to give black and white responses right?!
The Sharman commenced my reading, mumbling as she looked me over then writing her red Chinese-like characters down the middle of the white flimsy paper. She looked up at me again which felt like looking right through me, then prompted for me giver her my hands and then proceeded to study and pinch at my palms saying (amongst other things):
“You make change. This year. Good. Or next year.” And she repeated the message.
Apparently a Sharman channels their other world energy and reads people but doesn’t recall what is said at the actual session. That is the Sharman is a conduit for answers from the spiritual world, and many Vietnamese visit the Sharman seeking answers and direction on a regular basis.
And later after reading my palms again and then writing on the sides of the paper:
“You change business. Go into business on your own. Not with other people.”
There was some interesting family stuff in there as well. When she asked if there was anything else I wanted to know (through a translator), I asked, will my family be okay with the change?
Her response, “Good for you. Good for them. They follow you. Change good for all of you.”
Interesting. She asked if there was anything else. There wasn’t. And with the folding of my piece of white flimsy paper, and a red Texta mark on each of my palms, I was done. I walked out of the room, down the stairs and out onto the street where I sat for a while just processing and writing down the experience that unfolded.
And you know it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not true, or whether my life works out that way or another. I relished the opportunity of sitting with the Vietnamese folk, both men and women, who come regularly to see the Sharman. What a privilege and an insight. This visit marks the third ‘out there’ experience: 1st Steve and I had our cards read in Australia just before leaving; 2nd Ash and I had our palms read in Udaipur, India, and now 3rd a Vietnamese Sharman.
Boat Ride & Breakfast
Finally, we are catching up with our landlords, Dao and Mr Chuong at 8am to enjoy a river boat ride. We have been talking about doing this for a long time now, and we are going on Mr Chuong’s father’s boat (as he’s a fisherman) and will be having Cao Lau breakfast on the boat.
Interestingly, Dao asked how my Sharman experience went and I discover that she too sees a Sharman and pulls out her neatly folded piece of white paper from her hoodie jumper pocket. It has the same coloured Chinese characters on it. Dao tells me she carries it wherever she goes as it is for good luck.
It’s a glorious morning – the sun may not be out, but there’s a gentle breeze coming off the water and it’s refreshing. I drag Billie and Dacey along for the ride, they’re quite unimpressed with me. I had no luck stirring and inspiring Charlie and Ash to come along, so we left them back at the house. Teenagers and sleep. The 7:30am wakeup call is according to them way too rude.
The journey along the river gives us another perspective of Hoi’An. It’s lovely and there’s so much activity happening on the river – boats, tours, nets are being cast, fishing, and dredging. Mr Chuong’s father takes us up into the smaller alleyways of the river, where we see small villages and more tourist construction. I mostly enjoy watching Dao and Mr Chuong and the way they interact on the boat. They’re so cute, and in love. There is no pubic affection shown in public but just watching them together on the boat lets me see how committed they are to each other. Mr Chuong is pointing things out and Dao is looking and asking questions. Such a beautiful couple.
We stop in the middle of the river and eat breakfast. We passed Mi Quang which is in polystyrene takeaway containers and a small plastic bag containing a dark liquid and sealed tightly with an elastic band is handed out too. Due to the full moon last night and following Buddhist spiritual customs, Dao mentions that we can only eat vegetarian meals today. So we are enjoying Mi Quang without any meat, and I think what I’m consuming is tofu. It tastes delicious, especially the special Hoi’An noodles. But a wind crops up and as we eat with wooden chopsticks out of takeaway polystyrene containers, fresh lettuce flies away with the wind. For the first time in my whole stay so far in Hoi’An I experience coldness and goosebumps appear on my arms and legs.
Hanging Out with Boys
Billie and Dacey are off to hang out with two world traveling boys – Dylan (13 years old) and Ollie (11 years old) – and they have a great afternoon watching movies and eating home delivered pizzas. Dylan and Ollie are Alyson and James’ children who are in their fifth year of world travel. They have just recently made the decision to continue for another year in 2018. The girls return on their bikes later than anticipated very happy to have had some peer time away from their family. Thank you Long family.
The rough wind on the boat has not stopped. The expected forecast is for rain, typhoons and expected flooding in Hoi’An. Charlie and I are departing this afternoon for one week in Melbourne (home in Australia) because Charlie is studying one final year exam and needs to sit that exam in Melbourne while Steve and the other three girls stay in Hoi’An. The bonus is that after this exam Charlie has officially completed year 11 for the year (woohoo!) AND instead pf flying back to Hoi’An immediately, we are taking a side tour to Singapore. Just the two of us. Which I’m really looking forward to.