Da Nang, Vietnam-Day 1

After my special plane flight to Vietnam, the first order of business: changing my US dollars and Hong Kong dollars into Vietnam Dong. The exchange rate is about 1USD = 23,100dong. I decided I would change only $50US just in case the rates at the airport weren’t that good. I’d change more once I familiarized myself with things here on the ground. With that done, I now had 1.16 million dong in my wallet!

Next, I recruited the assistance of a young lady named Tram who was waiting just outside the airport exit with a passenger’s name on a sign. She was nice enough to call my hostel to verify their location, and then get me a cab from the airport.

Tram helps me get a taxi

The ride ended up costing $100,000dong, which, I later found out was a bit high, but que sera sera!

About to check in at the Stingray Hostel in Da Nang, Vietnam

Mine is a single room on the 3rd floor of the Stingray.

There are 3 other single rooms, and the rest of the accommodations are bunk beds that remind me of photos I’ve seen of the capsule hotels in Japan.

2nd floor bunk beds…all empty

From what I’m told, it’s a fairly new hostel, so occupancy is not that high at the moment. When I checked in, there were only 6 other people checked in, and one was leaving that day. So, pretty much had the whole second floor to myself! Yippee!

2 toilets, 2 showers…pretty much all to myself

 

Manager, Hủng and Cám ơn of the Stingray Hostel

The manager and receptionist at Stingray lent me a SIM card, and downloaded a ride sharing app called GRAB–a Vietnam version of Uber–that’s cheaper than a taxi! So, with that vital and valuable tool, I am now able to see Da Nang cheaply and much more easily than I was able to in Macau. This is great! They’ve been very helpful and accommodating! Read more about Stingray Hostel here

Here’s a short video recap:

 

My first stop was Karma Waters, a vegan restaurant that got great reviews on HappyCow.net!

Spring rolls and fried noodles

 

This is how we do it! “Wrap veggies and spring rolls in rice paper, dip in sauce and enjoy!”

Then, another Grab cab pulled up and out came a fellow who caught my eye.  His name is Ronnie Defour, and turns out he’s a Trinidadian who’s lived in South America as well as the US, and is planning to relocate to Vietnam! He was there at Karma Waters to make a generous donation to one of their community projects! (see details here)

Ronnie Defour from Trinidad!

When I first arrived at Karma Waters, there was no one there who spoke English (and, thanks to the helpful officer at the Immigration desk at the airport, my Vietnamese consists only of “hello,” “thank you” and “see you later”). So, the waitress enlisted the help of the owner’s 13-year-old daughter who was in the back. We ended up talking for the duration of my lunch, she showed me her sketch pad of artwork (on the table),  added my own sketch to her pad, and due to serious case of camera-shyness, you can make out her forehead behind me in this shot!

Shy artist’s forehead behind mine

Hey look what I found on the KarmaWaters Facebook page! At the same time that Ronnie was discussing his donation with the Karma Waters owner, Ronnie snapped a photo of his table with me in the background with my shy artist!

The shy artist exposed!

Among the things I learned during my hours-long lunch is that Karma Waters is more than just a restaurant.  They feed the less privileged, give tours to children; organize tours and homestays; offer cooking classes; provide recipes and more! (More at www.karmawaters.com)

 

Ronnie and family!

I plan to interview Ronnie as well as Grace, the Karma Waters owner, in another post! Stay tuned.

Rearranged the furniture in my windowless dorm room, caught up on some writing, website updating and communications….then called it a night!

Stay tuned for more!

 

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Jamaican Air Macau pilot flies me to Da Nang, Vietnam!

After spending 28 days in Macau, the next stop on my “Jamaican in China….and Beyond” adventure is Da Nang, Vietnam. Why? Oh, I dunno.  Because that’s where the Vietnamese are? Because it’s a country in Asia that begins with a letter of the alphabet? Because it’s Monday? Pick a reason or make up your own.

So, I made my reservations, and I was all set! (I’ll give details on how little it all costs in an upcoming post!) On the morning of the departure, I left home at 5:15am, got to the Macau airport by 5:30am, checked in, went through the security check, and then waited for my 7:15am flight!

Last few moments in Macau waiting for the boarding call

Now, a few days earlier, when my friend and Macau host, Ron, found out I was heading to Vietnam, he suggested that Air Macau would be a good choice of airlines. Why? Oh, I dunno. Because he gets a commission for every passenger he refers? Because the upright position of the tray tables and seat backs offers more leg room than other airlines? Because he’s a captain with the airline and can arrange to be my pilot for any flight I choose? Pick a reason, or—um, actually, I think it was that last one.

So, after I made the reservations, Ron took care of things on his end.

As I boarded the plane on the morning of the flight,  somehow, mysteriously, I was upgraded to a Business Class seat. (That’s like “First Class” for those who keep track of such things!) It’s so amazing what good karma can bring, isn’t it?

Me in Business Class. Hey look! In the background, in coach! It’s one of the common folk! How quaint! Um, excuse me, stewardess, could you close the curtain please?

Then, I discovered that another surprise was waiting for me, when, shortly before takeoff, one of the flight attendants came to my seat and informed me that the captain had invited me up to the cockpit! I got to meet the other pilots and ask questions. And, most importantly, I offered my services should they require it. After all, I’ve seen enough movies where a hapless passenger is successfully talked through an emergency landing by the guys in the control tower! Just sayin’…

Once I returned to my seat, I couldn’t help thinking: It’s pretty cool being flown on an international flight to Vietnam for the first time, aboard an Airbus 321 jet airliner, knowing that my best buddy–Ron McFarlane–is the captain in charge, and “dread at the controls!” It makes it a unique personal experience imagining my friend in the cockpit doing what he’s always wanted to do since he was five years old.

Here’s a video recap of the whole experience featuring an in-flight interview with the captain himself with some words of advice for aspiring pilots and anyone pursuing a dream! Too bad I wasn’t in the economy/coach section so that the common fo–I mean– the other passengers could see and benefit from what he shared! (Share this blog post and Youtube video with anyone–young or experienced–who can relate to Ron’s reality!)

View this on Youtube

I was well taken care of throughout the one hour and 28 minute flight thanks to the gracious and friendly cabin crew! Thanks, everyone!

Once we touched down (a smooth landing thanks to Captain Ron and crew), we all posed for photos while the Vietnam cleaning crew waited patiently on the ramp.

The cabin crew aboard Flight NX870
Captain Ron and flight crew! (Sorry for delaying the cleaning crew!)

In pilot parlance, this would be a “turnaround” flight. So, after cleaning and boarding of a new set of passengers, Captain Ron and crew would be heading back right to Macau! Thanks, Ron, for kicking off my first visit to Vietnam and making it such a memorable experience!

Note to self: I need to do similar interviews with Caribbean travelers in Asia and post to Youtube…With that said…

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Walk About #1-Macau!

You’ve thrilled to my “Drive through Saipan” series You’ve marveled at my “Scooter stylee through Laos.” Well, now you can enjoy my upcoming new “Walk About…” series! Starting with this Walk About Macau test video!

Overcoming my shyness, my self-consciousness, my naturally introverted personality, and the selfie-stick-stigma, I bravely step out into the streets of Macau to practice using a selfie stick, walking and talking at the same time! (I’ve had practice walking and chewing bubble gum, so this shouldn’t be much more difficult!)

REMEMBER: I created this for my personal use to practice my technique, to get comfortable in public, and to assess the quality of the finished product. So, I’ve simply inserted the raw footage without any fancy editing. I’m not really discussing anything profound, so you probably won’t learn much, but feel free to comment or make constructive suggestions. I’ll start:

“Do some neck muscle exercises, pencil neck!”

Check it out!

 

Idiocracy meets the Matrix: “Let’s have lunch,” then and now!

I see it everywhere: on buses; on trains; in elevators; on the streets, in the cars on the highway. Everywhere. My friends don’t even notice it. Heck, sometimes they are complicit in it! When I point it out to them, they have to really make an effort to step back far enough to see it objectively, and even then, they simply shrug it off as “normal.” Perhaps it’s because they made the transition first to Facebook–to socializing via computer screens–then to phone screens. They have lived the logical progression from one mode of screen-based social engagement to the next. I never did, and so, what I see around me now is surreal and shocking, bordering on horror-movie frightening!

It’s my own fault, though. I haven’t done the nomad thing in almost three years. I’ve been sequestered in paradise on Saipan, writing books, running on the beach, soaking in the sunshine, creating and living my reality of choice with minimal interaction with certain technological aspects of our ever-changing world! And now–having returned to nomad skies and vagabond roads–I feel like I’ve landed into an oddly familiar, alternate-reality-diverted-timeline movie plot!

Yep, I feel like Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson’s character) in the comedy movie, Idiocracy who is chosen for a one-year human hibernation experiment, but wakes up 500 years in the future to an unrecognizable world. Combine that with a plot element from The Matrix where everywhere I turn I see humans who believe they are engaging with reality, but who, in reality, are plugged into a computer program simulation.

In this movie in which I find myself, commuters in subway stations and pedestrians on the streets rush forward at breakneck speed with their heads down, smart phones in hand, fingers tapping, looking up only for the split second it takes to avoid colliding with other similarly “plugged in” commuters (and not always being successful at that)! Inside the train cars, 9 of 10 people are in the same plugged-in position–head down,  elbows bent, phone in hand (I once say one girl walking with two phones), swiping left, swiping right, up, down, tapping, watching movies, playing games or texting. No one is talking. No one is making eye contact. In this brave, new world, there are no chance meetings, no smiles shared between passengers, no pickup lines and numbers being exchanged! Nope, no “howdy, stranger, where are you from?” happening on this train ride. I can’t NOT see it! It jumps out at me all the time! I’ve seen it in both Hong Kong and Macau.

Similarly, when I see couples, families and friends in restaurants, it’s the same scene–people interacting with screens instead of each other. Yesterday, for example, I spent the day in Hong Kong with a friend, and had lunch at Harmony Village restaurant. I looked over at the other diners and saw the perfect illustration of how times have changed:

Notice anything comment-worthy in this photo?

“Let’s have lunch!” Then and Now.

Well, if you don’t, here’s what I see:

“Let’s have lunch” on the left: two friends (or family members, perhaps) of an earlier era. They are facing each other, sitting upright, having a conversation, and making eye contact while eating their food.

“Let’s have lunch” on the right: two friends of modern times (coworkers on lunch hour, judging from their attire). They are seated side by side, hunched over, focused on their phone screens, no eye contact, minimal  conversation. Their food is actually already on the table, having been served just a few moments prior. I saw one girl look up for a split second at the food and then return to her screen; and even when she started eating, she continued holding the phone in her left hand, and her chopsticks in the right.

(Question: what would YOU do if you went on a date with someone who couldn’t put their smart phone down and held it in one hand while eating? I know what I’d do, and the funny part is, she might not even realize that I left!)

Fascinating. Scary.

Yep, this is what “let’s have lunch” means these days. Welcome to reality. Your red pill awaits.

p.s. In any event, speaking of my day in Hong Kong…

At Harmony Village in Hong Kong with my good friend and airline pilot. Um, smartphone much? Hee hee! (He had to check a pending flight schedule before we returned to our conversation)
Kowloon Park! My camera ran out of power shortly after this shot, so I’ll have to go back to Hong Kong to give you a thorough post of this cool spot, and reveal what it’s famous for! Stay tuned!

Hey, look! It’s Usain! Big tings a gwan!

Standard Chartered Bank rolls out international campaign featuring Jamaican Usain Bolt

The new phase of Standard Chartered Bank’s “Here for Good” campaign kicks off in Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. This phase (“Good enough Will Never Change the World”) showcases a series of inspirational short films featuring people who accomplished extraordinary things because they wouldn’t settle for “good enough”. The launch video, published today, stars Jamaican sprinter and Olympic champion Usain Bolt.

“I always say ‘never think limits’ and ‘anything is possible’. It is not enough to dream big – you need to push through barriers to realise your dreams. When you have an end goal in mind and you’re passionate about it, you can find the will and the strength to break through boundaries and achieve that goal,” Bolt said*. (More about the global campaign)–From Marketing Interactive, earlier this year.

*And, for the record, that’s precisely what my “Jamaican in China…and beyond” blog is all about–breaking through these arbitrary lines we call national borders, as well as other self-imposed limitations, and societally-promoted worldviews and stereotypes to boldly go and see the world fearlessly (and inexpensively)!

Next time you hear from me, I’ll be Jamaican in Vietnam! (I wonder what the smart phone culture will be like over there!)

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A mouthful of teeth and a blissful carrot

When I travel to a new destination, my idea of a time well spent is simply to settle into the local life and do things that locals do, shop where locals shop, and even visit the dentists locals visit! Meet Dr. Sofia Ferreira Dias Tavares Da Costa Alcántara, THE dentist at Centro Medico in Taipa! She did a thorough ultrasound teeth cleaning for me!

Yep, that’s me! I know. I know. Way too much information, but hey…we’ve already shared bowel movements, so what the heck! Open wide!

Interestingly, I discovered Dr. Sofia is also an aspiring author, so I shared a few tips from my writer’s workshops for her to use in her passion pursuit!

Thanks, Dr. Sofia! See you soon on the Macau Tower bungee jump platform!

Then, it was off to another vegetarian spot in Macau: The Blissful Carrot!

In front of Blissful Carrot

You can’t go wrong with a restaurant that features Ghandi, Mother Theresa and Bob Marley on the wall!

Blissful Carrot bulletin board

The menu features rice dishes, salads, tacos, all-day breakfasts, They also sell home-made Kombucha, locally-made tempeh, and gluten-free pastries and desserts! Beatriz suggested the Bimibap

Thanks, Beatriz!

While there, we ran into Natasha, and Constança (Beatriz’s sister studying in London), and Khaled, originally from Somalia visiting Macau.  We exchanged a few pleasantries and took a few photos!

Natasha, Constança and Khaled, who said he, too, will be doing the Macau bungee jump before he leaves!

Ran a few more errands–changed some US dollars into MOP (Macau currency), bought a selfie stick, took some photos for my Vietnam visa application, then headed back to home base to enjoy the Blissful Carrot cuisine: main dish: Bimibap Bowl (Indonesian Gado-gado style sauteed kale & mixed vegetables with peanut-chili sauce, tamari grilled tempeh topped with sesame seeds and crispy dried shallots), Breakfast tacos, plus homemade kombucha, vegan banana bread, raw coconut/peanut butter cups and tempeh!

Yes, I know we want to eat, but first we must position the food for the obligatory blog post photo!

ADDENDUM:

I visited the Blissful Carrot a few days later and got a chance to run into Aaron, the original owner (he’s still involved, but his wife actually runs the business now).

 

Aaron of Blissful Carrot

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 JIC MISSION: “To create an alternative travel narrative to encourage people who identify with me to break free, jump out and see the world fearlessly! (and inexpensively)!”
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Sometimes in life, you’ve just got to leap without a net!

 

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Getting lucky in Macau! Woo hoo!

New: I’ve given in to peer pressure. You can now follow me on Instagram

As a single traveler, it’s always a thrill when I get lucky! During my six-month adventure in China a few years ago, it happened to me in Beijing. It happened to me in Singapore, too! I even got lucky in Laos at the end of a long passageway off the main road in Luang Namtha, near to Zuela Guesthouse.  And, it was years ago, when I was living in New York that I experienced it for the very first time! In each of these destinations, I got a taste of something that satisfied my desires, put a pep in my step, and made me feel strong and powerful for the rest of my stay there!

Want some more hot, spicy details? Well, in Beijing it happened here with her. In Singapore, this is where it happened. The Laos experience happened on day 1.  Yes, my friends, I’m speaking about something that’s perfectly natural, something just about everyone wants and needs, something that makes the world go ’round, something that builds emotional bonds between people, and something that if more people did it freely and without the societal stigma, would make the world a healthier, saner place! Yes, I’m speaking, of course, about EATING AT THAT PERFECT VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT!!!!

And now, Macau joins the list of places in which I’ve gotten lucky and found that perfect spot! It’s called Sum Yuen Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant, and I kid you not, this is by far, the BEST I’ve ever had! It’s larger than any other in which I’ve dined. The menu has more selections (30+ page, full color, exquisitely bound menu), and the presentation of it all is fabulous!

The front entrance through the gate.
Close up of first floor entrance. Using Google Maps may lead you to the back entrance. Nearby bus routes: 30 and 35. (This photo: https://macaulifestyle.com/dining/local-eats/vegetarian-temple-restaurant/)

“Pou Tai Temple was founded in the 19th century by Buddhist monks and is the largest temple on Taipa Island. On the ground level of this Buddhist temple is…  Sum Yuen which officially opened during the last quarter of 2014.”–Macau Lifestyle

Like a kid in a vegan candy store!

With only about eight days left here in Macau, I’d never be able to try everything I’d wish to even if I dined here every day! Here are some pages from the amazing 30-page + menu (Everything here is completely animal-free; no sentient beings were harmed in their creation!):

See the entire menu at http://www.facebook.com/pg/sumyuenmacau/photos/

With that said, we (my “not shown” dining companions and I) tried the following items:

#008 – Avocado & Mango Rolls (Sushi)

#028 – Vegetarian Prawns Salad

#049 – Hong Kong Style Honey Glazed Barbecued Pork and Crispy Vegetarian Goose (deep fried bean curd skin)

#053 – Chiba tofu and spinach rolls

#058 – Assorted Mushroom Teppanyaki

#092 – Braised Vegetables with Fermented Beancurd

#134 – Pan Fried Vegetarian Dumplings

#146 – Steamed Chinese Sponge Cake

While I was there, I decided to practice taking photos and filming with my new selfie-stick! Yes, I’ve reluctantly, but also a bit excitedly joined “those folks” who do the stick schtick while traveling. In my defense, however, I’m doing it for YOU–in anticipation of doing a series of special Walt’s Walk & Talk through China and Beyond Youtube videos, so stay tuned and please forgive my new obsession!

You can find Sum Yuen’s listing here on HappyCow.net. Surprisingly–given how amazing this place is–there was only one review when I added mine!

See you there! Maybe we can get lucky together!

 

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Virtual reality mission, Macau style!

A secret military space station has gone dark and it falls on a specially-trained, multi-national team–two Jamaicans, an Italian and an American– to investigate why. No signs of life remain…well, not human life anyway. Their mission is to secure the space station, eliminate enemy robots and drones and rescue any survivors. The space station is a multi-billion dollar experimental project designed and constructed by military contractor Zero Latency, Inc.

Team members Ron, Daniel and Aaron being briefed on the mission!

The team had a choice of Mission code name “Engineerium” (Exploring a unique world), Mission code name “Zombie Survival” or Mission code name “Singularity” (securing the space station). They chose Singularity!

The choice of missions
Yes, thats me using a selfie stick for the first time!
This is a serious mission
All suited up and ready to go on our rescue mission! Jamaican. American. Italian. Jamaican.

Of course, I couldn’t record the experience while immersed in the mission, so here’s the next best thing–the Zero Latency promotional video:

After the mission:

Needless to say, the mission was a success, and we celebrated afterwards!

Those are our individual scores of enemy drones and robots we eliminated on display behind us! Daniel is doing his best to block them from view!

Learn more about it http://zerolatencyvrmacau.com/

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