The Places You’ll Go , Mr.Book.

Cruising down the idyllic palm tree lined hallway with various motorbikes and heavy pick-up trucks screeching their horns at maximum decibel levels , playing deadly games of chicken , in between Halong Bay and Hanoi, I was somehow reading my book amidst the chaos. I guess after long enough in Asia , I’ve learned how to cope the the death races on the road. As long as it’s not driving , I’m alright with it. Anyways , as I was reading , I came across a receipt in the book.

Books-A-Million
2105 Levis Commons Blvd.
Perrysburg, OH

$3.00 Sub Total
+ .20 Tax
$3.20 Total

That’s funny enough seeing as how I bought it at

Movie Feast
288 Taikang Rd.
Shanghai , China

30CN¥

but upon further inspection of the book it is revealed that this book started out at

The Free Library of Philadelphia
Lovett Memorial No 43
6945 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia , PA

Tucked on the final page is a hastily scrawled illegible signature , dated 5-30-2008. Who is this mystery person?

Who transported you book? Was it someone I know from my native state of Ohio?

(Oddly enough Google Maps told me how to get from the USA to Tianzifang , Shanghai , China with the vaguely nebulous “traverse the pacific ocean , but didn’t know how to get from Shanghai to Hanoi.)

This book is well-traveled and appropriately enough as it has a Vietnamese author and features short stories taking place in locations such as : Columbia , Vietnam , Tehran , New York City , and Australia.

And where will you go ?

I had a chance to trade it in at the amazing

Hanoi Bookworm
44 Chau Long St
Hanoi , Vietnam

but something kept me from doing it. I wanted to save it and read it again.
One day though , she’ll get set free , and she’ll be free to roam once more.

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Instant Jealousy – Foods of Vietnam

Ahh Vietnamese cuisine. So good and so much I didn’t get to try. Cold region foods can seem so bland , lacking in spices , and rich , colorful tastes. Vietnamese cuisine is loaded with the tropical tastes : curries , lime , lemongrass , mint , basil , and that extra zing from fermented fish sauce.

Hanoi is a world-class destination for dining. It’s got it all. From fancy pants former colonial mansions turned gourmet restaurants to the Asian classic plastic blue chairs and coals on the street.

And home of the best Pho I’ve ever had in my life. A steal at a $1.50 a bowl in a hole-in-the-wall place with three things on the menu: Chicken Pho , Beef Pho , and Veggie Pho.

Yummy , let’s dive in!

Highly recommended places in Hanoi

Quan An Ngon

18 Phan Boi Chau Street.

A super bustling restaurant with outdoor seating under tarpaulin roofing. A guidebook hotspot but also popular with the locals , which is a good thing. The jumbo shrimp with lemon , and the fried frog legs are absolutely amazing.

Madame Hien

15 Chan Cam

Gorgeous setting in a former French colonial mansion. Pineapple duck alakazam! I spent $20 for two people with two beers but was going on the cheap side with veggie dishes. Still , compared to the $20 Bob Evans meal you’d get back in the States , it was amazing.

Now enjoy the photos!

Getting Out of China for the National Holiday Hassle

With October 1st (China’s national week-long golden holiday) rapidly approaching , it was time to buy flight tickets two months ago.

I’ve been stuck in the country since February’s Cambodia trip ,and my poor blue backpack is moaning from the closet , various Lonely Planet guidebooks are constantly rattling the bookshelves, and I’ve got an intense itch in my soul (maybe I should get that checked out?) . I want  need to get out on the road. Sure there are lots of places within China that I need to see still but the genius of giving everyone in the most populous nation of Earth time off at the same time is pure chaos. Forget trying to travel in China. I can see lines and experience a crowd jostling for position almost anytime I like. The only problem with trying to get out of China is the airlines are wise , and prices skyrocket accordingly.

It’s also a bit harder for me to travel now since I can’t leave the Chinese girlfriend back in the mainland. For those of us with coveted American , fancy European Union, and ASEAN passports , we can easily forget how hard it is for nationals of less prosperous countries to get around.

Our original intentions were for a week-long trip to Taiwan , starting from Taipei and working our way south to visit my American friend doing the whole TEFL thing in Tainan. China considers Taiwan a part of it , right? Should be easy for Chinese to visit , right? Get ready for it …… WRONG!

First up we would have to visit the city of Nanjing where my girlfriend’s household registration permit is stored at her university. The university is closed on the weekends so this entails taking Friday off. The household registration permit must be taken to the Entry Exit Administration to receive a travel to Taiwan permit. This is no big deal , a bit of a hassle but easily done. However, then an Taiwan entry permit must be applied for with a tour group. If you go with a tour group this isn’t so hard but will still cost nearly $200 USD. Now I’m not a fan of tour groups and I despise Chinese tour groups. I do not want to crowd in a bus with a bunch of spitting , smoking , loud middle-aged people , herded off the bus , and given 2 minutes to snap some photos before being forced back onto the bus to go “see” another site. I want to travel at my own pace , do my own things , make my own itinerary , and see my friends.

Tour companies can, however, get a permit for a solo Chinese traveler to visit Taiwan. With fingers crossed we began the process of trying to find out some information. Some tour agencies in Shanghai turned us down saying since my girlfriend’s household registration is in Nanjing we would have to use a Nanjing based company. Hmm , ok. Calling Nanjing tour companies left us devastated as we would have to prove my girlfriend makes 120,000 rmb / year ( nowhere close) , showing proof of household ownership (hah!) , and/or having 50,000 rmb in a bank account that will be frozen until her return to the mainland (no way).

We put Taiwan plans out of our minds. Impossible. Now the mad scramble to find a destination began.

“Holy Sh**!” ” All the tickets are in the $600-900 range for each round trip ticket to most of Asian destinations. Even Manila , which I’ve paid $380 roundtrip was hitting $650. One diamond shining in the rough was a roundtrip to Seoul , South Korea at $350.

Guess what the problem is?

Uh-oh developed wealthy country makes it tough for her to get a visa. It seemed actually possible (unlike Taiwan) but we weren’t guaranteed the visa. We needed to buy a ticket somewhere now or else we weren’t going anywhere.

Whoa awesome deal (compared to other places during October 1st Holiday) popping up on Orbitz , $559 to Bangkok! Let’s do it!

*Click Book Flight*

Screen flashes back ” Sorry due increased demand at this time these seats are not currently available.” “This current flight is now $800”.

We tried place after place , combination after combination of different departure times , and finally settled on a $600 flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. I wait too long every single Chinese holiday and each time have chosen my destination based on the least expensive ticket. In order for this to be the least expensive ticket , it’s usually the most inconvenient , sometimes downright awful , combinations of flight times. For example , we arrive in Hong Kong at my 9:40 pm on the 1st and make the connecting flight to Vietnam at 4:00 pm on the 2nd. Giving us an 18 hour lay-over in Hong Kong. This isn’t so bad as it gives us a chance to see HK a little bit (both have never been) but staying the night in Hong Kong adds up. Hostel beds are like $20-30 a piece at the cheap , tiny , not so nice places in ChungKing Mansions. A place noted for having drug dealers , prostitutes , being the base of shady things for Hong Kong , and if that isn’t bad enough is also a deathtrap if case of fire. Score! On the way back from Vietnam we will make another stop over in HK from 1 am-ish the night of October 8th until 12 noon. Enough time to make it to ChungKing Mansions , sleep , and make it back to the airport to undergo security checks and board our flight.

But you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to Vietnam in a month and a half! Wooo hooo!

We don’t have our visas yet but they are easily obtainable from the Vietnamese Consulate in Shanghai , take 4 days to process , and hit the wallet a bit hard at 400rmb a pop.

Looks like it’s time for me to tighten the belt up a few notches , quit buying pricey imported beers , and eat vegetable soup for a while to afford this trip. ( Good thing DVDs are so cheap here)

Bring it on ‘Nam!