Moldy Shoes and Another Pet

Another pet

Yes that’s two birds you see in the cage.  Cheerio has a new friend.  We decided he needed a bird friend so he wouldn’t be lonely.  Now we have two.

The kids are excited because the new parakeet is much tamer and we can interact a bit more.

One thing to know if you ever come live in Hanoi is that the incredible humidity can create some interesting mold problems.  I pulled a pair of shoes and pants out of my closet that had not been touched in a few weeks and this is what I found:

Moldy shoes

Fortunately they are not ruined, but it is disgusting.

We continue to have interesting outings on the street and love trying new foods. Sweet potatoes are a popular street food here, and they come in purple.  Kate, always the adventurous eater, enjoyed a sweet potato (with butter, which is not Vietnamese):

Purple sweet potatoes

The streets are full of surprises, including these baskets of frogs:


Most Vietnamese do not buy their food at a grocery store, and meats are not packaged or stamped with a USDA stamp.  Meat is sold everywhere in the open air like this:We took a stroll through the Botanical Gardens.  We saw a cage of peacocks and another cage of monkeys.

A cage of peacocks at the Botanical Gardens

There was an outdoor roller skating rink/basketball court at the botanical gardens.

Roller skater at the botanical gardens

On the street there are lots of entrepreneurs with “mobile stores” — they carry and sell all kinds of things from their baskets.  This lady has some kind of bamboo.

Ladies also sell all kinds of things from the back of a bike, including fruit, fish, flowers and the like.

Mangoes and oranges for sale on a bike basket

More stuff for sale on a bike

Every nook and cranny is used for selling.  The alley here is used as a market:

We tried a new food yesterday – a very thin rice pancake stuffed with brown rice and mushrooms (Banh cuon).  It is a breakfast food.  Our breakfast cost 30,000 dong, which is $1.50. Most Vietnamese do not eat breakfast in their homes.  They go outside and eat pho with their neighbors at one of the omnipresent food stalls.

Rice pancakes, another choice for street breakfast food besides Pho. I added red peppers to make it spicy.

Here is a video of our banh cuon being made:

One favorite street food snack for our kids (yes, something they ALL like besides ice cream) is grilled corn.

Waiting for grilled corn snack by West Lake (Tay Ho) in Hanoi

Yummy fresh grilled corn!

People always ask if Kate and Anna are twins.  I found them t-shirts perfect for them this week:


Note the spelling of "different"

I have been on a quest to find a Vietnamese artist to do a residency in Cleveland and work with Young Audiences next year. I have met many people, including dancers from the Vietnamese National Ballet and Opera.  I watched them rehearse a traditional Vietnamese dance:

Vietnam National Ballet dancers


Ceramics and a Hot Pot

This week Michael and I went to hear the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra.  The music (Brahms) was lovely and the venue was beautiful-  an opera house built over 100 years ago.  We have seen people snoozing in concerts in Cleveland from time to time, but we were a little surprised by the guy sitting behind us who chatted on his cell phone (quietly, but still!) and had his iPad out throughout the performance!

On Saturday we all went to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university built in 1070.  It is no longer a university, but it is a beautiful place to visit, buy a treat and take pictures. There were lots ancient buildings, courtyards, ponds and Buddhas.

Entering the Temple of Literature

Eating a popsicle treat at the Temple of Literature

A very large bell

Puppets for sale

Today we took a short, crowded and cheap ($.30 for adults and free for kids!) bus ride to a pottery village 25 minutes outside of Hanoi. Ask Kate about getting pushed onto the bus by an old lady.  People do not form lines in Vietnam but rather push their way into wherever they want to go, and this is not considered rude.

We stopped first for a steaming bowl of pho before doing anything else:

People have been making ceramics and pottery in Bat Trang since the 14th century.  For miles around every shop is selling different kinds of pottery and ceramics.

Pottery and ceramics market in Bat Trang


There are several places where you can make your own pottery and paint it, too ($3 per person).

You turn the pottery wheels by hand.

Painting pottery

Tonight we had dinner at a Vietnamese friends’ house.  Another HUGE, amazing meal.  This time we had Vietnamese hot pot. This large family had us all eat on the floor around a big steaming hot pot of broth, to which all kinds of meats, chicken, vegetables and glass noodles were added slowly (like a fondue) and doled out amongst everyone.

The kids had fun playing upstairs with the other children. There were many cute young ones in this house!

This Vietnamese child's bedroom comes equipped with a slide!

A New Family Member and the Biggest Dosa in the World

We were determined to get a pet (well, except for one family member who reluctantly agreed). With a little help from a Vietnamese friend, the kids and I found a street that had shop after shop, each specializing in selling different kinds of pets — dogs, fish or birds.  We found a parakeet that was blue – just the color we were hoping for.

Bird Shop in Hanoi

In addition to parakeets, they were selling all kinds of native song birds as well as two guinea fowl, which come from South Africa.

Kate checking out the guinea fowl

We think our bird is young and a boy which means he should be easier to train to talk and come out of his cage.  Can you guess how much we paid for the parakeet?  $7! The kids named him Cheerio but we keep calling him Pretty also (the name of our last parakeet).

Cheerio at home

The kids have been dying to try a cyclo ride, so we finally took one on Sunday when we finished some shopping.

We saw another odd thing in the market today.  Some kind of roasted small birds (I think) in soda cans.  They were more like the size of bats. How are you supposed to even eat this? Who would want to eat it?

What is this exactly?

We had a memorable lunch with a college friend of Michael’s at an Indian restaurant. It was memorable for two reasons. First, we ate the craziest dosa (Indian bread) that I have ever laid eyes on.  It was in the shape of a cone and was about 2 feet tall. It was beautiful and tasty. Second, this was the spiciest food I’ve ever eaten, hands down.

Michael and Felipe Valdes with crazy dosa

I asked how spicy the food was and our friend Felipe mentioned in front of the owner that the “two chili”  food he tried there previously was not even perceptibly hot.  We paid dearly for that comment — the entire restaurant was coughing from the fumes emanating from our dishes as they were served, we sweated a tremendous amount, and we had to order two mango lassi’s and some ice cream to cool off. Phew!!

Another family member wept while eating, but this time it was Anna who was simply overjoyed when I found her beloved Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which she has not seen since we left the U.S.  Guess how much it cost? $7! (Parakeet Named Cheerio = Box of Imported Cereal = $7).

Anna and her happy food

Kate’s second grade class did a presentation on cultures. Each child was asked to bring a food or something that represented their culture. Being the only Jewish kid in her class, Kate donned her Agnon t-shirt and shared challah with everyone.  She also brought her Hebrew workbooks for everyone to see.

One of her classmates did a demonstration with Korean drums.

Since I arrived, I have been very interested in learning more about the Vietnamese education system. Luckily someone from the American Embassy graciously invited me to spend a morning recently at Viet Duc High School to observe the opening day for a new “Creativity Club.” The school had a beautiful courtyard that was packed with students in blue and white track suit uniforms during breaks. Here it is while the students are in class:

Viet Duc High School in Hanoi

Instead of a bell, class changes are announced by a loud, deep, human powered drum!

Saved by the drum

The newly formed Creativity Club had its first meeting in the library. About 20 students attended and the principal, a few teachers and some other people helped lead the students in a 2 hour discussion about how they would decorate their allotted space in the library. I am sure I missed a great deal of the details as it was almost all in Vietnamese, but my friend from the U.S. Embassy helped translate enough to give me an idea of what was happening.

Both Vietnamese and many expats who know the country well have told me that the Vietnamese education system is lacking creativity, and that the students simply memorize what they are taught without asking questions.  In visiting the school, I was really impressed by how many people saw the value of creativity in education and how critical thinking is important.

I also started volunteering at Hagar International.They help women who have been victims of domestic abuse and trafficking.

It is a wonderful organization and I am so happy to be helping out with a little bit of marketing and writing.

American Kids “Attacked” by Vietnamese Paparazzi

A few days ago we ate a delicious Vietnamese chicken salad and wrapped it in rice paper ourselves. For a detailed yet precise instruction on how to wrap your own rice paper chicken salad, tune into Kate Goldberg here:

This past weekend the kids started playing Saturday soccer at the United Nations International School. We were impressed at the high level of playing! There was serious passing going on.  Boys and girls play on the same team, with a definite preponderance of boys. Kate was not happy about this fact – she said the boys were very aggressive. It was nice to have some open green space and see the kids running around!  There must have been a few hundred kids out on the fields playing soccer.

They even had a concession stand where they sold not only hot dogs but also ramen noodles. After soccer we went to a lovely Shabbat lunch at the home of an Israeli family who lives nearby. The parents work at the Israeli embassy (which is small with only 8 employees!), and this family is actually performing the miracle of keeping Kosher here in Vietnam.  They have their Kosher meat imported from Bangkok. Their two small children were adorable, and they also had grandparents visiting from their Kibbutz.

Yesterday we visited Lenin Park (also called Reunification Park sometimes) – one of the largest and most beautiful parks I have seen Hanoi.  We were overjoyed to see all the space, paths, and NO motorbikes.  Well, we did see one drive through and Anna sneered at them and said, “How dare you!” In the park there were some very familiar sights and some very interesting Vietnamese things going on.

The kids happily found a small roller coaster.

There were a lot of people doing all kinds of exercise in the park, including jogging and a strange kind of hula hoop but with a long chain of wooden balls.

A few people were practicing some kind of Ti Chi as well as martial arts with a very large sword thing!

They had swan shaped paddle boats which we tried out.

As we stepped off the boats, the children were swarmed by a group of teenage girls who wanted their pictures taken with them.  There was shrieking, hugging and kissing going on for a good ten minutes. This one we caught on video:

We ended our weekend with an amazing Vietnamese dinner at the home of one of Michael’s colleagues from the university. We all enjoyed the food (except one special picky family member of ours who was very diplomatic and did try a few tastes to her credit).

I thought this was an interesting picture.  Everywhere we go we see letters and numbers stenciled onto walls like this.  I found out it is the contractors who leave this as a kind of advertisement for themselves.  I think the government tried to outlaw it, but was not successful.

No Legos and an Alphabet with 12 Vowels

Tonight I asked Matthew, “If you could go home right now or stay here till July what would you rather do?” He said, “go home.”  I asked why… he said he wanted a big Lego set (we’ve seen several stores that sell Legos, but the prices are twice what they are in the U.S. and he knows we can’t buy anything big here).  I said, “well, what if I was able to get you the Lego set here – would you rather stay here till July or go home now?”  He said, “stay here.”  How great is that??  I am so glad Matthew likes Vietnam (other than the lack of Legos).

Michael and I are also trying to immerse ourselves in Vietnamese life and we had our first Vietnamese lesson today.  A very nice woman spent an hour and a half teaching us the alphabet, the marks you write over the letters to indicate tones, plus a few words that made simple sentences.  It was exhausting for my old brain. There are three a‘s. Unfortunately for me, they all sound the same as the three o‘s, two u‘s and two e‘s.  If you look up Vietnamese alphabet on Wikipedia, it confirms your worst nightmares and says “pronunciation is somewhat complicated. In some cases, the same letter may represent several different sounds, and different letters may represent the same sound.”

For a little taste, here is our teacher reciting the Vietnamese alphabet:

It was also hilarious. Michael and I died laughing at our ridiculous attempts to imitate her sounds.  The instructor was also laughing.  Later a Vietnamese friend tried to help review the alphabet with Michael and there was more mirth: