"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Friday, July 29

Good Morning Vietnam

I never knew that "drink locally brewed, 25 cent beer on busy Hanoi street" should be on the bucket list but, alas, it should have had a prime spot near the top!! Vietnam was never high on my list, mostly because I never heard too many positive things about it and, for whatever reason, I actually listened to the ramblings I heard. But, a random, would-be-perfect-timing rendezvous with one Sarah F (the same Sarah F that makes many appearances in my blog if you've actually been following since that blissful, start-of-it-all trip to New Zealand)! Yes, finally...after nearly 5 years, I'd be reunited with my old New Zealand friend and flatmate...and the person who helped me grow the cojones to make the jump into SE Asia in the first place (she used to teach English in Vietnam and encouraged me to look in to it). So, as luck would have it, I flung myself into this "not high on my list" neighboring country with no expectations, no worries, and no real 'must see's/must do's' other then to just intercept Sarah and her folks along their 3 week SE Asia adventure. Perhaps it was this--the lack of expectations, the lack of pressure (to see and do it all) that would give this place a speed ticket through the MUST RETURN line!
When a street crossing can make a Bangkokian (yeah, I've claimed it, what of it...?!) hesitate and stare in awe, you know it must be crazy! Even after living in Bangkok for 3+ years, it took me a while to perfect Sarah's confident "just stick out your hand" stride across the intersection---which, just for kicks and comic relief, actually had a pedestrian crossing lane. Ha. After some time drinking the local brew roadside, and, after I insisted on crossing the road 10 more times just for kicks (sorry Ma!), the 4 of us jumped a Halong Bay bound bus and briefly said goodbye to the city noise. Watching the world pass from bus windows in these foreign countries always seems to amaze or inspire me...and Vietnam, certainly, was no exception. I felt myself comparing it a lot to the other countries I've been to in SE Asia but, it became more and more difficult to do.... Same Same but SO different! As the landscape unfolds, it immediately makes me question the fact that Thailand is the top exporter of rice! The paddies here stretch as far as the eye can see, (Jose, even you wouldn't miss these rice fields!) and are littered with dozens and dozens of workers in their nón lá (coolie hats!). The site is amazingly beautiful and during the 3.5 hour journey, I never tired of staring out the window. A million rice fields, a few hilarious bumps, an entertaining eavesdrop on a lifestory, and an amazing phone conversation later, we arrived at Halong Bay where our Junk (Wikipedia folks) awaited. It took only moments to fall in love! Limestone cliffs were jetting out of the water in all directions, the junk was cute and clean, all the bedrooms had windows (Hells no will we be trapped if our boat tries to sink in the middle of the night!) and the weather was looking amazing! After lunch on board, we climbed to the deck and soaked in the rays as we cruised along...perfection. After a great sunset, it took no convincing at all to get the recently showered and changed crew (Sarah and her folks) back into togs (I speak Kiwi very well...!) so we could jump off the roof into the water. I love this bunch!! Before long, most of the boat was jumping, screaming (not me of course...), laughing, swimming. It was one of those trips where the crowd on your boat can make or break the trip---and, our crowd made it! Good work crowd :).

Back in Hanoi, I chipped away another piece of my historical ignorance as we visited some key places linked to the Vietnam War. The Hoa Lo Prison, often referred to as the Hanoi Hilton, was a good start and it was interesting to get a different perspective on some of the War details. We also visited the lake where John McCain's plane was shot down and he was captured as a PoW as well as the "B-52 Lake" where you can see the remains of a B-52 that was shot down in 1972. Staring at the remains while having Bruce (Sarah's dad) explain some amazing details to me was an awesome history lesson---and it made me wish that my history teachers would have actually TRIED to get my attention---b/c, clearly, I would have been captivated! Or maybe the Bruce, staring at B-52 combo, was just that awesome!
All in all, an amazing trip. A great country. Great company. And a complete feeling of comfort because Sarah and her folks (and Sarah's friends) had all lived in or been to Hanoi previously . I didn't have to worry about directions or language barriers or wonder if I was getting ripped off! It took away any possible headache and just left me able to completely enjoy myself! It made me realize that if you know someone living in a foreign country which you may not have otherwise paid a visit to, you should go and take advantage of them being there. I'm just sayin, Ryan,...I speak Thai. I speak Thai real well. ;)

Thursday, July 14

Cashmere...In Loving Memory...

What is it about our pets that totally transforms the way we go at life? What is it about their companionship that makes it impossible to compare to anything else? Why is it that you either get it or you don't?! For what it's worth, I get it. I totally do.

I got my first cat when I was 9 years old and I can honestly say that it changed my life from day one. Days filled with cat hair, vet visits, litterbox cleanups, and pre-dawn wake-ups rained down on me (and my parents/brother) and helped mold that 9-year-old-me. My cat, affectionately known as cashmere, cashee, pumpkin face, brat, angel, and sweet face, has seen me through more of my life than most others. We have, quite literally, grown up together. I "put up" with her kitten stage---the constant crying (read: meowing), playfulness and, of course, mischievousness---and, in turn, she put up with my adolescence---meaning, mostly, that she had to endure dress-up, attempted cat-walks, and, perhaps, a (bit) of smothering! We've seen each other through sickness and pain---her years battling a serious case of fleas and ringworm meant hours bonding in the bathroom picking through until every last one was drowned in the toilet. I don't know many cats that would tolerate laying upside down while their mom picked, pulled, and prodded. I think deep down she must have known that it was for her own good. Of course, all that close contact meant that we shared the ringworm that she was infested with, and, I hardly cared. When I was sick, or in tears, my little pumpkin face was never far away. She was never huge with the cuddles, but she made exceptions at times like that and would often lick away my salty tears or lay near for hours, never fully closing her eyes as if keeping a constant watch. She saw me through my teenage years, and, although I wavered from moment to moment, she never did. Sometimes I would tell her I despised her as much as the rents--and sometimes, she was the only one I wanted to be around. One minute she was the target of my teenage angst and the next she was the only reason I wasn't running away in full blown teenage protest. And, in turn, I struggled through her own teenage protests. When she put her guts to the test and wondered beyond the security of home one day, I held on to me "Homeward Bound" fueled hopes while my parents scurried about (I didn't find out until later) with posters, reward promises, and fruitless searches. Nearly a week later as my parents were trying to find the heart to have the "she's-not-coming-home" talk with me, my little brat surfaced. She was found---a bit more dirty, humble and thin--but found! As my teenage moodiness faded into young-adult heartache, she was always there. She sat, she listened, she joined me for nights filled with ice cream and movies (so what if she only stayed because I shared my ice cream with her)! She saw me off to college and was always waiting for my return so she could once again wake me at 5am with her "play-with-me" meows.

As old age began taking it's toll, she went through an "I-forget-where-to-pee" stage---a stage which never phased me and which my dad graciously accepted without much fuss. Her kidneys needed convincing to stay strong which turned me and, in my absence, my dad, into expert kidney healers. When the call came that he thought her time was coming to a close---weight loss, weakness, lack of purring, we knew without hesitation that we wanted to send her off peacefully before the pain kicked in. And, although I'm at peace with it, a little piece of my heart has gone with my baby. I wish that I could have been there to kiss her little nose one last time---but, knowing that she was in good hands makes it easier to accept. Although I hate that dad had to go through the process alone, it's symbolic in ways---I remember so clearly the site of tiny, kitten, Cashmere in my dad's big, strong, hands----and, it puts my heart at ease visualizing her slipping peacefully away in the same hands that held her tiny body (nearly) 20 years before. And knowing that Dr. T and Jenna, the nurse and Doctor that I've come to know and love over the years, were there for her in her final moments fills my heart with relief.

It's amazing how much joy my fur-ball brought to my life. I'll never forget the day there was a meowing towel under the Christmas tree, when, in an instant, that meowing towel changed my life forever!!

You will never be forgotten Cashee!