Hello friends. We are going to Turkey this summer and I decided that even though it’s just a very short few weeks, I’m going to try to keep another blog there. It’s totally separate from this blog, so if you want to follow it, add your email to the form on the right side of the page: Enjoy: http://clevelandersinturkey.wordpress.com/
Our final destination before returning home was Thailand. Our friend Jing and her father-in-law Vitoon were kind enough to invite us to spend a week at Vitoon’s beach house, which was a three hour drive south of Bangkok. It was quiet, tranquil and not too hot. There were lots of tidal pools and sand bars for playing in on the beach.
Bangkok is a very modern, big city. We took a couple of tuk tuk rides to get around (we barely squeezed in – if Matthew were any bigger, we would not have fit into one tuk tuk).
While in Southeast Asia, we read all seven Harry Potter books aloud. It will forever be linked in our minds with our experience and time there. We finished the last book in the Minneapolis airport when we arrived back home. Kate noticed this graffiti near our hotel in Bangkok. She thought the head and wings looked a lot like a snitch:
Being from a country without any royalty, we were fascinated to be in a place that had it’s own monarchy. There were pictures of the king and queen virtually everywhere, and the king is revered by his people.
The last day we were in Thailand we went to Chatuchak, a humongous market that sold every thing— I am convinced it is one of the largest on the planet. I heard there are 6,000 vendors there. The children were so happy to see animals for sale, including puppies, hamsters and birds.
And if you find yourself jet lagged and awake at 4:00 a.m., what else to do but make a dress for your American Girl doll?
Ahh….. to be home is lovely. We truly enjoyed our time in Hanoi, but I don’t think we ever appreciated Cleveland more. On the way home, our family created the following list together (in no particular order):
What We Loved About Hanoi
- Bun Bo Nam Bo, fresh summer rolls, banana flower salad
- Fresh food and herbs from the local market
- Shopping and bargaining in the Old Quarter
- New friends from all over the world
- The love and affection Vietnamese show for children (especially ours!)
- Finding interesting and surprising things on every walk through the city
- Watching what people carry on motorbikes
- The beautiful trees in the city
- The aquarium fish in Lang Yen Phu (our neighborhood) and walking through the alleyways
- Having a tailor make cheap, nice clothes – even house calls!
- Mangos, mangosteens and dragon fruit
- People watching (all the things done in public like hair washing, hair cutting, picking gray hairs and nail clipping in the street)
- Having the time to read the entire Harry Potter series aloud as a family
- Hot tea, daily
- Rice, daily
- Seeing all the insanely high heels worn by women on motorbikes
- Walking around Westlake
- Neighborhood festivals and exploring temples
- Burning paper money
- The fun and confusion when speaking English and no one understands
- Monks in their beautifully colored robes
- Our pet birds, Pretty, Cheerio and Cookie
- Fresh Hanoi chicken
- Sticky rice cooked and sold in bamboo sticks on the side of the road
- Fresh grilled or steamed corn, bought on the street
- Sugar cane, also bought on the street
- Matt’s pet fish, Killer
- Saturday soccer at UNIS
- Concordia International School
- Weekend trips around Vietnam
- $10 massages
- $2 pedicures
- Avocado custard apple shakes by the Cathedral
- A tiny Jewish community that welcomed us with open arms
- Playing with baby frogs at the Hanoi Club
- Paparazzi taking photos of the kids
- Weasel coffee
- Not having to wear a seatbelt in the car (says the kids)
- Our cello and violin teachers
What We Missed and Love about Cleveland
- Dog leash laws
- Sidewalks you can walk on
- The public library
- Clean tap water
- Trash pick up service once a week
- Clean, organic fruit and veggies
- The Shaker Lakes
- The public library
- Bruggers, Deweys, blueberries and raspberries
- Our dog Coco
- The printed daily New York Times
- Family and friends (of course!)
- Asking for something and being understood
- Public trash cans
- Birds singing, squirrels, chipmunks, deer
- Marsh mellows
- The public library (wait, did I already say that 3 times? But gosh we missed that!)
- Agnon School
- Water fountains (that you can drink from)
- Running outside with friends
- Our house, dolls, toys and the kids’ blankets
- Our vegetable garden
- Spring weather
- Ice skating
- Riding our bikes
- Playing baseball and softball
- Indians games
- Hiking at Squaw Rock
- Visiting Chautauqua
- Friday night services at Park Synagogue
- Music lessons at CIM and our teachers at home
- Going to movies
- Parade the Circle
- 4th of July parade in our neighborhood
- Playing in the Martin’s back yard
That’s it for this blog – I don’t think there is much interest in a Clevelanders in Cleveland blog, so I am signing out. Thanks to everyone who read our blog and posted comments and helped us feel connected while we were away. Thanks to all our friends in Vietnam – we hope to see you again soon one day! Our home is open to all of you if you ever come to the Midwest.
Everyone in the family agreed that Burma was one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. The country has been isolated and has seen little development, leaving their lovely culture intact.
We noticed right away that almost everyone wears the Burmese traditional clothing, the longyi, a kind of sarong. Even the men wear them! Kate, Anna and I loved all the beautiful fabrics and designs so much that we had to buy some of our own:
Our first stop was Bagan, a small village of about 50,000 people that is famous for its 4,000 old temples scattered over the countryside. Yes, I said 4,000 temples! They pop up all around on the dry farmland amongst the cacti and dirt roads. Some are tiny (you have to crouch down to walk inside) and others are gigantic.
We also noticed that all the women and some children were wearing a tan colored paint on their faces, sometimes in shapes or designs. It is called thanaka and it is made from bark. In our tour of a local market, I bought some thanaka and a woman helped me put it on. It is used for sunscreen and also for beauty.
We visited so many temples I can’t remember all the names. The first had a long covered breezeway leading to it that the kids loved running through (ahh– freedom!).
The kids enjoyed the freedom of chasing each other and birds around inside the temple grounds. Everywhere we heard the lovely sound of small bells that hang atop the temples and all over the temple grounds.
The town of Old Bagan looked like this – stilt and thatch roofed houses, and dusty dirt roads:
We stopped at a temple and climbed barefoot up a set of extraordinarily steep stairs. I had to swallow my motherly fears to ascend this with my kids.
The climb up was terrifying but worth it – here’s another photo from the top — it looked like an oil painting:
The food in Burma was wonderful – lots of Indian and Thai influence, but it still had its very own unique dishes. I loved the traditional noodle fish soup for breakfast. We ate dinner one night at a gorgeous restaurant on the river, where the kids could run around on grass:
Burma has beautiful lacquer-ware. We went to a workshop in Bagan where about 20 people were working on the incredibly painstaking and tedious process of creating all manners of lacquer items – chairs, bowls, trays, cups, etc. It takes months to produce one product, which has nearly 20 layers and intricate designs.
This is an example of an offering bowl that is about 3 feet tall:
Anna spotted a huge scorpion in the courtyard of the lacquer workshop! When I saw this, I thought how glad I was to be heading back to Cleveland Heights in a few weeks, where all we have to contend with are deer and skunks:
We had a chance to ring the bells at another temple:
We saw a very funny and slightly naughty puppet show in Bagan that the kids loved:
We left Bagan and flew to Inle Lake. On the way to the lake we stopped at a monastery that was unusual because it was made of wood.
The only way to get around Inle Lake is by boat. It is about 13 miles long and very shallow – only six feet at the deepest point. But the narrow, long boats can go just about anywhere on the lake, no matter how shallow the water is. They are very noisy boats! We visited during the monsoon season, so we practically had the entire place to ourselves. Luckily we didn’t have much rain at all and just popped up umbrellas if there was any drizzle. We also had to use the umbrellas for the sun – we all got a bit burned and learned our lesson.
There are several villages along the lake and people here live in stilt houses over the water – the houses mostly have thatch roofs and the sides are made of woven bamboo. It is very rustic. Some places have no electricity, but most places do.
We went to a temple where the cats were taught to jump through hoops for a treat. The kids loved that. We also saw another bunch of cats – a man is trying to preserve Burmese cats and is breeding them in a house on Inle Lake. I think there were 40!
The kids bought carved wooden slingshots at the market which provided hours of entertainment.
In addition to fishing, people earn money through farming huge floating gardens on the lake, which are secured by bamboo poles. They mostly grow tomatoes, which we ate loads of in salads with peanut sauce.
No day would be complete in Burma without a visit to a temple. We took a hike up into the hills to see some that are under renovation but beautiful.
Inle Lake has lots of wild life – there are snails, crabs, butterflies, two black swans in the water around our hotel (imported), lots of shore birds, flowers and fish.There are no cars or motorbikes. We played Scrabble a few times and enjoyed every minute of our peaceful stay.
We drove back to the airport and flew to Yangon, the capital city of 5 million.On the drive we saw lots of people loaded into trucks on their way to work on farms.
Michael gave two lectures on entrepreneurship in Yangon. The first was hosted by the American Center (with a great panel of Burmese entrepreneurs) and the second was hosted by Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). Several hundred people attended the lectures. There is a great deal of enthusiasm among entrepreneurs there regarding the opening of the Myanmar economy and opportunities to start new businesses.
We drove past Aung San Suu Kyi’s house and stopped at her party’s headquarters (the National League for Democracy) to pick up some t-shirts and other goodies. The Lady (as she is affectionately known in Burma) was in Europe accepting her Nobel Peace Prize, so we didn’t get a glimpse of her.
We visited an old synagogue in Yangon, the first we have entered in more than seven months! Yangon had a thriving Jewish community, most of whom fled during WWII; now there are only 25 Jews left in the city. The 120 year old synagogue is located downtown in what is now a Muslim neighborhood. The friendly keeper of the synagogue and one of the remaining Burmese Jews, Moses, showed us the Torah and lit the candles with us on Shabbat. There were not enough people for a minyan, so sadly there was no service.
The cars were mostly old, especially the taxis. We were amused by this one in particular, and our family is still debating if it was ever used as a hearse or ambulance. I am of the opinion that it was made this way because it just looks so darn cool.
Only one night left in Hanoi, then a visit to Thailand, then back to Cleveland! We are so sad to leave, but also ready to get home to our family, friends and dog. We’ve really missed Coco – she’s been ignoring us on Skype. We are hoping she will forgive our absence when we see her in Chattanooga in July at Poppy and Susu’s house.
A few days ago we took our family to a place in Vietnam called Sapa. There are several minority ethnic groups that live in small, very rustic villages in the mountains and grow rice in terraces cut into the mountainside. They dress in traditional clothing that they make themselves. It is a beautiful place.
The ONLY way to get there is by overnight train. A special train that makes lots of abrupt stops throughout the night. A train that has some kind of animal or bug eating your complimentary crackers on the table right next to your tiny bed. A train whose air conditioner that might go out in the middle of the night and whose conductor pretends to be asleep and ignores your pleas of “Em Oi!” (hey!) to fix the air. A train that you board at 8:00 pm and exit before five the next morning, bleary eyed but excited about your adventure. A train that, despite all its issues, is an absolute wonder for children under the age of 10.
Despite the rain, we were able to get out and explore the villages and town of Sapa. It was surprisingly cold, but we welcomed this after 100 degree heat in Hanoi!
Back at home we had a very busy week to end a great school year. Matthew had a big role in a school play (really an operetta) – he was the narrator in The Three Nanny Goats (kind of like The Three Billy Goats Gruff).
Anna created a video about how to buy fresh chicken in Hanoi. Right by our house is a woman selling fresh chickens (she butchers them right on the street). We’ve passed by it daily and marveled at how different food production and distribution is here from what we’re used to at home. There is no doubt that we are eating some of the freshest (and most tasty!) food. And by the way, Anna edited this entire video by herself!
After school one day we took a family walk around our neighborhood and found more interesting things, as ever. The summer short haircut is very popular here.
Michael and I are saying goodbye to our friends, too. The good news is that in order to get to see everyone in the coming years, we will have to travel to other parts of the globe….
On to Burma on Friday…. then Thailand…. then Cleveland, OH!
I think the heat is making everyone sleepy here in Hanoi. We went to the fabric market and my friend Yossi pointed out this tired vendor:
And if you have lice or gray hairs, that’s something else you can take care of (this is a common sight on the street):
I have seen 2 dishwashers in total since I arrived in January, and they were in the homes of two embassy families (they have very nice places). Mostly people just do it the old fashioned way, right on the sidewalk:
We were so happy this past week to welcome our friend and final visitor to Hanoi, Jackie Acho. Her husband John was a real hero staying at home with their two kids so she could come to Asia for the first time in her life. One of my Vietnamese friends was so surprised that she would come so far and leave her family at home for a week. I told her we American women were very lucky and we had great husbands. Of course we had to take Jackie out to one of our favorite street food restaurants, Bun Bo Nam Bo:
We took Jackie to our friend Phuong’s house – it was her daughter’s 1st birthday, so there was a big meal!
Phuong took us to an orphanage near her home called Bo De. We brought rice and milk and Matthew handed out some baseball cards to the boys. It was very sad and difficult to see 150 children without parents.
Later on the way home we had to squish into a taxi, and Kate sat on my lap in the front seat…we’ve gotten lax here!
The next day we were walking around Hanoi and saw a Pentecost celebration outside the Catholic cathedral. The costumes and music were beautiful.
Hanoi is so full of sights. It’s a delight to walk around and take photos. Even after 5 months, I cannot get over seeing children riding on motorbikes without helmets. Many of the infants ride with netting covering their heads – maybe to keep the bugs off?
Gourds for sale:
Anna found double banana twins!!
While we’re still enjoying our last few weeks here, we are really excited to get home and see family and friends. We are especially eager to meet a new cousin of ours that was born in NYC right before we left, so we have yet to meet little Leo! Except by Skype, that is.
Living here has brought many changes to our lives. One big change is that we have grown more accustomed to taking risks. We are so safety conscious in the United States (okay well I am!). But in Hanoi you have to just let some things go. Like say, for instance, when your cab driver has an iPad mounted to his dashboard and is fiddling around on Facebook while driving.
Even what seems ordinary has something unexpected and new. The kids had a spring program at their school recently. I felt like I could have been at any school in the world it seemed so normal – kids smiling, nervous, happy and proud. Just like home.
Take a look at the video of the third graders — the second half has a beautiful Japanese fan dance:
But after the program we had a wonderful international treat. At the reception the parents were invited to bring food and items from their home countries to share. We had an amazing international buffet (in case you’re wondering what we served at the U.S. table, it was lemonade, banana pudding with Nilla wafers that were brought in a special diplomatic pouch delivery as they don’t exist here, Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies and a yummy Hawaiian meat dish). Here are some Korean moms dressed in their beautiful traditional outfits:
Entertaining ourselves has been a challenge at times because of the lack of green space. One great indoor activity turned out to be our parakeets….Anna, Kate and Matthew create all kinds of homemade playgrounds and toys for them, feed them, and take them out of the cage to stretch their wings.
The weather has been a drastic change from what we’re used to in Cleveland. (By the way, we are not discussing the fact that it was the warmest winter in Cleveland in 2,000 years). The Hanoi winter was all humidity and damp cold. Now there is withering heat and humidity. No spring at all. Our cellos and violin can attest to the extreme weather here — take a look at the warped bridge on Anna’s cello. We are hoping it makes it till we get home in July and get a replacement (not available here apparently):
The rain and warm weather brought out thousands of baby frogs. You have to step carefully to avoid squashing them in the street. They are apparently loads of fun to play with (I am not sure how the frogs feel about that though).
In addition to the frogs, the rain brought massive worms – this guy was over a foot long and looked more like a snake to me:
One great thing about coming here is having the chance to meet so many amazing and interesting people from all over the world. In addition to our new Vietnamese friends, we’ve met people from other countries, including Israel, Korea, Japan, Belgium, China and Chile!
The soccer season came to an end last weekend. There was a tournament with real refs, which meant they kept score and there were winners and losers.
There are a lot of fowl on the streets. Somehow they learn to stay on the side and manage to not get run down.
When a wedding happens here, the family sets up a tent right in the street and has a reception there. We’ve seen them several times all over the city, but this one was in front of our apartment building last week. That’s the Concordia school bus trying to squeeze by:
As I mentioned before, safety isn’t quite as high profile here as it is at home. I am sure if there were more resources, things might get more attention. This hole in the road has been here since we arrived in January:
The kids have been upset about this little Chihuahua on our street. Every day he’s tied up on a very short leash with no water for hours. If I had to choose a place to be a pet, it would not be Vietnam.
In Vietnam we often see examples of stark differences between the haves and have-nots. This photo shows a small hut made of corrugated iron and wood. A family with children and several ducks live there. Their neighbor is the fancy Intercontinental Hotel. What a contrast!
If you need air for your tires, here’s the guy to see:
Michael has been very busy doing lectures on entrepreneurship in Laos and Cambodia and working with the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology on a week long seminar, amongst other things. In Laos all sorts of people came to hear Michael, eager to learn about starting and funding businesses:
It’s May 23rd. We have just over a month left before we leave Hanoi for good and do some traveling in the region. It’s not always been easy, but we’ve enjoyed and embraced the newness and unexpectedness and even the confusion (yes, the daily and even hourly confusion of not knowing what anyone is saying or doing). Mostly, we have loved watching our children learn and grow and embrace the unexpected. They’ve even made up a few funny rap songs about their lives here. You’ll have to ask for a performance when we get home.
Poppy and Uncle Rob were here for a short visit, so we left Halong Bay and caught a plane straight to Hoi An, a beach town in central Vietnam. Remember how I complained about how dirty and polluted the water was in Nha Trang and Halong Bay? Well, not so in Hoi An. On my first morning there, I saw a water buffalo pulling some contraption through the sand behind our hotel to rake the beach. I figured that it could not be possible that this cleanliness went beyond our hotel’s beach. After running for over a mile down the beach, though, I saw not one scrap of trash!
We enjoyed walking through the streets of the old village of Hoi An, where we saw actual, real trash cans on the street. And people used them. It was all quite civilized! The trees and flowers were blooming. The traditional houses had been well preserved, unlike in Hanoi, where everything has been built over or covered with billboards and electrical wires. It was over 100 degrees and scorching, so our forays included lots of stops for drinks.
We opted to stay in a hotel on the beach, which turned out to be perfect for the kids, who loved playing in the waves and eating by the pool (thankfully there was Anna-friendly food).
On our second morning in Hoi An, Poppy and I went for a very early photographic stroll down in the market.
Shortly after this photo was taken, a big wave came and knocked the boogie board into Matthew’s mouth, causing a tooth to fall out two days later (thankfully a baby tooth, but it was not due to come out for a long time and I don’t think Matthew thought this was a fun experience at all). Read: boogie boarding not appropriate for six year olds.
Here’s Matthew with his lost tooth (and a summer buzz cut, which Michael blamed on communication issues with the Vietnamese barber in our neighborhood):
And as long as we’re onto doing things that are a bit dangerous, the kids begged for days to take a ride on some motorbikes that were outfitted with side cars in Hoi An. We finally gave in and took a short ride.
We said farewell to Uncle Rob and Poppy, who went back home to the U.S. Thanks for a great trip!