Living Outside the Boundaries – Vietnam Part II
Hoi An, Vietnam stole my heart. My intention was to stay three days and end the Vietnam portion of the trip back in Saigon. The minute I layed eyes on Hoi An I knew I would be there longer. Tired of the heat and all the tourists, I knew this would be the perfect place to take a vacation from my vacation. I added nine more days for a total of twelve glorious days in Hoi An. Every night I set my alarm to ring just before breakfast ended. I would eat breakfast and then sit in the courtyard and do my favorite thing, watch people go by. Some days I did this for hours, other days the heat was not as giving or kind and I would have to retreat inside after only 30 minutes. Then I would take a nap. Because I was only one block from the old town I would stay in all day and the minute the sun went down I would leave the air conditioned comfort of my hotel suite. Yes I did say suite. For a mere $40.00 a night I had a lovely living room, bedroom and bathroom with a beautiful tub and walk-in shower. Vietnam so far on the trip, has been the most economical affordable country and that includes Mexico.
Look at me getting all tech savvy with you. I learned to type in title on the pictures, but it was too time consuming.
Ms. Vy’s Cooking Class
The class started with a boat ride to the local market where we were given a wonderful lesson on the use of a variety of foods. This was great becauseI usually walk through markets in exotic places and make guesses about how unfamiliar foods might be used. I was really happy about learning what the foods really were. Below are pictures of just a few of the foods in the market.
I had fresh sweet mango, mangosteen, rambutan, and dragon fruit just about every day in Vietnam. Other than the mango and a few other fruit, most of fruits were new to me. You gotta love the fruit.
Jasandra the cooking teacher
Okay, it was more like Jasandra the class clown. The minute the teacher left out of the class I ran up and pretended to teach the class. I was told that I sounded like I really knew how to cook. Academy award please! Individual cooking stations were provided and you all know I loved that. When my friend Carmen cooks, she needs a mirror like the one above my head. She is a master chef who should teach. Above are two of the four dishes I made. The first is a green mango salad and the other is cabbage soup or wedding soup. You can’t see the rolled cabbage leaf with shrimp paste inside, but it’s there. The soup is called wedding soup because each new bride presents the soup to her mother-in-law to prove her cooking ability. Also missing is the grilled chicken on a stick and the crunchy pancake with pork. I’m a chef!!!!!!!!! If you are ever in Hoi An and you love cooking or eating, take Ms. Vy’s class.
Cham Ruins of My Son
Constructed between the 4th and 14th century My Son is a string of Hindu temples outside of Hoi An, Vietnam. Much of the complex was destroyed during the Vietnam war but what is preserved today is pretty impressive.The complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by an indigenous group called the Cham people who were mostly Hindus.I won’t include a lot of pictures from My Son because I have quite a few similar ones from the upcoming Cambodia newsletter.
Panama wouldn’t let me enter. Vietnam wouldn’t let me exit.
What the heck is going on? What happened in Panama was due to a disgruntled land border patrol officer, what happened in Vietnam was one hundred percent my fault. We all know that a passport is proof of legal residence in our home country and allows us entry into other countries. A visa is similar to a passport but requires more effort and some money to get one. I obtained my visa at the Vietnamese embassy in Houston. The visa was good for one month. I don’t want to go into great detail so to summarize, I overstayed my visa by 14 days. Oh my goodness I still can’t believe I let that happen. Even seasoned travelers have brain farts from time to time.
When the immigration officer at Danang airport told me to step aside I had no idea why. When I was told I had overstayed my visa I was surprised but not concerned. I just assumed I had a stiff penalty to pay and I would be on my way. Oh how naive! I was told I could not leave the country. That is when I got a little queasy in the stomach. You guys that know that my brain gets a bit dramatic sometimes. I envisioned myself inside a Vietnamese jail all pale and thin begging for another piece of wet bread. Well I kinda liked the thin scenario. A Vietnam Airlines worker was summoned to offer an explanation in English. Immediately I felt better. I was not be able to catch my flight but the airline would reissue my ticket. My luggage had to be taken off the plane. I went directly to the immigration office via taxi, luggage and all. When I arrived I had to write an explanation of why I overstayed my visa. By the time I finished they were closing and suggested I come back at 7:30 in the morning. That wasn’t gonna happen. I was not getting up early even for immigration.
With the help of Google and Google maps I found the nearest five star hotel, called a taxi and checked in. In Vietnam it costs about the same as western four or three star. I felt I deserved it. Thank goodness for Google. The next day I woke up around 9:00 and walked three blocks to the immigration office. From there I was sent to a police station that also served as an immigration office. The good thing, it was only two blocks from my hotel. But the jailhouse image entered my thoughts and I immediately suppressed it.
The next day at the police station I had to re-write the letter again because I wrinkled the first one. Okay, you can imagine the words that were going through my head but common sense did not allow me to utter one word.
I had to fill out many papers and sign some that were only in Vietnamese. I could have been signing papers denouncing my country or agreeing to a short jail-term. Yeah I know drama. But I said a prayer and asked Jesus to take the wheel. One good thing, I needed two passport pictures for the new visa application. I always carry at least two sets of passport photos with me in case I lose a passport or decide to visit a country at the last minute and need the picture to get a visa on arrival. I never thought I would have to use them but they came in handy. I was essentially applying for an extended visa. I asked when to re-schedule my plane ticket and what a relief it was when she said in three days to be safe. I have heard horror stories about people being detained for weeks waiting on an exit visa.
The officer said she could not process my application until I gave her a copy of my plane ticket showing that I was actually going to leave the country. So I went back to my hotel, purchased and printed the tickets in the business center. Finally I returned the copies to immigration. When I returned I was sent upstairs to a room with several police officers and mean looking immigration officers. I thought, oh my goodness this is where they waterboard me and extort money before letting me leave the country. Oh you don’t ever want to get inside my head. It is hella scary in there. Turns out the officer who was handling my paperwork was at lunch and and it was more convenient to have me bring the papers upstairs to her. I was told to stop by the next day to see if my visa was ready. I did, and they were ready.
I was breathing easy. I even took a short taxi tour around Danang. When I got back to my hotel I had a message to stop by the immigration office the next day. I thought, okay this is how they do it. They lull you into a false sense of security and then try to extort money from innocent victims. I got to the office and the officer said with a smile, “You forgot to sign a paper”. I almost hugged her. I think I watch too many movies.
I was fast-tracked and treated well because I treated the officers the way I would want to be treated. I smiled. I laughed. I even got them to talk about Vietnam and tell me what I should see while stuck in Danang. You get what you give out. The officer told me before I left that the process usually takes about ten days. I was out of there in three. No matter what inner turmoil is going on, be gracious, be kind. It always pays off in the end.
Hot Cool Milk Toastmasters Club
UEH ISB Toastmasters Club
I loved the energy and enthusiasm of the young people at each club and I had a great time visiting with them.