It was like cleaning out a junk drawer before a move. It was the last few boxes of our storage unit containing the remains of our marriage. But instead of rubber band balls and expired coupons, it contained fragments of my life that I could not part with or bring with me to China. Diaries. My grandmother’s China. My purple Doc Martins.
And there it was, underneath the other half of my bike lock.
The black leather cover of our wedding Bible.
I froze. Just what do I do with it?
I picked it up and leafed through the onion skin thin pages, surprised at the memories that jumped out. A picture of a friend, a letter from my mom. A program from a funeral for a baby, his little foot prints on front.
I flip through the pages again finding more surprises. A door tag from a hotel in Bangkok. A frayed tag from my dad’s navy days. I put the Bible down on a stack of boxes I was ready to haul to the dumpster.
I look at the date embossed in gold on the cover. 1999. My marriage was a thing of the past like floppy discs,Y2K emergency bunkers and Wow potato chips.
I had an Olestra moment. It was time to get going.
But throwing out a Bible? It would be bad luck like walking under a ladder or drinking tap water in China.
I hummed and hawed. Do I donate it to a shelter or give it to someone who needs it more than me? I thought of a favorite Bible that I gave it to a down-and-out friend who was trying to kick her habit. The gold trim was worn off. Verses were highlighted like rainbows. She ended up using my Bible as a place to write the phone numbers of her drug dealers.
Don’t want to do that again.
I brought the Bible back to China as part of my hundred pounds of checked-in life, along with my chunk of cheddar cheese and Pepperidge Farm goldfish in a box that the TSA would slice apart.
I felt like a jet set bag lady schlepping my life in a luggage cart.
Thirteen time zones later, I arrive at my new apartment and make a hundred pound mountain of me in the center of the floor.
I pick up the Bible and leaf thru the pages again. I find something I never did before, a fan folded letter from my husband scribbled on a piece of legal paper. It was tucked in the Old Testament prophets.
Dear Dad, I’ve been kind of a jerk to Ginger…
A few tears come out when I realize when it was written— closer to the date on the cover than the date flashing on my phone.
I returned the note to Nehemiah where I will never find it again.
I go back to the mound of my life spreading on the floor of my apartment. I dig out from a tangle of socks a package of Sharpies that a friend bought for me.
“I thought you might need these in China,” she said.
You’re damn right.
So every day as I watch the sun come up, I do what I should have done before. I open the Bible, grab a Sharpie and share my thoughts in technicolor: lamenting, celebrating, underlining and recharging and take in the distinct smell of something permanent.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever. Psalm 100:5
OK. I cried uncle. I couldn’t handle Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City). Too many bikes. A motorcycle even drove through this dive while I was eating, giving a new meaning to drive-thru.
I was in Saigon just long enough to fuel up on some tasty dishes and caffeine.
The food? I could eat there forever. While northern Vietnam is all about noodles, Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of sassy sausages and grilled meats.
But the traffic was psycho. The only people who walk in Vietnam are the tourists. So I made my escape from the psycho traffic to a homestay in the Mekong Delta. It wasn’t in a village on the outskirts of Ben Tre (imagine a jungle version of Hooterville minus Uncle Joe plus a lot of bugs). I rode my rickety bike to the main drag and food choices were slim pickins. About all there was to eat was frog and dog.
I kept peddling until I found chicken, or at least something that tasted like chicken. So that means it could’ve been about anything.
While Saigon has insane traffice, Mekong has insane scenery. Homestays are a great way to experience the country areas. You won’t always get a hot shower, but you will get wifi. I recommend making reservations at a portal such as Agoda.com and train tickets at 12Go . Both have great customer service to help you with problems because when you travel in Asia? You will have problems.
How to get from Saigon to Mekong? If you are dong-pincher, take a bus from the Mien Tay bus Terminal, which serves the southern provinces of Vietnam (not the same station that goes to Hanoi). Price? (100,000 dong, just over four bucks) TIP: if you are buying your ticket at the station, tip your cab driver to stand in line and purchase the ticket for you. The bus station is as chaotic as Saigon traffic.
The ride down from Ho Chi Minh City south was less than ninety minutes. The bus line I took to Ben Tre was Futa: the bus company arranged for passengers to get rides to our destinations. Not, this guy, but vans.
Bummer. Trains do not go to Ben Tre but hey, it’s only ninety minutes. TIP: if you take the train in Vietnam, splurge and pay a bit extra for first class. That way, you’ll have head room to sit up if you get tired of laying down.
The best thing about being left by my husband in the middle of Asia in the middle of your life is that every day is a new chance to figure out who I am.
But screw that. I’m on holiday. It’s the Vietnamese New Year so instead of figuring out my purpose, I’ll be searching for something really challenging. Cap’n Crunch. It’s one American thing I haven’t seen in Asia. I just burnt a hole through the roof of my mouth with this spicy stuff. It was time to tear the rest of it to shreds.
So where exactly am I? I’m in Nha Trang, a twelve-hour train ride from Da Nang, where I just left, which snaked through an endless blanket of green velvet, rice patties, and small villages. The train itself sorta sucked, the berths being too small to sit in anything other than a yoga position. But the view was worth the Restless Leg Syndrome. Here’s a one minute snippet. I apologize for the bird poop.
This baby had the right idea.
My hotel in Nha Trang is in a colorful district of the town (code for not the most glamorous neighborhood). It is next to a pool hall /coffee shop…
Which is next to a karaoke/coffee shop…
Which is next to the Phat coffee shop…
Which is across from this coffee shop loaded with card players and girls tugging their spandex minis.
There’s no shortage of caffeine here.
I got up early to go see the sunrise and have an inspirational poster moment. That lasted for about thirty seconds. After that, I was back on my quest to find the Cap’n. And low and behold, on the way back to my hotel, my prayer was answered. Well, sort of. I stumbled upon an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for 100,000 dong (about $4.30). They had items from here to the flipside, including eggs, bread, juices, salad, an assortment of fruits and noodles, cheese, meats, and stop-my-heart: Cocoa Krispies.
OK. So it wasn’t Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, but I enjoyed a bowl with some dragon fruit as part of a complete breakfast.
Other than coffee and Cocoa Krispies, what is the food scene like in Nha Trang, Vietnam?
Well, you got to love a town where you can get a lobster on any corner.
I don’t know what this lady was making, but she sure used a lot of dishes.
This thing I ate? It came with a free prize inside. A quail egg. I’d prefer a decoder ring.
And here’s me, still trying to figure out where to look when I snap a selfie. That’s almost as hard as figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. Here’s to more coffee until I figure it out.
So what is the big attraction in Danang?
And that’s a good thing. After the maze of craze in Hanoi, AKA H’annoyed, I boarded a seventeen hour train to one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Danang. Don’t worry, I never heard of this secret resort either, I until I plotted my Chinese New Year’s Getaway.
The beaches are endless.
Along with doing nothing, I took photos of some of my favorite swimwear. Don’t expect Anne de Paula in a thong, but little kids who dress themselves. Here are some of my faves.
The one-piece Spiderman.
The “You’ll grow into it” bunny sweat shirt.
The over accessorized.
Are these PJs or swimwear? Who cares? One piecers that cover the entire torsel are common for boys.
The sand was so pure. A few shells, a few jellyfish, but not one cigarette butt.
Did you know that sand is one of the biggest blackmarket items in Asia? It’s used for making everything from concrete to toothpaste. Don’t worry. I don’t plan on smuggling any home in my backpack.
This princess had two on her rear cheeks, both of Disney fame.
I love this kid’s hat.
This kid wore his winter jacket. It was only 85 degrees.
As for me? I sported the only suit in I found in China that fit. A XXXL three piecer. It’s not exactly my style but it covered a lot of sag. AARP swimsuit edition, here I come!
How to get to DaNang. I got there through the back door, starting in Sapa, a mountain top village that resets my inner compass. This is a sunrise from my hotel, featuring some of God’s best handiwork.
And here is H’annoyed.
One of the perks of being a DaBiZi (big nosed American) in China is that you get to judge English Speaking Contests. But today? I didn’t even have to judge. I just had to hand out awards.
And one more thing: I had to pose for pictures.
Yes, English speaking competitions are a big deal. This contest was held in a government building on Lake Dianchi. Afterwards, the judges were treated to dinner to a Dai restaurant.
Bordering with Thailand, the Chinese Dai are the same ethnic group as the Thai. But the cuisine wasn’t satay and Pad See Ew. It was Peacock.
Not a real peacock. Jut imagine Edible Arrangements on Steroids. Items included purple sticky rice, fried ox skin, meal worms, roasted cashews, peanuts, corn on the cob, purple yams, fish, minced pork wrapped in banana leaves, green coconut pancakes, bean curd steamed inside bamboo stalks, roasted knuckles, bamboo tips and a few things that even grossed me out, mostly being root dishes with the texture of woody old asparagus.
The final touch on the peacock was dry ice. Martha Stewart would’ve been impressed. She also would’ve like how the peacock was served in our own private dining room, which is typical at Yunnan restaurants.
If you’re wondering what fried meal worms taste like? Not chicken. Like most bugs, worms are like the burnt crispins you find in a grease trap. They taste like other bugs–like roasted pumpkin seeds. The purple sticky rice, green coconut pancakes and coconut soup appetizer? They are worth their weight in sit-ups.
We didn’t eat the whole bird. We didn’t get a doggy bag for the leftover peacock, either.
I can only imagine what judges will be eating at the nationals.