Miscellaneous stuff I left out

I always learn new things when I travel. I see and eat things and have experiences I wouldn’t have at home. Overall it’s a good thing. However there are a few things I wished I knew before and will hopefully remember next time.

  1. An empty plastic water bottle is your best friend.  You can re-fill that bad boy as often as needed for free from airport water fountains and save a buttload of money on bottled water. Also empty it, chug that precious water before going through customs or security.
  2. Bring favorite packaged food, for yourself and as a gift from foreign parts. This obviously applies internationally but regionally too. My brother-in-law brought a ton of Ale8 home to OK from KY. I wished I had brought protein bars and Diet Sprite to Saigon. Put chips, a muffin or anything non-liquid in your carryon, you will be glad you did.  
  3. Consider using a backpack for your caŕryon. Not only can you stuff a lot into it but use it once you arrive at your destination. I used mine when souvenir shopping, sightseeing and just getting around, made my life easier.Best $3 I spent, bought on sale at Wal-Mart 
  4. Wear comfortable clothes, especially comfortable shoes that come off and on easily. Important for  domestic security  (international didn’t care ). If you don’t have stinky sweaty feet you might slip off the shoes during a long butt numbing flight, as long as you put them on when you leave your seat. 
  5. Neck pillow. You may look goofy wearing it through the airport ( I know I did) but it’s worth it, especially on long butt numbing flight. Coopmart, 99,000 VND, about $4.35 USD, best souvenir ever
  6. Backup  earbuds/headphones for phone, laptop or tablet. 
  7. Uber app, just in case. Cheaper than cabs. 
  8. Depending on airline, a sturdy taped up box can qualify as luggage and be checked as baggage. As long as your name and address are on it in big, easy to read letters it’s probably a go. If I go back to Saigon I am so doing this. 
  9. Thank everybody you meet or encounter along the way. A lot of people are jerks when they travel and good service often goes unappreciated so be nice. 

I’m back

I spent an extra day and uncomfortable night at Inchon airport in Seoul because I missed my connection to home. I ‘m still wired, on Saigon time so here are some pictures.  My sister Kandi picked me up at the airport and I gave her some highlights. More highlights below

I got hooked watching this, it’s really commercials for designer clothes but has some great, off the wall “what the heck did I watch?” moments.

www.fashiontvplus.com 

click on “fashion films”

The dreaded black egg. It takes 4 months to do this, it’s a delicacy. It tastes like a gummy egg, but I didn’t go for seconds

This was my room, the first night. Upgrade

My real room. Ptetty good, it had a mini fridge

From breakfast buffet

Good but no syrup

What I really came for

Tiger and Bear, Korean version

I think that’s spam but don’t quote me

Don’t know what it says but looks impressive Inchon airport

Book store, that says it all. Unfortunately no English language books

Welcome home, cart rental $4. Free at every other airport I’ve seen but in OKC?  Nooo. I schlepped my bags instead

I’m here

I came to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for my son’s wedding. It’s been worth it. I listened to my Wings lose to the Rangers, with ice cream flavored oreos in a nice hotel room instead of at home with plain oreos.

Traveling was rough, no matter how well planned when there’s a 13 hr nonstop flight in the mix. I have a flat Indian butt, like the Princess in Princess and the Pea, I can feel it no matter what. I squirmed and shifted in my seat over several countries and the International date line. It took me nearly 2 days to adjust to the time difference, climate and the idea my child was going to be somebody’s husband. 

There was a lot going on, manoeuvring not just me but his 3 friends from OK. 2 of them have never traveled outside the US and none of us speak Vietnamese. When he took us out for bun bo hue (like pho) we recreated the cover of the Abbey Road album, all in line following Bear across the streets. He looked like a mama duck with 4 confused and slightly terrified baby ducks behind.

Tokyo Narita airport 

Saigon jewelry store, took this before security told me I couldn’t take pictures 

Indoor market stalls. 

Oanh told me Bear got his hair cut here, blue sign with gold scissors.

The church Nha Tho Nguyen Duy Kang

Some of Bear’s friends, including the Oklahoma Three

On the road to the bride’s village 

Food was good 

Karaoke list. 

Views from rooftop cafe and from my balcony 

Getting ready 

I’m flying to Saigon in 2 days. I’ve planned for this, had those plans changed, thwarted and planned again. 

I’ve learned how much can be stuffed into a suitcase and been amazed. I learned that suitcase is heavy as heck and might need to be emptied a little so I can move it. The wheel really is the greatest human invention, especially those tiny ones. It’s up there with spandex. 

I’m going to see my son and attend his wedding. There’s a lot of emotion in that sentence. I know his dad would be proud and thrilled and anxious. Bear admitted he can hear his dad’s voice in his head sometimes, and remembers little things he used to say. He also admitted he doesn’t think about his dad every day like he used to, but he misses him especially now.

I’m bringing stuff from home, things Bear can’t find in Vietnam. Most of the stuff he asked for is American food like grits and my suitcase has a substantial grocery section. 

Family members are sending gifts, small ones fortunately. I’m also taking a few presents for my future in-laws. I was able to tuck most of them into the suitcase and make it fit somehow; it looks like Tetris.

My clothes and personal stuff are in the 2 carryons. It’s interesting how a pair of jeans can fold down to a tight little cube. Also how that cube can explode and nearly hit you in the eye when you open that bag to stuff in a pair of socks.

Since most of this stuff is staying there I’ll have room for souvenirs. A couple of co-workers collect shot glasses and I promised to bring some back. But the main space is going to be full of strawberry, blueberry and coconut oreos. 

There are a few things to do before I leave. I still have a load of laundry, a trip to the bank to let them know any charges coming from Vietnam will be legit and to let them go through. I also need to have at least one more diet cherry limeade from Sonic. My sister is going to look after Porkchop and the house, because Porkchop can’t open cans. Yet. 

Another thing I’m taking with me is family pictures, old ones I’ve found in photo albums and saved on my phone and a USB. 

Being Alone

I’m going to Shakespeare in the Park here in town tonight. It’s not a big deal, not really. I don’t go out much, there’s usually very little I want to do or places I want to go. But I am going by myself, I bought one ticket, one sad, lonely solitary ticket, just for me. I will get dressed, something comfortable and lightweight but not fussy. I have no one to impress and I will leave when I want to and park where I want to, the small perks of being alone.

I thought of all the times I’ve gone ahead and done something by myself because I wanted to go. Even if I had no one to ask, to prevent me from looking like some sad social friendless outcast, I went on my own. Three of the entries were before Jerry died; in a way I’ve been preparing for this eventuality for awhile, whether I realized it or not. Here’s my list, from the last couple of years.

  1. Hockey games at the Cox Center, no idea how many, some of 2013-2014 season home games. Went alone because Jerry wasn’t a hockey fan, walking and getting around would have been difficult and he would get tired. I was the only solitary person there, in the middle of families, couples and the groups of people there for $1 beer night. Felt awkward even though nobody noticed and then forgot about it after the game started.Grateful I never had to worry about the dreaded Kiss Cam.
  2. Dallas Stars-Detroit Red Wings game in Dallas 2013. Went to the game alone but my sister Layah came along for the ride. Wings won 5-1.
  3. Depeche Mode concert, Sept 20, 2013, Dallas. A near religious experience. Got to breathe the same stuffy air as Dave.
  4. Seattle, March 2015. My first plane ride since before 9/11. I needed to leave for awhile, did not expect to love Seattle but that could be grief, change of scenery and many wonderful things, I felt I could breathe there and told myself I’d be back. Slightly depressed when I returned, because I could see in vivid detail how much OK sucks. And blows.
  5. Seattle, August 2015. I went to find a place and foolishly believed I could move cross-country just because I had a little money and wanted to, without a current job. No.
  6. Saigon, Vietnam. December 2015. Missed Bear and spent Christmas with him as I promised. Met Oahn and her mother, my first real international city. Worth every penny, every fear and aggravation, even the airplane bathrooms.
  7. Eating out by myself, various restaurants, various times. There’s something pitiful about a woman eating by herself that doesn’t happen when a man eats alone. A man is alone because he wants to be, a woman because she has to be alone. Stupid, senseless and wrong, this double standard still runs through my mind when I eat out by myself. I’m beginning to believe that nobody is looking at me and that they don’t care, but it’s taking time.
  8. Going to the movies alone.Not as bad as eating out as everyone is sitting in the dark and on their phones. I did have to move over to accommodate a loud couple once and have my feet stepped on by the wife, in high heels. She did apologize though.
  9. Arts festivals, 2014-2016. I went to Paseo Arts Festival last year and this year by myself and the Festival of the Arts by myself all three years. Jerry was still alive in 2014 and I went for a short while and brought him spinach pakora. I walked around, looked at the various artist booths then headed for the food court. Painfully aware of how odd it was to be alone, even the cops were out there in pairs.
  10. Mass, nearly every Sunday at 8am. The early mass is less crowded, it’s the one we always went to and I meet my weekly obligation by 9am. Full of families, but I have my own pew, which I consider the Widow’s Pew since I am usually joined by 2 single Vietnamese women on either side, they are older like me and alone. We’ve never spoken but I shake their hands during the Sign of Peace.
  11. Shakespeare in the Park, tonight after I walk Olive and change clothes

 

Decompression

It’s been 3 weeks since I came back from Saigon. I’ve been through jet lag, the stomach bug from hell, parts one and two and New Year’s. Yet I didn’t feel I was home until today.

I went to Mass for the first time this year and I walked in, right behind the priest and servers ready to go. I sat down in my usual pew and felt a comfort and warmth I hadn’t felt before, I felt welcomed even though no one said anything to me or seemed to notice me. I felt at home.

Even though I’ve been at my sister’s house, even though I’ve driven around and seen familiar sights, done ordinary everyday tasks like going to the grocery store and library, even though I’ve had several diet cherry limeades none of these things made a difference. I was back but I was as detached  as before, separate from everything around me. It was similar to the sensation I felt after Jerry passed away and I had to go back to work. The usual routine was there, I followed it but it was as if I was watching it rather than participating. People around me seemed relieved I was okay and they needn’t worry about me. When I was sick I spent most of the time on the couch, when I wasn’t in the bathroom. My sister did go to the store for me once, for juice, and I was grateful. Olive did her part, snuggling with me and sleeping when I slept. Otherwise I was on my own. I wasn’t angry or surprised, that’s just the way it is.

There has been some delayed culture shock. The weather messed with me, going from warn tropical weather to weather barely above freezing was tough. I was cold the first week, even with extra covers. Some of it was being sick and having chills but I’m only now beginning to feel comfortable indoors without a hoodie. I still have issues with the outdoors and snow.

I went to the Asian grocery store last week and was disappointed; most of the stuff on the shelves didn’t look like what I saw in the stores in Saigon and I shouldn’t have expected it to but I did. The fresh vegetables and fruit were smaller and much more expensive, even if I knew what to buy and how to fix it I probably wouldn’t have. After Mass I went to Lee’s and was thrilled to see sugar cane juice on the menu and ordered one. Which was a mistake, a big mistake. I remembered the sweet clear liquid I drank in Saigon, on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. The fresh squeezed sugar cane juice was fifty cents and came with cute animal stickers. This stuff, this toxic thing, was overly sweet with a cloudy greenish color. It tasted like it was made from concentrate and had sugar added to it. I could have laid out a dozen diabetics easily, just by waving the cup at them. It also cost 2.75, more than four times the fresh. I tossed it and hoped I didn’t do too much damage to the dead grass.

I’ve wanted to tell people about my trip but it’s like Spock telling McCoy that he would have to experience death before they could talk about it. I’ve shown a few pictures to my sisters and dad and they seem interested but after a few minutes they are bored. I can’t describe what I saw, how it was, not clearly and adequately, not even with the pictures. The best analogy I can give is that it was like an alternate universe.

The peculiar thing is my trip made my world both bigger and smaller. Bigger, because I saw and did things I never imagined I would do, or could do. Crossing a street in Saigon with constant traffic, even slower traffic, is terrifying and I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief when I made it, while clutching Bear’s hand. This was my first world city and I was stunned by the wealth I saw as well as the poverty. Both were accepted and taken for granted. I enjoyed the food, eating little or no meat wasn’t difficult, and I tried different things, from drinks to desserts and meals. My knowledge of the world, even this small part of it, grew.

I say my world is smaller because having made the trip to Saigon proves that it can be done, by someone like me. It is still half way around the world but the distance can be met, it isn’t impossible and if I had to I could do it again. Saigon isn’t as remote now that I know it’s accessible. The memories of that week in Saigon are part of my frame of reference now. I can recall sitting in the Cafe Siena across from Bear’s school, sipping on an iced guava juice, the warmth, the sounds of the motorbikes, cars and buses, the smells, the variety of people walking on the streets, the signs on the walls, all of it. Even at that time I had to remind myself this was real, that it took me fifty years to get there and that none of my relatives could ever have imagined doing what I was doing at that moment. I let myself enjoy the moment, knowing it would be over and eventually be only a memory.

Not to say I long to go back. I miss Bear. I miss him more now that I got to see him. I don’t know when my son will come back, or for how long. I know he wants to stay abroad and will go back to Saigon. I know Oahn is a probable part of his future but we’re not saying it, not yet. I know it may be a long time before I see my Bear and I may have to make another international flight to do it. But now I know I can, that is possible and if I have to I will.

More culture shock

Diamond Plaza, Saigon  and Diamond Plaza, OKC

Vietnamese Oreos, strawberry, chocolate/peanut butter and coconut. also blueberry but I ate those. Star Wars lobby card, front and back, from the movie theater at the (Japanese) Aeon Mall. My most precious and delicious souvenirs.

 

 

 

last minute stuff

I ran my last minute errands today: going to the bank, mall, grocery store and ultimately deciding to get a pedicure because my feet looked scary. I had 2 diet cherry limeades, which helped me drive through rush hour/Christmas shopping traffic. On the way back I saw this in the parking lot of a gyro place, turned around and took the pictures. I got out of my car, still wearing the paper thin flipflops from the nail salon, in 40 degree weather to do so.

I’ve been packing, trying to get Christmas stuff done and hoping I don’t forget anything important. I got the Little Debbies and hominy for Bear so I’m probably good. I’ve had minor freak-outs, like finding out his shoes won’t arrive before I leave, not getting my KFN in the mail for the TSA pre check and finding a plastic deviled egg plate. But it’s okay, I bought a back up cheap pair of shoes, found my KFN online and went to 3 thrift stores before finding the plate.

These guys are coming along with me, per Bear’s request.20151217_150337.jpg

My Martha Stewart/Pinterest moment, I found a couple of gifts at a thrift store and then realized I needed to buy gift bags. I bought these stockings there, they cost less than a buck apiece. All I did was stuff the top with tissue paper and slap on a nametag. Done. 20151215_175806_zpszqd1gdjc

I make my Scooby Snacks tomorrow, do last minute laundry and finish packing. That should be it but probably not; controlled chaos is what I’m used to and expect. My main worry is that Olive and I will sleep in Monday morning and I won’t get to the airport in time. But I will probably be too nervous to sleep much anyway.

I look forward to seeing Bear, to going someplace I’ve never been before. I’m also leaving most of the unpleasant bits of Christmas behind– the cooking, cleaning up, and the awkwardness– and that’s a relief. Last Christmas was not good, Bear and I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere so we didn’t. This year is different but as I’ve planned my trip I’ve felt a little remorse that Jerry can’t be there. I know that even if he hadn’t passed away he wouldn’t have been well enough to make the trip. He admitted traveling was not his thing, even when he was healthier it wasn’t. Anything beyond a road trip to Dallas was too much. If he was still here he’d probably want me to go, for me and Bear to skype with him and take lots of pictures but he’d feel better at home. His doctors would probably advise against it, too many risk factors. If he was still here I don’t think I’d go, I’d feel badly leaving him alone and worry something might happen. It’s not an issue, I can go but I wish he could be there, to see Bear in his new natural habitat, experience what has only been described and we could all see Star Wars. I feel guilty I can go and do this and he can’t.