We are on our way to Hanoi, Vietnam for our first time in Asia. We had an awesome get together at Ben's the day before, and leaving everyone was bittersweet. We were all part of a Pre 1970s car and Harley club called the Bomb Squad in the 90s and early 2000s. It was some of the best times in our lives, but as life happens, we don't get to see each other as much as we used to. So getting together so many of the members of the club together for our going away party was extra special.
Los Angeles and The Crowne Plaza Hotel
Our friend Ben took us to LAX airport in Los Angeles, and we checked into our room at the Crowne Plaza on our way to our first time in Asia. The room at LAX was great! We ate at the hotel restaurant and had a wonderful dinner. As we sat there in the restaurant, there was a group of 3 middle-aged to 60s women with 3 teenagers eating near us. I am not sure of the age of the women due to plastic surgery. Each woman appeared to have a stretched face, blonde, and for all intents and purposes we immediately dubbed them with nicknames.
Our friend Ben took us to LAX airport in Los Angeles, and we checked into our room at the Crowne Plaza on our way to our first time in Asia. We had an awesome get together at Ben's the day before, and leaving everyone was bittersweet. The room at LAX was great! We ate at the hotel restaurant and had a wonderful dinner. As we sat there in the restaurant, there was a group of 3 middle-aged to 60s women with 3 teenagers eating near us. I am not sure of the age of the women due to plastic surgery. Each woman appeared to have a stretched face, blonde, and for all intents and purposes we immediately dubbed them with nicknames.
LA Woman - must have been an aunt to the teenagers or family friend. Fake lips, pulled back face, blonde (of course) and very LA!
Flashdance- was the mother of two of the teenagers. She was much the same as LA Woman, but was wearing bangles (which I Shelly tells me are another name for bracelets) and looked as if she was going clubbing tonight from her sparkled dress and over-use of makeup.
Pill Popper - was a woman who was nervously trying to leave, even using the excuse she needed to get back to her room to get to sleep... it was 6:15pm. We can only assume she needed a fix.
Daughter - was an 18-year-old who just spent the whole weekend "doing" homecoming, and was overweight and I can only assume had low self-esteem being the daughter of flashdance.
The Son - was simply wishing he wasn't there. He sat there saying very little and appeared bored.
Realizing the Difference Between the US and Vietnam
So the group sat and talked loudly and boisterously about their life, and money, and money, and money, and how they looked, etc. I couldn't help but feel how different my life around me would be in 24-48 hours. How we go from the "real housewives of LAX" to people who have never seen fake lips, let alone have them. It was a departure from commercialism to socialism. A strange separation of cultures and beliefs, yet a fitting bon voyage for our people watching extravaganza that was about to ensue.
Flight to China -First Time In Asia
In the AM we took the shuttle to the airport, and arrived in time to check in and get on the plane with only minimal rushing. We stuffed Buddha under the seat in front of us and settled in for a long flight. Buddha did great with no problems whatsoever. One interesting thing is how much food they give you on an international flight to Asia. We flew on China Eastern, and they served us lunch and dinner. We mostly slept on the plane ride, it was nice. Another interesting point. Chinese people are very quiet when they fly. Not like many flights where constant talking and babies crying make it miserable. No.... quiet and polite.
We arrived in Shanghai, China and had some time to hang out. We actually got stamped an immigration visa (not sure for how long) and as we walked passed customs, there was no one there. We walked outside on China soil without so much as even a hitch! Weird! You would think all the things you hear about China, we would see armed troops at the airport etc... but nothing like that. Few policemen, but all were extremely helpful and kind. We went outside and to our surprise, Buddha hadn't peed or pooped in his bag after sitting for 15 hours or more in a bag.
He got out and did his thing in some nice grass, and we decided to get something to eat. We found a food court, with a KFC. I guess commercialism spreads everywhere. We opted for Kung Fu.
Kung Fu is a fast food Chinese place that had Bruce Lee's picture as the mascot. It was alright however we should have went to KFC. My dish of chicken had a strange hue of grey to it and tasted marginally better than it looked. We sat there people watching, relaxing, wondering how everything has been so effortless, and we decided to get back to the third floor where our next flight to Hanoi departed. We go to the equivalent of the TSA line and when we took Buddha out... all ease of travel flew out the window.
Problems in China
After some mild hysteria by some of the women at the x-ray when we took Buddha out of his bag, the TSA person said that we needed to wait, and they went to China Eastern and asked if we could bring a dog on board. They said no. So we sat there while everyone around us got on walkie talkies and they told us that we needed to go talk to a supervisor about bringing the dog in the cabin. Apparently China Eastern isn't so pet friendly. They didn't know or ask about Buddha on the first flight from the USA, and we carried him on without a hitch. In China however, not so easy. We kind-of realized he would be an issue at some point and here it is.
So 1 hour before our plane departs we are escorted back through security, and immigration and back to the ticketing counter where a supervisor (who spoke pretty fair english) worked on our behalf. We showed him all documentations for the dog including his international health certificate, and service dog registry paperwork. We spent 50 dollars for a hologrammed certificate from www.unitedstatesservicedogregistry.com. He even has a patch and id card. We showed all the paperwork and the supervisor realized at this point that he was a service dog. We said we were nurses and he helps us, and we were going to Vietnam and didn't have visas for china.
10pm rolls up on us, and our plane leaves in 20 min. We still would have to get through security, and it appeared we were going to spend the night in the terminal, or hotel or something. We asked if our luggage would be retrieved (3 checked in) and were pretty much looked over on a response every time. I had a feeling our bags were on their way to Hanoi while we were staying in Shanghai. All of a sudden, at 10:05pm we get the ok and a guy says "RUN with me to the gate".
Running to Catch Our Flight
With two bags each.. Shelly and I hoofed it in flip-flop glory to the immigration station and made it through in 2 minutes. We then rushed to the "TSA" checkpoint where a different crew from the original ones who checked us in an hour previous was standing. One of these guys had an issue when I took the dog out and had to go talk to his supervisor. Meanwhile the Flight crew were yelling at him about already going through this whole shebang and within a few minutes.... we get the green light. Out of breath and hearts pounding, we hop a shuttle bus, to our plane on the runway, 5 minutes away. We boarded the plane at 10:20pm and took off at 10:30pm. AMAZING!!!
Flying to Vietnam and Getting Situated
Shelly and I just looked at each other as we often do, knowing what the other is thinking, and we chuckled. We made it!!!!
We arrived at Hanoi, and again had no customs, just immigration, and we hopped a dubious taxicab to the TAY HO district where my buddy Scott and his Fiancee Ashley live. We found a great studio apartment for approx $50 dollars a day. Its called the Golden Lodge and Resort and I think technically it's not a hotel, as much as an all-inclusive resort. They wanted us to book a week, but we haggled them down to staying 3 days which is fine with us. It's nice and clean (although has a strange musty smell at times) and has a pool out our deck. We have wi-fi (although limited) and will try to get some sleep (although we pretty much slept the last 20 hours off and on)
We will go explore a little today, maybe get a cell phone while we are at it, and make some calls to Scott and Ashley. Tomorrow we have an appointment with someone I met on Lonely Planet, that will hopefully give us some good information on getting mopeds in Vietnam, so we can really start exploring. All in all a great day! Things went as planned.. even after a hitch or two slowed us down. However, we are here, safe and happy!!!
Change In Perspective
Remembering LA and the Crown Plaza dinner where we listened to the materialistic family talk about money for a couple hours really hit home once landing in Hanoi, Vietnam. There is a simple way of life that is more genuine. Appearances aren't as important, money is tight and not a topic of conversation and people are easier to talk to. Our perspective on life and the important things have shifted. We have changed our perspective on what constitutes good food, how to interact with people who don't speak your language and how simple things like phone service can be a challenge to procure. We aren't pegged to facebook all day wondering what everyone else is doing. We aren't glued to a television every night watching reruns of pointless shows. We are living life! This is a huge perspective change and it has been spurred on by being is a place so foreign that almost nothing is the same. It has ripped us out of our comfort zone and forced us to change how we see things. We are definitely excited for Asia