STORY TIME || Short anecdotes from my time abroad
For this story time I wanted to put together a few smaller anecdotes from my time abroad into a mega bog post. When traveling you find yourself in a whole range of unusual, gross & sometimes scary situations, those of which I just want to share for my own memory & for your amusement.
During the last month I have called Vietnam home.
I first stepped foot in Hanoi, eager to lay my head after an early flight from Kuala Lumpur. But it was not without its own difficulties.
A few hours prior, my accomodation decided to cancel on me. This was not the most ideal situation but the circumstances helped me find a better place to stay, with lovely staff, breakfast included & a spacious room right next to a french cathedral ( A Notre-Dame look alike).
One night I decided to head out to grab a bite to eat. I stopped at a local Bahn Mi place & chowed down on a delicious french baguette.
I had noticed a lady carrying trays of drinks back and forth across the shop entrance way. I looked out onto the street to see about 50 people, all sitting on small plastic stools enjoying their beverages & munching on some sunflower seeds (the floor was littered with husks).
I thought to myself this would be the perfect place to end the night, sitting on the sidewalk with a crisp beer watching the world pass by.
I motioned to the older lady that I’d like to sit & ordered some drinks. My place setting consisted of the tiny plastic stool I was sitting on plus another stool that acted as a table for my tray of drinks. Where I was situated was in front of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, right on the corner of a busy intersection. There were motorbikes going left & right four deep with adults & kids, taxi’s, tuk tuks, bicycles, ladies with milkmaid yokes & children. It was pure chaos.
Not only that, but the place I was drinking at had a fierce boss lady who was holding wads of cash. I soon realised she had a posse of boys out on the street waving down mopeds as they zoomed past; urging them to park in her makeshift parking spaces. The street by which I was sitting on was prime real estate; it doubled as a parking lot & a bar. The boys on the street would quite literally step in front & halt the mopeds shouting at them to park. The reaction of the driver would go one of two ways
F@#K off! Get out of my way! With a loud BEEEEEEEEEP of the horn for good measure
Okay alright I’ll park.
The latter reaction would usually be followed by the driver & passengers dismounting the moped in the middle of the intersection & then letting one of the boys park it for them. Yes they even did valet service!
Halfway through a sip of my beer I was interrupted by the boss lady shouting at me to get up. One of the other older women had already grabbed my tray & makeshift table; pointing in all directions. I had no fucking idea what was going on. I was indiscriminately yelled at in Vietnamese along with 4 other patrons who also had to make way for a parking moped. After all the excitement was over I sat back on a different stool. I survived my first round of musical chairs.
IS THIS A RESTAURANT OR SOMEONE’S HOME?
This is the number one question I ask while traveling through South East Asia. There have been many occasions where I have been walking down the street, looking for a place to eat only to find stores that seem a little too homely.
Sure, they have lots of tables & what seems to be a menu & a functioning kitchen. But they also sport a Ma & Pop; wearing matching PJ’s while they eat their lunch in some cushy chairs while watching T.V . This combination really had me confused. Do I enter? Is this a restaurant or someone’s home?
Over the last few months this hesitance has slowly subsided. I now walk in with complete confidence because where there’s food, there’s probably someone willing to sell it to me. In fact I’m so confident that I think I may have just walked into someone’s house a few weeks ago & demanded a serving of Bun Cha.
The lady looked at me confused (my pronunciation of Bun Cha was not the best) & I could see the cogs turning in her head. The whole family was in the room behind her, setting up a feast. She was probably thinking “Fuck it, sure I’ll make you some bun cha…it’s not what we are having but whatever!”
As soon as I sat down all the kids were interested in me. Coming up as close as they could to the table then running away laughing. Grandpa offered some beer & tea. Once served, the whole family sat down to have their huge feast of squid, rice, chicken feet & assorted vegetables. I felt like part of the family. I didn’t dare get up to pay until everyone had finished eating & when I left I was met with huge smiles & waves.
Walking back home after my lunch, I passed a group of teenage boys. One of them ran right up to me asking for a picture. This was a common occurrence for me so I didn’t mind. Then in the second picture he grabbed my arm. I think he was trying to make me look like his girlfriend because he became bashful afterwards. It was pretty funny.
THE WORLD OF CINEMA
My stay in Ha Long Bay started off with a typhoon. This tiny detail meant that there was not much to do aside from stay inside. To make matters worse, where I was hole up was nowhere near Ha Long Bay (oops!).
Across the way I could see a cinema sign, one of my favourite past times. Infact I spent almost a week in Mokpo, South Korea going to the cinema (there was not much to do there either but I’ll get into that in the next story). I looked on google maps and saw that there was in fact a cinema along with a few stores, a night market & restaurants. I thought this would be a perfect place to grab some lunch, watch a movie & maybe check out the market.
I was wrong. The area that inhabited these stores was almost completely abandoned, aside from a bus load of Chinese tourists & a shabby looking Lotteria burger joint. The concrete buildings lay waste to overgrown plants & a fountain that no longer bubbled. Despite the raving reviews on Google, this “beloved” place was an absolute ghost town. I was a little perplexed as to why so many Chinese tourists were here. There was literally nothing to see or do aside from the cinema.
I walked through the concrete ghost town towards the cinema after a mediocre bowl of pho for lunch. Once I got inside I soon realised it was completely abandoned despite the “NOW SHOWING” posters with recent release movies. The snack bar was bare; like it had been looted in anticipation of a pending apocalypse & the lights were off.
Despite all these details the cinema lobby was completely overrun by Chinese tourists & performers. There were ladies in lavish costumes doing their makeup & practicing their dance moves in groups.
The bathroom was in pitch darkness aside from ladies changing. I went to use one of the stalls but found it occupied with random stuff inside the toilet bowl. I wonder to myself what the hell was going on here. I saw some of the ladies run into cinema 1 & I decided to follow. What came next was totally unexpected.
The cinema was chock a block full of people. The noise of the crowd was enormous. Every single seat was taken up by people & there was even a t.v crew videoing the performances. I hung around the opening of the walk way, waiting for the show to start.
After about an hour of the host belting her lungs out into the microphone the show began. It had a kind of Eurovision feel to it with a Chinese twist. Groups of older ladies got up, did their traditional dance performances & then quickly retired to the side of the stage. The host came out, yelled into the microphone in Mandarin & then the next group got up to dance. One of the hosts even did a few backflips. It was all very exciting.
Truth be told…all I wanted to do was see a movie.
Ahhh Mokpo… Where to begin with this weird little South Korean Town? I stayed in Mokpo for a week because I was catching the ferry to Jeju Island. I really dislike flying so having an alternative came as a blessing.
I took a bus 4 hours from Busan to the little port city of Mokpo. I hopped off the bus in the middle of a highway bus station in the blistering heat. I had booked a motel on Agoda & using Kakao maps it looked like it was going to be a little difficult to get to as it was across the highway.
I had an image of the motel in my mind but as I started to look around I realised the Mokpo had lots of motels…lots & lots & lots of motels. Some were themed with Greek statues or White House like monuments, some looked abandoned & others were just your run of the mill motel with all different & interesting names.
I walked right up to the location of my motel but I was faced with an abandoned parking lot & a restaurant. The hotel name on the building did not match up with the hotel I had booked.
My greatest fear rose to the surface as I contemplated the reality that my cheap ass motel did not exist & that I had been scammed. Regardless, I walked into the motel & went into the elevator to the third floor. There was no one about. I admitted defeat & retreated back to the ground level to figure out what to do. Suddenly, from the back end of the kitchen & older man came rushing out.
He knew who I was & ushered me into the dark abandoned parking garage. I thought “this is it…this is how I die. In an unmarked motel in the back alleys of Mokpo.” There was a sigh of relief as we entered a dimly lit reception in different building. The older man grabbed his guest book (My booking was the only one) & signed me in. He took me to the third floor to show me my room. There were no lights on & not a single soul was staying there.
It was not until a few days later when a other guests arrived that the hotelier decided to turns the lights on in the motel. This made coming home at night a little easier. The room itself was spacious & the bathroom was huge. My room even came with a littter of kittens right outside the window. They were super cute but so noisy at night. But that wasn’t the only thing that kept me up.
One night I woke up to the sound of a woman screaming & a man sobbing. I put on some clothes & took a look outside but I couldn’t find the source. Mokpo itself really had not a lot going on. Despite the number of motels there wasn’t a lot of people. The streets were bare & places to eat were almost non existent. Who ever lived in Mokpo must have been an avid golfer because every second store was a golf shop & every third store was a mobile phone store. Mokpo was a truly weird place to be BUT the cinema was cheap!
THE CRAPPENING || TWO FOR TWO
When traveling it is no secret that you will encounter a whole new world of bacteria & nasties that will make you sick. As a child I was subjected to a few nasty stomach bugs of my own. My Mum, who is a nurse would sometimes bring home whatever was going round at the hospital. I’ve had everything from Gastro to Giardia; both unsavoury characters. But having these has taught me a lot about how to make sure the infection doesn’t spread, how to take care of my body & most importantly how to reduce my risk of getting it again.
Eating or drinking contaminated foods & water is a sure way to get yourself sick as I found out during stint in Phuket. It’s a bit hard to narrow down the exact culprit, & when you’ve eaten as many weird & wonderful culinary delights as I have you start to not care. As I always say; if you don’t take risks you won’t ever get to reap the rewards.
During my time in Nha Trang I stayed with a friends Dad. Over the weak he & his girlfriend (who is Vietnamese) fed me some of the most amazing & tasty food. That week was in my top 3 favourite places in Vietnam. The hospitality was amazing, the town of Nha Trang was super lovely & the food was great…until it wasn’t.
One afternoon I was served a delicious looking plate of watermelon. It was so red & juicy I ate the whole plate in an instant & didn’t think anything of it. A couple of hours later I was doubled over, sweating & in pain. I painted the town red…literally. Apparently if you eat too much watermelon, it can make you sick.
I was cautioned that this was maybe due to the irrigation but after doing my own research it was actually an allergic reaction to a chemical found inside red fruits & vegetables. The naturally occuring chemical is called lycopene & if you eat too much you end up spewing your guts up like I did. It is present in especially red watermelon’s. Darn you delicious looking watermelon! I played myself!
After that minor debacle I felt right as rain. The next evening we went out to go to the movies, but not before having dinner. We walked past a lady on the side of the road selling the famous fish soup from Nha Trang. We pulled up some stools & dug in. It was pretty delicious soup; with thick white noodles, a fishy broth that was cut by the addition of fresh lime juice & some bits of cooked fish mixed in. Not an hour later I was threatening to paint the town again.
We got to the movie theatre but all that was showing was my reflection in the toilet bowl. Now I don’t want to be TMI but that soup was possibly the worst thing I have ever thrown up. It came up in one big wad of white goop & tasted absolutely horrible. The only blessing to this, was that it didn’t have the opportunity to break up & fill my nose as it made its fast evacuation. What I had been subjected to was fish poisoning. There are two types of poisoning & thankfully I was able to cure my symptoms with an antihistamine. I was fine the next day.
DON’T FALL ASLEEP
When I was a kid my Dad told me a story about being on a road trip with his family.
My Dad is one of five children so as you can imagine the car would have been very cramped. He told me about one particular time when the car they were driving in started leaking gas into the cabin. His father, whilst driving would reach around to the back seat & slap them on the legs yelling “DON’T FALL ASLEEP! DON’T FALL ASLEEP OR YOU’LL DIE!”.
On my way to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi I was faced with the same scenario. The van I was traveling in was leaking noxious gas into the cabin. Intermittently the owner of the van would turn the aircon on and off. Maybe to stop his cargo from slipping into a permanent slumber.