Friday, August 31, 2012

Moon Festival in Hoi An

So last night we had a lot of fun attending the Hoi An Full Moon Night. Every full moon, part of the town (the most touristy part) turns off all of the electric lights for a few hours and everyone uses lanterns instead to pay homage to the moon. They also set afloat little paper lanterns in the water and you can go out in a boat to release one if you like and enjoy the scenery. We thought it sounded like fun so we asked if any of our friends would like to come and we headed down after getting crazy lost with all of the traffic - a lot of the locals go as well - and while trying to find gas as Michael had forgotten to fuel up before we left :) But it's all a part of the grand adventure and we didn't have to walk our bike at all so it turned out great.
When we got to Hoi An we met up with everyone and shuffled through the crowds (there were SO many people there!) and found a restaurant to eat dinner. We went up on the balcony and here is the view from there:
It was really beautiful, all of the little dots you might be able to see are lanterns, and the larger dots at the bottom of the picture are the clusters of paper lanterns you could buy to float on the river.

Here's an awkward shot of me and Michael at the restaurant, not many of our pics turned out well unfortunately. (Do you like Michael's choice of facial hair? You can't see it but the sides are still there on his cheeks. It was a riot at work but made me think of him as a little too Country. Today he shaved the cheeks so there's only the handlebar mustache, just one more shave to go until I get my clean-shaven cutie back.) I ordered traditional Hoi An Noodles, and Michael had Shrimp and some other seafood ravioli, which turned out to be more like fried wontons than ravioli but it was really good. We also had guava yogurt and orange yogurt to drink and the French version of flan - called Creme Caramel - for dessert, all for roughly $15US.

By far one of my favorite parts of the evening involved this little guy:
After we had eaten dessert and were talking, a little gecko comes crawling across the table, flicking his tongue out in the direction of our dessert plate. To our amazement, he actually proceeds across the table (despite the paparazzo Michael) and starts to lick the sugar sauce off of the spoons: 

I don't know if you can see it or not, but this is a photo of him licking the spoon, if you look close you can even see his little tongue. It was the cutest thing I've ever seen in my entire life, it was SO amazing.
 Here's a photo of the lanterns hung around the restaurants. They didn't have the electricity off as long as we were expecting but it was still really beautiful, and most of the electricity was just to light the lanterns anyway. The atmosphere was lots of fun, though crazy crowded.
 By some of the bridges you could just purchase a lantern to set in the water instead of going out by boat (we didn't do either but watched instead). The papers were all different colors and it was so beautiful to see them out and about (even though in the photo they are starting to cluster as the night wraps up).
 A nice family from Belgium stopped and took a photo of our group. From the left there is Diana (I think from Germany but maybe not), Mary (from France), me and Michael, and Charles (also from France). Charles said we could be French for the evening if we wanted to feel more like the cool part of the group :)
 More photos of the lanterns around town. The spots on the lens are from negligence in cleaning it, not a bunch of ghosts, sorry.
 Here's a photo of one of the ladies selling lanterns. They were little folded papers with a small square of styrofoam inside with a candle anchored in the middle, really neat. 
One of my other favorite parts of the evening were the lantern shops. They were absolutely gorgeous at night, and there would be these amazing stretches of 3-4 shops in a row creating this vast wall of colors. Most of the lanterns are all made by hand, with a wooden frame and a silk cover. The ones with designs are painted or embroidered by hand. It was really beautiful. In the end we had a lot of fun, it was really crowded all over and you had to make an effort not to be run over by a scooter, but it was nice to be having fun with the locals too - we weren't the only ones looking at the booths and Knick-Knacks, and we got some awesome prizes from some of the booths to send home.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For the Cedar Pass 14th Young Men

As promised for the Cedar Pass 14th Ward youth - 

Michael  - in the jungle - with a beard - and a large knife (it's the biggest we have) - 


PS - we miss you guys!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Staff trip to Lang Co

The 2012 Gameloft Staff Trip to Lang Co.  Yup... ... yuuuuuuuuuup... yeppers...  ...  Okay then, where to begin...

So, let me begin by saying that it was definitely a trip.  Trip does not equal vacation. Buuuut - it was still really fun, and Lang Co was super beautiful, so it was kinda too. I think it didn't seem like a vacation because I was with my coworkers the whole time, and it's just soooooo muuuuuuch WORK to try and talk to Vietnamese people all the time. But alas... I think I'm just grumpy.
(Rule #1 about blogging - don't write when you're grumpy)
I suck at following rules. So yeah - we hung out the whole weekend with my Vietnamese friends from work which, for the most part, was really fun.  Saturday morning we took the tour bus up through the Hai Van pass (, which is a really amazing and beautiful drive.  See da pix.  We climbed around on the old war buildings, looked out over the glorious sprawling beaches and mountains below us, yadda, yadda.

Then we arrived in Lang Co and get set up with our hotels at the resort.  The resorts were pretty nice! Ours had a pool (which had kinda green water, I wasn't sure whether to trust it, but my friends were swimming so I jumped off the cliff too), but unfortunately no chairs on the beach.  That's okay, there wasn't a lot of time for beach-chillin' anyway, because the Gameloft Team-building Games started... Wait wait wait - I'm getting ahead of myself. FIRST we all went in a big extremely hot room with our teams and made our flags, decided on our team names, etc. THEN we went and played games.  The games were really fun - and played on the beach, which was nice. Except it was raining for part of the time. Oh well. I didn't get to play much anyway. Risa was having kind of a hard day so I opted out of the majority of the games to be with her.

After the games we had potentially the BEST body-surfing I've ever had.  It's weird - body surfing is my first natural reaction to waves in the ocean. But it seems that Vietnamese don't do it!  I taught a few guys how while we were out that day, and now they like it, but everyone seemed confused at my magical "riding of the waves" that day.  Strange. Regardless, the waves were PERFECT and it was a total blast.  Then we swam a bit in the green pool water.  Then I had a 3 hour-long hallucination... just kidding. The water was fine. Then - the Gala Dinner, which was CRAZY.

I think one thing that should be understood about Vietnamese people in general is that they get really hyper, especially when they are drunk, and DOUBLE ESPECIALLY when there is music involved. I went to a heavy metal concert to see one of my designers' bands play - it was the craziest bash of insane energy I've ever witnessed. The Gala dinner was similar.
The Gala Dinner is a special dinner in which all the teams perform special "talents" or musical numbers that they had prepared previously.  I let it leak that I play the guitar and ended up roped into participating in 3 different musical numbers. It was really fun! But... insane.  The first number was for our whole team. We did a parody of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song that was about gameloft. I played the part of the Captain, and now some of the people around the office call me Captain. Awesome! I've always dreamed of being a pirate. The second song I did was "More Than Words" - my friend Hoang sang it. It was good. The third song I was part of was "Have you Ever Seen the Rain" by CCR. You can tell the Vietnamese don't really know the words (or what they mean) because the video that was posted on Youtube was labeled "Have you Ever Sing the Rain"! Ha ha ha! Amazing. Regardless, everybody cheered and screamed and danced so much - I thought I was a super star. Great fun. Video Link:

After the dinner the guys wanted me to stay up all night drinking with them but... I passed. Risa and I stayed in the hotel room and watched "Vampires Suck" instead - it's a good watch.

Sunday morning was the best part of the trip. We went to this amazing Pagoda. I can't remember it's name. I also can't find it on Google. Sorry. It was up in the middle of the mountains overlooking an incredible lake (reservoir). It was amazingly beautiful. Pictures included. After that, we felt good enough to call it a trip and head home. So we did. There were a few other things, like lunch and shopping for souvenirs, but... you don't need to hear about all that.

Peace out! I'm going to bed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

First Trip to Hoi An

This weekend we took our first trip to Hoi An, a small town but quite popular tourist destination just 30 minutes or so south of Da Nang. It has a beautiful river running through town:
 If you look closely those are some Vietnamese in the classic Rice hats, and the view of the river is just beautiful. I wish I had been able to get better photos, but I shot this while trying not to fall off the back of Michael's motorbike :)
We stopped for some drinks on the other side of the river in town, they have some beautiful stretches of trees along the river with beautiful bridges: 
We haven't seen the most popular Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An yet, but the lanterns on this one were really pretty nonetheless. 

Here's a boat photo for Grandpa Brooks: 

In Hoi An they make a lot of lanterns, we may get some for the trip home someday. They are beautiful, made out of silk with lovely colors:

 We had fun roaming around the many tourist shops and picking up some prizes to send home to family. Although I still totally hate bartering, and sometimes I feel like I offend the shop owners because they don't have what I'm looking for and they get mad when I don't buy anything. Michael rather enjoys it though, so as long as he comes shopping with me it's all good.
 Here's the gate of a lovely pagoda or temple that was in town, you had to pay to go inside so we didn't go, but it was really lovely.
We had some awesome lunch in town, it was ginger chicken with spring rolls, and then we bought some rambutan and mangosteen fruit from a lady selling it on the street. The rambutan was so beautiful, much larger and better than you see in the grocery store here in Da Nang - we need to go to the outdoor market for better produce.
Hoi An is also known for its beaches, which were very beautiful, although quite crowded when we went there. You can see the mountains of islands in the distance in this shot: 
We are hoping to come back again soon and explore some more, we actually didn't see most of the hot spots around Hoi An, but luckily we found a tour-guide book at a shop there (nice and photocopied like all the books around here, but for $2US what can you say?). It was fun though, and with the loads and loads of tourists around you don't feel so out of place or like the only people with crazy tan lines and a vague, lost expression :)

We didn't spend too much time in town, but even so the first place we stopped was a book/tourist shop to get a map, and lo and behold I saw these on the shelves - 
I travel halfway around the world and I still can't escape the horror... (even seeing this photo makes the annoyance and vomit meter spike) what's a girl to do to?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Best Birthday Ever?

So, even though the previous few days were crazy, Michael actually had a pretty good 31st birthday after 3 WHOLE DAYS of b-day celebrations, ok, maybe not 3 entire days, but 3 days with celebrations involved.
On Tuesday we went to look for guitars, as we wanted to get one for Michael's birthday present. One of Michael's awesome co-workers who plays guitar showed us the places to get them. The first shop was a place where this guy hand-makes all of his own guitars, and they were all really beautiful. We also looked at a music store with Fender brand guitars, but they didn't sound as good as the Vietnamese guitars, but it was pouring rain so we decided to come back the next day to buy the guitar. And when I mean pouring, I mean like someone standing over you with a bucket pouring it on your head kind of pouring - here's a photo of my pants once we got home:
Yeah, only the top 2 inches are dry, it was nuts!

The next day, Wednesday, Michael went back to the guitar shop to pick up the guitar he liked the day before, but on arriving he saw another guitar that he liked also. After a while of playing both guitars, he decided on the new one:

The sound is really good, and it has a really loud volume output, which makes it nice for playing for people. He's as happy as a clam now that he has a guitar.

Wednesday evening after he got home we were invited to dinner at the home of his co-worker, Reuben, who is from Argentina. They are moving to the Philippines in a week so they wanted to use up more of the food they bought for a huge party they had the weekend before, and since it was Michael's birthday they teased that it was all for him. It was really nice to spend time with friends. Xavier and Geraldine came, and Marie, and Charles (both are also French), and we had Reuben and his wife Natty and their cute-as-a-button 2 year old daughter Matilda. Reuben grilled up some chicken on his fancy bbq, and Natty made some amazing potato salad and potato-cheese-thing which I think I remember her saying it was a Torta, but I can't remember. There was SO much food. It was different as they eat really late, it was 9:00 or 9:30PM but they usually eat around 11PM, and they eat a lot of food. But we had lots of fun so what can you say? I enjoyed practicing my Spanish as Natty doesn't speak very much English, and she showed us how Matilda can count to ten in Spanish, English, French, and Vietnamese, so cool!

On Thursday evening we went out to dinner with Michael's Vietnamese designer friends. For special occasions they always go out for seafood, so we did, and it was really good. For photos please refer to Facebook if you can, otherwise I will try to get some pics off of Mike's phone and update them on here later. We ate the standard squid, shrimps, fish, and then had some new dishes like frog legs and stingray. I didn't try the frogs as I think they are cute and can't eat them, but Michael loved it! He said it was the best part of the meal. We also tried the stingray and it was pretty good, like a very mild fish that had a bit firmer texture. The interesting thing about the stingray is that the Vietnamese eat everything - the skin, the meat, and the bones. Michael tried some of the bones and said that they were quite soft, but he didn't like them much. To top the evening off, the designers had a cake made to look like Michael's face! I can't wait to find some photos for you, it was so neat. We had them over to our house for the cake, and it was fun to spend some time with them - even though they don't really like cake much so we had a lot left over. 

On Friday we had planned to have a big party with our English speaking friends, and we ended up representing 4 continents and 6 countries all together, it was really cool. We had Xavier, Geraldine, Marie, and Charles from France, Harot from Holland, Reuben and his family from Argentina, Bernard and Delfin from the Philipines, and Harot's wife Alfa from Malaysia, and then us from the USA. Being abroad sure lets you meet people from all over the world.

For food, I made -
It was so interesting because no one at the party except us had ever had it before, it is a real American food I guess, and the reactions were very mixed. Geraldine wanted me to show her how to make it, some people didn't like it at all and left most in their bowls, and then some people only ate out the beans and left most everything else. It was interesting making the chili as I didn't have the standard seasonings here, but I had found some cumin and some plain chili powder and they even have Tobasco sauce out here, so all together it turned out rather well - but made Michael miss home a bit and his mom's awesome chili.
Other than the chili we had some bread from the bakery, some Nori seaweed flavored Pringles knockoffs (which were kinda weird), brownies a-la Alfa (very tasty), chocolate and coconut flavored ice cream, and Geraldine and Xavier surprised Michael with the most amazing chocolate cheesecake on a brownie crust cake from this amazing French bakery. The chocolate cheesecake had raspberries and passionfruit jelly piped on top, it was delicious!
We had fun just spending time together and people played the Wii a bit, which was fun as even Natty got into playing the games even though she couldn't talk to some of the people she was playing with. At least all of our French friends also speak quite a lot of Spanish so she had people to explain what to do if she got stuck. Wii sports is by far the favorite here, especially tennis.
Whew! Sorry for the long post, after all of these days of celebrating I think Michael was quite satisfied to finally be done with parties and officially be 31. Now we just need to find out how to top this party next year... :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Snakey Sunday Medical Madness AKA Worst Time EVER

Ok, so I've finally gotten time to mention Michael's lovely trip to the hospital. I wanted him to write it but he hasn't had the chance and now it's been 2 weeks since then, so yeah.
Anyhew, I may abbreviate the experience as I would really rather not repeat it, even in memory, so here are the basics (my first draft attempt was a little long, but has a lot more details, if you want to read all of the details let me know and I will send it to you):
- I nap Sunday afternoon, Michael goes to swim with some friends.
- Phone call, he says he picked up a snake and it bit him, he's being taken to the hospital, it didn't seem to have fangs, just a small scratch, but it could be poisonous. He says it looked like a garter snake to him and he didn't think, just acted, but it really had bright colors - thank you color blindness.
- I try not to freak out, I grab oils, paperwork, go get money, go to hospital.
- Friends were amazing, brought us phone charger, food, a Nintendo DS, and a Timmy plushie from Timmy Time.
- Hospital is crazy, 12 beds to a room, hot, just ceiling fans, mosquitoes and bugs, no bathrooms.
- Doc says we have to stay at least 1 night for observation and blood tests, if tests are good we will go from there. Some snake bites have no symptoms for days, then you have brain hemorrhage, so we agree to stay.
- Blood tests take 4 hours to come back, they are fine, have to stay overnight and if they are good in the morning we can go.
- Michael has to pee, nurse gets me a plastic "boy" container from one of the other patients and I hold up a sheet for him. After he's done I have to empty the container in a bucket in the hall, luckily it had been emptied before. At least I didn't have to get a baggie for him and then tie it and throw it away like all of the other families were doing.
- After waiting as long as possible, I asked where the bathroom was. I was shown out to the worst bathroom I've ever seen. Sink broken, water running everywhere, shower with pee-bags in it, no toilet seat, walls moldy, the only blessing was that it flushed - and it was quite the nice blessing.
- It was impossible to sleep. I had a small plastic stool, we used our bags as pillows. Doctor said not to leave your bags unattended because it wasn't safe, people might take them. Time passed slowly, so slowly.
- Blood tests came back ok, thank goodness. The doctor left and didn't come back to let us leave (we waited an hour). Then Michael tried walking out until someone came to take out his IV and we were able to leave.
- A night in the public hospital - roughly 1.2million Vientamese Dong, about $60US, at least it was cheap, but you get what you pay for.
- After we left the hospital, everything was beautiful, even the litter-scattered street shops, anywhere that wasn't the nightmare of where we just left.
- After we got home around 9:00AM or so we showered, I left my shoes to soak in disinfectant, and we went to get Michael's scooter from the resort. After resting and eating some breakfast Michael actually headed into work, and life returned to normal.
I am so grateful for the protection that we were given through this, and for the love of friends. I used my essential oils on everything, we used them to disinfect all of the injection sites on Michael as well as the snake bite, and we also used them to clean our hands and under our noses to help prevent inhaling anything infectious. And I am so grateful that we haven't had any negative repercussions from the visit, no complications, at least that we can tell so far, and we are very thankful. We are very blessed, and I am grateful for what we have back home as far as hospitals go, very very grateful.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The things Michael will eat...

So generally the food here is pretty awesome, we get to eat very yummy things. Like this thing:
I believe this one is called Bun Thit Nuong, it's probably one of our favorite foods to eat. It's rice noodles on a bed of greens (lettuce and herbs), topped with some barbecued meat, some peanut sauce, and some chili sauce. You toss it all together, it usually looks nicer when they bring it to you, and then you eat it. I never thought of combining fresh greens with warm meat and noodles, but it's SO good!

This next dish is called Banh Xeo, which is translated as "pancake" but not the kind you would get in the USA. It's the dish in the biddle, the yellow one, which I thought was kind of an egg omelet thing with shrimp and bean sprouts in the middle, but according to the internet there may not be any eggs in it at all, I don't know. Anyway, here is how you eat it. It is served like above with a plate of fresh herbs (top) and a plate of young papaya shreds, cucumber, and young banana (bottom), and a plate of thin rice paper.
First you take the rice paper, put on a piece of the ban xeo, and top it with some herbs and some of the papaya and cucumber, whatever you like. 

Then you roll it up into a little greasy spring roll thing.

Then you dip it on the sauce, which is a kind of peanut/fish sauce blend of some sort, and you eat!

After Marble Mountain, Michael's co-worker Tra and her friends were kind enough to take us out to visit some English schools to see if I could find a job. Afterward, they took us to eat the dishes on this menu, they are hard to see but it has the names. The Banh Beo is like a warm rice flour pudding dish with some fish sprinkles on top, the flavor all together reminded me of tuna casserole. The Banh Loc was a kind of gummy rice flour dough surrounding a piece of shrimp and cooked in a banana leaf, and the Banh Nam was something like a layer of rice flour dough with fish on top, also steamed in a banana leaf. It was really good, but a very different texture than we are used to back home.
Then, Michael was talking with them about foods he would like to try sometime, and they decided that it was time he tried Hot Vit Long, a fertilized duck egg. As far as I understand it is common food in this area of the world, and they told us that they ear it at night so you don't have to look at it, but it is "very good for your health". I was less than enthusiastic, but Michael really wanted to try it. 

WARNING - the photos are quite graphic, don't go beyond this point if you have a weak stomach!

 Tra and friends took us to a little cafe where they had fertilized quail/pheasant? eggs, so they brought out a little dish of tiny eggs that you could peel yourself and a dish of eggs that had been peeled and cooked with tamarind. They were all really creepy to me. This place didn't have duck eggs so some of the friends when off to get one, and they returned quickly and Michael got to peel his dug egg, which looked GIANT compared to the little quail eggs. The result was this:
 So nasty, can I just tell you? These are all served with salt to help with the flavor, and they also were sure to get him something to drink afterwards. All the while I was trying not to look or lose my dinner we just had. He ate the first half no problem, and then this is what it looked like inside, duh duh dunh!


Yeah, SO GROSS!!! But he actually kind of liked it. He said it was indescribable, as he had never tasted anything like it and so couldn't even start with comparing it to other flavors. He also tried the smaller eggs and liked them too. I am married to a crazy man. At least he's cute :) And he brushes his teeth before kissing me with that mouth!