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13.10.2018 (Vietnam pt.1)

My 10 month Chinaverary is approaching and I’ve recently become mindful of the time I’ve spent here thus far. My original intentions were to stay here for a year  to save up money then head off on a solo adventure around South East Asia… lol fat fucking chance that’s going to happen in 2 months.

When I touched down here in January time raced to March before I actually got my first salary, and even then it was a super thin amount due to owing my boss money. It was April before I felt comfortable with living and began to send money home. That lasted a long ass time of approximately 3 months. Solid effort, I know.

It’s just been really difficult in these 10 months to put away anything for my travel intentions… y tho pal? (a question I ask myself several times month)

Flights home to England had to be bought singly and fuck me, they are expensive that way.

My female reproductive system and I have a love hate relationship sometimes, and it decided to fuck with me here in China where you gotta pay for health care. Considering the female reproductive system is ummm pretty bloody important I decided to go to an English-speaking hospital. My bank account wasn’t best pleased.

I quit one of my jobs because they underpaid and overworked me. I then moved onto another job with a higher salary AT THE SAME TIME as moving into a new apartment. (note* you’ve gotta pay 3 months upfront for most places here too).

And then there was paying for Vietnam, which i guess when you think about it kinda does fulfil my travelling intentions.

I bullet pointed the happenings of each day when Spencer and I left for our 10 day holiday because my memory is fucking dreadful. So my trusty iPhone notes will save me from staring blankly at a wall with my mouth wide open and dribble down my chin, ew no that’s gross but you get the idea… mental blocks are my speciality. I’m like a Sim that has its action cancelled and doesn’t know what to do with itself.

I am also The Right Brain (see Bo Burnham’s show “what.”).

Right up until the morning that we set out on our short sweet travelling stint I had no fucking clue where we were really going, what we were doing or when. We were going to Vietnam, visiting 3 places (one of which was by the sea) and were going to catch a tan, that was the extent of my knowledge. For all I knew, Spencer could’ve dragged me on a flight to Vietnam, taken me to the ass end of nowhere and murdered me in the dead of night. 

We had an 8 hour layover in Macau and were ready to set up camp with our bags, some coffee and play several games of cards and Dutch Blitz. Our patience lasted all of 20 minutes before Spencer stared me down and gave me the “I’m going to go crazy in approximately 2 hours and 4 minutes” kind of look, so we necked our coffee and ventured out into China’s triple threat of Paris, Vegas and Portugal. Macau has a collection of incredible hotels like The Venetian and The Parisian which scream “WE DON’T BELONG IN A CHINESE COUNTRY AHHHH” from their Vegas polluted Italian lungs. The Venetian in Macau is owned by the Las Vegas Sands and it quite literally a work of art that transports you to Venice when you step inside, it’s breathtaking. Spencer and I rolled in with clothes that smelt like plane food and flip flops.

Our trip ended after we devoured egg tarts that were advertised by David Beckham on the telly . He flips tables and goes on a serious hunt to find the same egg tart he’d tasted many moons ago in Macau, understandably so though because the tart was amazing. Before this blissful end to our layover I had been the biggest donut ever… I’m saying this as if you didn’t already know that. This sugar glazed fucking donut couldn’t even go 8 hours away from Beijing without messing something up could she?! I couldn’t find my phone. I triple checked the bag, nothing. I retraced all steps I had taken in the previous 20 minutes, nothing. I looked under the benches we sat on, nothing. I skulked back to Spencer with a racing heart, glum face and hands behind my head. A local family were staring at me intensely and whispering to one another. Spencer tried ringing it again and a woman within that crowd shot her arm up into the air with my phone clutched in her hand. How she managed to have it in her possession I’ve no idea! I mean I asked “Wo de Shouji zai nar?” which is “Where was my phone?” but her and her family scurried off with several “bie keqi’s” in response to my a million “xie xie’s!”

When we finally set down in Vietnam it was around 10pm and the only thing on our minds was a comfy bed to get some sleep but of course, 3 people in our 18 bed dorm were comparing “gap yar” and travelling stories about the places they’d been. One of them seemed a bit too eager to get drunk (almost as if he’d only been drunk once before in his life), no one else really complied.

Our next day had a fixed beginning (a Vietnamese cooking class) and a fixed ending (the overnight train to Sapa) everything else in between was to be decided as we went along. Or at least that’s what I thought but knowing Spencer she probably had every step we took correlated with the second in the day written down in her diary. She is The Left Brain (see Bo Burnham’s show “what.”). Cooking Class was scheduled for 9:30 but when we got there at 9:20 the woman at reception had told us the group had already left which was really weird until we approached a small group of old German couples in the market. Old people… they’re like reserved taxis that show up half an hour before you booked it for and call you saying “I’m here, you ready?” like come on Deborah be a daredevil and show up a minute late.

The two men that were leading the cooking class looked as though we’d restored the life inside of them when we showed up, we exchanged introductions and then proceeded to get the lowdown of each stall we passed by. There were baskets and boxes holding  a rainbow of colour disguised as fruit and vegetables; great big pans side by side with thick layers of seeds, nuts and grains; there were bowls of eggs in a variety of sizes and colours laid by a several different birds, some eggs are sold with the bird foetus still inside (these feel warmer). As with many Asian markets there are things there that had me turn away and squeeze my eyes shut because it got too much. I’ll save you the morbid description but at least you knew you were eating fresh. The sound hitting my ears was busy, as was the things, people and motorbikes that emitted them. Yeah, I said motorbikes because a road divides the stalls up that people can drive down with their arms outstretched and purchase what they needs, no fucking around.

When we arrived back to the kitchen of the cooking class, around 10 am, we were told that there would be free flow of drinks right up until we finished eating what we were about to make, so without a doubt Spencer and I immediately asked for wine. I realised quite quickly into the class that I was better at drinking the wine (and cracking eggs) than doing any food related prep at all which became the running joke throughout the 4 hours. It also didn’t help my case that Spencer diced absolutely everything into minuscule pieces and received praise for it. The dishes we made were classic menu items of Vietnamese Street Food which is mostly eaten hunched over on tiny plastic chairs on pavements full of people. 

 We made pho bo (beef noodle soup – also pho is pronounced with the “uh” sound), bun cha (BBQ pork with rice noodles), nem ran (fried spring rolls) and nom du du (green pawpaw salad)**.  I don’t wanna be that prick that goes to a cooking class and ranks everyone else’s effort but Spencer and I did a sick job, we’d have gotten the Ramsey approval. 

Our second port of call was getting Spencer to a Starbucks so she could drown herself in a venti chai latte – she was having withdrawals and China’s Starbucks sucks. Prior to arriving at the cooking class Spencer had noticed there was a feature on Grab (Vietnam’s DiDi/Uber) called Grab bike and it’s EXACTLY what you think it is. You order a grab bike and a couple minutes later a guy in a green jacket and a matching helmet zooms around the corner, parks up next to you and hands you a second helmet. Weaving in and out of hundreds of other motorbikes with Spencer alongside was one of the best things we discovered all holiday, why the fuck does DiDi not have this option yet? Come on, China. When we dismounted the bikes and handed the helmets back I looked at Spencer in absolute joy and the voice inside my head screamed “LET’S DO THAT AGAIN” just like Donkey from Shrek.

It took every ounce of my being not to scream “JUST A SMALL GIRL […] SHE TOOK THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN GOING ANYWHERE” when I stepped foot on the overnight train to Sapa. The train was 8 hours of rocking, swaying and clunking along tracks that journey through narrow streets and valleys in the dead dark night. I only caught little glimpses of the landscape outside the window when my eyes fluttered into consciousness.

Sapa is a small northern town located in the mountains, making it very fucking cold and guess what we didn’t do… pack warm bloody clothing. We weren’t staying in Sapa though, instead we were in a small homestay in the heart of a valley engulfed in rice fields and winding roads. We took a taxi down and the further we drove the quieter our surroundings got. I just knew that these 3 days would be so blissfully lazy and I was not going to feel guilty about it.

Joy House is a small adorable house constructed out of polished wood and bamboo, inside there are just thin wooden walls that section off of each bedroom but none that separate the kitchen and dining room. The upstairs is shaped like a horseshoe from which you can nosey at the table below and is incredibly creaky, even just the lightest footstep could be heard by Spencer and I below. Just outside is a concrete porch lined with 3 benches, tables and canopies all holding the same wooden theme that look onto a hill full of deep green trees. I sat here for the majority of our stay eating pancakes, drinking coffee and reading Harry Potter. It was the kind of peaceful that made you inhale deeply and exhale with a grateful smile.

The fields and neighbouring houses didn’t have tall fences or foliage walls separating one property from the other it was just a huge open terrain that invited anyone and anything to roam free. THERE WERE SO MANY BLOODY ANIMALS THAT JUST STROLLED RIGHT IN FRONT OF US WITH SO MUCH CHILL. My squeals of joy broke the silence in the valley everytime a new group of animals came by. There was/were:

A gecko lizard thing sat by my feet until I shat myself and scared it off.

Anorexic looking chickens with long skinny legs caused havoc whilst looking for food (note* they looked like they needed arms).

A grunty mother pig and her excitable piglets.

A huge water buffalo that grazed her way across the field with her calf closely by her side.

Several wild dogs that briskly made their way across the valley using their sniffly noses. At one point a mother and 3 of her teeny pups came by and perched by our feet so we fed them some of our pancakes, they tackled each other to get a nibble it was ADORABLE.

A group of goats with bells around their necks, FUCKING BELLS. We heard them before we saw them but when they came into view I melted to the floor.

There were also so many fucking bugs, insects and monsters that could fly. One of these monstrous things, spotted by Dominik flailing around on it’s back, the closer we got we realised it was a fuck off huge beetle. When we were crouched down inspecting this thing it flipped itself round and took off in flight directly for our heads, IT FUCKING FLEW. The sound that came out of Dominik and Thomas’s mouths was that of pure terror, Spencer and I barrelled over in laughter. The poor beetle looked pretty deluded because it struggled to find a way outside and just kept smashing into walls. When it landed Thomas shuffled over with chopsticks, carefully grasped it between them and carried it outside like a BOSS.

Dominik and Thomas are two Austrian guys that were also staying at Joy House for a couple of nights. We got chatting to each other over fried spring rolls and beer for $1 – coffee, water and coke were also $1 but why have any of those when you can get drunk in the for the same price? The first beer was quickly followed by a second, third, fourth and then fifth with the help of drinking Dutch Blitz and some kind of Electricity/Stop the Bus game that Dom showed us. Fortunately for Spencer and I we didn’t suck at either of these so didn’t have to drink as quick as Tom – poor guy was fucking terrible at every game we played.

Now, I know for a fact that this is going to be read by Dom lol which makes me feel a little sick, but I can’t deprive you of those cringy stories I often write about. I am a tragic 14 year old girl living in a 22 year old’s body okay. Long story short Dom is fit as fuck and became even more attractive when he started talking about D&B, bassline and techno. It was at this moment that Spencer just knew. As the night pressed on and we all got a little tipsier there seemed to have been a couple of glances that turned into prolonged eye contact (“PROLONGED EYE CONTACT” – see Bo Burnham’s show “What.”), but I kinda chewed my lip to hide a smirk and looked away quickly, tragic. We could hear how loud we were getting for every bevvy we had making us feel kinda guilty for the other guest and the host family, so we went into the dead of night and perked our asses on the benches.

It was around 1am and the sky was illuminated with stars and what were tall dark green trees on the hill looked like a black oblivion, the only thing keep it from being haunting was the chirpsing of insects.  We all sat around chatting for while until Tom headed for bed and shortly after Spencer slowly stalked away and gave me the “eyes”. Annnnd well yep. Tipsy drunk humans X wooden benches = two other friends who gave us all-knowing smirks the next morning. Noice.

At the foot of our homestay hill was a river 6 metres wide that runs towards the dam we can see from afar, on it’s journey it passes by a small yet gorgeous waterfall that looked incredibly invited to swim in. Spencer, the guys and I made our way down to the pool to do exactly that. Just like the day before we were stopped every 2 minutes by the locals saying “you buy something from me?” as they shoved all sorts of vibrant handmade things in our faces. They super sneaky at making sales pitches – the day we arrived we wanted to climb the hill to the top of the waterfall, several women and children followed and helped us all the way up. When we got back to the bottom they had taken out their products and were harassing us to buy something… “but I helped you!”

Back to the swimming. Tom was the first to strip down and plummet into the waterfall’s pool and by the look on his face it was fucking freezing. His expression was not wrong, my nipples were very cold but it was amazing (the experience, not the cold nipples). We swam around for a little bit and gathered quite the local crowd at the edge of the water who were waiting to shove yet MORE things in our faces to buy. Their attention was soon taken away from us when other foreigners stopped by to admire the waterfall. I won’t lie their work is amazing and we did end up buy from a few women and a couple of young children. Children, especially young girls are born into this work ethic and just as pushy about getting sales than the elder women. We asked our taxi driver about the young girls and he told us that many females bare children as young as 13/14 and are usually married by 18. The woman who cooked for us at the homestay was just 20 years old and had 2 children of 4 and 2.

There is SO much more to write about but your eyes are probably getting tired, I’ll stop for now and write up more very soon.

JMW x

**If anyone wants the recipes for what we had at the cooking class, hit me up.

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