Monday, February 25, 2008

The ever-present soundtrack that is Vietnam! - part 1

My Lonely Planet guide book to Vietnam suggested to bring 'ear-plugs to the ever-present soundtrack that is Vietnam' :) and it's very true...
From early morning on (at night it does actually go quiet) until the wee hours, the streets of any town in Vietnam are LOUD! Whereas Abu Dhabi drivers have their horns hooked to the robot, over here, the honk is connected to everything; the steering wheel, the indicator, the gas pedal and the brake! Honking is a way of life here, and it's also a means to survive! But it's definitely not a complaint, it's part of the whole experience, and I loved it!

My trip to Vietnam was wonderful. I really had a great time. I traveled mostly through the north of the country, saw the coast, the beaches, the mountains, small towns, big cities. Used all kinds of mode of transport, trains, small tourist buses, large (sleeper) tourist buses, local buses, 'xe oms' (motorbikes, you get pestered 100+ times a day by guys who want to ride you to where ever you're going 'MOTORBIKE, one hour, cheap, cheap!', they would shout), scooters (I drove one through Hue traffic!), rickshaw's and cabs. All modes of transport were very memorable in their own sense. And all these different modes meant I got to see a lot of different sides of the country, cities, towns, rice paddies, mountains, you name it.

The kind of trips I usually like to make are independent, I like to travel to places where I either can blend in (U.S. for instance) or where I am one of the few tourists and can leave the beaten tourist trail (China). But unfortunately this was not really possible in Vietnam, I tried, believe me, but since especially the middle of the country is very narrow, the tracks one can go on are limited. So after arriving in Hanoi and spending a few days there (I love cosmopolitan and/or Asian cities), I went on an organized trip to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to beautiful karsts, giants rocks (or small islands) that stick out of the water, quite impressive. There were hundreds of tour operators to offer this trip, and even my guide book said that you couldn't possibly do it any cheaper if you do it yourself, so I went ahead and booked a trip. We left Hanoi around 8 am with a bus and drove to Halong Bay. Arriving there, I realised how huge this whole enterprise really is. There were at least 100 junks (that's what the boats are called!) moored waiting to take on passengers. Our boat took a maximum of 16 people divided over 8 cabins, but our group consisted of only 13 people (I had a cabin to myself!). This sort of was the catch, you have this beautiful nature reserve, but it's filled with boats with tourists, and unfortunately the waters were pretty poluted.

After coming back to Hanoi, I connected to the night train to Sapa. Sapa is a mountain town home to a weekly market where indigeonous mountain people meet. From here one can take single- or multiple-day tours (hiking, motorcycle, biking, etc) through the many different mountain tribes including doing homestays. I opted for a 2-day hike and doing one homestay. Our guide was a girl from one these mountain tribes, quite a smart, quick-witted girl, not shy at all, as one sometimes gets to think most Asians are. The hike was not too strenuous, but took the greater part of the day. I had two Dutchies in my group (such coincidence!), and another group with two Australians joined us at our homestay house. Good fun!
The 2nd day was much easier, we only walked half an hour or so around the little village to see some sights, then the bus picked us up and dropped us in Sapa. From there back to Hanoi. Next destination: go south!

Ok, this was part 1 for now, more to follow! I'll leave you with a well worth piece of advice found in the Lonely Planet:

'Pedestrian survival rules in Vietnam
Foreigners frequently make the make the mistake of thinking that the best way to cross a busy street in Vietnam is to rum quickly across it. This does not always work in practice, which can make have you wind up like a bug on a windshield. Most Vietnamese cross the street slowly -very slowly- giving the motorbike drivers sufficient time to judge their position so they can pass on either side. They won't stop of even slow down, but they will try to avoid hitting you. Just don't make any sudden moves.'
I can full heartily agree with this! It really works :)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Koreans are taking over!

In the Philippines right now for a impromptu family reunion... The biggest change to 2 1/2 years ago, when I last visited, are all the Korean signs everywhere. Apparently the Koreans have 'discovered' the Philippines and are busy buying property, setting up businesses, etc. And they're here as tourists as well. Some refer to them as the 'new Chinese' (and that might not be a compliment...).

Funny thing: when diving in Cebu last week, my dive guide said that Koreans practice a whole different concept of scuba diving. Where most divers want to go diving for as long as possible, go to the most beautiful locations even if it means having to boat out for hours, the Koreans are a different breed. The guide said they 'only dive just outside the harbor, stay in for 15 minutes, in which they take some pictures underwater and couples kiss, and that's it'. Weird people, those Koreans ;)

O, and yes, I know, I still owe you my piece on Vietnam... I'm working on it :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Movie Review: Seachd

I had the honor of watching an absolutely amazing film called Seachd last night. The free screening was organized by the British Council in association with the Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Foundation. Being cheap and a movie junkie, I obviously didn't pass on this opportunity, and am I glad!

(Photos from Seachd Website)
The most peculiar thing about the drama feature is that it is in Gaelic with English subtitle. The stories, characters, music and settings had so much of Scottish soul - it was incredibly heart-felt and magical! Within minutes into the movie, I already knew it was a master piece and I was in for a treat. It was movie back to basics and at its best.

The last time I raved this much about a movie was for Little Miss Sunshine (and previously Grave of the Fireflies). Similar to LMS, Seachd made me laugh out loud at times, but further more, it reached a lot deeper in me. I suppose it's one of those movies that the more you are open to it, the more it gives back. In fact, I was so touched that after I stepped out of the movie theater, I just couldn't help but started choking up. Yes, it's very embarrassing but I couldn't care less - I just had to stay connected with the movie a bit longer!

Do me a favor and try find it on your local big screen! Go, Scotland!

Yet Another Funny Episode about My Name

This is the conversation happened between two of my colleagues earlier today:

Colleague R:"What is that girl's name?" (Pointing to me from a distance away.)
Colleague C:"Shu."
Colleague R:"What what?"
Colleague C:"What 'what what'?"
Colleague R:"No, you said what."
Colleague C:"What? I didn't say what!"
Colleague R:"Oh man. *Confused* I asked you what's her name and you said what. "
Colleague C:"Ooooh, her name is Shu."
Colleague R:"Her name is 'what'? Really?!?" *shaking his head and still wouldn't believe*

You can guess how hard I laughed when I was told afterwards! :)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Shu means Cabbage

As a follow-up to my previous posting ("Shu means What"), over dinner tonight, I had an 8-year old boy telling me that Shu means Cabbage in French - once again, I guess it could've been worse.

Anyways, what amazed me was that this boy studies in a French school, is fluent in Romanian, and also studies advanced English and beginner Arabic in classroom. Goodness, he is only eight! Expat children can have such a huge advantage if well-educated.

Job Searching in Abu Dhabi

Before I came out here, most people I know told me that I would have no problem finding a job and some even think that I would do very well. I can't say I was as confident: after all, it is in an unknown territory, and being a woman and a visible minority, I wasn't sure how my job search would turn out.

Now that I have done it, I can honestly say that once again, the general principles of things are valid here just as they are elsewhere. At the beginning stage of my job searching, I really did my homework reviewing my skills and experiences. Then along the process and talking to others, I positioned myself for a clear career path that was well suited to me. And once the goal was set, the rest was just networking and persistence.

Just like everyone else who's been in similar situation, I, too, went through some very negative emotional states including desperation, confusion and discouragement. My trick was that I anticipated, recognized and accepted them; and just give it a day or two before shaking them off and move on. Looking back, I can see that it was a great exercise for me to take a step back and really examine myself from all angles. (This is where I like to insert a quick quote,"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.") So four months since I left Toronto, I signed on as a project manager for an international infrastructure engineering company. No doubt that there is a lot of challenges ahead, but boy, is it exciting!

I want to give a special shout-out to those of you who believed in me when I had doubts, and thank you for your honest opinions when I seek out help.

So it's official: my housewife job has come to a happy ending. Q, better dust off that "Help Wanted" sign of yours. Just kidding, sweetie, I can handle two jobs! :)

Funny or Scary?

In Abu Dhabi, situations like the following often come up and we would often scratch our heads and just not sure if they are funny or scary. Maybe best that I share them with everyone and you be the judge.

Story 1: Recently I called in our online banking tech support to ask for help. The problem was that my account did not have access to this banking feature that Q's account had access to. After a good half an hour hair-pulling troubleshooting, the suggestion from the tech support?

Tech support:"Madam, why don't you use your husband's ID?"
Me:"What?!? I don't have my husband's ID and password."
Tech support:"You don't? Where is he? Can you get it from him?"

Story 2: The picture says it all.

Story 3: When strolling in the Abu Dhabi Mall, Q and I came across a poster which read,"Keen on taking up walking as an exercise? Tired of the heat outside? Here's a great way out. Join the Walkers Club and enjoy walking inside the climate-controlled Mall from 7:00 a.m. till 10:00 a.m. So, put your best foot forward and get on the move." Riight, that's what I'd tell Q the next time I'm off shopping, "Honey, I'm taking your Visa card for a climate-controlled walk!" :)

Story 4: When a colleague was doing her grocery shopping in a local supermarket, she came across a couple of unsupervised little kids groofing around with the plastic bags (the ones used for fresh produce). When she saw the older one wrap-covered the face of the smaller child, she hurried over and removed the bag, and the mom only showed up and shrugged if off like nothing happened!

This is where Q and I say to each other, "TIAD!" - This is Abu Dhabi.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Abu Dhabi from the sky - a Gulf News special

Yes, yes, I know. I've had numerous complaints that we're not posting as much as you all would like us to... (mind you, if you guys would leave more comments, we would be more enticed to post stuff! Ahhh, just kidding...) We really like to post and want to post, it's just... writer's block? Or maybe one can best call it: procrastination (or, I we'd call it whilst in college in NL and having to study for an exam: SOG ;)
This Calvin & Hobbes cartoon has a nice way of formulating it:
Anyhoo, I also know that you guys want to read about my trip to Vietnam. I'm working on the posting and will try to get it posted before I leave for the Philippines... the short version was: it was a great trip, saw beautiful sceneries and tasted awesome Vietnamese street food!

For those who yet have to visit us (hint!) and for those who fondle cherished memories ;) of your visit to our city, here is an article published in our local newspaper Gulf News with plenty of pictures of Abu Dhabi!

In the meantime, Shu has started her new job, it's right in town, a few blocks from our house, so very convenient! I'm sure she'll tell you all about it. And right at this moment she's running with the Terry Fox Run with a few friends. And we're preparing for our upcoming trip to The Philippines! I leave on Feb 15th, Shu will leave (in true Wijnberg style, never together ;) on the 29th, accompanied by SaRa, our lovely friend who is one of the key components of Shu and I meeting each other! On her way back, SaRa will stay with us for a few days to enjoy the tastes and treats of AD...

By the way, the weather here in Abu Dhabi is cold, or at least, we call it cold, 8 degrees at night, and trying to hit 20 during the day. Still sunny though! It's the last bits of winter before the heat starts to rise again for this summer...