Sunday, January 31, 2016

Post-Saigon Blues

The hardest thing to do in Cambodia is wake up. 
Once you can get past the desperate clutches of a jealous sleep, you can handle anything the day will bring you. Sleep is especially greedy in a windowless room, where you both can be tricked into believing that the morning hasn’t started yet. 
You give into sleep’s seduction at first, letting it keep you longer and longer, making you feel worthy and important in its arms. But then you realize - this can’t go on forever. And when you pull your body out of that darkness, go down the long winding steps to the front door, where just outside the sun is strong enough to break a lover’s courage and the growling of moped engines threatens to send you screaming back up the stairs, you know only then that you’ve been tricked by sleep. It can fool anyone into believing that it more important than any sun any day. And you hate yourself for believing its lie.

Now we are at Jay’s Diner and I have a To-Do list of nothing I want to do. I don’t want to write emails, translate, or even leave the hotel. But I don’t want to be in my dark room either. Maybe I am just having post-Saigon blues….

- January 30th, 2015

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh

After some extensive research, I decided to get from Saigon, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia  by bus. This seemed to be one f the easiest and safest land crossings in SE Asia, and the bus ride was only 7 hours. I booked my tickets on the Mekong Express through Sinh Tourist in District 1.

I had to arrive at 6:30 in the morning for check in, and was told the bus would come at 7:00 to pick me up. Sinh Tourist is a popular travel agency, and there were buses coming to drop off and pick up people every few minutes. Soon, the small sidewalk outside the shop became chaotic.

Boarding the bus in Saigon
The Mekong Express bus I rode was a themed bus, and the theme was Mariah Carey. The entire bus was decorated like an 8-year-old girl’s bedroom, complete with a television covered in glittery stickers, which played a Mariah Carey music video complication lasting over an hour.

By the tme Mariah Carey finished singing, it was time to cross the border. The bus attendant collected our passports and $35 USD from each passenger and we all got out of the bus. This border crossing is a bit weird. Instead of waiting in line with your documents, everyone stands in a massive group in front of an immigration officer, who processes each passport, then calls the name on the passport. When your name is called, you go to the window and pick up your passport and visa, then hand it back to the bus attendant. We did this twice, once to get the exit stamp from Vietnam, and once to get the entry stamp from Cambodia. It was weird, but easy and brainless. It looked like a total clusterfuck but somehow worked out. After everyone had their visas we were on the Cambodian side of the border, which is full of sad-looking Chinese casinos, and people selling jackfruits.

A decorated bus

The first half of the journey was brutal. I finally experienced the horribly bumpy and unpaved roads that bloggers all over Asia have been writing about.  It was probably the worst bus ride I have had on this trip, with the exception of our epic delay from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.  The AC barely worked, our seats were cramped, arms and shoulders all over each other. We sat in the front row and had no leg room. But worst of all were the unpaved roads and the way the bus creeped and crawled over them.  I can still hear the wheels grinding against the rocks, like teeth gnawing on sand. I thought it was impossible to be going over such a road without shredding our tires. Mostly the roads made the bus jiggle and vibrate, but occasionally we would sway from side to side and one or twice we flew over a bump that made me leap from the seat. Our seats were on the south-facing side of the bus, which meant that sunlight beat against the window for the entire ride, making it hot as a frying pan. I kept the curtains closed the entire time, and wasn’t sorry one bit.

My view for seven hours

After the rest stop, the remainder of the roads seemed to be paved, and the ride passed enjoyably by watching The Interview. I remember thinking this was especially funny, because the North Korean government had recently asked the Cambodian government not to sell or distribute the movie, a request the Cambodian government shrugged off. They have no way of enforcing it. So we watched the movie on the bus. 7.5 hours later, we arrived at the bus station in Phnom Penh.

Tuktuk from Mekong Express station into the city

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Did I Eat in Vietnam?

I was looking forward to Vietnamese food for the entirety of my trip. In Malaysia, in Thailand, even in Laos I had to stop myself from going to Vietnamese restaurants because I just didn’t want to wait until I was actually in Vietnam. Well, the wait did pay off and I was in food heaven.

  1. Food I wished I had but didn't:  Rice noodle dishes besides Pho.
  2. Food I had but wished I didn't: Chicken rice. It's dry and sauce-less and doesn't compare to Thailand or Singapore. 
  3. What should have been on the list: Regional foods - they very so much from north to south. 
  4. Biggest surprise: The sheer variety of banh mi.
  5. Most delicious meal: Ca Cha La Vong. It was also the most expensive meal ($30 USD). Even though I didn't go to the famous restaurant, I still had a great time. 

Banh Mi
Usually costing no more than $1, banh mi are available throughout the country, with slight differences in regional variety. I enjoyed sampling them from north to south.

Another Vietnamese staple best enjoyed on the street, but also available in many cafés. Beef Pho is by far the popular choice.

Chicken Rice
Vietnamese chicken rice is very different from that of Singapore or Thailand. Usually the chicken is shredded and eaten with onions, soy sauce, and a spicy red chilli paste.

Egg Tarts and Pastries
Vietnam has some pretty delicious pastries, particularly croissants and egg tarts, like the ones from Macao, which seem to be everywhere. Also, the Vietnamese have their own version of Thai Milk Toast, which is just a baguette with condensed milk. 

Regional food of Hanoi: Ca Cha La Vong
Fish with Tamarind spice, eaten eith onions, cilantro, soy sauce, peanuts, and chili.

Regional food of Hue: 
Bun Bo Hue
This spicy noodle soup has two versions: the authentic one, and the tourist one. After trying this dish at 4 locations in Hue, only once was I given the authentic version, which includes blood cake and fat, and other awesome parts of the pork. The tourist version is less spicy and includes strips of pork with no blood or fat. Lame.

Regional food of Hoi An: 
Mi Quang noodles, White Rose, and Cao Lau
Hoi An has several famous foods which are great and can be found all over the town. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 NaNoWriMo: 50 hours, 5 holiday drinks, 1 novel

Toasted Graham Latte
Remember when I said I was breaking the rules for NaNoWriMo2015? Well, my one-month 50-hour novel editing challenge turned into 3 months and 52 hours. Finally, today, I have finished editing my novel. 

This whole experience has been an amazing learning opportunity. Not only did I learn about the process of editing a novel - as well as  the time and skill involved - but I also learned a lot about myself. Now that I am living in the U.S. again and working a regular 9-5, I'm finding new and different challenges that impact my writing. 

Location, Location, Location
Peppermint Mocha
Having a 40-hour-a week computer job is not the only hiderance to my ability to write. Living within a short drive of many friends and family also takes time away from writing. While I was living in rural Japan, I had few social distractions to keep me from writing in the month of November. Here in Portland, where I live near 15 family members and about 20 friends, it's a completely different experience. 

Cafes vs. Couches
Eggnog Latte
I need to have a comfortable private space to be creative. Haven’t I learned this already? The fantasy of spending all day café hopping is really an illusion. In reality I can’t work at a café longer than 2 hours and if I don’t have a space where I can get into comfortable clothes and use the bathroom as many times as I want and take naps on the couch then I am not a productive writer/editor. 

The Great Escape
I can be very productive on get-a-ways as long as I have a regimented schedule. Much like my writing retreat in Okayama on my first NaNo, taking a retreat to my partner's empty condo in Portland this December enabled me to edit for 8 hours in one day.

Caramel Brulee Latte
 When I hit a point in the story where major plot revising is needed, it helps to take a break and come back to it. This happened twice. Once when I decided to re-write an old character who I had previously deleted back into the book. The second time when I wanted to majorly rework a couple scenes in the opening chapters. 

Overall, I learned that I actually am capable of writing a novel. Start to finish. I can do it all. And now that I am looking at the finished product, I am pretty damn proud.

Gingerbread Latte
Editing my 117,000 word novel was not my only objective this winter: I was also on a quest to sample every holiday drink at Starbucks this season. 

While overseas, I missed the delicious holiday lattes, but once I returned to the states I found that Starbucks drinks are just too damn sweet. Two years in Asia must have altered my senses. Now I'm completely grossed out my these syrupy American drinks. Oh well....

What an editor's schedule looks like:
Month Date Comments Time Time Words
November 1   0   10598
November 2   0    
November 3   0    
November 4   2 5:00-7:00  
November 5   2 5:45-6:30, 7:20, ~8:35~9:10 7275
November 6   0   7126
November 7   2 1:30-2:30, 8:00-9:00  
November 8 lots of writing 3 5:45-7:45 10822
November 9 plot crisis 2 6:15-7:15~8:30 4714
November 10   0   5764
November 11   0    
November 12   0    
November 13 major restructuring 1 5:30-6:30  
November 14   1 7:40-8:40 515
November 15 lots of writing 2 6:00-7:00, 7:20-8:20 4487
November 16   1 9:00-9:30, 10:00-10:30 7162
November 17   1 8:20-8:50, 1:15-1:45 1745
November 18   0.5 8:15-8:45 2104
November 19   1.5 4:20-5:50  
November 20   0   1730
November 21   3 7:20-8:20, 10:17-12:17  
November 22   2.5 4:00-5:00, 9:30-11:00 7583
November 23   0.5 12:35-1:05 4380
November 24   1 6:10-6:40, 11:00-11:30 968
November 25   1 5:10-6:00 555
November 26 plot crisis 0    
November 27   0    
November 28   0    
November 29   0    
November 30   0    
December 1 restructuring 1 10:00-11:00  
December 2   0    
December 3   0    
December 4   0    
December 5   0    
December 6   0    
December 7   0    
December 8 restructuring 0.5 6:00-6:30  
December 9   0    
December 10 restructuring 0.5 12:30-1:00  
December 11   0    
December 12   0    
December 13   0    
December 14   0    
December 15   0    
December 16   0.6 6:22-7:02 2245
December 17   0.4 8:20-8:40 922
December 18   0    
December 19   0    
December 20   1 10:00-11:00 1490
December 21   1.5 6:00-6:40, 11:00-11:50 3446
December 22   0    
December 23   2 6:00-7:00, 10:30-11:30 4575
December 24   0    
December 25   0    
December 26   8.5 8:25-9:25, 9:30-12:30, 1:15-2:30, 4:45-5:45, 9:20-11:35 26486
December 27   1 9:00-10:00 377
December 28   0    
December 29   0    
December 30   1 7:00-8:00  
December 31   0    
January 1   0    
January 2   0    
January 3   0    
January 4   0    
January 5   0    
January 6   1 12:20-12:50, 9:00-9:30 4334
January 7   0    
January 8   0    
January 9   0    
January 10   1 1:37-2:37 1268
January 11   0    
January 12   0    
January 13   2 5:30-6:30, 9:20-10:20 2286
January 14   0    
January 15   0    
January 16   0    
January 17   0    
January 18   0    
January 19   0    
January 20   0    
January 21   0.5 12:40-1:10 1925
January 22   1.5 12:36-1:06, 6:00-7:00 4626
January 23   0    
January 24 lots of writing 1 3:15-4:15 2374

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...