Friday, June 28, 2013

Goat Brain Hot Pot

Hard to believe it has already been a week since my last entry. I have tried to fill my time up with things of Vietnam since my time is almost over. That meaning that I fill my time with coffee shops meeting new people, English lessons, hanging out with new friends, and deep conversations with Heather rather than get on the computer and waste hours being distracted with anything and everything instead of being fully present here! My days have been very full so I will do my best to remember them and present them in some organized fashion without overwhelming you with too many details! That being said, I'll start with a week ago Friday.

Friday: Up and ready early to go to District 11 and teach a few kids there English class. I've enjoyed this activity a lot. The kids are so funny and eager to work with me! Heather divides them in half and rotates them in working with me or her. After finishing their lessons there, Heather and I headed out to meet Erin and her brother for a Vietnamese lunch. On the way there, we stopped and bought some Lichi and Mangosteen. I tried the Mangosteen for the first time and it was delicious! Loved it! It is Heather's favorite fruit. At lunch I got a type of combo plate which had a few different items on it. I had a sunny-side up egg, rice, quiche, pork, and a spring roll.Very good and flavorful. Erin then wanted us to go bowling with her so we did. Very fun. I think their bowling shoes may have been one size fits all because they just brought four pair and dropped them at our lane for us. We had a great time! But time ran out and we had to say our farewells so Heather could drop me back home and go to work.  I may or may not have spent the evening at Master's Cup again, but can't remember.

Saturday was an early morning. But it was a great day! I went with a group from Heather's church to an orphanage to hang out with and love on kids! It was so much fun! They would just cling to you like their life depended on it. They never wanted to be put down and they would cry if you did. There were times when I had three in my lap at a time while sitting. They were sad when I'd be standing and could only carry one. I had a little girl lay claim to me after we colored. She sat in my lap or rode on my shoulders as we walked and even had her snack in my lap. She was not leaving it for a second because she knew if she did, she'd most likely lose it to another child. Towards the end of our time there and their lunch time she fell asleep on my shoulder as we walked to the cafeteria. So sweet. Absolutely loved my time there. After helping to feed the children their lunch, we got them back to their rooms for showers and nap time and we headed home. That night we cooked spaghetti  and had Luan, one of Heather's roommates, over for dinner. That was a yummy meal!! Well, yummy until we broke out the Durian! Tried Durian for the first time and I did NOT like it. Smelled terrible and didn't taste much better. Also looks pretty gross! I let Heather finish that and I got ice cream out for Luan and me to enjoy!

Sunday: It was my last Sunday at Heather's church before I leave. This weekend we are going out of town and won't be back until Sunday evening. I really enjoyed the message. It was a good one as was worship. Unfortunately, we were out Sunday evening so I didn't get to take part in the River service back home. Me and Heather had a relaxing afternoon at home before meeting Truc Linh for dinner later. We went out for hot pot. Not just any hot pot, but goat brain hot pot. Hot pot is fun because you cook the food at your table and mix in your ingredients to your liking. In our hot pot, we had a goat brain and bone marrow along with lots of fresh greens and noodles. If you haven't seen the pictures yet, just wait. I'll include some at the end of this entry. It looked pretty disgusting, but tasted good. The texture was a little squishy, but like I said, it didn't have a bad taste. After dinner we went to the night market and walked around for a bit and hung out. After leaving there, Heather and I went to a yogurt place to meet Lao. She was wanting him to install some stuff on her computer. We had a yummy fruit and yogurt cup and chatted for a while with him. Finally, we realized how late it was so we headed on home for bed.

Monday Heather and I went to Grace Cafe. We hung out there for a few hours talking with the owner and then one of his employees. She really enjoyed our company and was very sad to see us go. She wanted Heather to leave me there. If the coffee shop hadn't been so far away from home, we probably would have done so, but it was well over 30 minutes away. Too much driving for Heather to make the trip twice. I'm not sure what happened after that. We were going to go to Master's Cup, but then realized it was closed on Mondays. I'm not sure what the rest of the day held. I think we may have just had an afternoon at home. Oh yes, that evening we went to celebrate Thanh's birthday! We went out for smoothies and then karaoke! Their karaoke is quite a bit different from karaoke back home. Here it's just your group that gets put in a room with two tvs and two mics and you spend your time taking turns singing songs! It was fun! We even managed to sneak in a few English songs mixed in with all of their Vietnamese songs!

Tuesday was Oasis (Bible study with the women from Heather's church). We talked about the miracles found in John. Very interesting conversation. After that, we headed over to Highlands Coffee to meet with Emmy and Michael to plan youth Bible study. I always enjoy being a part of those planning meetings. We have a good time as well as have good conversations about the lesson and such. We left for home so Heather could get ready for a few hours of work before English lessons at her home that evening. English lessons were fun. Except that oy, I do not pronounce a lot of my words the way they teach them to say them so I was having a harder time than the learners were with the work!!  We definitely had a lot of fun with it though.

Wednesday was back to District 11 to teach English again! We had a great time again together. Heather says they will be so sad to see me go. We were supposed to go there today, but Heather ended up having to take her bike to the shop to get her tire and handlebars fixed. But we rescheduled class for Monday so I won't miss any time with them! After class, we got drinks with two other teachers and we had a great time chatting, eating fried pineapple and fried taro, and even playing jenga! They are very fun to hang out with! And they know English very well so I don't struggle to stay involved in the conversation! After leaving there we swung by Texas Chicken and picked up some spicy chicken strips to take home. We made some pancakes to go with the strips and it was soooooo delicious!! Heather left for work shortly after that and I went to Master's Cup to hang out and meet people and talk. It's always interesting to hear what the Vietnamese people want to talk about! Never a dull moment! I picked up some biscuits from Texas Chicken on my way home to go with our leftovers dinner night and waited for Heather to come home from work! We had a very random meal of odds and ends and enjoyed every bit of it! And as time has allowed, we stayed up late enjoying real and deep conversation! Wow! I love that! It's great getting to spend time with someone who feels comfortable to stay in the depths of conversation with me every evening!

Thursday was rock climbing day! I went with  the youth leaders and two of their youth to climb this massive rock wall. We had a great morning spent out there doing that. I never made it to the top, but I tried a couple of times. I was just too tired and would reach a point where I just couldn't reach high enough up for the next handhold. Heather was awesome! She made it to the top twice!! After rock climbing we had lunch at KFC before saying bye to the others. Heather and I went to the day market to wander and be overwhelmed by all of the crazy shopkeepers throwing stuff in your face and trying to make you go in to their shop! Wow. So crazy! We left there and headed home for Heather to prepare for work. That evening we had English lessons back at her house. Another fun night of learning and practicing English skills while they presented their homework to the group! While we were all sitting there on the floor, a rat even peaked his head in at us until I yelled RAT!! The rat ran as the others turned and scooted away from where I was pointing! Hahahaha. It was a good laugh! There are lots of rats here in Vietnam. It's kind of fun to watch them scatter as you enter the alley to ride out on the motorbike! Fun in a gross kind of way... We had a rough trip back home, but we made it safe and sound and just kind of hung out for a few hours chatting. We knew our Friday had opened up due to Heather needing to take her bike to the shop so we stayed up late and slept in this morning.

Today has been slow. Kind of sad not to go see the kids in District 11 and also sad that our lunch plans for Pho with the other teachers were canceled too. But I slept the latest ever since being here! Got up around 10am and have just enjoyed a leisure morning sitting around the house. Heather has left for work already and I'm planning to head to Master's Cup to hang out for a bit. She has youth tonight too, so that means I have a lot of free time. What better way to fill it than meeting new people over coffee and letting them practice their English on you?!

Tomorrow we get up early for a 3 hour road trip on motorbikes with a group of friends to visit another town, Lao's hometown. I'm looking forward to the trip and to seeing more of Vietnam. After some sightseeing we'll all spend the night there and go to church together Sunday morning. It sounds like it's going to be very fun!  My time here in Vietnam is quickly coming to an end and it makes me sad. Not that I don't miss home, but just because I feel like there's still so much to do here! But I will be so happy to see my Lucy once I do get to my parents' house on Wednesday! I've missed my Lucy so much! I also can't wait to see all of your faces again and get to talk with you and  be in community with you again! See you soon!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bridges and Bicycles!

So... it's Thursday. Can someone please slow time down?! I'm not ready to be heading home in less than two weeks! But as I quickly run out of time here, I work harder to chat and be friends with others and experience as much life as possible here before departure date! So this week this is how I've done:

Tuesday: For the life of me, I cannot remember how this day started out. I made egg sandwiches again for breakfast. This may have been a very slow day... Oh, I know now!! Tuesday was Oasis, the women's Bible study group, and we all met at our house. We explored the story of Lazarus for a while and then closed out with Dominoes Pizza. Sounds much like America, huh? That would be because the majority in that group are Americans probably. That, and Tuesday's Dominoes has a deal of buy one get one free. We enjoyed some pizza and company for a bit and then had to kick them all out because we had to leave. Heather brought me to the Master's Cup coffee shop to get a brief orientation so that I could come whenever and participate in their speak rooms. The Vietnamese like to practice their English on us foreigners. I find it very interesting and feel I learn quite a bit from just being there and listening too! After the training, we came back home so Heather could get dressed for work and I prepared to just chill for a few hours. After that was English lessons which was fun! They went over a few lessons in their books and then since there were three English speakers and three Vietnamese speakers we divided up and did kind of a speed dating type idea. I really enjoyed that! Heather had a friend help her bring her bicycle from home to the coffee shop where we were so that I could officially have my own mode of transportation! I rode it home that night! Odd how I feel more free now that I have my own transportation! Now I can do things while Heather is out and not be on foot!

Wednesday: Busy day! We got up early and headed across town to teach English to children. They were so cute! I loved working with them and loving on them! We worked on phonics and three letter words. By the end of our time together, one boy was already laid propping himself up across my lap. Too sweet. Don't know if I'm allowed to take pictures but I'll ask Heather tomorrow. I think that's where we're going tomorrow morning too. After that, the other teachers from nearby invited us to join them for drinks. I ordered a coffee shake. Have I mentioned I love Vietnamese coffee?! They also got some fried pineapple for us to split. I've never had that before, but it tasted DELICIOUS!! I'd be tempted to try to make that back home! We were about to order fried durian so that I could try the smelly durian for the first time, but we were out of time. Had to jet to get to our next meeting! We met Michael and Emmy at our house to have pizza and discuss the lesson plan for youth on Friday night. That was a good time, good conversation, and fun people. They left just as it was time for Heather to leave for work so that meant I was on my own again for a few hours... Well, I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled myself to Master's Cup and hung out and chatted with a large group in the speak room for over two hours! Then I needed to leave so I could pick up some groceries. I headed out on my own again, found my way to the mall, got my parking tag, parked and locked up my bike, and headed in to explore! First time to do so much completely independently! I wandered the mall for a little bit. They have some cool stores. One called Runway is decorated with bamboo everywhere! They also had a Converse store completely devoted to Converse shoes and apparel! They even had a free art gallery! Cool! Only made it three of it's five floors before I decided I needed to go ahead and shop so I wasn't out too late in the dark. Did the grocery shopping all on my own, not understanding much but knowing what I wanted! I left there having spent over 800,000! Hauled it all out to my bike and tied stuff up every which way and headed home. It was slightly a tough ride because I was weighted down with groceries, but also because the bridges I have to cross felt like mountains with my out of shape legs pedaling hard to earn my downhill roll work free. But I made it home and didn't even crack an egg! Heather asked me today why I didn't just have them deliver it all for free. In all honesty, I think I was trying to prove something to myself, that I could do it! Hahaha. I came home, unloaded groceries, and started preparing a very special meal for Heather! She loves Mexican food and you just can't get that here. But I managed to find random odds and end that equaled out to making taco salad! Beef, taco seasoning, refried beans, tostito chips with lime, bell pepper and onions sauteed, lettuce and tomato cut up, and even grated some cheese! She was beyond ecstatic once she realized what I made her!! And she enjoyed every bite of it. I love treating special people to special meals!

Today: Hard morning to wake up. Just wanted to sleep in. Finally got up though and we went to meet with Ben from church who was loading some things on Heather's computer for media shout. That's where I ordered a dark chocolate coffee ice blended!!! It was soooooo yummy! Then we went up to the top floor of the mall and met the youth and youth workers to see a movie. I got to see Superman with Vietnamese subtitles! :o) Odd thing, they give you assigned seats with your ticket purchase. Anyway, LOVED the movie and hanging out with everyone there. We headed home to eat some lunch before Heather had to split for work. We were supposed to have English lessons again tonight, but they got canceled because no one could make it. Instead, we just enjoyed a leisure evening in for a change.

Tomorrow: We will have English class for the little ones again which I'm looking forward to. We have lunch with a friend, Erin, to introduce me to more real Vietnamese food. That makes me slightly nervous! Ha. After that I'll go to Master's Cup again for a bit and then meet Heather back home to leave for youth Bible study at her church. And Saturday, super exciting, we're going to go hang out at an orphanage!! Can't wait to love on those kids!! Things here keep changing nonstop. My original plans don't always work out. Things are canceled due to difficulties or some things have been deemed unsafe. But with that being said, other things open up for me to experience and I'm super excited! I mean, if we went according to the plan, we'd be going somewhere else this weekend instead of the orphanage. But the orphanage is one of the things I've gotten most excited about! All things for the glory of God! Loving life here in Vietnam with all it's quirks and difficulties. Never knew some things were so hard to do here. Oh, and tomorrow, I will officially try Durian, the fruit that smells up the whole produce section of the grocery store. Heather brought some home for us today. I did eat Pomelo today. It was yummy. Not finding too much fruit I don't enjoy! Thanks for your prayers and enjoy some pictures!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dead Turtles and Fish Sauce

Happy Monday! For most of you, your Monday is just getting started as mine is quickly coming to an end! It has been strange being twelve hours ahead of home. I rarely get birthdays right and have a hard time messaging others at a decent hour! Thankfully my body doesn't seem to mind it too much and I am able to sleep some at nights! I've officially been here in Vietnam for two weeks now. So weird. Seems like I've been here a lifetime but no time at all. It's been about 4 days since my last blog because so often I stay on the go from morning to evening. I'm usually quite tired by the time I settle in for the night. I'm still learning things every day. I ask more questions so I can understand things better. I also spend a lot of time just observing and soaking in all of my different surroundings. Sometimes it is overwhelming but it's always exciting! One of my favorite things is trying new fruits! So far I have tried unripened mango which is very sour but delicious, rambutan or chom chom, longan, litchi, jack fruit, and dragon fruit. They keep telling me that one day I will try durian, but I smelled it at the supermarket and it smells disgusting! I wouldn't say no though, just so I could know what taste goes with that smell. Apparently, most foreigners don't like it because they can't stand the smell. I have liked all of the fruits I've tried. Jack fruit is probably my least favorite, but I eat it still. I continue to try new foods as well as cook my own. But I will share about that as I go through my past few days.
Friday: This was kind of a slow day. We had officially spent our first night in the nice house. And it lives up to Heather's words! It is 3 stories, has a washer AND a dryer, couches, a stove top with multiple burners, an oven, and air conditioning in every room! It even has a closed in shower and HOT water! We joke about being back in America. It was Stacy's last day here and we just took it easy while Heather went to work. We walked to Carls Jr for lunch and that was the extent of our activity for the day. We left around 9pm to head to the airport and said our goodbyes. Then we proceeded to go home in the rain on the motorbike and got a little turned around. We finally made it home and I was ready for a shower and dry clothes! My rain pancho helps but my legs were nasty from all the street sludge being splashed up on them!
Saturday: Very busy day! We got up and ready relatively early and headed to a coffee shop called Salem. There we just hung out and talked with Vietnamese people to build relationships and give them an opportunity to speak in English. Pictures of this coffee shop will be posted at the end. They had a beautiful garden area there too. After that, we grabbed some food from a street stand and headed over to Truclinh's house to eat. Truclinh is Heather's good friend. She had a tiny table and tiny stools that she set up for us to eat around. She was an excellent hostess! She even went out and brought back iced sugarcane juice for me! Lao came over a little later with lots of fruit for us to eat. Sour mango, rambutan, and jack fruit. Very good dessert! After leaving there we all went out to the park and met some others there to play some frisbee. That was a fun time! After frisbee we all went to dinner together. From there, Heather, Truclinh, and I headed out to pick up some groceries. That was a fun experience! Also, one of those overwhelming moments. First, we parked in a sea of motorbikes as far as the eye could see. Then we went in to a five-story shopping mall which I had a ginormous grocery store in it. Another learning experience: I learned you can't just walk into the grocery story with your purse. They actually have lockers and you HAVE to lock your bag/purse up before going in! The store was packed and everything was in Vietnamese and I kind of just had to take it all in at first. Then I adjusted and started picking out things to buy. Did you know that you can buy milk and chocolate milk right off the shelf (no refrigeration)?! I bought both kinds and they taste great! Of course, I refrigerated them when I got home because cold milk is better than lukewarm milk, or at least that's what I think. I picked up supplies to make our own egg sandwiches at home instead of making our frequent street stand stops for them. And of course, I bought a bottle of chili sauce because I like it on everything (pretty much). I spent almost $500,000 on two large bags of groceries. Ok, ok, so actually that only equals about $20 American. As we left the store we signed up to have our groceries delivered to the house, FOR FREE! That was especially nice because that meant we didn't have to carry them all on the motorbike! They were delivered about 30-40 minutes later and then came bed! But while we waited, Heather had to feed the fish and I was chilling on the couch. She starts freaking out and I start freaking out, both for completely different reasons. It was dark and she saw a turtle floating at the top. She thought the turtle had died and was calling me to check. I was freaking out because a huge flying cockroach had just flown near me! I quickly abandoned the couch and cockroach and went to check on the turtle. Oh yeah, I said, he's way dead. She was so worried because the turtle died on her watch (remember, we are house sitting). I asked if she wanted me to scoop it and she said yes. As I scooped it, it rolled over and I saw that this turtle never was alive, it was CERAMIC! Woo, what a relief for Heather. Then I asked her to go kill the giant flying cockroach for me. We had some big laughs after that!
Sunday: It was my first time to join Heather at her church. What's cool is they also call their service the River service! I met lots of new people and we even joined several for lunch. I came all the way to Vietnam and guess what we ate! Japanese food! It was a cute restaurant. We had to take our shoes off before entering the eating area. Each table was set into the floor and we sat on pillows on the floor with our feet in the hole under the table. While we ate it started raining very hard so we had to wait around for a bit for it to lighten up a bit. Then we had to go to the grocery store to pick up a few more things because we had decided to make our own spring rolls and had invited a couple of girls from church over for dinner later. Of course, we didn't think to look up taro root in Vietnamese beforehand and neither of us knew what it looked like so we tried to ask them. They claimed this purple  sweet potato looking thing was it (we later learned it wasn't and that it actually was a type of sweet potato). Also had to pick up some fish sauce for the spring roll mix and for dipping them in at dinner. Fish sauce is another one of those things they don't expect foreigners to eat. I like it quite a bit. Adds more flavor! We got the remaining ingredients and got home just in time for the girls to show up. The cooking process was long (rolling each one and frying them), but in the end, we had spring rolls and rice and dragon fruit for dessert. It was good! And we had lots of laughs too. We ended our company time by watching the movie Rudy. They left just in time for me and Heather to sit down and live stream the River service from back home in College Station. I was excited to even see two people I know (Steve on the drums during worship and Randi walking through the sanctuary after the service). This made me happy! :o) Occasionally I kind of miss seeing familiar faces and places so it's cool that I got to stream the service!
Today (finally huh?): We had kind of a low key day. I got up and cooked egg sandwiches for breakfast for me and Heather. Then we went to an area where we did some prayer walking and maybe a little souvenir shopping along the way. Before we started our prayer walking guess who we ran into! The white Buddhist monk again! He was excited to have a new person to talk to as Heather wasn't with me when I met him the first time. We talked for a short time and then Heather and I continued on our way. We found some coffee (I really like Vietnamese coffee) and I listened to Heather tell me about different prayer walking methods. She chatted with a few women selling bracelets on the street and translated for me and then we set out walking. We ended our walk with yummy smoothies. We hadn't had one in a couple of days and you can't just walk past the best smoothie stand and not get one! I love to get pineapple-banana. Yum. We headed home and got home just before the heavy rain hit, thank goodness! The rain stopped just in time for Heather to head to work. I stayed home and waited for the housekeeper to come. The people who own the home like to provide jobs for people so they have a housekeeper come about three times a week. I took a little nap after she left and got up to start this blog. I've taken a break to hang out with Heather after she got home. She cooked dinner for us and I kept her company. It's nearly 11:00pm which is actually an hour earlier than we normally start heading to bed, but we were both ready tonight! Tomorrow is a new day and I can't wait to see what it holds!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Life and Smoothies

Guess it's time for another update as I sit in a local coffee shop waiting for Heather to get off work. Stacy and I choose to sit here because it has comfy chairs, free wifi, and air conditioning! Life here in Vietnam continues to be awesome and amazing. I guess I've only been on this journey for ten days now, but it already feels like a lifetime has gone by, while at the same time, no time at all. I felt my first low this morning as I missed home just a bit and my community of friends and support, but that was also a time of waiting at home for Heather to be done with her meeting so we could get lunch. Often times, those feelings really only surface when I sit idle. I'm much better now. Met some new people today at lunch as we met with some of Heather's church friends so they could plan youth. That was fun. They just got a new intern fresh out of high school and he was very energetic about everything. People with that characteristic are such a blessing to me because they spur energy within me and stir my excitement about life. After our meal, we ordered this blended coffee drink and oh my goodness, it was ten times better than anything I've ever had from Starbucks!!! So good! Tonight after Heather gets off work, we move into a different house to house sit for her friends. It is air conditioned and very nice according to Heather so that should be a nice change. Although, we did just get new fans at Heather's house which helped a great deal with the heat! I guess maybe I should back up a few days and share. Tuesday we flew back from the island to Ho Chi Minh. We grabbed some lunch at Texas Chicken which was delicious! From there Stacy and I went to the coffee shop while Heather went to work. After work, we met up with a lot of Heather and her roommate's friends and went for froyo!! That was tons of fun! It was great meeting some new people and we even played a couple of rounds of Uno! For old-school YAMs, we played a variation of Dirty Uno! :o) After that some of us went for a walk to check out some stores, grab dinner, and smoothies. You know you're living a good life when you end just about every night with a smoothie for $1! Things are pretty cheap here. I can usually eat for less than $5 a meal. That has been very interesting to me, to see how cheap things are and how people earn money. Yesterday, I finally experienced rainy season while on the back of a motorbike. Yup, I got just a little wet. Ok, I got soaked from head to toe. Water was literally dripping off of me when I entered a new coffee shop to meet Heather and Stacy. That was fun. After the rain lessened to a sprinkle Stacy and I headed out on the town on our own. We hit up multiple shops checking out deals and bargaining. I'm not very good at that but Stacy does a great job at it! We met a white Buddhist monk and stopped to talk a while with him. He had a lot to say and was actually very engaging. At points I feel like he may have been looking to debate us in our beliefs, but it never got to that point. We didn't claim to know more than we knew and kept it simple by sharing from only our experiences. We eventually journeyed to the Notre Dame Cathedral and old Post Office which actually still functions as a post office. It was very fancy and looked more like it should be a train station. We made our way back to the coffee shop Sozo to wait for Heather to get off work. I bet you can guess how we ended the night. Yup, dinner and a smoothie! I have been pretty exhausted by the time we get home at nights. I mean, my head is literally bobbing as I keep nodding off to sleep. I've never experienced that kind of exhaustion multiple days before. I've been the first to bed and asleep the last several days just because I can't help it! Thinking I may need to take a sleeping pill to sleep soundly through the night to help with that. Stacy leaves tomorrow, but other than that I have no idea what's to come. Looking forward to building some relationships with others and experience a bit more than waiting around in coffee shops! I think that about covers life so far. I'll leave you with a few pictures I took yesterday and Tuesday! Also, I'm including the link to my Facebook album for those of you without Facebook accounts: Vietnam Pictures.