hanoi

POSTCARD from HANOI

FullSizeRender.jpg

 "Life is the road. Love is the goal."

Spotted on the highway near the Old Quarter in Hanoi. A nice reminder to slow down and trust in the flow of life, to recognize that love is a direction not a destination.

This trip I experienced some exciting highs like discovering this creative spin on a traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dress at Chula Fashion House and also some lows like crashing/burning from exhaustion and landing myself in the doctors office with 7 prescriptions.

But all in all what threads this journey together is a return to self-love. So much to learn! Every time I think I've made some progress, BAM, restart, life shows me that I'm a humble student that's only just begun. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

LESSONS & DISCOVERIES:

Bustling with motorbikes. Breaking into new art forms. Brimming with market potential.

Hanoi is a city in motion.

IMG_4219.PNG

Where there is chaos there is creativity, I discovered the visionary work of Diego Cortizas and wife, Laura Fontan @ Chula Fashion House. Chula is a social enterprise that weaves JOY into wearable art. Each design is first created by Diego and then local Vietnamese artisans with disabilities have the creative freedom to add their flair so that each piece is unique.

https://chulafashion.com/

FullSizeRender.jpg

Abstract met alternate reality in the solo exhibition of renowned artist, Duong Truy Duong. Inspired by the book Immortality by Milan Kundera, Duong's show, POST AGNES, follows the protagonist, Agnes as she tries to escape reality desiring to experience a new world beyond this universe.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Duong, like Agnes, also wonders if this is a beginning of a new world? What's behind the creation of the universe? Is the creation of the new world different from the shape of Jesus and Mary in the New Testament? Duong explores these questions in 15 pieces exploring light and dark, creation and destruction, mother and child.

https://hanoigrapevine.com/2017/07/solo-exhibition-post-agnes-duong-thuy-duong/

FullSizeRender.jpg

My final lesson came from observing the experimental educational ecosystem of I Can Read Hanoi (ICR), an English learning center in Vietnam. As a Culture Consultant, I have the privilege of seeing "behind closed doors" the in's & out's of organizations. These org's courageously "open the kimono" at the risk of being exposed and fully seen. While no organization is perfect, it's the ones who are willing and open to change who will ultimately grow the most. ICR did just that.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I took a week long deep dive into their org, interviewing various members of their team, attending tactical meetings, and even joining in on their staff pool party. What I found most remarkable about this group is their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure I had a positive experience and stay in Hanoi. I was really WOWed by their dedication to WOW.

IMG_4135.JPG

I have so much more to say but for now I'll wrap it up with "Cám Ón!" Vietnamese for, THANK YOU. This leg of the journey has taught me many things and forced me to come back to center. And while I won't miss the relentless horn-honking bustle of city life, I'll certainly miss the colorful people and treasures I found. 

With gratitude,

Kelsey Lotus

FullSizeRender.jpg

GENERAL BLISSREGARD: VIETNAM

The only way to tell the adventurous tale of Vietnam is through food. In Vietnam, every region has it's own dish and every dish has a story. For the Vietnamese, eating is more than curbing hunger; it’s a way of life.  Instead of “Hi, how are you?" locals greet each other with, "Ăn cơm chưa”, or “Hey, have you eaten?”

My travel companion and SEAsia Sista, Vickie’s Mom grew up in Saigon and she gave us an epic list of must-try regional dishes. We started our travels in the city of Hanoi where we were transfixed by “Bún chả”, grilled pork (chả) over white rice noodle (bún) with herbs, fresh greens, and dipping sauce.

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

In Hanoi, we also enjoyed miến lươn (eel noodle soup) with miến (cellophane noodles), fried lươn (eels), fried shallots, bean sprouts and Vietnamese cilantro with tasty donuts.

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

From there we toured Cat Ba Island. Largely untouched and wild as ever, Cat Ba Island is a true jungle gem. Right alongside one of UNESCO's New 7 Wonders of the World, Halong Bay, Vickie and I found ourselves kayaking, exploring, and discovering Cat Ba in nearly complete solitude. 

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

SEAsia Sista's top three dishes in Cat Ba Island:

1.) Seaside feast with the most gracious Vietnamese family.

The Captain caught a fish while we were kayaking and his wife cooked it up aboard the ship. She made fresh papaya salad, rice, and pork with hoisin sauce. Later, their five year old son, Kai also fed us fresh clams as a snack.

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

2.) Banh xeo (bahn SAY-oh)

A popular street crepe throughout Southern Vietnam made of shrimp, pork and served with greens. You roll the banh xeo up in a leaf of lettuce with nuoc cham dipping sauce then pop it in your mouth.

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

3.) Garlic, lemongrass crab and fresh papaya, peanut, and squid salad served at the Full Moon Restaurant (Vickie so happy!).

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Next, we visited an Ancient riverside town in Vietnam called Hoi An, which was an absolute treasure! We stayed at Leaf Homestay, hands down our favorite spot. It's a beautiful four bedroom guest house run by an amazing family.

For $14/night you can have your own private room and bathroom with A/C. It also includes your choice of breakfast. Our go-to was homemade pho, banana rice pancake, and mangos with ginger tea. They also have bikes for you to ride around town and a lovely orchid garden. We had planned to stay two days but upon the first we changed it to five. 

Breakfast pho,  Leaf Homestay , Hoi An, Vietnam

Breakfast pho, Leaf Homestay, Hoi An, Vietnam

While there, we discovered the famous Cao Lau Noodles only made in Hoi An.

The first ingredient that had us salivating was their char siu pork — Cantonese-style barbecued or roasted pork, seasoned in a five spice marinade. The Char siu was accompanied by an array of fresh locally grown mixed greens including fragrant mint, basil, Vietnamese fish leaf, rice paddy herb, crisp lettuce, and shrimp chips. All this atop the turmeric-marinated Cao Lau noodles with crispy bean sprouts.

Delicious! 

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

The other dish we died happy eating was "banh bao vac" or White Rose Dumplings. Another Hoi An specialty, the little white roses are made from translucent white dough, filled with spiced minced shrimp or pork and bunched up to look like little white roses. These darling little dumplings, come topped with crispy shallots and served with a unique dipping sauce made of shrimp broth, hot chilies, lemon and sugar. We could’ve had five plates each!

White Rose Dumplings,  White Rose Restaurant , Hoi An, Vietnam

White Rose Dumplings, White Rose Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam

We also loved wandering the ancient streets of Hoi An's Historic Oldtown District. There we saw festive lanterns of every size, shape and color. On the night of the full moon, we took a boat ride across the canal and lit floating lanterns with our intentions for the year ahead. 

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

In Oldtown, we were delighted to discover Reaching Out Teahouse. Reaching Out Vietnam was founded in 2000 with a vision of providing opportunities for people with disabilities to learn skills and gain meaningful employment. In 2008, they created a teahouse with the intention of enjoying the beauty in silence. Guests are encouraged to whisper.  

Another experience Vietnam is known for is it's tailor-made attire. Vickie and I had traditional Ao Dai dresses and silk pants made at Duna Tailor where the staff really went out of their way to ensure we were happy with our fitting.

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Finally, our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon. Damn that city moves! Everyone from teenagers to grandmas strap in, mask on, riding through those crazy streets. I witnessed a family of five fit on ONE motorbike and another with an 8 foot sheet of glass wedged between two people. Safety first!

The Vietnamese leg of our journey ended in style with Vickie’s cousin's wedding. I had no idea what I was in for. With three days of ceremony, it was the most elaborate affair I have ever been to. Truthfully, I didn't understand most of it but the food I understood. We ate our weight in banquet-style dinners (typically 8 courses each) and even though I probably gained 10 lbs, I would do it all over again. 

This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and at first, we jokingly called it "General Disregard." In Vietnam, it is encouraged to throw your trash on the floor after enjoying your meal. It is normal to see someone pee on the side of the street ("General Pissregard"). Families of five get from point A to point B without helmets on a single motorbike. 

But by the end of our trip, the "General Disregard" transformed to "General Blissregard." The Vietnamese could care less about social status. They are focused on everyday survival and the simple things in life. As Westerners, we are conditioned to think we've got it all figured out and yes, we have historically had more freedoms and material goods, but the Vietnamese place value on what's real. 

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Riding through jungle islands on motorbikes, floating in a peaceful paradise, enjoying a steaming dish of hot rice noodles and dumplings. These were the moments of bliss that reminded us not to sweat the small stuff and to enjoy what we have here and now.

Special thanks to Infinite Mirror Mirror Sister Sister, Vickie Lau for planning this extraordinary, unforgettable adventure. Traveling together and getting back to our roots is something I will treasure forever. THANK YOU. 

Check out the full Vietnam photo album on Facebook and next time you're heading that way hit me up!

In bliss, your Southeast Asia Sista,

Kelsey Lotus Wong