Eating Veggie in Vietnam

“You can’t really eat the pho here if you’re vegetarian. You can ask to have the meat taken out but it’s the base for the broth too.”

Not really what I wanted to hear at the beginning of a month long stay in Vietnam. I know you often need to alter your expectations whilst travelling but as a self confessed, long-term strict veggie, eating meat broth is just not something that I would choose to consider and I had definitely been looking forward to trying pho!

I was grateful for the information though and my fellow veggie traveller didn’t just tell me what to avoid. She also ended up giving me loads of tips on places I could get veggie food.

Turns out it’s not so hard to eat vegetarian in Vietnam. Here are the best options I found as a veggie:

  1. Vegetarian/Vegan Cafes and Restaurants – After being confined to one page of the menu for so long, Veggie or Vegan restaurants can feel amazing, wherever you are! In Hanoi I was lucky to find a few, most notably Minh Chay and Om Hanoi: Yoga & Cafe (Former Zenith Yoga II). These places had some tasty dishes although they could stretch your budget slightly. If you can find a local Buddhist restaurant this is also a great way to enjoy a variety of meat free dishes at local prices. Most of the great veggie places I learned about here in Vietnam were from word of mouth. In Hanoi, there was the girl in my hostel and I also find that the hostel staff can often help. Failing that, you can try searching the internet or Happy Cow. Sometimes places can be a little further afield but as a special treat, I found that it was completely worth the walk.
  2. Restaurants with Vegetarian Menus – I found that most restaurants with menus have a vegetarian section or at least a few options with vegetables and tofu. Some restaurants will provide a completely separate vegetarian menu. Eating in restaurants might cause you to spend a bit more money but for ease and peace of mind, it is a great option.
  3. Request Veggie or Vegan Food – After hearing about the potential difficulties with eating veggie in Vietnam, I realised I needed a way to communicate clearly when ordering food. If the language barrier is an issue and you want to eat somewhere where a veggie menu doesn’t exist, try showing the restaurant a short note in Vietnamese. I asked one of the staff members at my hostel to do this for me and they simply wrote that I couldn’t eat meat, fish or fish sauce but that egg was okay. This note has become my safety net when ordering food here in Vietnam.
  4. Try the Food Markets – In Hoi An we were lucky enough to find out about the food market at the end of the old town. This market sells freshly cooked Vietnamese food for a fraction of what you pay in a restaurant and served some of the most delicious veggie food I have tasted!

I am now three weeks into my time here in Vietnam and I will update my posts with future veggie finds!

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Tasty pho in Minh Chay Vegan Restaurant

Home: Before and After the Summer

What is home?
A place where you can feel comfortable and at ease.
Feel safe
Feel supported, feel close to people.
Be part of a community
Feel challenged, entertained, engaged

Where is home?

No home?

It’s where you make it?

 

When I came back to my hometown after being away for a year, it was pretty much how I knew it was going to be. I had anticipated it would be a struggle: I was returning in the winter, I had nowhere to live so was staying in my mum’s living room, I no longer had a car and I needed to find a new job. All of this, I found, was bearable though. What I had not anticipated was the immeasurable distance that I would feel.

I had not been happy about leaving Australia and while I did want to see my family, I did not really want to be coming back to the same place. It was the easiest and most sensible option, I told myself. I can save some money, spend time with my family and plan my next moves for the future.

When people describe returning home after travelling, they often say things like “everything else is still exactly the same but you feel completely different”. This suggested to me that relationships would not change – at least not in the sense of the way others behaved towards me. Alternatively, I have heard people say that – with varying degrees of ease – they managed to just slip back into old routines when they returned home. Some people seem to find this takes a number of months, whereas other people say that for the first few weeks it’s fine but after that, they begin to get restless.

Personally, I found that I experienced neither of these. I returned home and things did feel different. Maybe this was because I had changed and therefore felt different but I honestly did feel like things had changed. I could now see the lives that people had lead without me – I still can – and this lead me to feel as if they were far away, or maybe I was the one who felt far away but which ever way I looked at it, I felt distance. Yet I was the one who had chosen to go away and was reluctant to return to the place I had called ‘home’. I am the person who still feels the need to leave, to find new places, meet new people – I suppose to build a new home?

To some extent I still feel this distance now. I guess long term travel is a test of any relationship but I have learned that I can still reach out and those people who still want to, will reciprocate. This has helped me to get through my time being back here and has also shown me that although you may return to a place for the people, their lives will inevitably continue without you.

 

Yet I still feel that I am wrenching myself away…

I am now in a position where I have been back for almost a year. I have transitioned through many emotional phases since returning but ultimately I have stuck to my original plan and in a few weeks I will be travelling again. I should probably feel excited but I have so many mixed emotions and thoughts going through my mind. I am going to miss my family so much and honestly, I don’t really want to leave them again. Flying off by myself to other countries can feel intimidating, even if I have done this once before. I have now had time to feel stability again, security and familiarity. I have climbed back into my old-new cocoon and I can’t deny that in a way it feels good and safe.

I question myself – I know too well that once an end is in sight, it is so easy to begin to ignore the negatives that drove you to make this change in the first place. In a way, it feels that it has taken me this long to begin to feel at home again but maybe I feel truly at home because I am following the path I have set out for myself.

Yet I can’t help but feel emotional, thinking about what I am leaving and apprehensive about the uncertainty of the future. I remind myself that change is good, that stretching myself is necessary and I hope that time proves that this journey is worth the “risk”.

I write because…

I write because it is a way of sharing my experiences, of preserving them in some way so that they are never lost?

I write because it is a way of expressing myself, particularly those feelings that completely overcome me, that make me feel alive or are completely new. Those feelings that I can’t and don’t want to forget or maybe that I wish I could but yet I just can’t seem to let them go.

At times I have worried that by writing about and sharing these experiences I am somehow ‘exorcising’ them and that this means they may be lost forever – the feelings I experienced gone and banished from my emotional memory. While this may be a healthy process for moving on from negative experiences, there are some times that I enjoy remembering and as the feelings rush back, it makes me feel alive again and it’s almost as if I am there.

I write because it helps me to make sense of my experiences but in this process are my memories lost to the page? There are some experiences that I had such a strong urge to share and I carried them with me until I found the motivation to set up my blog. Once I had poured my encounters into my words, I found that I struggled to recollect them in the same way. I could no longer be transported back to the streets of Paris, I had forfeited my emotional memory in my bid to share my experiences.

I write because it helps me to make sense of my experiences but are some feelings better left a mystery? By writing I am choosing to clarify the situation, I must decide on the words to express my meaning but by doing this I run the risk of choosing the wrong word. Could this skew my memory and manipulate my experience into something that it was not? Are some experiences better left free to survive with their blurry edges, without being pinned down by words and redefined by the clarity of our current perception of our memory? Do we risk turning our experience into something different by attaching words that don’t belong? How much is the way we present our experiences influenced by what we believe will sound better to our audience?

I want to share my experiences but I don’t want to lose the feelings that these experiences gave me. I seek clarity and definition yet I don’t want to sacrifice the raw emotion or initial experience. This has made me slightly wary and has made me question what to share and what to nurture. Yet I had the desire to share and I do not doubt that I will feel this again. I really hope that my emotional memories survive regardless of this. I also hope that the two can exist synonymously.


 

This morning I went back and read my piece about Paris. I found myself reminded of so many aspects of the trip that I had ‘forgotten’ and now with a little effort, my emotional memory can also manage to muster up the feelings evoked while I was there.

Reading my first attempt at explaining why I write makes me realise that I have focussed quite heavily on the negative. I write because I want to share my experiences and thoughts – I do not see this as a bad thing – quite the opposite.

There is still a slight fear of ‘losing’ something to the page but when I think about it, I know that as time moves on and our lives continue, we can often lose sight of ideas that were once so clear. Memories can be misplaced, regardless of whether we have recorded them or not and in this sense, the writing can be a reminder.

I carried those memories so close to me, partly because I needed to and partly because I was waiting to share them. I have described them with as much loyalty to my perception as I could and looking back, I think this acts as a happy reminder.

COPE

“Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history?”
I stared across at my newest travel companions with wide eyes. “Really?”
“Yeah, I know, we didn’t realise either but during the Vietnam war the US dropped millions of cluster bombs and a lot of them didn’t explode so now someone can just be walking along, through a field or something and all of a sudden – bang – they get blown up…”
I turned my gaze over to the outside area of the bar. “That’s insane.”
“People don’t always die from it though, some people lose their arm or their leg.”
“That’s horrible.” I stared off into nothing again.
“I know,” my new friend continued. “- and the worst thing is, it happens mostly to kids.”

After hearing this information, I knew that I needed to learn more. I read about the COPE Visitor Centre on my way to Vientiane and with less than two days to spare, I decided to make it my first priority. I settled in at the hostel, found somewhere to buy veggie food and traced my steps to Khou Vieng Road from Google maps.

COPE is a local not-for-profit organisation helping to provide practical support and rehabilitation services to UXO survivors and people with disabilities. The Visitor Centre provides an insight into the on-going UXO problem and the consequences for the people of Laos.

What is UXO?

Unexploded Ordnance are explosive weapons that did not detonate as intended and therefore still pose a current risk of explosion. According to Legacies of War “about one third of Laos remains contaminated with UXO left behind from the Vietnam War”.

I had already learned from my friend that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history but the information I discovered at Legacies of war really helped to consolidate the reality of this: “From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years…” and it is estimated that “up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode”.

I could scarcely begin to imagine the tragedy and destruction that this has caused but I attempted to understand more at the Centre. I spent about fifteen minutes watching an interview with a mother whose child had died because of an unexploded cluster bomb. The pain, despair and grief was clear in her eyes and I felt my own eyes welling up as I struggled to make sense of the blurry scene before me.

I found much of the information and scenarios that were being presented to me both utterly tragic and disturbingly perverse. One particularly sobering fact that I learned here was that despite the potential risks involved, many young men actively seek the empty bomb shells, as the financial rewards for these materials are seen as invaluable.

Yet as I wondered around the exhibit I was also dumbfounded by the resilience and sense of hope and survival that I was faced with. There were stories of UXO survivors – of all ages – people smiling, playing sports and continuing with their lives. The picture featured in this blog is also a symbol of this inherent need to survive; a collection of old make-shift limbs that people were using before COPE offered them an alternative.

The situation that has been inflicted upon the people of Laos is an on-going tragedy but COPE is helping to improve people’s circumstances in spite of this. As well as providing a number of services to UXO survivors, COPE also supports the Cluster Munition Coalition’s initiative to ban cluster bombs.

If you are planning on visiting the Laos capital of Vientiane, I would definitely recommend that you include the COPE Visitor Centre in your itinerary.

To read more about COPE’s work, please visit their website, where you can also learn more about the initiative to ban cluster bombs, opportunities for fundraising and how to make a donation to COPE.

 

Sources:-
copelaos.org, About Cope
legaciesofwar.org, Leftover Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)
legaciesofwar.org, Secret War in Laos

 

 

Life in Brisbane

West End
A hostel with no reception
The vegan cafe round the corner
Some Rooms, community
Jacaranda right across from the front door, so much purple
Balcony doors, washing on the line, possums on the balcony
Hot days, Balmy nights
Possums in the room… eating bananas!
Storms, walking home in the rain
Balcony doors open, thunder and lightning
Heat, but so much rain, balcony doors closed.
So much sunshine! Blue skies, Beautiful sunsets
Two minute walk to the supermarket
People on the street corner
Shock at cold nights and short days in the Winter
Free live music every weekend
The Motor Room
Live jazz on a Monday!
Boundary Street Markets
All night buses
So much food, so many restaurants, so much choice
$5 Dominos
Room sharing, so many faces, new friends, different languages
The River…
South Bank: flowers, walkways, buskers, performers, live music, water, lights, markets, walking
Job hunting – and ‘failing’, almost giving up
Sitting on the bed, snacking, laptop, sleep
Volunteering then temping, saving money
Nights out, crazy dancing, visiting friends, forming bonds, finding support
Roots beginning to grow?
Salsa, Yoga, Italian ice-cream, more walking
Decisions.
Hasty goodbyes, the only way to leave

 

There are so many images and sensations from my time spent in Brisbane, so many experiences sandwiched into a short space of time. So many relationships, however fleeting, that I struggle to place my feelings into words. Maybe it is not right to place the feelings into words, or maybe I am not ready. Maybe I am still continuing this journey, still deciding. Still experiencing and still holding something tangible that lives on to me.


 

I’m not sure if it comes across in my enthusiasm for all the memories, but the first thing that attracted me to Brisbane and West End was the chilled out and friendly vibe. West End has a liveliness and buzz, whilst being relaxed and laid back.

The Present Moment

Today I was thinking: why do I love travelling?

Aside from the obvious – discoveries of new places, people and culture – I think it is because travelling makes you live in the present moment. It allows you to appreciate the feeling of existing for no serious reason other than to exist.

You don’t have to worry about responsibilities or obligations, yet you can feel safe in the knowledge that you have a purpose – and that purpose is to exist and to experience. To simply soak up your surroundings and embrace the fact that you are here, and if you start to feel like you are wasting time, you can move on.

Travelling has challenged me in numerous ways, causing me to achieve things I had doubted I was capable of. It has made me try things that I consequently loved, but was initially almost too scared to even contemplate.

These moments are clearly pivotal and a crucial part of my travelling experience, but whilst I am quickly approaching a time when my return to the daily grind looms and I think to myself ‘why do I love travelling?’, I am still reminded of that incomparable feeling of simply existing.