Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Independence Day, Vietnam style

Today is Reunification Day, or something of the sort.  Basically, marks the day that Saigon fell, so it's somewhat like July 4th in the states.  It's a little weird being in Vietnam, as an American Vietkieu, on this day, but at the same time, everyone treats it like just another holiday and they go out and get drinks. 
To mark the day, I decided to take a 6 hour trip down to the delta.  No, it does not usually take 6 hours.  Yes, it usually only takes 2.5 hours.  And yes, I am being sarcastic when I say it's how I celebrated the day.  It just happened that the day I wanted to go down to the delta for one last visit with the family was a major holiday, one of the buses broke down, and it was pouring rain.  Just my luck.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Come back here, you little thief!

So, an update on the unsuccessful thief who took away my sense of security. Turns out that the day after he tried to take my cell phone, he approached a friend of mine at 4:30 in the afternoon, trying to take her laptop. Thankfully, he was unsuccessful.

Oh no, but our little thief doesn't stop there. A mere 2 hours later he approached the same girl, trying to steal her headphones. Yeah, same day, same girl. Again, unsuccessful. You'd think that if you were going to be a thief, you'd learn to be a good one.


So, I've changed the colors again because the previous colors were giving me a headache (and I thought perhaps it was giving my loyal reader a headache as well). Enjoy! Hopefully this one will last more than a week.

How's the weather?

I just checked the weather in the various cities I have lived in, am currently living in, and will live in and here's the run down:

  • Vellore, India - Reached 100 degrees last week and staying there for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, I got out of dodge.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Hovering around 90 degrees for the rest of the week. Very doable, considering I have air conditioning! However, rain is likely for the rest of my time here, which puts a big crimp on my plans to gorge myself on all the street food in this city.
  • San Ramon, CA - High 60's and low 70's recently, sounds like paradise.
  • Boston, MA - 60's all around, a bit cold, but I can handle it.
So, in less than one week, I will be back to the states (and a climate where I don't feel the need to change my clothes after being outside for 10 minutes).

One funny story: I spoke to my dad today and asked if he was going to be at the airport to pick me up when I arrive and he said yeah. Then, he asked, "what would you like to eat?". I love it - he's planning my meal a week in advance! I think that's proof that he knows me well (and loves me lots).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Xin Chao!

I am back in Vietnam and boy, does it feel good! Never before did it make so much sense and never before did I think it was so clean!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bye, bye, bye

I leave India tonight and it's a little bittersweet.  I have to admit that I didn't enjoy my time in India as much as I thought I would, but I definitely have some great memories and met some great people.  But, I am excited to be going back to Vietnam, where I can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables (cholera be damned!) and enjoy food that doesn't make my mouth burn for hours after the meal.  More so, I am excited for returning to the states.  It's been close to 15 weeks now and I can't believe that I have been gone this long.  However, I know that once I return, I will have to face the real world and my perpetual to-do lists will undoubtedly expand and grow. 

I'm in Chennai/Madras for the day and spending the day shopping and buying souvenirs for people.  My itinerary is that I fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then back to Saigon! 

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Yesterday, just as I had finished a 5 hour stretch at the computer lab, I was heading back to the hostel when a kid approached me and asked for the time. I told him it was 2 o'clock, but he feigned no English (that's when I should have been suspicious... I even held up two fingers). So, I showed him my cell phone - but just as I was doing so, I remembered that a few weeks ago, a couple of Australian girls got their cell phones stolen by a kid asking for the time, so I made sure I was holding on tight. Expectedly, he grabbed the top of my flip phone, but didn't get it out of my hands, then looked at me in the eyes with bewilderment, thinking, "what do I do now?" So, then he walked away and, for some unknown reason, I followed him. When he realized I was following him, he ran. Being my gimp self (I have stopped using my brace on a daily basis, but still am limping and stairs pose a challenge), I could give chase. Of course, there was not a soul in sight.
So, I told the woman who works at the hostel and she got all furious and grabbed the closest security guard (they're all around campus when you don't need them and never there when you need them!) and told the story to him in Tamil. Then, she marched over the the main security post and told them. The result: today on my way to the computer lab, there are about a half dozen guys (presumably working for security) in the courtyard where it all went down yesterday. Like that doesn't scare the kid off.
I am a little shaken from the thing, not because I was ever in physical harm (the kid was so skinny, I felt like I could take him, even with my defunct knee), but because I felt violated. Since I have been in India, everyone has been so nice and I have never felt like I was in harm's way (other than walking on the street, where any type of vehicle or animal may run into you). So, when something like this happens, on campus and in a campus building, nonetheless, I feel like my little bubble of security has been burst. This morning, I saw a teenage boy on a bike and immediately held my purse tighter, and I hate that I did that. I hate that the kid yesterday has done this to me.
Needless to say, I am much more cautious about security now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hypochondriasis, part deux

So, my aunt sent me an email today informing me of an outbreak of diarrhea in Vietnam and that I should avoid fresh vegetables (which, admittedly, is very hard for me to do). I googled it, of course, and found out that there is an outbreak of cholera throughout Vietnam. Now, it has been thinking, did I have cholera? It's a good thing I took antibiotics and am a healthy adult. I semi-seriously thought that I would just die on the toilet that day.
Ah, just another episode of retro-hypochondriasis.


U.S. News and World Report just put out a new report (gasp!  the shock!), this time about careers and the most overrated careers.  I am sad to report that being a physician is one of them.  I would beg to differ, or at least I hope I have enough gusto to differ, since it is my chosen career (and I have yet to technically start it).  And some of their argument is that you sometimes see patients die, as though you can help them get better, but if they die, oh gosh, run for the hills!
Their alternative?  Physician Assistant.  What do you guys think?
On the other hand, they say landscape architect is one of the hot careers, which is a good sign for my friend, Margaret! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Going back to Massachusetts

As I'm doing my project at the computer lab (which is pretty boring and uncomfortable - these chairs are definitely not meant to be sat in for hours on end), I am listening to my iPod and the BeeGees song, "Massachusetts" came on (yes, I have terrible taste in music).  I was just reminded that, yes, I am graduating soon.  Yes, I am going home soon.  I'm homesick.  After so many months on the road, I just want somewhere to rest my head for more than a few weeks at a time. 
But where is home?  I don't know, really.  It's not in Boston, where I have friends, but nothing material to keep me there.  It's not at my parents' house (though I know they would like it to be).  It's not in San Jose, because, although that will soon be my home, I don't exactly have one yet.  It's not in Vietnam, where I have spent the most time this year thus far.  And it's certainly not in India, where I feel like I am just an interloper and am soon leaving.  So, technically I have no home to go back to, but definitely looking forward to one.  I even bought a bedspread here... for a queen-size bed (as one of my friends, Margaret, says - you're a true adult when you finally get a queen-size bed).


I was looking at my feet yesterday (which, oddly enough, I don't do very often here in India... maybe because my bad knees?) and realized that I have never had such calloused feet. Seriously. There are scales. And dry. And pretty nasty. I guess that's what you get when you wear flip flops or crocs all the time and periodicaly walk around barefoot in the temples (which are always burning hot - and I am the only one running from one shady spot to another).

Definitely adding pedicure to the things I'm looking forward to in Vietnam.


I've changed the color scheme of the blog! Tell me how you like it, and if you don't, suggest some new changes!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Get moving!

I've been sitting at the computer for an hour now, and have done a minute's worth of real work. Why can't I get moving? Why is procrastination so easy?!

Pondicherry = paradise

I am convinced that the meaning of the word, "Pondicherry" is Paradise. I went to Pondicherry over the weekend and it was absolutely wonderful. It was a beautiful reprieve from the hectic, small town life of Vellore.
What I love about Pondicherry:
  • The food - fresh seafood, plain seasonings, and non-spicy! What else could a girl's stomach ask for?
  • Walking - it's possible here! Granted, there is still a risk you'll be hit by a car/rickshaw/tuk-tuk/motorbike/bike, but hey, it's much better than in the city, where you're navigating between those vehicles and the open sewers. Too far on one side and you're sh*t out of luck, literally.
  • Cleanliness - no open sewers (well, except for the "covered canal" that runs through the city), no huge trash piles in the middle of the sidewalk, and not that much litter. It's wonderful!
  • The beach - no swimming, but absolutely beautiful. And the promenade is full of people at night, with lots of good energy.
  • The shopping - I bought four pairs of earrings and a bedspread. Great prices, beautiful work, and lots of little boutique-like shops makes for a wonderful shopping experience.
  • I could wear a sundress!
We stayed at 31 Dumas Street, about two blocks from the beach and walkable to everything. Tiny little boutique guest house which set us back 1,000 Rupees for 3 people - which is not bad at all, but I'm guessing that if we bargained, we could have gotten a better price.
Yeah, I miss Pondicherry already.

Walking down the catwalk

When I travel, I usually bring my grubbiest, plainest, ugliest clothing so that if I lose it, tear it, or just run out of room in my luggage, I won't be heartbroken. However, this always results in pictures of me in front of beautiful scenery wearing the grubbiest, plainest, and ugliest clothing in my closet. However, that has changed with India, where I have to buy all new clothing to wear because it's still a very conservative community, especially in Vellore (which is large enough to be crowded and noisy and polluted, but small enough to feel like I am tucked away from civilization).
So, instead of wearing the grubbiest, plainest, and ugliest clothing I own, I'm wearing the largest, plainest, and cheapest clothing I have ever owned. Women here wear these large tunics, sometimes going down to my knees, and baggy pants with these annoying drawstrings that, if held up against my body, I look like Jared of the Subway commercials holding up his pre-going-to-fast-food-for-every-meal diet. I promise to post up pictures of my wearing the outfits and holding up the pants. But it's seriously quite an outfit and is supposed to hide every curve that a woman has. Which I find ironic because a sari is pretty revealing given that the midriff is bare and it's held together with a few safety pins.
To add to the beautiful fashions I have been wearing on the street, I can wear them in the operating room! In the community hospital, I can wear street clothes into the operating room (which is very questionable, considering how dirty my clothes can get with sweat, dirt, and who knows what else by the afternoon). In the teaching hospital, I can wear scrubs that are made like the large tunics. You could easily fit two of me into these tunics. They're seriously one size fits all, even if it means that the woman wearing the outfit is completely outsized by her clothing. Not to mention they're not very suitable for the OR because it's very hard to maneuver around sterile trays when you are wearing a tent.
So, that's my bit on fashion here. I can't wait to wear a sundress again. Or a tank top outside of my room. Ah, the little things in life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Village Visits

A few days ago, I spent the day with the mobile clinic associated with the hospital that I'm working at in Vellore, India. They go to several villages in a day, put a table under a big tree, and play doctor. It's actually pretty cool and you get to see the patients in their own village, which is sometimes only 10 kilometers away, but takes about an hour to get there because the roads are so crappy.
Also part of the day, I went on a home visit with an intern. The home was a bare building, made out of brick and mud. The entire building measured maybe 10 feet by 20 feet and was divided into three rooms, one of which was the kitchen. Somehow, and I don't know how, 3 generations of one family lived there. All of this was in the middle of plots of farmland, growing rice and some other crops that I didn't recognize. They didn't seem absurdly poor, but it was still very eye-opening, and no longer will I complain about my room because it doesn't have air conditioning.
The day also opened my eyes to the possibility that I really could do this - real global community medicine. Before this, I was doubting my ability to really rough it and be able to really put myself out there. Then, today, I saw how much it is needed and more so, how much it is appreciated. I mean, I am beyond privileged to be able to help others in a way that really makes an impact. So, I'm thinking, yeah, I can do this. Yeah, I can learn to read and write Vietnamese (and speak it medically) well enough to really help my patients in California as well as in Vietnam. Or maybe I'm just being my delusional idealistic self.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Food cravings

People who know me know that I love to eat. I will try almost anything and will probably like it. So, I am sad to report that I am experiencing something completely foreign in India - I just don't feel like eating. The other day, I ordered food from the college canteen (pictures to come after I get back to the states... I can't be bothered to figure out how to do it here) and I sat down to eat. I took one look at the food in front of me and didn't feel like eating. Didn't feel like eating. That's like saying the moon decided to fall down to the Earth one day.

So, I think it's for several reasons that I have lost my appetite. First, I was sick all last week with what I have decided was the common flu (sorry, no bird flu or dengue or typhoid or tuberculosis to report), so lost my appetite because of that. Second, the heat makes me less hungry because I can't be bothered to spend energy eating. Third, everything here is so spicy that all I can taste is spicy, spicy, and many cumin seed. Last, the food at the canteen - where I have been having 2-3 meals a day - leaves much to be desired. It's not even really food. It's more a mushy concoction of unrecognizable vegetables with lots of unidentifiable spices with a heaping handful of chili pepper thrown in.

In the end, I think I'm wasting away in India and wonder if I will end up after these four weeks malnourished. At least I'll lose some weight, which I've been wanting to do for years now.

On the food note, I now have a list of foods that I desperately want when I get back to Vietnam:

  • Seafood of any kind - especially steamed clams or crab.
  • Vegetables of any kind - uncooked, or minimally sauteed in oil and garlic.
  • Banh cuon, which is a thin rice paper wrapped around a mushroom/meat filling. One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.
  • Ca kho - a caramaleized salty fish dish that is to die for (and whose description does not do it justice).

I also have a list for when I get back to the states:

  • A huge green salad with a simple vinaigrette.
  • Pizza. Any kind.
  • Hamburger. No, make that a cheeseburger. And fries.
  • Ice cream. Really good ice cream. Breyer's strawberry or Dreyer's Vanilla Bean.

I'm salivating as I'm typing... ah!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Procrastination star!

I have been sitting in the computer lab all afternoon and have accomplished nothing except reading the New York Times, checking Facebook, and printing up my final paper for my Master's in Public Health (completely unedited, just printing it up, so that I feel like I'm doing something with it). Yeah, all in a hard day's work...

Friday, April 11, 2008


So, I'm back from the (almost) dead. I hopped out of bed this morning and didn't feel achy, feverish, or like I was going to hack up a lung or two. I still feel like I'm in that precarious don't-push-it-too-hard-or-you-may-fall-back-down-that-cliff position, but yeah, feeling better! I feel like jumping for joy, but then my knee reminds me that I cannot jump.
So, what's new? Nothing much... I'm reminded that I have tons of stuff to do, including writing my final paper for my Master's in Public Health, writing a rough draft of an article I want to submit for publication, and getting my life in order. Little things, really.
Oh, if anyone knows of any good apartments in the San Jose area, or any tips on how to find a good apartment, email me!

Hard at work...

So, because of my wonderful mysterious illness, I have been to work all of 1.5 days this week. Yeah, 1.5 days. I hate being sick. Oh, and I don't know if I have a fever or not - because it's so hot that I can't tell if it's me burning up or the whole world.
That's it for now. I am going back to bed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Anyone who knows me knows that I can be a bit of a hypochondriac. Seriously. I had recurrent chest pain for a week and convinced myself I was having angina, only to find out I had costochondritis, which is just an inflammation of the cartilage in your ribs. So, after a 5+ hour bus ride to and from Mammallapuram, I have a souvenir that has lasted me 3 days. First, it was the sore throat. Then, the extreme exhaustion (to the point where, after taking a nap and waking up thirsty, I was too tired to roll over and get a drink of water from the water bottle sitting beside my bed). Then, the muscle aches and slight fevers. And now, the sneezing, coughing, and runny nose. I think in the last few days, I convinced myself that I had bird flu, dengue fever, and tuberculosis.
So, that's my long excuse for not updating this blog in the last few days. I apologize, and promise to be better about it, if I am feeling better.
On the other hand, Mammallapuram was wonderful. It's a small beach town just a little south of Chennai and is famous for its temple carvings. It was nice, especially to get out of Vellore, but to tell you the truth, I think Angkor Wat spoiled me in terms of temple carvings and nothing else can compare (much like when people ask if the beaches are nice and I can say they're "ok" because Hawaii has ruined it for me).
Also, I am getting used to living in Vellore. I have yet to really venture into town, which was my goal this week, but I have been so exhausted and lazy. I still have 2+ weeks, so that can wait.
Oh, a note on the wildlife here on the campus - it's amazing. There are bats, a dozen varities of butterflies, another dozen varieties of ants, a mongoose (maybe?), monkeys, many varieties of birds, geckos, lizards, and who knows what else I can't see. It's pretty amazing though. The coolest thing has to be the bats, especially at dusk, when you look up to the sky and you realize the black spots are not birds, but giant bats (wingspan of about 18 inches).
And thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog in email and on the blog... I really appreciate it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Getting lost

So, somehow I manage to fill my days here in India. I have no idea with what. It's a good thing Megan brought me a treasure trove of books when she came to Vietnam, otherwise I would really be bored brainless.
Oh, I delivered my first baby yesterday! It's definitely not the way I thought I would deliver my first baby. It was to a woman with chicken pox and of course I had the proper precautions... not really - all I had was an apron kind of like the ones you imagine butchers wearing. It's pretty scary actually. But yeah, delivered my first baby with the help of a nurse just yelling, "pull up" and I have no idea what she wants me to pull up.
But yeah, enjoying my time in the clinic, especially when it's really busy. Otherwise, it's rather slow and I guess it's a good thing that I walk slow... more like a leisurely stroll kind of pace. That way, I can look at the giant crows that are all around this campus... seriously, they're huge. I thought they would peck my eyes out when I walked in the middle of a group of about 6.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thoughts on India

Some random thoughts on India in the one day that I have been here:
  • People do a head bobbing thing and I can't quite figure out what individual bobs mean. Supposedly, you can tell a yes from a no from a "I am listening, continue talking" but I can't.
  • It is very, very hot and only going to get hotter. Seriously. It's not even worth showering because once you step out, the sweat comes again.
  • I have somehow lost my appetite, which is good for my waistline but bad for my stomach.
  • I live in a commune-like campus, which is weird because I also feel so alone because once I go into my room, there is no noise, no one around, and nothing to do. There are other international students around and I am slowly meeting them, one by one.
Ok, that's it. Better go now. Hopefully I can find my way to the pool.