Sunday, February 23, 2014

12 Days in Vietnam – A Personal Narrative

I'm standing with my suitcase on the side of a dusty highway at Hanoi evening rush hour, waiting to catch a coach bus to take me to Vietnam's northern coast. Beside me stand Chien and Mr. Binh, 2 Samsung employees roughly my age who I had met only the day before. A dense, endless hive of motorbikes, cars, and trucks buzzes by. "The bus will be here soon," Chien says.

A red bus with the name Quang Ninh approaches quickly and Mr. Binh sticks his arm out to flag it down. In the darkness, however, the driver does not see the signal and the bus zooms past. Chien yells to no avail. Both men turn to me. "Follow us. Hurry."

Vietnam's Central Highlands
We run towards a small van where our driver is sitting, into the stream of motorbikes. I am glad that I had packed light. I throw my suitcase into the trunk, Mr. Binh yells something frantically to the driver, and the van screeches off in pursuit of the bus.

Weaving through the highway traffic, we catch the bus and pull up alongside. Mr. Binh rolls down the window, flails his arm out, and yells something to the bus driver. The bus pulls over to the side of the highway and we follow. Chien, Mr. Binh, and I rush out and run towards the bus. I quickly climb on, carrying my large suitcase with me, and quickly look for an available seat. The bus is nearly full. Mr. Binh hands a prepared note written in Vietnamese to the bus attendant, climbs off, and away we go. I didn't even have time to say goodbye.

I crawl into an aisle seat on the coach next to a snoring young Vietnamese man. I am panting to catch my breath, my luggage squeezed into all of the available leg room on-board, and wondering how the hell I pay for this trip. But I am on the bus and we are driving east. I rest back, a little more certain that I will actually reach Ha Long that evening.


And such was just one of many exhilarating tales that I experienced on my recent holiday to Vietnam. It was a trip that was both bizarre, and yet, one of the most bizarrely awesome travel experiences of my life. Let me tell the story of my journey.

Day 0 — Preparation
I met Ms. Lam Huong on a Buddhist temple stay in South Korea in May. Like me, she is also a Samsung employee — she is a manager in customer service based in Ho Chi Minh City. Ms. Lam Huong seemed young, outgoing and energetic. Upon meeting her for the first time, you would not have guessed that she was married with a 13-year-old daughter.

Ms. Lam Huong on the left...also an aspiring model!
Identified as a promising talent, Ms. Lam Huong had been dispatched to Korea for one year. A group of us temple-stayers bonded over vegan bibimbap and green tea picking, and we agreed to stay in touch.

I saw Ms. Lam Huong a couple times in the autumn. In October we traveled with friends to a park east of Seoul to view the fall foliage. Ms. Lam Huong had never seen orange leaves in her life and demanded to be photographed in front of every tree she could find. Ms. Lam Huong could be very bossy sometimes. The turning of colors which I had seen every year of my life greatly excited this woman from the tropics.

Ms. Lam Huong also came to my house one weekend to cook a Vietnamese feast. A dozen of us gorged on her delicious cooking. Ms. Lam Huong was so excited to cook for a large number of people — with some melancholy in her voice she stated that she never was able to cook for anyone living alone in her Gangnam apartment. I told Ms. Lam Huong about my desire to visit her home country, and she agreed that I must visit. She would assist.

On a brisk November evening in Seoul we met at a coffee shop to plan my journey. I had consulted several friends who had visited Vietnam and brought many ideas. Yes, you should visit the beach at Mui Ne, Ms. Lam Huong said. No, you cannot go to Sapa in will be too cold. Are you sure you want to visit Da Lat? Only honeymooners go there. Ms. Lam Huong was quite opinionated.

The skeleton of a 12-day journey written down, I stayed up that night to book flights just before packing for a Transpacific business trip. “Great! I like your character…fast, determined,” Ms. Lam Huong wrote to me over email. “Got the air ticket…mean you’re ready to go, nothing can stop your plan.”

Ms. Lam Huong and I worked out the details over the next 6 weeks. With connections everywhere in Vietnam, she acted as my personal travel agent to book accommodation and plan activities. She even gave me a Vietnamese cell phone to help me communicate on the ground. "In case I cannot join with you,” Ms. Lam Huong wrote to me, “I will arrange some nice ladies to take care you^^ (I have staff everywhere in Vietnam, haha), so you don’t worry.”

Around Christmas, Ms. Lam Huong returned to her home in Vietnam and sent me a spreadsheet detailing daily activities, who I would be meeting, and even talking points for starting conversation!! This holiday was more well-planned than some of my business trips.

Vietnamese coffee

Day 1 — Fly to Hanoi
The morning of New Year's Day, I set the alarm to catch a morning flight from my home in Seoul. I had celebrated the beginning of 2014 more aggressively than most years, and I am exhausted. I start to feel some regret for booking a flight on the 1st of January.

Although the flight south had some screaming babies I manage to rest a little on the plane. My visa on arrival invitation letter thankfully is valid and I pass through the airport to find my first chaperone in Vietnam, Ms. Phuong Mai, holding a sign saying "Hello Jonathan!! ^.^" Ms. Phuong Mai is a pretty 23-year-old secretary for the CEO of a major distributor of Samsung in Vietnam, FPT Shop. She is surprised to learn that I am much older than I look. Ms. Phuong Mai is a recent university graduate and has the look of someone ambitious and aspirational — sharply dressed, wearing smart glasses and carrying a designer handbag.

Ms. Phuong Mai drops me off at my hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi. The room is lovely...spacious, wood-paneled, with a walk-out terrace. She will be back in the evening to pick me up for dinner.

Ms. Lam Huong's itinerary tells me to walk around the old quarter to Hoan Kiem Lake, so I shower, unpack a couple items and step out of the hotel. Immediately I am annihilated by the onslaught of motorbikes on Hanoi's tiny, crowded streets. The "suggested walking route" provided by the hotel map seems like anything but. After 2 hours of walking around, sampling street snacks, and dodging the omnipresent motorbikes I am exhausted again and lay down at the hotel. The Vietnamese cell phone rings and it is Ms. Phuong Mai, summoning me to come down for dinner.

w/ Ms. Phuong Mai, Ms. Giang + her husband
I enter a car with Ms. Giang, the CEO of the big mobile distributor, and her husband. As instructed by Ms. Lam Huong, I give business cards to everybody. Oh, and I am carrying $600 worth of Korean skin cream that I have been asked by Ms. Lam Huong to courier to Hanoi! Don't worry, Samsung compliance team, Ms. Giang paid me for the cosmetics in full. Ms. Giang takes me to a local fried fish restaurant, serving cha ca, and we enjoy dessert at a cafe where I try lotus bean served with milk. It is a highly satisfying first meal in Vietnam.

Day 2 — Hanoi
Ms. Phuong Mai has arranged a Hanoi city tour through the hotel. I am told to be ready at 9am, but the tour guide is waiting for me in the lobby at 8. Something was lost in translation.

I am transported in a van with a group of mostly Chilean tourists to some unmemorable Buddhist pagoda in Hanoi city. My mind isn't awake and I am not listening to anything the guide is saying. I mindlessly snap some photos.

The next stop is the mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh. We are ordered to march 2 by 2 past the security entrance and we enter an outdoor waiting area with dated Communist propaganda videos playing from overhead displays. The Chileans learn that I am American and are wondering if I feel strange to visit this place. "It is just a dead body," I tell them.

Inside the concrete chamber, guarded by white-clad soldiers holding rifles with bayonets, stands the body. The representation of Ho Chi Minh behind the glass case looks like plastic. It actually looks like the man from the pictures on all of the Vietnamese currency, a life-sized Ken doll version of him.

Guards on patrol outside Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
The rest of the 7-hour tour takes us past the presidential palace, the first university in Vietnam, and an ethnography museum. Apparently Vietnam is 86% Viet, and the other 14% live happily in the mountains. Yahoo. The tour finishes with a scripted cyclo taxi ride zigzagging through the old quarter back to my hotel. Thankfully I only need to give the cyclo driver a small $2 tip for his inefficiency.

Ms. Lam Huong has texted me: "Tonight you meet with Mr. Huy for dinner. It will be man drinking." I rest for a bit at the hotel, then a man finds me in the hotel lobby at 6:45. I take a taxi with a group of 4 men to a small restaurant by a lake. There a couple other men were waiting. Most work for Samsung. The middle-aged man sitting next to me smiles and shows me the bottle of vodka that he brought to the party. Of course, I hand business cards to everyone.

I am told that we are eating chicken and frog legs from a hot pot. I pick daintily at the chicken with my chopsticks to avoid the bones. The man across from me sees this and tells me to use my hands. "Three things can be eaten with hand," he says. "Chicken, seafood, and woman." The man laughs.

Thankfully we stick to beer for our man-drinking and we only share about a dozen toasts. Vietnamese people leave the 's' off of "cheers", saying “cheer”. The Heineken, I am told, is brewed locally. Beer is often served with ice in the glass, making the watered-down lager beer even more watery.

Day 3 — Trang An and transit
I race to eat breakfast and sadly check out from my Hanoi hotel suite. Because Ms. Giang paid me for the Korean cosmetics in cash and because I had managed not to pay for anything besides my hotel thus far, I was carrying around an awful lot of hard currency. "Take care of your wallet and camera," Ms. Lam Huong had warned me. Today I am wearing both my passport-holding neck pouch and my money belt. These make my stomach look fat...oh well.

I take an early taxi from my hotel to the Samsung office in Hanoi as I need to meet my chaperones there at 8, two of the Samsung men from the beer dinner the night before. Luckily traffic is light and I arrive with plenty of time to sip a cappuccino in the lobby and watch the locals scurry into the office. The office workers are mostly well-dressed and I see a good gender balance. In the lobby stands a large Christmas tree. I am surprised by how many Christmas symbols I have seen in this mostly Buddhist country.

Chien and Mr. Binh, two Samsung employees about my age, find me in the lobby. "You are very tall," comments Mr. Binh. Indeed, despite the fact only stand 1.78m (5'10") I feel like a giant in this country.

We walk towards a small SUV with a driver. The journey to Trang An is about 90 minutes from Hanoi. Mr. Binh is more confident in English and does most of the talking on the car ride, including interrogating me about who the hell I am and why I had come to Vietnam. The toll road connecting Hanoi and Trang An is empty and I feel far away from the capital city. We know we have arrived in Trang An when we see large hills shoot up suddenly from the flat landscape.

Trang An is a tourist area set upon a river with many caves to explore. We set off for a boat ride, four of us as the driver had joined for the cruise. We sit in a canoe and a middle-aged lady with a cone-shaped straw hat paddles from the rear. The water is calm and there is a nice breeze. Nature! I feel great. There are not many people on the river this Friday and we are able to visit a riverside pagoda alone. The 3-hour ride is very relaxing.

Back in the car, my colleagues direct us off the main road to a large restaurant well off the main road. We order some meats and side dishes. My colleagues dare me to try boiled goat's blood and I surprise them by agreeing. The first bite is awful but after diluting the blood (which was thick like a pudding) into lime juice it is edible. The myth that foreigner’s cannot eat goat’s blood has been dispelled.

We enjoy a large meal and a few beers, though don't kick back nearly as many drinks as the long table of rowdy military officers behind us. Mr. Binh continues his interrogation and wants to know what I thought about Vietnam before coming.

"I had many friends travel here before. They said the food was good and the people friendly."
"What do you think about the Vietnam War?"
"It was a long time ago."

We continue to visit the nearby Bai Dinh pagoda, the largest in Southeast Asia. Despite its size, this pagoda has even fewer visitors than Trang An. The visitors are outnumbered by the rural hawkers trying to sell ugly knickknacks and useless coins. The pagoda is very large, and being constructed to become even bigger, but it is not beautiful. The dust of pollution crusts over everything and the hawkers make the place feel like a commercial tourist trap. I feel like I am back in China, and I don't like visiting China. At least the hawkers are equal opportunity…they hassle my Vietnamese handlers as much as the foreign guy.

After a 2-hour car ride back to Hanoi, I frantically bid farewell from my Vietnamese handlers and onto the bus for Ha Long. I feel like a young Vito Corleone from The Godfather Part a boy on an ocean voyage with a note on my chest, unable to speak the language and dependent on others to show me the way. Ms. Lam Huong has texted me another message warning me to watch for my phone and wallet on the bus, and I'm desperately fighting against sleep to avoid being pickpocketed. In Ha Long, I am to be retrieved by a Mr. Mahn, a person I only know from a shirtless picture on his Viber profile. Interestingly, the bus is Korean, and I'm willing to bet 1 million Vietnamese dong that I am the only person on the bus who can read the Korean characters on the bus's exterior: "금호고속": Kumho Express Bus.

11pm pho + beer
After 2 hours the bus pulls into a station. It is too soon for me to be arriving in Ha Long. A lot of people are getting up, including the sleeping young man in the window seat beside me, who has suddenly awakened. I slide my luggage into the aisle to let him out, and now I'm blocking all the other people who want to get off. My big suitcase has become a big nuisance.

Everyone on the bus departs, leaving backpacks onboard, and I conclude that this is a rest stop. Heeding Ms. Lam Huong's warning to care for my belongings, I carry my backpack and head off the bus. The driver stops me and taps his packet of cigarettes. This is his way of telling me we are at a rest stop. I buy a sticky bun and bottled green tea, quickly scarf them down and get back on the bus.

Two more hours later and the bus is running late — Mr. Binh and Ms. Lam Huong are both texting me for updates. "Where r u?" Um, I am still on the bus, passing through a dark no-name Vietnamese town? The bus attendant approaches me and shows me the phone number for Mr. Manh, written on the prepared note. I dial it and hand the bus attendant the phone. The two of them say something in Vietnamese, she hangs up the phone and smiles. Everything will be fine.

Finally I am dropped off on the side of the road, where Mr. Manh is waiting with a car. Thankfully he appears nothing like the strange, shirtless man from his Viber profile — actually he is well-dressed, speaks no English but is friendly. His two colleagues speak some English and we head to a local pho restaurant for 10:30pm dinner.

After I down my bowl of noodles and sit patiently while the men converse in Vietnamese we finally reach my hotel. The 3 men all walk me up to my room, carrying my modest amount of luggage, and see me off. We will be meeting again the next morning at 6am. The current time is 11:30pm. So much for sleep.

Day 4 — Ha Long
I manage to wake up at 5:30 and meet my 3 handlers on time. 7 hours after my last meal, we are beginning the new day the same way the last one ended — eating pho and drinking beer. I am surprised by the amount of people I see on the streets so early on a Saturday. The Vietnamese must be morning people.

Next stop is the coffee shop and I am eager to try Vietnamese style. The ground beans sit in a metal container atop the glass. Hot water is poured into the metal and slowly drips down into the glass. I order my coffee black, without ice. After watching the coffee drip through the small metal container into the glass, I remove the little brewing pot to take a sip. Eww. The coffee is a slap in the is so bitter.

Mr. Manh drops us off at the boat dock and I am accompanied by a tour guide friend of his who speaks English. We board a boat and take some green tea. I'm anticipating that there will be other tourists on this boat, but the boat departs without anyone else onboard. A private sea voyage? This feels strange.

I ask Mr. Manh's colleague how much I need to pay him for the boat ride. He smiles and says there is no need to pay. "No really, I can pay." Again the colleague shakes his head. Why I have been able to eat 3 meals a day without paying, why I haven't paid for any of these activities, why these people are making all this time to show me around and guide me through their country — all of this I cannot understand. I certainly feel like a valued guest.

Still not sure why those rocks are so popular
The boat heads into the sea to dock at a magnificent island cave. We continue out into the water past a fishing village, traveling through the stunning Ha Long Bay rocks which jut suddenly from the water. At one rock a number of boats are jockeying for position. The other boats are packed with Korean tourists, easily recognizable wearing brightly colored hiking gear. The tour guide tells me that this rock is considered the postcard symbol for Ha Long Bay. Frankly, I think the rock is a little pathetic...I could have picked 20 other islands that I liked better.

We eat lunch together after the boat ride in Ha Long city, my favorite part being the delicious squids, then I am returned to my hotel for nap time. Finally a chance to rest!

At 4:30, Mr. Mahn and colleagues return and he drives 45 minutes to Cam Pha, a dirty, scrappy coal mining city to the east of Ha Long. We are driving through a narrow windy road to get to a hot springs. Far away from the touristed areas, I'm secretly hoping this is not a ploy to get beaten and robbed.

We arrive at the bathing center, which looked like it could have been a school building. I'm shown a private room with a bath tub and a massage chair. Mr. Manh's colleague turns on the hot water and shows me a red button by the door to press when I want to summon the massage lady. I'm amused that calling for a massage is like pressing a help button.

The warm mineral bath water feels wonderful and I lay there alone for a good half hour, singing any song which came to my head. I am interrupted suddenly by a rap on the door. "MASSAGE?!" a woman yells. I guess I have taken up too much time in the water. Unlike the water, the massage feels very rough. The small Vietnamese lady is pushing her fingers into every pressure point on my back, and I am in a lot of pain.

Dinner is a mix of seafood, beef, and vegetables. Every meal I am eating in Vietnam feels quite large, and though Vietnamese food feels healthy I am definitely putting on weight. I sleep very well that night, my body feeling rather relieved after being abused by the masseuse.

Day 5 — Hai Phong to HCM
I am allowed to sleep in, until 8:30!! Then we need to resume our busy schedule. At breakfast another English-speaking tour guide appears and we all go for coffee. This time I order the coffee with condensed milk...this has the effect of overpowering the bitterness with a sugary flavor. Still not the best, but certainly an improvement from the black coffee.

We drive over an hour west and reach a temple, Truc Lam Yen Tu near the town of Uong Bi. The temple is almost empty and is beautiful! The architects at this temple have created a terrific balance of flowers, trees, statue figures, and colorful buildings set against the mountains. Really wonderful.

With Mr. Manh at beautiful Truc Lam Yen Tu pagoda
We drive all the way to Haiphong city for lunch, and by the time we sit down in a restaurant the time is past 2pm. We are joined by another of Mr. Manh's colleagues, a gaunt, skinny young man with unkempt hair and a few scraggly untrimmed hairs falling off his chin. He brings us corn wine, a Devil's drink the closest thing I have encountered to soju in Vietnam. I carefully avoid drinking more than the shots we share around the table. Mr. Manh, always the responsible driver, sticks to Red Bull.

We follow lunch with some quick sightseeing of Haiphong. There isn't much...just a couple statues. A late afternoon coffee break helps to refresh the senses. Scraggly Facial Hair Man is drunk and keeps shaking my hand next to me, telling me he hopes to see me again in Vietnam.

Finally I reach the airport in Haiphong and all of the Vietnamese men see me through until I reach the security screening. I haven't received this much attention at an airport since I left my parents to go to college for the first time. I give Mr. Manh a box of Korean chocolates that I brought as a gift. He smiles and we take more photos together. Mr. Manh was wonderfully kind and generous.

The flight to Ho Chi Minh is about 90 minutes. God bless Asian airlines — they have not yet discovered the awful American art of sucking every comfort out of flying and snatching every nickel and dime from your wallet. For $70, I have received ample leg room in economy class, a free checked bag, an in-flight meal served by a lovely young Vietnamese flight attendant. Unbelievable.

Ms. Lam Huong and her son are waiting for me at the small Ho Chi Minh domestic terminal. It feels so good to see a face I recognize. We taxi to Ms. Lam Huong's home. I am placed in a guest bedroom with a private bath, and feel like I am in 5-star accommodation.

I give Ms. Lam Huong another box of Korean chocolate which I brought for her kids, give her a tourist coffee mug from my Christmas travels in Washington DC, and what she really wanted from America...Pantene shampoo and conditioner. Ms. Lam Huong removes the coffee mug from the bubble wrap I had packed it in and immediately drops it, shattering it on the floor. A mug which survived over 8000 miles of travel, of course, lasted 2 minutes in Ms. Lam Huong's home. Thankfully, her husband is quite handy and is able to piece the mug back together for the shocked Ms. Lam Huong.

Ms. Lam Huong offers me coconut juice and a cup of durian milk. I lean back in the chair in Ms. Lam Huong's kitchen, telling her the crazy story of my 5-day journey so far. I finally feel able to relax.

Day 6 — Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)
The sound of a loud rooster wakes me up my first morning in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a strange wake-up call in the middle of a sprawling metropolis. I do a quick search through my luggage and cannot find where I have stashed away my Korean won, about $90 worth. “Dammit,” I think, “Why wasn’t I more careful with my money in the Ha Long hotel.” I’m convinced that the maid stole it from my room there, which had no safe. I curse myself again for being so careless.

Ms. Lam Huong departs early for work that Monday morning, leaving me with her husband, Mr. Dat, for the morning. Mr. Dat speaks far less English than Ms. Lam Huong, but certainly more than the norm, I am discovering.

Safety first!!
Mr. Dat plans to take me out for a pho breakfast. The household has no cars, only motorbikes, so there is only one way were getting to the restaurant. Mr. Dat hands me a pink helmet with a panda cartoon character on the outside. Safety first, I suppose.

I had never rode a motorbike as a passenger before and certainly was not ready for the busy, chaotic, exhaust-filled roads of Saigon. I did not know what to do, but I figured I should hold onto the bike, stay calm, and act like I had done this before.

The motorbike ride was fine and felt relatively safe, despite the impending doom at every intersection. The bikes travel slowly, no more than 50 km/h (30 mph), and despite driving maneuvers that you would not find in any American driving course, the rules of the road seem well understood by the Vietnamese. Thankfully, the drivers are less adventurous and hurried than in Seoul.

After breakfast we drink more coffee. This time I get smarter and order the milk coffee with ice, diluting the sweetness and making the drink more like the espresso beverages that I am used to.

This morning we are visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, dedicated to the conflict in Vietnam from roughly 1960 to 1975 (known officially as "The War of American Aggression", though Vietnamese people have been calling it "Vietnam War" to me). Outside the museum lie old American military aircraft and tanks which were captured behind enemy lines. Inside, I see some horrific pictures from a devastating war. The captions inside tell a slanted, one-sided story of affairs, but indeed the conflict was awful and the Vietnamese people were inflicted a lot of unnecessary suffering as a result of my country's military. I came away feeling like I had visited the Holocaust Museum...very sad.

Interestingly American people face little overt hostility in modern Vietnam. In fact, most of the younger Vietnamese people that I meet want to visit America and watch many American movies. I see many local people here wearing the stars and stripes on motorbike face masks and t-shirts and probably the most coveted technological accessory is the iPhone. I have been open about my American-ness here and the local people have generally been curious about how America compares to Vietnam.

For lunch I rejoin Ms. Lam Huong and meet her colleagues from the Samsung office in Ho Chi Minh City. We frantically eat at a simple little restaurant across the street from the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Vietnam. After post-lunch iced coffee, sitting on little plastic chairs on the sidewalk, I am handed off to my new handler for the afternoon, who goes by “Meg”. My new chaperone is young, petite, and pretty. Meg is wearing a white office dress, carries a designer handbag, and though in platform shoes she still stands several inches shorter than me. She tells me that we will be walking to a nearby bus station to visit a Vietnam War era tunnel, Cu Chi. I feel guilty when we walk some distance in the hot weather, and particularly when we board a worn-looking public bus which resembles an old American school bus. Meg seems too classy for traveling like this.

Somehow I managed to fit in that tunnel too
Thankfully Meg doesn’t seem to mind riding on this bus with this foreign stranger that she has been assigned to by Ms. Lam Huong. The bus ride is quite long, over 2 hours with a transfer, and we arrive in late afternoon with only a few minutes before the park closes. A short middle-aged Vietnamese man in a green park ranger outfit greets us and we walk into the forest. First he shows us a peephole from which the Vietcong troops could snipe at American soldiers. It is very small, and I am starting to feel that I understand why American soldiers were so terrified of walking around on patrol during that war. Then our guide stomps on the ground until he finds a metal plate covered in leaves. A tunnel entrance! The guide slithers his small body into the opening and waves “Goodbye!” Then all is quiet…our guide has vanished. Where is he? All of a sudden, he pops his head out from another spot in the ground, like a human groundhog. “Boo!” he yells.

I then try to slither into the hole, and thankfully after a year of eating kimchi my chest is just skinny enough to fit. I crawl down and try to follow the same course as the guide. The tunnel is very short, maybe 5 feet tall, and I squat down to walk through the space. It is hot, dark, and not for the claustrophobic. This thing was built by small Vietnamese people.

The guide walks us to another tunnel entrance and now we need to crawl to an underground meeting room. This time, Meg climbs in behind me, and I feel guilty because I have made this properly-dressed office girl get dirty. I offer to carry her designer handbag. The meeting room is spacious, thankfully, but as the guide shines his flashlight to the ceiling I see that the room is home to several bats. “Just harmless bats,” I say to myself, trying to comfort my mind. From the meeting room we take a 30-meter walk through the tiny tunnel, our guide in front with flashlight showing all the bats living on the ceiling of the tunnel. I can barely stand in my squat position in this tiny dark area, and I have been holding the ceiling to keep my balance. With the bats now I am terrified of this place. It is steamy hot. I am panting and sweating. Thank God we finally reach the end. My shirt is soaked.

Meg, whose Vietnamese name I have discovered is Xuan Hoa (pronounced “soon-hwa”), and I take the long bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh City. With so much time to kill we talk about everything from our families to why I think Bitcoin is a bad investment. We talk about our travels and I realize just how lucky I am to have visited so many places in the world. Just look at the far-away destinations in my travel blog, and add in all of the travel that isn’t documented there. Ms. Phuong Mai, Mr. Binh, Ms. Xuan Hoa…all of these young Vietnamese are so hungry to see Europe, America, Japan — but of course they haven’t had much chance to explore. They all have been fascinated when I tell them about where I have traveled. I must stay humble and thankful.

From the bus, Ms. Xuan Hoa guides a taxi to a restaurant where I am meeting another friend for dinner. Thankfully my shirt has dried. Ms. Xuan Hoa smells my shirt and says, “At least you don’t smell.”

Catching up with the Vietnamese-American expats
In the restaurant, I meet my American friend Eddie, now an expat living in Vietnam, and his friend Phil. This restaurant is quite expensive by Vietnamese standards and full of expats. English is freely spoken in this place and there are many white people. After a week of traveling with the locals, it feels strange. But the food is delicious and I am energized by the great company. I enthusiastically recount my crazy afternoon.

Day 7 — Da Lat
Yet another uncomfortable early wake-up call for me on my holiday — up at 6am. Today I am traveling to Da Lat, described as an idyllic town in the mountains, which had been the escape from the heat for French colonialists back in the day. “Why do you want to go there?” asked Ms. Lam Huong. “It will be cold, and many people only go there for honeymoon.”

I ride on the back of Ms. Lam Huong’s motorbike to the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh, carrying everything I need in a backpack for my 3-day journey out of the city. She drops me off in front of the building, where I am met by a large Toyota SUV and my new guide for the day, Mr. Huy. I will be accompanying Mr. Huy on a business trip to the customer service center in Da Lat. Thankfully we have a driver so we can sleep en route.

Da Lat is only 300km (180 miles) from Ho Chi Minh, but we are in a country with 3rd world roads, so this will be a long journey. Most people would fly between the two cities, but because I am traveling to the coast tomorrow flying isn’t an option.

We depart about 7:15am from Ho Chi Minh to head on the highway eastbound from the city. The road is snarled with traffic and we progress slowly. I am exhausted so I lean back to take a nap, enjoying the luxurious leg room of the SUV.

We have one stop at a Samsung customer service center in a Vietnamese village for a toilet stop before arriving at a lunch restaurant at 11:30. We eat fish and what seems like beef in a hot pot. Mr. Huy speaks only broken English and the driver speaks none, so I let my hosts fill my dishes, give them the thumbs up to show my approval with the meal, and mostly sit silently. We continue on the car ride through small Vietnamese towns, but the landscape isn’t all that interesting. I take the time to tap out some journey notes on my iPod.

Finally, around 3pm we are on the mountain road close to Da Lat, and I can see why this would be a popular destination. The trees are green and the air is much fresher than what I have seen in the rest of Vietnam. At 3:30, we finally finish our 8-hour journey and check into our hotel. Mr. Huy and I are sharing a room, and I’m not even paying for this one. We are on a “business trip”, after all!

w/ Da Lat receptionist
The driver takes Mr. Huy and me to the nearby Samsung customer service center, where Mr. Huy needs to work for a few hours. He assigns the tiny receptionist behind the desk to take me around town. Standing she does not even come up to my shoulder. We head with the driver on the road out of town towards Datanla, a waterfall theme park area. The waterfall is nice and I hand my camera to the little receptionist, who speaks virtually no English and is using a Vietnamese-English smartphone app to explain the places where we will be going. She likes taking a lot of photos and has become very possessive with my camera. I am a little uneasy that this stranger won’t hand my camera back to me.

From there the driver takes us to the Truc Lam pagoda, recently built and quite pretty. I love the coniferous trees in the landscape and the peaceful scenery of this location. It is a short distance from there to a small lake outside of town where I view the sunset. The lake is not that nice and the tiny lady who has taken over my camera is taking tons of pictures. At least the lake is quiet.

For dinner, I discover that we are meeting with Mr. Huy’s father-in-law who lives in town. We head to a nice restaurant and sit at a table of about 10 people. Our driver sticks to drinking Red Bull while the men are taking frequent toasts of vodka and beer. We are eating a lot of delicious seafood but I am not comfortable drinking heavily with all of these Vietnamese strangers who don’t speak my language. Thankfully Mr. Huy has arranged for me to excuse myself with the driver and the tiny receptionist before the dessert course.

In the center of Da Lat is another smaller lake, popular to ride around on tandem bicycles. I have never ridden on a tandem bicycle before, but I convince the receptionist that I know what I am doing, and we head out on a trip around the lake, about 5km.

Back in town we walk through a night market full of fake goods, probably from China. The temperature is about 18C (65F), which for me necessitates a light jacket, but the Vietnamese people I see are dressed for winter! I see lots people wearing hats, earmuffs, and (fake) North Face down-filled coats. Along with the freezing Vietnamese I also see more European tourists here than I have in other parts of Vietnam. Da Lat seems to attract the hippie backpacker contingent.

Walking around with a Vietnamese lady I cannot communicate with feels awkward, and I am tired, so I am thankful when she walks me back to the hotel. I lay in bed and Mr. Huy calls for an update on where we are. “You are back at the hotel? So soon?? Do you want massage?” he asks, sounding drunk over the phone. No, I am quite alright taking a rest, actually.

Day 8 — Journey to Phan Thiet
I eat Vietnamese breakfast with Mr. Huy at our hotel. He is in rough shape from last night — all of those vodka shots have left him hungover. Mr. Huy needs to do some more work at the office this morning and the little receptionist guide, whose name I still do not know, will be taking me around again. We visit a church and Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, built in the 20th century for the last king of Vietnam. The palace feels old and drab — it is just a big house which smells like I am visiting my grandmother’s. From here we head to the XQ historical village, sort of a tourist trap but does have some traditional music performances from the minority ethnic group that lives in the area. The little lady still takes a ton of pictures of me, and insists that we take one together. “For memory,” she says. Da Lat is a nice town which sort of reminds me what summer in the French Alps might look like, but I feel bored here and agree with Ms. Lam Huong’s view that maybe this is not worth visiting for a solo traveler.

Mr. Huy finishes his business in the morning and after lunch we depart for the 3.5 hour journey to Phan Thiet, along the Vietnamese coast. The drive is only 180km (110 miles) but we are traveling on a wretched mountain road in the bug SUV. I’m thankful that our driver is good — he is constantly downshifting to avoid potholes — and this ride would be uncomfortable in any car besides our big SUV. The descent down from the mountains to the coast is gorgeous though with lush green mountains in the landscape.

In Phan Thiet, a coastal city but otherwise ordinary, my custody is shifted from Mr. Huy to Mr. Duy at the Samsung customer service center. Thankfully Mr. Duy speaks much better English than my previous handler. Apparently Mr. Huy doesn’t have any business to do in Phan Thiet and is heading straight back to Ho Chi Minh with the driver, so he has apparently forsaken the quick flight between Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh solely for my behalf. I do not understand why I have been treated so well in this country!

Mr. Duy drops me off at a cheap 2-star Vietnamese business hotel near the beach and I take a late afternoon walk along the beach. The sea is always nice, no matter where in the world you are.

Mr. Duy picks me up at my hotel and I ride on the back of his motorbike to a street of seafood restaurants. We stop for dinner at his favorite restaurant and I’m sitting outside at a table with Mr. Duy’s wife and his colleagues from work. Mr. Duy and I pick out our dinner from the fish tanks inside the restaurant — lobster, clams, prawns, fish — and a young lady in a Tiger beer apron brings bottles of beer for our whole table.

Meanwhile on the street a man has pulled up in a truck with a big speaker in the back and has started blasting “Gangnam Style”. The man comes out to the street and steps on a small ladder he has placed in the road. He is a street magician apparently, but his tricks, which mostly involve him stuffing paper in his mouth, are disgusting and terrible. Nonetheless, he comes around afterwards peddling for money (selling teeth-whitening gum is his cover), and several patrons oblige. A waif thin girl who looks to be about 16 years old follows…blasting hip-hop music she performs a dance routine she has choreographed. She also peddles for money by selling gum, but at least she provides slightly better unsolicited dinner entertainment.

Vietnamese men enjoy drinking a lot of watered down lager and with every toast I am urged to either chug a half glass or my whole glass. “Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!”…“one, two, three, drink!”…the calls for touching our glasses keep coming from around the table. I feel like I’m back at my college fraternity parties. I am a bit disgusted by all of the beer drinking, but not wanting to be disrespectful towards my hosts I match them drink-for-drink. Thankfully I am much bigger than all of the small Vietnamese men and my alcohol tolerance is seemingly higher than theirs. “If you don’t like seafood, we could go eat a 48-kilogram chicken after this,” Mr. Duy is telling me. “Wow, that is really big!” I exclaim. Something must have been lost in translation…where does one find a chicken which weighs 105 pounds??

Mr. Duy wants a big night out but I do not. We leave the meal and I am worried about Mr. Duy’s drunk driving abilities on the motorbike, but I don’t really have a choice for how to get back to my hotel. First, though, Mr. Duy takes a detour and we end up at a massage parlor. Fortunately it looks decent and I receive a much tamer massage from this Vietnamese lady than on my last massage.

I see Mr. Duy on the couches outside the massage rooms. “Do you want to go for the 48-kilogram chicken now?” he asks. “It is upstairs.” Now something clicks in my mind, and I realize what Mr. Duy has meant all along. I am completely sketched out and I want to do nothing further on Mr. Duy’s schedule this evening, nor do I wish to indulge Mr. Duy while he cheats on his wife. No thank you. Thankfully Mr. Duy takes the hint that I am not as fun of a guy as he thinks, and he takes me back to my low-grade business hotel.

Day 9 — Fishing, and Mui Ne
Mr. Duy lets me sleep in until 9am and I am much relieved to have a lazy morning for once. Mr. Duy picks me up on his motorbike and we ride along the coast for about 20km (12 miles) south of the city. The ride takes about 40 minutes, which while wearing a full backpack on a motorbike is exhausting.

I had mentioned to Mr. Duy that I wanted to go fishing, which I thought would involve getting on a boat and heading into the sea. Instead he has brought me with his wife to a small pond which has Russian tourists idly sticking in their poles, waiting for a fish to bite. Alas. Thankfully this pond has been stocked full of large fish and it is super easy to catch something in here. In about 2 hours at the pond, I have caught the two largest fish of my entire life and just missed catching about 4 others. I am quite pleased. This fishing resort, operated by an Uzbek man who speaks good English, also has a restaurant near the beach which cooks our catch for us. These fish are huge and we are very full after our fresh-caught meal.

Personal best for largest fish caught
I did not like my dingy 2-star accommodations in Phan Thiet, so thankfully Ms. Lam Huong has booked a seaside resort (the Sailing Club) for me to stay at on my 2nd night along the coast. Unfortunately it takes about 1 hour for us to ride by motorbike from the fishing resort past the town of Phan Thiet to Mui Ne, a tourist town full of Russians. The resort is much nicer than my previous hotel, and I am wondering why I am staying here for only one night. Unfortunately the resort is not near Mui Ne town and feels like it has been located in a wind tunnel. I see some kite-surfers from my hotel room but the waves are quiet choppy and going into the water looks rather dangerous. I head down to the beach to dip my toes in and the water feels quite cool. I am bewildered…shouldn’t tropical seas be warmer than this?

I have dinner in Mui Ne town with Mr. Duy and the Uzbek fishing resort owner, who happens to be a friend of Mr. Duy’s. Thankfully we are not drinking this evening, and I have once again disappointed Mr. Duy by not being as fun as he had hoped. Mr. Duy wants to go meet women at bars, even though he is married, but I am too tired from my endless traveling to indulge.

Day 10 — The Long Ride back to Saigon
Ms. Xuan Hoa, Ms. Lam Huong’s colleague in the Ho Chi Minh City office for Samsung, has arranged for me to take a morning bus from Mui Ne back to the big city. It is a “sleeper” bus and quite unlike any bus that I have ever been on before. The seats are stacked double-decker and tilt down to almost horizontal. Getting onboard feels claustrophobic but once you are seated you actually have a lot of room to stretch your legs and look out the window. The bus feels quite nice! Also, no wearing shoes onboard, which is a first for me even in Asia.

On Vietnam’s crowded, terrible highways the 200km (125 mile) journey to Ho Chi Minh city takes most of the day…about 7 hours on the bus with a couple of rest stops thrown in. We don’t arrive in Saigon’s tourist area until 4pm. Ms. Xuan Hoa thankfully is waiting for me at the bus stop. She drives me back to Ms. Lam Huong’s house, where I thankfully can shower and change out of my dirty clothes.

I’m getting the distinct impression that Ms. Xuan Hoa has taken a liking to me already. She has been messaging me during my 3-day journey asking for pictures of my travels along the way, and she now wants to go out for a late afternoon drink in Ho Chi Minh City. I shower quickly and try to put on some nicer clothes. I am wearing jeans with a purple button-down shirt, which was a good call…purple is apparently Ms. Xuan Hoa’s favorite color.

Ms. Xuan Hoa takes me to a very nice-looking Middle Eastern-themed restaurant…which is entirely empty. Ms. Xuan Hoa thinks this place might be a cover for mafia members engaged in “cash washing” — her word for money laundering. The restaurant looks like a fusion of Arabian palace and country club — the moose head on the wall looks out of place. We have our choice of outdoor tables outside to chat and get to know each other. I order mango juice…Ms. Xuan Hoa approves. It entirely feels like a date, and I wonder how I got myself into this situation in Vietnam.

In Asia, you have to try new photo poses. This one is "Filipino Man"
I need to go back to Ms. Lam Huong’s house because she has asked me to attend a housewarming party at her residence. Ms. Lam Huong’s house is even bigger than I had realized — 4 stories with a roof deck on top where she is entertaining her guests with barbequed meats. Her husband Mr. Dat is holding court at one table with his university friends and they are all several beers in. “Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!” Again I respectfully keep up with the men at the table, even though I’m not looking to drink heavily with these guys. The men are all at one table with the women and kids at the other table, including Ms. Xuan Hoa.

Ms. Lam Huong finishes serving everyone meat off the grill and comes to sit with me at the man table. “Do you know what they are talking about?” she asks me. One of the other wives has come to our table and has a horrified look on her face. “Do you know about ‘karaoke om’?” Apparently Vietnam has karaoke parlors where men can go to sing karaoke with women who…become friendly with their patrons?? The wife had never heard about this one.

“I want to have a very open relationship with my husband,” Ms. Lam Huong tells me. “If he goes to these places, he must tell me about it. No secrets.” I am a little surprised that she accepts this from him, but let her explain. “97% of men cheat,” says Ms. Lam Huong. “I have told my husband that he can only leave me for another woman if she is prettier than me, smarter than me, and makes more money than me.” As Ms. Lam Huong probably makes more money than almost all women in Vietnam, I suppose their marriage is safe.

Ms. Xuan Hoa has decided that it is time for her to go home — she has curfew at her parents’ house, after all — and Mr. Dat yells at me: “Walk your girlfriend out!” Whoa there, Mr. Dat…slow down.

I am thrilled when the other men clear out soon after, and I plunge to the guest bedroom at Ms. Lam Huong’s to go to sleep. We have yet another early morning tomorrow…

Day 11 — Mekong Delta
I am awake at 6am, again. Today is Saturday and Ms. Lam Huong is taking me with her two children on a Mekong Delta river cruise. I don’t think Ms. Lam Huong has ever done one of these tours before, and it seems entirely for tourists, so I am glad that we are both trying something new.

We catch a taxi to the tourist street in District One where all the tour buses seem to pick up and drop off. Ms. Xuan Hoa has purchased our tickets and our bus does not depart until 8:30, so we have arrived early. Ms. Lam Huong is upset that we have rushed out of the house, but Ms. Xuan Hoa has fetched some delicious bahn mi sandwiches that we can munch on in the meantime.

Chilling on the Mekong Delta
The ride to our boat takes about 1 hour 45 minutes, and Ms. Xuan Hoa is delighted that she gets to share a seat next to me on the bus. Interestingly our bus consists of about 50% Korean tourists…I never seem to get too far away from Korea when traveling in Vietnam.

Our boat is a simple flat-hulled vessel that travels at a snail’s pace in the large, lazy Mekong River. The sun shines brightly and this is undoubtedly the warmest day of our trip. Though Vietnam sits in the tropics, this is the only day of my trip where I am breaking a sweat (besides climbing through tunnels, of course).

Ms. Xuan Hoa has taken the role of my personal photographer now, and she demands that I pose in front of almost everything we see. I have never been creative with my photo posing — usually I just try to put the biggest smile on my face that I can and stand tall — but now Ms. Xuan Hoa is bored and wants me to try, how shall we say…pose more like an Asian. I have long since mastered the “V for Victory” sign, and Ms. Xuan Hoa tries to coach me into a couple others.

Our boat stops at its first riverbank and we walk out to a large tourist craft shop selling products made of coconut wood. Spoons, hats, small statues, and other little knickknacks are all around. Lunch is not memorable, and we continue back to the boat.

Our boat travels downstream and docks near a small tributary where we climb a small wooden boat propelled by an outboard motor. We are on a small stream traveling through palm fronds, and I am glad that I have worn extra sunscreen today. Ms. Xuan Hoa and I pose for multiple pictures.

The boat docks at another small village where we are served tea with honey freshly drawn from beekeepers nearby. I have lost both Ms. Lam Huong and Ms. Xuan Hoa — maybe they went shopping somewhere — and I try to converse a little with the Korean tourists. My Korean ability stinks but I impress them a little by at least being able to say that I work in Korea for Samsung.

Ms. Lam Huong and Ms. Xuan Hoa reemerge and have changed wardrobes! Ms. Lam Huong is now wearing a traditional Vietnamese dress with a floral print. Ms. Xuan Hoa is in a pink lacy dress and wearing a conical Vietnamese hat. Of course we now need to take a ton of photos in front of every coconut tree we can find. Ms. Lam Huong is even more of a camera attention fiend and has convinced an amused Canadian tourist to be her personal paparazzi.

We up the touristy-ness of this whole day by crawling onto a horsedrawn cart towards another small village, where we receive a musical performance from an amateur quartet. After the music performance, we are back to the small stream, this time on small wooden canoes propelled by an oarsman standing in the rear. I enjoy the peaceful quiet of the stream and the shade provided by the palm fronds. Of course, we need to take dozens of additional photos.

Finally we return to our lazy cruiser on the big river and head back towards the bus to Saigon. On the bus ride a tired Ms. Xuan Hoa rests her head on my shoulder.

We return to Ho Chi Minh at about 5:30pm, and despite the long day together Ms. Xuan Hoa wants a Saturday night out…just the two of us. Ms. Lam Huong has finally not made any plans for me, and I figure she could use a night off from looking after my well-being!

Ms. Xuan Hoa returns on her motorbike to Ms. Lam Huong’s around 7pm and I depart with her for the evening. It feels like I am back in high school again — for the first time in over 10 years I am leaving on a date and returning to my parents’ house — or at least that of my adopted parents in Vietnam.

I have grown much more comfortable on back of a motorbike over the past week, and though Saigon traffic is extremely hectic I feel much more at ease than before. Ms. Xuan Hoa takes me for a simple meal at an open air restaurant serving more Vietnamese foods that I have never seen before. We continue into the city center, walking past a large church and a nice shopping district on our way to the river. The riverwalk isn’t all that peaceful or romantic, but does seem like the only good place to walk around to experience some quiet time.

We return to Ms. Lam Huong’s at 11pm and I am relieved I see Mr. Dat is still awake to let me in. It feels like high school dating all over again.

Day 12 — The Final Day
Ms. Xuan Hoa tells me that she will be returning at 9am Sunday to fetch me for my final day in Vietnam. Like most in Vietnam, she seems to be a morning person. I glance at my watch and the time is 8:50. Crap. I haven’t showered or packed…I am a mess.

I frantically shower and am halfway through packing when Ms. Xuan Hoa arrives. She decides I’m not packing very well and takes over folding my clothes and sorting the gifts I have picked up on my trip.

At a quarter to 10 I am finally packed and ready to go. Ms. Xuan Hoa transports us on her motorbike to a pho restaurant for breakfast and from there we walk to a coffee shop which sells Western style espresso drinks, full of Vietnamese teenagers. Ms. Xuan Hoa has me take her through photos on Facebook of friends from Korea and America while I sip a caffe mocha.

I have made lunch plans with my American friend Eddie. We meet with him and a bunch of his expat friends for dim sum at the very large Ocean Palace restaurant. The food is good but clearly I am living another expat experience — seems that Eddie’s experience in Ho Chi Minh is in a similar expat bubble to my experience in Seoul.

After lunch Ms. Xuan Hoa and I go through a walk through the center of town. I stop by a post office and write a bunch of postcards for my family back in America. We walk into an indoor tourist market and I am overwhelmed by the dizzying array of cheap knick-knacks inside. “Will you be cold when you return to Seoul?” Ms. Xuan Hoa asks. “Let’s go to the Russian Market.”

What is the Russian Market, you ask? One of the most bizarre markets you would find in a tropical country! It is stuffed with small vendors selling parkas, sweaters, scarfs, hats — anything you can imagine needing for a trip north. Apparently it was developed during the time when many Vietnamese traveled to Soviet Russia and needed to prepare themselves for the journey. I actually find a nice scarf for myself and buy a couple more my family as well. Always need to prepare for next Christmas!

We have dinner plans with the Samsung Customer Service department on my final night and I expect a tame affair. Little did I know that this is the “Year End” party for the group, and they plan to celebrate full Vietnamese style! Ms. Xuan Hoa and I arrive at 6:45 and dinner is almost done already — the men are now pounding beers and toasting vociferously! I am the only foreigner in a room of about 100 people and Ms. Lam Huong is introducing me to everyone in her department. Of course I need to share a drink with everyone I meet. I hadn’t planned on getting drunk on my final night in Vietnam, but here we go!

Big Samsung party in Vietnam!
The room has a karaoke machine set up in the front and people are taking turns singing songs. A stage area in the front is full of people hugging shoulders, waving side-to-side, singing and dancing. It is a big party!

Ms. Lam Huong tells me that she expects me to perform a song. “But I don’t know any songs in Vietnamese!” I protest. My excuse does not work — the machine has Western songs too. I flip through the list and try to find something classic and recognizable. My eyes spot Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” on the song list. Perfect! This song always brings the house down in America.

I take the stage and the room applauds. What will the foreigner sing? Ms. Lam Huong’s drunk boss takes the microphone and introduces me to the crowd, in Vietnamese of course. I understand nothing and just stand there with a stupid grin on my face. Finally the music starts and I start to sing. The room is an echo chamber — nobody in Vietnam knows this song!! “Hands…touching hands…reaching out…” just silence. Thankfully people are just amused by me being on stage and some people come on stage to dance and take photos. A lady hands me flowers.

Finally the song ends and I run back to my seat. “No! No!” says Ms. Lam Huong. “Now you must dance!” The next singer has taken the mike and a conga line is forming. The room is rowdy again. I join the line, as do most other people, and we march around the room. A man on stage is marching and saluting like a soldier. Turns out that this is a Communist anthem of the Vietnamese people! Oh dear, I hope I don’t lose my American passport for this!

I have an 11:30pm flight and thankfully Ms. Xuan Hoa has not been pounding beers like I have, so I ride on her motorbike one final time to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Ms. Lam Huong, Mr. Dat, and their two kids have followed us in a taxi with my luggage. Everyone wishes me safe travels — and hopes that I return to Vietnam someday.

Epilogue — Return to Reality
After such a bizarre and awesome vacation, the redeye back to Seoul gets me into the office just in time for Monday morning at work. It is hard returning to my normal life.

I find the $90 that I thought I had lost when I unpacked that evening, tucked with my Kindle. The money was so well-hidden that even I couldn’t find it.

Ms. Lam Huong pinged me recently on the Samsung internal chat asking me when I would be returning to visit her hometown in the central part of the country where she grew up. I yearn to go back, but of course need to fit into my work schedule. Using 7 precious vacation days for my trip doesn’t leave me with that many left for 2014.

Ms. Xuan Hoa messages me too from time to time. She might be visiting Korea soon…

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