Monday, July 30, 2012

Our new house!

So after looking for about a week we finally found a house to rent and we moved in on Monday the 30th. It is just 1 block away from the beach on the peninsula off of the main city, and we are starting to settle in. Here are some photos, I will update with more info in a bit:
 Here's the front
 Here's the living room
Here's the kitchen

Here's the only cupboard I will actually use because it closes tight to keep out bugs

Here's the stairs

 Here's the view from the front porch
 Here's the view from the balcony
 This is the master bedroom
Here is the second bedroom - we have been sleeping here as it was easier to find sheets for this bed than the bigger master bed at first.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Giant Buddha

So on Sunday we decided to take a drive to go see the giant Buddha statue on the far north end of the peninsula. And when I say giant, I reeeeaaalllyyy mean giant, probably about 2/3 the size of the Statue of Liberty, maybe? Here are some photos:
Here's the view from the road as we are traveling up there. The road is a little scary as it has corners, and we all know corners are just a place for taxis or buses to pass motorbikes, right? Everything went just fine though and the view was wonderful. 
Here's a view of Da Nang on the way up. 
These are the steps up to the pagoda where the monks live and the people come and worship. They were really weird to climb as they were slanted downward for the first half of the way. 
The dragon sculptures guarding the gates were really cool. 
Here's Michael at the gates looking touristy and sexy, gotta love my Mormon boy in his 
Sunday white shirt :) 
 The trees they have all over here are so amazing, we seriously have probably a dozen photos just of cool trees. They are so well taken care of and so intricate in the ways they grow. We even saw one that could be the inspiration for the sacred tree of the classic enviromentalist movie Ferngully.
This is the main pagoda on the site where people go to pray and light incense. It was a very solemn place and very quiet inside. 
Here is a view from right outside the giant Buddha - that's Michael at the very bottom to the left of the door. There is another temple inside the doors at the bottom of the statue, it is a bit small but also serene though it feels very weighty to have all of that statue above your head. 
 The view from the temple grounds outside the Buddha.
Here is another Buddha statue on site. You can see the little bunny statues on the left, they were neat. 
The ponds around were full of what I believe to be lotus blossoms, and the leaves were so awesome. This is a photo of either rainwater or dew that had collected in the leaf - they were about a foot across - and if you tilted the leaf the water would just roll around. The texture of the leaf was so smooth that the water wouldn't even leave a trace. 
Here's one of the beautiful flowers growing around in the ponds, there were many beautiful flowers everywhere. All in all it was a beautiful trip and a "a Sabbath to remember" according to Michael.
Love you all!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friends, bikes, and trip to Lang Co

It's been a crazy weekend!  First of all, let me (Mike) tell you about our new friends. We had heard that a lot of Westerners (specifically Americans) liked to congregate outside a little bar called the "Golden Pine". So, Thursday we decided to stop by. Nobody was there, except one older guy sitting outside drinking some beer. On our way out, he waved us over, bought us some smoothies, and we talked for about an hour. His name is Richard - he's from California but is taking his retirement in VN and has lived all over the world. He's a super cool guy, and he invited us to go motorbiking with him and his Vietnamese girlfriend up over the mountains and to some great beaches. I'll get to that in a sec.  
Our other good friends here include Xavier and Geraldine - a French couple that both work at Gameloft with me. They speak pretty good English and have been primarily responsible for "showing us the ropes" here. They've shown us a lot of good places to eat, pointed us to the good supermarkets and hang-out spots, and most importantly they helped us find a good deal on a motorbike. On Saturday we spent about $450 on a pretty stellar motorscooter, and another $50 on some really nice helmets that might actually save our lives in an emergency (as opposed to the "helmets" most Vietnamese people wear). After spending most of the day in the hot sun, looking at dozens of motorbikes and haggling with everyone in view, they showed us this awesome resort right on the beach where they go to swim and chill. Apparently the resort never bothers them, even though they never stay there, so it's like a free pool, towels, and awesome beach locale with chairs and umbrellas! It's awesome. (Risa butting in - the resort pool and beach access is free to those who work in Da Nang, Xavier and Geraldine have passes because they showed proof that they work here but you can bring friends and family too if you like).
I should also mention that I've become pretty good friends with a lot of the designers that I am in charge of. They invited Risa and I to go "drinking" with them on Friday night (we just had Pepsi of course). It was crazy and really fun. We ate clams, oysters, shrimp (whole), squid (whole), jellyfish, and 2 other kinds of fish. It was sooooo good. Jellyfish is one of the strangest things I've ever had, but tastes much better than I would have thought. It's the jelly/meaty texture that's the weird part. After eating and drinking (their drinking cheer is "ba, hai, mot, yo!" which means 3, 2, 1, Yo!), we walked over to the beach and caught some "com com"s (little crabs that run all over the place) and built a sand castle. It was great. 
Today (Sunday) we spent the whole day motorbiking with Richard (55), his girlfriend Hai (36), and her daughter Ming (11). I could... not... believe... how beautiful the mountain pass was that we drove over.  Ocean views on both sides - tons and tons of trees and rocks and vines - some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen. Then we arrived at a different beach on the other side of the mountain in a town called Long Co. It was super nice, but there were jellyfish swimming all over in the water. There were tons of people out swimming with them, and some of them were even catching them, so we figured it wasn't dangerous. I got some good pictures. And now we're totally pooped. We're going to bed. See the pictures below. (facebook hasn't been working so we haven't put up anything recently).
Love you all!
View going up the mountain pass.

Michael with his helmet hair - Da Nang City is in the background.

Jellyfish that were everywhere - Risa was totally freaked out but they didn't hurt too much, just itched/stung a bit for a moment.

Having fun on the beach. Ming was really shy at first but then opened up once Risa let her bury her in the sand for a bit, they had a lot of fun.

View coming back up the pass on the other side.

Some cows that were grazing on/around the road on our way home. Richard tried to pet one and she got rather upset. They were neat though.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our new home: Da Nang

So after a very strange sacrament meeting by ourselves in our small, glittering hotel room (you never realize how many songs and prayers are involved until you have to sing/say them all with only 2 people and no music as everything we had was packed), we were off to the airport to travel to our new home in Da Nang. After freaking out some of the workers with our large luggage we met some of the awesome Aussie friends from the tour the day before on our trip through the airport (and we even found some M&M's there and we got them to celebrate, sadly they still look better than they taste). After a somewhat bumpy plane ride we were greeted with the best view ever - this is what it looks like outside our hotel window: 
Not so far from home, eh? The mountains and the beach are amazing, I only wish they didn't make me miss the horizon of Utah a bit every time I see them - the zaggy lines on the top just don't look the same. At the same time it makes it feel more like home. The weather is drier than HCMC and it is hotter I think, but it rains every so often and some days are more tolerable than others.
The trees here are huge and amazing. They are big and beautiful and we still don't know why they paint the bottoms white sometimes.
This is me on the Han River, which separates the city center from the peninsula on the east. The locals are out on the river every night to exercise and have fun with family and friends, but during the day it is pretty deserted (because it is hot!). 
Here's a view of the bridge at night. It is called the Song Han bridge and it is the main symbol of Da Nang. The lights at night change colors and patterns, it's pretty neat.
Here's a view of the street outside our hotel on any given night. Going out for drinks with friends is a popular pastime, and little cafes set up a lot of chairs and tables and people are out socializing for a while after dark - which isn't too hard to do as the sun sets around 7PM.

Here's a sight you see at almost every little restaurant or even in a house, though we didn't see them in the hotel - it's a gecko! They love to sit under the lights and eat the bugs (so we love them very, very much). This little guy was in a yummy vegetarian restaurant our friends showed us. 
Here is what we ate for breakfast after making a crazy crazy trip to the local western-style supermarket - The Big C. I've never been so claustrophobic in my life as we went at the worst time of the day (right after work) and there were TONS of people there. It was hard for me as we had a hard time finding things and then there were lots and lots of people and not very much food that was recognizable other than Oreo cookies. (We have been there since and it was better, we just happened to be lucky this time). We got some crackers (it says whole wheat but there is a "whole" 3% bran added back into the batter :P), some amazing Guava french-style jam, some rambutan and asian pears, and some weird little yogurt drink things that tasted pretty sour so I figured they must have some kind of probiotic content :) It was good all in all and we were very excited to have some good food. We have also tried the local Phu (a noodle soup with a broth base usually with some meat and veggies in it) shops for breakfast and lunch. It's a different place to get used to but it more quiet and a little less crazy than the big city and it is much more beautiful.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trip to the Mekong Delta

So 3 words about our tour of the Mekong Delta - awesome, awesome, awesome. It was much cheaper than Mr. Tam's tour ($30 for the both of us for the whole day vs $10 per person per hour), and man was it amazing. They also picked us up at the hotel at 7:00AM and we were off on a 2 hour bus ride north to the delta. The nicest thing about the tour was that it was very structured, something we don't get much of here in Vietnam. The tour guide was awesome too and was very kind. 
We had one pit-stop in this crazy little hammock place where we got a coconut to share. There were chickens in a pen behind the place and it was our first introduction to a more rural Vietnam.  
Here is the view from the dock where we got on a boat to go over the river and see different places. There were all different sizes of boats around - from small one person fishing boats to crazy huge boats. It was a nice day but rather hot so the speed of the boat was a welcome breeze. 
Our first stop across the river was a little shop where the family sells their home-made wines as well as the most amazing honey we've ever tasted. This gentleman is holding up an example of their bees, this slat just happened to have the queen - which is supposed to be a sign of luck.  
Here's what a bottle of snake wine looks like! It's kind of an herbal formula with a bunch of herbs in it as well as a small cobra and a scorpion. Some of the lovely Australian ladies we sat with tried it, and they actually said it was pretty good - at least better than the banana wine they tried before.  

The small boat ride down the river was simply beautiful. I've never seen such beautiful scenery and so much green! It was amazing. The Vietnamese who were paddling the boats were very kind and the young girls were very beautiful. Our head rower was an older lady that was an amazing powerhouse that beat out the people rowing around us.  
Here's us in the boat to go to the bigger boat and off to lunch and the coconut candy shop. 
The coconut candy shop was so good. They press the coconut to get the milk and then they cook it slowly until it caramelizes, and it is one of the best candies I've ever tasted. 
This is a dragonfruit tree that was on the path we were walking. It looks like a weird kind of cactus, very cool, and the fruit tastes like a mix between kiwi fruit and fresh peas - kinda good really. 
The last stop of the day was fruit tasting and traditional Vietnamese music. The instruments were very neat, and the music was great for educational purposes albeit I wouldn't listen to it everyday. They eat fruit with salt and spices here, similarly to the way some cultures in Mexico and Central and South America eat fruit with chili powder. All in all it was a wonderful day and we made some awesome Australian friends and a couple French ladies and one Finnish guy living and working in Shanghai. All of the young adults we met on the tour were very educated. All of the girls were studying for PhD's in various topics and the guy from Finland was a successful businessman. We were all only together for a matter of hours, but we all formed a fast friendship that was very wonderful and so much appreciated. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Motorcycle tour with Mr. Tam

All right, so Friday afternoon Michael had set up to meet this guy, Mr. Tam, who said he did motorcycle tours of the city. Thomas and the others thought it might be risky, but Michael was really excited. Mr. Tam and his brother came to our hotel to pick us up. It took him a little while to find us as our hotel, The A&E hotel, has many locations, at least 3 on the same street as ours. I was really nervous but hoped it would turn out ok as we strapped on the little helmets they offered and took off into the craziest traffic I've ever seen. Seriously, I know I've said before that the lines on the road are purely aesthetic, but I really can't do it justice. If there's too much traffic, no problem! just use the sidewalk! If the road is one way only but you still want to go down it, no problem! you go anyway. I think I've described it this way on facebook, but in case you don't have facebook here's how I relate the traffic here in US terms - so take NYC before the noise ordinances and everyone was nice to each other (lots of horns and craziness right?), then take away about 85% of the cars and replace them with motorbikes, then have the lines only be for aesthetic value (complete free for all), with about 25% of the stop lights gone and another 30% consisting of roundabouts, and you might get kinda close to how it is driving here.
Our first stop with Mr. Tam was the Vietnam War Museum, which I must say was a bit different seeing things from this side, but it was reminiscent of my college class on the war in some ways. We didn't spend too much time inside as a lot of the rooms were on rather distressing subjects and we didn't want to be depressed for the rest of the day. Michael had a blast taking pictures of all of the weapons displays.
Outside they had a bunch of planes, helicopters, and tanks left over from the war on display. While looking at these we were sold a Vietnamese phrasebook by a survivor of the war who didn't have any hands, and even though I thought it was a bit expensive (we paid the amount printed on the cover and I'm such a stickler for buying books used cheaper but it was for a good cause) it has proved to be one of the most useful books ever.
This was a cathedral of some sort I'm assuming was built during France's occupation of Vietnam, but we really have no idea. It was quite the attraction with a fair crowd of tourists taking pictures. We didn't stay too long as we found after the museum that Mr. Tam charged by the hour, so we were on our way to the next stop soon. After the cathedral we were taken to a lacquer shop where they make lacquer boxes and artwork. We didn't take any pictures but it was really neat to see. They would make the most incredible artwork out of burned eggshell (browned to different shades of cream and brown) that was then crushed into small pieces and put together in a mosaic kind of way to make beautiful pieces of art that took months to complete. They were really expensive, but maybe we can get a small one to bring home.
After the lacquer shop we visited a couple of pagodas, which I believe are essentially Buddhist temples or they could be for another religion all together. There was a lot of incense burning everywhere and places for people to write prayers for blessings they wanted to receive. Sometimes they even had animals around like a little turtle pond or a fish pond. I must admit that LED lights don't speak religion to me, but it is popular around here to have some flashing lights behind the different saints or the Buddha statues. On the other hand, the intricate artwork is breathtaking and the dedicated worshipers are very inspiring.
The architecture and detail work at the pagodas was simply amazing though, and we had a good time looking and the buildings.
Here is a photo of me with Mr. Thu inside one of the pagodas. He was nice but the price kept going up when we would talk to him so we had to try hard to talk him into taking us back to the hotel early. We ended up paying him for 3 hours when we were only out 2 or so, but it was still fun and we learned a bit more about how things go with street vendors around here.