Monday, February 28, 2011

Halong Bay, Vietnam, in photos

The kinds of junks you ride.

Craig "killing machine", Corrina "F bomb", Dasha "bitch slap" post Vietnamese attempted rip offs and robberies, looking forward to 3 nights and 2 days of chilling out.

Halong Bay, misty waters create eerie and beautiful sights and sensations.

A huge cave that was lit up in all sorts of colors. Reminded me of Ruby Falls (shout out to Holly, Igor, and Shane!)

The night a ship went down and none of us knew. Silence.

But how beautiful the morning was.
How you hang out on the deck in winter.Meet our new friend Loki!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vietnam, I like you, but you're bringing me down.

After an 11 hour bus ride from Dong Ha (near Hue) to Hanoi with Corrina and Craig from Calgary, we hoped to hop on a bus to Halong City straight away and catch a boat on Halong Bay!

Where to start?

We got ripped off 3 times in less than an was the sickest attempted robbery I have ever heard of, let alone witnessed.
Well, before I start, as a disclaimer - the actions Corrina, Craig, and I took were extremely out of character and will probably never be taken again.
On the bus from Hanoi to Halong, maybe 30 minutes into the ride, Craig noticed Corrina's bag was missing and saw it at the back of the bus and went to hand it to her but when he picked it up realized it was super light and said 'something is wrong'. The bag was open and NOTHING was inside! By this point we realized a local guy sitting at the back of the bus was the one robbing us as Craig grabbed the camera and lens from him and noticed my big backpack open on the floor in front of him and yelled at me to check my stuff. Hearing that someone had violated my privacy and went through my stuff, I started 'what the eff'ing all over the place and gave him a rough push on the head, only to then pull my hand and SLAP HIM BALLS HARD across the face. 

Corrina then yelled that they were missing their laptop and money so Craig proceeded to man handle the guy and yell at him to give their stuff back. Craig grabbed him by the collar and threw him into a seat and started smashing his head into the window. Call it luck but Craig noticed a bulge in his sock and found all their money in his sock and took it back.  We knew the computer was on the bus but he wasn't giving it up and we couldn't find it. Its funny how I had already looked on the shelf over head but didnt know yet that they were missing their laptop, and once it was mentioned I saw it along with my shoes. Ha! My red leather shoes made in Hoi An. That was probably the funniest part. Or the only funny part? We yelled at him, Craig again smashed his head into the window. Most of the stuff was returned, but their point and shoot camera was still missing. The thing is, this guy as much as he may have been in pain (maybe? he looked drunk, so he may have been numb), he only wai'ed apologetically and smiled. It was like it didnt mean anything to him what we were doing.  Craig literally started choking him and finally the guy pulled the point and shoot out of one of his pockets. 

After much convincing and pointing (we didnt speak any Vietnamese, no one on the bus spoke English), the guy was kicked off the bus.

.....And this was after the guy who collects the fare for the bus (4 hour bus ride to halong) charged us more for the ride even though it says on the bus  how much the fare is...

....And right before that the cabbie ripped us off. We were supposed to have a 35,000 dong ride to the bus station but the meter said 210,000 and we realized he was driving us in ciricles.Once we noticed, the guy suddenly was immediately at the bus station! Craig gave him 100,000 dong but then the guy accidentally hit corrina on the head with the trunk when he was closing the back and craig was like "and you fucking hit my wife!" so he left him with 50,000

...And these guys have been traveling around the world for 10 months and nothing like that has happened. Nothing like that has happened to me in 3.5 months.Vietnam is really bad with the theft. Everyone I have met has a story about how they got robbed in Vietnam. It's nuts because Vietnam is far better off than it's neighboring countries. I went into this country noticing and laughing over the extensive "Dangers and Annoyances" section in Vietnam which described kamikaze hookers, scam cabbies, motorbike-ists who grad things off your bike, your shoulder,anything...and now I have met people with ALL of these stories.

I cannot help but have this effect my trip. I was paranoid walking up a dark street on Cat Ba Island, and did crazy zig zags everytime I heard a motorbike coming. And then in Hanoi, these men have been blatantly taking my photo (and Rebecca's, when we were together) but never smiling as they do it. At the very least smile.

I miss Thailand. I miss Cambodia. I am so very looking forward to Laos. I miss these countries (my home Thailand especially) because I never felt judged. I always caught the Thais looking at me, but they would so quickly, sweetly, and honestly smile because they were embarrassed and would rather smile and laugh about it then lose face. Here I have smiled back and for the most part I have received stares the thoughts behind which are uncertain. I have been yelled at here. And of course I wonder if it is a result of the French and the American conflicts that have happened here in the past (to say the least). But you meet people who say "No, it was difficult at first, but we welcome Americans and the French now. No problem." But you never know what kind of habits develop and become a part of the culture...they may like us, but I often feel disliked. I feel like I am at a zoo. I literally turned around and Rebecca put her brochure in front of her face to prevent this guy from taking a photo of us. My last days here I have stayed away from local food stalls and have eaten at Western friendly restaurants instead. Tonight I head for Sapa where it will be colder than Hanoi, but I hope that the scenery will chill me out and leave me with a positive last impression of Vietnam. 

I like Vietnam. It is a beautiful country with good food and many good people, but the further North I have come, the more uncomfortable I have felt as a result of interactions I have had. I will come here again, and I will tell you to come here, too.

Vietnam, I like you, but you're bringing me down.

****Thanks to Corrina for emailing me her more complete and coherent version!

Hue and the DMZ tour, Vietnam, in photos

And then the clouds came in.

Corrina and Craig from Calgary. They have been traveling for almost a year. They are one of the best couples I have ever met (if not the best??). I am so grateful for their friendship! Cant wait to come to Banff!

The Citadel in Hue

Wonderful painting

Valentine's Day dinner! How romantic.

The heart balloons looked like boobs. I couldnt help myself.

And the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Tour begins.

Tunnels bigger than Cu Chi.

Just your average family room in a tunnel.

Vietnamese soldier graves

The top of that mountain was an American military base.

So happy in the DMZ. Corrina, Rebecca, me, Craig.

We sweep our bridges here...all day...

Khe Sanh. Former US Military Base.

American chopper

Khe Sanh landing strip. USA strip.

Part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Take a break from me and learn about the Planned Parenthood conflict

Sign the Planned Parenthood petition

Planned Parenthood Financing is Caught in Budget Feud
Published: February 17, 2011

Almost unnoticed in the wars over the federal budget has been a pitched battle over money for Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception, medical services and abortions at 800 clinics around the country.
For the last several weeks, those on opposite sides of a sharp cultural divide have engaged in dueling rallies, virtual conferences, online petitions and phone banks as crucial Congressional votes drew near. At stake is more than $75 million that Planned Parenthood receives to provide family planning assistance to low-income women, money that its opponents say only frees up funds for abortions.
Now, in a surprise step that has set off deep alarm among advocates for women’s health, the newly conservative House of Representatives has proposed cutting the entire $317 million program of aid for family planning, known as Title X, in a 2011 spending bill that is expected to pass by the weekend. A proposed amendment to the bill would also bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funds for any purpose. The amendment was the subject of an emotional three-hour debate on Thursday night.
The fight will shift to the Senate, where the Democrats retain a small majority. It is unlikely they will agree to cut all financing for Planned Parenthood, let alone the broader federal aid for contraception that serves five million low-income women, said Susan Cohen, director of governmental affairs for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization. But more legislation in the House aimed at Planned Parenthood is in the offing, putting the organization in its most precarious political spot in decades.
Planned Parenthood’s role as a major abortion provider has long provoked fierce opposition, but this month its opponents broadened their attacks, seeking to discredit the organization by linking it to the sexual exploitation of minors. A group called Live Action, which has repeatedly taken aim at Planned Parenthood and receives support from conservative foundations, released undercover videotapes in which clinic employees are seen answering questions from a man posing as a sex trafficker. Planned Parenthood says the tapes are misleading, that an errant staff member was fired and that its affiliates reported the encounters to law enforcement.
Seizing on those videotapes, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican and a longtime foe of abortion who is the chief sponsor of a House bill to cut off financing for Planned Parenthood, said that the organization had “a pattern of apparent fraud and abuse” and that “the time has come to deny any federal funding to Planned Parenthood.”
In an e-mailed Valentine’s Day appeal, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, described the House budget and Mr. Pence’s proposals as “the most dangerous legislative assault on women’s health in Planned Parenthood’s 95-year history.”
With a total budget of some $1.1 billion, more than a third of which comes from the federal, state and local governments, Planned Parenthood offers family planning, H.I.V. counseling, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screening and other services as well as abortions, mainly to low-income women. Congress has long barred the use of federal money for abortion, but it provides more than $75 million a year to Planned Parenthood affiliates to support family planning for low-income women. Millions more in federal dollars are provided for sex education and, indirectly, through Medicaid and other programs.
Planned Parenthood and its supporters are working to bolster defenses in the Senate. They hope that the Title X program — including a share for their group — will be restored as the two sides of Congress compromise on a spending bill. But supporters like Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and a leader of the abortion rights caucus, fear that protection of family planning could “get lost in the larger issue of the budget.”
In the covert videos that were widely released on the Internet, clinic employees answer questions from a man, posing as a sex trafficker, about obtaining care for under-age prostitutes. A coalition including the Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America and others created a Web site called “Expose Planned Parenthood” that has used Internet press conferences, appeals to sympathetic pastors, vigils and floods of phone calls to ratchet up the pressure on Congress.
Planned Parenthood has worked to respond in kind. In what Stuart Schear, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called “most intense short-term campaign, we have ever run,” the group has prompted tens of thousands of its supporters to call or e-mail Congress and organized petitions and rallies. One hundred members of Congress signed a letter attacking Mr. Pence’s proposals as harmful.
Planned Parenthood calls the videotapes “misleading” and “dirty tricks,” taking advantage of its culture of confidentiality. Yet the organization said it would immediately retrain all employees on requirements for reporting any threats to minors.
“These charges make me so angry,” said Judy Tabar, president of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which runs 19 clinics in Connecticut and Rhode Island, offering 70,000 patients birth control, cancer screening and other medical services and, for fewer than 10 percent of visits, abortions.
“What we do every day is prevent more unintended pregnancies than anyone else in the country,” she said in an interview at her office in New Haven. “We have a huge impact on the lives of women and families.”
Anti-abortion protesters have gathered outside the clinic a few times a week since the 1980s. A police raid on this clinic when it first opened in 1961, for violating a Connecticut law that barred distribution of contraceptives even to married couples, led to a landmark Supreme Court case declaring such laws an unconstitutional violation of privacy.
Ms. Tabar said many critics mischaracterized Planned Parenthood’s activities, which overwhelmingly involve family planning and preventive medicine. While clinics must obey local laws and use common sense when they suspect the abuse of minors, she said, they try to preserve a nonjudgmental atmosphere. “People tend to come to us at a very vulnerable time,” she said, in turmoil over new relationships, possible pregnancies or fears of disease.
Those opposed to Planned Parenthood and the broader family planning program, its supporters say, have not offered realistic alternatives for poor women.
For every dollar spent on contraception for low-income women, the government saves four dollars in medical costs within the next year by averting unwanted pregnancies, said Ms. Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute.
In an e-mailed response, Lila Rose, the president of Live Action, did not say how Planned Parenthood’s birth control services could be replaced but wrote: “The answer for poor women is not a corporation that is happy to help sex traffickers and that has enabled the sexual abuse and exploitation of countless girls and young women.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

....Halong Bay boat sinks....

 ...and to think I was docked in this same harbor at this same time, but we knew nothing. Mind boggling. We are all shocked think that this morning I was enjoying the view on the deck of my boat thinking "How beautiful" and there were people already drowned in it....

Tour boat sinks in Vietnam; 12 dead from 9 nations

Vietnamese health workers load the body of a sunken tourist boat 
victim to an ambulance in northern province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam on 
Thursday Feb. 1  
AP – Vietnamese health workers load the body of a sunken tourist boat victim to an ambulance in northern province …
HA LONG BAY, Vietnam – An anchored boat packed with sleeping travelers sank early Thursday in Vietnam's scenic Ha Long Bay, killing 12 people from nine countries in the deadliest tour boat accident since the country opened to foreign visitors 25 years ago.
Vacationers from the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan, Russia, France, Sweden and Switzerland have been confirmed dead, along with a Vietnamese tour guide, the government said.
Those who survived — nine foreigners and six locals — jumped into the water, where they were rescued by other tour boats.
"The boat took one minute to sink," said Stefano Corda, 35, of Palermo, Italy, who fled with a friend after feeling the boat lurch and hearing noises from on deck.
"We went to the exit, and the boat was almost vertical." Corda said. "I grabbed my friend, we went out and it was so fast."
Ha Long Bay is one of the country's top tourist attractions, drawing more than 5 million visitors a year to the province where 1,600 stunning jagged rock formations rise out of the bay, forming tiny islands. Many visitors stay overnight on wooden boats equipped with sleeping cabins and eating quarters.
Survivors reported seeing a wooden plank on their ship ripping away at around 5 a.m. as the vessel was anchored for the night, followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it under near Titov island, about an hour from mainland's shore, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. The boat sank in about 8 to 10 meters (26 to 33 feet) of water.
"Crew members tried to stop the water from coming in and alerted the tourists who were sleeping, but the water came in and the boat sank quickly," Thin said. "All of the 12 people who died were in the cabins."
Italian traveler Stefano Sacconi, 33, of Rome was in the bathroom around 4:20 a.m. when he thought he felt the boat buckling. He returned to bed in a cabin he was sharing with Corda.
"After 20 minutes, we started to hear tables and glasses falling from the top of the restaurant," he said. "After that, my friend went out. He called me, 'Come up! Come up! Something's wrong here! The boat is going down!'"
They jumped from the junk and swam to another nearby ship.
There were 27 people, including six crew members, aboard the boat and all have been accounted for, Thin said. The vessel, which is owned by Truong Hai Co., was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats and weather conditions were calm at the time of the sinking.
The dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification, where survivors received treatment for minor injuries, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board.
The official Vietnam News Agency published the victims' names and ages, most of them aged 20 to 25, seven were women. They include a Briton, two Americans, one Japanese, one French, two Swedes, two Russians, one Swiss and one person of Vietnamese origin living in Australia, according to the government.
"This is a very rare and very unfortunate accident," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga. She said tour companies should improve safety measures in Ha Long Bay.
Police have launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the accident, which remained unclear Thursday.
Bai Chay Hospital deputy director, Giang Quoc Duy, said survivors "were in a panic."
"They were given first aid treatment and have already returned to their hotels," he said.
Vietnam's foreign ministry confirmed the survivors as two Danes, one German, two Italians, one American, one Australian, one French and one Swiss.
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with limestone formations, is located near the Chinese border in the Gulf of Tonkin about three hours east of the capital, Hanoi.
More than 100 cruise boats are licensed to offer overnight service there, and last year the province received 5.4 million visitors, nearly half of them foreigners, according to government websites.
The bay has seen boats go down in the past. In 2009, a tour boat sank during a storm, killing five, including three foreign vacationers. In 2006, a powerful wind storm capsized several boats, killing 13 people, though no tourists were among the dead. In 2002, strong winds capsized two tourist boats, killing several foreigners.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day to all! Sure, it may be silly to have one day specifically alotted for flowers, kisses, hugs, chocolates, and loooove....but you all know I keep you all safely in my heart always, and think of you often. I have been gone 3.5 months now but I will be back. No worries. I mean, I have a quarter of a century birthday to celebrate pretty soon!

So something from me to you, with love, hugs, kisses, and the usual silly flair. And yes, I am sitting in a bathtub.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hoi An, Vietnam, in photos

Hoi An. Most people spend their time in the old historic town...unfortunately this town, as beautiful as it is, is just souvenir shops...and shoe & clothing making stores. I imagine it is pretty impossible to come here and not by something.

Rebecca and Alice (UK)! Alice went on to Hanoi on this day to do some awesome volunteering, Rebecca and I are traveling together for the next couple of days. I love me some Aussies =)

My Son (mee son). Ancient captial, ~400 AD. Originally had 70 structures, but centuries and American bombing has left 20, most of which are in ruins.

For 30 dollars I had these fancy shoes made! Leather soles. And she let me have 3 different colors of shoelaces. AND they shined my other shoes 'cause they looked disgusting.

Do not ask me to pack your first aid kit.

What I packed for my "first aid kit" (minus a few band aids), 10.31.10: Advil, Rx anti ich cream, band aids, Tea Tree oil (Lindsey: It's antifungal! Antifiral! Antiseptic!), and Benadryl (which I only used fall asleep). 

What my first aid 'kit' looks like after many, many people added to it (02.13.10): Advil, antibiotics, cold medicine, antacid, guaze pads, charcoal pills, anti rash cream, the swabstick, and then my few things.