This week was made of new foods, new friends, and life lessons. And yes, it was very, very hot. Reached 102 with a real feel of 120.
- Birthdays are not a huge deal here. They are celebrated but far more important are the anniversaries of deaths in the family. On those days, the surviving family comes together and shares a meal to honor the one that passed.
- Vietnam has a lot of fruits that are new to me and I got to try a bunch of them this week! Lychee, dragon fruit, durian, rambutan, custard apple, mangosteen, langsat, jackfruit, and pomelo, and Vietnamese plums were all made available for us to try. Here’s a recap:
- Lychee, rambutan, and langsat are all pretty similar. Sweet, opaque balls with pits.
- Durian is maybe the most vile thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Smells like feet, tastes like armpit. But y’all should try it!
- Custard apples have a real weird texture but nice taste
- Mangosteens have a toxic skin so don’t eat it, but the fruit part in the middle isn’t offensive
- Jackfruit is apparently really good barbequed, but raw and dried it’s pretty good too!
- Dragon fruit is really soft and can be white or pink with little black seeds. I like them
- Bottom line: of the new ones, lychee are definitely my fav
- (Mangoes here are also AMAZING, I’ve been eating them almost every day)
- (Also tried guava later in the week, kinda tastes like an apple, not awful)
- Tobacco here can be seen smoked in a long bamboo pipe. The tobacco is called Thuoc Lao and beware, it’s supposedly really strong (no I haven’t tried).
- Typical schedule for locals? Wake up around 6am and get to work around 7:30 (that is if you have a regular office job, otherwise this is totally different), lunch and nap time 11-2:30 (yes, really a nap), then dinner around 7pm, sleep around 11:30pm. As a teenager described it to me, ‘we used to have mandatory nap time all through middle school. We would flip the tables and sleep on them. I never appreciated it until I got older’. Unlike Spain though, even when it’s not a typical meal time, you can ALWAYS find food.
- Learned this week that black tea and green tea come from the same leaves. For green tea, you directly cook the leaves. For black tea, you dry them in a cool, dark space and let them oxidize before cooking. Thai Nguyen province of Vietnam is one of the largest tea exporting regions in the world.
- Freedom of speech is not a thing here. If you speak out against the government, you can be imprisoned. On a similar note, I asked a group of college students what their form of government was and NONE of them could answer. ‘It’s just not something we learn about here’.
- Paddled in Swan Boats on Thahn Nien (lake) in Hanoi with a fellow remote. Inexpensive and fun activity! And also kind of exhausting….
- Fruit tasting at the workspace with our city guides
- Busy at work and really getting it! I like the new skills I’m learning. Signed for a contract extension, too! Guess I’m not totally sucking…
- Lots of quality time with other Remotes
Friday- THAI NGUYEN
- After the work day, took a bus out to the small city of Thai Nguyen (about 1.5 hours from Hanoi) to visit a colleague of my uncle’s named Phuong. Thai Nguyen is not a tourist place at all.
- Ride out: full of people that only speak Vietnamese. Pulled to the side of the road for a while to help another van fix a tire. Had no clue where I was really being taken and trusted Phuong had set it up correctly.
- Meet up with Phuong and her daughter, Anh, at the university where they were finishing up a project.
- Dinner buffet with their project team, about 15 people. Lots of food that just kept coming and lots of wine. This was a really refreshing experience. I love meeting new people, getting to know how they live, and comparing life experiences. It’d been a hot minute since I got to do this because the Remote Year bubble is real, so I was happy.
- Stay at Phuong’s beautiful home
Saturday- THAI NGUYEN
- Breakfast of chicken pho (totally normal here, but chicken for breakfast? Nahhh)
- Head out for the day with Phuong, her husband, Ahn, and their cousin Luc towards the rural area of Thai Nguyen.
- Spend the morning at Tam Dao National Park walking in and along a local swimming hole/stream. The water was beautiful and breeze so much needed on an 100 degree day.
- Ya so did I mention that this is not a tourist place? I felt like a celebrity walking around this park, everyone was laughing, saying hello, and waving. I even had a family taking pictures of me and one lady wanting me to come swim with her.
- Most of the people swimming were men, the women were all hiding in the shade to protect their skin. This also led to me being waved over out of the sun because I’m too dark already, they were like concerned for me.
- Story time:
Because I hadn’t been cultured enough with that experience, lunch after was wild. It was at the home of Phuong’s in-laws, with no air-conditioning, no real sanitation as I know it, well let’s just say rural. We were served the chicken that they had killed in the backyard that morning. And when I say we were served the chicken, I mean everrryyy part: kidneys, cooked blood, legs, feet, little dangly thing (near it’s mouth…get your head out of the gutter), intestines. I nearly threw up looking at it, sorry to say. But I made it through and tried a little, very chewy. To add fuel to the fire, we were on our way out the door and the in-laws gifted us a….live chicken. Carried it by its feet into the dining room, poor thing was flapping, and put it in a bag. We then rode home 30 min with the thing in the back. Annnddddd that’s the story of how Alexa became a vegetarian.
- But seriously, I had never experienced anything like that. I had already been having a hard time with the chicken feet that you can order on the streets of Hanoi but this was a whole different level. Isn’t it strange though that I will eat chicken from the store that’s been processed shitless but not the organic, fresh one? I may be chickened out for a while.
- Head back into the city for ‘ice cream’. Why I thought this would be normal given nothing else the rest of the day had been, I’m not sure. This was shaved ice on a pile of fresh fruit, with fruit syrup drizzled over, and a jello covered egg custard on the side. Super delicious actually!
- Went shopping in the local market near the city center of Thai Nguyen. Enjoyed reading all of the poorly translated English shirts. “Love my Oyfriend Just Kidding” “Genius Ot is Never Night Sleep” “War is Peace, Freedom is Slave, Ignorance is Strebgth” (no joke, saw someone in Hanoi wearing that last one)
- Said goodbyes and thank yous and took the bus back to the city.
- Had another first: flirting over Google translate (who needs apps like tinder and bumble?). The van driver would speak into his phone in Vietnamese and it would spit out English, then I could speak English and it would spit out Vietnamese. He said things like: How old are you? You’re very pretty. What do you think of Vietnamese people? And the men? You are beautiful. Where are you from? I was dyyyyyyinnggg it was so funny. He wasn’t cute though.
- Back in the city- went to a recommended ice cream buffet. Go to: Fanny Ice Cream and order the Lau Kem, a sample of 12 different flavors ranging from green tea to rum raisin to passionfruit. Bring friends for surrrre
- Stroll through the night market and finish the night drinking cider and chatting in the apartments with some remotes. Loved it.
- Currently writing from bed with a bad head cold, surrounded in tissues. How this happened in the hottest city I have no idea. Sneezing my brains out and tearing up watching Friends with Benefits #thisisremoteyeartoo
Since embarking on this year, I’ve received a lot of praise and admiration. While I really appreciate it, I am so far from perfect and make mistakes, sometimes even big ones. It’s easy to look at my social media and think wow, she’s living the life. Yes, I am very lucky, but I mess up and have to work through the consequences of my actions just like everyone else. This month has most certainly been a test and this week was no exception. Life lesson learned (among many others)? Listen to your gut and be strong enough to follow it no matter how hard.
To continuing to learn and self-improvement!