Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

I’m back on the bus headed home. It’s funny how after a few months my vocabulary around my living situation has changed. I quite like it, really- I live in Vietnam. Writing that out and saying that to people feels so good now. I am comfortable. I am loving it. I am so grateful. And these long, long bus rides during my travels give me lots of time to reflect on my experiences here so far.

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Before I go on with my Hanoi/ Halong Bay trip, I have to share a few things from these past few weeks since my last post. First of all, a HUGE shout out to my students. I love you guys. And I’m so grateful for you all. You bring me so much joy and make me very, very happy. About two weeks ago some of my students took me to the home of the second president of Vietnam and then to one of their homes on a small island for an incredible vegan meal. It’s moments like these that just make me feel so welcomed and so blessed to be here.

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Another thing I have to mention is Vietnamese Teacher’s Day – a day of great importance here. There were various celebrations throughout the week leading up to the actual day, November 20th. And when they celebrate here, they do it BIG. Lots of flowers, lots of dancing and singing, and VERY loud music. For the ceremony at the university, I got the traditional Vietnamese dress (áo dài) made. I was and still am feeling very grateful for being recognized and being able to participate in the day’s events. Plus, all the food. So much food. It was also wonderful because I got to share the experience with John, my program director, and two of the other girls in my program, Allison and Thuy.

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So that was last weekend, and by Tuesday I was on the bus again to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a flight up to Hanoi. I didn’t get to Hanoi until about 12am and the hostel I stayed in… yikes. I think if I hadn’t been so tired it wouldn’t have felt as bad as it did, although I did get dripped on from the AC the whole night. And a few of the guys in there were snoring like crazy. Those of you who know my sleeping rituals…you know how I felt… Lololol. The next morning I found a cheap hotel room and left immediately. And then food. I found this amazing vegan restaurant and went (vegan) ham (which is actually on the menu) lololol. (Also I’m sitting here cracking up about the previous sentence.) I ended up going back for dinner because it was all so good.

Hanoi is quite interesting and I really wish I had more time to explore there. From what I did see though, it definitely has much more of a traditional feel compared to HCMC. Lots of culture and history weaved in throughout. I pretty much walked around all day trying to take in as much as I could before I left for Halong Bay the next morning. My hotel, although the bed was hard as a rock, was quite cozy. I woke up early the next morning for a shake out run before the half and it was chillyyyyy. I ran around a small lake in the Old Quarter and I was sooo happy to see so many runners. Always brings a smile to my face.

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I booked a bus ticket to Halong Bay at a random tourist center, which was supposed to leave at 8 and didn’t leave til 9 (as expected).🙂 It took about 4 hours to get there and I met some cool people along the way. We got dropped off where all the cruises begin, which was not what I was doing. So I was stranded for a little, waiting with this woman from Hong Kong for a taxi. The driver was going to totally rip us off but I was a lil feisty and told him how it was gonna be. Heheh. I can’t even begin to count how many times people have tried to get me into their taxi or on their motorbike.

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Anyway, we spilt a cab to our respective hostels and I was quite pleased with mine, besides the fact that when I arrived the power was out in the whole city. The government turned it off is what they told me. So, I put my stuff in my room and went out in search of food. I found this adorable woman selling sweet potatoes and roasted chestnuts- somewhat appropriate for a Thanksgiving meal- and then went back and watched The Santa Clause. Quite the day. Halong Bay is incredible, but there is really not much to do in the city itself. I walked around later and it sort of felt like a ghost town, but it’s also currently the off-season, so it was understandable.

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The next morning, one of the girls in the hostel told me about this mountain I could hike up to see the bay. I was debating whether or not to do it because of the half the next day, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. And it was 200% worth it. She put me in a cab that brought me to the side of a street.  The driver pointed to a super sketchy little staircase alley. I was a little iffy, but went up and wawaweewaaaa.  I stayed up there for a while. The view was just so incredible. We are really so blessed to live on this beautiful, beautiful earth. After the hike, I had to get my bib for the race at the expo, which wasn’t really an expo at all. It was awesome to see so many people signed up though. I ended up meeting a Russian American who had just arrived in Vietnam the night before. She kept saying how flustered and confused she was about everything and it made me think back to when I first arrived. I knew the feeling. I ended up hanging out with her and another American guy we met who is living in Cambodia for 3 years. It was nice, I think for all of us, to have a little cheer squad.

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The stairs up to the mountain

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The morning of the half was a bit chilly but it was perfect weather for running. And omg the scenery along the course was incredible. Halong Bay is taken from an ancient phrase “descending dragon” and it’s so true. Literally looks like dragons.  Although it was definitely one of the smallest races I’ve done, it felt so good to see so many people come out and run from all over the world. It’s been a little over a year since I’d last run a race, and it’s safe to say I’m back at it. Not sure what the next goal is in the near future, but I have some things planned for next year.

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View from the bridge on the course (the wind was a killer)

After the run, I was schedule for a 4 pm departure on a bus back to Hanoi, but all the tour buses to Halong Bay were cancelled because of the weather, so the hostel told us they would get me and a few other people from the hostel (one of them was a UM alum!) a van to take us. Apparently the van broke down so they told us we had to go on the local bus which ended up taking 2 times longer than it would have. Talk about stopping at EVERY SINGLE stop. Lolol. And finally back in Hanoi, I went to get food at the vegan restaurant. My last meal was incredibly memorable. Fabulous phở and wonderful conversations. And then another early morning ride (this time on the back of a motorbike) to catch my flight.

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Lots of travel this weekend, and I still have a few hours left on the bus back home. The woman next to me started speaking to me in English and telling me in a whispered voice about how when she was young and the war was going on, she learned English from some American soldiers and how they wanted her to go back to America but she couldn’t leave her mom and sister. I’m always trying to reflect on these kinds of conversations. Everyone has a story, and we all want to be heard. However we decide to share our story is up to us. But I think it’s also up to us to listen. Truly listen to each other, because we’re all in this together.

img_0830This was long, but I wanted to share. And I appreciate all of you for reading. And for being in my life. And for being wonderful, beautiful, inspiring humans.

Stay awesome
Xo
Mia

Hello! Xin Chào! Здравствуйте! from Nha Trang!

Hello! Xin Chào! Здравствуйте! from Nha Trang!

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My plane ticket lolol

I’m sitting on the bus back to the city I’m teaching in.  It’s 10:20 in the morning. I’ve been up since 3:15. I’m exhausted and trying to reflect on this past weekend, though I can’t get past the thought of how much bacteria I have on my feet from the puke of a baby in front of me on another bus this morning. Yum.  I’m on my way back from a weekend in Nha Trang, a popular beach resort area here.  I left early Thursday, and almost didn’t make my first bus. It’s quite a lot of travel because of where my home base is.  I usually have to take a van to the bus station, then about a 4 and a half hour bus to Ho Chi Minh City. And finally, a short 30 minute flight to Nha Trang.  My van didn’t show up on time, so I had to call a Xe Om, basically a motorbike taxi, to drive me.  I made it to each destination on time, but was cutting it pretty close.  You really have to figure things out and go with the flow here.  People arrive late; sometimes people don’t even show up at all.  So, patience and flexibility are a must.  It does get incredibly annoying, but it is what it is. And it only makes ME want to be more punctual, because if y’all know me, you know I like to take my sweet, sweet time. Lolol.

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Anyway, I went to Nha Trang not really knowing what I was going to do, but I met another girl from my program and figured we’d plan as we went along. I was hoping for at least one beach day, but that was a total fail. It rained like heck the entire trip.  Only a few pockets of sunshine here and there.  I was not disappointed though.  It was wonderful and interesting and bizarre and exhausting and so much fun.

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So many temples

As soon as I got to Ho Chi Minh City, I felt so weird. Seeing sooo many foreigners at the airport was bizarre after almost three months of being the only young, blonde, white girl in the city I’m living in with very, very few foreigners.  And then getting off the plane was even more bizarre. There were signs in Russian EVERYWHERE.  And I could read them. And understand them.  The city was a whole different story.  It felt like 75-80% of the foreign/tourist population was Russian.  So much of the tourism industry there is catered to Russians.  I honestly felt like I was on a different planet.  My brain was so confused.  I could understand signs in Russian and in English, and there were so many white people, but things were still very Vietnamese, (and then of course there was the rain).  Coming from a place where I was slowly starting to communicate a little bit with people, and where I look totally different than everyone else, it was pretty much reverse culture shock plus culture shock in some twisted way.  It was fascinating though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience because it made me think more about my place here. I felt like a tourist a little, but at the same time, not at all. Very strange.

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We arrived at our hotel, and then went to find some food, which was faaaaabulous. The vegan food here never fails.  The things they do with noodles and veg and tofu, I don’t even know.  We ended up going back there the next two nights because it was so good!  Friday morning, I woke up early for a run along the beach which was cut short because there was just way too much rain and too many puddles.  Felt like I was doing some parkour type stuff the whole run. Breakfast consisted of us attempting to eat coconut flesh with broken spoons and trying to figure out where people were from.  Can you guess what the majority of our guesses were? Lol. We were right (we thought) for the most part. As much as we wanted the beach that day, it wasn’t gonna happen, so we booked a car to the mud baths and spa, which apparently is one of the things to do in Nha Trang.  Mud bath, a foot massage, and hanging out by the pool.  Definitely a good day.  And that was when people actually started talking to me in Russian.  During the whole trip, I probably got more Russian spoken to me from strangers than English. Bizarre, but so cool because I could understand, for the most part.  One guy in a small pharmacy shop catered to Russians didn’t even believe I was American.  Another was surprised when I told him where I was from because he said I had no accent when I spoke Russian. My fascination with this place didn’t stop. The entire trip I was really just amazed- the views, the people, the languages, the food, everything.

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Saturday, I attempted my run again along the beach and boy was it worth it.  I’ve been training for a half-marathon, and it was about time for a bit longer run.  Wasn’t sure how long would feel good, but I ended up doing 9.  It was just so beautiful running along the beach.  I really missed the smell of the sea and being by the water.  So I kept going.  And going. And going. Running really is a wonderful way to explore a new place, and I’m so grateful for these legs to be able to take me where I want to go.  For the rest of the day, we booked a car to take us around to various sights around the area, and since it was basically torrential downpour the entire time, I was very glad we did.  The views along the coast were incredible, and I even popped into the water for a dip at a smaller secluded beach area called Doc Let.  Our driver was also adorable and so nice and bought us some fried bananas which were bomb dot com.  And, for dinner we ended our trip at the place we started- Com Chay Bo De.  Veg food for the winnnnn.  We walked around a bit more, in the rain of course, and headed back because we had an early wake up call.

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Andddd, we’re back to this morning.  A 4:00 am taxi to the airport, and then a flight at 6:30 to Ho Chi Minh City.  We arrived and got into a cab, trying to explain to the driver that we wanted to go to the bus station.  He did not get it.  We ended up at the wrong bus station, and had to get on a local bus that literally stopped at every single stop along the way to the other big bus station.  Lots of different modes of transportation this morning. And I’m still not done yet!  I had a wonderful weekend though. It was pretty surreal.  It also reinforced how much I love interacting with many different people of different cultures and countries.  And how much I love languages.  And also just made me even more grateful for this opportunity that I have to experience a part of the world that is so new to me. It’s hard not to take things for granted sometimes, and being here has definitely put that into perspective again.  There are so many little things we don’t even think about, like clean water or a roof over our heads.  Seeing so much flooding here and how it destroys and even injures or kills people is heartbreaking.  So, I’m thankful.  Always thankful. For all of you beautiful readers, all of you wonderful people in my life I love so much.  For this beautiful earth. For life. For everything.  And on that note, thank you, thank you for reading.❤

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And one last food pic

Xoxo

Mia