The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Friendship

Living the High Life in Saigon

If it hadn’t been for the Vietnamese on the signs that lined the frenetic streets, I could have mistaken it for New York. High rises towered above, streets clogged with motor and foot traffic, men in business suits bustled down sidewalks, and neon signs advertised everything from Coca Cola to the evening news.

Sure, there were still the markers of a large Asian city: Banh Mi and Pho street carts, alleyways full of stalls bursting with fresh produce, live poultry and very dead, yet-to-be-butchered pigs.

But Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), was a mad mix of it’s Vietnamese roots and it’s love affair with the West. Perhaps because it was home to many American soldiers during the Vietnam War, perhaps because of it’s proximity to economic giant China, or perhaps because Westerners are flocking toward the opportunity in Asia, Saigon was a surprise.

I was lucky to have a host for my time the city, a friend I had worked with in Seattle who had moved here to continue his career in advertising. After two months in Asia, I decided to take a (little) break from Asian food, and so we set out to eat and drink our way through this glittering metropolis.

Where We Ate: 

Saffron
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Price: $20 – $35 USD for appetizer, main, and wine.
Walk into this cozy, tasteful little bistro, and expect an immediate and effusive greeting from either the lovely staff or the French-Vietnamese owner. Upon sitting, you’ll be brought a glass of champagne (gratis!) and an overview of the specials for the day. They take their food very seriously, and have a menu that will leave you struggling to make a decision. I dined entirely off the specials menu, which consisted of a baked brie appetizer (I hadn’t had cheese in ages!) and a seafood paella that was very delicious. I also was finally able to indulge in red wine! To end the meal, a limoncello shot and a fragrant flower bracelet. By Vietnamese standards, it was a ‘splash out’ meal, but for less than $40 USD I was stuffed, tipsy, and definitely happy.

Baked Brie

Finally… CHEESE!

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The roof inside Saffron – clay pots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Kitchen + Bar
Cuisine: Vietnamese-Western Fusion
Price: $12 – $18 for brunch
The interior of this industrial space made me feel tres chic as I sipped my Vietnamese coffee in a desperate attempt to rid myself of a hangover. We had come for their weekend brunch, and I dug into my baked eggs and bacon hash with gusto as coffee after coffee disappeared. This was a locals place if ever there was one – in the heart of Japan Town, surrounded by upper-class Vietnamese and other expats, with a menu to match. It apparently also does a good business as a late-night cocktail and snacks bar, too.

YUMMY Hangover Brunch @ Urban Kitchen

YUMMY Hangover Brunch @ Urban Kitchen

L’Usine
Cuisine: French Bistro
Price: $7 – 14 for lunch
The hipster movement hasn’t left Vietnam untouched, if this boutique/home goods shop/bistro is any indication. It’s the sort of place I’d park with my laptop all day, ordering Croque Madames and coffees and pretending I was penning the next great American (Vietnamese?) novel. The shop has all sorts of interesting and adorable trinkets that would make very unique souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home. Just beware, the price of goods within the shop match American prices – no deals here!

So French! So Creative!

So French! So Creative!

Secret Garden
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Price: $10 – $12 for dinner
I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one Vietnamese restaurant in my culinary tour of HCMC. Set in a pretty courtyard on the top floor of an easily-missed building in a laneway, this one is worth seeking out. It’s authentic, it’s not flashy, and the food is delicious. And it’s cheap! Maybe not street-cart cheap, but inexpensive enough to miss on your credit statement.

secret-garden-home-cooked

Where We Drank:

Glow Skybar
What’s a big weekend out without an evening on a rooftop? Here I started off with a (strong) martini, and the rest of night got fuzzy pretty soon thereafter. If you want to avoid the backpacker scene and see what a weekend out would look like if you lived and worked here, this is place to go. It’s a see-and-be-seen sort of spot where the locals always seem to run into a friend or two.

Just getting the night started...

Just getting the night started…

Chill
Another rooftop bar? These seem to be the the thing to do for the business crowd of this city. This one is a little flashier, and little more colorful, but also with good cocktails and service.

chill-skybar-saigon

Lush
I’ll be honest: My memory of this place is pretty fuzzy. I recall a huge bar in the middle of the place, a luxe VIP area and bottle service with some heavy-hitters in the Saigon advertising scene, dancing in a cage for a few minutes, and little else. But I’m assured by my guide that it is indeed one of the more fun places to visit, if you aren’t white girl wasted like I was.

It's a cage. But it's fuzzy, like we were by this point in the night...

It’s a cage. But it’s fuzzy, like we were by this point in the night…

After only a few days in the city, I could almost see myself living there. With so much influence from the US and Europe, many of the creature comforts of home are readily catered to, and with a booming economy, opportunity abounds. Don’t be surprised if Ho Chi Minh City is the next ‘it’ place for city-lovers to live in Southeast Asia.

A Vintage Mode of Transport

Have you read On the Road by Jack Kerouac? Of course you have, you little hipster you. If not, it’s a manic love story about life on the highways of America. Jack was the OG travel blogger, and the book will make you fall in love with America, traveling, or both a little. Or at least make you go on a roadtrip.

Either way, in much of the novel, the protagonist is flat broke and manages to get across the country through a series of intense moochings – crashing with ‘friends’ he met once at a party, hopping on and off moving trains, and… hitchhiking.

This was obviously pre-Ted Bundy, when hitchhiking around the US was a common occurrence. But throw in a few serial killers and the modern, sensationalist network news machine, and hitchhiking in America went the way of gluten. Nobody does it anymore.

Hitchhiking was never something that was on my bucket list, nor had I ever really considered it a valid mode of transport. It was from a different time, Jack’s time. When people inherently trusted each other, which is definitely not right now. But somehow I found myself on the side of the road outside Queenstown, New Zealand, holding a cardboard sign that said “Wanaka” while my sister held up her thumb and smiled at every passing car.

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And so began a 523 km/325 mile journey up the west coast of the south island of New Zealand without paying a dime for transport. My friends who were living in Queenstown convinced me I needed to at least try it, with even the ‘cheap’ buses that ply the route being super expensive thanks to summer and last minute bookings. And in a total of five trips, we found ourselves in Greymouth, where we had our very first paid drive.

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Saving some money was nice, but want to know the best thing about it? The people we met!

Frieda and Emma – Queenstown to Wanaka – 67km/42 mi.

Two Dutch (Swedish?) girls picked us up just outside Queenstown, promptly repacking their campervan to make room for my sister and me and our bags. We made the typical traveler idle chat for a while before we tuned into the iPod as we wound over the mountains. We only spent an hour together, but we reveled in the fact that we were sharing our first hitchhiking experience (theirs as drivers, ours as riders) together!

Day 1: Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Allan – Wanaka to Haast – 142km/88 mi.

We owe a huge debt to Mr. Alan – he was by far one of the best people that could have picked us up. A Kiwi in his early sixties, he not only waved off our offers to pay for gas, he actually stopped at popular hikes and waterfalls in the area and let us explore a bit, all while giving us a rundown of the history of the place. It was like being on a guided tour, but without the price tag.

I Can’t Pronouce, Let Alone Spell (2 Israelis) – Haast to Fox Glacier – 121km/75 mi. 

These two were Israeli friends from outside Jerusalem who had just finished their turn in the Israeli Army. They loved the fact that we were American (thus I learned firsthand the impact of controversial foreign policy) but weren’t so fond of Obama. Loved Bush, though. We had lots of talks about American films, television, and music, and I told them to YouTube the Hannukah Song by Adam Sandler after we had a long conversation about his films. I kind of wish I could have seen their faces when they listened to it.

Lee – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier – 23km/14 mi.

The day was getting long and we were worries that we might have missed our chance to catch a ride the short distance between the glaciers, but like a knight in shining armor, DUDE and his cute golden retriever showed up to save the day! He was a construction worker originally from Manchester who had been in NZ for the better part of 20 years, and we squeezed into his tiny two-seater. Beth happily shared the hatchback trunk with NAME, the dog for the quick drive.

Day 2: Franz Josef to Greymouth

Olly and Mom – Franz Josef to Greymouth – 173km/108 mi.

We owe our greatest debt of gratitude to this hilarious pair, a young Maori guy and his chain-smoking, opinionated mother who cursed like a sailor. They happened to live in Greymouth, and had been in Franz to do some painting, which was the family business. Listening to their banter was like listening to a comedy routine, and Olly was an awesome DJ for the stretches between conversations.

New Zealand is probably the last country on earth you can safely hitchhike (that could also be entirely untrue), and I’m glad that we pushed ourselves to give it a try. Not only did it save us nearly $300, but we got to have contact with local Kiwis in ways we never would have otherwise. Afterward, we lamented our failure to take photos with each of the people who drove us, but they will live on in our hearts forever.

Disclaimer: The south island of NZ is safest for hitchhikers; buses or car rental are recommended for the North. As usual, common sense and your intuition are your best guides. Never get in a car with anyone who gives you a creepy vibe, and be especially careful if you are a solo female. 

Magical Queenstown

There’s a certain kind of magic that hangs around Queenstown that’s apparent from the moment you step off the plane and gape at the Remarkables mountain range towering overhead. Scratch that, it’s apparent before your plane even touches down, as you see the mountain peaks approaching and can see the deep blue lake stretching out in the valley, with a small town hugging one end.

Since I had been here before, I held back on any remark after our arrival, to see if my sister felt the same thing I felt any time I was here. As we trudged through the airport parking lot, I heard a ‘Wow…” and turned to see her snapping photos of those same mountains that had stunned me the first time I laid eyes on them, and at every subsequent viewing since.

PANO_20150208_115034

The feeling doesn’t stop once you’re in town – cafes, bars, shops, and beautiful hotels line the streets of ‘downtown,’ if it can be called that. It’s a perfect-sized town; enough variety to keep things interesting, small enough for you to get your bearings within 24 hours. It’s clean, beautiful, and full of happy people. Because how can anyone be surrounded by those mountains and that lake and not be happy?

We used Queenstown as our base to explore the surrounding area, and stayed with our friend Dan, who I met through Amanda, who I met when I hosted her in Sydney through CouchSurfing. They had chosen to settle down in Queenstown for several months to work, replenish bank accounts, and just enjoy the awesomeness that is QT. Needless to say, Dan and his roommates were all awesome, especially Toa, the sweet Staffie who shared the couch with me on a particularly cold night.

My Amazing Hosts

My Amazing Hosts

Toa, My Love

Toa, My Love

We spent a few nights getting acquainted with the bars of Queenstown. Since we were with ‘locals,’ we skipped the touristy attractions such as Ice Bar and instead made for places like Rhinos, The Find, and Vinyl, where we rocked out to a band that specialized in early 2000s pop punk with a mini guitar as a prop. And of course the famous Ferg Burger factored in as a dinner once or twice as well (Insider tip: you can call in your order and skip the hour long line at the window). The first time I came to Queenstown (on a slightly bigger budget), Eichardts and Botswana Butchery topped the list of pricier places to eat and drink.

Getting Cray with the Ukelele

Getting Cray with the Ukelele

FERG!

FERG!

We also visited the gondola and downhill luge at Skyline on the mountain above town, and even hiked up to the Ben Lomond saddle behind the tourist complex. What we thought might be a relatively easy 3 hour hike turned out to be a grueling 4 hours up a steep incline that left us sore for days. But what a view from the other side!

Luging

Luging

Before We Knew What We Were Getting Into

Before We Knew What We Were Getting Into

Struggle Street

Struggle Street

We Made It!

We Made It!

The Payoff

The Payoff

When it was time to say goodbye, my sister and I both didn’t want to leave. But who wants to leave such a beautiful place? But glaciers, national parks, and other adventures beckoned, so off we went!

Thankful

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted my third and final Thanksgiving as an expatriate (at least an expatriate in Australia). Having the opportunity to bring this American tradition to foreign shores has been an annual highlight of each holiday season I’ve spent here in Australia. It’s been an opportunity to take a step back and reflect, and benchmark upon which I can measure how my life and social circle have grown and been enriched.

My first Thanksgiving was a harried and hurried affair, cooked on a hangover and with a few friends and a few people I had only just met, the day after an all-day music festival.

My second Thanksgiving stood out in stark contrast to the last – surrounded by new friends, a new love, and an overwhelming gratitude that my first year in Australia hadn’t been quite as bad as I’d let myself believe.

And this Thanksgiving was a fitting cap to the tradition. The turkey was a success (whew!), all the necessary accouterments were laid out, nearly everyone who had been at that first small table in my apartment in Bondi was able to make a reappearance, and many of the friends from last year’s feast had been able to attend as well.

TurkeyDay3TurkeyDay2

As we went around the table of 18 and said what we were thankful for, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat as I told everyone the story of the small table at my first Thanksgiving, and how more than anything I was thankful that I had been put in the path of so many amazing people who wanted to share this tradition with me. I was thankful for a partner who had been nothing but supportive about packing up my life, leaving him with my dog and taking off without him for 6+ months, and to my first friend in Australia, Annie, without whom that first year would have been drastically more difficult.

American Girls!

American Girls!

This Thanksgiving celebration was the first time it really hit me that I’m leaving. I’d been happily plunking my head into the sand, in denial that anything was really going to change. And now here was the end of a tradition in my new home that I’d started, ready to be passed on to another of my American friends who was staying. And as much as I’m looking forward with excitement to whatever is coming next, I’m also desperately sad to be leaving behind such wonderful people and such a beautiful place. And though my feelings about my time in Seattle and Sydney are very different, I can still echo the sentiment I felt  in one of my earliest blogs about leaving the city I’d called home for a while:

How Lucky I Am

Til next time, xoxo

The Wizardess

Meet the Parents… and 50 More Family Members

“We’re not paying for your wedding.”

I raised my eyebrow at my mom, annoyed but not surprised. My parents are very traditional, and very religious. They’ve never been happy that I don’t impose the same rules on myself that the Catholic Church does. In this case, cohabitation with my partner.

“Well then, don’t expect one.”

It may not have been quite as snappy as that, but that was the gist of the conversation. My dad had taken the English Muffin onto the patio of their serviced apartment in Queenstown to give him the “what are your intentions for my daughter” speech – something that grates on me as a independent adult capable of having my own intentions for myself, but that I understand is something my dad just can’t not do with any of my boyfriends.

Having never dreamed about my future wedding, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I’ve never gone out of my way to live with my boyfriends, it’s just he way life worked out. I moved interstate with one [“What do you want us to do, Dad? Get separate apartments?”], and happened to fall in love with my roommate [“Was I supposed to kick him out of the house the moment we realized we had feelings for each other?”]. Most times, I’d probably have preferred not to have lived with them! I like my space, and don’t mind being alone, so it wouldn’t have been huge loss as long as we lived near each other. But regardless of any qualifying circumstances, this was a line my parents had decided to draw.

At any rate, my sister will probably have to deal with this before I do, since she and her [now live-in] boyfriend just celebrated their 5 year anniversary. I’m sure she will find a way to break my parents resolve; she’s always had better money-extraction skills than I have.

Other than this uncomfortable exchange, the “Meet the Parents” episode of my relationship with the English Muffin was a nice one. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful place for it to happen [Queenstown, NZ], and we spent much of the 6 days we were all together being outside, exploring New Zealand [also known as Heaven on Earth].

See? All Friends Here!

See? All Friends Here!

The ridiculousness that is NZ

The ridiculousness that is NZ

Same

Same

Fast-forward six months, and the EM and I were preparing for a trip to the USA to celebrate two weddings that were fortuitously planned 4 weeks apart. So naturally, I decided it was important to cram in meeting most of my aunts and uncles [of which there are 15], about 2/3 of my cousins [of which there are 30, not counting spouses], and my siblings [of which there are 4, including my brother’s wife] into those 4 weeks. Oh and maybe 50 or so friends.

Did I mention the English Muffin is an only child with a tiny extended family?

However, the EM works in recruitment, and he’s developed social skills that include being able to talk to anyone, make people like and trust him, and be a good listener. This is also why he makes a good romantic partner, as he’s pointed out to me [darling, why are you on eHarmony?]. Plus he’s English, which means that if nothing else at least he’d be polite.

Thus, he was not only able to rock the family get-togethers, he actually was a bigger hit at BOTH weddings than I was! I had one of my aunts swooning over his accent [“What did you call it? A bin? Say butter again!”] and he after-partied at my university friend’s wedding long after I had collapsed in a heap in our hotel room. At the end of the first wedding, my Seattle friends’ boyfriends were hollering, “Someone get this man a green card! Come to America!”

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Cheers!

Cheers!

All in all, a pretty successful trip home for him, even if I was feeling a little bit like chopped liver. Just because I don’t have a posh English accent!

I did have the chance to meet his dad, who happens to live in Connecticut after falling for an American woman [apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…], so for the two people I had to meet, an exchange of 90 or so seems fair. Right?

Til next time, xoxoxo!

Breakup Makeup

I have a friend who I love dearly, and for good reason. She is funny, sassy, clever, quick with a one liner, and we spent most of our early twenties turning into adults together. I have frequently referred to her as my heterosexual life partner, and thus far in our lives she has been, even through various moves to different states and countries on both our parts.

But there is a recurring theme in her life that drives me absolutely nuts: it takes her 5 or 6 times to break up with a serious boyfriend who is just not a match for her. For the last several years it’s been the following pattern with anyone serious:

Friend: I met a guy
Me: Ooh! Tell me more.
Friend: He’s just a guy, it’s not really serious but he’s pretty sweet. We’ll see how it goes.

**Couple of Weeks Later**

Friend: I think I’m starting to like this guy. He said/did (enter sweet thing here).
Me: Awwww he sounds sweet! (Insert inappropriate question about guy here [I can’t keep the dialog 100% authentic since my dad reads this])
Friend: You’re a pervert. But yeah, we’ll see how it goes. I don’t really want anything serious.

**Couple of weeks later, Facebook status changes**

Me: Oh I see we’re FBO now?
Friend: Yeah he’s great (proceeds to list great qualities)
Me: Sounds like a keeper!

**Several months to a year later**

Friend: I don’t think it’s working out, we’ve been fighting a lot about X or Y, there’s no reasoning with him, I’m trying to make it work because I love him though.
Me: (Offers some sort of relevant advice). I’m sure you guys can work it out.

**Weeks later**

Friend: It’s been amazing!

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobbing) I can’t handle it anymore.

**Weeks later**

Friend: I ended it.
Me: I’m really sorry babe (hugs and ice cream)

**Weeks later**

Friend: We’ve decided to give it another try.
Me: Despite X and/or Y? Do you really think that’s going to change?
Friend: We had a serious talk about it, I think it can change
Me: Great, I really hope it works out for you guys

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobbing) It’s not changing
Me (in my mind): Shock! I never saw that coming!
Me (out loud): I’m so sorry babe, probably better to just call it and find a better match
Friend: I know (sob)

**Weeks later**

Friend: We decided that if I make sure I do X, and he makes sure he does Y, we can sort out our differences.
Me: (raises eyebrows) Good luck!

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobs)
Me: (Facepalm)

Breakup Makeup

Anyway, I could probably continue this dialog a few more times around (depending on the ex-boyfriend we’re talking about) and it would be more or less accurate. To be fair, this hasn’t happened with every guy she’s dated, and she is not a perpetual monogamist either. But the last few serious relationships have slowly stuttered out of existence in this manner.

I’ve taken the understanding path: “I’m so sorry hon, I know how difficult the end of a relationship is and I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

I’ve taken the angry path: “I’m sorry friend, but are you fucking kidding me? You know the definition of insanity, right?”

I’ve taken the ‘I’m not your mom but I don’t approve’ path: “You’re an adult and can make your own decisions, but I’m disappointed.” [Stole that one directly from Mama Brown’s playbook, thanks ma!]

What shits me the most about the whole thing is that I know this woman better than almost anyone in the world. I know she is smart, and tough, and doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit. Unless she’s in love with him. Then it’s a bullshit free-for-all, and she rolls around in it until she can’t breathe, then stands up and shouts, “Hit me again, Johnny!”

And the only thing I can think to tell her is all the trite crap you can read in “It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken” and “He’s Just Not That Into You” and all the other books that have been published to pry money out of the hands of heartbroken women everywhere. “If it didn’t work then, it won’t work now” and “People don’t ever really change that drastically” and “They’re always on their best behavior for the first six months, then you find out who they really are. That means this is who he really is, and it sounds like he sucks.”

Unfortunately, despite her sass and her mental toughness, her fatal flaw is blinding herself to the realities of the person she has fallen in love with. As someone who loves her, this is infuriating and difficult to cope with.

So when I heard (not directly from her, of course, at this point I think she probably knew I would hit the roof) that after months of finally being free from the last one, she was back with him, I hit her with both the angry and the Mom responses, then stormed over to my blog and laid this out.

Men

So here’s my final word to both my dear friend and anyone else who reads this blog looking for love advice: Loving someone does not mean you need to blind yourself to their faults. Loving someone means you put their needs first, and that they should put yours first. And if at any point that other person puts him/herself and his/her own bullshit before you, loving them is not a good enough excuse to stay. You deserve more, and it is out there, if you can stop holding onto the past and can look forward.

your ex

The Click

The evolution of my interpersonal relationships has been a varied one – from a painfully shy young childhood to an ever-increasing social adeptness that some might call “charm” (if you were trying to pay me a compliment) as I became an adult. The formulation of friendships in the early years was rooted nearly entirely in a quick emotional connection with a classmate or neighborhood kid, generally because I rarely said more than two words to stranger unless pressed until I reached the age of seven. As my shyness wore off and my social skills increased, friendships slowly evolved out of that sphere and were based on shallower foundations – popularity, prettiness, being in the same social group in high school. I never subscribed too much to the popularity pressures, but they changed the way my relationships formed nonetheless.

And so my relationships with my fellow species evolved to the point where “the click,” which had been the basis of my younger year friendships, became more and more rare as I grew older.

You’ve probably heard it said before, “Oh we met and just clicked.” And that’s how it goes: Two people meet each other, and after the initial friction of making room for a new personality in one’s life (masked by clever one-liners and a few too many beers), they find out if they “click.” I think the click means that two souls align on some fundamental level that cannot be explained by science or reason.

The click isn’t just a romantic one – best friends are formed by the click, family members are confused when they don’t click (it’s actually pretty rare that they ever do), colleagues are expedited into friends in a very short span of time thanks to the click. It’s different than forming a new friendship through what would considered “work,” coffee dates or post-work beers repeated often enough that an acquaintanceship tentatively and slowly steps toward friendship. It’s a few meetings like that, or sometimes even one, and then it happens. You click.

I have made some good friends out here in this past year in Australia, but clicks have been rare (as they have been more and more in my adult life). Many of the friendships I started were of the “work” variety – friend dates, setups from mutual friends, repeated exposure until we knew enough about each other to be considered friends. By no means am I discounting this type of friendship, it’s just a valuable as the click – but it is nice to be able to bypass that once in a while.

It’s a sudden recognition, a feeling of “oh I found you,” but you weren’t even really looking. Something that makes you realize you aren’t alone, because you have found another one of your kind. That thrilling feeling when you reveal the unpolished bits of yourself and are met with delight instead of repulsion. When silences aren’t awkward, when you know they’ll “get” your joke when someone else definitely would not. People who believe in reincarnation believe that it’s one soul finding another soul that had been important to them in a past life. I’m not sure about all that, but I definitely am sure of the click.
Friendship

Friends

 

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