Well, folks, this is the last blog post of our travels. We have been on the road for nearly 9 months. We've been to 7 countries. We've eaten amazing foods, seen incredible things, and met wonderful people.
It's weird to think about all of this being over. We've been living out of backpacks for so long that it is such a strange thought to actually be able to live out of closets again. But we're ready for it.
It's been a long hard road and an amazing journey. We've learned so much and grown in ways we had never imagined. We have our little tiffs but for the most part, we have grown together and learned so much about each other. I consider myself very lucky to have had these experiences with Ricky.
Tonight we fly back to Beijing. We'll spend a night in our new, mostly-furnished apartment. Then, we'll take a train back to our old city, Jinzhou, to meet up with some friends and pick up the rest of our stuff. Then it's time to rejoin the work force and the world of duty.
We're pretty excited about it. We've already planned out some things, the really important things. Like what size TV we need, and what kind of kitchen gadgets to get. Oh and work...
But don't despair, dear readers. No, we will continue to blog to our hearts' content. Expect to hear about the sometimes frustrating life in China, weekend trips, the upcoming visit to Ireland where I meet Ricky's family and friends (wish me luck!), my adventures in grad school, and general observations on life and every aspect of it.
We look forward to our future adventures and what they will help us accomplish. We hope you continue to join us on our journey!
Dinner of Champions: Fresh Cobra--Every Bit of It!
Well, it’s been a while since we experienced this insane dinner, so it’s high time we wrote about it.
Let me start at the beginning. Ricky and I are big fans of Top Gear. For all you ‘Mericans and others who may not be familiar with it, the show is a BBC production. It features three middle-aged men mocking each other’s hair, racing cars against men wearing jet-packs, and occasionally giving consumer advice. A few seasons ago they did a “Vietnam Special” where they bought 3 motorbikes and traversed the country from south to north. This inspired our motorbike trip. Our mistake was starting in the north, though, which wasn’t all that enjoyable.
Well, on their trip, they stopped in the city of Dalat and had a unique dinner—Cobra. Real, live (at first) hissing cobra. Well, we decided to go to Dalat just to eat there. We didn’t have much information to go on, so we just started by asking people if they new of a restaurant that served snake. We mostly got strange looks. This wasn’t working.
After a couple days of this, Ricky got the brilliant idea of pulling up the video of the episode to see if there was a sign in front of the restaurant. It was pretty hard to see, but we started showing it to people every couple of blocks or so and got slowly guided to the right direction. Eventually we ran into a young guy that spoke English very well. He deciphered the sign perfectly and told us exactly where to go. So we headed there, and saw a sign with the same name, but it definitely wasn’t the same number on the street, and it was a different sign. And it was closed, so there was that. There was a group of people outside so we showed them our terrible ipod picture and they said it was the same restaurant. They couldn’t do snake that night because they had a church thing to go to, so we set a reservation for the next night.
I could tell you exactly what happened, but I’m going to let the videos and pictures do the talking. It began like this:
Then this happened:
And then I had a tasty treat:
And we got ready for a drink:
After all the excitement of that, we sat down and waited for our meal: a spicy salad with vermicelli and snake organs, and hot pot with the rest of the snake meat, noodles, and veggies.
|Snake innards salad|
|I got the tail!|
|Ricky prepares for a glass of blood. He doesn't look thrilled.|
|Snake tastes good, but look at all those tiny ribs!|
|Our new buddy, the champ that cut the heart out.|
It was a great meal, and the family that run the place are so kind and friendly. If anyone wants to be adventurous and go there, we can help you find it. And if you're lucky, you might get a nice souvenir...
The Remnants of War: I Just Don't Understand
WARNING: Some graphic content
I’m going to admit, I had a really hard time yesterday, emotionally. Ricky and I visited the War Remnants Museum here in Saigon. The outside of the building mostly met what I expected—a bunch of leftover American planes and tanks and unexploded bombs. I expected more of the same inside, because we had seen so much of this type of museum before.
What I got was something I wasn’t really prepared for.
See, it wasn’t really “war remnants” the way that rusty tanks left in the jungle are war remnants. No, these remnants of war were a lot more intense.
First we walked around and saw a lot of war propaganda posters and books and things. There were hundreds of photographs of protests throughout the world against the US’s involvement in Vietnam. We read stories of attempted peace talks and Ho Chi Minh’s letters to leaders of countries thanking them for their support.
We walked upstairs and my mind was filled with that neverending sense of “I don’t really understand” that I always get when faced with the atrocities of war. But I was not prepared for what would meet us on the second floor.
The first room we entered showed photographs taken of certain areas of Vietnam during the war, after being heavily attacked with bombs from American war-planes. The after pictures—of current day Vietnam—clearly showed the bomb craters dotting the land like chicken pox. These remnants of war would take a long time to be forgotten.
We then entered the Agent Orange room, the walls painted a ghastly and oddly suitable orange color. The first photographs to greet us upon entering were those of children with deformities due to AO contamination. The thing is, though, is that a few of these kids were born within the last 15 years or so. Let me explain.
American soldiers, in a brutal act against all laws of war, utilized powerful defoliants (plant-killing chemicals) like Agent Orange that contained a chemical called dioxin, which has been identified as the most toxic chemical currently known to man (a few grams of the stuff can wipe out an entire city of millions). American soldiers used chemical grenades and sprays from planes to kill the jungles and forests where the Vietnamese may have been hiding and hopefully kill a few in the process. This chemical, however, did more damage than expected. Contact with dioxin causes malformations in the DNA and can lead to numerous types of cancer and physical deformations. Because the change takes place in the DNA, a man that was in contact with the chemical will most likely pass on those DNA mutations to his children, and they (if having children is a physical possibility) to theirs.
So as we walked around the room, we read of children born with no limbs, with hydroencephalitis, with various types of cancer, mental retardation, and of stranger problems, such as one girl who has to live her life locked in a cage because anything she can get her hands on she will chew up and swallow, or a boy whose arms have to be tied behind his back to protect himself and those around him as he cannot control the constant flailing.
At one point, as we looked at pictures that would break anyone’s heart, Ricky looked toward me and pointed to something. As I took a closer look I realized, with horror, that it was a large glass box filled with liquid. Inside the two compartments were preserved fetuses affected by AO. There was a set of malformed Siamese twins and another fetus that was missing part of its face. It was gruesome. And that’s when I started to lose it.
From that point on I was fighting back tears—angry, sad, frustrated tears. How the hell did anyone do this? Who felt ok about what they were doing? What was the point of all of this? People are still suffering because of this.
I could tell others felt the same way. I stood and read the stories of three men in the US that performed self-immolaation (that is, burning oneself alive) in front of government buildings in protest of the war and the use of AO. As I read, a girl about my age stood in front of me, slightly shaking her head as she read. Her shaking got more intense as she read through news reports and saw pictures of other AO victims (including US soldiers). We were both in unbelief. None of it made any sense.
Still fighting back emotion, we entered into the Crimes of War room. The first thing we saw upon entering was the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I only lasted about 5 minutes in that room before I had to leave.
Being faced with those “self-evident” truths and then seeing how the US obliterated them, I kind of lost it. There, I was faced with statements like this:
|Not shown is the photograph of a ditch filled with hundreds of bodies of men, women, and children.|
...and photographs like this:
|An American GI holds up the remains of a Vietnamese soldier killed by a grenade.|
I left immediately and waited outside for Ricky to finish walking through.
We’ve written a lot about war and tragedy on the blog, because frankly it’s not something you can avoid when traveling in this part of the world. But this museum gave me a whole new perspective on it. It made me wonder if I had been alive back then, what would I have done?
I think I can honestly say that I’d have been one of the thousands at Washington, with signs and flowers, and the whole hippy thing because the war was a mistake, something the US should never have taken part in, and it would be nice to hear more sentiments like this:
|The plaque at the top left states: The the people of a united Vietnam, I was wrong..I am sorry.|
One of the issues that I think a lot of people don’t like about travel is that it can be hard to go to a place where people haven’t already amassed, and when you get there, people tell you that another place is better.
As Talia and I continue inland in Vietnam, we were thinking and discussing how in every place you go there are people who have been to another place which surpasses the place you are in in every way, which can get a little frustrating.
Everywhere there are other travelers who have seen bigger, better, faster, older, purer renditions of what you are currently looking at. For Talia and me this doesn’t take away from the uniqueness of whatever we are looking at, as I suppose is the intention of the naysayers, but we take it all at face value, a lesson we have learned from our travels.
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t overhear a traveler, for example on a bus, saying how their souvenir is more authentic and unique because an old lady made it in her hut or whatever.
Understandably everyone takes away from an experience whatever they put into it and if something is special to you for one reason or another then good for you. But the necessity to always work in superlatives is adolescent at best. I have come to learn that I have not explored a fraction of the world and its wonders nor met enough people to really know what the ultimate experience is, so the search goes on.
We met one young French guy in Laos who was intent on being the “real” traveler, while everyone else (as he told them to their faces, including ours) was merely a tourist with a big Nikon.
But ask yourself, how many superlatives can you REALLY adhere to? I mean, there are factual superlatives and opinionated superlatives and learning the difference can matter! Just earlier today we heard a girl proclaim how the guys who drive Cruiser motorbikes and do one-on-one tours are so incredibly nicer and, I quote, “better” than the usual motorbike taxi drivers who shout at you as they drive past (though just today I would say we got more “HEY YOU”s from the cruiser riding riders).
Granted she was only speaking in the comparative, but the notion remains the same. How can one be any different to another when the only difference, the ONLY difference is one drives a smaller bike than the other?!
I’m sure we all do it from time to time (I was known as “The Topper” in my job in China) but this is my public service announcement to the people of the 2feetoutthedoor world, as a person who speaks from experience, and annoyance:
Better and best are only comparative terms based on contextual personal preference, therefore making them in themselves null and void outside of the realm of your opinion until proven otherwise by fact.
Even if yours is bigger, just shut your loud mouth about it.
Growing Old on the Road
A lot of changes have been happening lately. We mentioned a few posts ago that the time has come to wrap up the traveling—for now. We obviously don’t intend on ever leaving traveling behind for good. So stay tuned for the next 60 years as we take on the world!
We’ve recently accepted a job in Beijing teaching English. We’re a little nervous about it, living in such a big, crowded, and potentially expensive city. I’ve also applied to a Master’s program that I’m waiting to hear back from (send good feelings this way so I can get in!)
All these changes and the prospect of actually settling down a bit has got Ricky and me to thinking about the past 7-ish months we’ve spent traveling. The consensus is that we’ve really “grown up” on this trip. Obviously, we were already adults who had done adult-y things. We’d both lived away from home, had jobs (though I’d say that Ricky’s job as an assistant manager at a hotel was probably more adult than my custodian gig at college), paid rent, all that. But this kind of long term travel has aged us in ways we didn’t expect.
As a lot of you know, we were affected greatly by tragedies that have happened in so many places. Seeing the remnants of war has given us new views on what we’d only vaguely heard about before. We came to see that what we only sort of hear about on the news has much more far reaching effects on people worlds away.
This kind of thing ages you. Seeing what war does to people—how it tears apart civilians who didn’t ask for that sort of thing to happen, how they try to adapt and survive, how a city will never be the same—that kind of thing makes you old. That kind of thing makes you think about things that the average 20-something might not be inclined to ponder. It gives you whole new ideas on right and wrong, the value of life, morality, ethics, and loss.
War isn’t the only thing to have changed us. No, every aspect of life in the countries we’ve visited has changed us. The poverty, food and lack of it, community, tribal life, the moments of kindness that have been given to us, and the ones we attempt to give back—there is no way that being in the midst of these things can leave you emotionally or mentally static.
I know that most people throughout their lifetimes experience certain things that help them learn what we have learned, but our process was a sort of high-speed evolution to a certain maturity, a certain understanding of how places outside of our homes really are. Living it is more than what a documentary on National Geographic can prepare you for.
But it’s not all war and local life that’s given us that adult feeling. We’ve grown in other ways that otherwise would have taken us ages. For example, Ricky, who I like to refer to as Map Brain at certain times, does indeed have a brain like a map. He can navigate us through an unknown city to the section where most of the low-priced hostels are, or find our way back after roaming the town looking for some decent food. I’ve never been so good, but my skills in navigation and recognition of landmarks and directions has definitely improved.
We’ve both gotten better at negotiating prices and being unashamed at doing so. This was a talent I had hoped to work on upon my arrival in China, and I did ok, but I feel like I have mastered the skill as we have haggled for everything from hotel rooms to bottled water. We usually are pretty confident that we get the best price (at least the best prices white faces like ours are allowed). This skill has come in handy as we have interviewed for jobs and negotiated prices and benefits to our advantage.
I’ve never really been good at talking to people. Making chit-chat is my idea of one of the outer rings of Hell. I often feel I have nothing to say and small talk with strangers is strained and awkward. Well, after being on the road with someone, being with him 24/7 for this long, no matter how much I love him, I (both of us, actually) have craved conversation with other people. Ricky often makes the first move, but I usually have no problem joining in with the conversation any more. I have things to say, newfound opinions, experiences to share, and advice to give. I can contribute. And what’s more adult than having a heated conversation about gun laws where actual facts and statistics are used, as opposed to simply shouting your political preference?
Now, armed with all of our new knowledge, experience, and skills, Ricky and I are ready to begin the next phase of true adulthood. We’re getting ready to sign contracts, rent an apartment, and pay some bills.
Wait..how do I push rewind? I don’t know if I’m ready for this!
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)
I lay awake in my top bunk unable to sleep. It was midnight in Krakow and I tossed and turned, trying not to scratch at the itches tha...
*Graphic content warning* So far, most of our sightseeing has been quite lighthearted. We’ve seen pandas and monkeys, temples and stat...
I was in the bathroom this morning getting ready to go to the supermarket with Ricky. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and some slide-on ...
Yesterday Ricky wrote about the secret tragedy in Laos , about how hundreds of people a year are killed or injured by UXOs dro...
Up in the mountains, all bundled up! Sorry for the long delay, faithful readers! It’s been a wild ride. Well, six wild rides. For si...