Sunday, July 23, 2017
We were expecting the tropical depression to hit us with heavy rain today, but we woke up to blue skies and decided to make the most of the day. For breakfast, we had baguettes with pâté, green papaya and cilantro inside with soy milk. It was my favorite food that I’ve tried since I got here. I told Trang and Thu that I could eat it all day.
We visited a part of Hanoi called the Walking Street, where a long stretch of the road is blocked off from traffic for vendors, music and activities for families. It was really fun. Trang said many of the activities were to encourage children to put down their electronic devices and play in the ways their parents had.
One vendor sold stick figures – Elsa from Frozen, dragons, pigs, other animals, flowers – made out of sticky rice dough dyed in various bright colors. For about $1, I could learn how to make one myself. I sat down with the other children already working on theirs and a man taught me how to make a rose. It was the first time the language barrier wasn’t an issue. He showed me how to shape the dough and I followed closely. One girl that was sitting there, probably 7 or 8 years old, kept watching me. She showed me her unicorn and I nodded and smiled (my go-to). Later on, she said “hello” to me and English, and I smiled and said “hello” back. It was sweet how she wanted to engage with me.
Afterward, Thu, Trang and I visited a bubble tea shop and I had coffee milk tea with white pearls. The tea tasted even better than the Vietnamese iced coffee (it was probably sweeter) and the chewy white pearls were delicious. I drank it quickly. For lunch, we had rice milk to drink and beef pho with fried dough and I liked it better than the chicken pho.
I am learning that the correct way to eat noodle soup is to first take the spoon, try the broth, add lime and chili to taste, and then use chopsticks to place the noodles in the spoon and slurp it up. Good stuff. The best part of the day was that even though I ate out for breakfast, lunch and a small snack around dinnertime, it cost about $10 total. Less than the price of one meal in the U.S.
Today the heat was more intense than the usual humidity. Walking around, I was covered by a constant sheen of sweat. But we stay so busy and everything is so new and exciting that I don’t really notice it. I am getting used to only using A/C when I sleep and drinking room-temperature water. Now that I don’t constantly have it, it doesn’t seem like that much of a necessity to have it 24/7. As long as I stay hydrated and eat enough (and I’m definitely eating more than enough), I feel healthy.
I noticed when I arrived how small and thin most the people are here. Trang explained to me that it is because of their diet: no processed food and little fried food, fresh ingredients, lots of vegetables and meat and noodles and rice, healthy portions that boost your metabolism. I’ve already noticed it. I wake up in the morning hungry for the day and I feel energized. I told her I will probably end up losing a few pounds by the time I leave from all the sweat and the completely different diet. She also said that working out isn’t so predominant as it is in the United States. Gyms aren’t popular and most people just go for a walk or a bike ride in the park.
I realized this even more in the evening when Trang and I went shopping. We went in to one store and I was excited to try on some really cute clothes that averaged at prices less than $15. Except when I got to the racks and started looking at the tags, I only saw small and medium. Usually, when I go shopping at home, I start near the end of the rack with mediums and larges (or sizes 8-12), as American sizes vary depending on the clothing brand. But there was no end of the rack, just more smalls and mediums. I tried to find more loose-fitting clothes that were medium-sized. Nothing fit. The same thing happened at the next four stores we went in to.
Honestly, I expected it. To enter a completely new country with a completely different lifestyle and much smaller people and expect their clothing to accommodate me would be silly. I felt a little embarrassed and wondered if the people working at the stores knew I wouldn’t fit into anything the second I walked in. It was mainly disappointing because the clothes were so cute and cheap. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what the case is for women who don’t fit the norm. At dinner, we were watching Vietnam’s Top Model and Trang said plus-sized modeling does not exist in Vietnam.
So, I’ll just have to find some shoes, instead. But what I’m most excited for is my áo dài, the traditional Vietnamese dress, which looks like this. Trang picked out some beautiful fabric for me before I came and I was fitted by the tailor yesterday. They will ship it to the house in a week!