Or rather how the East won me over – East as in Eastern Europe. After spending most of my American life pining to be exotically French or Italian or even British and being obsessed with all things Western European, I have come to admire Europe’s other half. My trip with my mom to Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia and Italy (just couldn’t resist!) transformed Eastern Europe from intriguing to enchanting.
Budapest startled me. The fine beauty I associated with Western Europe interlaced with the darkness of far and recent past so perfectly that I was sure I was in a storybook. Here the opulent Parliament building sits just in front of walls still suffering from Soviet bullet wounds. The Jewish Quarter hosts one of the world’s largest – and most beautiful – synagogues in between lots that have been abandoned since most of the Jews there were deported in the last months of World War II. From the Danube River you gaze at a fairytale castle just next to the statue made to commemorate that the people wanted no more war. Budapest quickly became one of my favorite places.
Arriving in a developing country like Vietnam can be difficult. It’s messy, loud; jazz with no rhythm and a coked up bass player. Street food vendors have rats a-waiting in the wings. Three-story houses that you could only afford here are subject to weekly power cuts and water shortages that reduce them to stifling cinder block cells. Local friendliness is more intrusive than calming.
But four years on those nuisances fade to background noise. What emerges in their absence is the fun of being here. Even if initial intrigue and cultural fascination wane, homey comforts arrive in a place you never thought you could call home.
I’m sure I’m getting dumber. I’ve begun to take for granted that I will always know all things I once learned. Suddenly I realize I’m not so good at math. I forget the capital of Vermont. Even my vocabulary, the party trick of any English teacher, grows dimmer by the year. Surely working with young children is to blame. As I aid their developing brains I drain my own?
Only in Asia. Making fun of mistranslations is a game that never gets old. What’s even better is when there’s a childlike duck painted on the wall next to the cocktail special and a swing set that can also be used as set up space for the Friday night band. Welcome to my friend’s new bar. His name is Tuat. His brother, Wang. Together they wanted a place where families could enjoy a night out together. The result is in the title. Vietnam, how I love thee.
Most couples are surprised to get one honeymoon baby. We had an average of nine.
The idea of revisiting a place where we’ve already been is not our style. The more you travel, the longer the list grows of places to visit. No matter how many places you can check off, the list never gets shorter. So it was our highest compliment to return to the Philippines for our honeymoon. After becoming engaged in the Philippines last year there was a sentimental component, but really we went back because it’s so fricking cool.
It’s not often you find a country that no one is from; where the only ones indigenous are the plants. However in Mauritius the equal non-nativeness of the island may be part of the reason the place works so well. Off the coast of Africa, a continent plagued by the lasting effects of different peoples stepping on each other throughout time, Mauritius sits as an appealing alternative; a more harmonious way different cultures can share a space.
Where was Rumpelstiltskin? Where were Hansel and Gretel? All I could find were Ha and Hang and Hung, all Nguyens. Something didn’t match.
In Da Lat everything you think you know about Vietnam is wrong. There are pine trees instead of palm. There are hills instead of beaches. People grow flowers instead of rice. And it’s cold. Actually cold. Ok, more like cool but definitely not brow-dripping hot like the rest of the country. Da Lat makes you stop and wonder, “What da what is going on?”