I have been ordered

On pain of vague yet terrifying penalties, to update my blog.

So here it is.

All I can say is it is 10:40 PM here in Rome, and I have just finished a very Roman dinner of cacio e pepe (I think I've cracked the code) and puntarelle (hand cut by me - will probably keep splurging on the pre-cut sort).

This may have been the kick in the pants I needed to keep blogging. 

Thanks, Carp.


Star-crossed lovers

Me and Saigon, that is.

I'm going to get one of those shirts made. You know: I went all the way to Vietnam and all I saw was my lousy hotel room. 

It's true. The past two days, I've barely left my apartment. So of course I've been beating myself up. What is wrong with me? Why am I so listless and lethargic? Why is everything making me queasy? Why can I not even finish one goddamned meal?

I'm not always so great at cause-and-effecting when it comes to my own health, but walking down the street this afternoon, starving but unable to conceive of eating anything I saw, it came to me:

It's the Flagyl, stupid.

It's kicking my ass. Good to know it isn't Saigon.

I'll take a raincheque, Vietnam. Sorry about the misunderstanding.

The stomach wants what the stomach wants

It's absolutely crazy. I know. But I did it.

I just booked a ticket to Rome and an adorable studio in Pigneto, and am figuring out classes at the excellent school I studied at a few years ago. 

Vietnam, it just wasn't our time. 

My stomach has been doing flip flops much of the time that I've been here. I've been basically off shrimp for two years. All I want to do is eat gnocchi. So that's what I'll do. 

With a departure next week, I'll be able to take nearly full advatage of all my Schengen time (provided I can afford to stay there!) and with any luck, achieve my original goal for this trip: To replicate my nonna's agnolotti soup. 

Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked from that goal. Regardless of the circumstances that have brought me here, I'm feeling that all's right with the world.

It's been good knowing you, Saigon. Godspeed.


Failing at Vietnam, or: When is a city not a city, or: How I learned to stop worrying and accept the Schengen Zone

Sitting here in my cute Saigon bedroom, balcony door open to the street, I am trying to decide which is harder: Writing a blog post after an extended absence (the weight of it after learning to travel with someone, after years of not travelling alone, after forgetting the ways in which solo travel can expose you) or plotting a course for an extended period of time with incomplete information and conflicting emotions. 

After choosing an impractical way to get to the other side of the globe (to avoid Iranian airspace while visitng a friend who is much too far away), I now find myself in Vietnam with a health crisis swirling around me, failing to eat well in a sleepy, closed up city, trying to chart a course forward. 

One thing that has become clear (to be fair, it was already glaringly clear; it's just been cast in very stark relief since being here) is that I don't thrive in a completely unstructured environment. A monthlong holiday, sure, fine. No problem. That's relatively small. A contained thing. Relaxation and distance and a little bit of discovery. But ten months - that's something else. 

So is it the time stretching out before me? The health concerns? The mediocre food? The shuttered commerce? Hard to say. But I have found myself shopping for tickets to Rome and downloading the Schengen calculator app.

My original plan for this trip, after all, was to spend five months in Italy, learning Italian and seeking out nonnas. And I have a hot date in Venice at the end of March...


Saigon salvation

I've been having a little trouble finding food in Saigon. Its partly due to Tet, but it's also partly due to the fact that people have not wanted to serve me.

One woman was silently yelling at me because I wanted limes and bean sprouts to go with my soup. (I think she thought I was trying to haggle on the price, but I also suspect she just didn't want the hassle of dealing with a foreigner.)

Another woman got out of serving me by refusing to make any eye contact at all (which was very disappointing, because whatever she was serving looked delicous).

So in despair, I attempted to just buy something wrapped in banana leaves that I thought (wrongly) was some sort of protein encased in sticky rice in could just unwrap and eat. So, gesticulating wildly, I tried desperately to indicate that I wanted 1 of whatever it was. 

No wonder the owner thought I needed help. Laughing, she went inside to fetch her daughte, who made it clear that I could not just nibble on this hunk of what turned out to be some sort of lunch meat. 

So the mom went and bought bread, the daughter went and bought cucumbers, and they made me a sandwich. They also absolutely refused to take a dime, despite 5 minutes of pleading on my part, instead shooing me off with wishes of happy new year and  lall the money and happiness there is. 

I admit I cried.

In case you're in the neighbourhood:

Arriving for Tet

Means you might end your first day with "dinner" from the Circle K. Less than ideal, of course, but since most everything's closed, I had a chance to meet a quieter version of Saigon. Tomorrow should be interesting. I'm reserving judgment until I can see her realer.

To be fair though, arriving for Tet also means this.


The Xiamen Airport

Offers travelers transiting through the airport 3 different options for how to spend their time:

1 The Transit Lounge - a very bare bones lounge in a windowless basement room.

2 A city tour - since I arrived at 6am this wasn't an option.

3 A hotel room - since I was travelling business class I would have been put up in a nice room, but I would have had to pay for transportation and had no yuan with which to do so. And I wasn't 100% sure I'd have the room to myself (economy class travellers are expected to share their rooms - with strangers - who are simply given a key when they arrive even if someone is sound asleep and not expecting a midnight visitor). 

So I didn't see much on my 9-hour layover, apart from some magnificent translations.


Xiamen Air

Makes announcements in Mandarin only.
So far, anyway. 

Getting my second boarding pass in Xiamen may be a challenge.

Just a small bump in the road

So it seems that China wants to make absolutely sure it can get rid of you after your connecting flight (which seems fair), so if there is a risk you won't be admitted to whatever onward country you are travelling to (like, say, if a message pops up on their screen that says "visitors may be denied entry if they have no proof of onward travel," and you have no proof of onward travel), they may make you buy an onward ticket on the spot. To wherever. Which it turns out I kind of like.

So I will go to Bangkok after Hanoi. My visa expires then anyway.