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Asia Trip 2011: Day 3 – Perfume Pagoda

We both decided the day before that we had had enough of the traffic and congestion and pollution within Ha Noi, so we opted for a day trip to balance off the rest of our stay. For $17 USD, we received the following:
- pick up from hotel at 8am
- drop off at hotel at 5pm
- air-conditioned bus
- English speaking tour guide
- boat ride down yen river
- entrance fee to Perfume Pagoda
- lunch

A gondola ride one way (either up or down) to the pagoda will cost an additional $5 USD, two days for $10. The bus ride out to the river drop-off was about an hour, and the boat ride (rowed by some pretty hardcore ladies) was another hour. On our tour, we met an older Vietnamese couple from Mississauga and chatted with them about Vietnamese history and culture (their English was much easier to understand in comparison to our guide). They told us that the Vietnamese used to used Chinese characters as their written language, but didn’t form sentences the same way as the Chinese. This is the most likely explanation for why A’s translations around the city weren’t very good. His hurt ego returned to normal after hearing that news!

Overall, a day trip to the perfume pagoda is fairly fun. It’s a lot of sitting around though – 1.5 hours by van followed by 1 hour sitting on a boat. The boat ride itself is very relaxing and the scenery is beautiful. We had a slightly heavier boat so the majority of the trip was spent not being able to move very much and I ended up getting numb in one leg trying to ensure the boat stayed upright (I’m sure the five other people felt the same way).

Another interesting thing to note is that I read several reviews saying that people were hassled for money throughout the whole trip. I should be wary of thieves, of scams, of pushy sales people. I experienced none of that, and thought it was very odd. Actually, the trip seemed extremely quiet (very few tourists), and the entire walk up to the pagoda was completely deserted except for two or three stores, where the owners didn’t even bother asking you more than once if you wanted to buy a water. It was completely dead. The empty stalls covered up with tarps were a sad sight to what could’ve been a very lively area.

On the way back, the boat ladies hassled us for tips, but left us alone when we told them no. It didn’t seem at all as bad as I had read in reviews. The only awkward moment was when the Vietnamese couple from Canada asked the entire bus to tip our guide. Several people said that they would tip on their own as they see fit, but the couple continued to remind people (and us) as we got into the city.

If you have a free day and are done with exploring Ha Noi, I suggest that this go into your itinerary. If you’re fit, you can certainly walk both up and down to the pagoda (they say it’s 45 minutes but it didn’t take us more than 30).

After being dropped off at our hotel, we asked the receptionist downstairs to order us some bun cha. She got us our dinner at the local rate, and we gladly ate it in the comfort of our hotel dining area. The day ended here, and we went to sleep excited for our Halong Bay trip the next day.

Asia Trip 2011: Day 2 – Hanoi

We woke up at 6:30am to be ready for breakfast at 7am. We had a full day of walking around the city to do, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was only open until 11am, so we wanted to get there quick.

After enjoy our pho breakfast (with fresh juice and a tea / coffee and some fruit), we set off on foot to the Mausoleum to pay our respects to the famous Vietnamese president. The mausoleum is open for 10 months of the year – the rest of the time it is closed for maintenance, and we were lucky enough to arrive shortly after its re-opening. It’s a bit of a walk from out hotel, and we got lost for a little bit as well since the streets are not in a grid format, but we eventually found our way there. The area around the Mausoleum is very large, and there’s a beautiful square out front which no one is allowed to tread on. If you ever plan to visit this place, remember to bring something to cover up – shorts and tank tops are not permitted. Cameras and electronics are not allowed as well, and large bags need to be checked in. There are guards everywhere, so you always have to follow the rules and they make sure you don’t wander anywhere you’re not supposed to be. We got in trouble for whispering as we approached the Mausoleum, and were motioned to keep our hands by our sides at all times.

The visit isn’t just for tourists though, several locals come to pay their respects often. The queue for this trip is quite long, so make sure you arrive around 9am. There are several other areas to visit once you’ve gone through the Mausoleum, including the stilt house that Ho Chi Minh used to live in, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. There is also the beautiful One Pillar Pagoda in the area as well.

After our stop there, we made our way to the Temple of Literature. The site of the first university in Vietnam, this place holds several stelae (large stone tablets) used to track the names of exceptional scholars, all of whom were given their examination questions by the King himself. The Temple is also a place where locals go to pray to Confucius and his four favourite disciples in hopes that their children will have good grades and excel in school.

A was very confused to see several Chinese characters here. All the stelae were engraved in Chinese, as well as the phrases above the doors and gates. Every time I asked for a translation, he said it didn’t make any sense. I claimed I had a faulty translator, but there was nothing we could do about it. After visiting the temple, we walked to a highly recommended restaurant in our guidebook called KOTO for a quick bite.

From there, we slowly made our way to the French Quarter on the other side of the lake. I commented about how we hadn’t seen very many schools in the area, when we turned a corner and obviously, there was a school. We also wandered into what we thought was a department store, which turned out to be an electronics store and people followed us around until we left. We finally found the famed Hoan Kiem lake, where the emperor Le Loi received a magical sword from a golden turtle, which helped him fight off the Chinese. The turtle is one of the four prominent animals in Vietnamese culture, representing wisdom and patience. I thought that was pretty funny, since I had said that A’s mascot is a turtle, but more like this one. We tried to get tickets to the water puppet show (thinking it’d be a good rest), but they were sold out for the next two days! Now I’ll never get to see it :(

We took pictures at the Opera House and walked past the Metropole Hotel before finally deciding to take a break and head back to our hotel. After a quick bit of research, we jotted down the walking tour recommended by our Lonely Planet book, as well as an address for what a local blogger said was one of the best bun cha stalls in the city. Excited about food, we made the trek back out and walked up and down several streets, which mostly consisted of shops and stalls separated by their wares (an entire street devoted to toys or tin or altars). The baguette & chocolate place recommended in the guide book was nowhere to be found, and the bun cha place was not open. Defeated and hungry, we wandered back to our hotel area where I spotted a banh mi store. I quickly picked one up to tide me over until dinner.

We went back to our hotel and asked the receptionist where I could get some bun cha. She recommended a stall down the street that closed at 7pm, so A and I hustled down to the place for a quick dinner. They apparently charge more for tourists, since the couple next to us got coke and the same meal for only 100,000 VND whereas A and I paid 120,000 VND for just the meal. That aside, the food was so delicious that I ordered it again the next day (except I had the receptionist call ahead for us so we could get the local rate).

Pretty sure the rest of the night was spent doing nothing, since I don’t remember anything happening that evening.

Asia Trip 2011: Day 1 – Hanoi

After many months of talking and researching, A and I finally bit the bullet and booked ourselves a trip to Vietnam. It worked out fairly well for us, my parents were headed back to Hong Kong for an extended vacation and we would make our stop there first to drop off luggage and see family we haven’t visited in over 5 years. From there, we would fly into Ha Noi and begin our Vietnam / Cambodia adventure for two weeks, before heading back to Hong Kong, and then home.

Hong Kong was definitely a good place to stop over before heading to Vietnam. We were able to adjust to the time-zones better, we had a place to stay, and we always people to see / things to do / places to eat at. I was a bit sad to leave Hong Kong for our trip, but I don’t think I would be saying such nice things about the city if I was visiting there for a month. The traffic and amount crowds require some getting used to, coming from my relaxing city in Canada! But it was nothing compared to Vietnam!

When we arrived in Ha Noi, we had arranged for someone to meet us at the airport. The airport is 45 minutes away by car from the city, so some hotels offer free pick-up service if you stay three nights. Definitely worth it, since I heard so many stories of taxi scams. Traffic here is madness. Cars and scooters and motorbikes (the main modes of transport) all drive between the lines and take up lanes and cram into whatever small spaces they can just to move forward a bit. Honking is the common language here and everyone lays on that horn. The city is noisy and even more crowded than Hong Kong, and was very overwhelming when we arrived.

Something we found useful was to have a city map downloaded onto our iPad with the GPS on, so we could see where we were going in the car to the hotel. It helped us familiarize with the area a bit and gave us a good sense of distances to different areas of the city.

We stayed at the Charming Hotel (#15 Yen Thai Street, Hoan Kiem District). It’s off a small street that looks like an alley way, with several other small hotels surrounding it. The place was cute, the room was small, but it was clean and comfortable and the people were very friendly and helpful. We arrived too late to make it to the train station, so the hotel offered to book us our train tickets while we explored the city the next day. They also exchanged VND for USD at the going rate on the Vietcombank website. We ended up booking an additional Perfume Pagoda tour and Halong Bay overnight tour through the hotel as well, to save us the trouble of having to find tour companies.

Also, Charming Hotel offers free breakfast. There is the regular continental (toast and jam), the American (the continental with eggs), and pho. A and I picked the pho breakfast for each of our three days there, but it varied from day to day and the second day was probably the best bowl.

As it was starting to get dark, A and I decided to do a quick walk around the block before calling it a day. We wandered only two streets away when it started to drizzle. The locals began pulling off to the side, which was probably a warning sign for us, but we continued to walk because what’s a bit of rain to Vancouverites, right? Wrong. It began pouring, and we were drenched within seconds. The locals were apparently prepared for rain, and they began pulling out a rain poncho that not only covered themselves, but also covered their scooters. Then they got right back on the road and continued driving. The rain got so bad, that the streets started to flood up, and soon the road was probably ankle deep with water. We hid under a shop awning for about fifteen minutes, and when we realized the rain wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, we hoofed it back to a restaurant we saw while walking that had a few backpackers in it. Turns out, quite a few other tourists had the same idea, and we were lucky enough to pick up the last table.

When the rain let down after 45 minutes, we made our way back to the hotel, picking up some water on the way, and the day was over by 9pm.

Tetleytee is back online!

So for some reason, my blog died somewhere in May and then my domain expired, and I finally switched it over to another hosting site so everything is now up and running (with about 5 months of nothingness).

That’s not to say I haven’t been busy! Read about my last four months after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Cookery Update!

I probably should’ve linked this to the last post, but that’s okay.

An update to the newer dishes I’ve made (of which I haven’t uploaded any of the photos yet).

  • strawberry, mango, avocado salad
  • Chinese cold noodles
  • cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread
  • drunken steamed prawns
  • drunken sambal stirfry prawns
  • stirfry chicken and cucumbers

5 more dishes to go! I head back to Toronto today to visit family, so that’s a week off. We’ll see if I meet my goal by month end! :)

Are small apartments the new cool?

Because if so, it’s about time. I’ve been uncool for the last two years.

I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people how small my apartment is. In all fairness, I complain about it a lot as well. I whine that the kitchen is tiny, that the appliances are old, that we don’t have enough places to store things and on and on and on. But recently I’ve been seeing more and more posts about how cool small apartments are. Of course, they’re some pretty decked out small apartments, with bathtubs that turn into tables that turn into a bookcase or something crazy like that.

My current place is 330 square feet. It’s in between the ones being shown online (marvel at the 258sf one here, and the 344 one here). From what I can tell in the videos, the only catch is that my place holds two people, instead of one. Now, I’m not saying I’m awesome (there are lots of people who live in even smaller conditions), but I just want to say that it’s completely doable.

My thoughts:

  • Be honest. Don’t take a small space because you want to change the world or feel good about making a difference. That will most likely lead to resentment and possible claustrophobia. Ensure you have a plan when you sign the lease or paper with what you’re going to do, how you will set things up, and what you will sacrifice.
  • Be realistic. It’s okay to look at a large space and dream about the days you can live in your perfect house with a sprawling lawn by the water. But how much space do you really need? What rooms are most utilized in your place? You’d be surprised what you can live without. The most difficult thing for me to let go was my dining room table. I complained that getting rid of it would mean I would never have guests over ever again. But it was true that I never had dinners at our old 1 bdrm apartment either, so it clearly wasn’t the dining room table that was stopping me from having guests. Now I have dinner parties in the common lounge in the building, and it works out just fine.
  • Be focused. Making the commitment to a small apartment takes a lot of effort. The place needs to constantly be clean otherwise it looks like a war zone. Counters need to be cleared because you only have so much room. Clothes need to be put away as soon as the laundry is done. It’s also a great opportunity to throw away things you don’t need. A small space means you have less opportunities to keep junk around. Previously I hid a lot of junk in shoe boxes under the dining table (again, another indication I bought a dining table for no reason). When we moved to the new place, I threw out / donated / sold a lot of randomness that I realized I’d never use. And while it made me sad at the time, I honestly haven’t ever had a need for 3 aprons, 2 santa hats, a gazillion girly thank you cards, and all that other stuff.
  • Layouts are everything. You’ll notice in both those videos that despite the small rooms, they give the illusion of a large space. The most awesome article is for the apartment in Hong Kong, where it shows the previous layouts of the space since 1976. You can see how it went from a really tight space with walls everywhere into a more open multi-purpose room. Ensure your small space doesn’t have a lot of narrow hallways (I guess this goes for any space).

People always look at me funny (and not in a good way funny) when I tell them I live in a small place. And I don’t like it too sometimes. I’m embarrassed to tell people how small my place is, I’m sad I can’t have dinner parties or have people crash on my floor when visiting (well, I’ll let people crash on my floor, but I suspect it’s pretty awkward for them). But I have an end-goal in mind: A and I will move back to Toronto at some point in time, and when that happens, we will have saved enough put a significant down payment on our new home. I have my eye on the prize, and I know that this is worth it. Besides, small places are only small when it’s pointed out (either by yourself or by others). The rest of the time, it’s just another place to live.

Cookery!

I always have trouble focusing on things. Not like, a short term “ooh look, something shiny” sorta deal (although that’s been known to happen too), but more like: I’ll look at my vacation for the year and say “I should go somewhere”, and then I begin to look at my finances, and I’ll say “I need to stop spending so much”, and then I’ll look at my credit card receipts and say “I’m going to learn to cook more”. And now that I’m cooking more, I’ve completely forgot about planning a vacation.

Which reminds me, I need to plan a vacation.

But in the meantime, I’ve been trying to utilize my kitchen a lot more. I’m really inspired by Smitten Kitchen (omg, I tried to type in a href tag and almost forgot how). Smitten Kitchen is a blog for a lovely lady who has a tiny tiny kitchen in New York where she feeds her family of 3. I suspect her kitchen might be smaller than mine (I know, crazy right?) because her oven size seems to be smaller than mine. But I don’t use my oven anyways, since it’s mainly used to store pots and pans.

Anyways, I stumbled on her blog and thought that if she could be happy in her tiny kitchen, then I can do the same. I used to complain that I couldn’t cook anything decent because my kitchen was too small. But then I bought a kitchen cart with a butcher block top and I’ve been so happy with it. I think the one thing I complain about now is being unable to host people because we live in a really small bachelors pad. Le sigh.

I started with something small when green beans were in season:

And from there I started to make some easy recipes.
Some worked:

And some didn’t:

But I’m still excited and determined to develop some serious cooking skills. New goal: Cook 20 new things this month. So far I’ve made:

  1. strawberry meringue cake
  2. egg custard
  3. sausage & broccoli in a garlic alfredo cream sauce
  4. broccoli soup
  5. spicy stir-fried green beans
  6. garlic soup
  7. japchae
  8. chinese stir-fried spot prawns
  9. lobster thermidor

To see the dishes, click here!

11 more dishes to go!

I know what you’re thinking, only 20 dishes? Well, I’m making a visit back home this month, so I figured 20 is a realistic number. I had originally put 30 down, but I didn’t want to be disappointed if I didn’t make my goal, especially since this is supposed to be a fun learning experience for me. :)

What’s going on?

*Blows the dust off* Wow, it’s been a while hasn’t it?

I took a hiatus from blogging as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I felt like I wasn’t really saying anything of importance, so it didn’t really matter if I put things up here. But then I started to miss it, and sometimes I would think back to what I did last month and my brain would be full of tumble weeds. Just tumbling along.

So I’m back. The updates won’t be very frequent, but I’m feeling the need to do some documenting, because even photos aren’t enough sometimes. Like when you look at a picture and you see everyone smiling, you can remember that it was a great day and the dinner was nice, but do you really remember when Steph commented about an old boyfriend writing her poems using the lyrics to backstreet boys until she finally said — and then Chris interrupts with “quit playing games with my heart” and everyone nearly threw up laughing? Those aren’t the memories I want to forget. I know some friends are for life, but for the ones whose paths cross with yours for a brief point in time, what will you remember about them? And what will you remember about yourself when you look back 10 years from now? Will you remember all those promises you made to improve your life, to learn new skills, to do something amazing?

I read somewhere that people who write down their goals and document their thought process are the most likely to succeed at achieving them, simply because they’ve thought it out well enough on paper that it becomes realistic enough. So let’s start there. I’ll post again in a bit with a one year plan and we’ll see how far we get.

I’m still okay.

For all those wondering, my health has been doing a lot better.

But on other news, the city hates me. Read all about it here: news!

So the husband and I are currently living at our groomsman’s place (yay Dan!) and going day by day. I’ve had to buy some clothes, since I pretty much had nothing on me when I left the building, and both Wes and Heather have been so kind to lend me clothes and stuff. I’m so thankful for such fabulous friends.

Surprisingly (or not, I guess), I’ve found more information about the situation in the news than I have from the building update meetings. It’s so fustrating that the whole situation wasn’t handled very well and we can point fingers all we want, but the fact is – we’re all out of the building due to safety concerns and I know it’s a huge inconvenience but I’d rather they do their job and ensure we’re safe than to let us back in.

Things that I worry about even though I have no control over:
- my two plants sitting on the window sill. they’re goners.
- the nectarines and watermelons we have out of the fridge
- the bag of garbage (watermelon rinds) by the door
- the dishes in the sink

Oh well. One day at a time.

CASI 2010

At the Statue of Liberty tour:

Tour Guide: where are you all from?
Min: um… Seattle
Matt: oh, I see how it is.
….
Min: there was a war?
Tee: the War of 1812?
Min: what?
Tee: 1812? You learned this in highschool!
Min: um, yeah. yeah I know. The War of 1812. We won, didn’t we?
Matt: I don’t know who you mean when you say “we” anymore.

NYC was a fantastic trip – I had the most amazing time! Even though Wayne didn’t bust out any of his old dance moves, we had such a blast gathering together to celebrate the next step in life for our friend Lisa. Her wedding was breath-taking! From the views at Steiner Studio Stage 6 to the food to the decorate your own take-home cupcake to the mustaches, it was all crazy fun. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the gazillion photos of me and friends in our sexiest mustache poses (including unibrows, eyebrows, chest hairs, sideburns, etc.), but in case you haven’t, you can see them in the photos section.

This was my first time flying by myself since I developed my anxiety issues, and strangely I felt extremely confident. It’s extremely stressful as you board and before you take off, because every step is a step in the direction away from what I define to be safe area (in this case, the solid ground). I know statistically speaking planes are more safe than automobiles, and tons of people fly in planes every day and nothing happens to them, but something triggers inside you and you always feel like you’re the sane one, and why don’t people realize how dangerous this is! It’s silly, but it’s how my brain works. :(

But anyways, the NYC trip was great, and I think it’s something that I really needed to do. I got to see some great friends, have some deep conversations over beer, and spend some time figuring things out for myself. I’m so blessed to have people who care about me despite the fact we don’t see each other often. After spending five years together in study madness, you develop a close bond, I think. Matt has told me (and it’s something I’ve used a lot lately) to always think of what I know to be true. He used it in a more spiritual sense, but it seems to work well for more practical things. When I’m out canoeing on the water and it gets a little wavy and I start feel nervous, I always ask myself “what do you know to be true?” and then I’ll answer it: “the boat will float if it tips over. even if you can’t right the canoe straight away, you can hold onto it. there really isn’t anything in the ocean that finds you remotely interesting. there are boats around that can come to you if you start screaming for help.” those sorts of things. I used to be upset that I would have to remind myself about these things, because it basically meant that my mind is being occupied by worries, whereas before I never gave it a second thought. But now it’s just become something I do. I find myself to be more cautious, and I take less risks / chance in anything I do, and that in itself is pretty sad, but one step at a time.

Anyways, this year’s NYC trip holds a special place in my heart. It not only gave me time to bond with some special people (all of whom were at my wedding, but I just didn’t have time to have heart to hearts with them!), but it gave me time to figure myself out, and to push my own comfort zones. I always feel like I can’t do something, until I actually do it and then I realize it’s not so bad. But that first step is always the hardest. I hope that when I hit another one of those hurdles, I will have the willpower to take the next step forward, and then the next.

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