A Travellerspoint blog

Tiger's paws do not belong on bridges in Guangzhou

overcast 30 °C

My first three weeks (it's only been 3 weeks?! what!) has been really good. We've had a few up small dramas that I need to catch everyone up on.

First is the dreaded cave room in Guangzhou. Finally it got cleaned, and it is more acceptable now. Although I really can't get a good night sleep there after knowing all those bed bugs were in the bed! eek! We came thinking that we'd be in Guangzhou every weekend... but I think we've come to a decision that Guangzhou will be more of a monthly trip. I also completely understand how visitors felt when they came into Guangzhou last year. Everyone always said how overwhelming it is, and stressful! I feel the same now when I'm in Guangzhou. It's just much more of a highly strung atmosphere... like there is always noise, and honking, and tons of people, and smog, and pushing and shoving. When I lived there, I was in my bubble though and you get used to it. But now I'm a villager!! (Yes, they actually call people who live out here villagers, so I'm usurping that name for myself). We have a nice river and we can hear crickets in the evening, and not ONE car. Roger and I keep relating Xiaohuangpu, Shunde to Alabama. The weather isn't that different (very hot and humid- night and day), its peaceful, and the people are very laid back.

Another point to be made about the Cave Room in Guangzhou is that we have a fridge- but nothing else. Only a bed and the whole in the ground that serves as a toilet and shower. This is totally ok, if you have money. Last weekend we found ourselves absolutely stuck. Unfortunately it was Mid-Autumn Festival (the second biggest festival of the year). I had an invite to go back to a teachers house from last year and spend it with her family, but unfortunately there wasn't enough room in the car for both Roger and I. So, we decided to spend Mid Autumn Festival in Guangzhou. On the Moon Festival Night, we met up with some ELA's from this year and took the cable cars to the top of Baiyun Mountain in Guangzhou. It's the most famous mountain here, yet I've never gone up it before. We had really beautiful views out over the city, and enjoyed the company of 20,000 other Chinese people crammed into the cemented area at the top of the mountain. They still think its a good idea to bring a picnic to the top (i.e. Durian, moon cakes, and grapes set down on newspaper), even if there is no space to move.

We went out on Friday, so spent most of the money we brought with us. And then treated ourselves to our favourite 'Fine Foods' restaurant. It's the best equivalent we found for just a normal, low key, sandwich-pizza-salad type restaurant, run by a South African. Then we went to withdraw money....

Long story short, it turned out that neither Roger's Bank of China ATM card, or mine, was working. We had a few stressful phone calls to Chinese mentors, who didn't quite understand that, yes, we did try the ATM machine with our cards, and no we cannot go into the banks to withdraw money because the banks are closed until Wednesday because of Mid Autumn Festival (keeping in mind that this was Saturday), and that no we couldn't wait until tomorrow to borrow some money from our mentor because thats more than 24 hours away and we had absolutely no money and no water, and no food and we can't cook in our flat, and NO we cannot ask the new ELA's that have just arrived to China because for one, we don't even know them! just because they are from the same country as us doesn't mean we know them, and two, they wouldn't have any money either because noone has been paid yet this year! So we were stuck in a bad situation, and I admittedly had a small meltdown on the side of the road when I was left with a mentor saying 'ok good luck trying to find someone'... argh!... Luckily, our friend Alec from last year pulled through and lent us some money to get us by. So we survived! Although, we really couldn't spend the 4 day holiday exploring and doing day trips like we had hoped.

So... I am still left wondering about this amazingly bad Chinese logic that persists all around us daily. Bank of China needed to upgrade their card systems. Ok, fine. So they know that by doing this they will have to freeze all of the Bank of China ATM cards for at least 5 days while they are upgrading. OK... annoying. But then they decide to do this over the second biggest holiday of the year when EVERYONE is travelling and spending money.... What the F! (excuse my language...) But seriously? It's their way of avoiding a mad dash into the banks with people trying to get money out at the desk. But to solve this problem they literally just shut down the entire system AND close all the banks. Their problem is sorted! Oh China... I will never understand this country.

Speaking of Chinese logic, I heard a great example from a friend. Joel has been teaching economics and business for over 10 years around the world, and he's just arrived with his wife in China. The school he is teaching at is using an old version of the economics book- so he asks the school why they aren't using the new, up to date version, to prepare these kids for this international-exam. The school answers that the new version of the book is too hard for the students. Frustrated, Joel tries to explain that the exam is 75% economics, and 25% business- economics is the most important part of the exam. He wants to know why his time schedule is actually broken down with 25% of classes being economics and 75% being business (i.e. the wrong way round). The school explain that they have chosen the old version of the book because the new version of the book is really too big. And the old version of the book is only 1/4 of the width of the business book. Therefore, in their logic, they should spent 3 times the amount of classes on the business book, and only 25% of the classes on economics. No matter how hard Joel tried to explain that they can't just give the students a smaller book, so they have less classes, and don't have to focus on that subject as long because the exam is still 75% economics and 25% business. They really cannot get their heads around it! And to top it off, they insist that Joel should only focus on the multiple choice section of the exam. Joel points out that this is only 30% of the entire grade and that if he told the students to fill in 'A' on every single answer they'd have just as good chance. The other 70% is short answer, essay questions- where they need to know their stuff. 'Nope' the school says 'use the small book and only focus on multiple choice questions'..... Oh China.

We've also had our teacher's day celebrations. Teachers day is a day invented by the Chinese government where students bring teachers gifts, and teachers go out for a meal. In Shunde, we went across the road to the hotel for a really big, fancy meal with all the teachers. It started at 7:30pm, to the sounds of the music teacher playing 'Cotton Eyed Joe' on the violin. It was so different from where I associate Cotton Eyed Joe with (that is, Middle School dances). Cotton Eyed Joe was followed by a Chinese opera style, glass shattering, live song. Then the food was served!

After meat dish after fish dish after more meat dishes, I was thrilled when Binli pointed to a new dish that was just set down on the table, and says 'this is a very special dish, just for you Anna'. Looking at this mushroom salad type dish I start to fill up my bowl. A few mouthfulls in, I'm thinking its not exactly the best mushroom I've had but at least its vegetarian. Satisfied that I had at least one dish that I could eat (different from last years teachers meal where the only thing I could eat was the rice that came at the end of the meal), I laid back to enjoy the hilarious atmosphere of teachers 'gam bei-ing' ('cheers-ing') glasses of red wine, with all the high up school management going table to table cheers-ing everyone, with their own entourage of waitresses carrying little bottle of red wine and topping up people's glasses sip-by-sip (I wanted a full top up of my wine, because good wine is a very rare thing to come by in China and I was enjoying it, but each time I'd only get the tinniest of sips added ontop). I really needed more wine when a teacher lent over, showing me her phone. I read 'Jelly Fish Blubber', thinking she was just curious how to say this in English. 'This dish, you mean?' Roger says, pointing to my mushroom dish. The whole table nod their heads eagerly.... and then I realised that the full bowl of mushrooms I ate was not actually mushrooms. It was, infact, Jelly fish. So my 20 year streak of being vegetarian was immediately destroyed- not by chicken or beef or anything... but by Jellyfish.

At 8:40 precisely, just when we feel like the party is getting started, and the teachers are stumbling around with 'red faces' that they love to point out, Roger and I were in hysterics when everyone just stood up and started stumbling back to the school. I asked a friend, 'what exactly have the students been doing, since all the staff are in the hotel across the road', 'Oh we told them that they have to work very hard in evening class because we all have a very important meeting' (They don't like to tell students when they are all going out for a meal). I can't help but giggle as I think, ya right are the students going to believe that story when their teachers come stumbling back in at 8:50 pm, with 'red faces', trying to conduct evening class!!!!!

We were invited to another teachers day meal in Guangzhou, with our old school and all the new ELA's. This meal had much the same atmosphere with Chinese teachers downing glasses of nice wine, and within 20 minutes everyone is drunk off their faces with the ELA's (who have a much higher tolerance and also actually enjoy the taste of wine so we don't tend to down the whole glass!) watching on with amusement. Roger and I had a really great time at this meal because we caught up with all our past colleagues. We finally really felt like one of the crew. 'You guys are like a real Chinese teacher!' one of the new ELA's said.

And one last story to add in. When we were crossing a bridge in Guangzhou the next day, there were 6-7 different street sellers in a line all selling Tiger's paws. It was really sad. They sell them for Chinese medicine I think. :( Tigers paws don't belong on bridges in Guangzhou... they belong on the tiger!

Posted by Anna1289 20:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Apple a day, no need to go to doctor

A week back in China

overcast 34 °C

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A view from our floor of the teacher's block overlooking the school

I've had an eventful week, to say the least. But thoroughly enjoying my life at this school so far. I teach 16 classes of 12 year olds, 5 classes of 15 year olds, and 2 classes of 16 year olds... a variety! Each class has about 50 students (so its smaller than last year when there were 55-60 students in a class). It's tiring work, as their English level isn't as good as last year, but their behaviour and respect is much much better! I think it's the location of the school, and also because it's what we call a private school- they have to take entrance tests to be selected and if they don't continually meet grades they can be kicked out (although I'm sure there are plenty of routes around that).

This week's lesson is an introduction lesson and we're playing a game where they ask questions to two 'fake anna's' and the fake Anna's have to answer pretending that they are me. The routine questions are: Where are you from? What is your favourite food / colour? What is your telephone number? What are your hobbies? What is your favourite sport? How many people are in your family?, and also every single class asks 'what is your weight?' and they have not said that i am any less than 70 kg (most of the time i get 100 kg... which is 220 pounds) lol! its hilarious. This is probably a good reason why people who don't have thick skin should not come to china... or they should develop thick skin FAST! I also get more obscure questions like How long are your legs? What are the sizes of your feet? What is your father's name? (Surprisingly they got this right after I gave them a hint that someone in that class had the same english name!)

Roger's routine questions, in this order are:

Do you have a girlfriend?
How many girlfriends do you have?
Do you have a son?
When will you have a son?

One of the photos on a powerpoint is a photo of my family in a liverpool hotel before my graduation. In every class I point to me (about to tell them this is me in lvierpool) and they all shout 'NOOOOOOOOOOOO' and im like 'what????' and they are like 'Nooooooooooo on the right on the right!' and I point to Tessa 'You think that is me?' 'YES yes! you you!' I say 'noo thats my sister!' and they say 'Twin? twin?' (im impressed that someone knew that word actually), but so far none of my classes have believed that I am me, and that Tessa is my sister.

My co workers here have been incredibly nice and helpful. I arrived at my desk yesterday morning to find a boquet of flowers 'To Miss Anna from Class 7'; Jason stopped round to give me an apple, saying 'Apple a day, no need to go to doctor', I've had a box of chocolates from class six and some little cards the students have made. The students presents all come because on September 10th it's teachers day- a day where students celebrate the teachers (I think this perhaps has something to do with the history of China. When students rebelled against teachers and were ordered to publicly beat and kill them, I guess it'd be difficult to recruit more teachers!). There is also someone who is having a baby because I got more of those tea eggs on my desk. It's tradition in China that people eat tea eggs when someone pregnant because it brings the mother good luck. I hope that not eating them doesn't bring them bad luck because I can't stomach them.

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View from our balcony

We've been to visit Ronggui; the closest city to where we live. By bus it takes about half an hour (because the school is the last stop on the route, you can wait 20 minutes for the bus to come, so it can be quite a long journey). It's a 'typical' chinese city with really old fashion little side streets, and a very metropolitan centre with some big shopping malls. Surprisingly, there is a Tesco's inside one of them, though it's nothing to be excited about. Unless you really really like chicken feet and dried fish. They do do Tesco Value black tea bags for 4 Y (40 pence) which taste surprisingly OK, and a good taste from home that we crave. We realized we needed bleach for the flat, but neither Roger or me could think how to say this in Chinese. I was surprised when Roger went round the corner and came back immediately following a store assistant who led us straight to the bleach. After seeing my happily surprised face roger explained that he showed them the scourer we had already brought and mimed squirting cleaning liquid onto it and then pretended to clean the shelves in the store. We've managed to become quite creative in our time in China.

While in Ronggui, we had to venture off to find a key cutting place. Everyone there is so friendly. Not that Guangzhou wasn't, but everyone we asked for help couldn't do enough for us. Communication is more difficult than in Guangzhou, however, because noone speaks any English. At least in Guangzhou, if you are desperate, there is normally a young person nearby who you can ask for help. After securing a few phone numbers incase we needed more help and different directions written down on a piece of paper (I could make out one that started with 'Hello. Please help me..... ') we ventured down the main street. I'm surprised we didn't cause any accidents as motorcyclists were doing double and triple long stares at us as they drove by.

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View from our balcony

The town closest to us is Xiaohuangpu. It's a Chinese village (what they'd call a village) as it's only one street long with one roundabout at a T-junction in the middle, surrounded by people selling fruit and veg at stalls on the street. Although when you see a video of Xiaohuangpu, it might not look like a village because the buildings on the street are similar at camera height to ones in the city (i.e. concrete, and not very pretty).

We managed to do all this touring because our plans to stay the weekend at our flat in Guangzhou fell apart after we bought cleaning supplies back to the flat, started cleaning, and then realized the beds were infested with bed bugs. Infested is by no means an understatement. I have a pretty hard stomach and don't normally feel sick at the sight of something... but this was a different story. It was horrifically disgusting. Needless to say, we called our mentor to say there was no way we were staying there. He came round with thought we were talking about mosquito (We can cope with those- we have our sprays and plug in things and nets) but not a bed bug infestation. I think he was a little embarrassed, especially as his girlfriend was standing there in disbelief holding her nose and turning pretty green. This story ends with us getting the metro back to Kengkou (the same station Roger's old school was), to get a taxi going in the direction of Shunde. Although we had directions written on a piece of paper from our mentor, we didn't want to use that unless we had to (you want to try to prove you can speak Chinese in order to get the best price). We had one of those amazing moments where they seemed to understand us, and us them, and they knew where our school was and we went into the taxi and crossed our fingers we'd make it back. After a 30 minute drive in a high-speed Chinese taxi without seatbelts (the same drive takes 70 minutes in a minibus), we arrived at our school at 11:30 pm. So our weekend in Guangzhou was cut short to just a few hours.

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our front door, and the floor with live on (8)

Posted by Anna1289 00:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shunde, here we are!

overcast 34 °C

Success! I have connected to the internet- at my school- after a long journey (Starting with a 3:30 am wake up call in Hudson, Ohio, then a short flight to Toronto, followed by much longer 16 hour flight to Hong kong - which I was initially confused about considering we took a north-east flight route from Toronto :/ , meeting up with Roger in Hong Kong airport- very lucky considering neither of us had any mode of communication, then going to our traditional Vietnamese restaurant for an early dinner and an early night, then waking up to blistering heat to drag our suitcases through the metro, rush to the train narrowly missing it, taxi to my old school, lunch in my old neighbourhood/caught up with people at the school from last year, quickly packing the car to take us to Shunde school, and off we went!). The journey from my old school in Yuexiu District in Guangzhou (where our city apartment is this year, for us to use on the weekend) takes just over an hour.

We got help moving our stuff into our new, amazing, apartment. It's a great step up from last year. Big living room with a comfy couch (I cannot imagine why anyone would think a wooden couch is comfy?!), a table, flat screen tv and coffee table... all very western looking- amazing! One whole wall is glass sliding doors onto a little balcony with our washing machine and a view straight out to the river (chinese style- so not all nature like... but a definite country green feeling compared to the concrete jungle that is Guangzhou!). We have a little kitchen with a sink and a plug-in hot plate and a microwave, an AMAZING bathroom with a walk in shower (huge upgrade when you take into account that roger had his shower over the hole-that-is-a-toilet, all within arms reach of the kitchen sink), a real sink with mirrors that have cupboards behind them. The bedroom has an amazing dark wood sleigh bed with a big dark wood desk and huge cupboards, even I can't fill! This room also has one wall of sliding glass doors onto the balcony.

In the distance there are some mountains and you can see some tall buildings in the far distance. There is a lot of boat traffic coming to and from Hong Kong. Next to our apartment building is the start of a luxurious housing neighbourhood. Luxurious is an understatement. 4 floors, guest house, in the back, beautiful swimming pool, coy fish pond with a deck and an outdoor eating area, and a constant staff to take care of everything. This is HUGE considering the normal family lives in a tiny one bedroom / studio with very limited facilities. Our school is the start of this new luxury town being developed by a company called Eastcote.

Today started early with the opening ceremony. I remember a year ago when I sat with my mouth wide open in complete terror at what I had to face in the coming year. Everything, not just the language, was completely foreign. This year I sat comfortably in the gymnasium full of a few thousand students dressed in their red scarves as we listened to the principal do her 1 hour long speech (of which I understood a surprising amount). I had a moment of reality when they had a whole grade stand up with their right fists raised and recite a pledge of some kind (all I understood of this was 'We are all good students. We love school...'.

This was followed by an English teachers photo, and a tour of the offices. I'm lucky enough to have not one, but two desks that I can call my own. One in Junior 2's office next to Roger's desk (the same grade that I taught last year) and one in Junior 1's office (with a lot of the teacher's I'll be teaching with). I have 16 classes of Grade 7 / Junior 1 students (ages 12-13 years), and I have 4 classes of Senior 1 students (ages 15-16 years) and two classes of Senior 2 students (ages 16-17). Everyone at this school is so so friendly and they are all making us feel really at home and welcome.

After registering at the small, friendly police station with the police chief whose son is in Roger's class this year, Binli took us into the local village called Xiao Huang Pu. It's the closest place to do any shopping to us. It's part of Ronggui (the city where my school / Eastcote village is), which is part of Shunde District (the capital of Shunde is Dalian- its across the river from us and you can just about see the tall buildings). Shunde District is apart of Foshan, which is the city neighbouring Guangzhou. We are on the highspeed rail line to Zhuhai. Apparently, we were told, the high speed trains are not going as fast these days, presumably because of the accident in July that killed 44 people near Shanghai.

In Xiao Huang Pu we got lunch at this really nice eating place called Lu Cao Tang. They have a huge menu and I got a mushroom dish and the spicy 'la jiao' peppers, along with Shunde's famous dish- fried milk! It's actually like a light donut with a creamy sugary sauce you dip them into. Then we went to the bike shop and I resisted my urge to buy an electric motor scooter (mostly due to the fact I was terrified of driving it on the roads) and instead I bought myself Erwin- my new bike (for those of those who know, my last bike in Liverpool was called Steve). Roger also got himself a man bike with gears and stuff. Erwin is much more feminine looking without any gears but it fits me great!

We were brought down to the reality of living in China when we went into a store to get some bed sheets and it was the most frustrating thing of our lives. apparently they really dont have any sort of matching sets. They are all horrible cheesy-flowery patterns, and they come in about 15 different sizes. We were desperate not to sleep without any bed linen so after a long long time of trying to decipher what exactly each sheet was (apparently normal sheets here dont exist- they are more like blankets) (and don't even ask about the duvet cover... I never ever want to try to find a douvet cover in china again) we left the store with a horrible, overly priced pink/ purple flowerly douvet cover which turns out to be way too big for our douvet, and a bottom sheet like thing with frilly edges and a strange brown stripe design with random pictures on it, that was also enormously too big for our bed, and two really thick yellow/brown apple design pillow cases. Nothing matches, and nothing fits, but at least we have something!

Then we drove Erwin and roger's bike back to our school, which is about a 10 minute bike ride past the fruits and veg market down the main road of the town, then the rest of the journey is on a path next to a wide 4 lane road which is rarely used (its the new road built to the 'city' that Eastcote is building, where the school is). It's all very Chinese, but so far we are really loving it! We feel really really welcomed here. Tomorrow evenings challenge will be cleaning out the grotty, moldly, smelly flat in Guangzhou (after we experience the typhoon that we have been told is coming tomorrow- and the weather looks as if it is... although I'm not so sure?!) And our first lessons will start on Monday :)

Well done to anyone who has got this far in reading this entry!!! Hopefully I'll include photos soon

xx

Posted by Anna1289 02:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Lucy in the sky with...Chickens...?

The adventures of the chicken

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Something flashed...what was it?

It happened again, this time the image lingered just long enough for me to make it out clearly. A chickens face stared back through the reflection in the glass equally as confused and surprised as me.

Up six floors above the ground a chicken was due to be dinner but had somehow made a break for the window and got out just before the knife hit. On a ledge high above the concrete below, and with his audience rapidly expanding (now reaching two as my house-mate joined) the scene was resembling a suicide attempt more and more as the seconds ticked by.

Having done my paparazzi part i was turning around to leave and then the inevitable happened

Hysterical squawks pierced the air as gravity once again proved to be the chickens arch rival. Spinning round i caught the sight of feathers flying towards the tree, heard branches snap then...THUD.

Expecting the worst i peered over the ledge to try to see the results, with my morbid curiosity in overdrive (lets face it everyone has wondered what a chicken that fell 6 floors onto concrete looks like at one point or other). However, somehow i was left disappointed.

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What shall now be know as titanium chicken was up and walking on top of the garish blue corrugated roof of the first floor flat. His expression told it all, 'squawk how the hell do i get down from here now squawk' closely followed by ' freedom!' (please insert own voices here).

Unbeknown to our feathery friend the commotion had awoken chickens other arch enemy, the hungry Chinese man. At once an underfed shadow appeared with a broom to 'coax' our hero down. Our chickeny friend however was one wiley fellow and was not to be fooled he was staying put.
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I would love to tell you this story had an equally funny ending but if you inspect the picture below you shall see the last ever image of

TITANIUM CHICKEN!!!!!

Story and genius courtesy of Roger Golding

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Posted by Anna1289 04:42 Archived in China Tagged animals chicken asian Comments (0)

The ancient town of Hoi An

SPRING FESTIVAL TRAVEL ADVENTURES: PART 3

semi-overcast 23 °C

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Even the dogs get their clothes tailored here!

We loaded onto the sleeper bus in Ninh Binh at 9pm, with our new friends from our hostel waving us off. We were expecting to have a good nights sleep on the bus (or as good as you can get) and awake in Hoi An the next morning. However after a very uncomfortable night, we woke the next morning to find that we had hardly covered any distance over night. It was our first real long-distance experience in Vietnam, and it was this journey that we learned that its best to assume the journey times they quote will in reality be double the time. We eventually arrived in Hoi An at 8pm that night... tired, hungry and feeling disgusting! The only explanation we have is that the piled everyone on at night, waited until the passengers were asleep and pulled over for a sleep themselves!

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The journey was well worth it, although this delay meant we only had one full day to appreciate the exceptionally well-preserved traditional Asian trading port, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It's the only town in Vietnam to have survived intact in this way, and most buildings are in a traditional architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries, with colourful, long narrow lanes, wonderful to wander around.

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The symbol of Hoi An, the Japanese Bridge (16th-17th Century)

As well as being beautiful, Hoi An has developed a strong reputation for being a tailoring town, where people go to get suites, dresses, shoes, jackets and all sorts tailored to fit, and have exact replicas made. The vast majority of stores in this small town cater to the market, so there is no shortness of choice. Thankfully our hotel had a recommendations book, so Roger and I immediately went to PEACE tailors to get him measured up for a suit. Initially he wasn't convinced, but after seeing their clothes, and being able to design everything about his suit (from the style, to the colours and trim) he ended up ordering two suites, and a pair of linen trousers (which I liked so much I had them made for myself aswell). Amazingly, they were ready for the first fitting by noon the next day.

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After seeing Roger's suites, my clothes envy got the most of me and I decided to splurge on a tailored leather jacket for myself. I got measured up at midday, and it was ready for the first fitting that evening, and I picked it up early the next morning... talk about a quick turn around! I only wished that we were heading up north, rather than to the hot tropical south, so that I had a chance to wear it. But it was totally worth carting around :)

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The famous 'rocket fuel', Vietnamese drip coffee

It sounds like this part of my trip was full of shopping, and it really was. But Hoi An is such a sleepy town, there isn't too much to do, other than to relax, wander around the beautiful, quaint streets, look at all the colourful shops and sit in little cafes with a vietnamese drip-coffee (that is so strong you could fuel an engine with it). The culture here was very different to North Vietnam, as we had crossed over the demilitarized zone (that separates the North from the South) on the bus journey. The chaos that encompassed Hanoi seemed like a different world ... but it was exactly what I expected and hoped from Vietnam.

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Posted by Anna1289 02:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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