Thursday, January 3, 2013

Zadie Smith on Joy, You on Vietnam


I went to Zadie Smith's reading from her new novel, NW, on a brisk night in the East Village a few weeks ago. Later, as she signed my book (To Lily, From Zadie) she leaned forward and whispered, "do I have lipstick on my teeth?" It was fire-engine red, and no, she did not.

And that was the time Zadie Smith asked me if she had lipstick on her teeth. I loves her. And I loves her recent piece for the New York Review of Books, Joy. Read it here. It is perfect.

In completely unrelated news, I'm going to Vietnam (!) next week and I am desperate for recommendations  P. leaves tomorrow for a grad school project there, and I'll join him ten days later for an 11-day tour-de-force in which I will eat my way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. I bought my tickets months ago and can barely contain my excitement.

Budgetary note and disclaimer: we are proof that you can travel internationally on a tight budget, but lest it seem glamorous let it also be known the reality of this kind of travel: we -and our travel buddies- have inherited the gifts that come with such peregrinations: lice (me, Mongolia, 2004), shigellosis dysentery (almost killed me, Mongolia Round II, 2006), food poisoning (P., Iraq, 2008), bed bugs (me, India 2010), dengue fever (all our American friends and maybe us?, India, 2010), chikungunya (housemates in Jaipur, India, 2011), undiagnosed vomiting/diarrhea/fever/joint inflammation (me & P., India, 2010-2011). Whee! I wonder what treasures Vietnam holds for us?!

So, you well-traveled bunch, any recommendations? We have a pretty loose itinerary; my main objective is to reenact the scene from Indochine when the French Naval officer and Vietnamese freedom fighter steal away on a Chinese junk and travel up Ha Long Bay, (minus the bloody political struggle and that interlude with the Communist theater troupe).

So. Vietnam. Spill it. I would be so grateful.

39 comments:

  1. Oh wow, I'm totally going to have to get NW now. Love how she describes the terror mingled with joy as a parent in the article. :) I haven't been to Vietnam, but one of my favorite photogs went for a month with her husband and is a total foodie. If you email her any questions she's super responsive (as in, responds personally to every blog comment with at least a thank you), and see her lovely post about it here: http://www.pobkephotography.com/blog/act-photographer/vietnam/ Hope you have so much fun and zero illnesses! :)

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    1. TRUDE! Amazing amazing amazing link- thank you! So grateful! Can't wait to pore through every detail of her post and email her (and god bless her for responding to every comment!)

      Haven't read NW yet but plan to as soon as I finish Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" xoxo

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  2. Argh! I'm going this year too! I can't wait to see what everyone recommends. Also, DYSENTRY?! Oof.

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  3. Vietnam is our favorite country we've been to so far (tied with New Zealand) but it was before we had started blogging. When I get home from work this evening, Kev and I will sit down and send you our highlights. So exciting!

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  4. Ha! Dysentery (me, Mexico City, 2009). Giardia and pinworms (me, India, 2010). There are more, they usually involve crapping my brains out. Though there was a time when my brother got meningitis when we were on holiday and then a friend of mine got Dengue Hemorragic Fever in Indonesia a few years ago and was THIS *holds fingers a milimitre apart* close to death when she was flown back to the UK for treatment.

    Vietnam: Watch the Top Gear Special. Pretty sure its the last one in series 12 (I really am the biggest Top Gear geek in the world) and its available on Netflix instant stream if you have it. If not Itunes. The boys (I refer to them as if they were my friends because they should be) ride motorcycles from Ho Chih Minh city to Ha Long and its hilarious as well as informative and ridiculously beautiful to boot.

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  5. My friend who just got back from Vietnam told me the best tip is.. If you see a long line for food- get in it.. because the food is more than likely extremely delicious :)

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  6. You should email Elizabeth who is living in Hanoi right now! Her blog has been chock full of culinary explorations and I'm sure she'd be happy to send any recommendations your way. http://bubbleteafordinner.com/

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  7. I loved that Zadie Smith piece! ~ I thought I was crazy to adore my dog that much and it makes me a bit scared to have children. . . it was kind of her to acknowledge that animal love :)

    Wishing safe and exhilarating travels to you two!

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  8. Okay. So jealous but so exited to see Vietnam through your eyes!

    I've always wanted to go to Vietnam. I know, thanks to Anthony Bourdain's, No Reservations in Vietnam: There's No Place Like Home (from season 6), that you must go to Hội An for the special noodle soup they have. Also try a Banh Xeo Vietnamese Pancake in Hanoi.

    Or really, just watch that episode. It will drive you mad with excitement!

    Have a safe flight and an amazing time!

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    1. I agree with Nat re: Anthony Bourdain's soup place. I don't remember what it's called, but I have wanted to go to Vietnam every since I saw that episode. I'm so so so excited for your trip and can't wait to see all your beautiful pictures! Me and my hubs have Vietnam on the tippy top of our To Do list. Have SO MUCH FUN.

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    2. the Lunch Lady, Ho Chi Minh City, google it, cheap eats real good according to Mr. Bourdain.

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  9. Oooo, Vietnam! So excited for you and can't wait to read/see it through your eyes. Hopefully none of the memories you make will involve illness or parasites of any sort! Safe travels!

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  11. I would highly recommend Hanoi Guesthouse (http://hanoiguesthouse.com/) for accommodation in Hanoi! We stayed with them (in both their locations) and they arranged the Ha Long Bay Tour for us, which was amaaaaazing. Send them an email! They are super helpful and gave us lots of advice and even helped booked flights etc for us.

    I can't even really remember anything else - it was a pretty chaotic, yet wonderful trip through SE Asia!

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  12. Silk, green beer, baguettes and the Ethnology museum in Hanoi
    (*I also found the *most beautiful* wood and buffalo horn spoons at the main market there)

    Cooking classes, pearls, architecture and tailoring in Hoi Ahn

    Silver, markets and embroidery in Sappa (or better would be a less touristed outpost of Sappa)

    Oh dear lemongrass, I envy you!

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  13. Lils, you are cute. That's all I have to say.

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  14. Perfect timing! We're currently planning our trip to SE Asia this year, so I am super excited to see what you think!

    Have a fabulous time!

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  15. Total pussy that I am, your list of travel ailments gives me the heebie-jeebies. However, I love your intrepid spirit, which makes me a little braver everyday, and following along from my couch for now. May many wonderful adventures come your way on this trip! (I know they will.)

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  16. Yikes, that is not a nice list of travel bugs, but I dare say you can get them all on a big-budget travel escapade too (or even at home, which I did with Giardia, drinking tank water).
    Have not been to Vietnam but enjoy - lots of people do.

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  17. Oh gosh, I only traveled once to a "poorer" country, and it was traumatizing. I guess although I traveled quite a lot, I'm not so well-traveled... *sigh*
    Vietnam seems amazing, have fun!!

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  18. I managed to make it eight months in Vietnam, only sick once!...now in Jaipur, hoping to avoid chikungunya (which my pa got in Thailand, ouch).

    The Cargo Club in Hoi An is wonderful for brunch and the town itself is a lovely place to visit.

    If you're passing through Da Nang, be absolutely sure to eat banh xeo at Banh Xeo Ba Duong on 282 Hoang Dieu Street. Sa Sa Gelato is worth visiting for its cinnamon gelato, too. I highly recommend midnight bike rides in the city if you can swing it.

    I brought my mom back bags of Highlands Coffee (a big chain) and she quickly became an addict.

    The Hanoi Opera House is so beautiful inside and concerts are inexpensive.

    Go ahead and eat banh mi op la and pho off the street, it is the best and definitely worth contracting some strange disease. As is the ice coffee with condensed milk.

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    1. Where in JAIPUR?! YOU KNOW WE LIVED THERE FOR ALMOST A YEAR RIIIIIGHT? Pls tell me you've found the sanctuary that is Anokhi Cafe, right? xoxox

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    2. I didn't know you were there for a whole entire year! I should've trolled through your archives more carefully. We were only there for three days and ate at the Anokhi Cafe twice (plus take-away to eat on the train)...true love. That bean burger! Beet chutney! Coffee cake! All glorious. XO

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  19. I second a visit to Hoi An. It's a beautiful town, and biking around the nearby countryside was a highlight of my trip.

    Also, I recommend a visit to Mekong Quilts (http://www.mekong-quilts.org/) a non-profit with a shop in Hanoi. Never thought I'd buy a quilt in Vietnam, but couldn't resist bringing one home with me.

    - Aveleigh

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  20. Sa Pa in the north east of Vietnam (take the train from Hanoi). It's so drop dead beautiful. As is Hanoi too of course.

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  21. Hoi An. Beautiful little town on a river. Picture gorgeous old french colonial and traditional Chinese homes with courtyards, wandering in alleys, dimly lit laterns along the river, little old Vietnamese women in boats. Great shopping.
    Hanoi. Wander and wander.
    Rent a moped and drive around Sapa area or go for a hike in the mountains.

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  22. YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!

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  23. Love your blog! Excited for you to visit Vietnam! I'm Vietnamese American, but born in the states and I've only been once to Vietnam in '05. My best tip for you is to avoid ice/local water lest you get those nasty bugs. Even when brushing your teeth, I used bottled. And tentatively eat seafood. I was able to stay sick-free during my stay. Plus, their local water tastes GROSS (this coming from a spoiled California lady). I went up and down the country, too. Everyone's suggestions are great, and actually, as a Vietnamese person I am surprised to hear about so many other non-Vietnamese folks visiting Vietnam lol! Most of my pals are Vietnamese (born here) as well, and they're only the ones I hear who are interested in going to that area of S.E. Asia :P My friend is currently teaching over there and her blog may help you out some: http://wheninvietnam.blogspot.com HAPPY TRAVELS!! Remember, stray from the water!

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  24. yum! have fun!! :) (and my fingers are crossed that illness passes you both by this time...)

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  25. Can't wait to read about your travels. My husband and I tried like hell to honeymoon in Vietnam but logistics just didn't work out.
    100% recommend the Top Gear Vietnam special. One day (mark my words!) we'll do a motorcycle tour of Vietnam.

    PS.
    1.Dreadful dysentery from a razor clam in Shanghai that made me black out in a shopping mall bathroom with the stall door open for all to see!
    2. Fresh guava juice in Mexico left me bathroom bound for days.

    Neither, ever treated professionally so I just hope and wish and pray that I don't have a vicious army of parasites living in me that will one day decide to escape my body!

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  26. So excited for you!!! We went to China last year where half of our trip was "safe", or shall I say less disease inclined; the other half of our trip was disease riddled, and I daresay that is when it started getting good!! I came home with a cough that lasted a few months, but I wouldn't trade my tibetan shanty/what-am-I-eating experience for the world!

    Best of luck - looks like you have oodles of good travel tips coming in!

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  27. Cool! Vietnam is sooo great! You can basically eat EVERYWHERE and EVERYTHING tastes great! We have eaten at restaurants but also street food - and I couldn't say which was better!
    But what I just HAVE TO recommend is KOTO in Hanoi.
    Have fun there!

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  28. Hi! I hope these recommendations don't come too late! Vietnam is magical, especially if you are an intrepid explorer who is not phased by the minor bumps that come with budget traveling. I went on a similar adventure through Vietnam with friends over the summer. We ate everything, from pho and ban xeo to cobra hearts and fried spiders. Luckily, no one got ill. I agree with a pervious commenter, eat where the crowds are. Can't go wrong.

    I wrote about our journey here: http://johannainman.blogspot.com/2012/08/vietnam-saigon-hanoi-cat-ba-islandha.html If you scroll to the end of the post, you'll find a short list of links for our favorite places in Saigon, Hanoi, Cat Ba Island/Ha Long Bay, and Hoi An.

    When traveling between cities, I definitely suggest flying instead of the overnight trains. The flights won't cost much more, and you'll avoid a slew of nightmares. Our 17 hour train ride was a windowless, vermin infested, jail cell on rails.

    The cities are very overwhelming, so if you get to feel frazzled, I suggest a few days in beautiful Hoi An. Our days there were a wonderful refuge from the mind boggling craziness of Hanoi and Saigon. Someone else suggested Cargo Club. Yes! It is delicious!

    Also, eat the doughnuts! http://johannainman.blogspot.com/2012/08/vietnam-saigon-hanoi-cat-ba-islandha.html

    Good luck and have fun!

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  29. Ah love that noodle soup! Goodness hope you have a wonderful and SAFE trip in Vietnam! Praying for safety travel. :D Got my eye on your next posts.

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  30. ahh god I am envious! if there is anywhere in the world I would want to go right now it would be Vietnam. the food. THE FOOD!!!!

    Please barrage us with pics as soon as you can :)

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  31. http://marisachan.blogspot.com/search/label/vietnam

    hoi an is a must see - eat at the secret garden! the food is amazing. between all the cities, Hanoi was our favorite, but everywhere will be exciting and new, so I'm sure you'll live it up! my husband got sick in Phnom Penh, so things do happen, but generally we fared a bit more well than say... India. you know how it goes though. what a list of travel ailments! I'm impressed!

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  32. Is it too late? The hill tribe area in the North was my favorite part of Vietnam. It is divine for purchasing unnecessary ethnic clothing and for escaping the standard bus routes. Rent a Russian Minsk (or other motorbike of your choice) and drive the raggedy road from Sapa to the Chinese border! It's magical. JAJA

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  33. Gordon Bennet you do get ill. I was in Sri Lanka and dengue fever was rife, but luckily didn't get it but oh my is it horrible, i did however get a sickness bug. Think it's part and parcel of traveling. Hope you have fun and don;t get too ill.

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