19 January, 2019

Passion! ...Fruit

Living in the tropics as I do, passionfruit flavored/infused/juice drinks are everywhere. I tried passionfruit once and loved the tartness of it. I have also tried Tamarind flavored things, and liked them, too.

Yesterday morning, at the market, I finally remembered to try buying some passionfruit and tamarind, as I've wanted to. Now, I had never eaten fresh tamarind. I don't know if anyone ever does, but I thought I'd try a passionfruit-tamarind juice. Since I like them both.
Pods about 4-5" long, meat inside is sticky and pulpy.

I bought the fruit, then came home and looked up recipes. I did not immediately find anything combining the two fruits, possibly because - get this - they are BOTH known for being sour! haha. Joke's on me.

Both basic juice recipes call for a blender, and sweetener. We do not keep sweeteners at home, because ants are everywhere all the time, and I don't want to mess with the hassle of keeping them out of liquids, or trying to keep sugar crystals dry. I keep my life as simple as possible.

Without a blender, I did the best I could to collect the meat of each fruit. Tamarind is tricky, because it's pulpy. I really think I need to invest in a blender if I want to use tamarind again. But you know what? Unsweetened was perfect for me! I gave Brett a half-glass to taste, too. He didn't mind it, but commented that the passionfruit seeds are better than the juice itself. True. It's like pomegranate that way. He didn't drink any more, leaving me to basically drink 4 passionfruits. (I didn't take any pictures, sadly.)

Then, when I sat down at my computer, I looked up the nutrition of passionfruit, just for fun. It's fruit, so I figured it's healthy. I found out obvious things: high in antioxidants, protects against cancer, boosts the immune system. Blah, blah, typical tropical fruit things, right? Further down, I read that a small percentage of people have an allergic reaction. Okay, no problem, I'm not prone to allergies. 

Next sentence:

"Those with a latex allergy appear to be most at risk of a passion fruit allergy."

Guess who has an allergy to latex? Oops. My darling husband, whom I just poisoned. I sent him a quick message, so he'd be alert if his body acted weird. He said he already had a headache, on a day when he had just been talking about how GREAT he felt.

I'm a horrible wife.

14 January, 2019

What Year is it, Again?

I know it's silly, and there are jokes and memes about the trite-ness of not knowing the year, but now that I'm not working in an office where there are dates on a bazillion documents, it is really hard for me to think of this as 2019. 

Because I don't have to think of the year.

Except when I'm going through facebook memories and I want to calculate how many years ago something happened. That's kind of weird. I think of 2016 as the year we moved to China, but my current 2016 memories are long before we had even considered that idea.

Life. Weird, right?

I don't do new years resolutions, but right now, simply because I'm starting a new planner, my current goal is to blog here 2 times a week. I've set that goal before and got waylaid by life. We'll see how it goes this time around.

Disclaimer: I'm on my second cup of coffee, and am totally amped up on yoga and writing. And Star Wars. (The Empire Strikes Back is playing as my background noise this morning.)

I think I might start a new blog that focuses on writing, because I just want to gush about this new love I have! I'm sorting out the book I wrote during Nanowrimo, in order to set it aside for a while so that it will be ready to edit in a few months, and it's so fun to nitpick character arcs, and mix up the timeline to see if things flow together.

Since I have no day job, and I usually write for a couple hours during the day, I've started blocking out a couple hours in the evenings, for editing earlier books. THAT'S enlightening, too. I just want to get one book to a point where it's presentable, and where I can see what actual professionals think. 

For now, I'm enjoying it. It's just fun.

And the ideas are flowing! These first three, if I have a niche, I'd say they are about women finding strength on their own. It's something I feel I know, having been a "strong, independent woman" my entire adult life until marrying at 39.

But I have one more complicated idea that will take world-building and a lot of research. I've had that idea for a while, and I'm picking away at it slowly.

Recently, I had a different idea for an anecdotal book incorporating all kinds of different stories. 

Ideas are everywhere! I love it! 

I have found that my strength is in writing characters. It's my theatre background, probably. Sometimes, I'll have a great idea for a character, but I have no idea what might happen to that character to make an actual story.

Do you write? What do you write? I was doing professional, business writing prior to moving overseas, then short children's plays for Chinese kids. All very different types, but I have enjoyed all of it. THIS is my joy. THIS is my gift. What about you?

NOTE TO SELF: Less coffee before blogging.

09 January, 2019

Lessons Learned

We had our first guest!
This was very exciting. No one ever came to see us when we lived in Beijing, and if they did, they couldn't have stayed with us anyway. We had only been in Vietnam for six months before hosting our first guest.

We intentionally got a house with an extra room so that we could do this. The Central Coast of Vietnam is a much better vacation destination than Beijing, and we already know of at least three more trips to visit us that various friends and family are working on.
Part of the guest room

I'm so glad my eldest sister was our first guest. She was an easy guest, not too demanding, but she and I are close enough that I could ask her honestly for advice on improvements to the guest room. Also, she was very relaxed about scheduling things, so we didn't have to plan the heck out of her week.

I learned a few things that I will do differently regarding future visitors.

1. Weather. I am a bad judge of weather now. I can look at an app with the best of 'em, but now that the humidity doesn't bug me, I was advising my sister to pack capris with a few shorts. It was delightfully cool with all the rain that happened! She was melting in our upper 70s. The humidity is intense for a midwesterner! Huh. Guess that's why it takes three days for my clothes to dry if it's rainy.

2. Distances. I measure distance in time. "How far is Old Town?" "About a 25 minute walk." (It's about two and a half kilometers.) I have always loved walking. I don't notice distance because I'm looking around me enjoying the life I see. It was that way in the States, too. Moving to Asia, walking has become a necessity. I walk a lot. I walk fairly fast, usually. Not everyone does. My sister has an iffy knee, and moves more slowly than I do. (She would decide whether a walk sounded do-able, but based on my distance estimation.) I don't think she enjoyed the interesting things that we passed while walking. She was very intent on the motion itself, it seemed. Maybe I'm wrong.

3. Environment. I love where I live. I notice things like the variety of colors of the houses and their gates, the distinctive shrines that are everywhere, any new fruit I see on a street-side cart, the shape of the clouds or fog in the morning. I love the smells of incense and spices and exhaust that make up Asia. I breathe deep as we pass by the rice paddies or sit by the river. I am enchanted by our cultural differences. Not everyone notices these things, or indeed cares. I think, if a person doesn't find joy in detail, or mark the uniqueness of beauty, perhaps Vietnam is not a great place to visit.

I do believe that overall, we had a good time. We did some stuff, went some places, and also relaxed a good deal. I hope my sister enjoyed herself. I honestly don't know. She didn't love the things I love about this place, but maybe enjoyed enough in her own way. With my family, I may never get a straight answer.

21 December, 2018

Christmas Came Early

My sister left for home on Sunday.
I think she must be a cat because apparently I killed her several times. (haha) I'm so used to walking everywhere, and at a good pace, that we wiped her out the first day.

To be fair, she arrived at 9am, and the best way to conquer jet lag is to stay up until bedtime in your new timezone on that first day. We started by walking off to rent bicycles.
We stopped for Vietnamese iced coffee on the way.

We took her to Ancient Town Hoi An for "bucket drinks" - one of my favorites. It's a large cocktail in a bucket!

The next day was heavy downpour all day and we stayed in. Good thing, too. She had blisters on her feet.

The next day was rainy too, but not so heavy, and there were occasional breaks in the rain, so we actually walked out to get coffee. I guess, cabin fever?
Even the lotus pond here is flooded!

The next day was drippy but okay, so we took a cab across town so she could order tailored clothes from my lady (Hoi An is tailoring capital of the world), and then we walked a ways to do some Christmas shopping. Stopped for coconut coffee.

We decided that we would go to Marble Mountain the following day, rain or shine. It was a bit drippy in the morning when we went, but the rain only began in earnest after we got in the car to head home.

Marble Mountain has Marble stores where you can watch the sculptors, and the biggest mountain has shrines and pagodas both on top and within the mountain itself. It's pretty cool. 

After Marble Mountain, I signed us up for a cooking class the following day. THAT was awesome. We made 4 delicious dishes, and the chef took pictures and videos so we can both repeat it later. He even told my sister some changes she can make to be able to do it in the States!

For her final day in Vietnam, I had booked us a room - a studio apartment really - at the place Brett and I had lived in Da Nang. Her flight left at 10am the next morning, so we wanted as short a drive as possible. 

It was Saturday night, so after hot stone massages, we went off to watch the Dragon Bridge show. Even though it rained, the dragon did his fire-breathing act... And then Vietnam won the soccer tournament they were in. It was a HUGE deal! 

We couldn't get a ride, so ended up walking back to the room. My poor sister. 
I kept killing her by walking.

I hope she slept on the plane. She told me she slept for 15 hours after she got home!

Now you know why I've been so quiet lately. I'll get back into routine soon! I hope you all enjoy whatever holiday plans you have.

04 December, 2018

Vacation Within a Vacation

My sister is visiting at the end of the week!

Brett just began his two week vacation from teaching. The first part of his vacation includes writing, movies, and game-time (he finally connected the XBox), while the second part will be possibly overrun with estrogen and my familial quirks. 

Just today, we were talking to her, and I said I had it on good authority that I'm better at packing than she is, and after dissecting that a bit, she declared that we are both better than our other sister. Brett tried to interject "It's not a competition," to which we both laughed. It's like he hasn't met my family! We have a lot of similar habits and attitudes, so I hope we don't drive him too crazy!

I have a list of things I want to do before she arrives, including renting bicycles for us and fixing up the guest room a little better, and of course cleaning. So far, the wall hanging is up in the guest room:
I mean, the bed isn't made yet. I'll do that closer to her arrival. I have new sheets and everything. 

In addition to a list of things to do before she arrives, we - she and I - have compiled a list of things to do while she's here. Sunny days will take us further afield:
2 of 3 Chien Dan Towers
Cham Islands
Chien Dan Towers
"The Forbidden City" in Hue
Bana Hills

With the rainy season is upon us, we have plenty of things to do here in Hoi An, too:
Have "something" made in silk (or leather)
Japanese Bridge
Christmas shopping
Japanese bridge
Visit a Temple (or two, or three, or 45)
Go to a spa
Some things she doesn't know are options for rainy days:
Cooking class
Mask painting
Lantern making
Coffee shops

(All links and pictures are from Wikipedia or Wikitravel.)

So... After slacking on my blog for NaNoWriMo in November, I am about to be a slacker again, starting on the 8th. But I'll have a lot to say again after she leaves!

28 November, 2018

In Defense of Americans

This is NOT a current events post. Go elsewhere for that. I won't have it here.

As an American Expat traveling the world, I have heard and read various views about Americans in general, some earned, some debatable, some apropos only to the current moment and mood. 

There are two specific views - typically held by Europeans, as far as I can tell - that I would like to address. I'm pretty hot about these two. You've been warned.

1. Europeans* seem outraged that we call ourselves "American"

First off, what do you care? Calm down already.

"America isn't a country! It's a continent."
"You're not from 'America'; you're from the U.S.A."
"You can't claim a continent."

Okay, "America" isn't a country. It is also not a continent. North America is a continent. 
South America is a continent. 
"The Americas" are a super-continent, if you will. Like Eurasia. 

HOWEVER, you pompous Euro-imbecile, please tell me: What other country has the word "America" in its name? 
What's that? None?

That's right, you ignoramus. None. 
If you are annoyed that we call ourselves "American", what is your suggestion? "United States-ians"? "States-ers"? There is no other sensible name by which to call ourselves, and since no other country claims the word "America" in its name, "American" ours, thank you very much.

We are from "The United States OF AMERICA". 
We are "of America". 
We are American. Fight me.

This first issue was broadly complained about throughout a blog post by some Irish dude whose name I will not promote. The blog post was all about things he didn't like about the US. He claimed that he "liked visiting the States, had before and will again, but..." Kind of like the person who says, "I'm not a racist, but..." and then launches into everything wrong with people of a certain race. I've heard this view elsewhere, but he was pretty angry.

2. Americans never learn a second language.

I first started hearing this complaint about "ignorant Americans" when I was kid, going to an international school in India. It wasn't until I was older, living in the States, that I figured out the answer.

Yes. I know. Most Europeans know at least two languages. Yeah, yeah. It's all over the movies and TV, and in all my travels, it has been infrequent that I met a European who didn't speak at least a modicum of English - THE most widely spoken language in the world, including Chinese, which is primarily spoken by Chinese people, not a significant percentage of a significant percentage of countries.

Europeans kind of have to be bilingual. Europe is a continent filled with 50 countries all squished together into a space roughly the same size as the US. Of the three countries that comprise North America, two speak primarily English! For most Europeans to visit any place of a different culture from their own, they kind of have to know a different language.

At least Europeans travel, you say? Thank you for illuminating your ignorance once again. I'll call that point "2a".

Most Americans can't afford to travel to other countries, because most other countries are so far away! If each State in the US was a country with its own language, for sure we'd be learning languages all the time. Well, except maybe Texans**. The smart American traveler allows a day to drive across Texas. If Texas was a country, It's citizens might be given a pass on the language thing.

When I lived in the States, it took me a long day of driving (11 hours) to get from my home on the East Coast to my parents' house in the Midwest, and that was a straight shot on clear highways. STILL, I was only 1/3 of the way across the country. 

Most Americans do travel, to a certain extant. Our single country includes such a variety of geography and history and yes, culture, that we can go long distances and speak English the whole way.

On a personal note, visiting another country doesn't make one American better than any other American. Again while State-side, I once had an employee who, when he could, vacationed in Italy. He was almost disgusted that I took my vacation to drive out to my parents' house in Indiana. He had never even crossed the Appalachian mountains. Even if I hadn't grown up overseas, the fact that I've been to 47 of the 50 States makes me more well-traveled than that particular American who had visited the US Northeast (assuming that he probably left Delaware occasionally) and Italy.

Even still, most Americans do study another language for a while in school. There is just no need to practice it. I would venture a guess that 100% of Americans know some basic Spanish, whether they want to or not.


*Yes, I'm generalizing about Europeans. Don't tell me, "Not this European". I know it doesn't carry to all of you, just the vocal morons.

**I know, Alaska is bigger than Texas, but its population is not. I'm discussing people.

12 November, 2018

Insane? or Effecient?

I haven't been around much lately. I've gotten lazy.

Well, lazy in some areas. I spend ample time on my computer, and I'm doing well in my NaNoWriMo word count. But this isn't about that.

I've gotten so lazy, yesterday I didn't even do my morning yoga. I guess that was the final straw for my psyche. Finally last night, I plugged in my phone downstairs in the living room, so that I HAD to get out of bed right away in the morning. But this isn't about that.

They've been working on the drainage ditch all down our street for a while now. Presumably ahead of the rains. (Mind you, we're in a drought, and the rainy season should have started by now.)

This is about that.

On Thursday, they reached us. Suddenly we had a trench about a meter and half deep and a meter across in front of our gate.
The view from the front balcony.

Fortunately, our front yard is attached by a small gate to our landlord next door, so while their front gate was unlocked, we could come and go that way. I don't think we left home that first day, though.

SIDEBAR: That first day, they were jack-hammering away the pavement, and Brett went out around lunchtime when no one was working, just to see what was going on. One of the workmen saw him and came over. They exchanged some charades and suddenly the dude picked back up his jackhammer and kept working. OOPS! Vietnamese typically take about 2 hours at lunchtime to include a rest time out of the heat. Like a siesta. We wondered if somehow he misunderstood Brett's curiosity and started working because of it.

It was hot. Super hot with that noon sun beating down on the poor guy who should have been resting with his colleagues. I said I felt like we should offer him a beer, but who knew if that was appropriate? So Brett took out a cold bottle of water and a cold beer to offer. The guy took the beer and now we're all buddies.

As we had seen happen at every other home and business along the street, they placed some boards across the ditch so we could come and go.
Not my feet.

I have vertigo, so this was a wobbly walk for me, but I made it! We came and went to the market, to the corner stores, to supper at night, and I never once fell into the concrete that had been poured into the trench.

It was quite intriguing to watch the step-by-step. They stored a pile of shaped rebar just inside our gate, and the next day the rebar went into the trench. That night we noticed bags of concrete inside our gate. The next day the new trench was formed and squared off. Finally as of yesterday, we have a ramp up over the now-deeper drainage trench and back down the other side.

Look how nice! I think the boards are now removed and today we might take the bike out and cross town for lunch.

Now, I worked for a civil engineering firm in the States before moving to Communist Asia. In China, we repeatedly observed small shops reduced to rubble on one day, and a new business built and operating a week later. No notice. People don't have a choice. Same with roads and walkways. The government decides something is to be done and it's done. It's not always nice for the people involved who lose business or have to move and start over.

I don't know of things like that happening here, but I am struck by the contrast. In the civil engineering world in the US there is often public inquiry, and even beyond that, there are many stages to road work - flaggers and roadway roped off a certain distance before and after the construction, traffic diverted...

Here, they just start work. The traffic is diverted by the piles of dirt in the road from the uprooted vegetation and the mini-concrete mixer. They place one sign at each end of the area they are working, but drivers are expected to be smart and alert to avoid the workers and their motor scooters and the piles of equipment. It's a bit inconvenient, but man, in less than week, they are out of our hair!