Day 258: Arriving in Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam at 8:30 pm and headed to customs. There was a desk with various forms and I grabbed the one I needed, filled it out, and returned it to the man at the counter. The man instructed me to have a seat and wait for my name to be called. I had applied for and received a visa approval online from the Vietnamese government the week before, but I still had to wait for the final visa.

There were rows of plastic chairs and probably 40 people waiting. I sat down and listened in on nearby conversations. A young couple from Belgium was talking to a European couple about their travel woes. They explained that they flew in from Laos and used a third party company when they applied for their Vietnam visa. The visa didn’t arrive in time (that’s why I went straight to the Vietnamese government website) and Laos wouldn’t allow them on the plane to Vietnam without paying a $100 USD fee for not having the visa.

The young backpackers obviously didn’t have a lot of money, so they were frustrated. While we all waited for our names to be called, the Europeans told the couple that came from Laos that they’d have to pay a fee of $25 USD to get their visa on arrival. I had also read that it had to be U.S. dollars or Vietnamese Dong. The young couple looked frightened as he explained that he only had Laos money and the ATM was not allowing him to take out money. I was fortunate that the ATM gave me Vietnamese Dong.

The young backpacker came back from the counter and said they let him pay in Laos money, but it was the equivalent of $80 USD, not $25. The guy started to vent about the corruption he was experiencing in Southeast Asia. He was told by other backpackers that when they were in a hostel in Bangkok, they were smoking weed in a place where everyone smokes. However, it’s technically illegal and they were busted by the police who told them they had to pay a $600 USD fee or be jailed. It was a lot of money, especially for backpackers.

My name was called and I walked to the counter. I paid $2 USD for them to take a picture of me and add a small printed copy of it to their file. Then I paid the $25 USD fee and walked through customs. When I handed the man my passport, he didn’t say a single word to me. He just looked at his computer and handed my passport and 30-day visa back to me and I was on my way.

After I grabbed my luggage, I stopped at a booth selling SIM cards. I paid $13 USD for a month of 60 GB and walked outside. A taxi driver approached me and offered to give me a ride for 400,000 dong. I wasn’t familiar with their money yet, so I used my currency conversion app (Globe Convert) and realized it was $17 USD.

I pulled up the Grab app and it said the price would be 268,000 dong ($11 USD). After I pointed out the discrepancy, the man said that Grab drivers aren’t allowed to do pickups at the airport. I pushed back once again explaining that the app says they do pickups there. He reluctantly resigned himself and agreed to charge me 200,000 dong ($8.50 USD). The man also said I would need to wait ten minutes to see if there were others who needed a ride.

I agreed to the taxi man’s price and waited while the man asked where I was from. I said “Los Angeles.” The man got excited and said, “Ohhhhhh!!!” Nobody else showed up, so he started to drive me to my hotel. It felt strange driving on the right side of the road. I didn’t realize I had gotten used to driving on the left in Thailand.

It felt cold outside with a temperature of 68 °F (20 °C). After spending a month in the Thai heat, this was a nice reprieve. The first part of the drive from the airport to old town Hanoi had a modern highway, was well maintained, there were trees on the side of the road, and there were more cars than Thailand. Thailand had a lot of motorbikes. The driver often drove in the middle of two lanes, making me nervous. As we got into old town, the motorbikes were everywhere, honking constantly.

The driver pulled over and pointed down a very narrow alleyway, which was the street that my hotel was located down. His minivan wouldn’t fit, so I’d have to be dropped off there. It was sprinkling outside, so thankfully my hotel was just a quick, one-minute walk.

A friend recommended the hotel to me. She told me they treated her like royalty and she loved her stay there a couple of years ago. I walked into the small lobby around 10:45 pm and asked to check in. The man said he couldn’t find my reservation and said perhaps I booked with a different hotel. Then he pointed towards the front door. I insisted that I had a reservation and gave him my reservation number.

The man found my reservation, apologized, and then brought me fruit and tea. He understood it was too late for me to get dinner, so he brought me bread and butter to my room too. The room was very narrow and small, but it was clean and comfortable.

I was exhausted after a full day of travel by ferry and planes. After a shower, I was ready for bed. I turned off the lights, but the light on top of the closet cabinet wouldn’t turn off. It was a light for the closet, but the top had a circle cut out around it, letting the light shine in the room. I grabbed the desk chair and climbed on top to see what was going on. I called reception and tried to explain that the light wouldn’t turn off. The man at reception didn’t understand me, so he hung up and came to my room.

I was in my PJs and let him inside. I explained that the light should be turned off when I close the closet door, but it’s not connecting for some reason. He climbed onto the chair and played around with the wires and switch, but couldn’t get it to turn off. He suggested that I just remove the key card and cut off all of the power to the room.

Frustrated, I explained that if I did that, I couldn’t charge my phone or use the AC. The man stepped back on the chair and disconnected some wires and the light turned off. He said someone from maintenance would repair it the following day and he left.

The next day, I slept in and then worked on my blog. Next, I talked with some family and friends in the U.S. and updated them on my whereabouts. I had no idea what I was going to do in Vietnam, so I spent some time researching on TripAdvisor. At 3:30 pm, I left the hotel to explore and get some food. On my way out of the hotel, the front desk staff said they noticed that I missed the free breakfast. Embarrassed, I explained that I had some writing to do.

img_3998

The narrow streets and alleyways in Hanoi were loud. Motorbikes raced by while honking their horns, and street vendors were everywhere. When I arrived at an intersection, I noticed there were stop lights, but they weren’t turned on. It was just a constant free flow of cars and motorbikes. Crossing the street was difficult. I had to make eye contact with the drivers and walk across while bikes zoomed behind and in front of me.

img_4003

img_3999

Motorbikes were often parked on the sidewalk, forcing me to walk into the street. As I continued walking, I came across a beautiful lake. Bright flowers were in bloom all around, groups of people were playing games, and others were going for a stroll. I followed the path around the lake and ended up at a temple. I bought a ticket and went inside. It was a beautiful, small temple.

img_4011

img_4012

img_4024

img_4033

img_4030

img_4036

img_4027

I found a restaurant nearby on TripAdvisor with a 5-star rating. I didn’t have a reservation, but they told me that if I was done by 7:00 pm (it was 5:45 pm) I could get a table. It was a romantic, upscale restaurant filled with couples. I paid $26 USD for a three-course meal including wine. The food was delicious and I considered this a treat.

Next to me was a couple in their 20s from the U.K. Their snobbish attitude was apparent when they instructed the waiter that the girl was vegan and clarified, “no butter.” The server confirmed, “vegan?” I thought it was insulting that they assumed he didn’t know what vegan means considering he is a server in a major city.

The waiter mentioned the fish sauce that he’d remove as well before he walked away. Looking concerned, the girl said to the guy, “Wait, so all the food we ate in Thailand…I wonder if it had fish sauce in it?”

The guy responded with what I was thinking, “Yes, I’m sure it did. Especially the pad Thai.”

The girl justified it, “Well, it was vegetarian at least. I don’t eat food when I know it’s not vegan.”

The guy responded, “Yes you do.”

Getting upset, the girl said, “No I don’t. I know a guy that says ‘as long as I don’t know if it has stuff in it, I’m vegan.’ That’s not me.”

The guy laughed, “It is when you’re drinking.”

Dining solo at times is lonely. Other times, it’s entertaining. After enjoying my delicious meal, I chatted with the server, Leah. She told me about herself and how she was learning English. We had a nice conversation, but it was close to 7:00 pm and I had to skedaddle.

img_4042

img_4050

img_4048

I walked back to my hotel and was enjoying the cooler air. Street vendors were setting up small tables in the middle of the streets. Shirts promoting the meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un lined the clothing booths. The two had just met in Hanoi and the t-shirts had their faces outlined with the word “peace.” The city was abuzz and I was excited to see what Vietnam had in store.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 17-18: Discovering Portland, Oregon

I purposely booked nine nights in Portland so that I could take my time exploring the city, get some writing done, and not have to pack/unpack every one-two nights. I needed to get my tire looked at since it kept losing air so I took it to Costco. For $10, they repaired it and removed a hard piece of plastic. While I waited for it to be repaired, I ate at the food court and noticed they had acai berry bowls available and Al Pastor Salads – both items I had not seen at Costco before. You can tell a lot about a city by what the restaurants (including fast food) serve. They cater to their markets.

Around 4:30 pm, my friend Justin met me at the hostel to hang out. I met Justin while hiking the John Muir Trail two years prior; he was the first person I had met on the trail. During the second night of hiking, I was exhausted, and I didn’t know where to set up my tent. He helped me pick out a spot and we chatted the following morning as well. We stayed in touch, messaging every several months or so.

Around 40 years old, thin and fit, with ear-length dark hair (with some grey hair starting to show), Justin is attractive and has a good heart. He works as an engineer and used to be a director at his company until he decided he preferred to have more time outside of work. Years ago, he spent time biking through different countries and camping. He’s a rare mix of business and outdoorsy. Justin has been in Portland for about 13 years and is originally from Pennsylvania. He came to Portland for grad school and stayed. Overall, he enjoys it, but he has to get out of the city every winter for a few weeks and go somewhere that has sun and no rain.

He arrived at the hostel in shorts and a t-shirt, holding a refillable water bottle. He suggested we walk around the city a bit and explore. Justin mentioned there was a rose garden not too far away and we could walk through some trails to get there.

As we walked through the northwest corner of the city towards the park, we caught up on our lives and my recent travels. When we got to the park, the trail was uphill, including many stairs that were covered in trees. It was very hot outside and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Regretting my decision not to wear shorts, I started sweating right away.

We climbed the stairs and my heart was racing. I have bradycardia, which is a slow heartbeat. I’ve seen a cardiologist a couple of times because it’s usually in the low 40’s (during a 24-hour heart monitor test, it dropped to 38 while I was at work). They determined I have a murmur and it skips, but they can’t do anything to speed up my heart, except put in a pacemaker – and I’m too young for that. For the most part, it’s fine. But when I go up stairs or climb a mountain, my heart starts racing and it gets hard to breathe. It’s like my body doesn’t know what to do with a fast heartbeat. It’s frustrating because I start to breathe heavily, making me look out of shape. I do a lot of cardio to try to help with it but haven’t been able to fix it.

It’s embarrassing and I tried my best to not appear like I was dying. After too many stairs to count, Justin and I arrived at the International Rose Test Garden. It was absolutely worth the climb. Row after row of roses in all colors and sizes were lined up. Justin said we could check out any rose we wanted and we browsed along as we continued to talk – smelling some along the way.

After checking out the rose garden, we headed back towards the downtown area. There is a section of town were food trucks are always ready to serve. We checked out the whole square block and I decided on getting a gyro wrap and Justin got some vegetarian Greek food. We took our food and walked a couple of blocks to a city park. It had a water fountain, tables and chairs, and was pretty much all concrete (except the trees giving some shade).

Justin and I found a table, ate our food, and chatted about the dating scene. Justin and his girlfriend met online three years ago and dated for about six months but then broke up for a while. They started dating again and he recently moved in with her. I told him about my woes of online dating – how guys would match with me and then not message. That in L.A., guys always think they can get someone better because it’s the city of models and actresses. And then there’s the ghosting phenomenon where guys just simply disappear for no reason at all. Justin said when he went on a date with a woman and didn’t feel the chemistry, he’d always tell her instead of ghosting. This confirmed my belief that he’s a good guy. His advice to me for online dating was to be picky and only go on dates with guys who I really liked. The thing is, I think my problem has been that I’m too picky.

We headed back to the hostel around 8:00 pm and continued to have great conversation. Justin had to get home so he headed home after we got back to the hostel. I really enjoyed hanging out with him. It was also nice to have someone show me around the city as a local.

The next day I had an appointment at The National University of Natural Medicine (it is a school of naturopathic medicine) for a nasal balloon clearing. My doctor in L.A. had recommended I go there because my allergies are always so stuffed and I have a deviated septum. My ENT doctor wanted to do surgery to correct the deviated septum but I thought trying this might help clear everything out.

When I arrived at the center, I had to fill out all sorts of paperwork and insurance information. When I left my job, my health insurance ended when I was no longer an employee. With Cobra, you can elect to keep your same insurance plan for up to 18 months, if you pay the premium. I was very lucky to have an employer who paid my premiums 100% so I didn’t even know what the cost was. When I left the company, I found out it would be over $500 a month to keep my plan. I decided to keep it through the end of the year since I had already paid so much into the deductibles. You have 60 days to enroll into the program and I was waiting to receive all the forms in the mail to my parents’ house. During those 60 days, once they receive payment, the insurance plan will continue uninterrupted. However, at that very moment, I was in the beginning of the 60-day window. I knew the insurance would be retroactive and there wouldn’t be a gap in insurance but I was afraid they’d run the card and find out it had technically been cancelled. Thankfully, they accepted my card for the time being.

The naturopathic college has students learning as they practice medicine. A young girl grabbed me from the lobby and did a thorough exam, following everything she was taught. I wasn’t prepared for such thoroughness as I thought this would just be a quick exam. The good news is that I no longer had a job to get back to, so I wasn’t stressed about the time. Normally when I’d go to doctor appointments, the anxiety would set in because I usually needed to get back to work and every minute sitting there waiting on the doctor caused stress. But not working any longer made me much more relaxed.

The student doctor did all her tests and questioned herself when she took my heart rate – 42. When she put it into the computer system, it was flagged with an exclamation mark. This always forces me to explain my slow heart beat and that I’ve seen a cardiologist multiple times and it’s fine.

The doctor came in and went over all the things I could do to improve my allergies to pollen and then said he might not do the procedure because of my deviated septum. What?! I was devastated. I came all that way and was very hopeful for some relief. He was also concerned that my eye doctor had wanted me to follow-up with a neurologist about my blurry vision and fuzzy optical nerves in my eyes, which I had yet to do. I basically pleaded with him to do the procedure and assured him I was fine. He said he’d try to do the side with the deviated septum first because if it was too restricted, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

I laid on the table and he put a device up my nostril and it went through. Then came the part where he shoots a balloon thing up my nose. He described the pressure like going into the deep end of the pool quickly. It lasts about 2 seconds, is painful, and does indeed feel like going into the deep end of the pool. I held my breath and it hurt. It immediately made my eyes water. Now I know why he gave me tissues before we started.

The doctor did the left nostril and it went in perfectly. Then he had to do three different cavities in each nostril. It was a total of four painful shots up the nose on each side. Each time I had to hold my breath, experienced two seconds of pain, and then my eyes watered. On the third one, my ears popped.

Once we were finished, the doctor said, “Good job. You know, doctors are now doing this procedure and putting people under anesthesia.” I can see why. It hurt! But it didn’t last long and my nose was clearer. The doctor said it would be clear that day, but tomorrow would likely get clogged again and then get better a few days later. However, patients need to do this procedure two-three times, spread out over a few weeks. What?! I thought this was a “one and done” type of thing. I told him I would only be in Portland for another week but he was out-of-town the following week. I agreed to come back in two weeks since I’d be in Seattle and it wouldn’t be too far away. As for the third time coming in, that would have to wait until further notice.

I got back to the hostel and watched some episodes of the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu on my ipad mini. Through the thin wall I could hear a few guys talking in the kitchen. One guy had a southern accent and two guys had Indian accents. Here are parts of the conversation I could hear:

Indian accent: “Do you want a beer?”

Southern accent: “No thanks. 1 beer turns into 15. I can never have just 1.”

Indian accent: “Why are you in Portland?”

Southern accent: “I’m here with my business partner for a seminar.”

Indian accent: “Oh, we’re just here for fun. How old are you?”

Southern accent: “I’m 23. You?”

Indian accent: “Guess”

Southern accent: “24?”

(Laughing)

Indian accent: “No, I’m 32 and have my PHD!”

A little later…

Indian accent: “I also do standup comedy. I’m still trying to find that one perfect white racist joke.”

Shortly after, they all decided to play a card game that was on the bookcase in the kitchen. It made me laugh that I could hear their conversation word for word and they had no idea.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek