DAY 1Jul 30 2017
The two-stop, twenty-hour transition to Asia was exhausting, but slightly less so thanks to an early birthday present from the parents. I asked for a relaxing layover by way of a 7 hours stay at the Doha airport hotel and spa. I popped up and down to the lounge for free food and drink, and enjoyed the pool, jacuzzi, hot shower, and soft bed, all without leaving the terminal. Thanks guys!
DAY 3Aug 01 2017
It's only been two days and I'm already in love with Asia and Hanoi. I'm digging the chaos, the humidity, the plastic chair dining establishments, the chilies so hot they make you cry, the daily juices and smoothies, the cheap massages, the random tropical rainstorms, the 23,000-1 exchange rate, the lightning storms as you sleep, and the fact that crossing the road is a near death experience.
The two bedroom that I'm sharing with Tiffany is, by far, the best accommodation I've had yet. We're in a security-guarded elevator building in the middle of the main street-food-street. We each have our own bathroom, a washer/dryer, AC units in every room, and a living room that can easily (and probably at some point will) fit all of Kaizen.
The workspace, Toong, is about a 9 minute walk and is also pretty nice. Most of us are working late, until midnight or 1am, so it's more crowded than past months when we were able to work from a cafe. The barista on the dedicated Remote Year floor serves $1 papaya smoothies and Vietnamese iced coffees all day, so that doesn't suck either. (Update one week in: the smoothies and coffee are now free 👌🏼)
With the jetlag and busy work schedule I haven't had a chance to explore much outside of mealtimes. But holy mealtimes. Yesterday we went to a vegan place and had a 4 course meal and hotpot for $14. Today we took Alex for birthday dinner and ended up attending a Tuesday-only rooftop popup concert at the restaurant where I had mango curry. This month is going to be awesome.
DAY 6Aug 04 2017
It's lunchtime and pouring as I'm sitting on plastic chairs under an overhang waiting for my spring rolls and pho. My workday technically starts in 5 minutes, but I know this establishment will have the food out in 4, and I'm possibly hungry enough to eat in 2.
(Writing pause to eat, the food actually came in 3.)
I had a rough evening last night but couldn't tell if it was exhaustion, heatstroke, anxiety, overcaffeination, homesickness, indigestion, work stress, or the hangover. These days it could be any or all of the above.
The fact that it's Friday should provide some relief, except looking forward I've got every weekend accounted for until... 2018 maybe? (Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Sri Lanka, transition to Thailand, Koh Phangan, Bangkok, Burma, transition to Japan, etc etc). I feel SO INCREDIBLY LUCKY and also SO INCREDIBLY TIRED. It feels like a waste to have a free weekend and the time and resources to explore all the things in the world that I want to explore, and every time I go to a restaurant for a second time or skip an evening out or sleep through a breakfast the guilt is heavy.
Balance is key. Balance is key. Balance is key. Balance is key. Maybe if I say it enough I'll remember it to be true.
With that it's time to start what will be a 10 hour workday. Sprinting home with the lightning directly overhead, and praying that the wifi is up so my 1am finish doesn't become a 3am finish thanks to connectivity issues.
DAY 8Aug 06 2017
Some people for their birthday weekend do dinner or drinks. On Remote Year you get a 36 person, charter bus, two boat booze cruise side trip through Ha Long Bay.
Hạ Long Bay
We boarded the bus early and drove several hours to the city of Ha Long, where we got on a ferry which took us to our junk boat. It was overcast and cool (read: 90) which muted the colors of the bay, but the rock formations were spectacular nonetheless.
We divided into our two fully-Kaizen party boats and cruised through the bay with our feet dangling, music playing, and fresh juice cocktails in hand.
Sound idyllic? It was, mostly. Until we were saddened to realize that Ha Long Bay is basically a dumpster with no section free from trash. We also spent a good amount of time jellyfish spotting, and realized, between the trash and the 15 inch diameter, 5 ft tentacle jellies, that we would not be swimming any time throughout the weekend.
We docked with a bunch of other boats in a cove, got in kayaks, and rowed about through caves, wading through the trash and swatting jellyfish on the head. Sounds gross, and it was, but we had a blast anyway stealing each other's oars, flipping the canoes, and rowing through caves with bats hanging overhead.
After showering the sewage water off, we had dinner and an open bar, and proceeded to drink our faces off, dancing on the roof of the boat until sunrise.
.....which made for an absolutely hellish Sunday, now known as "the one in which Kaizen learns what it feels like to have a hangover on an unmoving boat for 3 hours in 110• direct sun and humidity, followed by a 4 hour bus ride dripping with sweat." If pictures are worth a thousand words, this collection must be worth a million.
But at least we made it home to air conditioning, massages, pizza, an illegal stream of 21 Jumpstreet, and another side trip that I wouldn't trade for anything.
DAY 9Aug 07 2017
Even though my time in Vietnam is extremely limited, it felt wrong not to engage with some of the recent history. I spent every morning this week visiting museums and reading everything I could on the French colonization, Ho Chi Minh, the Civil War, and the Vietnam War.
The most moving was Maison Centeal, the Prison Landmark, which is smack in the middle of the city, about two blocks from a building where 10 Kaizens live. In the 1800's the prison was used by the French to keep Vietnamese rebels. Much of the prison is dedicated to showing the inhumane conditions. For a brief period, the North Vietnamese held the South Vietnamese there as well, but the only evidence of that is one sentence on one placard. A good example of the subtle propaganda of North Vietnam.
A little less subtle was the depictions of the time that Maison Central was used by the Vietnamese to hold American POWs and captured pilots. McCain was held there for a period of time and it was strange to see his pictures on the wall. All of the photos from that time show the Americans laughing and playing basketball and decorating Christmas trees and receiving packages from loved ones. The smiles in the photos seem candid and authentic, but no doubt that is only part (the Vietnamese part) of the story.
The B-52 museum was also pretty incredible. It's just a collection of downed American planes and anti-aircraft missiles lying around in an open lot for you to walk through. You can touch all the planes and bombs and read about where the planes fell (a block from where we just had coffee, around the corner from the workspace, etc etc). Each anti-aircraft device lists how many and which American planes it shot down. Seeing the bombs put into perspective the recent history and have a new appreciation for the liveliness of a city and country that 30 years ago was being rained with artillery.
DAY 12Aug 10 2017
Birthdays are one of my favorite things about Remote Year. Because everyone will have one throughout the year, and planning an average of one per week can be unmanageable, we have a "pass it forward" tradition where the person who comes before you plans yours and you plan the person after you.
I was lucky to have Alex (who happens to be from Hoboken) plan mine, and between him and Daniel they went ALL OUT.
The night of the 8th I had a quiet dinner at a fancy French restaurant, and the night quickly escalated as we went bar hopping along a route Daniel had mapped out, having 69 proof absinthe shots along the way, dancing around Bia Hoi at midnight, and ending with French Fries, foosball, and a water fight.
The next day I was told I had flowers at the workspace, and arrived to a bouquet from my roommate. As I was turning around I noticed there was a sign on the massive floral centerpiece on the table, with birthday wishes from mom and dad! There were at least 6 dozen roses and I had to leave it there because it was physically impossible to carry home. Thank you both for the beautiful surprise.
I was given specific instructions to "dress sexy" and be ready by 7:30, where I was whisked to the Top of Hanoi for drinks with half of Kaizen and some spectacular views. Alex fed everyone shots all evening, and came out with the biggest, most inappropriate birthday cake ever. I obviously made him eat the first bite.
Afterwards we walked down the street with the other half of Kaizen to this bizarre Vietnamese club where the waiters and waitresses are essentially butlers and handmaidens who fill your glass as soon as it's empty, hold the hookah hose up to your mouth, and - literally - feed you grapes. If you were looking bored they pulled you to dance. They challenged us to rock paper scissor contests. And they drank with us off our own bottles (?). Needless to say we racked up quite a bill but had a blast.
It was, no doubt, the best birthday I've ever had. Not because it was 48 hours of extravagance (I told Alex I would be thrilled with street food and beers), but because everyone made an effort to show up and make it special. I'm so lucky to have these people.
DAY 15Aug 13 2017
Hurling in Hoi An: The side trip that could have been.
I was so excited to visit Hoi An, the cute seaside town in central Vietnam with beaches, tailors, daily lantern festivals, and what is supposed to be the best food in Vietnam. We arrived here and it delivered all of those things! It's adorable and beautiful and clean. The banh mi is DANK. But by the time we wrapped up work on Friday we had come down with some nasty virus and spent almost the whole trip shivering in bed or puking. Welcome to Asia!
We did get some sightseeing in between fevers. The My Son ruins are actually 4th century Hindu temples. Interestingly, there are bullet holes in some of the temples because the Vietnamese hid in them during the war and the Americans bombed the shit out of it. There are a bunch of bomb craters throughout the site. Super cool to explore, but the UV index was 12 (I didn't even know it got that high) so whatever energy we had regained was lost to sun sickness.
We never made it to the beach but did get a half of an afternoon of city wandering in (and some more Banh mi). The town is beautiful and I hope to come back in better spirits.
DAY 17Aug 15 2017
No trip to Asia would be complete without a visit to see family in India. It was wonderful to spend time with my grandparents, but also really hard to get them to understand the whole working remote thing. It's hard enough to explain in general, but they were truly offended that I spent so much time on my laptop. I also wanted nothing more than to shut it off and spend quality time together.
DAY 22Aug 20 2017
Diva's wedding in Sri Lanka was nothing short of regal. Every event was perfect and the resort took my breath away. Also my liver is now dead. Every future party should have a hired person to pour shots down your throat. Just saying.
DAY 23Aug 21 2017
After the wedding we hired a car and driver to see the Sri Lankan countryside. We drove through the mountains, alongside palm trees, tea plantations, and lakes.
Ella is a cute mountain town that is entirely catered to tourists. We spent time hiking, visiting waterfalls, and chilling on beanbags at the local bar.
DAY 24Aug 22 2017
We had intended to stay two nights in Ella, but on recommendation from our driver we spent the second day driving the long drive to Nuwara Eliya and onto Kandy. We stopped periodically to take in the waterfalls, misty plantations, and foggy sunset.
The highlight to all of these were probably the mountainside lodges with an obscenely high level of customer service and scenic views for breakfast and tea.
DAY 25Aug 23 2017
Two missed flights, four hours on the phone with the airlines, several hundred dollars, and one absolutely hellish travel day later brought me back to Delhi for another equally hellish work week to close out the month.
DAY 27Aug 25 2017
Only spent two weeks in Vietnam, and only 10 days of those in Hanoi. Nonetheless, the roundup:
Average breakfast: Mango yogurt and fresh fruit juice. For the first few days I also had Vietnamese iced coffee, but quickly realized that half a cup is roughly equivalent to jet fuel. Weird to have to phase *out* your coffee in order to be productive at work.
Lunch: Street Banh Mi or Pho
Dinner: Street Pho or Banh Mi (depending which was for lunch)
Drink of choice: Fresh fruit everything! Freshly muddled cocktails for the price of a soda back home
Most money spent on: A few missed flights requiring same day replacements, oops.
Apartment highlights: The best location in Hanoi with a great amount of space and good water pressure/heat. Lax on the security. We did end up fitting all of Kaizen in the living room for Tiffany's dumpling making class
Workspace highlights: Cute with an amazing barista, but way too loud and full of fellow late-working-Kaizens to be any kind of productive.
On the locals: So friendly and incredibly talented at fitting entire room contents on the back of their scooters.
On the krew: Let's be real, we're basically half way. The krew is a family. Drama and all.
Packing adjustments: Way too sticky for my three pairs of Jean shorts so I bought 2 long and 2 short hippie cotton elephant pants to replace them. I feel like a backpacker, and I never quite match, but at least my thighs don't stick together.
General feeling: Totally burned out. Need a break from planning - birthdays, side trips, you name it. Shoulder prob needs surgery despite the aggressive PT.
Top five meals:
5. Pho - Everywhere
4. Fried Coconut Corn - Some no name plastic chairs place
3. Banh Mi Chay - Banh Mi 25
2. Hot Pot - Quan Chay Uu Dan
1. Banh Mi Chay - Banh Mi Queen Hoi An
NOTE: All of the food in India / Sri Lanka was not taken into consideration because that would not be fair to Vietnam. Although Banh Mi Queen would blow even those out of the water. Of the three meals I felt strong enough to eat in Hoi An, I went to her for two.