Tag Archives: vietnam

Duck soup

While staying in Hoi An, Elijah and I found a lot of delicious food to try, but there was one place that we kept coming back to every day.  The first day, while riding our bikes around the old town, we veered off into some neighborhoods to check out the scenery away from the town center, and we rode past a little restaurant with an outdoor kitchen and a few tables underneath pomelo trees.  As we rode by, we heard a lady call to us to come eat there; and we decided that we would come back to try it out.   After riding around the alleyways for a while, we parked our bikes under the trees and saw that it was a duck phở (bún măng vịt) restaurant.  If you’re not familiar with phở , it is a delicious Vietnamese soup with rice noodles and can be made with beef, chicken, duck, or other types of meat.  I love phở because the broth is so good, and because of all the toppings that come on the side—limes, mint leaves, lettuce, bamboo shoots, chili sauce, and bean sprouts are often added to phở, and if I have the option, I add them all.

This place had the most delicious phở  I had yet tried in Vietnam, and eating outdoors was really nice.  The owner, a lady named Thanh Nha (sounds a bit like Tanya), originally from Saigon, befriended us and sat with us to chat each time we came.  She told us about her family, and how she came to live in Hoi An, and most of all about her two daughters.  Every time she talked about them, she got tears in her eyes.  Right now, she doesn’t make enough money to support them living with her, so they live with her sister an hour away in another town, and she gets to see them a few times every month.  She told us that she is excited about owning her restaurant, which she only opened a month ago, because she is hoping to make enough money to bring her daughters home to live with her. On our last night there, I was sad to say goodbye to her.  I love that even traveling, you can meet people in places you knew nothing about before, and knowing someone there adds even more value to that place in your memory after you’ve left.




Hoi An, Vietnam

This little town may have been my very favorite place on this vacation.  The night before we arrived in Hoi An, a sleepy river town a few kilometers from the beach and surrounded by beautiful countryside, we got aboard a very tall sleeper bus that would take us the 15+ hours from Hanoi to Hoi An.  I had the misfortune of getting one of the only short bunks on the whole bus, so I had to be careful not to kick other passengers with my restless, windmilling limbs.

We arrived in Hue around 8:30 am, where we escaped our sleeper bus for a regular day bus, and I rejoiced in being able to stretch my legs out all the way.  As we left Hue and drove on through the countryside towards Hoi An, I felt an almost tangible weight lift from my shoulders.  We drove up through tall, green mountains, the sea never too far from the left side of the road.  We got away from smog, and people, and I realized how much I missed being in the country.  When we got to Hoi An, I was amazed at how tiny it was.  I knew it was small, but I didn’t know it would be so pleasantly free of traffic and hordes of people.

We rented all-day bicycles for $1 each, and almost immediately made for the road leading to the beach.  Along the way, we saw people working in the rice fields and cows and water buffaloes grazing along the edge of the road.  The beach was pristine and almost empty of people, and we enjoyed some Vietnamese beer and lounged around for a while.  After swimming for a bit, we hopped back on our bikes and explored some neighborhood roads by the river.  I had to stop myself from stopping at every bend in the road and taking pictures, because it was so nice just to enjoy the beauty of the place for a while without trying to capture it all on film.  Little kids playing in the road and next to the river shouted “Hello!  Where you from?” and their parents smiled at us as we biked by.  I was really struck by the friendliness of the people there—no hard, inscrutable looks were really directed towards us as foreigners, like I see so often from the older generation in China.  Vietnamese people, old and young alike, grinned at us and waved when we passed them.  Elijah and I both were struck by how much more happy the children seemed here than in Shijiazahuang.   Maybe it’s because they aren’t pushed as hard in school as Chinese kids in Hebei province, or maybe because they aren’t spoiled and coddled as only children, as many of our students are.  They have free time to play outside, and they have brothers and sisters, so the weight of the family’s expectations doesn’t rest on an only child.  But that’s just speculation.  The kids here look like they pull their weight on the family farm, but there was so much laughter and playing going on, too.

One of the days, we rented a motorbike and explored an island across the river from Hoi An, reachable by ferry.  We spent all morning cruising along country roads, enjoying the warm weather and the farms we passed.  All of the houses here are brightly painted and unique, their doors open to the road and people sitting on front porches chatting, or working in the yards.  Once, we stopped the motorbike next to a large field to take some pictures, but couldn’t get the bike started again.  A farmer saw us from his house, and ran out to help us.  After multiple tries, we finally got the bike going again with his help.  As we passed more and more workers in the rice fields, we stopped again to take some pictures, and there was one man in particular that gave us a huge smile as we took pictures, and gestured to himself so that we would take his picture.  The people we passed at first seemed surprised to see us there, especially as we got deeper into the rural areas, but they almost always smiled kindly at us as we rode by, and that left a lasting impression in me of Vietnamese people.

Here are some pictures from our biking adventures in and around Hoi An:

A ramble, which ends (inevitably) in food

I’m sitting here, on the night before final exams begin, trying to sleepytime tea myself into a state of sleep-inducing exhaustion.  The last few nights, I’ve been tired, but tossed and turned for a few hours before falling asleep.  My students are going crazy with end of semester ants in the pants syndrome, and so am I.  Their crazy involves making noise in class and galloping all over campus; my crazy involves lying in bed every night with my mind woefully awake and my body unable to sleep.  I think we’re all ready for the semester to end and the winter holiday to begin.  Two days ago, I got the welcome news that our last teaching day is December 30th instead of January 6th, which is wonderful sanity-wise and also because it will give us more time to travel before the Chinese New Year, in which–check it–2 billion passenger journeys occur to hometowns and back.   So, the earlier we can book train tickets out of dodge and go south, the better!

I love planning trips and researching countries.  I’m not a big planner with everything in life, but when it comes to traveling, I like reading up on every detail about the places I’m going to go, absorbing everything I see in pictures and read in traveler’s stories.  Right now, after hours spent browsing the online Lonely Planet forum and various other information caches, I have an idea in mind that involves train and bus hopping from southern China to northern to southern Vietnam, and I’m getting braver with the notion that I’d like to hop over to Laos and/or Cambodia as well.  After all, when am I going to get the chance to visit South Asia again?  I may, but I also may never come this way again.   I want to see river towns, and old buildings (get me out of high-rise country, please),  and countryside, and rice paddies.  I want to taste local food made by people who’ve passed down traditional recipes for generations, because loving and appreciating someone’s food is a big step towards seeing their culture more clearly, albeit as a born outsider.

Coming to China has made me appreciate food more than I ever have, which may sound somewhat silly, but it’s true.  Food is so much a part of who we are, what we value in life, and what memories make us love the food we love.  Ask any vegetarian or die-hard steak lover, or even a grilled-cheese addict.  I love grilled-cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, because my mom always made the two together, and I have memories of eating that meal when it was cold, rainy, or snowy out, and it was comforting and delicious.  Chinese people, at least the ones I have met in this city and at the school, have little to no interest in trying Western food, which boggled my mind at first.  Of course I wouldn’t understand this, because in America, though we have our particular styles of cuisines that vary from country to country and town to town,  we have access to international food.  We can eat Italian one night and Chinese the next; Mexican one day and Indian on the weekend.  We may not have access to the most authentic international foods, depending on where we live, but we are aware of and lay claim to various international foods as our favorites.

It’s not like that here.  My students are always telling me that their favorite foods are dumplings and noodles, oh, and maybe KFC.  That’s it.  They don’t even have much interest in any neighboring country’s cuisine, save for occasional Korean barbeque or sushi, but even then, they don’t count it as their favorite.  But, they make up for the foods they never try in their zeal for Chinese cooking.  Which, I can’t blame them for when I’m eating hotpot, or lamb kebabs, or any number of wonderful concoctions that they fry up for dinner. Chinese food is wonderful. But, I still can never fully understand how anyone can live without good bread, cheese, or any variety in cuisine.    I’m still an outsider in that respect, and always will be.  But, I’m glad that after finding new favorite dishes by ordering random things off the menu, and spending some time in the homes of Chinese people who are outstanding cooks, I can appreciate the culture more than I would have if I had stubbornly insisted upon my Western comfort food and just lived on PB&J here.

And now, after these paragraphs of much too compound sentences, I will hie me to bed and hope that I have thought my last thought for the night so that sleep will come quickly.  Actually, my last thought is this:  final exams begin tomorrow morning, and I am happy as I consider what (limited) power will emanate from me as my students meet the grade-giving-teacher side of Laura at last.