[Babbles] Of whacked-out events and missing MHC

In a matter of a week, an earthquake with ensuing aftershocks hit the East Coast, meanwhile Hurricane Irene  is lurking somewhere in the Atlantic, ready to rummage in as well. I know the earthquake was only moderate, but a piece of the National Cathedral – my beloved in DC, broke off for crying out loud and the 150-year-old Smithsonian tower, my home for two summers now has cracks all over…And who would have suspected a freaking tremor let alone an entire earthquake in the East Coast, felt up to New England, for that matter?

I hadn’t been back to the school’s website in so long, but today found myself opening the burnt orangey/yellow page that was my homepage for 4 years again to this: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/news/channels/22/stories/5683026

A warning on Hurricane Irene, possible case of flooding and “loss of communications” on campus grounds. I don’t think I recall ever having to deal with anything as huge , with the exception of that snow storm, Valentines’ Day of 2007 when my PVTA bus was stuck on Rt 116 for 4 hours. But again, that’s snow, a snow storm in New England is as common as campus breakfast: occasionally loved, frequently neglected, and best avoided…but flooding? Nature’s gone and whacked out in the States with this series of happenings I’m telling you and ,I have no idea how serious all of this is going to get, but I’m crossing my fingers from Hanoi here for the safest and best over there. The status from which I got this link off of on facebook compared Irene to a category 1 storm in Vietnam which is nothing…but I’m doubting those remarks considering how everyone on the East Coasts seem quite flustered with it all. The fact that it’s a hurricane coming to the Pioneer Valley alone (MHC context wise), that’s enough to get your pants tied up in a bunch. Keep me updated, I am, you know, half way around the world here. Glad to hear some of you (you know who you are ) are at least stocking up, be it booze and chips, you have the awareness and preparation mode set, lol 😀

Missing MHC, Missing DC, thoughts to all my loved ones, that includes people and structures! (no more trees falling on campus dorms, please)

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[Heart Snippets] Congrats Class of 2011!

MHC Laurel Parade - Graduation, May 2009

Here’s to this year’s graduating class! Hope you girls are feeling all of the excitement, anxiety, “what the hell am I going to do with my life”-joys today…^^ I haven’t come to fathom the fact that the last time I were in those shoes was exactly two years ago, it’s indescribable, how quickly time flies. I miss Mount Holyoke, the girls, those long-ass, laugh and eat till you drop VSA cooking sessions, Bhangra!, the greenhouse, the lakes gleaming during the autumn days, M&Cs, the PVTA, Route 116, Ronaldo-the white goose, the libraryy!, Chef Jeff Cookies, the French department lounge, Mead Hall, swiping cards at Blanchard, Prospect’s awesome fried dough, even Shadley and its Main Moon freaking food-poisoning Chinese resto…too much to name, all this nostalgia suddenly building up….much love my dear Mohos!

[Travel] Sprint into May – Vũng Tàu & Sài Gòn

May began gloriously with me getting my cell phone swindled at the Ha Long Carnival…tis the joy of being a reporter, squeezing your way through 5,000 bodies, and expecting to come out somehow intact. I’ve lost all the contacts I’ve had in 2 years, the disappointment of which, I have thankfully come to terms with.

By the 5th of May, I was well away from Hanoi, from the depressing cold-war atmosphere that was slowly seeping its eeriness into me, and back to the sun-shine-filled, free-to-be-who-you-are city of Saigon. On the 6th, Miranda, a friend of mine back from Moho, also an 09’er, arrived from Hong Kong, where she’s now based. She is the first Moho (aside from the Vietnamese gals, of course), I have seen since graduation almost 2 years ago. It definitely brings up a lot of nostalgia, and reminds me of how much I miss the “shadley” girl hub. Anyhooo, Miranda’s 4 days in Vietnam began and I believe, resonated with FOOD. With the help of Y, our local guide, we made our way scrumptiously through Chinese-influenced night goodies like duck’s tongue (weird but tasty) through the more traditional Vietnam-is-known-for-food like banh xeo, or pho, to infamous-to-foreigners dishes such as the vast diversity of snails, ending it with what Miranda thought she would never eat again in her life: a premature duck’s egg marinated with basil and fish sauce. This is of course well under-told, because seriously, on the 2nd day, we had a record 8 meals throughout the day, basically eating anything that was edible and interesting-looking to the eyes.

On the 8th, we grabbed a couple of Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi <3, and 2 coconuts filled with jelly for lunch, took a boat, 1.5 hours to Vung Tau, a coastal city nearby, rented ourselves right off the port some motorbikes and basically was either eating, sleeping or riding the motorbike for the next 24 hours after that. Vung Tau is gorgeous when you make your spiraling way up the mountain to the lighthouse , locals hike up there on a daily basis, but with the heat, having the wind in your hair on the motorbike, as the sea just gleams right off the side of the cliffs, is an adventurously satisfying experience. Food, of course, can not be left untouched here…we had the famous banh khot, little circles of dough fried golden in molds topped with shrimp, scallion, beansprouts, sprinkled with minced dried shrimp…according to preference, can be rolled with fresh herbs into a roll and then dipped tactfully into fish sauce …tastes absolutely heavenly. Do try if you’re ever in Vung Tau. After that first dinner, we got on our bike again, rode 5 minutes next door to a seafood joint, literally had half a kilo of grilled snails, a plateful of shallots/butter stir-fried mussels, 3 tamarind-marinated crabs, and a thoi-loi fish hotpot ( thoiloi is a fish quite widespread in appearance in the region). You could imagine after all of that food, sun and moving, we would have gone home and snoozed it off…but no, a craving for durians was up in the air…and so we scoured the city for 2 durians, settled down right on the streets bordering the coast, and devoured them like they were the last 2 of their kind in the world. Absolutely an amazing sleep after that!

The 9th was a sore-butt day with intense motor-bike riding, we rode for about 35km under the sun, towards Long Son, a town still in Ba Ria Vung Tau province. Here, after having amazing banh canh – cylindrical noodles with pig’s feet all in gorgeously sweet pork broth and then spotting a Vietnamese music ‘star’ of the sort, Le Cat Trong Ly, right across from us, we would visit a fishing community, the Big House, known for being the biggest wooden house structure in Vietnam – originally set up manually by a fisherman back in the beginning of the 20th century. Here we saw Le Cat Trong Ly too…and then at lunch, when we went to this restaurant on stilts, in the middle of a river with oyster farms spread sporadically all over, we once again met with the music ‘star’. We secretly convinced ourselves that she was following us or at least, whoever set up her itinerary was ‘cool’ like us. It’s the second time I’ve been to the resto, absolutely love it for the quiet, set-apart ambiance, water flowing right under you, a wooden boat that takes you out there, and then a wooden-framed collection of seafood still alive and fresh in water as your menu. The best part, besides the food of course, is the hammocks hung randomly across the wooden structure on stilts, giving us an awesome reason to nap after 5 types of snails, grilled fish and then another hotpot….I’m getting full just retelling all of this

We got back to Saigon the same afternoon, absolutely covered in dirt, after all of that motorbike traveling, but anxious to get out in the southern hub as Miranda would be leaving in less than 12 hours. All the details of the food will def. become exhaustive, but it was such a memorable trip and has reminded me that I need to get into culinary blogging, share with you guys and gals all of the possibilities that you could offer to your palate. Miranda went back to Hong Kong at 5 am on the 10th, and we’re hoping to catch up with each other soon again in the near future, with another trip, either in Vietnam or elsewhere in the region 😀 Can’t wait :). Enjoy some of the pics! Food pics will come later, unfortunately *_*

[Babbles] Top or bottom …24 is the next limbo.

I’m sitting in a motel room, with 60s style marble floor, and hideously baroque-ish champagne-color drapes. There are 3 mosquitoes, which I have in the last 5 minutes, spotted circulating my area, ready to take charge at any sign of loss-caution. Outside, rain has finally stopped, but I’m not sure whether the sealed-in windows here are a blessing or a curse…the silence is deafening, the only sound heard every once in a while is of a mosquito or some kind of wasp who has lost his sight for one second, and therefore crashed, in what to me, is but a flickering sound, into the dreary blue lights of this dead-empty room.

I’m contemplating what my 24th birthday means to me, and I really can’t think of anything. I always thought working in a slightly noisy environment was quite more effective for me. Anyhoo, my 24th birthday might suddenly have meaning because THE world’s ROYAL COUPLE has chosen it to tie the knot…for all I know, if I were in England, I wouldn’t be bloody sitting 4 hours away from home trying to work out how to make badly-organized tourism stunts look good on television on my birthday. 24 is but a number, 24 is the point of reaching the top and is the moment of slamming into the bottom, 24 is me and I am 24…is today any less or more reflective of the fact that I’m any more mature and less prone to stupidities in my life? No…because it’s but a number, a motivation for people to believe that after a day that’s called your birthday, things might and could change for the better, that with age, comes perhaps more wisdom, more opportunities, more chances to not live the way you’ve wrongfully lived so many years before. The number means a lot this year though, because of those who treasure it, those who embrace it as a new starting point for me and for that I must say, it has become more than just a number, and I thank you for making reality a little bit less harsh. With love.

[Babbles] Eyes-shut post

I’m writing this with my laptop perched on my thighs, and the rest of me flat on the bed, my eyes near to closed shut. It’s been such a long long day since 6 am after a merely 3-hour-snooze. I leave for Ha Long in a day for the supposed-exciting-yet-which-I-dread Tourism week, so all this last rush of work is really piling in. The sudden Talk held today was obviously not expected so the working schedule with the daily news got topsy-turvyed a bit.

Today’s Talk might be of some interest to you, a chat with an American veteran named James Zumwalt. His book, “Barefeet, Iron Will” has just been translated into Vietnamese and published in the country. It compiles some 200 interviews he conducted throughout 10 years from 1994 of Vietnamese veterans and families, with the hope of shedding light on what he calls “the otherside of Vietnam’s battlefields”. James’ story became intriguing to me in the fact that he is actually the son of the US navy admiral who sealed the decision on spraying AO/dioxin in Vietnam. James’ older brother, who also fought in Vietnam, in a twist of fate, later died because of AO related cancers. The experience, which he deems a very “ironic tragedy”, left him bitter and even hateful towards Vietnam, yet his first trip back to the former enemy land in 1994 saw him take a change of heart, veering him towards the road of trying to understand more about Vietnam and its people, as a healing remedy. I met James today in his 53rd or probably 54th visit to Vietnam…be on the lookout for his book:)

The day ended very scrumptiously well with me abruptly deciding to celebrate my bday early, went out with 4 very dear friends of mine to a newly found spot: The Halia at Pacific Place here in Hanoi. It’s the first international outlet store of the Singapore-based restaurant of the same name. The location is absolutely gorgeous, tucked tactfully away within the courtyard of the centrally located Pacific Place. The restaurant has an interior room with 2 floors, and then a glass-framed terrace section connecting the room with a lush-green surrounding…I’ve already imagined how nice it’d be during the day, with the sun and all. To top it all off, it’s probably the best fusion food I’ve had in Hanoi so far, very nicely plated and as reviews have raved: cooked to perfection. I had duck with pear and cashew nuts, which was so well marinated, the taste was still seeping through my palate half an hour after I had finished. The pandan leaf creme brulee with coconut ice cream was, aside from being so beautiful-i-couldn’t-bare-to-eat-it, sooo scrumptious. The cherry on top of the day was the complimentary chocolate-soaked brownie cake the restaurant gave me and the lemon cheese-cake the crew had gotten me…I’m overdosed with sugary delights! It’s definitely not a place that I can afford, with my salary to visit often, but It’s great food for the value plus understandably yet surprisingly pleasing service, that is a rough diamond here in Hanoi.

With that said, and my stomach in utter bliss, it’s off to bed! toodle-loo!