My kind of Foodie

foodie map

Up until this point, I have explained my love for travel quite clearly. But my other great passion in life is food. I LOVE food. Food is the only art to touch every one of the human senses. Even if that moment of actually eating is short and fleeting, it has the power to excite, to comfort, to seduce and to create powerful memories that will last a lifetime.

Today, it has become really trendy to refer to one’s self as a “foodie”. For those that don’t know, a foodie is someone that loves food and (claims to?) knows a lot about food. Around the world there is a growing culture of food fans that worship famous chefs like sports fans worship championship athletes. In big cities like New York and London, “foodies” pour out big bucks to get the chance to eat dishes made my superstar chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Eric Riper. And given the chance, I would join them.

Golden-Foodie-Awards-After-Party
High end foodie party

But there is another aspect about the culinary experience that these big city, local foodies are missing out on. Besides delighting all the senses, food has one more gift to offer, if you are willing to take it. Food holds the keys to thousands of cultures across the planet. Cultures vary from country to country, province to province, city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood. The best and most enjoyable way to learn about these varying cultures is via your pallet. In my opinion, when traveling, having an open mind and an empty stomach is almost as important as having a passport.

foodie map
Foodie map of the world

Some of my best travel experiences revolve around eating local dishes. I will never forget the wonderful taste of bistecca fiorentina in Florence, or of bun bo Hue in Hue, or of pork miso ramen in Tokyo.

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Bistecca Fiorentina in Florence

 

Whenever possible, I avoid the restaurants that are designed for tourists and try and find where the locals eat. This practice has two advantages. First you will generally find the best tasting and most authentic food this way. Second, it is often the cheaper way to eat. And it is an exciting adventure. A number of times, I have walked into local eateries in a country that I don’t speak the language and when the server asked me what I wanted, I simply pointed at a dish I saw someone else eating. It almost never fails to satisfy.

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Bun Bo Hue being sold on the street side in Hue

I am sure someone from a city like New York will read this and think to themselves that they live in a city that has food from all over the world and that they have any culinary experiences available with a simple call and a take out menu. But sadly they would only be getting the tiniest part of the experiences.

Firstly, while all kinds of foods are available in major cosmopolitan cities, the choices are extremely minimal. Sure you can find the classic Vietnamese “phở” in New York, but could you find any of the amazing dishes from the central and northern regions of Vietnam? Not really. And even if you could, the experience of paying $15 for a bowl of mediocre “phở” in some restaurant in New York, will never come close to the experience of siting on a small stool, in a tinny street shop in Hanoi, eating freshly cooked “phở” that only costs $2, while watching the city go by.

Eating on the street
Eating on the street in Vietnam

So to all the food lovers out there, make sure you have your passports. If you really want to experiences the best food the world has to offer, much of it is far away, in amazingly exotic destinations. And to all you travel lovers out there, make sure you go with an open mind and an empty stomach. If you are one of those travelers that goes to Florence and eats at McDonalds, I promise you that you are missing out on some the best experiences out there.

Spice map
Spice map of the world

 

 

 

A Wonderful Surprise in Hue

View of the Perfume River in Hue

This past weekend, I went to Hue, in central Vietnam. Hue is a small town, with lots of history, a unique culture, and wonderful food. When I am looking to get away from the big city for a bit, Hue is my go to destination. This past weekend, I was looking forward to seeing my local friends that I hadn’t seen in some time, enjoying some of my favorite foods, and relaxing in the quiet royal city.

I arrived Friday afternoon, but my friends were busy until the evening. So I decided to take a nice walk along the beautiful Perfume River that splits Hue in half.

View of the Perfume River in Hue
View of the Perfume River in Hue

About 2 minutes into my walk, I was approached by some local students who were sitting in the park that is around the river. They asked if I would take some time to speak with them so that they could practice their English skills with a native speaker. I was a bit cautious and wary that it might be some sort of scheme, but I agreed to talk with them for a few minutes.

The group of students that quickly became my new friends
The group of students that quickly became my new friends

I was pleasantly surprised by this group of wonderful people. They were students studying in all different fields, including medicine, law, economics and tourism. The few minutes that I had promised them, quickly became an hour. They asked me about life in the US, and about how I saw in Vietnam. Every time I said something nice about Vietnam, I could see the happiness in their eyes, as if I had just complimented them personally.

At one point in the conversation, it came out that I speak a very decent Vietnamese. They were all quite surprised and said that none of them had ever met a foreigner capable of holding a conversation in Vietnamese, because so few foreigners live in Hue. We switched to talking in Vietnamese and the conversation continued for another hour and change.

Around 7pm, most of the group excused themselves and went home to eat dinner. But a few remaining people invited me to eat at some of their favorite student eateries and introduce me to some new foods. I assured them, that I had been to Hue many times, and there was probably no local food that I had yet to try. But of course, I was wrong.

Going out for dinner
Going out for dinner

They took me to two different food stalls, and showed me 4 different dishes that I had never had before. All 4 were quite tasty. But the real fun was the conversation with my new friends. It turns out, that before that day, they only knew each other’s faces, but had never talked. But after that day, everything changed, and now we were all friends.

After we finished eating, we went to a drink stall and sat and talked. At each place, my new friends couldn’t wait to introduce their new foreign friend to whoever was near by. After we were done drinking, we all exchanged Facebook contact information, and one of them drove me back to my hotel on his motorbike.

The interesting things is, that when they initially approached me, I came very close to saying no. Many times, while walking around Hanoi, I have been approached in similar fashion, and it often turns out to be an attempt to try and get money out of me. It was getting to a point that I was becoming quite cynical. But for whatever reason, I decided to give this group a chance, and I am glad I did. I had a great evening, and now have more friends. Sometimes in life, you just have to put yourself out there, especially when traveling alone. If you do, life often has pleasant surprises waiting for you.

A Trip Down to the Mekong Delta: Part 1 Exploring the River Life

Heading down river

As I wrote in a previous post, one of the ways I would practice my Vietnamese was by going online to gay forums, and chatting with local guys. Sometimes, if I met someone nice and we really hit it off, I would choose my next domestic trip to where they lived. What better way to experience a place than with a local guide?

One time I met a wonderful guy that goes by the nickname Pin, who lives in the capital of the Mekong Delta region of the country, in a town named Can Tho. Can Tho was a place that was never really on my radar and I had never met anyone that had been there. None of my foreign friends had ever thought of visiting and most of my Vietnamese friends were of the opinion that it was a backwater, rural town that was not worth their time. But I decided that I would give it a shot. I booked a ticket and a hotel, and told my friend that I would be coming down.

At 1,200 plus Km away, the flight from Hanoi to Can Tho is one of the longest domestic flights in Vietnam. I arrived in Can Tho with pretty low expectations thanks to the poor opinions of my friends that had never been there. As it turns out, my friends could not have been more wrong.

The center of Can Tho is a fairly developed, small modern city. There are shops, food stalls, and a local market. But what was really interesting about Can Tho, was the rural river life that existed in and around the city. My friend arranged to have a local boat guide take us down river and show us a part of Vietnam that I never saw before. We woke up before the sun, and joined our friendly guide on her boat to head down river.

boat at night CT
Heading out, into the darkness
Sunrise over the Mekong Delta
Sunrise over the Mekong Delta

As we headed down the river, I saw a world that many in the west may think died out a long time ago, a world that for many,  only ever existed in movies and in history books. I got to see an entire community of people that live in, and from the river. They make their living from the river and they make their homes on the river. In the west, when one talks of a fishing town, they mean a town, were many of the locals go out to fish, and leave the town behind. In Can Tho the whole town exists in the water and a whole system has developed to support this lifestyle. There are boats that float around selling hot coffee, or noodle soups. There is a whole floating market, selling produce to the fishermen and their families. Everything that a town would usually have on land, exists here on the river.

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Woman selling coffee from her boat
Floating Market
Floating Market
Floating Market
Floating Market
Me, my friend and our guide
Me, my friend and our guide. We are wearing hats that she made out of pineapple leaves.

After we finished visiting the market, we headed further down river. It was there that I saw things that truly amazed me. Along the river, there were rows of homes, that looked as if they were made out of scarp pieces of wood and metal, barely able to remain standing in the water, or on the shore. These houses often serve as homes for three or more generations, and the river is their only real source for water. I saw people that basically have little to nothing. But what surprised me the most is how happy most of them seemed to be. I saw kids playing and laughing, families spending time together smiling, people doing house hold chores. And almost every one we passed, smiled and waved at the boat with the giant foreigner passing by. I had never felt so humbled as when I saw these people that had so little and yet were so happy.

Heading down river
Heading down river
Local woman washing clothes in the river
Local woman washing clothes in the river
Local older man sitting by the river
Local older man sitting by the river
A kid playing in the river as his older brother looks on
A kid playing in the river as his older brother looks on
An example of the river side homes in Can Tho
An example of the river side homes in Can Tho

At one point, I got to speak with one of the locals about how life here was different than anywhere that I have ever lived. During our conversation, I asked them, “if tomorrow you woke up with $100,000, what would you do?” They answered, “I would make my family’s home bigger so there would be more room for everyone, and maybe take a trip to Ho Chi Minh City”. I know that if someone asked me that question, I would tell them that I would go on some trip somewhere, or think of something else big and expensive to do. But the mind set of the people I spoke to, is much more local oriented, with much more modest expectations and dreams. I was quite moved when talking with the locals.

It is a shame that more people do not take the time to visit this gem at the very southern tip of Vietnam. It was one of the most interesting and unique places that I have ever visited. Beyond that, everyone I met was friendly, kind and excited to talk to the foreigner. Of course there was more to Can Tho than just the river life, but that will have to wait for another post.

The Most Important Lesson I Ever Learned

My Parents

I recently had a conversation with an elderly family member back in the US, in which they said to me, “at my age you never know how much time you have left, so I can’t waste time on things that aren’t important. You are young and can’t understand, but you will someday”. What this person failed to understand is that I, more than most, very much do understand that thought and feeling. It was only a short 3 years ago, on September 15th, 20012, that that point was shoved down my throat in the most violent way possible.

On that afternoon, I was walking with my parents and their good friends, when an out of control car went up on the sidewalk and ran us over. My parents were killed and me and their friends were left badly injured. It is hard to grasp that one can learn something positive from such a tragedy, but I have. And it just so happens, that the lesson learned was one my father used to try share often.

My Parents
My Parents

My father was a very hard worker, working long days and was always at the top of his field. BUT, when he had time off, he always made it count. Probably my parent’s favorite things to do when my dad had time off from work, was to travel. Sometimes they would travel just the two of them and sometimes the whole family. Some of my favorite family memories were from these family trips, be it a local road trip to Washington DC, or a trip across the ocean to Copenhagen.

Some of my parent’s more frugal friends used to say to them, “We wish we could travel like you, but we don’t want to spend the money”. My father used jokingly reply, “are you planning on being buried with that money? What are you saving it for?” While my parents were alive, most people did not understand this lesson and just thought my father was just being hyperbolous. But one evening, after I had recovered enough to leave the US, one of my parents close friends took me aside and said, “I always thought your father was joking when he asked me if I wanted to be buried with my money. But he was right and I wish I had learned this lesson sooner.”

One thing I do not think I will ever get over, is the randomness of the accident. If this random driver had not been so irresponsible, if we had walked slower, or faster, or someone stopped to tie their shoes, the accident would not have happened. This scared me for sometime, but I quickly realized that randomness and mortality are part of life and I cannot let it paralyze me, because if I did, what kind of life would I be living? Instead, I remembered my father’s lesson and use this to drive me forward. Many people like to use the term “carpe diem” (seize the day). The slang “YOLO” (you only live once) is common and overused. But how many people actually understand the weight of such statements? How many people really seize the opportunities before them? How many people really try and find their path to happiness? I hope, someone out there will read this post, and it will help push them in the direction of happiness. I also hope that this explains to people why I choose to live the way that I do.

Live for today

Learning Vietnamese

xin chao

I always knew that one of the most difficult parts about moving to Vietnam, would be the dreaded “language barrier”. English is not widely spoken here in Vietnam, and Vietnamese is considered one of the more difficult languages for English speakers to learn. All challenges aside, I was determined to try my best to learn the language of my new home.

4-fastest-ways-to-learn-vietnamese

Why is Vietnamese so difficult? For starters, it is tonal. I have tried to explain this concept to my friends and family back in the US and Israel, but most don’t seem to grasp it. Basically, I can say the same “word” with 6 different tones and that would actually create 6 different words. Westerners often have a lot of trouble with this, which can lead to some very funny communication breakdowns. In Hanoi, the words for pineapple. watermelon, and coconut are spelled the same, but have different tones. I have yet to meet the foreigner in Hanoi that has not had the experience at least once of ordering a pineapple smoothie, and receiving a coconut smoothie instead (or vice-versa). There is also a common mistake between the Vietnamese word for grapefruit and the word for a certain part of the male anatomy, but I have never heard of this leading to an order mix up in a restaurant.

what the

The other really difficult thing about Vietnamese is the pronoun system. Off the top of my head, I can think of 25 different pronouns, but there are more. They change based on age, age difference, social situation, age difference of parents, type of relationship, gender, closeness, anger, etc. Trying to master the use of this complicated, yet culturally important pronoun system, is quite mind boggling.

tieng viet sad book

To being with, I signed up for classes at the National University, here in Hanoi. While these classes were extremely helpful, anyone that has ever tried to learn a new language will tell you, you can’t learn it in a classroom. You must “live the language” and talk with native speakers. There are the usual tricks of trying to talk with taxi driver and waiters. But that too was not enough.

Anyone that knows anything about gay subculture, knows that there are tons of apps and websites designed to help people meet, date, or whatever else they are looking for. The same is true here in Vietnam. I used apps like Grindr and Jack’d, along with Facebook groups for gay Vietnamese, to help meet local people. Some nights, I would spend hours chatting with guys from all over Vietnam. I was able to learn phrasing, syntax and all in all improve my conversation skills.

When I was still new at Vietnamese, it was always easier chatting online, because I could use Google translate for words I did not understand or could not remember. But, when I started meeting people in person, this was not always easy. Of course I have Google translate on my phone, but constantly looking up words on your phone, ruins the conversation. So I tried to keep the use of the translation apps to a minimum. We would rely on the good old classic options, like body language, pointing and describing. It wasn’t always easy, but I was definitely living the language, and that is the quickest and best way to master it.

Now, two and a half years later, I find myself frequently being complimented for my Vietnamese skills. I have many local friends who do not speak any English. In fact, my recent boyfriend of eight months does not speak English. We communicated solely in Vietnamese.

Of course I still have much to learn. I have continued my classes and am always looking to meet new people. And since I have met guys from all over the country, I have been able to learn to understand (somewhat) some of the different regional dialects, and have had many local guides for my travels around the country. But those are stories for another post. keep-calm-and-learn-vietnamese-1

Tokyo – Like Visiting Another Planet

imperial palace garden

Since I started this blog, I have been wondering how I should go about writing about travel. There are many travel blogs out there, and many are very dry and dull to read. People end up writing lists of museums and opening hours, all information that people can get from travel guides and websites. And while many people might enjoy reading and writing such posts, it is not for me.

Thinking back on some of my favorite trips, I realized that one of the things I enjoy most when traveling, is seeing and experiencing new and unique people, places and things. Those are the experiences I want to share with you, my readers. And since that is the case, why not start with one of the most unique places that I have ever been, Tokyo.

I once said to a friend, that visiting Tokyo is the closest one could come to visiting another planet. In sci-fi, other planets are depicted as having a culture that is so different that it is hard for visitors to understand. Such sci-fi planets are technologically advanced, lit up and have much to be discovered. Tokyo is the same way. Japan’s long history as an Island nation, with periods of isolation, conquest and subjugation, has led to the development of a culture that is like non other.

The People

One of the most surprising things about the people of Tokyo was that they were simultaneously cold and welcoming. You might think this impossible, but not in Tokyo. Japan is a homogenous society that is traditionally, not particularly welcoming to foreigners. In fact, when you go out at night, it is not uncommon to find bars, restaurants and even some shops, that have signs that read, “Japanese only”.

Japanese onlyAt the same time, almost every interaction that I had with locals, was extremely pleasant. Most people in Tokyo do not speak English, so whenever I got lost and needed to ask directions, it was always a complicated process of using google translate, google maps and body language. You might think that most people would not want to go through this whole process to help a stranger, but I can’t remember ever being ignored or turned down when I asked a local for help. In fact, on a few separate occasions, rather than try and explain the directions, people left what they were doing and walked with me to show the way. So while foreigners might not always be the most welcomed people in Tokyo, the locals are helpful and still  make sure you have a good impression of their wonderful city.

Of course no post about the unique culture and people of Tokyo would be complete without mentioning the neighbourhood known as Harajuku. Harajuku is where social norms are turned upside down and people dressed as anime characters and giant babies in diapers are common and those of us wearing “regular clothes” feel out of places. It is a uniquely Tokyo experience that is best explained through pictures.

People posing for a pic in Harajuku
People posing for a pic in Harajuku
Harajuku locals
Harajuku locals

Places

The landscape of Tokyo varies greatly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. In Shinjuku you will find yourself surrounded by flashing lights and tall sky scrapers, while in Chiyoda and Taito you can find yourself in the lush gardens of the imperial place, or green Ueno Park.

Imperial gardens at the Imperial Palace
Imperial gardens at the Imperial Palace
Beautiful gardens in Ueno Park
Beautiful gardens in Ueno Park, outside the National Museum

My favorite place in Tokyo was the Meiji Shrine. This shrine was build in honour of the Emperor Meiji who enacted reforms to bring Japan into the modern world. The shrine is built according to traditional Shinto tradition, a religion unique to Japan. When I was there, I was lucky enough to witness a bride and groom preparing for a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony.

Meiji Shrine entrance
Entrance to the Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
Traditional Shinto Bride and Groom
Traditional Shinto Bride and Groom

The Things

There were many “things” that I loved in Japan. From the skyline covered in strobe lights, to the toilets that have more buttons than an Iphone, Tokyo is full of these peculiar “things” that make it stand out in my memory.

Shinjuku by night
Shinjuku by night
Really! This toilet has more buttons than a smartphone!
Really! This toilet has more buttons than a smartphone!

But one of the great loves of my life is food. Yes, I am a foodie and one of my favorite “things” to discover when traveling, is the unique cuisines of wherever I am. It is not an understatement when I claim that Tokyo is a “foodie paradise”. I tired many wonderful dishes, every one of them, full of amazing flavours and pleasant textures. Dishes that are luxuries or hard to find for people living in America, are common and accessible in Tokyo and I made sure to take full advantage of this fact. Some of my favorite dishes were…

Uni sushi: Uni (sea urchin) is normally a luxury in the west. Of all seafood products, none’s taste reminds me of the sea as much as uni.

Uni Sushi
Uni Sushi

Katsudon: Many people think of Japanese cuisine as light and mild, but not this dish. This is a breaded, fried, pork cutlet, smothered in an onion and egg sauce, served over rice. Every bite is a wonderful explosion of flavour.

Katsudon
Katsudon

Pork and Miso Ramen: This was my favorite dish. In fact, I ate it on 4 out of the 5 days that I was in Tokyo. I know that when most westerners hear “ramen”, they think of those little instant noodle packs that college students survive on. Ramen in Tokyo is something utterly different. It is a dish that consists of fresh noodles, in a thick, flavourful broth, served with perfectly cooked pork and sometimes with a seven minute egg and meatballs. It is a real “stick to your bones and warm the soul” kind of dish. A true must eat for any food lover that visits Japan. And I think most locals would agree. The place that I ate at, had a long line of people waiting to get in. Each person was let in one at a time. They were served their ramen, then spent 5 to 10 minutes loudly slurping up their noodles and then they immediately vacate their seat for the next customer in line.

Ramen in a pork and miso broth
Ramen in a pork and miso broth
Line of people waiting for ramen
Line of people waiting for ramen

Tokyo is one of a kind and a must visit location for any traveler. It is one of the few places that I have been that I have strong desire to go back again. There is no other place on the planet like it, so go with an open mind and an open stomach, and you will not be disappointed.

Culture Shock

culture shock

One of the best parts of living in a new country, is being immersed in a different culture. By putting your self out there, talking with locals, eating with locals, etc, you can really learn about the country, yourself and humanity. I am sure that sounds like I am overstating things, but I assure you that I am not. To prove my point, I will share some examples of major cultural differences that I have experienced since moving to Vietnam, and the lessons I have learned from each of these differences.

shocked2
Don’t be so shocked! Things are different here.

In American culture, when meeting a new person, there are certain topics that are off limits. For example, Americans would consider it taboo to ask someone about their age, or why they are single at their age. But in Vietnam, these questions will very often be the first questions asked. An American might be offended and consider these questions rude. But, if they were to understand Vietnamese culture, they would understand why these questions are asked in this situation.

In Vietnamese society, age is extremely important. In fact, the pronouns two people use in a conversation will change based on their respective ages, their age difference, and even based on the differences in age between their parents. There are formal pronouns for when ages are unknown, but they sound cold. When a Vietnamese person asks your age, it is actually a sign that they are being polite, because they want to use the proper pronouns and show the proper respect and closeness.

In my last post, I wrote about how Americans consider their careers among the most important aspect in their lives, and therefore when meeting new people, “what do you do?” is one of the first things usually asked. In Vietnam,”are you married yet?” usually takes that place. And if you are in your mid twenties, or higher and single, they will ask you “why aren’t you married yet?” Americans would find this line of questions intrusive. But, once again, a lesson in Vietnamese culture will help you understand why these questions are asked.

In Vietnamese culture, family is everything. In fact, according to traditional Vietnamese beliefs, when one does good or bad deeds, it will lead to happy or sad children, as opposed to western traditions that have the ideas of heaven and hell. When I was taught this, I asked my teacher, what if an evil doer didn’t have kids? She replied, that that person really is in hell because the idea of never having kids is unheard of in traditional society. Knowing this, you can understand that asking one, why they are still single, is on par with asking about one’s job in American culture.

It is not just what is considered rude that is different here, but also what is considered polite. In you are sitting in a cafe and would like service, in America, the customer would raise his hand and try and get the waiter’s attention. If you do that here, you will be waiting a long time. In Vietnam, if you would like your waiter’s attention, you basically call for them from across the cafe. The cafe is noisy and the waiter can’t hear you? Call louder.

When I first moved here, this was one of the hardest differences for me to get used to. I couldn’t get beyond the idea that yelling for a waiter is rude. But here it isn’t. In Vietnam, the way to call a waiter politely, is to use the correct pronoun when calling for them. Many times, I would be out with my good friend Hoang, and we would need a waiter. He would tell me to call the waiter, but I would feel too uncomfortable yelling for them. I would ask Hoang to call for them, but he would just sit there and say, “You need to learn, so if you don’t call them, no one will.” After sometime, I got over my preconceived notions of what is polite and what is impolite, and now I can call across the restaurant like a local.

street food3.1

The online expat forums are full of foreigners complaining and asking “why are Vietnamese so rude?” If these people took a step back and thought about the fact that they are living in another country, and tried to understand the local culture, maybe they wouldn’t be so upset all the time. Of course this is easier said than done. I still fail at this sometimes. But what I have come to learn is that “rude” and “polite” are completely subjective ideas. Therefore, our reactions to certain situations doesn’t have to be automatic. Is there really a reason to automatically be upset when someone asks your age? Social rules change from country to country, and from culture to culture. The travelers and expats of the world need to open up their minds to these differences, or be cursed to always be upset and feel perpetually insulted.

My Life’s Passion 

Travel is to live

In American culture, people’s careers are an extremely important part of who they are as a person in society. People often define themselves and others by their career. When someone meets a new person, one of the first questions they will usually ask is, “What do you do?” Many Americans will spend most of their lives chasing their career goals. They dream of reaching higher positions in their company and gaining a well deserved reputation as one of the best in their fields. For many Americans, their job is their life.

Vietnamese culture is quite different. Here people tend not to define themselves by their careers. There could be a number of reasons for this difference. One such reason is that Vietnam is still 80% a rural society. Many people are born into their family business, be it a family owned food stand, or a family owned farm. Even in the city, it is extremely common to walk into local stares and find multiple generations of the same family running the shop. Of course as Vietnam develops, more and more people are getting “urban jobs” in fields of their interest. But even in such cases, people tend to see their jobs as a way to pay for their life, and less as actual an goal in their life. This is one of the difference I associate most with in Vietnamese society.

I recently was talking to someone back in the US, and they asked why I seem to not have a goal, or a passion driving my life. They asked me, “don’t you want to build a successful business like your father? Don’t you have something you want to achieve, something to drive you?” I assured them that I do have passions and goals, but that I wasn’t going to explain it to them, because I knew they wouldn’t understand. But, I will attempt to explain it now.

fly everywhere

My passion in life is to travel. One of my goals in life is to travel to, and experience as many different places as possible. Too many people this sounds “childish” and “immature”. But I disagree. Life is to be experienced. While some might dream of one day being 70 years old and telling people how they were a CEO of a company, I dream of being 70 years old and telling people how I visited 200 countries. Some want to be able to show others the awards they won for being top of their field. I want to be able to share thousands of pictures, of hundreds of places that I have been.

Others see travel as something to do later in life, when one has finished their career and retired. I often hear, “one day, when I am retired, I want to see the world”. My response to them would be, what if tomorrow never comes? I have learned the hard way that life can suddenly come to a halt at any moment. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So what are we waiting for?

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Of course I also must live in reality. There are bills to pay and responsibilities that need to be taken care of. And of course, travel cost money. So obviously I need to work. In fact, I will start training for a new job as an English teacher in the next couple of months. Some have told me, “oh that is such a boring, and common job. So many expats here work in that field. It isn’t interesting.” But I see it differently. It is a good job, that I will be qualified to do, and it pays well. For me, my job isn’t what makes my life interesting, it is the tool to pay for the experiences that makes my life interesting.

I know there are people that will read this post and think to themselves that I am wasting my life. I understand where they are coming from, because I used to think the same way. I used to dream of a lofty career in academia, or the foreign service and couldn’t understand people with different objectives. I used to think that people that think like I currently do, were flakes. But my experiences have taken me in a different direction. And there are people that will read this post and think that I am saying one way is better than the other. That is not at all what I am saying. I strongly believe that every person should pursue their own unique path to happiness, because no two people are the same.

One goal of this blog is to share stories from my travels, and to share the happiness that travel brings me. I hope this post helps my readers understand where I am coming from, and will entice you all to keep on reading.

Writers note: I am aware that my descriptions of American and Vietnamese society are generalisations. If you are an American or Vietnamese person reading this, and you feel differently, please don’t be offended. Sometimes when writing, a writer must generalise. Thanks for being mature adults and understanding.

(What countries have I traveled to so far? Can’t wait for future posts to find out? Click this link, or the link at the bottom of this page for a complete map)

So why Vietnam?

Flag map of Vietnam, satellite outside.

That is a question that I am asked quite often. Its a pretty fair question. While it is not unheard of for an American to come and live here, it is also not common. There is a decent sized community of expats peppered around Vietnam. But most of them came here because of a job of some sorts. Their reasons are quite practical and easy to explain. My reasons for moving to Vietnam will not be found on any resume. My story more closely resembles a love story.

My initial interest in Vietnam began when I was researching a topic for my MA thesis. At the time, I wanted to research military history and I wanted a topic with which no one else in my university was dealing. My thesis advisor recommended I start looking into the Vietnam War.

So I started to read, and read, and read some more. I was very interested, but two things constantly frustrated me. First, all the sources that were easily accessible only ever showed the American perspective of the war. Second, I was reading all these Vietnamese names, and I had no idea if I was pronouncing them correctly. So I set 2 goals for myself. I was going to to find out more about the Vietnamese perspective, and I was going to learn how to pronounce the Vietnamese names and places that I was reading about.

So I set out to find whatever sources I could in English on the Vietnamese side of the war and I pestered the staff of the Vietnamese embassy in Tel Aviv, begging them to help me find someone to teach me some basic Vietnamese. Both efforts payed off. I learned a great deal about Vietnam, both through new books, and from my new friends from the embassy, who not only taught me, but welcomed me into their home on many occasions.

Then came the summer of 2011, I decided I was going to go spend a month in Hanoi, studying and traveling. This is when everything changed.

I know many people do not believe in love at first site, but my experience coming to Vietnam for the first time is evidence that it is in fact real. Almost as soon as I arrived, my connection to Vietnam went from an academic interest, to love. I had never visited a place like Vietnam before and I was swept off my feet. It was exotic and unique, yet comfortable and approachable. It fused old and new, local culture with foreign influence, country side, with modern metropolis. And even though I was only around for five weeks, I managed to meet amazing people and make new, close friends that I am still close with to this day.

toi yeu viet nam
I love Vietnam

When it came time to leave and return to Israel, I was extremely sad. I knew that I wanted to spend more time in Vietnam. I knew that this wonderful country had much to offer and to discover. I decided that once I was done with my graduate studies, I would return to Hanoi to study, research and experience as much as possible.

Then the accident happened that left my parents killed, and me badly injured. My life seemed to be shattered. I remember lying in the hospital, feeling scared, depressed and not knowing how I was going to continue. And than it hit me; I was going to go somewhere I was happy, far from my old broken life. I was going to go to a place that offered me options for a future and I was going to start my life anew. I decided I was going to move to Vietnam.

This was the goal that I focused on throughout my four months in the hospital and through all the physical therapy and surgeries. I kept saying to myself, the sooner I get better, the sooner I can pack up and live my dream. Finally, in April of 2013, I arrived at my new home in Hanoi, Vietnam and I can’t remember ever being happier.

I am back!

truc back

After a more then 2 year hiatus, I find myself once again inspired to blog. Some of you out there might have come across, or even followed my old blog, Off the Path and onto the Road. While I am the same person that wrote that blog, I have changed a lot, my life has changed a lot, and this new blog will be quite different.

The inspiration for my old blog came from my struggles with leaving my former lifestyle, coming out of the closet, losing my parents and other difficult things that were going on in my life at the time. This blog will come from a more positive place.

Since last publishing, my life has been quite wonderful and many of my dreams have come to fruition and many of my fantasies have become realities. I have been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for nearly 2 and half years now. I have great friends, a wonderful boyfriend and I have traveled to many marvellous places. That is not to say that there have been no bumps along the way, but all in all, I can’t complain.

In this blog I hope to share some of the experiences I have had in Vietnam and around the world. The posts won’t necessarily be in chronological order, but I am sure you readers won’t mind that. I am very excited for this this new project. I look forward to writing many posts, and of course your feedback is welcome.

So won’t you join me down this new and exciting road?

Truc Bach Lake
My neighbourhood in Hanoi, Vietnam