This cat now has a permanent home with us.

Sam and I recently adopted a cat.    We lost Josephine in November of 2016 and in recent months I started to pine for pet. I follow a cat rescue that focuses on cats with special needs called Philly Kitty.   A few weeks ago I saw this post:

Her profile information made me laugh a lot. Her name is Monkey.  Her foster mom brought her to our house over Easter weekend and she is still here  It’s hard not to think about Josephine with another cat around, but they are very different and it’s fun to learn about her personality.

Let’s talk about the name Monkey.  I did not love it at first. I always liked human names for pets, so I advocated changing her name to Stormy Daniels. Sam liked the name Monkey and it grew on me, so it looks like we are keeping the name Monkey. My sister hates the name Monkey. She told us that her pre-adolescent female patients refer to the vagina as a “monkey”. This is a funny a weird anecdote that is I’ve learned is commonplace in the healthcare field. Well I do not hate the name Monkey, but I do hate the idea of adults being too nervous to say the word vagina.

There is a cat named Monkey living at our house.   She is sweet and playful.   She has a penchant for leaping on our feet at night.  She does not meow a lot.  She likes to crawl under the covers. In short, she is a fantastic edition to our home. I hope that she is here for a long time to come.

Monkey, welcome to our home.

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Should I switch from .com to .org?

Warning. This post is nerd talk. My blog is hosted for free at wordpress.com (this is free). I was thinking about moving to wordpress.org (this would cost me money), so that I could install a more interesting theme and a few plugins. I spoke to a friend at Sequal Consulting in Pittsburgh, PA and he told how easy it was to use a WordPress by Bitnami on Amazon Web Services. I tried it out, and it seemed to work really well. I then tried it on Google Cloud Services and it worked well on there, but I had some hiccups with the import function. I briefly looked at bluehost, but the AWS solution was the easiest and cheapest of the pay options.

I decided to pull back and reevaluate. Why do I want to do this? Do I care more about writing or the tech the writing goes into? Am I going down this path just to distract myself from doing the hard thing I want to do and actually write a little bit every day? Should I spend money on something I have been doing for free?

I seem to be ok with the limitations this free version of wordpress offers, though there are some cute modern themes I like a lot. Can you think of a good reason I should be moving to wordpress.org from wordpress.com?

Did you buy your ticket to Vietnam yet?

Vietnam is a must visit country for any traveler. It’s beautiful, diverse, and full of great people. Even with our bad experience in HCMC, we all loved this trip. There is a little bit of everything in Vietnam. You can have outdoor adventures, urban shopping, or lose hours in a museum. If you are a budget traveler than Vietnam will be a very good fit for you. It’s cheap to travel there (so be generous with your tips).

Obviously, Vietnam makes any American quite reflective. We forced a war on this country and by almost any vantage point played the role of villains. What we did was wrong, hell even McNamara admitted to that obvious fact! The war with the United States came up in conversation a few times. People acknowledge it but did not focus on it. They delight knowing that an American is enjoying Vietnam today. The war is in the past and introducing Vietnam to the world is for today.

I am surprised by the number of Americans who still refer to North and South Vietnam. Vietnam unified in 1976. That is 42 years ago! How poorly my fellow Americans are with history should not shock me, but this fact is astounding. I do get the feeling that we Americans are living in the past and stewing on a lost a war. While, the Vietnamese will never forget it, but focus on living in the present. I don’t have evidence for that, but it feels real.

I was very glad that we watched The Vietnam War by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick before we left for the trip. Go and buy your ticket now. Use this blog as a guide. Email me with questions and start watching this documentary to get ready.

I love Hanoi.

I loved Hanoi. I like the speed, the weather, and the coffee culture. I thought it was a great town. We stayed at a nice hotel called O’Gallery Premier Hotel on Hang Bong Street. When we got to Hanoi we dropped off our laundry and decided to take a walk through the city. We ended up on something referred to as Beer Street. It is a small street with tons of bars and people sitting outside. We sat down at table to have a beer, and the waiter said, “you will need to go inside in 10 minutes.” We didn’t realize what he meant. There was no space inside and there were tons of people hanging out in the street. Ten minutes later a cop walked through beer street and EVERYONE picked up their tables and chair and went inside. The cop saw everyone outside, but while he was there no drinking or eating happened on the street. It was weird. We finished our beers and the entire street returned to normal about 20 minutes later.

On our second day in Hanoi we visited the Temple of Literature. This is a very old Confucius Temple in the middle of the city. While we were there a lot of elementary school kids were having a graduation ceremony on the grounds. The kids were so cute. The temple is beautiful and hosts Vietnam’s first university (built in 1076). I liked the grounds and the second floor of the last building. On that floor there are statues dedicated to the three rulers who built the Temple of Literature.

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Afterwards we walked to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. We were unable to go inside which means I have now stood in front of the Lenin and the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum without going in, but I was able to enter Che’s mausoleum in Santa Clara. My communist leader bingo card is nearing completion.

On our last night, we met a friend from Philadelphia who was doing some work in Hanoi. We ended up eating Bbq on the street at a place called Thai Dat. It was chaotic and they forgot some things, but it was a fun way to kick back on our last night. They serve Czech beer and let you pick out raw meat that they then grill. There was nothing fantastic, nor anything terrible about the food. I’d recommend anyone trying it out.

Holly and Spencer left very early on the last day, so Samer and I were on our own. We walked through the french district. We stopped for coffee and walked past the Hỏa Lò Prison (ie Hanoi Hilton). The bookseller street that runs next to it was far more interesting. Our one destination that day was the Vietnamese Women’s museum. The stated mission of the museum is “to enhance public knowledge and understanding of history and cultural heritage of Vietnamese women… thus contributing to promoting gender equality.” It is wonderful and I’ll recommend it to everyone. I learned a lot about different cultural and historical roles women have been a part of in Vietnam. Each floor has a theme: Family, History, and Fashion. I particularly liked the history floor. No shocker, but some bad ass women fought in the war with America.

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Afterwards we meandered past the opera house and around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake toward lunch. Our last meal in Hanoi was fried foods near the Cathedral at a place called Quán gốc Đa. Then we had some delicious bun cha at a street vendor. It was delicious and a perfect last meal.

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Was my culinary favorite bun cha? Nope, it was Ca Phe Sua Chua, which is yogurt coffee. That’s it. Yogurt served with ice and super strong coffee. I loved it. I want it right now. It was amazing. The coffee with condensed milk is too sweet. One of the stranger things we had to eat was che thap cam. We found it an alley full of stalls. I didn’t love it for texture reasons, but it was surprisingly good. I discovered these sesame donuts called banh tieu being sold by the old east gate and immediately ordered a second bag once we finished the first. I loved them and would be 500 lbs if I lived near someone who sold them.

Next: Did you buy your ticket to Vietnam yet?

Kayaking and Relaxing in Ha Long Bay

We went to Halong bay with a company called Eco Friendly Vietnam. They picked us up at the train station in Hanoi and got us all the way to our boat. The type of boat is a junk. It’s not a piece of junk, it’s just some boat name that boat people would understand.  We had the entire boat to ourselves. We had a captain, a cook, and an English speaking guide. We spent 2 nights on the boat and the food was very good. March is the off season for visiting Halong bay, so the water was chilly. Most of the time we did not see other tourists. Cold water for more quiet time was a good trade in my opinion. I am no fan of kayaking and there was a lot of kayaking, but by the end of the second day I actually started to enjoy it.

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Photo Credit: E. Spencer McGee

Other moments of our trip included: a bike ride to the village of Viet Hai; a swim from monkey Island to the boat; and the very gay chef slapping my ass. Let’s start from the top. On our second day we were able to stop by the remote village of Viet Hai. We rented bicycles and road about a 1 KM into town. We did a little shopping and then went on a small hike, that included another cave. This was a poor and remote town that figured out the power of the tourist’s dollar. Now, there is a toll to get into town and lots of people pay it.  Shacks were replaced with nice stone homes.

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On our last day we went to an island called Monkey Island. Our guide told us about a summit we could climb to, but did a poor job describing the difficulty of the climb. It was a lot of shear rock edges, without many foot holds. We did not have gloves and the guide stayed on the beach. Arguably, the guide was irresponsible by sending us up without any preparation. When the hike was over, Samer and I swam from the beach to the boat.

Picture this scene. Me in my speedos, jumping into chilly water near a small taxi boat of senior citizen Chinese tourists. I was freezing and they were laughing and waving at me as I swam away. I was the first to the boat. While I stood on the deck shivering, I put my cold hand on the chef’s neck to give him a chill. I was being playful. He thought this gave him license to then slap me on the ass. It was a bit forward, but all in good fun. Also, it’s a nice reminder my ass looks good in swimwear.

The main town in Ha Long bay is Cat Ba, and outside of the town is a fishing village. There are hundreds of homes that float on the water. People raise fish in the submerged pens for their income. It’s like a normal town. Their are dogs hanging out on the planks that would be equivalent to a yard. There are kids rolling around in bouncy chairs. It was a incredible and quite foreign scene for me.

Ha Long Bay is one of the most breathtaking places in the world and it has a litter problem. It’s not as noticeable when you get away from Cat Ba town, but there is always litter. There are beautiful turquoise lagoons with plastic bags and beers cans floating. Why is there a litter problem? Well here is a story. To get to our boat, we first had to take a high speed boat from the port of Hai Phong to Cat Ba. While we were waiting on the dock, Samer was holding an empty coffee cup. He was waiting to use the trash can on the boat. An old woman walked up to him and offered to take the cup. Before he realized what was happening, she snatched the plastic cup and tossed it into the water. She smiled and carried on with her day.  That’s why there is a litter problem.

Next: I love Hanoi.