Last days in Kathmandu

kathmandu sky

A post sunset view of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

I found myself strolling around meeting friends in different parts of Kathmandu valley to say goodbye. When I thought I could navigate myself with the bus and tuk tuk system and walking around without getting lost, I was wrong. This valley still has many corners I’ve never been to. Streets look familiar but still get me lost (and don’t rely on the helpfulness and enthusiasm of Nepali so much as they tend to show you a wrong way unintentionally -> the lesson: asking at least 5 people on the street for direction, haha).

I had a very good “review” of my travel in Nepal when my sister came here to visit me before I go to India. I basically took her to all of my favorites places in Nepal. It’s like reading a summary of a favorite book. All the good (and not so good) memories flashed back as if they just happened the day before and I realized I’d indeed experienced a lot of things in this country, and I’m going to miss it and its people so so so much. And you know what, traveling in Nepal doesn’t feel the same anymore. I didn’t really know where I should take my sister to during her 10 days here. Nepal travel isn’t all about trekking, breathtaking scenic views, or historic temples and ancient towns. Instead, it’s also about the people who smile and help you on the street, and who welcome you in their house with their unimaginable hospitality, and who share with you whatever little things they have. It’s also about changes in your lifestyle and your thinking.

And for the first time in months, I found myself totally relaxed, doing nothing, enjoying my last days in this country : )

Advertisements

How living, working, and traveling in Nepal have changed me

shining stone in Annapurna resizedThese days when I talk to either locals or expats/travelers, some are surprised with the amount of information I have known about Nepal. I’m not so proud of myself since I still have a lot to learn about and immerse myself in Nepali culture. Looking back into the past months, I find myself being a changing/transforming process, in a positive way.

  1. I become more patient

Working with kids needs lots of patience. I struggled at first with my job but now nothing can make me happier than talking to my kids. I often find myself smiling when I look at them. They have a bright future and I wish the education system here (I’d like to discuss about it in another post) will not ruin their imagination and curiosity.

Working with Nepali requires much more patience. Everything here is so bureaucratic and therefore very inefficiently done. I personally think some of my colleagues at work are not very professional and they tend to delay things as much as possible. Fixed schedules are luxurious and holidays are plentiful. It drives me crazy even though I’m quite a laid-back person but when it comes to work, I want things to be done productively. Moreover, some people focus more on the surface and they’d either ignore the core of the problem or delay to solve the problem at all, which can be really frustrating.

  1. I focus on what I am doing, trying my best to fulfill my job and my passion and care less about what other people should do or have to do.

But it doesn’t mean that I totally ignore the work by other people. I do think that a big change needs small changes which involves both collective and individual efforts. However, instead of being too focused on thinking what many others have to  do so that changes can happy and be seen, we should be focused on what we can do. Systematic changes do not only require actions but also a changed mindset which comes first from each individual. Furthermore, the big world out there exists way more people than we thought who share the same view with us and who are basically doing the same thing we’re doing.

  1. I’m more open up to myself and to other people. I become more social. I smile a whole lot more.

Many people including people who met me for the first time complimented on my friendliness. I used to be aloof, and anxious but now I enjoy spending time with people. I had changed a lot even before Nepal but I feel like Nepal is the place to improve my social skills. I’ve met lots of nice and cool people here, both locals and nonlocals and I’m surprised at the number of conversations I have had with them. I get to know things around the world and different cultures in the most basic method  – conversations. Conversations come so naturally and some of them are unforgettably inspiring. Also, I’m amazed at the fact that small talks haven’t occurred in a significant frequency. I always find myself engaging in meaningful and thought-provoking conversations which I enjoy so much and always crave for more.

  1. I’m engaging in a minimalist lifestyle. I appreciate food, water, and (natural) resources. I shop less.

I used to possess many things I don’t need or rarely use. Life is less complicated when you don’t have to worry about what you have to keep or bring or what you own. I try to be a light traveler and minimize my belongings as much as possible.

Food: Many Nepali have told me they’re happy when they see me eating happily Nepali food. I used to be very picky when it comes to food. I still am(I do think I have a refined taste when it comes to food :P) but I appreciate the fact that I have food to eat everyday whereas many kids and people in Nepal die because of starvation. I like Nepali Dal-Bhat (bean or lentil soup & rice – a national Nepali cuisine) a lot and many varieties of tasty Nepali cuisines (and eating alone in a local restaurant/eatery/food stand in Nepal can never be boring as I’m always approached by some local people!).

Water is another thing I come to appreciate. Drinking water is daily delivered to where I live and we also use it to wash vegetables as tap water is only for washing clothes or cleaning. Besides, I come to learn how to shower water-economically since I have to go through a daily long process of boiling water, and then mixing hot water with cold water for a only 15 minute hot shower. I’m still clean, smell good, and happy. :)

Electricity: If you live in a country where power is cut off up to 8-10 hours per day, you’ll learn how to save electricity and get work done on your electronic devices more efficiently. Checking the load-shedding schedule would help a lot in scheduling my own working hours (and shower time!!!).

Gas: Nepal  is always on shortage of gas. Many Nepali families cook with firewood as gas is becoming more and more unaffordable. I don’t cook here

Shopping: I’d never been interested in shopping even before Nepal. It’s tempting to shop when you’re traveling but I don’t go shopping a lot in Nepal except for books and food. I bought some souvenirs for friends and family during the first week here and then I stopped. One of the reasons why shopping in Nepal, especially in Thamel and other tourist areas is not that appealing is that I HAVE TO bargain and I suck at it so much (I’m improving a lot these days though after having overpaid so much!). I prefer shops with fixed price and get what I pay for.

  1. I read more. I write more. I spend less time surfing the internet.

I have bought quite many books since I came to Nepal because books here are so cheap. Since I get addicted to spending time in bookstores, I go to bookstores a lot and thus can’t help buying new books!

I’ve written a lot about Nepal and about my life and adventures here, which I’m going to post on this blog soooooooon! : )

My tablet was broken two weeks after I came here so my laptop basically became a main tool to connect me with the virtual world as I’m not using a smart phone. Weirdly, I don’t feel a need to surf the web as I did before. I do check my emails and sometimes my Facebook which I only use its messenger feature. That’s it! Talking to real people and going out to see the real world are way more interesting, yes? : )

  1. I think simple.

I like talking to simple-minded Nepali whose main concern is about food and living but their mind is very rich and I love their way of viewing the world. It’s so simple and beautiful! They might be not rich but they are the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. I come to believe that our thinking and attitude decide the amount of troubles and worries we get in life.

  1. I become more and more optimistic but also look at things more critically.

Optimism and criticism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other. Many things we see/read/hear should be viewed critically/analytically. What we often do is that we’re pleased with the surface of a thing/phenomenon/problem because looking deeper into something is brain-taxing. I always tell myself not to jump into a conclusion when I see/read/watch/hear a piece of information. Critically looking at a problem does not only provides me a complete view of its but also give insights to other related issues. Optimism gives me ideas of how things can possibly be changed or improved.

8.   I know I’m able to have impacts on other people.

I influence people and in return I also change and get influenced in many possible positive ways. This two-way process is exciting as it feeds my passion and encourages me to continue what I am doing. Moreover, it stimulates my eagerness to learn even more from other people whom I will encounter later during  my journey.

  1. I become more independent and self-confident in many aspects of my life. Enough said : )
  1. I’ve met and found more and more people who are similar to me.

An observation is that the world actually consists of people who have far more similarities rather than differences. Groups, countries, borders, etc. (and our myriads of classifications) emphasize people differences and we are actually more interested in how different someone is from us. Traveling and living in different parts of the world makes me see the world as a harmonious painting of different colors. We regardless of our skin color, race, and cultural background, are actually alike. So why should we focus more on our differences rather than similarities?

I like to see a person as an individual, as who they are rather than as which group they belong to. Everyone of us is unique in different ways and we should appreciate and respect those differences. I’m so glad I’ve found friends here who speak “the same language” as I do, who listen to my stories with a non-judgmental attitude, and who share with me theirs with a welcoming heart.

  1. I regret less. : )
  1. Not sure if this point is relevant but recently many Nepali have told me they thought that I am a Nepali (a Tamang or Rhai – two of many castes in Nepal), haha.

P.S. I’ve just read this article recently and like many other articles on this topic, everything sounds so true :P

Namaste!

candles

It’s been almost two weeks since I first came to Nepal. The country is still fascinating to me and everyday I feel like I’m overwhelmed with an unstoppable flow of information from nice, helpful, and simple-minded people of this country.

A few things I’ve noticed so far in Nepal:

– It’s a poor country. When I talk to the people here I couldn’t figure out why the country is poor when it has these smart, willing-to-learn, hardworking, and curious kids, and adults.

– Social ranking and gender inequality are obvious

– The gap between the rich and the poor is large

– The country doesn’t really have an industry that produces itself necessary products. For example, I went to a supermarket to buy some soaps, towels, and food to realize that most stuff is imported (from Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Philippines, South Korea and of course China).

– Nepali people prefer imported goods and clothes (Western styled clothes) while tourists coming here to buy handmade local products

– Power is cut off for a certain period of time daily

– Sunday is not an off-day

– Public buses are really scary. I mean, really scary, this is the best illustration for how poverty turns human lives into something cheap and invaluable.

– Tap water is nearly lethal and you should always drink bottled water.

– Most streets don’t have street lights.

– Punctuality is not really a thing here. People often delay things.

– People judge you based on your skin color. (So expect to pay more at tourist sites if you don’t have a “common face or skin color”)

– Monks I’ve seen so far seem rich.

– Be prepared to see and move together with humans, cars, rickshaws, bicycles, motorbikes, cows, and dogs on a same narrow dusty street in Nepal.

– Dogs sleep throughout daytime and become active when the night falls.

– The most confusing thing ever: when people turn their head from left to right, it means “yes” or “okay”

Some (big) changes in my daily life since I came here:

– Wake up at 6 am and start a new day at 7 am

– Go to bed before 11 pm

– I have to boil water in order to take a hot/warm shower. And to some who might want to know, I HAVE TO take a shower everyday regardless of the season. To some Nepali, it sounds strange because in this cold weather they just take a shower like 2-3 times per week.

– Eat more beans and potatoes and rice :D

– No more regular/excessive internet usage (no wifi coverage in my room and the internet connection is so bad everywhere…)

Some questions I’m asked almost everyday:

– Are you cold? (When people see me without a thick jacket: no, I’m not. I was also wearing like this during many cold autumns in Holland and felt just fine. My body temperature is higher than most people I guess and I prefer feeling a bit cold to feeling too warm with many layers of clothes, : P)

– Are you from Japan/China/Korea? (and then they’re surprised to know where I’m from. I guess there’re not many Vietnamese people around here)

– What kind of language do you speak in Vietnam? (So many people thought Vietnamese speak Chinese. This isn’t only the case in Nepal but also in other parts of the world where I’ve been to.)

I’m not sure if because of holding no expectations about Nepal before I came here, I find myself amazed at everything about this country. I spend weekdays working and volunteering and weekends traveling, so more updates on my Nepal adventures will be coming soon!

Namaste!

: )

Đà Lạt

Hereunder are some photos I took with my film camera during my last trip to Dalat, a city located in the southern part of Central Highlands region of Vietnam. The city used to be a French playground during the French colonial period in Vietnam thanks to its cool climate. That explains a large number of French architectures in the city. Some people even call it the little Paris of Vietnam even though I’d say the two cities aren’t that comparable : ). It’s a good place for a weekend getaway from Saigon (it often takes 6 hours by bus from Saigon). I’ve witnessed many changes of the city for the past 10 years since the first time I was there. The last time I was there I was kinda afraid that tourism might someday sweep away the pleasant vibe that made me fall in love with the city in the first place but maybe I was just worried for nothing. There’re many hidden charms of this city that have been yet explored : )

dalat skydalat

accident double exposure

A double exposure by accident. I gave my camera to my friend’s uncle and he accidentally rewinded the film.


yxuan huong lakexh lake

 

Andorra and Barcelona

I found some photos of Barcelona and Andorra in a recent developed roll of film. It’s from the roll I thought was lost somewhere in Groningen but it’d been staying in my luggage the whole time.

I didn’t have many photos of the stunningly beautiful views of Pyrenees during my 5-day hike there last summer. If you have to carry a big backpack climbing up and down mountains at least 8 hours per day for several days, the last thing you want to have in your backpack is a heavy but delicate camera. Maybe next time I’ll bring less food (I figured out that when you’re hiking, you have no appetite) and take a weatherproof camera or a GoPro with me instead.

So these rare photos of that summer were taken in the cities – Barcelona and Andorra. I nearly went camera-free even after we’d already come back to the cities. Why? Just because…

What I ate in Taiwan [2]

I mentioned in my previous post about my food adventure in Taiwan that I preferred the taste of Tainan cuisines. It might be a personal preference because my Taiwanese friend Sharon told me most Taipei people think that Southern food is sweeter than it should be. In fact, many well-known Taiwanese cuisines are originated from Tainan. The second day in Tainan, I wasn’t surprised anymore every time Cloris and Sharon told me, “This restaurant is very old, and very famous”. Many famous restaurants in Tainan are old and have been run for more than 3 generations. I appreciate that Taiwanese people try to preserve not only their family business but also the taste of the food. This is the way how well-known restaurants/eateries keep their loyal fans and attract new fans. That’s why when you’re in Tainan and confused about where to eat, you only need to look for places with a long line of waiting people, and you’ll be safe! ; )

First meal in Tainan – rice porridge with milk fish (this fish is very popular in Tainan), sticky rice with braised chicken – this is very good!

Taiwanese udon

Fried-noodle soup with shrimp tempura – REALLY tasty!

Tomatoes with sweet soy sauce – something you must try in Tainan, it tastes “interesting” haha. Sharon said only old Tainan people like this. We had this in the famous Lily fruit store near Confucious temple. We also had tsua-bing (shave-iced) there but it’s not that good compared to other less popular places throughout the city.

Tofu pudding with red beans –  Anping district

Fish soup – I forget what kind of fish it is, lol x D

 

Rice with braised pork and dried fish

Oyster pancake, my favorite!!! Much better than the one I had in Taipei. The oysters are fresh and the sauce is really special!

Rice cake – Before.

After. It’s gone in 2 minutes, haha : D

Fried-fish soup – again, don’t remember the name of the fish xD

Fried chicken – at the same eatery where we ate the fish soup

Matcha ice-cream puff – at a bakery near Tainan university. Don’t eat this alone! Share with someone, or you’ll regret! : D

Stinky tofu – at a night market (night markets in Tainan are set up differently from those in Taipei. In Taipei, night markets cover one or two streets, but in Tainan they’re big outdoor food courts)

Charcoal grilled octopus – at the same night market

Guancai ban (coffin toast) – a popular snack in Tainan. There’re many different kinds of fillings to choose. We had the most simple one with mushrooms, carrots , and chicken in creamy sauce (similar to Alfredo sauce)

Sweet and sour eel noodle – looks ugly but tastes amazing! : P

Smoked eggs

Smoked mushrooms

Smoked tofu. The last night in Tainan, Sharon’s mom prepared a bento with these smoked eggs, mushrooms, and tofu so that I wouldn’t get hungry while waiting at the airport. I wanted to buy some back home but afraid it’s not allowed to bring these onto the airplane because the smell is quite strong.

I also miss the Oolong tea and the winter melon tea with tapioca in Tainan. They’re very good summer drinks. It’s really hot in Tainan when I was there. I’m glad that I made a good decision bringing winter clothes for Taipei and summer clothes for Tainan. In the end of my trip, Sharon and Cloris asked me which dish was my favorite. I couldn’t tell because I liked almost everything (and my mom always says I’m quite a picky eater :P). I don’t remember how many times I had to say, “so good!”, “so yummy!”, “wow!” after I tried a new dish. Some dishes are very similar to Vietnamese cuisines but some are really unique to my taste. Looking at these photos, I just want to go back to Taiwan to… EAT! ; )

What I ate in Taiwan [1]

Months after my Taiwan adventure, I still miss it terribly. I haven’t really looked at all photos I took during my trip until recently. I find it boring to look at the photos right after I took them because my memory was still fresh even one or two following weeks.That’s why I let myself effortlessly wait for the right moment to look into the past events again. Waiting isn’t always bad. My memory is tested. Did I go to the place just to take loads of photos and then forget about it? Who did I meet? How did I feel in a certain moment? I saw many people who take many photos when they travel and they always look like they’re in a hurry. I asked myself if I was the same. That’s why sometimes I just didn’t want to carry my big digital camera with me.

Taiwan is a street-food heaven. I could spend a whole day eating while strolling on streets and alleyways.  Seriously, I still remember when I was in Tainan, the main activity I had was to hop on Sharon’s scooter and we would go from place to place to… eat! Taiwanese people, especially people in the South, really know how to enjoy their life. I find it interesting that they share similar interest with Saigonese: We love to eat and always search for hidden-but-soon-to-be-famous food corners.

The famous stinky tofu ;P – Shilin night market

Taro, sweet potato, and pumpkin rice balls with tofu pudding in sweet ginger soup – Jiufen

“Iron eggs” – Danshui

Preserved fruits – Danshui

Ice-cream, peanut, and cilantro (not in the photo) crepe. Soooo good! – Jiufen

Sea-salt coffee and taro sesame bun – 85°C bakery near Longshan temple. I miss the coffee so bad! I went to this bakery the first time in Irvine, US, that’s why seeing it in Taipei made me all excited.

I still don’t know what it is… Selina also didn’t know (she’s been to Taiwan for 3 times already, lol). It’s like a big dumpling filled with sweet braised pork, the soup is thick, sweet and spicy…

Sushi at a fish market in Taipei – apparently this fish market is only famous to Hongkong tourists, haha :)

Beef udon in a udon restaurant in Taipei city mall (an underground mall)

Taro soft-cream- Hualien city

Tofu pudding, coconut ice with sesame, and tapioca – Hualien city

Railway bento – Hualien train station (I wanted to have the last dinner in Hualien with some new friends but I was late for the train to Kaohsiung so they told me I should instead buy this and eat on the train.)

I realized that Selina was in most of the food photos I took in Taipei (and in most of my Taipei photos, haha ; P). We actually ate a lot in Taipei but I prefer the food in Tainan, which is richer to my taste. I think we tried almost everything at the night markets in Taipei. We didn’t really go to any restaurants for dinner during our stay in Taipei. Night markets fed us well, as they do to many Taiwanese.

Now, I remember a soup and stir fried noodles I had in a small restaurant in the outskirt of Hualien city. I ordered them by chance and they turned out to be good. But I was so hungry that I didn’t take any photos of the food :P (it happened to many other awesome treats we had in Taipei too!). And, yeah, how could I forget my favorite Taiwanese drink – bubble tea? I’m so glad that there’re more and more Taiwanese bubble tea shops here in Saigon but bubble tea in Taiwan is still the best! : )