Saturday, December 31, 2011


Hey, everyone... I moved my blog - sorry for the inconvenience, but the technology failed me and I had to change platforms. Please follow my new posts at .

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vietnam + Thanksgiving = Vanksgiving

Enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with my Australian and Vietnamese housemates - they were all curious to learn more about the holiday, and I was happy to explain that it is pretty much all about eating until you can't move, then watching football, then falling asleep. I've also spent some time explaining the madness of "Black Friday" to some of my British co-workers. Gotta love our American traditions! Since certain foodstuffs (such as turkey, butternut squash, leeks, etc.) are scarce in Vietnam, we got a little non-traditional with the menu. Here's an overview:

Pork meatballs with mango chutney

Mashed potatoes


Greek salad

Roasted cauliflower with bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and carmelized onions


Pumpkin pie with fresh cream

It was delicious! Although this is a bit belated, I want to share a few of the things I'm thankful for this year:

1. A flexible career which allows me to work abroad - yay for teaching!

2. Family and friends who are always willing to give me unlimited amounts of love, support, and encouragement.

3. Technological marvels (such as email and Skype) which allow me to stay in touch with the people I love across continents, oceans, and multiple time zones!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


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Lately, a set on Flickr.

This Week's Top Ten List

In no particular order...

10. Got a flat tire.

9. Got my flat tire fixed for $1.50 by a guy down the street from my house; his living room doubles as a makeshift auto-garage. Score!

8. Got a free 3-day guest-pass to a kick-ass gym in town - AC, TV's on the cardio equipment, cold drinking water, towels, lockers, rooftop pool... is this place real? Above and beyond the typical Vietnamese standard... perhaps that's why there were only Westerners there working out today. (Cost to join = $$$$)

7. Ate dinner at an absolutely delicious Japanese restaurant tucked away in a back alley near my house. Cheap, excellent food, nice staff - a new favorite food spot for sure.

6. Found a 5,000 VND bill on the ground - equivalent to 0.25 cents, score!

5. Ate lunch at a cafe which, by some stroke of genius, had the idea to add a seasonal "Thanksgiving" sandwich to their menu: Oven-roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayo on hearty 7-grain bread, complete with gravy on the side for dipping. Wow. Yes please. I will be going back for more before this sandwich is discontinued!

4. While waiting for my Thanksgiving sandwich to arrive, heard a commotion outside the cafe and realized that a Vietnamese guy was getting the shit kicked out of him by 3 other Vietnamese guys. Umm... what? Some kind of vendetta situation going on, quite disturbing...

3. Found a store selling Skittles - and not just any Skittles, but Crazy Cores. It's the little things that make life worth living.

2. Got a free backpack from work, therefore saving myself about $15 and avoiding the hassle of having to buy a counterfeit North Face backpack on the street. Now rocking some flossy blue and white Apollo gear.

1. Skyped with my beloved Grip-Night posse; Katie Calhoun, Rachel Hibben, and Juli Ross. Such a bright spot in my day, my week, my month!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Food Gods are my Homies

Alright, I don't know what I've done to deserve it, but the food gods are smiling upon me. This past Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to be a judge at a cooking contest. You read that correctly. I was like the person on Top Chef or Master Chef who gets to have one bite (or more) of everything.

So here's the scoop: Apollo (the English school I work for) hosted a cooking contest in which the teachers and staff at each of the 4 locations competed to present the most diverse, healthy, and delicious assortment of food possible. I have no idea how I ended up being selected to judge, but you don't second-guess that type of thing - you just roll with it. Each of the 4 teams had to produce an assortment of appetizers, main dishes, and a signature cocktail revolving around a theme. As far as I could tell, the theme was "mouth-watering," and they all exceeded my expectations beautifully. There was a great variety of Vietnamese and Western dishes, and for someone who loves having my mouth bombarded with new flavors left and right, I was in heaven.

As I ate my way from one table to the next, I sampled some familiar Vietnamese favorites. An assortment of nem (fried spring rolls) filled with various meats, veggies, and noodles were in full effect. There were shrimp dishes everywhere - sweet and sour shrimp skewers, deep fried coconut shrimp, delicious smoked shrimp bites. Fried potato dumplings with meat and veggie fillings made an appearance. Stir-fried broccoli, cauliflower, and other veggies, oh joy! To compliment these dishes, there was a great assortment of Western offerings as well. A delicious mixed-bean and braised pork stew. Pasta salad with tomatoes and olives. Spaghetti bolognese. And really good caesar salad! Hungry yet??

Beyond the safe and familiar, I also added three new foods to my "bizarre eats" tally:

- Jellyfish tentacles: A really interesting texture; almost crunchy like a thin slice of onion, but with a chewiness reminiscent of calamari. They were prepared with wilted greens and a delicious soy sauce - actually very good!

- Horse meat: Hmmm, not one of my favorites. The bite I had was really chewy and fatty - not sure if it was a bad bite, or if that's just how it is.

- Goat stew: The broth was AMAZING. Thick, full of flavor, almost like a savory gravy. The meat was... okay? I'm not a huge meat eater, so I could take it or leave it. But give me some bread to dip in that gravy!

Definitely one of my favorite work-sponsored gatherings of all time! (Alright, I can't imagine anything beating the Matador staff party at El Gaucho, but this is a very close second.) Some of the administrative assistants from Apollo were smart enough to bring their cameras to document the deliciousness:


Cooking Contest, a set on Flickr.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

From the Hip

As far as photography goes, I tend to shy away from portraits. Buildings, bikes, graffiti, landscapes; these are the things that tend to catch my eye. Color, pattern, balance; all that artsy stuff you learn about in Fine Arts 101. Inanimate objects sit still, let you take your time framing the composition, and offer a second chance if you don't get it right the first time. Easy!

People, on the other hand, are unpredictable. You shove a camera in their face, and they react; the unspoiled "authenticity" of the moment is gone. They pose. They smile unnaturally. They become self-conscious. I know I hate having my picture taken, so I'm reluctant to put other people in that position.

You also have the issue of the Western tourist objectifying the local person of color. "Ooh, look at their traditional clothing! What is that they're eating?? Wow, what a quaint lifestyle!" I mean, they're not zoo animals. They're actual people, with feelings, thoughts, experiences. Yet I review the photos I've taken so far, and they seem so devoid of... people. Sure, there's a blur of someone riding past on a motorbike. Or the occasional shopkeeper peeking out a window. But for the most part, I've shied away from portraiture. What to do? How to reconcile my hesitance to intrude and my reluctance to objectify the people I meet on the street with my search for photographic inspiration? Hmmm...

Not sure if I actually have the answer to that question. But the other day I tried a technique called "shooting from the hip," and I feel at least one step closer to finally adding people-shots to my repertoire. The technique is essentially this: walk with camera casually slug over your shoulder, or held in your swinging hand. Discretely point camera at your subject as you approach or walk past. Click the shutter button on the sly. It's has this James Bond/secret-service feel that's actually quite fun! And reviewing the photos is a total surprise.

  • Authentic moments unmolested by the presence of a camera.
  • The opportunity to catch people in the act of checking you out, glaring at you, or otherwise observing you as you walk past. Hilarious!
  • Blur, poor focus, off-kilter framing, and other technical problems. (Soon to be remedied with faster shutter speed and practice!)
Here's the first crop of my "From the Hip" series. Many more to come.

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From the Hip, a set on Flickr.