Archive for the ‘Vietnam Trip’ Category

Finally arrived

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

After a five hour flight from Korea, and quite possibly the slowest descent in aviation history, I made it to Vietnam. Dan had warned me about long wait times to get the visa. In Vietnam, you apply for a visa online. The company sends you a letter, and then you take that letter, your passport and your money to the Landing Visa window at the airport when you arrive. I paid $15 to get rushed through, although neither Dan nor I knew if this was a scam. He had told me to try to get to the window as quickly as possible.

I got stuck on the moving sidewalk behind the family with the two kids who were kicking me in the back the whole 5 hours on the flight. Gaah! I managed to dart around them between moving sidewalks and got to the Landing Visa window in front of our pack only to find that a couple of flights had arrived shortly before we did. I quickly figured out that getting the visa was like driving in New York City. You have to be assertive/borderline aggressive and jump in wherever you see a break. Make no hesitation. After a little back and forth and finding a place to wait among the hundred or so people there, my name was called immediately, and I was done. I guess the $15 did pay off. Yay!

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see my checked bag again. The last time I saw it was on the curb in Denver, and I’d spent 14 hours at the airport in Korea. Once again I was amazed by my good luck as my bag was one of the first out. I grabbed it and headed for customs. I put the bag on the conveyor belt and walked to the other side. I looked around to see if anyone wanted to talk to me. Nobody seemed to care what I was doing, so I grabbed my bag and went on out. That was easy enough. Dan was right there waiting for me, and after a quick hug, we were off to find a taxi to take us to his place.

Immediately I was amazed by the the amount of people and stuff that could be fit on a small scooter or motorbike. Stuff you see posted on YouTube or Facebook – it’s everywhere. A whole family on a bike with the woman on the back holding her bare butt baby off to the side in case it peed or whatever. More goods loaded on a scooter than I could fit in my car. I love the helmets they have that look like baseball caps and plan on getting one for my bicycle.

After getting to the house, we went out for lunch. Apparently 2:00 on Saturday afternoon is a bad time to look for food, but we finally came upon a woman with her grill on the street and got a plate of rice and a super tasty pork chop for around 90 cents each. That’s where I learned that when you’re done with a napkin or have bones or something else you aren’t going to eat, you throw it on the ground. If you don’t throw it on the ground, the waitress or proprietor throws it on the ground and is annoyed that you didn’t. It all gets swept up later.

After lunch, we stopped by a street vendor for a drink. The guy fills a cup up with ice and then sticks a piece of sugar cane into a grinder. The juice goes over the ice and that’s your drink. It’s really good. It isn’t nearly as sugary or syrupy as you would think. I plan on getting a video of the whole process sometime soon. Maybe later today, as it would be a good reason to get another drink. :-)

We came back to the house and talked for a while. I have a voice over IP device I brought with me so I could talk to Willie, but we needed a phone to plug into it. Dan went out and came back with a cheap imitation (Chinese) Hello Kitty! phone. He told me how you have to test everything before you buy it. I totally want to bring this POS back home with me as a souvenir.

We went out to dinner at a place around the corner. Dan’s been good about not ordering anything too weird. We had seafood fried rice, barbeque ribs (cooked out on the sidewalk), and this beef dish that was really good. Lots of cilantro and basil in Vietnam, which I love. There are also lots of strange fruits that I plan on trying before I leave. Most restaurants – all businesses really – are open to the road. At the restaurant, people pull their motorbikes inside and park them at the front of the restaurant. It’s kind of hard to see them in this picture, but they are between the last table and the door.

After dinner we stopped for dessert. It was another street vendor with a cart facing the street. You order and then go sit down at the tiny little plastic table with plastic kids chairs, all of which are pretty standard in Vietnam. I guess that’s fine if you’re a small Vietnamese person. Dan says you get used to it, and it’s been good for his back. Whatever. The desert has a bunch of stuff thrown in the glass, most of which are beans. There are some pieces of a jello-like substance as well. Ice is put on top, and then a coconut milk concoction is poured over that. I was a little scared, but Dan insisted it was good, so I tried. It was awesome. I also feel less guilty eating a dessert made with beans. I think I need to learn how to make this.

So that was yesterday’s adventure. I’m not sure what we’re doing today, but it’s great just to be hanging out with my kid. Even though it’s been three years, it’s like we saw each other yesterday. We talked about some of the stuff from the past – things we would have done differently, things we didn’t appreciate then but now realize what we had. No regrets so much, just acknowledgment and insight for the future. I know we’ve both changed our circumstances, but we’re still the same mother and son we always were together.

Vietnam Christmas – the ride there

Friday, November 30th, 2012

OK, so it wasn’t really a ride. It started being an adventure a lot sooner than I thought. Surprisingly, the 13 hour flight was not as brutal as I was expecting. It’s now 2:40 am in the Seoul Incheon airport, and I’m wide awake. Good time to start writing…

Willie drove me to the Denver International Airport, leaving my house at 4:30 in the morning. The flight didn’t leave until 8:12, but I didn’t want to stress about it. We were able to check my bag curbside and then go park the car so we could go into the airport for breakfast. It was still early and not a lot of people, which was nice. We said our goodbyes, and I wandered off into the TSA rat maze. As I emerged out the other end and started down the escalators, I suddenly looked up and saw Willie standing on the walkway above. We waved goodbye as I descended into the shuttle area.

I had the back row to myself from Denver to Los Angeles. I read my Kindle and listened to music. It went by quickly. Once at LAX, I had to leave the terminal and take a shuttle bus to a different terminal. Walking into that terminal is when things started getting different. It was already like being in a different country. The signage wasn’t great. I started to understand what my son meant when he made the comment that nothing I wore (talking about my Wonder Woman sneakers) would be any weirder than me being a foreigner. Out of the 500+ people waiting to board the 747 heading to Korea, there may have been 10 of us white folks. I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, and I hadn’t even left American soil.

When I got on the plane, I was happy to find that I was in a row next to the galley, which meant there were only two seats in the row. Even better was that nobody was taking the seat next to me. As the plane filled, an unsmiling Korean woman walked past, taking note of the empty seat next to me. Sure enough, she decided she liked that seat better and changed. One of the flight attendants questioned her, but she insisted. Oh well. She wasn’t particularly friendly, but she was helpful a time or two.

Unlike my first flight, there was a lot of waiting for maintenance reasons, and we got off the ground about an hour later than scheduled. It wasn’t traumatic or anything, but who wants to add an hour to a 13 hour trip? We finally got underway, and we were served the first of our meals. It was pretty good, with a roll, smoked salmon, salad, cheese and crackers, steak, veggies and dessert – and no extra charge! Throughout the flight we could snacks and sandwiches whenever we asked. I didn’t know that; that’s where my bossy row-mate came in handy. There were touchscreen video screens set into the seatback in front of us, and there were several new releases available to watch, also no extra charge.

In addition to the movies, I could turn on the “airshow”, which was a graphic representation of where the plane was, both on the map and with respect to daylight on the globe. There were also a bunch of stats, such as how high we were and what the temperature was outside the aircraft. Most of the time, it was between -68 and -72 degrees Fahrenheit. The graph pictured here is the one that really intrigued me. We skirted the edge of daylight for probably 10 hours. We were close enough to it that we had a beautiful sunset the whole time. Although it was rainy in LA, by the time we got to Alaska, I could see the terrain. I took several pictures as we made the trip, and my indication of where we were is based on where the map was showing our location.

I thought it was pretty cool when we were over Russia. It looked like there was more snow than Alaska, but it may have appeared that way because the peaks are lower – I don’t know that they are; that’s an assumption. Where there were jagged rocks showing their grey color in Alaska, Russia was all white.

We finally landed in Seoul. For some reason I thought I had an 8 hour layover, but as the flight was underway, I started doing the math and realized I have 14 hours to kill in an airport in a country where I don’t speak the language nor carry any of the currency. Nice. I’d heard about some place called the “Hub” where passengers with a layover can hang out and relax. I was supposed to get complimentary admission, but the maximum amount of time you can stay is 5 hours. On the plane, a video announcement said it was on the fourth floor, so when I got off the plane, I started looking for it. Let me tell you, it was not obvious how to get there.

I went to a counter for Asiana Airline and tried to ask the woman there. Language barrier, and she pointed me in a direction. I wandered that way and was stopped by an official-looking guy who pointed me back the way I’d just come. I could not see an elevator or stairway to save my life. Another guy spoke absolutely zero English and pointed toward a doorway with a security checkpoint and signs that said “Transfer to Busan”. I have no clue where Busan is, and I didn’t want to go there, so it made no sense to get in that line. I was tired and frustrated at this point and found a chair to sit down on while I tried to figure out what to do. While I was there, an angry American went to the same desk I’d been to originally. It was apparent he was having the same frustration. Thanks to his loud ranting, I figured out that I did indeed need to get in line for the transfer to Busan.

It wasn’t a long line. I had to show my passport and boarding pass for my flight to Saigon, and I was allowed up the escalator. Voila! Paradise found. Shiny chrome, white and glass area with stores such as Chanel and Gucci and signs to the fourth floor where I could find the Hub. Unfortunately I had nothing proving I was promised a complimentary pass to the Hub, but with a limit of 5 hours, it didn’t help me much anyway. I wandered toward the Transit Hotel, which is attached to the airport. Based on the upscale nature of the area, I was pretty sure the hotel was going to be out of my price range, but it was worth a try. As I walked slowly down the corrider, I saw an area with these leather reclined couch/beds – a kind of chaise lounge I guess. They had singles and doubles and little room dividers between them. A couple of them were taken by people who were passed out cold. Yeah, that’s all I needed to see. I found one, took my shoes off, stuck my arm through the top strap of my backpack and woke up 6 hours later.

Now I’m sitting at a table in a comfortable chair with electrical outlets designed for charging travelers’ devices. There’s a wall with six PCs and nice office chairs across the hallway, and free massage chairs across from that. Beyond that is another room with several leather recliners where you can watch news and movies. There’s also a little library down toward the hotel. It’s all free! There are a few people milling about, but everyone’s respectful of everyone’s need for rest. It’s hard to believe I’m at an international airport and not in a four star conference center. Now just four more hours to kill until my flight to Saigon. Nine hours until I see the boy.

 
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