Thursday, August 23, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

Hi everyone! I apologize that I haven't written since I've been back. I'm home! I started law school a few days after my return and have been super busy ever since. I've been dealing with a fair amount of re-entry culture shock, but overall am doing okay. Its been so lovely to see my friends and family!

I'm actually in I gotta go! I might write again, but chances are...I'll get too busy and forget. Sorry!

Also, a reminder: before I left, my cell phone had some issues and I lost a lot of people's phone numbers. SO if I haven't called you, don't be mad, its probably because I don't have your contact information. Make sure if you call and leave a voicemail to leave your phone number.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Hiroshima & Tokyo

Hi everyone! Yesterday Tonya and I were in Hiroshima for the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing. It was really amazing. It started with a short ceremony that included speeches by Japan's prime minister and the UN Secretary General. We had a really busy day, going from different lectures, readings and activities. It was pretty emotionally and physically draining, but absolutely worth it.

We took the last bullet train into Tokyo and somehow made our way to a small capsule hotel, which was really funny. Nicer than I'd expected, actually. By the way, I've gotten really into Japanese bathing -- its so nice! Very communal, lots of soaking in different types of baths or hot springs. Its really lovely.

Today we're wandering Tokyo. I like the city, its busy and interesting. Tomorrow I fly back home to San Francisco! I can't believe its almost over. This may be my last posting while I'm abroad, but when I get back I'll do another wrapping-things-up posting and upload the nearly 2 gigs of photos to Flickr. No exaggeration.

Until then!

Friday, August 3, 2007


I love Japan! I'm having a lovely time. Tonya and I met in the airport and took a bus to where they live: Takato, in the Nagano prefecture. Their apartment is very cute, and the area just gorgeous. Its in the "Southern Japanese Alps", so there are mountains all around, and a lot of agriculture, mainly fields of rice patties. Yesterday, Tonya went off to work and Brett and I went to explore. He took me to the top of one of the surrounding mountains to see the view. Then we went to a Buddhist temple. I got to ring the gong, it was pretty fun. The temples in this area are interesting, they're just tucked into the forest, one with nature. How zen. Then we had coffee at a shop owned by one of Brett's students, then came home. At 2:00 Brett had to go to work, so then I belonged to Tonya. They had a brief spat over making sure we were back by 8:30 pm, because Tonya got to hang out with me all week, but Brett only gets two days. I love being fought over!! I feel so loved.

Today we're going to a little boy's first birthday party. Its the child of one of Brett and Tonya's close friends. Its going to be a very traditional birthday celebration. The first-year birthday is a big deal, apparently. Should be fun! Tonight, after the party, Tonya and I are getting on a overnight bus to Hiroshima. It will be the anniversary of the bombing. I think it will be an incredible experience.

Japan is so funny! One example: people have stickers, car rearview mirror adornments, everything of the marijuana leaf. But no one knows that its a marijuana leaf. They think its a maple leaf. We went to a store yesterday and there were shelves of pot-related merchandise, including "Herb in the Car" stickers, a pouch that clearly said "Marijuana" and lots of Rastafarian stuff. Its really bizarre! Can you imagine decorating your car with this stuff in the U.S.? It would be like a "Please, please pull me over and search my car, Mr. Policeman" sign.

The food is lovely. Lots of noodles and tofu...I haven't had actual sushi yet, because there will be a ton of it at the party. And I have nearly a week for that. I'm having a great time! This is the perfect ending to my trip.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Airport Layover Hell

Hi everyone -- I'm back at the airport for my loong layover. There was trouble getting a prompt flight to Japan at a reasonable price, so Tonya and I are both getting to know the airport...but unfortunately at different airports in different cities. D'oh! And the computer is set up here so I can't upload pictures, which would have been an excellent use of my time. I'll have to wait until I can use Tonya's computer in Japan. I wish I could share them with you! I've taken so many.

I have 3 minutes of internet left so I'll be quick: my plans are to fly to Tokyo in the early morning hours tomorrow, meet Tonya in the airport and head to her house in Nagano. From there, she has a fun itinerary of parties and cultural events lined up. I'm really excited! Will write more when I get a chance. Love to all.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Hi everyone! Sorry its been a few days since I last wrote, but I have a good excuse! Tonya and I have been on Ha Long Bay, on a renovated junk boat, kayaking, meeting lots of interesting people and drinking perhaps too much local Vietnamese wine. I have a looong layover in the airport tomorrow as I head off for Japan, so I will try to find internet access so I can write something more extensive. But, long story short: having an amazing time, love Vietnam and all is well with me. Plus I'm getting a lovely tan. Write soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Saigon

Yesterday I had no trouble catching the train back to Saigon from Phan Thiet. I waited in the station for about an hour with an adorable family, sharing cookies with the kids. The train wasn't bad at all: the seats recline, plenty of space. I finally got my Vietnam train ride! The views were incredible. We wound through an agricultural belt and I got to see fields of plants growing all those strange (to me) Asian fruits...I never knew what a dragonfruit tree looked like! Everything is so green and lush here. I was definitely the only Westerner on the train, but everyone was super nice to me. We can't understand each other's words, but that's not necessary for friendship, it seems.

I arrived in the Saigon station at about 7pm and got a room in a guesthouse in the backpackers area. Its not nearly as crazy and chaotic as the backpackers zone in Bangkok -- thank god! I went to the airport to pick Tonya up. Its so great to see her!!! I can't believe its been 2 years. I'm so excited. Today we fly to Hanoi and plan to go island hopping in Halong Bay for a few days. I'm really, really enjoying Vietnam.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam is just amazing so far! On my flight to Saigon from Bangkok I sat next to Chou, a Saigon native coming back from visiting a friend in Thailand. We chatted and hit it off -- she's 28, she's also just going back to school after working for a few years, she also likes traveling alone. She offered to take me to the train station on her motorbike. I figured I already trust her more than I would any taxi, so I accepted. The train to Hanoi ended up being sold out for the next two days, so I had to figure out a new game plan. I met Chou's family and some of her friends, one of whom is an American ex-pat named Mike who was a war photographer here in the 60's and 70's. He was excited that my parents had also been here during the war, so he led me on a detailed walking tour of central Saigon, complete with descriptions of how things were, where and what important things happened, etc. I saw where all the journalists used to hang out and drink coffee. And the streets that used to be all seedy bars filled to the brim with GI's are now lined with luxury hotels, department stores, and Gucci shops. It was fascinating. I took lots of pictures.

Chou's family were immediately warm, welcoming and generous. One nice thing about traveling alone as a young woman is that people tend to take you under their wing. They asked a lot about my family and told me that since my parents were so far away, here in Vietnam I was as their daughter. We had dinner, which was a whole fried fish. Head with open mouth and eyes, skin, everything. I was brave and ate it. I'm such a brave vegetarian!

By the end of the evening, it was very clear to me that these were all wonderful, trustworthy people, so when they offered that I could stay in their spare room, I accepted. They all seemed quite worried about me spending money because I'm a "poor student". They wouldn't let me pay for anything, not food, not bottled water during our walk, not our pricey coffee at Rex's. They are so incredibly sweet. And as devout Catholics, they were excited to hear that I'm also from a Catholic family. Melissa left me with two San Francisco shot glasses, I gave them to Chou's family.

Chou and I stayed up late talking and giggling about breakups and relationships. She's in love with an American boy who "doesn't love her". I told her American boys are just trouble.

In the morning, Chou called a resort on the coast a few hours away from Saigon and bargained with the manager to get me a room for one night for less than $10. Chou is very charismatic, so after a few minutes, the manager agreed on an insanely low price and upgraded me to the "VIP Room". Pretty amazing! In the morning, we zipped around Saigon on Chou's motorbike. She said that she doesn't like motorbikes because they are dangerous; if Saigon had a subway, she would never drive. But you'd never guess she was afraid when she's driving around! It was really, really fun. I think Chou is one of the coolest girls I've ever met, in any country.

Chou got me onto the small bus to the coast, giving me a bag full of sweet rice cakes, bread, bottled green tea, and popcorn, in case I got hungry. I thought being in Ho Chi Minh City would be stressful, but thanks to my new Vietnamese best friend, its been one of the easiest parts of my trip!

The bus was interesting. The scenery was lovely, but the girl next to me kept alternating between eating fistfuls of caramel popcorn and vomiting into a (clear) plastic bag. The sight, sound and smell of someone vomiting usually makes me incredibly nauseous, but I was able to tune it out and stare out the window. When I got to the beach town, I bargained with a motorbike taxi to take me the 20 kilometers to the resort, and then we were on our way. I wish I could have taken pictures from the motorbike. We passed lots of animals, small fishing villages, scenic harbors with fishing boats, little boys trying to hunt birds with slingshots. When I got to the resort, it was really nice. My $7 room has not only air-conditioning (already a luxury for me) but my own yard with hot tub, big shower, free soap! I didn't know what to do with myself. I sat there for about 20 minutes deciding what I felt like doing. Luckily, Tonya called to discuss meeting up and Hanoi tickets, and that got me out of my daze.

The resort is nice, but it was quite clear that there was no one who spoke English around for miles and miles. Its sort of a strange feeling. People were very nice, but I felt pretty lonely. The beach was lovely, though. I'm happy that I am meeting up with Tonya tonight.

This morning I got a motorbike taxi back into the larger beach town and bought my train ticket. The train doesn't leave until 2:00 PM and its only 12:30, so I have some time to kill. I figure I'll wander around and find something to eat, then go to the station to read. Tonight I'm picking up Tonya at the airport, and tomorrow morning we head up north to Hanoi. Yaay!