Category Archives: General thoughts

I found my mojo! In a pot. (Warning: graphic images)

In a 5-gallon stockpot, to be precise. Yes, I’m cooking, and it’s as shocking to me as it is to Josh, who claims that in the last two weekends I’d spent more time in the kitchen than in the four years he’d known me. And to be honest, he is only slightly exaggerating.

It started as part of this overall pledge I made to myself, to be healthier and to not ever let myself get as run down as I was right before Christmas. It was both the mental health and the physical, its kind of difficult to separate them. To be honest, the stress is still there, even though the workload has slowed, I think my nerves are worn out raw – I cried again at work last week and even took a day off when I woke up crying in the morning. It mostly has to do with an unpopular decision I made and several people passively-aggressively letting me know just how unpopular I am at the moment. It will pass, but I have to survive the next couple of weeks somehow.

So back to the stockpot. When I was making that pledge, I have recognized that part of the whole mind-body calamity had to do with what I eat. Normally it’s pretty healthy, meat and veg, but it has been repetitive and I have started sneaking in snacks, even sugary chocolate. Every single afternoon, around 3pm I would nearly lose the will to live and prop myself with some hot chocolate, or birthday cake (always someone having a birthday!) or something else just to get to the finish line. As a result, my slowly creeping weight finally reached the number I saw only once before, about ten years ago, right before I had a major crisis and left the US for Australia. I knew that eating sugar was a bad idea, but when you feel like you’re in a crisis every day, survival comes first. But it had to change.

I’ve read about bone broths before and thought I’d introduce them as a snack, not a full-on broth diet like I’d heard of, but more as a supplement. The trouble is, every commercially available broth I’d tried tastes bad, anywhere from “bland” to “slightly bitter with a touch of puke” to full-on “is this made from poo?”

So I decided to make my own. How hard can it be?

It’s not that easy, actually. Turns out you need to know some basics, like “don’t let it boil, ever” and “buy a decent pot and strainer”. Oh, and which bones to get. I tried to boil beef bones and they do smell like roadkill, so I’ve concentrated on making good chicken stock. Yes, stock, because my ex-firefighter husband won’t let me leave the gas on overnight, so 4-5 hours of cooking is all I can do. True to my perfectionist ways, I have researched and experimented and basically had to “science the shit out of it”.

But it was worth it.

Not only have I made gallons of “liquid gold” that tastes delicious in any soup and even as a drink, but I have also lost two pounds in just over a week! Yes, almost a kilo of fat, and I have not changed anything other than eating as much of my own creations as I wanted. I still have a “breakfast sandwich” every morning, made by Josh with eggs, bacon, and love, but the rest of it has been soups of various kinds – tomato, pumpkin, potato, and leek. I have been full and did not even crave the chocolate fixes. It was a miracle of sorts, losing weight without actually trying. I do go to the gym almost every lunch, mind you, but that did not work before. I just had strong musculature wrapped in a fluffy layer of fat.

I decided to document this miracle in detail, should it continue. So here are the graphic images I have mentioned earlier:

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I am already less bloated in these photos, although I did not expect my whole stomach to stick out quite so much. On the positive side, I did not expect to see the faint outline of abs, woo-hoo!

I know what you’re thinking, what is this? The author-turn artist now starts a diet fad? I promise to keep revealing photos to a minimum, just wanted to share with you something that’s simple and has made a huge difference for me in the last week. If it keeps on working, I will update you further, for now, try making a stock/broth/whatever you wanna call it at home. The web is full of recipes and all of us can do with more nutrients and less garbage in our lives.

And guess what? All that time in the kitchen did not stop me from slowly progressing on those fiery dining room walls.

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I don’t know if it’s the nutrients or the active meditation of skimming a slowly simmering pot, but I feel good right now. Hope you do too.

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“The bad news is, there’s nothing wrong with you”

That’s what the doctor told me last week. I have mentioned in passing, perhaps, that I have been feeling unmotivated lately (as in a few months now), but did not mention that I have been feeling sick. Like, picking up every virus that sweeps through the office, or at least feeling like I constantly got a virus. Low energy, headaches. Then over the last two weeks, it became BAD headaches, which prompted me to decline the previously mentioned promotion and also sent me to the doctor to run EVERY POSSIBLE TEST in order to figure out what’s wrong. Because if something’s wrong, Ms. Fix-it has to fix it, immediately and effectively, with best possible result and greatest possible ROI.

Except nothing is wrong. All the blood tests show that all my hormones, markers, vitamins and whatnot are in healthy range. My thyroid and various blood cells are doing what they are supposed to. I even had an MRI of the brain, for christsakes! It looks good, apparently. I have a good-looking brain.

So you know what that means? It’s the stress. Which means I have to change my life.

Except it’s not that easy, Mr. General Practitioner and Mrs. General Practitioner and the radiologist dude! Meditation won’t cut it when you spend your day running like a madwoman from meeting to meeting, answering emails on the fly, and then having to deal with twenty-some staff, most of which are in different stages of discontent themselves. And no, I don’t think I’m cut out for the life as a masseuse, unless I could be guaranteed a job for the local football team, then maybe, yes. Actually, I would do that for free.

So instead, I am going to try a new therapy, IDGAF. Yes, it stands for not giving a fox about much. My biggest decision has been not to give a fox about the promotion. Because what good is climbing up higher if my head hurts so much that I can’t see straight? This is unbelievably big deal for me, because the first half of my life was spent as an overachiever, so taking it down a notch to just “achiever” feels wrong.

Interestingly, the next bit applied to my artwork. I have shared my portraits previously, all overworked, with great attention to detail, the desire to achieve perfection showing yet never satisfied. Instead, I decided to try my own brand of “perfectionist therapy” and just went at my dining room walls with this:

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The perfectionist in me will still continue, until it looks more like what I had in my head, but at least I’m not scared or bothered by it, and I keep experimenting and making mistakes. My husband is worried, but every time he asks what I’m doing and where this is going, or makes a smartass comment about the house value, I laugh uproariously and slap more paint on. Because IDGAF about the walls.

The good news is that my head is not hurting right now. The real test will be whether or not it will start again when everyone is back from holidays and the expectations mount faster than a snowball. So I must practice diligently. I went to the gym today at lunch and did not hurry to get back, because, honestly, it did not matter. Tonight’s plan is more paint on the walls, while drinking wine and eating ice cream. Tomorrow is Friday and I will TGIF while NGAF. Next week is New Year, and well, no prizes for guessing what my resolution will be!

Time will tell what happens. For now, I’m just glad not to have a headache.

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…and then I organised a FLASHMOB.

I have been fearless lately. It might be that the stress blew some fuse in my brain, the one that normally stops me from doing anything risky, especially when it’s not clear “what would people think?” Whatever it is, it has caused me to organise a flashmob which could have potentially embarrassed me and about twenty of my colleagues.

It all started back in June, when I was acting in a director role and so was part of the weekly executive team meetings. Normally it meant reading and discussing quite dense reports, but one of those was actually about Christmas party plans. The plans were very safe and conservative, the most controversial idea being that we add an 80’s theme to the festivities. Hold on to your legwarmers, woo-hoo!

By that time the fuse was already gone and I was speaking up at every opportunity. In this case, I suggested that in spirit of leadership change, the entire executive team could prepare a dance number and shock the staff by busting out a move. There was some support from other directors, but the CEO was firm: “I’m not gonna do it.”

But then he said these magic words: “I don’t care what you do.”

So I did.

It took months, but I have managed to convince over twenty people, some in key leadership roles, to spring this flashmob up right after the CEO’s speech. The best thing about it was that the CEO had no idea, much like the hundreds of other innocent bystanders. The music and choreography was by other members of the team, I was more of the cheerleader – and, of course, the participant. That’s me below, in a black dress with silvery scarf.

There was a technical glitch in the middle when the music stopped, but we got it back in order and most people actually thought it was part of the plan. Regardless, this was a hoot and I highly recommend trying it for yourself. Disrupt your office Christmas party! Shock your relatives! Break the Internet!

Whatever you do, have fun!

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Literary Speed Dating

Did you know such thing even existed? No, it’s not authors dating authors, although maybe that’s not a bad idea either. It’s an event organised by an author society, where about a dozen publishers get to hear 3-minute pitches from writers that want to traditionally publish their books. I’ve known about the one organised by Australian Society of Authors for years now, but it has always sold out in a matter of days if not hours. This year, however, I get to go!

How did I do it? As usual, with dogged persistence. When I missed out last year, I went ahead and put a recurring reminder into my calendar to check the website for the next year’s announcement. Because I was told it would happen “early next year,” the reminder started on 1 January and repeated every day until now. I kept checking the website and was starting to lose hope when voila! There was the announcement and the web form. I tried to submit it a couple of times, but it didn’t work. When I called them, the staff member was in shock because she did not know it was already published on the web, it was supposed to get her approval or something. She took my credit card details (the event costs $50 AUD) and after much begging from me, sent me an email confirming that yes, I’m in.

So yay! On 24 June I get to finally meet those elusive publishers who so far managed to hide behind their assistants and template rejection letters. I have four months to finish my new book and to plan my assault. Me thinks I will be pitching not only the story, but myself too – the doggedly persistent author of not one, but three books. Gimme a contract for three novels over two years! I will deliver!

I will be posting about my experience, of course, and whether the event was worth the $50 (plus the membership with Writers Victoria). If you live in Australia, you may want to put a reminder in your calendar for next January or get onto the waiting list. If you live elsewhere, contact your local author society to see if they are doing something similar, or suggest that they do.

I know it’s a long time away, but the deadline got me even more energized to continue writing, and that alone is worth the fifty bucks. So far I’d managed between 800 and 1,100 words per day over the first three days, and that’s after long, hard days at work. let’s just see what happens over the weekend.

Hope you are well and that the Muse has visited you too, if not in the shower, then maybe in your dreams, or in the long boring meeting. Whenever it is, invite her in.

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I have a dream. Again…

Look who’s back! “Who dis?” I hear you say, and yes, you have every right to forget me – I’ve been gone for three months. In cybertime, that’s like a generation. I’m sure new Twitter stars have managed to rise and implode since then, but I wouldn’t have known. I was too busy getting married and starting my new job.

Speaking of getting married – look at this happy couple!

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You almost can’t tell that it was 39 degrees Celsius, which is just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit…crazy, but that’s the January in Melbourne for ya! I know that some of you can’t feel your toes right now, but trust me – you wouldn’t want to feel like you are cooking alive, either.

And yes, I’ve been at my new awesome job for almost three months, and yes, it’s incredibly demanding, but enough excuses already. I want to tell you about a wonderful thing that happened yesterday.

I came home late, as usual. Good thing that Josh cooks, because if not, I’d be surviving on tuna cans and stale bread. Early to rise and late home from work makes Ana one tired woman. So tired that a mere thought of sitting down to finish that third book or even write a new blog post creates involuntary spasms in my legs, which usually results in a couch faceplant, supplemented with trash TV. Every now and then I would also feel intense regret that the writing dream is over, and then pass out to start the early-to-rise cycle all over again. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it sucks.

I’ve tried beating myself up, writing daily plans, and setting up a reward system, but nothing was working. That is, until yesterday. I was in the shower, trying to wash off the daily stress, when I sort of spaced out. I was fantasizing about how my life could be different, when a story idea came to me, as vivid and real as one of those hallucinations I had when I was high on opiates in the hospital bed. When I came to, the bathroom was full of steam and my mind was full of plot twists, characters, and whole scenes.

My sister-in-law came over to have dinner and watch “Married at First Sight,” so I had to play hostess for a couple of hours, but all I could think of was the new story. I could not wait for the stupid show to be over, so that I could write down the idea, I was that afraid to lose it. I jumped onto the computer as soon as I could and did not get off the chair until Josh started yelling from the other bedroom that we had to get some sleep. I could not stop thinking about it this morning. I told my sister. She liked it. In fact, her exact words were: “Yep, here we go again!”

Yes, indeed. Here we go. A completely different new novel, a psychological thriller with little comedy, if any. A male protagonist. More character development, although I’m in love with the plot too. And I have a feeling I will be able to spill it onto the page in a couple of months – last night I could barely keep up with typing out the ideas as they were flooding in.

I don’t know what you’ve been up to in the last three months, and sorry again for disappearing, but if you’ve been self-beating and self-hating over a writer’s block, perhaps it’s time to try spacing out in a hot shower. Let me know how you go.

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I quit my job today

That’s right, I’ve sent in my resignation letter. The reason is not to become a full-time writer, but it’s almost as good – I finally got a chance to take a major step up in my career. I will be moving to a different organization to lead a team of twenty people – a whole new level of responsibility, new challenges, and hopefully a whole new chapter of my career.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. Just to think, five weeks ago I was crying myself to sleep, getting ready to have two surgeries just to rule out cancer. It was about that time that in an attempt to distract myself, I’d checked Seek to see if any exciting new jobs were advertised. There was one. A perfect job, in fact. Damn bad timing, wasn’t it? I looked at it again the next day. Two or three times. Damn.

I didn’t have the time or mental power to apply, as those kinds of jobs usually require a multi-page statement addressing key selection criteria. This one was through an executive search agency, so they only asked for a resume and a cover letter. I finally sent in the application, just to stop myself from looking at the job advertisement and obsessively Google-stalking the organization.

Imagine my shock when I got the phone call from the agency on the day between the two surgeries. I was high as a kite on opiates and did my best to sound sober as the agent explained that they would like me to come in for the interview the following week. I explained that I was about to have major surgery and asked for a Skype meeting instead. To my surprise, they agreed. Somehow, I managed the next week in the hospital, came home just in time and spoke with the agent for half an hour over Skype. I could not even sit upright, instead wedged in the corner of the couch, with pillows under knees and elbows, afraid to move. I honestly did not think I had a chance – I had a hard time concentrating even to read a book. I even put my new reading glasses on in an attempt to look more distinguished. Pathetic, I know. The agent was lovely and I enjoyed the chat and the corresponding shot of adrenaline. She hung up, I took off my glasses and went back to watching the endless renovation shows.

Imagine my shock when I got the next phone call – this time I was asked to come into the city for an interview with the panel, including my future boss and a couple of other high-flyers. “Sure,” I said. “I can make it happen.” I had no idea how I would make it happen, as I could not yet walk straight and none of my clothes fit because my abdomen was still swollen. I finally figured out a presentable outfit made of a stretchy dress and a wrap jacket. I took a bunch of pills and forced myself to stand up straight. Straight enough at least. You really can’t tell if you strike a pose:

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I took a taxi to the city and felt every freaking speedbump and pavement crack with my whole body. It took me ten minutes to compose myself in the lobby and then wobble up the hallway, trying to look cool and nonplussed as I was shown to a chair. I smiled and tried to hide how much effort it was to get into that chair. Funny enough, once I started talking, I felt no pain whatsoever, adrenaline working just as good as tramadol did. I remembered the pain only when I went to stand up at the end of the interview. I barely made it out of the office before I popped a tramadol stashed away in my purse.

Life didn’t stop surprising me there. There was another interview, then the ugly task of asking my manager for a reference, then an even uglier task of quitting the job I’ve loved for four years. It’s all done now, and I can finally relax. I don’t know if it’s the normal healing process or a wave of happiness, but I have had almost no pain today, and a whole week of sick leave left to go.

It has not sunk in yet, that this crazy stunt has paid off. Maybe a little crazy is just what I needed. One thing is for sure, I’m about to have a time of my life with the rescheduled honeymoon in Bali, followed by the new job. There will also be a wedding, although that has not been rescheduled yet. It will be one hell of a firework ending to the crazy year.

A crazy stunt. Maybe that’s what I need to take the writing career off the ground, too. I’ll keep you posted.

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You’ve got to trust your instincts. And get three quotes.

It was exactly two months and one week ago when I climbed back into bed to ask Josh if he was ready for his life to change. Because at a ripe age of 43 and-a-half, I was pregnant. And that’s without any doctors involved. It was a miracle, and we were both elated; I’d say it was easily the happiest day in my life so far. With the wedding just a few months away, my biggest worry was that I now needed a new dress, one more suitable for a blushing knocked-up bride.

Today I’m in a hospital bed, typing this through a tramadol haze. I have a C-section scar, but no baby – the only thing that had come out was a 9cm (3.5 inches) uterine fibroid that had caused a miscarriage and more grief than I have ever experienced in my life so far. It was like boarding a flight, all giddy and happy, on your way to a new adventure, only to find yourself in a tailspin, with each new test or doctor delivering worse and worse news. I’d like to tell you that I was strong and brave through this ordeal, but it’s not true. When I was referred to an oncologist surgeon, because there was no way to confirm that the bastard is not malignant without cutting it out, I cried all day. When I got myself together enough to get a second opinion only to find out that I will need two surgeries because the bastard created a massive blood supply for itself, I pretty much lost it. There was an episode at home, when I screamed “I can’t do this!” and “Fuck you!” at the walls until I could barely breathe.

My family tried to help. I spoke with a psychologist. I took Valium. I went to work and tried to distract myself with strategic plans, or whatever. Still, I could not get a grip. Part of the reason was that I could not stop beating myself up for not doing something about it earlier. Cause, you see, I knew about the bastard for at least three years, and so did my doctors. It showed up on an ultrasound back then, but it was 4.5cm (2″) and I was told not to worry about it, because they are common, and they could shrink on their own. I did worry about it, because my mother and grandmother had enormous ones that almost killed them, but sighed with relief and put it out of my mind.

It turns out I had a lot of options back then, like laparoscopic surgery, medication, or embolization. I had very few options this time, and they were all bad, sort of comparing rotten apples to rotten oranges. I picked one which seemed to make more sense, took more Valium, and kept putting one foot in front of the other and filling one  form after another, until I finally woke up from general anaesthesia for the second time.

It has now been four days in recovery, and the worst is behind me, I hope. I have also found that grip I was so desperately looking for earlier. As a self-proclaimed Queen of Silver Linings, I found a few even in this miserable shithole of a situation. I managed to fall pregnant naturally, so it could happen again. I found out about the bastard before it grew to a size of a baseball (yes, they can do that) and required a hysterectomy. I didn’t need blood transfusion and the nurses keep commenting on how quickly I’m healing. Josh and I are more in love than ever, and we are still getting married, only a few weeks later than originally planned. I have six weeks of paid sick leave, so I will finish my third novel. I’m alive. I can, actually, do “this” or whatever else life throws at me.

I have also learned a lesson, and this is the one I wanted to share with you: trust your gut and get three quotes  or opinions on anything important. Bathroom remodel? Get three quotes. Manuscript edit? Well, I got about six quotes with sample pages. That persistent pain your doctor dismisses as “normal” and “nothing to worry about”? You get the point. You are the one who cares the most about your body, children, finances, and yes – your book. If you feel that something isn’t right, don’t let others dismiss you. Stand up for yourself. Be a brick wall – not aggressive or angry, just self assured and persistent.

I’d also like thank everyone who’d shown me so much support when I freaked out and asked for prayers on Twitter just minutes before the first surgery. It was amazing to see such an outpouring of support, well wishes, and even people contacting me privately, all worried about what was going on. Sadly, some of my real- life “friends” were not as caring. They will be fired. I needed to make some space for new friends, anyway.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

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The sun came out!

Just as I suspected and hoped, the view is spectacular:

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The ocean is still murky brown, but who cares! We are going outside, to have adventures and bask in the sun.

The pool looks pretty good in the sunshine, too:

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According to Josh, the pool in nearby Sheraton is even better. Yesterday he went over and asked to see their rooms – for about 50% more you can have modern luxury and amazing facilities, like a proper gym and an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. With all that, there’s no security – so he just waltzed back in later and used the gym. This is the strange benefit of being white here – you are assumed to be a guest in whichever hotel you boldly walk into.

We ventured out on the town and visited the market:

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Had to snap a photo of this “security” dog watching over the local mechanic shop:

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I was happy not to see any dogs for sale, anywhere. They are everywhere, though – every other shop has a small dog hanging out at the front. In general, dogs here look healthy, well taken care of and even loved. Here are a couple of dogs napping with their owner in the afternoon shade:

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We managed to do a few things, like visit a 1,300-year old temple:

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Josh was told to wear a robe to enter the temple, and we had to take our shoes off. I think he’d make quite a fetching monk:

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The temple is on a hill and offers an amazing view of Nha Trang, somewhat marred by the monstrosity of a hotel/apartment block under construction. Just one look at this, and you’ve got to agree, town planning laws and regulations are a necessary evil:

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We climbed another hill, to see this enormous Buddha:

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It was hot – at least 30 degrees Celsius, and on the way we saw a quite few people napping in the shadows (sorry, the best pic I could get without feeling like a complete intruder):

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In fact, afternoon naps are everywhere – I even saw one guy laying back on his motorbike, fast asleep, yet somehow maintaining a balance. Shop owners sleep on the chairs out the front, and rickshaw drivers sleep in their carts:

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We had dinner by the water, in Ana’s Bar – a tranquil place full of lights. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with Christmas, but the Christmas lights are everywhere, in abundance. I was hoping to see some stars, but not with this kind of light extravaganza everywhere:

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We decided to walk back, to work off some of the calories. This was apparently completely unacceptable to the local rickshaw drivers, who ganged up on us, to the point where one of them got off and very nearly tried to pull us into his cart:

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We literally ran away from the rickshaw drivers and things got better on the other side of the boulevard, where tourists were expected to walk by the local restaurants, most of them displaying live or recently deceased sea life out the front:

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We have also come across an amazing workshop, set in a tranquil garden:

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It was half-workspace, with girls embroidering right in front of us and half-art gallery. This is just one of the “paintings” on display – I’ve tried to capture the fine quality of fine embroidery – it looks three-dimentional.

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It’s not cheap, most items were in thousands of dollars, and this enormous one was about $25,000 USD:

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So that was it for yesterday – today the weather has been just as awesome, and I will try to post more photos and a bit of a story later – I had the balls to ask some expats if they live here, and got some ideas for future retirement plans 🙂

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Thank God for free Wi-Fi!

Incidentally, it is everywhere in Vietnam. The country may be lacking in physical infrastructure, but it is certainly staying well-connected. Yes, I’m looking at you, Melbourne – when will you get free Wi-Fi, at least in CBD?

I have done practically zilch work on the sequel, so I thought I might as well write down some of my fresh impressions of Vietnam in a blog post. I will translate them into Isa’s adventure in India some other time.

It’s day seven of my adventure, and so far nothing has gone according to the plan. Truth be told, the plan was not all that well thought through – from memory, every time I got on the web to research the weather or transport options, I inevitably ended up checking stats, blog comments, or my Twitter feed. As a result, we have landed in some pretty crappy weather in Hoi An (yeah, I know it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere, but c’mon! It’s supposed to be the END of the rainy season!). We were also forced to buy two pretty expensive last-minute plane tickets from Hoi An to Nha Trang (yeah, I didn’t realize it would take 10 hours by train, but c’mon! They are so close on the map!).

Josh just read the last bit over my shoulder and concurred  – but he has no right to comment, really. Every time he was tasked with booking anything online, I’d hear suspicious sounds of weights hitting a gym floor – he was looking at people deadlifting the equivalent of an average cow.

Anywho, back to more complaints (the silver lining should be coming up any moment!). Everything is more expensive than I expected – the side effect of being overly optimistic. There’s no such thing as “good and cheap” massage or food, or clothes, or anything. Just like anywhere else in the world, you can have good, or you can have cheap. You can find good and moderately priced (compared to ridiculously expensive Melbourne, Australia), so we’ve settled on that. I’ve also passed on having any clothes custom made – I’ve had one bad experience with that in Bali, that was enough. Sure, the fabric was great, but it didn’t fit right, even after two fittings.

To be honest, I’m not loving this trip as much as I was hoping. For starters, it’s hard to enjoy being served and pampered in a country of such drastic contrasts of wealth and poverty. It’s everywhere – from Mercedes on the street next to a rickshaw, to tiny toddlers trying to sell random goods to tourists dining outdoors. It’s especially hard if for whatever reason you decide to start you relaxing vacation with a visit to the war museum, and then you can’t stop quietly weeping, and decide to have a second glass of wine in hopes that it will stop the waterworks, only to find that it makes the flashbacks to the horror that much worse. All I can say is that I was happy to answer “Australian” to the question of “Where are you from?” , because I got a feeling that either “Russian” or “American” would not win me any favors. Actually, now that I think of Australia’s new immigration policies, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and look mysterious…

I wrote the above paragraphs in the airport lounge, waiting for that unplanned flight to Nha Trang, full of anxiety and pre-flight booze. I wish it could be any other way, but unfortunately booze-induced arrogance is the only way you could coax me onto a plane these days. And it has to be planned early – I’ve learned a hard way that you can’t get a drink out of a steward on the plane until the wheels leave the tamarack. Turns out that the liquor license only starts in the air, and that the stewards won’t risk their jobs to pacify a hysterical woman. Not that I was hysterical. I mean, maybe a little.

The flight started off well, and Josh and I were pleasantly surprised at how new the Vietnam Airlines plane looked, compared to the dingy Jetstar Pacific one we took from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An. Then, just before landing, we hit some pretty major (I mean, up-and-down and side-by-side) turbulence, which alone would be enough to plunge me into hysterics. To make matters worse, during one of those down the rollercoaster rides, Josh squeezed my hand and said “I love you” in a way that made me wish very, very hard that we’d opted for that supposedly terrible ten-hour train ride.

We did make it to Nha Trang, but I guess you’d probably already figured that part out. We also made it through an even crazier taxi ride from the airport to the hotel some 40 kilometers away. The driver practically flew through the torrential rain, hitting water puddles with a force of a speeding boat, spraying miserable motorbike drivers in our wake. His radio was sputtering incessantly, a woman’s voice chattering in high-pitched Vietnamese, accompanied by constant blowing of the car horn. Every driver, at all times is blowing the car horn – I’m not at all sure how it helps others, and it certainly pisses of bike riders, which sometimes shake an angry fist in protest. This time, they just hunched down under their plastic ponchos and persevered through the wet misery.

Driving through such conditions would not be a picnic on any road, leave alone a winding stretch between mountains on one side and the drop-off to the ocean on the other. Yet the driver managed to check texts on not one, but two cell phones. I’d thought about asking him to put at least one phone away, but decided against it – not only his English seemed to be limited to basic numbers and pointing, he seemed already sufficiently angry. I did not feel like finding out what his driving would be like if he was royally pissed off at some tourist telling him what to do.

We’ve now checked into our supposedly 4.5 star hotel, which looks like a Roman palace on the outside, and like a dingy 80’s motel on the inside. I’ve already found a wiggly worm in my bathtub, which looks suspiciously like a human parasite. Staff moved us to another, equally dingy room, and assured me that the supposed parasite is actually an adorable and crafty red worm which navigated its way from the soil, up the drainpipes, and into the tub on the first floor. Doesn’t matter, one way or another, it’s not a kind of assassin worm I want to get acquainted with.

Sorry, looks like there will be no silver lining in this particular post. I’ve had cookies and cream ice cream, maybe that counts? I will try harder tomorrow.

 

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Going down to Vietnam, gonna have myself a time!

By the time you read this here stream of consciousness, I will be on a plane or perhaps already in the exotic far-away lands. Vietnam feels like an odd choice for our pre-honeymoon, at least for me – having spent half of my life in the Soviet Union, and the other half in the US, I’m used to the stories about Vietnam being all about “smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlies in the trees”. That was half a century ago, though, so things have changed – I’m going to spend two-and-a-half weeks in the lap of luxury, eating awesome cheap food and getting awesome cheap massages.

I’m hoping for an easy trip with aghm, a very budget airline…and that I don’t freak out the way I sometimes do, when it suddenly occurs to me just how ridiculous it is to be hurtling through the air in a sardine can…

I’m also hoping to detox a bit from my addiction to social media, so I might be sparse and not answering comments as I usually do. I will try to stay true to form and post updates on the promos I got scheduled – if not on the blog, then at least on Twitter.

Please don’t forget to enter the free cover design contest or the free Goodreads giveaway – both end on 31 December. Otherwise, enjoy your various holidays, and see you in 2016!

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