Monday, July 23, 2018

The Occupations of Vietnam: Vietnamese Women's Museum, Hanoi

Vietnamese Women's Museum, Hanoi

Lobby of the Vietnamese Women's Museum, Hanoi

This morning I walked to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum with some other students. What a place! It was my dream museum except it was quite hot in there. I learned about marriage ceremonies in different Vietnamese ethnic groups, childbearing, work, revolutionaries the Mother goddess, and fashion. Learning about the marriage ceremonies was fascinating. Some tribes are matrilineal and females are prized and the man goes to live with his wife’s family. The rites surrounding childbirth were also fascinating. One case held nine different tribal baby carriers, with embroidery, quilting, beading, and batik. Basically, it was a very high quality ethnographic museum (with a focus on women, which was refreshing) – the best I’ve been to abroad. 

I loved seeing the traditional dress. The museum had
so many beautiful examples. Unfortunately, the
names of the ethnic groups to which the clothing belonged
 was not listed in English, so I
cannot label these photos with specifics.

Poster for breastfeeding women

Baby carriers!

Traditional dress

The Vietnamese Women's Museum website:

The Occupations of Vietnam: The Streets of Hanoi

Hanoi from our hotel room


This city of 7.5 million is overwhelming for a newcomer. The text below is pulled from my journal while I was in Hanoi.

Cheese tea!  Iced green tea topped with a layer
of white creamy froth that had the tang of Jack cheese.

Near the cheese tea shop (near Hoan Kiem Lake), I walked past hundreds of business people eating lunch on tiny plastic stools from street vendors. I turned to take a photo of a shop and watched a business woman in a short skirt and black heels riding a scooter get hit by a black sedan. She wobbled, then fell to the street to her right. I watched her shoe fall off and her bare foot and leg were pinned by her scooter. It was terrifying. Seconds later, she was standing and talking with the help of passersby. The driver of the car that hit her was stone faced and barely interacted with her. I walked on. I never got a photo of the shop, as I didn't want to looks as if I was trying to photograph the accident.

The area was chic and much less chaotic than the old town, where our hotel is located. I wandered into a "house paint" area, with sacks of colored pigments at the ready.

One of many shops in this district of Hanoi,
near the Temple of Literature,
where families sold pigments for paint.

The sidewalks of Hanoi are made of dusty red octagonal bricks, many of them broken or missing. One cannot walk far on the sidewalk with out being forced into the street by rows of scooters parked or businesses spilling all the way to the street. I saw scooters exiting and entering an alley three feet wide over the sidewalk. Cramped, overcrowded, hot, sensory overload. The heat slays me.

Hanoi temple
The walk to dinner took us through puddles and remnants of a flower and vegetable market, past countless people, smells, and scooters. After dinner we encountered a busy nightlife street packed with people sitting on blue plastic stools drinking beer. The street was lined with thin tall bars and restaurants, many with hawkers trying to pull us in.

Hanoi backpacker district nightlife, I only wish I'd caught
the tiny ancient stooped woman selling gum out of a
blue plastic tub to revelers with my camera.

Hanoi nightlife

Motorbike mania, Hanoi

My birthday dinner, just how I like it,
didn't have to make any choices because they make
 one dish and they make it well.

We dined for my birthday at Cha Ca La Vong, a family restaurant in business since 1871. The name of the restaurant is also the name of the one dish they make. It was perfect and delicious.

Fish + dill + green onions = delicious

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Monsoon at the night market. 

Bicycle fruit vendor in front of our hotel. Many older women sell fruit,
vegetables, and rolls on the streets, either from their bikes or out of a plastic
bowl or tub.
Speaking of selling stuff... the people of Hanoi sell on the ground floor of their building and live upstairs. The neighbors to our hotel sold water, liquor and cigarettes from a tiny stand the size of a doorway. Behind the small counter sat their couch and television, where they lounged. I saw this scenario again and again on the streets.

Bun Cha, Hanoi's signature dish, at Huong Lien - President Obama ate here
with Anthony Bourdain.
Huong Lien is a tall skinny restaurant with many floors, where we dined on Bun Cha, grilled pork and pork patties in a vinegar and sugar broth with lettuce, garlic, and peppers. The flavor was transcendent.

Caphe su da (Vietnamese iced coffee) - strong and
delightful - a moment of respite on a hot day

Hanoi gate

In front of Ho Chi Minh's tomb, Hanoi

Pink plumeria!

Across the street from where I tasted Bia Hoi -
Hanoi's famous fresh draft beer.
It was cheap, ice cold, and sweet - perfect for for a hot day.

Railroads go right past these Hanoi residents' homes. Ladies squatted in the tracks
(their front yard!) picking through plastic bowls of herbs.

Ngoc Son Temple on and island in Hoan Kiem Lake,
 in central Hanoi. The image represents the the turtle of
myth who emerged from the lake with a sword.

HANOI HANOI HANOI You scared me at first and intrigued me. Then I decided I didn't like you. Then you wooed me with your crumbling grandeur, sidewalks I could walk on and a breeze. I found a  plaza with french style cafes where I could sit and caffeinated and cool down simultaneously. I could breath a little bit.

The Occupations of Vietnam: Ha Long Bay

View from the top deck of our "junk"

A group of us arrived early in Vietnam in order to visit Ha Long Bay, which was not on our school itinerary. We booked a two-night, three-day tour with Vega Travel, out of Hanoi. Our days were filled with kayaking, swimming, caving, biking, eating, and rock climbing in a bay punctuated with tall limestone karst islands mostly covered with thick green jungle. This was all in extreme heat and humidity, with a constant soundtrack of buzzing cicadas. The landscape was gorgeous. Jellyfish and warm salty water tamed my usual enthusiasm for swimming.

Kayaking transport boat with karst islands

Show cave in Ha Long Bay

Floating fishing village

Cow on Cat Ba Island

View from the top, Cat Ba Island

Floating fishing village

I was struck by the floating fishing villages in Ha Long Bay. Colorful turquoise and red houses float on the water, with boats and walkways on the side. For those living on the water, their entire existence is caught up in their livelihood. These families farm fish for sale. Some of the floating houses provide kayaks to tourists. According to our guide, Dem, the government required families who have not been living in the bay for a certain number of years to relocate to land. There are now less people living on the water than in the past. The bay is naturally stunning, yet I found the floating fishing villages to be the most interesting part of the trip. Ha Long Bay is on the World Heritage List. The World Monuments Fund writes on their website that the fishing villages form, “an integrated landscape and living tradition” (ạ-long-bay).
My biggest disappointment was the litter. There was a lot of trash in the water of Ha Long Bay. 

Cat Ba Town, view from our room at
Hung Long Harbour Hotel Cat Ba


Cat Ba Town's bay is filled with fishing boats and floating restaurants. Dem told us there was also a floating fishing village in the past that has been cleared out. We feasted on crab, lemongrass fish, spring rolls, morning glory (water spinach) with garlic, mantis, and grilled squid with lemongrass at Dolphin restaurant, about a block from the bay. We stepped outside after dinner and a mass of people were running towards us up a slight hill, away from the ocean like their lives depended on it. Trash flew through the air. A wood frame with a net flew onto the street from the sky. We were confused. We didn't know what was happening. Our group decided to head to the hotel straight away. It was a monsoon! The rain soaked through my clothes and undergarments within seconds. We ran against hundreds of people running in the opposite direction. Everyone sought shelter while we forged on. The wind picked up anything not bolted to the ground, all sidewalk signs were knocked over or tumbling through the streets.

Eventually, I stopped running. I was wearing flip flops, running through buckets of rain, through a river of water in the street while locals all stood under awnings or inside businesses. It just felt foolish. My classmate stopped with me and he asked a group of men seated at a big restaurant patio table, "How long to monsoons like this typically last?" They spoke no English, but offered him a shot out of a plastic bag in a tupperware. He was dubious, so they pulled out the plastic bottle the liquid came from and it looked like pee. They all took a shot together. Next, they offered me a shot, which I accepted. It tasted like a mix between tequila and sake. The monsoon cleared up in about ten minutes, and we were able to walk to the hotel, soaked but no longer in danger of a flying sign hitting us in the head.
Floating fishing village

Limestone karst island

Madeline on the boat


The Occupations of Vietnam - June 2018 Occupational Therapy Trip

San Jose State University Occupational Therapy Students, Professors and Friends, Ninh Bin Province

I recently returned from spending three week in Vietnam. I was there for school. One of the requirements for my master’s degree in occupational therapy at San Jose State University is to participate in a faculty led program abroad. We could choose between Vietnam, Taiwan, Finland, and Malta. I have wanted to visit Vietnam for years, so the choice was simple for me. 

Squid Boat, Ha Long Bay

In the following series of posts titled “The Occupations of Vietnam” I will share photos and memories of my time in the hot, beautiful, chaotic, and delicious country of Vietnam. I will be writing about my experiences through the lens of “occupation.” The World Federation of Occupational Therapists defines “occupation” as, “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to and are expected to do”  (

Alien foods at a buffet we visited the first night of
our program. We all ended up sick!

We presented to Hanoi university students in a physiotherapy program who are enrolled in one of the first Occupational Therapy certificate programs in Vietnam, met with parents of children with special needs in Hanoi, and volunteered at a daycare for kids with special needs, which is part of Children’s Hope in Action (CHIA) in Hoi An. We also observed occupations (such as Zumba classes, street vendors, and farming) as we navigated the three areas we visited together as a group: Hanoi (a northern city), Hoi An (a central historic trading port), and Dalat (a “honeymoon city” in the highlands).

Hoi An

Some of my posts I pulled straight from my journals, as the writing was a fresh depiction of my experience. Other posts I reflected and polished. It depended on how tired I had been when I wrote in my journal, whether I felt it needed more editing. Some days were like bootcamp, with biking, hiking, swimming, and boating all in one day. Other days we had to ourselves completely, and could choose our own adventure, sometimes (but not always) giving me more time and energy to journal at the end of the day. 

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hibiscus Everywhere

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hello Again

Preparing for the Women's March in January

It's been too long.

Some life changes that have occurred since my last post (summer 2015):

- I became a single mom.
- I lost my dear grandmother at the age of 99.
- Wilder started talking.
- I gave up dairy.
- I was accepted to Occupational Therapy School - starting a new career!
- I lost over 20 pounds (this morning it was 29, yesterday it was 20, what's up with that?).
- I started driving an old Prius.
- I got really into embarrassingly-titled self-help books.
- Also read lots of historical fiction because I'm in a bookclub.
- Travelled to Jamestown, CA, Ventura, CA, Los Angeles, CA - I think I've lost my jet-setter status.

Hopefully I'll come back to elaborate more on these life changes in less than 1.5 years.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

When Mom Went Viral - Blue Whale in the Bay!

BBC and PBS have been filming in the Monterey Bay this month. They've hijacked my mom from her babysitting duties and have her out on their boat tracking Humpbacks and Blues. Today her interview got interrupted by the largest animal on earth, a Blue Whale. Her face is priceless.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Leaping Humpbacks!

I got mad at Nicole when she told me she had no pants. She had come to visit me in Santa Cruz in July, and she brought no pants. No pants! What about our cool foggy mornings? And now, she had talked me into going on an 8am whale watching trip on the Monterey Bay, and she had no pants. I laughed at the flimsy dress she thought was appropriate boat wear and gave her a pair of tights, some wool socks, a pair of tennies, a beanie, and a wool coat to put on. As we drove south to Moss Landing, I regretted forgetting scarves and gloves. I work for Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching, and part of my job is to explain appropriate boat wear to customers.

Moss Landing Harbor, Dock A, where the adventure begins

I probably shamed Nicole a bit too much for her lack of warm clothing, since she was visiting from Philadelphia, where it is currently hovering around 100 degrees, but I was cranky because we got up so early to catch the boat. Shortly into the trip on the foggy ocean we spotted Humpback Whales. Sometimes we could hear spouts from their blowholes, but not see them for the thick fog. Their giant dark grey humped backs sliced out of the ocean, we heard the sound of releasing air, then down for a moment, then, when we were lucky, the tail flukes lifted out of the water as they dove down for anchovies. Each whale has a distinctive white pattern under the tail fluke, which can be used to identify different whales, much like a human's fingerprint. The edges of the flukes are lined with barnacles that sometimes dangle like earrings as the whale propels itself down to the depths.

We were hanging with these whales, probably about three of them, and sometimes we'd lose them and have to listen for their blowholes and point in the direction of the sound so the captain could move the boat closer. Suddenly, one of the whales fully jumped out of the water, propelling itself vertically up out of the ocean, and twisting in the air as it splashed back in. We gasped in delight. It was the first time I'd seen a breaching whale!

Soon after, another whale jumped clear out of the water. Then one of them turned to its side, stuck its fin out of the water, as if it was waving to us, and slapped the fin down on the water, over and over again. Before we knew it, there was another breach. It was impossible to tell the whales apart, since we'd just met them, but I think two of the whales were alternating jumps, as if they were playing with each other.

The leaping went on and on! I counted 12 breaches before we had to motor back to the harbor. I have a feeling the whales kept putting on a show after we left too. I caught two breaches in a one minute video I shot, which you can see above. I still cannot believe my eyes when I watch the video.

With all the fog that morning, everything we saw felt like an ethereal dream. We couldn't see the shore or the horizon. The whales were close enough to see details, while mist shrouded the surrounding ocean. Nicole saw these amazing creatures for the first time, claiming, "You know Madeline, it really isn't that cold!" Meanwhile, I was reminded how magical whale watching can be, all the while wishing I'd brought my scarf and gloves.

Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching