In this episode, we meet my new friend, Trinidadian in Vietnam, Ronnie Defour, who shares his experience thinking and living outside the box! Enjoy, and don’t forget to say hello to Ronnie on Facebook (see video)!
Every two weeks, hostel manager Hủng takes a 70 km drive south to Quang Nam province to a little town called Tam Ky to visit for two days with his family. With his 24-hour/on-site job responsibilities running the Stingray hostel in Danang, those two days are the only days he gets to spend quality, bonding time with his toddler son and infant daughter.
For this particular visit, even though one of those days was his birthday, and even though he’d never invited a hostel guest to his home before, he graciously requested that I take the trip with him to meet his family and spend the two days with him in his home. Of course, I accepted!
We set out at 10:45am on Monday…
We got to Hủng’s village in about an hour and then walked around a bit to meet neighbors and see the nearby lake….
Then, we had lunch (Kudos to Hủng’s wife! Best of my trip so far!)!
Later, we picked up his son from school, went shopping for food for dinner, and then just hung out for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I met his mother and father who live next door…
The next morning we headed out to the Tam Ky Cafe for some juice (for me) and coffee (for Hủng).
Oh, remind me to tell you about the lady who pulled up a chair at our table, leaned in to eavesdrop every word I spoke, followed me to the men’s room (as I attempted to lose her!) and even jumped in front of my camera as I attempted to take a photo of the grounds near the cafe! Yep, remind me to tell you that story!
Update: Just before I was about to post this, I discovered Hủng had captured the encounter and he just sent me a photo of that special lady in red!
We left in a hurry to escape the stalker, and then went to visit Phu Ninh Lake, home of the hot mineral springs! On the way there, we passed a road with rice drying on blue tarps on the street. Note to self: I’ve got to stop and get some on the way back!
We arrived at Phu Ninh Lake, paid our entrance fee and shared a ride up a hill to the actual site grounds and a few photos with Hậu and Thủy. Nice to meet you, girls!
Next, we boarded a boat with several other passengers for the scenic tour of the lake!
We stopped at a deck in the middle of the lake to experience the hot mineral springs being brought to the surface by a pipe way deep below the surface.
Then, just before the hour long ride ended, we approached a small island….
….and fed monkeys who (yes, I said “who”) gathered at beach side as the boat approached! Seems they may have done this before!
On the way back, we stopped at one of the homes where the harvested rice was drying, and I offered to purchase a half kilo or so to take back home!
I found a willing entrepreneur and made my purchase! Don’t ask me when I’ll get a chance to prepare this as my hostel does not have cooking facilities. I may have to resort to my tried and true Coffeepot Cookbook techniques!
Once we got back home, Hủng’s wife and mom had prepared a lavish meal for lunch! So, let me see if I understand this correctly: everything (all 7 plates in the silver platter including the bánh xèo*) are specially-prepared vegan versions just for me, and the other food is for the three of you??)
*Bánh xèo [ɓǎɲ sɛ̂w], literally “sizzling pancake”, named for the loud sizzling sound it makes when the rice batter is poured into the hot skillet is a Vietnamese savory fried pancake made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder.
Yep, some days, everything is served up on a silver (or red) platter!
Later in the evening, I entertained some kids in the neighborhood and family friends with videos and photos from my travels (um, or perhaps, as my friend Rogelio said, the Jamaican in Tam Ky WAS the entertainment for the evening!). (OF COURSE I showed them the Macau bungee jump! What did you expect??)
It was a great time meeting and getting to know the family and experiencing life in Tam Ky. We leave tomorrow to head back to Da Nang, but I WILL be back! Check out Hủng’s facebook post of our day.
Synchronicities, past life regressions, light workers, parallel universes, extra-terrestrial origins, soul age dating tips, Qigong, sauna detoxing, coffee enemas, Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique, and yeah, there was lunch, too…vegan style with some new friends in Da Nang:
Welcome to the first in the series of brief video introductions and interviews with some of the cool folks I meet on my “Jamaican in China…and Beyond” adventures!
In this pilot episode, you’ll meet Rogelio from Cuba, and Nga from Vietnam! Plus, you’ll get to hear the first ever recording of Walt Goodridge’s Tony Montana* impersonation. It may be well worth the 7 minutes despite my not-too-great-but-ever-improving interview and selfie-stick skills!
(*from the movie Scarface!)
Next episode: Ronnie Defour from Trinidad now in Vietnam!
How was YOUR Sunday? Well, yesterday, mine started with me waking up at 3:30am to prepare for a 4:30am pickup. Yesterday, while I was interviewing Ronnie Defour at Karma Waters, Grace Nguyen, Karma Waters owner, invited me to ride along to observe and participate in a community support project in Quảng Ngãi Province, south of Da Nang, in Vietnam.
My pickup posse of three arrived, we greeted each other and headed out into the pre-sunrise morning to Karma Waters.
After a short wait, then quick loading and boarding, our two-vehicle convoy (supply truck and passenger bus) set out at 5:29am.
Okay, Okay. I know I may not LOOK happy in this next photo, but trust me, once the bus driver told us he would NOT be able to turn on the air conditioning, I was in heaven! Imagine! A window seat, an open window for natural breezes, a four hour plus drive through the hills of Vietnam! This is exactly the sort of thing I thrive on!
Yes, this is exactly how I like to get to know a new location–spending a few weeks hanging out with local folks, doing what local folks do, being outdoors, breathing the air, feeling the sunshine and rain, taking the pulse of the community, adjusting to the pattern and pace of everyday life….just living like a local!
The trip took 4 hours 43 minutes We left Da Nang at exactly 5:29am, and pulled up to the Tra Khue Ethnic Minority Primary School in Quảng Ngãi at 10:12am. (Sorry, it’s the former civil engineer in me who tends to get so detailed!)
A screen shot of Google maps on my phone places me at the blue dot. Approximate distance on the map: 165km or 102mi, but we definitely traveled a bit more than that!
Now, on to important matters. This trip was part of Karma Waters’ series of Charitable Programs. From their website:
“Our Karma Waters Ethnic Support Program delivers daily plant-based meals and support (such as books, clothing, toys and more) to ethnic minority families in the Quang Nam Province in Central of Vietnam.
With this program, and with funds collected in the Karma Waters restaurants, we help provide critical support to children and families in poverty through improved nutrition, health and even friendly support visits and friendship which provides them with some happiness.
With your help, Karma Waters can expand this program and help even more ethnic minority families. Check out our video and gallery below [see website] and you can see the impact this program has on the children and families in the Quang Nam Province.” Donate
Photos from the event:
The founder of Karma Waters is Nguyen Thi Bao Duyen (Grace Nguyen). Grace is an IT graduate, a professional vegan chef, and the founder of 2 vegan restaurants called Karma Waters in Vietnam. She also helps run the Karma Waters Charitable Association, teaches vegan cooking classes, creates menus for restaurants and hosts private dinners.
How Karma Waters Began
[According to Grace] “I became vegetarian in 2002, and later a vegan. I became vegetarian myself because of an incident with a fish. Yes, a fish changed my life! One day, while I was in China…(Read Grace’s amazing story here)”
All the students waited patiently until their names were called, and Ronnie helped them pass the time a little more enjoyably while they waited.
Ultimately, every single student there that day (between 125-150) received a gift package. Once the distribution was complete, the volunteers posed for a few photos:
The giving, however, was not over. Volunteers also helped erect a children’s slide….
…and a swing.
We all ate some guavas, watermelon and spicy tofu with sticky rice…..
…then headed back north in the rain, departing at 1:45pm! It was sad to leave after such a rewarding day….
Congratulations to Grace and family, Karma Waters, the volunteers, Ronnie and family, the bus driver, his assistant, and all the unseen folks who made the event a success! And, thanks for letting me be and see a part of it all!
Back at Karma Waters Headquarters, we said our goodbyes, and my pickup posse took me back to the Stingray Hostel! It was a great experience, exactly the sort of thing that exemplifies why I travel abroad!
….and THAT’S how I spent my Sunday. Like I said, how was YOUR day?
I’ll be working on the video over the next few hours and will make another post announcing it!
Once there, I met computer programmer/coder, Vuong. who was nice enough to share a recommendation to try his favorite meal and translate a few requests to the wait staff.
We talked for a bit, and Vuong shared his travel suggestions (Hue City) and his insights into life in Hue City vs life in Hoi An (a city that’s on my list for Vietnam). I can’t wait to check them out and compare!
Next, I had a chance to meet a great, nomad, vegan couple–Alya from Russia and Chris from Australia–and we had a really, really great conversation, connecting on quite a few life philosophies, perspectives, opinions, quests and world views! They shared a top secret “passionpreneur” project they’re working on manifesting, and (hint, hint), I expect a certain Jamaican in China will be granted an advanced interview when it’s ready to launch!
Day 5: Free Day Tour of Da Nang!
If I recall correctly, it was a couchsurfing.org “Things to do in Da Nang” post led me to sign up for a free tour of Da Nang Free Tour–Hometown
[From their Facebook page:] “Hometown – Da Nang Free Tour is an organization established on October 10th, 2015 with the aim of connecting tourists and local people in the city of Da Nang. …tourists will have the opportunity to talk with the locals and learn more about geography and the history of our country. …Almost all tour guides are students studying in different universities in Da Nang. We are friendly, sociable, open-minded, enthusiastic, and willing to learn; You will have to pay for your food, drinks, and entrance tickets to our various locations. Local citizens will have more realistic opportunities to practice their English speaking abilities with foreigners….we can further our knowledge of several different unique cultures and get to know people from all over the world. Last but not least, we can contribute a small part to the development of Vietnam’s tourism industry by promoting the image of the country and the city to international tourists.”
My student tour guide was a second-year tourism industry major at the University of Foreign Language Studes, named Nhật Minh. Nhật picked me up at the hostel at 9:00am, outfitted me with my helmet, and off we went! It would be my first time on a motorbike in Vietnam….cool, cool, cool!
We saw lakes…
…saw some great vistas…
….visited Buddhas and pagodas…
Nhật took some great photos for me….
…and we met some sweet and beautiful people…
…and that was all well and good, but I believe that we–you and I–as enlightened and evolving spiritual beings must each clearly identify what our priorities are in life, and honor them to the best of our ability. So, as I mentioned to Nhật: given my unique set of priorities, the latest, and clearly most important addition to my itinerary for the day in Da Nang would be to stop someplace appropriate…
….and buy a helmet that fits my head and a cool black face mask like his! (No way would I post any more photos of myself with a tight helmet falling off my head and wearing a light blue plaid mask! I have the “Jamaican Coolness Factor” to uphold, after all. JCF? Look it up!)
With that accomplished, we then went to lunch, and then Nhật took me to the Fine Arts Museum
The Fine Arts Museum in Đà Nẵng officially opened at 78 Lê Duẩn Street in December 2016. The museum, the only one of its kind in the Central and Central Highlands region, has a total area of 1,100sq.m, displaying 413 donated works by artists from the city and provinces in the region. The centre comprises three spaces for displaying contemporary fine arts, sculpture and paintings, and regular exhibitions.–from Vietnamnews Read more
Next, I had some more errands to run…
….and voila! After cutting, a necessary tool for any nomadpreneur–a stack of contact cards, you know, just in case there’s anyone I want to stay in touch with…you know, for business and such…
…then, we went to the “Big C” superstore for me to get a few items for my hostel stay. We parked on a lower level, and I was presented with a scene like no other:
All in all, it was a great day! Just the sort of educational as well as practical, personalized tour I like! I shared some tour tips and tools with Nhật to help with future marketing of his guide services in the tourism industry, based on the part time tours I give on Saipan!
Days two and three in Da Nang, Vietnam, were simply dedicated to roaming about. (Um, actually, every day of my travels is simply dedicated to roaming about, with an occasional bungee jump or invasive medical procedure or dental visit thrown in to mix things up!)
In any event, a couchsurfing.org contact recommended Ngoc Chi restaurant–which was only 500m from the Stingray Hostel, so I headed out in the light afternoon rain for a walk, found it quite easily and had a quick meal.
I then wandered about town enjoying the atmosphere, taking the pulse of the city, basking in the curious stares and practicing my “xin chào” (“hello” in Vietnamese) and chanced upon a market I later found out was pretty famous:
“Han Market is a significant landmark in Da Nang, having been in operation since the French occupancy in the 1940s. This local market is set within a two-storey building at the grand intersection of Tran Phu Street, Bach Dang Street, Hung Vuong Street and Tran Hung Dao Street, where you can find hundreds of stalls selling an array of local produce, handicrafts, T-shirts, and accessories. It’s very much like a miniature version of Ben Tanh Market central market in Ho Chi Minh City, and even if you aren’t necessarily looking to buy anything it still offers a fascinating glimpse into local life in Da Nang.” —www.vietnam-guide.com
Check out the quick video walk through:
Then, I went to Ngo Restaurant (I had passed it on the way to Ngoc Chi and promised the staff I would return).
Did some more walking about, then headed back to the hostel since the rain had gotten a little heavier.
I found my next day’s destination on Happycow.net where they now have 38 reviews, all positive! Thực Dưỡng Bao Ăn is a macrobiotic restaurant. (Thực Dưỡng Bao Ăn means essentially “food for nutrition”)
The word macrobiotic comes from “macro” which means big and “bios” which means “life”. So, macrobiotics can be also called the art of a great life. Macrobiotics is not actually a diet and it’s more a way of life. It includes also the spiritual part of living and it teaches us to see the bigger picture, to consider the ups and downs in life as gifts given to us in order to become better beings.
One of the important nutrition principles in the macrobiotic diet involves consuming foods that are rich in nutrients and have balanced yin/yang properties. The macrobiotic diet contains foods like whole grains, beans and bean products (like tofu), organic vegetables (local and in season), soups, sea vegetables, desserts (sweetened with rice syrup, barley malt, fruit and sometimes maple syrup), a little fish, a little fruit, pickles, condiments, nuts, seeds and non-aromatic teas. –from gourmandelle.com
Major principles of macrobiotic diets are to reduce animal product, eat locally grown foods that are in season, and consume meals in moderation.
I don’t consider myself a macrobiotic practitioner, but much of the philosophy is consistent with the practices I’ve developed for myself over the years.
I had a chance to film a short video interview with Nga, the owner. She got into macrobiotic food preparation in an attempt to improve her husband’s health. Once she realized the many benefits of this lifestyle, she started the restaurant to share the philosophy and practice with others!
I also met and had a nice long conversation with Rogelio from Cuba, now living in Da Nang!
Note to self: I’ll compile these quick hellos and interviews in a series of videos called “Say Hello to My New Friends!” or something like that… (Important: you have to say it with a Scarface style, Pacino-esque Cuban accent…um, or perhaps I’ll use a less violent reference that won’t offend the pacifist-vegan-macrobiotic crowd, or any real Cubans!)
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.
The ride ended up costing $100,000dong, which, I later found out was a bit high, but que sera sera!
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.
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!
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!
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)
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!
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!
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)
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!
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!
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?
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!)
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.
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…
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!”
An alternative travel narrative: Pursue Passion! Break Free! Cross boundaries! See the world!