So, 2012? How about that. Gone just like that. I will have to say looking back that it will be one of my most memorable years. I am happy to say it was the year I saw 3 countries. Ending it in Vietnam was amazing. It was however a weird Christmas. Not bad, but different to say the least. My friends certainly made it as good as could have been and we had fun. Although it might seem appropriate, this will not be the post about reflection. I mean, I could re hash all the ins and outs of 2012, but seeing as this is a “blog about my time in Korea” I’ll put that all together in the closing week.
At first, I wasn’t sure whether I’d go anywhere for the break. I had to think about what was more important, saving money or traveling. OBVIOUSLY, traveling won. And OBVIOUSLY its a better idea. So, there ya go, but how was Vietnam? In a word, awesome. It just, didn’t start out smoothly. It was kinda like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with crunchy peanut butter but the first bite had crunched up egg shells in it. It doesn’t really ruin the sandwich, you just have to get through that unexpected bite then you can enjoy the rest. And then you take a second bite and find a finger nail. By then you’re like ‘ok, if there is one more surprise imma get real grumpy all up in here.’ It sort of began like that.
We got to the airport Saturday night early enough to exchange money, grab a bite to eat and of course get our tickets and whatnot. Well..we had a little hiccup..or I had one and my awesome and patient friends stuck around to see it through. So, we get up to the counter and wouldn’t you know it my passport number showed up ‘incorrect’ on my Visa application form to get into Nam. The airlines response, “Uhh maybe he cannot go but you three can go ahead ok.?” Here’s to empathy..So after much deliberation, contacting the Visa issuance place via email to change my number back to the correct one and waiting long enough to nix any plans of exchanging money, getting a good meal or relaxing..we were able to get me on the plane, but I had to sign a form waiving the airline of any responsibilities incase I lose something or get kidnapped etc..well it wasn’t that extreme, but that was how they viewed it.
SOO, off we went..5 hours later, Nam. We went through security, waited an hour or so, received our VISA’s and preceded to exchange our money. Pretty soon we would be ready to enjoy the Vietnam experience. But wait, the nail in the pb…So, we get to the counter and it turns out they do not accept the 100,000 Won bill for exchange because even though you can get it from the ATM’s in Korea it is first and foremost, a check. WTF. See, when I went to the Philippines I exchanged money at the airport and it worked out just fine. But in Vietnam those bills are apparently just cool pieces of paper that can’t do anything. Just Casey and I were actually screwed at the moment though. Because she listened to me and ya, there you go. Hind sight says, bring American money…or just don’t have your VISA number screwed up…or see into the future, but that is an ability for another day. Luckily Lauren had some US cash and Casey had a little extra as well so we could make it through the first night and possibly the first day. However, the silver lining was that we could simply go to a Vietnamese Bank where we would be able to exchange (even the really lame useless bills that aren’t worth anything) and get money to spend instead of being poor for a week. Simple right?
Well, no. The answer is it was not simple. We went out searching on Monday for the first recommended spot to exchange our money and be on our way. They looked at us like we were idiots and wrote down another place to go. That scenario happened to us at 6 different places where people assured us they would take our “money” and only took half a day. We even went to a “Korean Bank” where they said they don’t trade Korean Won. That silver lining was looking a little brown..Luckily we did find a bank that allowed Casey to use money from her home account, Rachell figured out her finances on her own and I was fortunate enough to have my Dad bail me out for the week (THANK YOU DAD!!) because every 27 year old wants to be bailed out on Christmas in Vietnam…But hey, better lucky than proud. Pride? HA! as if. There’s the pb and j I was lookin for..
Ok, now it can begin. We walked a lot..easily over 5 miles a day. It was worth it though. The thing we noticed most about Saigon was how it was bursting with culture. People were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many people or so many scooters. Thousands of them. At all times. And Christmas was insane! Music was always playing and people were out all day. A lot of the families work 360 days a year just to make it. Unbelievable. I miss my summer break as a teacher and they get 5 days off? Yikes. What a weenie..We enjoyed the shopping experience very much. Once I figured we could haggle the price quite easily, I had a lot of fun with it. The thing is, we didn’t wanna rip them off. But after the first day we found out they try to do it to us based on how low some would go compared to others. One guy tried to see us a pair of sun glasses for $10 (which is cheap) when the next day we were offered 3 pairs for the same price. So, after that it was game on.
The night life was fun, the people were very nice and the area we stayed at was lively every night. We were out until the sun came up our first few nights. That was fun. We went from the frozen freeze your face off country to a hot and humid atmosphere. A change to say the least. Amidst all the enjoyment of the city we went to visit the National Park (the name escapes me) and the Cucchi Tunnels where part of the Vietnam war was. For me, that was the highlight. First off, our guide was awesome. He was hilarious and very informative. I really enjoyed learning about the tactics used by the guerrillas to survive with not a lot to begin with. They really were brilliant when it came to survival. From their tunneling system, to traps and even shoes with opposing tread so you wouldn’t know which way they walked in the jungle I was blown away. We even got a chance to go through one of the tunnels and shoot an AK-47. Those tunnels are made for short people. So before we go we all got a beer and I had just cracked it as he asks us if we wanna go through the tunnel “a few meters”. Well being 6’1 with a backpack on, a bum knee and a beer…it was difficult to say the least. I made it out alive but groaned like an 89 year old man every squatted down step of the way. I even stopped to finish my warm refreshment. I couldn’t imagine having to run through those tunnels fully armed in the middle of the war. I would totally have been captured. Dang it.
Vietnam was another great experience without a doubt. The world is so big and we spend so much time worrying about ourselves and our “stuff”. When we get a chance to see how people live in countries where less is good enough it just keeps that perspective alive we all need. Before I left I was feeling like this year was missing something. I think it was because I spent 3 months rehabbing my knee after surgery. I felt maybe another year was needed to get the most of my experience. I felt maybe it was all coming to an end real soon. But, I just needed to see another place, enjoy another culture and get to know what life is like in a place like Vietnam. Well, I am not sure what the future holds I know going back home is the right choice for me at the present time. But I also know that the education one gets from seeing different parts of the world is priceless. That part of my life will forever remain a goal. To see as much as I can whether by vacation or vocation, but I know this year has been and will remain until the end a great choice and a fantastic experience. So as I close my next 7 weeks, I hope to continue to have a blast with the amazing people and friends I have made so far.