A Travellerspoint blog

Putting my credit card away!

86 °F

I am hoping that if I make this announcement official (with all of you as my witnesses), I will stick to my word. As of tonight, I am putting my credit card away. That means no more clothing purchases for me, even if they will be perfectly fitting and reasonably priced pieces. It is just so hard to say no to it all, but I know I must!!

I wouldn't say I am a huge shopper in comparison to most girls. There are definitely things that I love (shoes!) and have a weakness for (skirts!), but most of the stuff I buy in the States serves a purpose (sadly, for work...). This city, however, just makes you want to buy stuff. The streets are lined with tailor shops. They have hundreds of fabrics to choose from, tons of catalogs to peruse, and of course all of the mannequins with adorable jackets, skirts, dresses, pants, suits, etc etc etc. I came here looking for a few cute dresses for the several weddings we have in the next few months. I figured I may also have a few skirts made because why not. It's very reasonable to shop here, and it's just really hard to resist the temptation. You can walk into any shop, point at a picture or sketch something on paper, and they will make it for you. You pick the colors, fabric, length, style. They take a billion measurements, and a half a day later you come back to try it on. They mark it up if they want to take it in/out anywhere, and then a few hours later - TA DA, beautiful clothing that you picked out. It's all made at a very afforable price. You can get dirt cheap stuff (shirts made for $10) but you pay for the quality of the material and work. We obviously opted for better quality and for the most part paid comparable to what we may pay in the States (or a few bucks cheaper), but seriously got it to fit perfectly for our bodies. We went to three places that were highly recommended by people we knew (our Canadian friends, our bike tour guide, and our hotel's clothing shop which was high end but we got a 20% discount to make it more affordable).

Conrad turned out to be quite the shopper. I think it was a bit of peer pressure from our Canadian friends who spent all week here and spent $800 each on suits, tuxedos, pants and shirts. Conrad had 4 pair of pants made (2 really nice dress pants, 2 more everyday work pants of great material) and a classic tux. I think he maybe spent $380 on all of that.

I think I am leaving with 6 dresses (all about knee length, 3 are fancy, 1 is casual, and the rest somewhere in between), 3 pair of pants (2 pair of dress pants, 1 pair of linen pants), 5 nice tops/blouses, 1 going out shirt, and 3 skirts (2 more professional tweed ones, 1 casual and fun), and 1 adorable jacket. NO SHOES, although they are also custom made and all over the city. I just resisted the urge! I think I spent just under $300 in total.

My advice for y'all, if you come to Vietnam:
1. Go to Hoi An for a relaxing, fun time and bring an EXTRA bag for all of the stuff you will buy (no idea how we are gonna get it all on the train tomorrow...)
2. Don't go to the tailor shops too tipsy because you will likely buy 2-3x more than you planned on...it's just too easy!

Posted by Kellrad 00:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An

90 °F

So we were originally going to head back to Vinh late tonight or early tomorrow morning, but because some of the trains were sold out and we have a teleconference with the director of our project tomorrow morning, we will be heading back to Vinh tomorrow afternoon.
Today we spent the morning walking around Hoi An. Kelli went to try on some of the things she got yesterday and I got a few pairs of pants made. We met up with our Canadian buddies for an incredible lunch at Morning Glory. I had an excellent fish stew and Kelli had an amazing dish of fried fish with a delicious mango salad. We headed back to the hotel to swim in the pool and read. We will be riding bikes back to try on some of the clothes we ordered before going back to the Sleepy Gecko Bar for drinks to catch the sunset then back in town for some local food before we finish up all of our fittings for our clothes.
We are excited to get back to Vinh as we will be working in the schools on an asthma project and also working in infection control. Plus we have some great topics to talk about for our English classes.

Conrad

Posted by Kellrad 15:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, my favorite place in Vietnam so far

93 °F

Oh Hoi An, how I love thee. Why our readers may ask...well let me count the ways:

1. It's a very pretty city with a river in the middle and a nice beach 5km away from city center (I love cities with a nearby body of water)
2. Even though Hoi An is a tourist-focused city, people seem genuine and want you just to enjoy your time here
3. The food is absolutely delicious (I had the most fantastic mackeral covered with a spicy mango salsa for lunch)
4. There are few taxis (and they don't drive into the old part of the city) and even fewer horn honking (unlike the rest of Vietnam)
5. It's very manageable for visitors to explore by foot or bike
6. Thanks to our Canadian friends, we found an amazing tailor, named Trang, who has made us over 20 perfectly fitting pieces of clothing in the last 24 hrs
7. The weather is ideal - hot but with a nice breeze
8. Our hotel has an amazing breakfast buffet (omelettes and banana pancakes to order)
9. There are plenty of delicious cocktails to help cool me down after a hot day out in the sun
10. Their regional brew, Biere LaRue, is actually quite tasty

Let me just add, we were not heartbroken to hear that all of the trains we wanted today were sold out! Alas, another day in this beautiful city...what ever shall we do?!

-Kelli

Posted by Kellrad 18:28 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

An Amazing Day

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...

sunny

Well I didn't think our trip to Hanoi could be topped. Silly me.
There are days in our lives, good and bad, that will always be remembered. Yesterday was an amazing day...
The day before leaving Vinh we got an email from the Canadian guys (now joined by one of their girlfriends) saying that they had signed us up for an all day bike tour that ended with an all you can eat BBQ. We arrived into DaNang at about 430am on Sat and took a car about 45 minutes in Hoi An, checked into our hotel and grabbed a couple hours of sleep. At 830 we got picked up and headed to the starting point of the tour. The guy running the tours is a 50 or 60 something Brit who came to Vietnam, found a wife, and opened a bar, the Sleepy Gecko.
As a side hibby he has spent time mapping the area, and with his local connections he decided to start offering "off the beaten track" bike tours.

So we left the hotel, crossed a bridge back into the busy market section of Hoi An and managed to make it to our ferry with only Kelli rear ending a local moto when they suddenly stopped. But we boarded the ferry, an old wooden boat that is packed down with locals and their motos as they go back and forth from the many islands in the area. After a 15 minute ferry ride with beautiful views of an incredibly lively downtown Hoi An, we arrived at a much quieter island and got back on our bikes. We stopped at a woodworking school, where they make some absolutely exquisite pieces with incredible mother of pearl inlay, all of it by hand using ancient tools and old donated saws. Some truly amazing handiwork.
We continued biking through perfectly green rice paddies, getting a quick lesson in growing rice. Also passed peanut and sweet potato fields (saw one sweet potato that was close to 24 inches). We stopped at a cemetery with graves of people killed in the Vietnam War.
The people absolutely worship the dead. In every home there is an altar dedicated to ancestors that have passed on. They light incense, pray and leave offerings of wine, and burn fake money at these altars everyday. They also bury many of their dead near the rice paddies with the thought that their souls will enter their food and in that way they will have their souls inside of them. According to our guide (a hilariously sharp tongued Brit), the Vietnamese have recovered about 10-15% of the people (soldiers and citizens) lost in the war. A fact that is troubling to a people who so revere those who came before them.
After giving some high fives to local school kids brave enough to offer their hands (the people are as shy as they are friendly) we continued on biking through small towns and farms.
We stopped at the local shipmaking facility. An amazing display of ingenuity and engineering. They make ocean going vessels here out of wood with absolutley no plans. All in 10 months. They float massive logs down the river, haul them out using a winch, cut them as needed and then use fire to curve and twist the wood into the shapes they need all by sight, no fancy computers to help with measurements. An amazing sight. We then shared rice wine with a local family. The custom is to drink the entire bottle as offered to you so as not to insult the family, so 4 or 5 shots each later, we stumbled back to our bikes and carried on.
We stopped again in a town where the reed mats used to sleep on and sell in tourist shops are made. Families here make about 20,000 dong (a little over $1) for each mat made. These mats are sold in tourist shops for at least 70,000 dong. We ate some snails, the local delicacy, and tried our hand at helping to weave these mats.
The towns we visited are true communities. The town that makes mats, each family has its own task (cutting the reeds, dying the reeds, weaving the mats, finishing the mats) and they all share in the profits. It is the same with farming. While most of the tracts are ancestral and handed down over centuries, the tracts are shared among the families so that no one family is stuck with poor land. They grow rice, sweet potatoes, papaya, avocados, cashews, star fruit, on and on. They share the profits from the sale of their harvest. On this level, it makes this form of government and these communist ideals quite appealing to be frank. The only thing these people don't have is money, but they have a purpose, they have a community, they have laughter and most importantly they have family and friends. They work tirelessly. On a larger scale, as evidenced by the poor infrastructure and support given to our hospital, I certainly have a dislike for how many things here are done and am appreciative for what we have back home. But I digress...
After leaving the matmaking family, we stopped for lunch at a floating restaurant. had some excellent fried rice, steaming hot fish soup, and massive shrimp. We downed about 8 large local beers and carried on. In the afternoon we visited fish and shrimp farms with interesting and simple traps. Then we rode over a 400 meter long rickety old toll bridge made out of bamboo.
Our next stop was our guide's wife's family property. Took a quick tour of the farm and then carried on arriving at a port where we got back on a ferry to ride back to the main island. Rode for 30 minutes past some pretty ornate houses on the water. Tourism has boomed here and property values have shot up tremendously so many families have sold off land they own and built fancy houses with their new fortunes.
We made it back to the bar, exhausted and sweaty, had cool refreshing showers and started drinking Biere Larue and playing pool while the BBQ was cooked. Ate some amazing BBQ chicken, ribs and pork with potato salad that had massive chunks of potatoes and an excellent fresh salad. Carried on with the bieres and white russians and then the 5 of us headed into town to check out the local fabric markets. We left the 2 girls to do some shopping and I went with the guys to another shop where I was fitted for what seems to be an great quality simple basic tuxedo for 200 bucks.
We then headed back to our hotel and passed out. Truly an incredible day. We hope to have pictures up in the next day or two.
-Conrad

Posted by Kellrad 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

A "sterile" procedure at the hospital

84 °F

As ever less developed country does, Vietnam makes do with what they have. In the hospital, the doctors give the best medicine they can with the resources they have.

Yesterday, I witnessed my first "sterile" procedure. We were giving a 29 week old premature baby some surfactant because it had been in respiratory distress for a few days. Very cute and tiny baby that is doing alot better now. Anyway, I watched the nurses spend 20 mins making the field sterile for the doctors to work in. First they took the baby's shirt and flipped it inside out (so the pee, poo, and spit up wouldnt be readily assessible for contamination). Then they changed the undersheet on the crib and flipped the swaddling towel upside down. Right. For those who have no idea what I am saying, they basically took all the contaminated materials and just moved them away from the baby's face (where they were going to work for this procedure), which is great, but by all means, not very clean. In the US, new cloths would be used. They washed the baby's face with two alcohol covered cotton swabs. then they took one of the oversized diapers (in our hospital it appears there is only a one-size fits all diaper that all premies and full grown babies use alike, its funny to see sometimes) and used it to pin down the arms of the baby, so it couldnt grab at any of the tubes. Very clever. They did a great job keeping all the tubing sterile. The doctor scrubbed in with two cotton ball covered in alcohol (one cotton ball per hand...), then put gloves on. Then we watched the procedure. Conrad spent a month in the NICU so he had seen surfactant replacement before, but I had not. It was nothing spectacular, looked like an intubation with some repositioning, but it was just great to see a procedure done here. We missed yet another two exchange transfusions because they were at night and we had a busy dinner schedule this week.

All in all, I would say again that the hospital is doing they best they can with what they have. It could certainly be done a lot cleaner or more sterile, but they just dont have the resources to change sheets and clothes all the time. I will give another assessment on sterility after our week on the infection control/disease service.

Posted by Kellrad 01:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

A Typical Day

90 °F

I don't think we have posted what our usual work day is like here in Vinh.
We are up by 7 and head out the door of our hotel by about 730 for the 10 minute walk to our hospital. Along the way we stop at a cart on the side of a roda manned by a lady who gets very excited to see us coming. Depending on how hungry we are, we get 2 or 3 small baguettes for 3,000 or 4,500 Dong. We eat these on our walk and drink something called Vinamilk, the orange variety of which tastes part dreamscicle and part orange julius. We are at the hospital by 8am and we meet Nga, the head nurse, in the neonatal department. We see a few patients there with her and then she takes us to either the ER/PICU, cardiology, or respiratory departments where we round on patients with the doctors. They take us to interesting patients, have us examine them, ask us the English terms for certain exam findings and diseases and then ask us what we think is wrong with the patient. This will last until 11 when practically the entire hospital (and town for that matter) shuts down for lunch.
We usually eat at the hospital cafeteria which is quite good or we stop at a roadside place on our way back to the hotel. We read/take naps/prepare English lessons until 130 or 2 before heading back to the hospital. We round on more patients and then teach our English lesson (today we talked about neonatal sepsis) at 3. Then we head back home for the night if there is nothing else going on in the hospital.
The english lessons are a little bit of work but I certainly enjoy them. Being the good Yankee that she is, Kelli tends to speak quite fast so I am constantly whispering to slow down. The doctors really seem to enjoy them and work hard at practicing their English. The staring from the locals continues even during the lessons as we often get a crowd outside peering through the windows.
Definitely feeling much more comfortable in Vinh...Yesterday we stopped to buy oranges and more Vinamilk. I went for the oranges and Kelli for the drinks which are often stacked quite high and precariously at these stores. I look up to see a stack of drinks swaying back and forth and Kelli looking quite shocked and grabbing for falling drinks as several fell to the ground around her. As if we needed more reasons to be laughed at. Good times...
It has been hot the last 2 days. Not much humidity but into the 90s. We are headed to the beack this weekend to cool off.

Posted by Kellrad 01:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Kelli's update

Sure it's on the both of us but from my perspective

93 °F

First and foremost, I must defend my bag!! That one time I asked Conrad to put my shirt or pants in his bag, it was out of pure laziness because I just closed mine up and found something ont he floor. it was not because I didnt have room! His was just still open! I even told him that I could fit it, so this did not mean his bag was superior, but that boy has a mind of his own - as you know! Also, the reason we take his bag for our weekend trips is because he is much better than I, and he empties his bag frequently (and hangs his clothes in the closet). I just live out of my suitcase cause again I am being lazy. Since my bag is usually half full of my stuff, its easier to pack an empty bag than unpack mine and repack mine. So there's my defense. I stil love my bag and will be thinking of how much I love the bag this Valentine's Day!

Also, in retort to Conrad's jab at me coming to Asia just to have clothes made. Again not true, but since this city we are visiting is famous for its talented tailors, then I figure I may as well try them out...The real reason why Conrad isn't going to have any clothes made is because he only wears his beloved Patagonia (and Orvis) or anything that is quick wash & drying (like his special $25/pair underwear) - at least on this trip!

As for other updates: our asthma project is back on track. We are heading to the schools next week, which should be a great experience. Conrad and I are interested to see how many kids are in the schools because it seems like to us the kids are always in internet cafes, biking, or playing soccer. Anyway, we are really looking forward to doing our environmental health surveys and asthma checks for the kids in the schools.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you know that in the spirit of Mardi Gras season (which Conrad and I are missing terribly), Conrad is using his liver to its fullest here in Vietnam. When not drinking bia hoi on the weekends, Conrad is downing shots (well, half shots) of liquor now on a nightly basis. He is not a lush, but he is just being the perfect dinner guest. The last two nights we were invited to the houses of one of the cardiologists and the hospitals head nurse. We enjoyed some excellent food and got to learn and see more of true Vietnamese culture. Apparently it is tradition before dinner for the host and guests to share shots of liquor. At the cardiologists house, we drank St Remy Napoleon by the shot. Being a girl, I got offered one welcome shot followed by some Birds Nest wine (yes, it really had pieces of nest floating in it...) and Vietnamese beer with dinner. Conrad, being one of the guys, probably downed 7-8 vietnamese shots (half the size of American shots) of brandy. He also got to enjoy 2 beers with dinner. Last night was quite similar. We had a delicious dinner and were offered a welcome shot of "wine." This wine turned out to be Vietnamese Vodka. Because I have been in GI distress the last day and a half (thanks to a delicious unripened mango from the street), I passed on all alcohol. Conrad "enjoyed" i think 2 shots of Vodka (he actually HATES vodka because of a high school experience...) and ended the meal with a "100%" chug session of beer with our head nurse, Nga's, husband.

P.S. It's dang hot here. Has been the last two days, but since the bedroom has only a fan (no A/C), my sleep has been minimal...

Posted by Kellrad 01:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Posting Comments Reminder

Update on the bags

-Just as a reminder, you can post comments without having to create your own log-in name. Just use the following information:
log-in: vietnam09
password: vietnam09

-Also, both of our bags are holding up well; however, Kelli did ask me to put something of hers in my bag when we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh. Also, on our trip to Hanoi last weekend, we only packed one bag (mine) and this week on our way to Ha Noi we are only taking mine again. You be the judge...

-We are leaving this afternoon by train for DaNang where we will have a short car ride to Ha Noi. Weare meeting up with the Canadian dudes we met last weekend and will be taking a bike tour on Saturday through rice paddies and then having a BBQ on the beach. Also will be having some clothes made, well Kelli will be at least. I certainly didn't come halfway across the world to shop

Posted by Kellrad 19:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Old stethoscopes wanted

73 °F

At the suggestion of Project Vietnam, Conrad and I brought about ten medical books to donate to the hospital. The doctors and nurses were all very happy to have these as gifts. We are of course glad to help them in any way we can. We also brought a bunch of trinkets, toys and mardi gras beads for the kids.

What we have realized they need and want the most, however, are stethoscopes. Conrad and I have each been asked to leave our stethoscope 3 times by various nurses and doctors. Each department here has 3-5 cheap, simple stethoscopes (would cost no more than $10-15 in the states). Even the cardiologists use these ones to listen to their murmurs. One doctor and nurse asked us to leave our stethoscopes because they are so poor and we are much richer than they are. Heartbreaking to hear them (well educated and better off Vietnamese people) tell us this. Anyway, after the last request to have my stethoscope, I have decided I will be starting a stethoscope drive for old, used stethoscopes. So...if you know anyone who has a few and maybe could do without one of them, please let me know. I am going to write to 3M (Littman) to see if they have any old demo stethoscopes they could donate too. They dont need much, but anything with a bell that doesn't fall off would do just fine.

Let me know if any of you have any suggestions. Thanks!

Posted by Kellrad 21:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Singing

73 °F

So tonight we will make our karaoking debut with the doctors and nurses at the hospital...karaoking is a national past time in Vietnam, and we have been avoiding it as long as possible (well for the whole first week). As Cornad already mentioned in his HaLong Bay post, we had several beers while on the junk in Halong bay and ended up karaoking that night. Well, Conrad sang a word or two then ran away. Anyway, that was different. We didnt know any of those people and may likely never see them again.

Tonight we are karaoking with several doctors and nurses, people we will continue to see daily for the next few weeks. They have already asked us to sing for them multiple times (at one of the nurse's engagement party yesterday and they want us to sing on Feb 27th for the Health Professionals Holiday Celebration) but because I am half tone deaf and Conrad is far too shy, we have refused. So, if any of you have any suggestions of songs to sing for them at karaoking tonight or a song we can sing at this Health Professionals day, please let us know...something easy, lighthearted and fun.

Suggestions wanted.

Camille, my goal is to be a better karaoker by the time your wedding reception rolls around!

Posted by Kellrad 20:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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