Japan · Keepin' it real · Travelogue

Day 1096: The Day Everything Went Wrong

Let’s start at the beginning:

  1. We had ordered boxed breakfasts from the hotel since we had to leave way before they open their breakfast buffet. At checkout this morning we asked for our breakfasts… they were not ready for us. But we didn’t have time to wait for them because…
  2. Our van to the airport was waiting for us in the narrow road outside, which happens to be an early-morning (possibly all-night?) fruit and vegetable market. It was blocking the whole road, and an impatient crowd of honking mortorcycles was growing behind it. So we hopped in and started driving…
  3. It took 10 minutes to get most of the way down the road, only to discover a low bridge that the van couldn’t pass under. The driver had to turn around and drive all the way back through the market (another 10 minutes.)
  4. We still made it to the airport in time, and Mr. December found that we could check in at the priority counter (because wheelchair assistance.) After about 10 minutes of check-in and showing documents we were told that they couldn’t check us in—our Vietnam visas were expired (by 5 hours.) Mr. December had to run to the immigration office in the airport to get that straightened out. After paying $106 USD in fines, Mr. December sprinted back to the check-in desk. We managed to check in and drop off our luggage before the cutoff time, and we even got through security with no issues—until…
  5. We realized we’d left the plastic folder with our documents (photocopies, vaccination records, NOT passports) back at the check-in counter. We weren’t allowed to go back out there, but I asked an airline employee if they could bring it back to us… and they did.
  6. We had no time to buy food in the airport; and as it turned out, we were on a super-economy airline where you have to buy everything, including water. At least I had a few hundred thousand dong left to buy food…
  7. But they were sold out of K and R’s meal of choice by the time they got to us (and we were only in row 9.) We bought a random assortment of snacks and drinks to tide us.
  8. I was getting some much needed shut-eye on the plane when something fell on me (yes, once again I’m doing nothing and out of nowhere something falls on me. Why does this keep happening? It boggles the mind.) A water bottle had fallen out of the overhead bin when some guy pulled out his bag. At least it hit my arm, not my head (thank God for small mercies.)
  9. We waited until the plane was empty before disembarking. Mr. December got all our luggage organized. He ended up having to carry a suitcase in his arms like a baby—it was the suitcase that tumbled down the aircraft steps a few days ago, and now the zipper had split.
  10. The airport employee who was pushing my wheelchair seemed not to know where to go—I was the one who pointed out the wheelchair symbol over the priority line—and she didn’t seem very proactive either (when I was done with the passport check she didn’t push me out of the way, even as the immigration official was asking the kids to come forward.) Anyhow, we eventually made our way through the airport and found the taxi stand. “Fixed rate taxi, please,” we said.
  11. That’s when we learned that the taxi ride into Tokyo was going to cost us upwards of $300. I gather it’s because calling Narita airport “Tokyo” is like calling Hamilton airport “Toronto.” It was a long drive…
  12. …made longer by an accident ahead of us on the highway. But the extra time was okay, because…
  13. I discovered that I didn’t have the screenshots I’d sent myself with the location of our house and the code for the key box. Without a SIM card, I was dependent on Mr. December’s personal hotspot—-and his connection wasn’t working for a while. Fortunately, that issue resolved itself while we were waiting for the traffic jam to clear.

After that, things started to go right. We got into the house with a minimum of fuss and found a decently-equipped kitchen and enough beds for everyone to have their own. A very short walk got us to a 7-11 where we bought some rice and a bunch of random stuff, and Mr. December and K went next door to an Indian restaurant and brought home some takeout.

Whatever else happened today, we’ve been treated to the delights of a heated toilet seat and a deep soaker tub that fills from below (so that the water doesn’t cool while falling from the tap to the tub.) I’m exhausted, sore, and a bit bewildered, but I’m sure that after a full night’s sleep (and maybe a hot bath) I’ll be ready for our Japanese adventure.

crafty · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1090: Get Out of the House!

We hauled our aching carcasses out of bed this morning and went out on a tour of Hoi An’s ancient city. Our guide was Emma, the same guide who took us through the vegetable village last week. She’s very sweet and infinitely patient, which is essential for us because it takes us FOREVER to go anywhere.

It’s not that we don’t try to be on time; I start sending warnings and updates an hour before we leave. But somehow, the following things always happen, with a few basic variations:

  • Someone gets in a snit at the last minute, refuses to go, and needs to be talked down from their room.
  • A kid asks, “Where are we going, anyway?” (as if I didn’t tell them last night and again this morning)
  • Someone else only just realized that their shoes are still wet (and their backup shoes simply won’t do for walking around town.)
  • Someone #3 needs to go to the bathroom. Then everyone is suddenly waiting for the same bathroom despite the fact that there are five toilets in this house.
  • Another kid asks, “What are we doing today? Why do we have to go?”
  • A device-addicted child runs back into the house for their extra battery pack.
  • Someone else asks, “What tour are we doing?”

By this point my eyes are rolling so much they’d roll out of my head if my orbital bones weren’t in the way.

Anyhow, that’s what it was like trying to leave the house today, and Emma just sat back and watched the whole amusing spectacle until we were finally sitting in the 6-row electric golf cart they call a shuttle.

There’s a family in the Ancient City that makes a proprietary tea blend. We stopped there first for some iced tea, which was scrumptious and which two kids didn’t want (more for me!). We saw the Japanese covered bridge and the Chinese assembly hall, and then we enjoyed a short performance of traditional Vietnamese music and dancing.

We hit the Hoi An market for lunch—a type of noodle dish that’s unique to this city—and we bought a new suitcase. “Get the biggest one,” the kids urged, but I decided to see if we could keep our carry-on-only options alive, so I bought a hard-sided wheeled carry-on (I’d realize my mistake later, when our folded lanterns proved to take up half the suitcase.)

Another golf-cart-cum-taxi whisked us off to the lantern making workshop. The (English-speaking) staff helped us build the lantern frames and then cover them with silk until they looked just like the pretty lanterns that light up Hoi An every night. We all enjoyed it, even Mr. December (who’s not usually into the crafting stuff.) The background music made it even more fun: while building the lantern, I got to sing along to hits of the 80’s, some early 2000s, and the Celine Dion album that reminds me of those months in high school when I was pining after Mr. December (right before we finally started dating.) The kids looked at me like I was crazy, but Mr. December got into it too; and eventually we had everyone singing along to the Backstreet Boys.

When we got home (in a regular Grab this time,) everyone crashed for a while before biking to the tailor shop to try our new clothes. We biked home in the dark, ordered dinner, and somehow it was suddenly bedtime. Unlike getting out of the house, it took almost no time for the kids to get to bed—and N led the pack instead of being the slowpoke.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese

Day 1088: If it’s not one thing…

We had a beautiful morning today. We biked over to the beach with the three girls (N refused to go) and went swimming in the ocean. The water was calm and clear, the bottom was sandy, and the sun was shining. Perfect. I was so busy swimming and having a good time that I forgot to take any pictures. Sorry, not sorry.

My legs are still very fatigued, though, and I ran out of steam halfway up the hill (the only hill there is around here.) I stopped, put my foot down, and told E to get off and walk the rest of the way up. As she started to dismount, the wheels slid through the brake pads and the whole bike started moving backwards. I had one foot planted on the ground and the other moving slowly downhill with the bike. I think I yelled. I tried to slow the bike’s fall so that E could get off safely. She did, unscathed—but I didn’t. Now I have a beautiful bruise and some scratches on my ankle where the pedal hit me.

But the beach was great.

This afternoon Mr. December went into the Ancient City to explore without the rest of us breathing down his neck. “Should I bike?” he asked. I encouraged him to bike because—aside from that one blasted hill—Hoi An is as flat as a pancake (which makes every bike ride so much easier.)

A few hours later I messaged him: “Coming home soon?”

And that’s when I learned that his bike—the one whose pedal fell off last week—had a flat tire. He rode all the way home (at least 6 kilometres) on the wheel rim. If you didn’t know, riding on a slightly flat tire is difficult; riding on a completely flat tire is painfully so. By the time he got home, Mr. December looked like a glazed donut: a thin sheen of sweat covered every inch of him that we could see.

As they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I just hope tomorrow’s “one thing” has no impact on our sunset kayak tour.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1087: Looks fine in the photos…

Well, I got my cookie in the end. Surprisingly, nobody asked why they didn’t get one; they just all asked for a taste, which was fine since after the first couple of mouthfuls I’d had enough. I actually preferred E’s chocolate chip pancakes.

We did some reasonable school work in the morning, including some writing practice. After lunch I announced a little field trip to the seamstress. We spent two hours designing and ordering clothes, including a pair of dress pants and a dress shirt for N, made of something soft and stretchy (which I hope means he’ll actually wear it.) I’ve also ordered a copy of my favourite cozy dress in a pretty colour.

Then I came home and crashed. I lay down to read for a bit—I think it was 4:00—and when I woke up it was dark outside and Mr. December and the kids were just getting out of the pool. I keep hoping the extra sleep will help my legs hurt less, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Shabbat dinner was chocolate-chip pancakes for some and pizza for others. I’ve given up on getting everyone to order from one place: the magic of Grab is that we can order from two or more restaurants at the same time, and it’s pretty cheap here. I have a feeling when we get to Japan we’ll suffer from major sticker shock—we’ll probably make rice in the rice cooker for every meal.

We have five full days left in Hoi An. We had to delay some of our tours because K and E were sick, so now I’m cramming them in wherever I can. Sunday afternoon we’re doing a sunset kayak tour; Monday we’re aiming for a tour of the Ancient City, followed by a lantern-making workshop. Sometime in the next few days I need to buy a suitcase.

Despite the fact that everyone here seems to be moody today (maybe I’m just projecting,) some of us managed to have a nice time together after dinner. N brought his roll-up keyboard up to the roof, E brought her flute, and I took out my guitar. We faked our way through Riptide and Sweet Caroline before things fell apart. Tonight the evening mostly feels like a fail, but in three years I’ll look at these photos and think, “Looks like such a nice evening.” I guess that’s the magic of photographic evidence.

Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese

Day 1086: Burnout

I’m tired. And I don’t mean sleepy.

My legs are really sore and tight from that long bike ride two days ago. I could get a massage from one of the ridiculously-cheap spas around here, but I’m worried that someone who’s untrained might do more harm than good to my body. I’m not willing to risk it.

I’m tired of having my entire day consist of things I’m not very good at, decision making and planning ahead being chief among them.

I’m tired of eating whatever there is, as opposed to things I enjoy.

I’m tired of listening to my kids complain about the food, the weather, screen time, school work, each other, and who-knows-what-else.

I’m very tired of hearing karaoke sung off-key at top volume all afternoon and evening (yep, they’re doing it again as we speak.)

I’m tired of everything smelling like damp and possibly mildew.

Oh, and K and E are sick, so I’m also tired of dodging their coughs, sneezes, and snot while still giving them the cuddles they need.

I’m tired of spending our days in the house, but we can’t really go anywhere with K and E while they’re sick like this.

I’m craving a warm cookie. Bikini bottom has one on their menu… and they are available on Grab, so I could order one… but then I have to explain to my kids why I get a dessert and they don’t. It’s probably not worth it. Maybe I’ll just put some Nutella on a Ritz cracker and call it a night.

Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam · Worldschooling

Day 1082: Too Much.

There is way too much karaoke in this neighbourhood.

Not karaoke bars. Just karaoke. At first I thought it must be coming from the small hotels that dot the neighbourhood; then I saw some girls doing karaoke in their living room and figured that must be the source; then tonight, while I was up on the roof, I finally saw where it was coming from.

Across the street, on the vacant land next to the river, there were coloured lights and people sitting around. The music was blaring and the singers were… pretty terrible. Mostly tone deaf.

“You have to reframe the situation,” Mr. December said sagely, “we’re eating dinner on our rooftop terrace, and there’s live music!” (As if the liveness of the music wasn’t the real problem. It sounded as if someone should put those dying cats out of their misery.) Adding insult to injury, they started around noon today and are still going strong nine hours later. I can hear them with all the windows and doors sealed shut.

People of the world, there IS such a thing as “too much karaoke”; it’s alive and well in Hoi An tonight, and it’s slowly driving me batty.

This morning I felt like I’d discovered the holy grail: a restaurant that serves good food, stuff we like, and isn’t expensive. I thought it couldn’t happen, but there we were at Bikini Bottom. We got a huge “smoothie bowl” (yogurt, fruit, granola, coconut,) an order of pancakes, four fried eggs, two hash browns, steak and eggs, sourdough toast, and a few drinks, all for $25 Canadian. It was so good that Mr. December wants to go back.

It feels like we’ve settled into the neighbourhood and the city. The lady at the mini mart on the next block greets us warmly when we drop in to buy eggs and fruit; the woman who owns the restaurant on the corner waves when she sees us ride by on our bikes (she knows us as the people who buy a mango juice every day.) I can navigate my way to the beach or into town without constantly checking Google Maps.

I also know the neighbourhood well enough to yell at the guy who steps out into the middle of the street yelling, “Stop!” in an authoritative tone. No, sir, I do not have to stop; it is not illegal to go any farther on my bike; and even if I did have to park my bike before hitting the beach, I can park it literally anywhere. Get out of my way and for Pete’s sake, stop lying to tourists to make a living. (I didn’t yell all that, but I was thinking it. What I did yell was “NO.”)

We’re over halfway through our time in Vietnam. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave behind the sun, warmth, and $2 bubble tea.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1081: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Since WhatsApp wouldn’t work for me, I solved my communications problem the old-fashioned way: I biked down to the rental shop to tell them I wanted to keep the bike for longer. Mr. Thoî appeared completely unconcerned about it. When I asked if I could pay him some more because the deposit had been half of a week’s rental fee, he waved me off and said, “When you return the bike is fine.” People in Vietnam are pretty relaxed about this stuff.

The ride from our place to Mr. Thoî’s is 5.5k, so we biked 11k today. R came along in the hopes that there would be some kind of perk: I happily offered to buy her bubble tea (the place right next to the bike rental makes excellent drinks.) We had some time to kill anyhow, because one of the pedals fell off Mr. December’s bike and we had to wait for him to walk it the rest of the way to the shop to get it fixed.

I honestly thought twice before going on that bike ride today. I woke up feeling foggy-headed and achy; but did that mean I couldn’t or shouldn’t bike? I wasn’t sure. Maybe it wasn’t the beginning of a flare, but the consequence of quite a few very late nights in a row? Decisions like these never seem to get any easier, because my physical state is dynamic and always shifting—and just because it worked out fine last time doesn’t mean it will be fine today.

This time I decided to err on the side of overexertion. I feel like I spend enough of my life sitting things out; today I wanted to be bold and see what happened. My head still feels foggy, but I’m not particularly achy. The physical effects might show up in a day or two; or they might not show up at all. I’ll keep you posted.

Purim starts tomorrow night. R has been particularly concerned with being able to give and get candy, so I took her to a well-stocked minimart to buy treats that we could package into mishloach manot for all four kids. I’m hoping we’ll make it to Chabad for the holiday—I expect they’ll have hamentaschen and other familiar treats that make the it feel festive. We haven’t got any costumes, but maybe I can convince them that it would be funny to dress up as each other. I wonder if my pink dress fits Mr. December—the built-in bra would be pretty easy to stuff.

“It’s amazing how long things take when you have all day to do them,” Mr. December mused tonight. He’s right: we did almost nothing today—just a bike ride to renew our rental, and a quick trip to the store, but our day was full and drama-free. I never made it into the pool for a swim, though. Maybe tomorrow.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese

Day 1079: False Start

In my defense, the forecast said today would be sunny with some cloud, but not rainy. The forecast said.

We had plans to take a basket boat ride in the water coconut grove today. We hit our first roadblock early: R and N refused to bike there.

“Not optional,” was our answer. After a lot of grumbling and whining (and maybe a little understatement of the distance on my part) we finally hit the road.

And then it started to spit.

R biked up beside me and started yelling, demanding that we turn back “RIGHT NOW.” K and N joined the chorus of “Let’s turn back” as the few solitary drops of rain finally brought all their cousins and friends along for the party. I’m not opposed to biking in the rain (when it’s warm out,) but it was starting to look like the rain would last some time, and how good would the boat ride be in this kind of downpour?

We turned back.

It finally cleared up around 1 p.m. and we marshalled the troops for a second attempt. There was even more vocal opposition to biking this time. It was one of many times this trip when Mr. December and I looked at each other with the same thought in our minds: “Suck it up, buttercup. Holy cow, do they ever STOP complaining?”

I don’t remember what was said to get all the kids back on bikes. I suspect the whining was so awful I’ve blocked out the memory as a defense mechanism.

We did the 5k ride in decent time, with a couple of kids getting close to me to tell me about all the ways their bodies hurt too much to bike anymore. I could only respond that if they keep avoiding exercise, it will always hurt their muscles—practice is key to getting stronger. Meanwhile, carpal tunnel reared its head and my hands started going numb, so I rode one-handed while the other hand dangled at my side to get the feeling back, then switched hands.

Anyhow, we finally made it to this really cute village. Our tour operator offered us cold water and ushered us to the boats.

A basket boat—some people call them coconut boats—looks a lot like half of a giant golf ball. It’s round, woven out of some kind of leaf (banana or palm, I wasn’t quite sure,) with a bench across the middle. There’s only one paddle and the stroke looks a lot like the paddler is stirring a pot of something.

We floated through a narrow gap in the water coconut trees, and then came out into a huge open part of the river where a few men performed on their boats (mostly spinning and wobbling.) A little farther away, a fisherman demonstrated how he casts his net into the river before pulling it back in. Mr. December, K, and E all tried it. I have to say, E made the best first attempt of the three of them.

You’ll notice in the photos that we’re all wearing those conical Vietnamese hats. We were given them to wear during our boat ride, and K declared it “The first sunhat I don’t mind wearing.” I think we might have to buy one for her (or go to a workshop and make it ourselves.)

We biked back home, this time with less complaining (there’s always less complaining on the way home.) Would it really kill them to go without complaining from the get-go? The constant whining—when we’re working so hard to give them the experience of a lifetime—is really starting to grate on me. Suck it up, buttercups.

bikes planes and automobiles · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · Travelogue · Vietnam · Worldschooling

Day 1076: Where the Buffalo Roam

Our cleanup after Saturday’s fire was thorough. We even threw out any open packages of food (this is a great reason not to have open shelving in the kitchen) because the sand from the fire extinguisher was absolutely everywhere. As you might imagine, we were left with very little food in the house; we ate at restaurants for the rest of the weekend—in between cleanup efforts.

Everyone was exhausted this morning, but we forged ahead with school anyway. The sky was overcast and it drizzled on and off all day; but despite the weather, Mr. December and I rode our bikes down to the Western-food supermarket to stock up on groceries.

You know what’s weird? Even though Hoi An has an impressive number of bike paths and special lanes, Google Maps insists that there’s no cycling information. To find a route that didn’t go down all the major streets I had to ask Google for walking directions. Once we crossed over the river, we were on car-free paths until the last block before the store. Idyllic rice paddies stretched out all around us, water buffalo grazed, and motorcycles honked as they zipped past us.

I went to the housewares store next to the supermarket to pick up a few things this house lacks—cleaning cloths, shampoo, and tea towels, among other things—and the young woman at the counter asked me why I wasn’t cold wearing just a long-sleeve t-shirt (for the record, it was 20 degrees celsius at the time.) Anyhow, I responded that as a Canadian, I see 20 degrees as slightly cool summer weather. She looked at me incredulously, shook her head, and shivered.

Our ride was about 10K, round trip. On the way back we biked along the riverfront path that goes right past our house. It looks like someone had grand plans for this neighbourhood—the stone path lined with palm trees, the iron railing at the edge, and the many smaller paths leading from the river to the street at regular intervals all suggest an upscale neighbourhood—before COVID came in, shut everything down, and got rid of all the tourists. It’s a shame—it would have been stunning, with the view of the river. I wonder who will restart the project, and when?

It seems that I demonstrated poor judgment tonight: in an effort to be efficient and not mess up too many pots, I put the pasta and the sauce in the rice cooker together. It worked beautifully—but apparently N doesn’t like the sauce, so he stood up and walked out of dinner because there was no plain pasta for him. Oops. That’ll learn me.

This week’s challenge: find a place to dry our laundry that doesn’t leave it smelling like mildew. Today I tried hanging it from the back edge of the metal stairs to the roof. After ten hours, it’s still damp. Why doesn’t anybody sell clotheslines in this town?

Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1075: On Fire!

I had a very good reason for not blogging last night. Our guest correspondent Mr. December explains.

“Hey E—can you go heat the oil so we can make French fries?” We asked last night, and went back to our computers.


Grease fire!

We started off well – turned off the burner, moved it away from the wall or anything flammable, and put a lid on it. The lid had holes in it for some reason, and the next pot we tried didn’t put it out right away. I thought we could put it out safely given another minute, but S brought out the big guns: the fire extinguisher. Unfortunately she was thinking rocket pack, so the first blast went the wrong way into the air. Next couple of blasts put out the fire, leaving the room completely white with smoke. We closed the door to our bedroom (not soon enough), got the computers away, and opened the front and back door. K reported that the smoke billowed out like a huge exploding marshmallow ghost. We got on our masks and took stock – sand and chemicals everywhere. I looked up what was in them, and they seemed to be standard and not very toxic.

These things have a way of bringing the family together and we all chipped in to do a “primary” clean of all surfaces and objects to remove 99%+ of the debris, which took several hours. Somewhere along the way we knocked a plant into the pool for good measure. We were out of water pressure (the electric pump couldn’t keep up with the amount of water we were using to wash everything,) so R, who couldn’t shower and had not been in the pool yet, jumped in fully clothed to bring the plant back the surface. K also went in the water fully clothed, and I joined them for some splashing and dunking fun. 

This morning we went out for breakfast and went to do the “secondary” clean to make everything usable, including getting down on my hands and knees to scrub the floor. The landlords like to visit a lot; they saw the earth in the pool, vacuumed it, and shocked the pool, with no recriminations or questions.

So we’re all okay. I’d like to say we all learned something, but seems like perhaps the lessons are ones you might already know:  

  1. Don’t leave the stove unattended when it is on.
  2. Fire extinguishers aren’t magic—you have to hold the nozzle and aim them.

Thanks, Mr. December.

Before the fire, yesterday wasn’t too bad. We went for breakfast at a beach club in the morning. It was too cold and windy to brave the ocean, but at least we got to have dessert for breakfast (banana crepes with nutella and vanilla ice cream.) After that we biked over to Cosy Corner café, where we ordered just enough food and drinks to justify hanging around to play board games for a couple of hours. Eventually we biked home, took a nap, and then woke up and said, “Hey, let’s make some French fries…” and you know what happened next.