Saturday, May 18, 2013

Your Hanoi Summer Style Guide

It's HOT. 

I thought I knew what hot was when I went to visit my Hubs back in the day in Arizona and it was 103+ for 3 days. Then I moved to Hanoi.....and Summer arrived. For the last week it has been on average 95 degrees+ with 70%+ humidity, which makes the heat index on average 113+ degrees. HOT. Now I understand why a colleague said to me "Oh, you're going to be pregnant here and SO miserable." I refuse to be miserable, I am happy and grateful, but this heat is NO JOKE. I told myself I will find a way to avoid being miserable. It can be done!

With the recent change in weather, I have noticed several new styles in Hanoi. There has always been the "Half-shirted man" style, which I could not get a good picture of; Just imagine a man with half of his t-shirt folded up so his belly shows. I am not judging it, I might be sporting it come June.

In addition to the "half-shirted man", there is another style that is EVERYWHERE; the "no-shirted man." Apparently men can still sell dine outdoors in this style and also sell their wares on the street in the same fashion.

A topless vendor selling cellphones

While the men in Hanoi seem to be stripping, the woman are doing just the opposite. Vietnamese women take skincare very seriously and almost never get any sun(Yes, many of them have amazing skin). While the men wear less clothes, the women wear much more. 

On normal sunny days in Hanoi, you will find a Vietnamese woman on a motorbike wearing:
1. a "fashionable" SARS mask
2. a hooded jacket
3. A helment(60% of the time)
4. gloves
5. pants, or this new number I have seen popping up: a blanket with a strap around the waist to keep your legs hidden from the sun:

Hanoi Fashion Summer 2013

Or, perhaps, if you are an elderly man or woman, you will roam the streets wearing your pajamas...

An old man that lives in my neighborhood, out for his morning walk

I have been told it will be like this until September. 
Since I am not a fashionista, I will not be following the current trends in Hanoi. 

However, I have found a remedy for the heat:

Our pool--not too shabby, eh?

The way to avoid being miserable this summer: I plan on living in my swimsuit. 
(while not at the office of course)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What happened to NiCLO?

Hey y'all! I know, some of you may have been wondering "what happened to NiCLO?"

Well....THIS happened....

Ze Bebe is expected to arrive October 28th! 
Bebe obviously takes after us, hamming it up, even in the ultrasound(see that tongue sticking out?)

It's a wonderful blessing and we are thrilled! However, our lives have already dramatically changed. This foodie couple has now been transformed into a foodie husband and a very picky eater. I am even more picky than my infamous #1 blog fan and brother! I never thought I would see the day. However, for the last few months, I have only been able to stomach about 5 things; macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, yogurt, cereal and only one Vietnamese specialty..... 

nước chanh
aka Lemon Juice
aka Lemonade

I am sorry to let you down, fellow foodies, but I promise, I am slowly getting my groove back. Or, rather, creating a brand new groove with our awesome kid.

We have been having a lot of fun planning for the Bebe's arrival. Let me first explain why we call the baby "Bebe." In Hanoi, my best option OB doctor is a French woman. She is lovely, and she makes me feel lovely too. Each time I see her, it's a stream of consciousness, that sounds like this:

 "Oh! Ah-lo! Ah-lo bebe! Ze bebe eez zo perfect! Ze placenta is beautee-ful! Ze bebe eez measuring beauteefully. Oh you look zo chic ma-ma! Oh la la! You need to gain ze weight, and zen I will tell you to lose ze weight later on! Ok? Ok! Zuch a busy bebe!"

It's pretty entertaining. Sometimes, a bit challenging, for example, yesterday she asked me if I am having contractions, and I said "I don't know, what do they feel like?" and she says "Tightening." Um...I am pretty sure EVERY pregnant woman feels tightening as their bellies grow, but that is all she could explain to me. I am just grateful I have an OB in Hanoi. The plan is to come home to tropical Des Moines, IA to deliver the bebe in September-after Christmas. If you told my 18 year old self I would be moving back to Iowa, she would be shocked. Yet, my 18 year old self has no clue how awesome DSM is these days(no sarcasm here, I am really excited about it!)

me and ze bebe at 15 weeks in my first maternity purchase

Hubs and I have been laying pretty low. A few weeks ago I went to CLO training in Bangkok, where I got to meet 18 other women who work the same job as I do at Embassies throughout Asia & Central Asia. I made some great new friends and learned a lot! 

I also got to do what any normal person would do in Thailand:

It was amazing, if you are ever in BKK and need a fix, check out La Monita
The service is slow, but the food is amazing, and my counterparts say the margaritas are too!

We are also approaching "Summer" in Hanoi. Yesterday, it was 95 degrees with 71% humidity. I thought I was going to die, but then I remembered that I DID use to teach hot yoga for 6 years and perhaps it was all preparing me for this life. 

On the plus side, we have been having some really beautiful sunsets....

Last week


I am really grateful for the sunsets, because tonight it made me remember that I have the option to choose: I can choose to focus on complaining about the heat *OR* I can open my eyes and enjoy a really beautiful sunset off my balcony. I can choose to complain about the smells of the city or I can choose to rejoice that I have a job I really love. I can choose to be homesick for my loved ones back home or choose to be grateful for the amazing partner that I have by my side. 

So, my friends; What really happened to NiCLO? Well, I guess I was choosing to have a little pity party for myself and not write about my recent challenges. I was so focused on feeling sick and pregnant & other first year abroad "stuff" that I think-know-I was missing out. For now, I am back to blogging and even more grateful for the challenges of expat living and the wonderful lessons I have learned so far. (I am also writing this all down to remind myself the next time I have a pity party!)

See you SOON!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Check Your Perspective

Today I came across a video on FaceBook. It was made by the company WATER is LIFE, a nonprofit that brings water filters to the third world.

It reminded me that I want to make a website called something like that); a place where you can hear from people all over the world about their perspectives to better keep one's self humble. <Now that I have said it, I have to do it>

For example:

Hanoi traffic is a headache compared to the USA, but it's called lovely by people coming out of Chennai.

Hanoi smog is awful compared to Washington, D.C., but it's absolutely blissful to friends who served in Beijing.

Your children are terrors, but they are the dream of many women struggling with fertility.

Et Cetera....

We don't know how good we have it. Previously traveling overseas and now living in Hanoi has definitely opened my eyes to how blessed we are.

I am not perfect, I know that, but I think we--especially those from the Western world--can use a big perspective check every now and again.

It's like one of my favorite quotes by Zig Ziglar....

We can't I hope you feel as inspired as I did by watching this. Now I only hope I can remember to be this grateful every day, I am sure I will need another perspective check tomorrow....especially as Vietnam prepares for the Lunar New Year this weekend.

(Watch the video HERE)

Hanoi at 7:25am. There are approximately 3 times as many people on the street than the rest of the year. It's madness...but perhaps not compared to the Old Quarter in Hanoi....Oh, perspective!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'm a STUD.

Within the last week I have received emails from Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry.  
I AM very important, after all....

....are you impressed?....

Well, okay it was a mass email to all State Employees, but I thought it was pretty fabulous. 

In both emails, they made jokes about the acronyms of the State Department. 
It's a bit overwhelming at times. There are still meetings that I go to where I have to write down the acronym and look it up at my desk. Maybe after a year I will get the hang of it...but then I hear they just change the names and create new acronyms. I cannot wait.

For example:

I am an EFM, who is the CLO(which is a FMA). 
My Hubs is an ELO working in CON. He likes to volunteer with PAS.

Easy, right? 
You got it? 
Welcome to the FS! 
(Foreign Service)


I am an Eligible Family Member(aka spouse or partner), who is the Community Liaison Office Coordinator, which is a Family Member Appointed Job. My Hubs is an Entry Level Officer working in the Consular Section. He likes to volunteer in the Public Affairs Section. 

It can be very confusing at times. It seems to never end. It's kind of like a fun secret code.

Last week one of my yoga students shared with me a new acronym:



Spouse Trailing Under Duress

It sounds a bit awful, being under duress, but it's kind of true and I like being called a STUD. 
So now, when people ask me what I do, I can say I am a STUD. 

Perhaps only the EFMs out there can appreciate this, but I once had someone(an ELO) snatch his hand away from me when I said I am an EFM. It was as if he could not touch me or he would get leprosy.

**I did some googling; this is a very European phrase(my student is French) and mostly used for men who are trailing spouses, but I like it, and I am rolling with it**

Much love to all my other STUDs out there!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I think I'm turning Vietnamese, I really think so

We have it really good here. We have great housing, good friends and one another. 
Yet every week it gets a little bit better.

After three months of living here, I decided to try the "complimentary breakfast" from our hotel restaurant. You may be thinking "why did it take you three months?!" Well, it comes down to expectations. I thought that I would have to order and wait and I always seem to have just enough time to make it to the shuttle. Secondly, I thought it would be mediocre food. After thinking about it, we decided to meet a friend downstairs one morning. 
Our neighbor friend did not show, but we were pleasantly surprised.
Each morning they serve croissants, breads, sausages, bacon, vegetables and a different kind of Vietnamese noodle soup each day:

I have no idea what this is called, but I call it YUMMY. My friend recommended I add a poached egg and YUM. Now I know why Vietnamese eat Pho for breakfast! I am hooked.

I love most things Vietnamese. Currently in Hanoi, there is a lot of hustle and bustle due to the upcoming Lunar New Year. Traffic has been insane and it seems like the markets have been overflowing with even more vendors than before. It's a very happy time and we are grateful to be a part of it.

Last week we tried out a newly re-opened restaurant: Luc Thuy. It's a fusion of Sichuan and Vietnamese food.

the most beautiful lazy susan I have ever seen

amuse bouche: peanuts, chilis and sour mango

mango salad: delish!

fresh spring rolls

two buns: fried or fresh

Chicken and vegetables; plus jackfruit, which is not something I would recommend

Sichuan beef: SPICY!

Ginger chicken

Check out the rooster!!! The tofu was mediocre, but the rooster was beautifully made

It was a very nice lunch and incredibly ornate. Our table of 5 sat in a private room on the second floor overlooking Hoan Kiem lake. Our server knocked every time he entered the room, and he gave us a remote to call him when we needed him. It was a bit over the top and the service was slow, but I would go there again. They also have a nice outdoor area that I'd like to try next time.

I love Vietnamese food and am really getting into the spirit of the season....I may even be turning Vietnamese...

Pho ba
Beef Pho for breakfast!

Pho ga
Chicken pho with a poached egg

This is a picture from our pool, as you can see, you cannot see much, 
no wonder everyone is getting so excited for Spring!

Noodles & pork breakfast

Tofu & beef noodles
I think I'm turning Vietnamese....and I like it....

Last friday we had our Embassy Tet Party which is put on by our Locally Employed Staff Association. Me and a group of friends performed a dance. The dance was coordinated by one of our Assistant Regional Security Officers, he is really into it. He explained to me that the Vietnamese people get a kick out of watching us be a part of their celebration, which made me even more excited to be a part of it. I was excited about the Ao Dai<pronounced Ow Zai>

This is 3/4 girls on dress rehearsal night

The four of us girls during dress rehearsal. Two Americans, Two Local Vietnamese Staff. Can you believe that we could not get more women to dance?? All 4 of our dance partners are American Men. 

After dress rehearsal I went to try out another <surprise> Vietnamese restaurant, Wild Lotus

The Tet tree in the lobby

Fresh spring rolls and peanut crusted shrimp in the background

Pan fried sea bass in Mango: YUM

It was a delicious meal, but we didn't eat a lot because we wanted to save room for popcorn; 
we went to Les Miserables afterwards!

Holiday decorations outside of Vincom Towers
It feels like Christmas all over again!

Vietnamese breakfast #6: Beef Pho and a poached egg, they now see me coming and get the egg ready in the soup, I love them!

Now finally, the moment you have been waiting for: THE TET PARTY!!!!
This was one of my favorite nights I have had in Vietnam....

The stage.....

My assistant V and I, aka "PINKY TEAM"
No, we did not plan our matching Ao Dais

Hubs and I

Watch our Tet Performance HERE

Dance buddy & the birthday girl

Dance buddy #2

My two dance buddies and their cute kids in Ao Dais

It was awesome. The following morning, Hubs and I decided to check out the Tet Market at Ecopark. The Hanoi American Chamber of Commerce had a bus to haul us out to the Suburbs.

Tet trees for sale outside of our apartment

Balloons at the Tet market

Kumquat trees, the other kind of Tet trees....
Tet trees are either Peach Blossoms or Kumquats, and they are EVERYWHERE.
Peach blossoms represent luck and Kumquats represent money, so the Patriarch of the family chooses which one the home has each year
We bought a Peach blossom branch for our home:) 

Tet decorations

Vietnamese version of a pinana: clay pots in mesh

Traveling Dragon Dance

Little men painting stall

As Hubs and I walked through the market, we were in the 5% I think. One little boy stood up at the Bánh chưng (traditional Tet cake made of glutinous rice, bean and pork) table and yelled "người nước ngoài!" which means FOREIGNER! I walked up to him and said "không phải là gà" which loosely translates to "I am not a chicken"--chicken is slang for westerner. His eyes got SO BIG and everyone started laughing around us. He then would not speak to me, although his mother and sister were very interested in chatting with me. I sat down next to them at the table to make my own Bánh chưng.

There's my little new friend, he did not want to look at me anymore.


6 leaves plus rice...

then smash the bean paste and add pork...

then smash more bean paste on top...

add more rice....

then wrap!!!

Ours is number 47, they are going to bake it and deliver it this week. It takes them 20 hours to cook it!
The girl working at the table said "Oh, you are so good at wrapping" and I said "because I wrap presents at Christmas!"

We felt like celebrities, both Hubs and I got interviewed for Vietnam News...

More Kumquat trees....people want wealth!

Many people want to get married in the year of the dragon, 
so we saw a lot of people getting wedding photos taken that day

Traditional Vietnamese performances

Pomelo trees with tape...I am not sure....

Cute little wild turkeys...they are polka dotted!

The dragon dance was awesome....

Look at that lift!!!

After a long morning of walking, we decided to grab some burgers at a local pub Tracy's Pub
They were awesome. The Pub probably sits about ten people, and they deliver. 
We are very happy about that!

Hubs ordered Tracy's Damn Good Burger ...special sauce, lettuce, mayo, mustard, tomato, pickle, onion, bacon, egg & cheese

I ordered the Hawaiian Chicken burger...grilled ham, lettuce, grilled pineapple and the Kona & Kahala sauce. It was one of the best chicken sandwiches I have ever had!

Happy Hubs!!

We had an awesome weekend. 
Hubs is off playing in a golf tournament and I am soaking up the sunshine on our balcony after shopping at the fabric market after Facetiming my Bro & going to church. 

a beautiful day in Hanoi!
This is the Hanoi Club, where Hanoi International Fellowship services are held. We went for the first time last week. Yes, that is a driving range on the lake! The golfers hit into the lake and it's retrieved by Vietnamese women in conical hats, as opposed to teenagers in carts.

Life is good and each day we dive a little deeper into Vietnamese culture. 
Tonight, we are going to our favorite street food place, because; we're turning Vietnamese I think we're turning Vietnamese I really think so. 

***If you do not catch this reference, I invite you to watch this video***