What to Wear: Bangkok Style


It's called Terminal 21, a shopping center built with an airport theme, nestled in the bustling streets of Bangkok, Thailand. Don't be mislead by its almost, too urban exterior because the interior is so much more...Take a look and see, ladies!






Although I am not a shopping fanatic or anywhere close to being deemed a shopaholic...I was compelled to snap some photos and of course, try on a few dresses. Although the dresses did not work out - - (apparently, the Thai ladies like to wear mini..mini..MINI skirts), and as petite as I am, found myself still not able to flaunt my ass cheeks as happily as the Thai ladies might in urban Bangkok...

And lastly...

My personal favorite..


HAPPY MARCH!!!

MsCathy.


Writer's Block in Bangkok



Arriving by taxi,
to Sukhumvit,
No map,
Itinerary zero,
Where to go,
No Iphone apps,
Just me.
My bag and I,
5 kilos,
and need no,
nothing else,
myself and I,
a week in the land,
of smiles,
I stand. 
 









 

More to come! xoxo, Mscathy!


The Little Boy that Made an Impact


At the moment, I'm peering down at my indecipherable notes that I have recently scribbled onto one of the Eat, Pray, Love blank pages that fell out of the already worn-out book (remember, it was only 85,000 Vietnamese dongs)...

I like to keep at least one piece of paper in my messenger bag, just in case an idea for my blog strikes at that very moment. Day by day, hour by hour, I yearn to share the details of my travels but also my true feelings on the peculiar observations I consistently encounter - - and essentially, what I personally prefer to take away. 

Of course, I can go on and on about the landmarks I have photographed, the places I have been, and where I plan to step my size 6 feet upon next week. 

Shall I discuss how the Vietnamese locals like to squat rather than sit on the ground like so? 


Or how about the Pagoda I visited the other day and while being handed some ancient (very sacred) Buddhist chants, almost getting smacked upside the head by a female Buddhist monk because I mistakenly almost set those chants on the tiled floor...(maybe it's bad luck or something?) 





 And, if you think that's a bit dramatic - - and please, let me regress by saying that I, wholeheartedly respect all traditions and cultures so by no means, am I talking this particular occurrence down in any way. But, if you think that was a bit too much to handle...how about this one below?? 



This very detailed, very suggestive creation was found, quite ironically, right outside of the peaceful Pagoda walls - - indicating if anyone was 'bad' or to do 'evil' in this lifetime will pay in the afterlife...Geez, I'd say so. 

However, I choose not to further discuss any of the above photos for this blog only because I want to continue expressing myself more authentically and not only make my own experiences here more meaningful, 

But also make this reading experience for you just as meaningful, if not more. 

'So, Cathy, what's really been on your mind and how are you feeling these days in Vietnam?', one might possibly inquire. 

Well, here it is in a nutshell. The other night, after enjoying some cold vermicelli noodles with grilled pork seasoned with the typical Vietnamese flavors, lemongrass and fish sauce, I felt a hand pat my back as well as my backpack. Hurriedly, I spun myself around, preparing for the worst because I always hear how common pickpocketing is around Ho Chi Minh, and seriously ready to throw the meanest punch. But, alas, I accidentally let out a gasp and clutched my heart..

Instead of facing a local thief, my assumptions were completely wrong. There he was, a young boy, approximately 10-12 years of age, with barely any face, arms as skinny as toothpicks - - and that face. It was as if someone threw a mini bomb in this sweet little boy's face and left him with no means to consult a plastic surgeon to magically turn back time. His face was completely sunken in and after my overly dramatic gasp, I immediately felt a rush of guilt wash over my whole soul. I felt bad...I didn't mean to judge...It's just I've never seen anything so so sad in my life before.

I must have stood outside of that restaurant, still clutching my heart, frozen for how many minutes? I'm not even sure. Finally, my cousin's friend handed him some Vietnamese money and the boy, in response, smiled as much as he could bear it, clapped both of his fragile arms (I was secretly hoping he would stop because I didn't want to see him hurt himself) and patted my back - - once again. 

I did not feel like I deserved that pat on the back after standing there like a goon just staring at him but was grateful to see something so rare - - and in a sense, magical. 

This boy, disabled and most likely homeless, was still as forgiving as ever and ecstatic to receive some assistance - - even if it was just a few measly Vietnamese dongs, it just didn't matter. Although I was not the one to provide him the money he was seeking and also responded rudely (in my opinion)...

He seemed to be the happiest boy - - wait, scratch that, Person, I have seen and hung out with all day. Prior to this event, I had been a witness to various conversations that always seemed to link back to one common statement:

'I want...I want...I want...'
'I don't have (insert noun here) and will not be happy until (insert previous chosen noun here) is more abundant in my life...'

So what did I take away from this? Damn, be happy with what you've got. So you've only got one shitty car - - get rid of it and work hard to get a better one. So your significant other continues to put you down and wish for a happier love life? Either accept that person for who they are or make some significant change; don't you love yourself more than that?
 
Whatever those circumstances are, whatever current situation one is in - - be happy with what you've got today. 

Consider yourself lucky. Because you probably really are. 


 


Sit and Smile: Thoughts on Meditation



I saw my mother's brother, C, yesterday and immediately, was greeted with a warm smile. It's been about 14 years since I last saw him and I must say, he looks the same - - vibrant and happy as always. His legs stopped working at a very young age, due to a horrible accident while attempting to escape the tragic Vietnam war many years ago. And so, he sits still but always smiles in his cozy and comfortable house in the middle of Ho Chi Minh. My mother once told me, he is a lucky man - to have survived his accident because after a near-death experience in the ocean and upon realizing he was held captive by authorities for long periods of time, he still...

Sits and smiles as if he has all the riches life could ever give him.

And, despite losing his dear wife and children from the unforgiving and treacherous seas while attempting to escape the war times...

He tells me that meditation is quite simple. 'Just smile and laugh, Cathy...that's all there is to meditation.'

A few weeks before paying my dear uncle a visit, I have started my own spiritual journey. While reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I have come to the realization that I have not pursued this path as much as I would like to. Being brought in a Buddhist background, I recall visiting a few temples as a little girl here and there - - obediently lighting up a few sticks of incense, kneeling down on both knees, and wishing for another Barbie doll...

And wondering, 'What is the point to all this?'

'Why am I here?'

As I continue to turn the pages of Ms. Gilbert's fascinating story of her trip to India and her journey to connect to the Universe on a deeper level, I find myself becoming inspired to do the same but in my own way - - while I am in Vietnam. 

These days, as soon as I stir and listen to my inner body clock - - without the use of electronic alarm clocks glaring in my ear and having to push that snooze button over and over, I lay for just a bit more.

Sitting up...smiling. For however long it feels right. 

At first, my thoughts jump around like little children that have had a bit too much Mountain Dew. After a few minutes, I just accept my thoughts running wild like animals in an African safari so that when they do clear up - - it's like a massive green field with nothing but flowers and blue skies...and nothing else. 

I grasp onto this feeling of nothingness for as long as I can before those thoughts start to creep in again..

'How long have I been sitting here?'
'I think a mosquito just bit my foot, it's starting to burn now...'
'Cathy, just shut up and stop thinking, you think all the time! Just be...Just be!'

And then, quiet again - - but only for a few minutes until it's like anxious people running wild in a Wal-Mart on a way too early Black Friday in the month of November. 

Arrrgh. 

So, why now? Why meditate, one might ask? 

Although I am just starting this well-respected and ancient practice, I am already experiencing the benefits that so many have mentioned before through books, lectures, and people. 

It quiets the mind. It helps me further practice the art of following my heart. What better way to instill consistent calmness and further solidify the understanding that..

Happiness is always within. It's up to you to be happy and to find the inner peace. 

And, hey, if my uncle, who has been through series of tragedies and difficult sorrows, can continue to sit still and smile as if each day is a blessing, I am confident that anyone can grab onto that happiness. 

Forget about those unfortunate external circumstances; they're in the past now, aren't they? Stop trying to control the future so much by worrying; the act of worrying does not necessarily influence the future because we're not there yet. 

Just smile. It's been right there all along. 

Peace ~ Mscathy.


To Tan or Not to Tan: That is the Question in Vietnam



Notice how the young women on the scooter is covered from head to toe? 

About 14 years ago, on my second trip to Vietnam - - I thought the women in Vietnam was just trying to be conservative in their sense of fashion. However, after discussing with a few of the locals here, it is actually just a difference in culture. 


Perhaps it is to avoid those pesty mosquitos? I mean, Vietnam does have a tropical climate so that would seem like a likely hypothesis, right? 


The truth behind the full coverage?

The Vietnamese women prefer being light-skinned because that skin color is considered to be more beautiful. 

With all the tanning salons in America, it makes one think about the cultural differences - - even the small ones.

No wonder other women look at me funny when I'm dressed in a tank top and a skirt! The moral of this blog? Each culture will have its own preferences, norms, expectations, and mores. What is important is that you are comfortable in your own skin - - no matter where you are and where you come from. And, quite personally, I dig the Vitamin D that I soak up here in Vietnam each and everyday!




Love the skin you're in ~ when you do that, everyone can see how truly beautiful you are. 

Mscathy.


Phu Quoc Island: A Mysterious Island Unveiled


I've been reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert while traveling around Vietnam. While passing by an old toothless Vietnamese man - - skin so dark and worn by the unforgiving sun in Ho Chi Minh, I was almost hesitant to make direct eye contact with him. I'm not sure if I was having a moment of culture shock but inside my head, I could hear a voice shouting, 'Oh, stop that nonsense and give him a smile'. And so I did and the toothless man immediately reciprocated with a huge grin - and despite his lack of dental resources, it was a great smile. I peered down and recognized the title of the book - immediately purchased it for about 4 US dollars. Since then, this book has traveled with me from the hustling town of Ho Chi Minh to this mysterious island off he gulf of Thailand called Phu Quoc Island...

I've already seen the movie with Julia Roberts and recall her having a deep chat with a wise man in Indonesia. Although I'm not quite there yet in the book, I felt like my Wednesday in Phu Quoc resembled that particular scene from the film.

As soon as I checked into the hotel on the island, the hotel staff immediately recognized my strange accent when speaking Vietnamese and was met with some confused brown eyes. For the sake of saving time and entertaining the staff, I confessed I was actually born in America - Southern California...but was taught the language at a very young age. One of the staff members started to talk excitedly about his restaurant manager, a man by the name of Vu, who was from California and is always eager to meet a Vietnamese person from the States.

'You MUST have a coffee with him and introduce yourself to him'

'It is RARE when an American-Vietnamese person visits us and he will be So very happy to meet you'

'He will be available at 5pm - please meet him'

I do not think I have been met with such high levels of enthusiasm - - it was as if my confession of being American-Vietnamese provided this man an immediate sugar high! With an invitation like that, how could I not meet this person?

Once I met Vu, a forty-something man - - he shared many stories with me, some that I know will forever be remembered. While riding on the back of his scooter, delving into the tropical green and eerie-like jungles of the island, he told me something along the lines of the following:

'You cannot predict the future. One day at a time, follow your heart, and good things will come naturally'

'I can tell you think a lot - let go of your thoughts, and look straight ahead  - - that's all you have to do'

 With words of wisdom such as this, one would rarely expect this coming from an ex-convict who got mixed in with the wrong crowd at an early age and, as a result, got deported to Phu Quoc Island after spending approximately 9 years in maximum level security prisons..

I feel as if I am getting a tiny bit closer to whatever I'm searching for out here in the great wide world. Whatever that ma













Andrew Zimmerman: Eat Your Heart Out


Steamed fish topped with crushed peanuts - - typically eaten with rice paper, cold vermicelli noodles, fresh greens, and, of course, fish sauce to dip your hand-rolled spring rolls in. This traditional Vietnamese dish is just one of the many meals that the locals like to indulge in, while sipping on some Heineken in a mug over one large block of ice.

Upon my arrival in Vietnam, not only was I excited about getting in touch with my family roots and the US to Vietnamese Dong conversion rate. Being surrounded with homemade Vietnamese food was like - - being at home away from home. With the constant aromas of hot bowls of Pho (beef noodle soup) lingering in the air, I feel that I have arrived in the right place, and most certainly, at the right time.

Within the first few days of hanging out with my relatives in Ho Chi Minh city, I have already been exposed to a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes - some familiar and some pretty damn exotic. Pho? I've had it all my life but never before, have I had it like this...the Pho man behind the glass case boiling the noodles so effortlessly - - only taking a mere three minutes to have my big bowl of noodles and beef tenderloins ready for me to devour. Even more so, the price of one large bowl of Pho is approximately 2 US dollars which I can absolutely spare for dinner!

Pho and steamed fish filled spring-rolls; those two are dishes I have become quite familiar with.

But, Balut, on the other hand...(see last few pictures of the eggs below) is something I have only experienced once in my life- - and something I have a difficult time remembering. What I do recall is my mother taking a spoon and cracking the top half of an interesting looking egg - - to expose an almost fully developed duck baby inside. But, of course, when I was younger - - I didn't really know what it was and thought all eggs came from chickens. I also remember her sprinkling some type of magical seasoning over the exposed egg and then taking that spoon to scoop up a piece of the egg. I recall only taking a few bites and believed to have enjoyed it. Who knows - - it's been over 10+ years since that particular experience.

Fast forward to the age of 27 years young, it was if the first-time experience never even happened and I had to start from scratch. I contemplated trying this exotic dish - - and, according to Wikipedia:

"A balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell."

Oh, man. I thought to myself, 'What would Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain do?' Well, that is an easy answer. They would both devour this duck egg the same way I devoured my bowl of Pho! So...I cracked the top shell of the egg with the metal spoon I hold so anxiously. Meanwhile, my dear relatives was staring at me like the American that I am...Oh gosh, how I must have looked while taking on such a simple task of ingesting something that is considered to be quite the delicacy in Southeast Asia. While peeling open the top half of the shell - - I couldn't help but peer into the egg and feel sorry for the fertilized duck embryo...quietly hoping this duck is resting peacefully somewhere, somehow.

And, in the duration of just a few seconds, I scooped a little piece of duck embryo onto my spoon - - closed my eyes shut, and took a spoonful. Surprisingly, it was all right. Some of it tasted like a hard-boiled egg yolk. But, I felt some of the texture and it was somewhat chewy - - not wanting to know what the heck I was even chewing on. I promised myself I would finish the whole egg and hope Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Bourdain reads this blog entry someday.

I must say, I am proud of this particular challenge. It is probable I will never partake in Balut again but, if someone were to double-dog dare me or pay me lots of cash to do it in America, I'd do it in a heartbeat. With experience, comes the feeling of being comfortable with the previous feeling of being uncomfortable, right??














The Beginning: Southeast Asia in February


I just love how many challenges I tend to face when crossing borders to another foreign country. After a grueling 38 hours (including layovers, flight durations), I arrived in the exotic country of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. My cousin and I agreed to meet to the left of the airport exit as soon as I picked up my luggage.

But, surprise surprise, I was late meeting her because of a few bumps (more like mountains) to smoothe out before starting my Southeast Asia expedition. The immigration officers are never seem to be in a jolly mood even though I came prepared with my pre-approved tourist visa letter. I handed off my passport, the letter from immigrations, and application paperwork happily while the immigration officer on the other side of the window yelled, 'Sit DOWN! Take a seat!' in Vietnamese. I try not to take things personally but this time...I was already under a good amount of stress because of how long it took me to actually arrive. And, so...as a result, I shed one tear but quickly wiped it away because I knew things will work out...somehow, sometime...

After 30 minutes of waiting around, they finally called my name and demanded 25 US dollars (although I could have sworn I paid it online already...?). I explained to them all I had on me was Czech Crowns and Polish Zloty's...Do they accept credit cards? Meanwhile, I was being stared at as if I just offended all of the immigration officers. Luckily, one of the officers gave me permission to pass the immigration center to convert my Zloty's and Crowns. YES! As I carefully proceeded to convert my foreign monies to the Vietnamese Dongs - - the people at the Conversion place looked at me as if I was crazy; they had never seen that type of money before and it was impossible to convert it. Oy...They directed me to a nearby ATM Machine...

'It's going to work out'
'Don't freak out, there is an ATM machine that will give me enough money to finally cross the border'

and most important...

'BREATHE!'

I anxiously inserted my trustworthy Capital One debit card into this foreign machine, entered my PIN, and waited for the cash to magically appear...'This card is INVALID'! Okay, I need to breathe again. I will just find another card...INVALID... What am I supposed to do?? No cash, no 'valid' cards to pull out money, and, at this point...Stuck at immigrations. I found someone nearby with a cell phone and begged them to call my cousin who was waiting for me outside. Luckily, she picked up and agreed to lend me 25 US dollars...

Saved by my cousin...that I don't think I have even met before. I'm not sure if this was luck or if challenges are attracted me but either way, they are all experiences to be even more prepared at any border crossing.

I picked up my luggage (perhaps I shouldn't have put a padlock on it because the officers cut it right through and confiscated my camping knife :/ ), met up with my cousin and aunt, hopped into a taxi to get settled in at my new temporary home. The day proceeded quite smoothly given the complicated circumstances earlier on...Traditional iced coffees, scooter bikes, immense amounts of traffic as well as the overwhelming beauty of it all. 80 degrees? Yes! Grilled Fish over an open fire? Yes! A Vietnamese market clad with cheap everything? YES!
















It feels amazing to get in touch with my roots; it's almost surreal just being here and hearing the language all around me. It reminds me that being anywhere in the world is possible. If there is a will, there is absolutely a way. Just do it! 

Mscathy.


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