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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hoa Lo Prison: Hanoi {Travel Tuesday}

Happy Tuesday Y'all! 

Today I wanted to share our visit to Hoa Lo Prison, or as it came to be known by the American POWs, the 'Hanoi Hilton'. 

This prison was used by the French colonists for political prisoners in Vietnam. It was later used during the Vietnam war by the North. The American POWs were kept here, including John McCain. 
The prison was demolished in the 1990s, and the gatehouse is the only thing that remains. 

The prison was often overcrowded and the prisoners were not kept in the greatest condition. In 1954, it held up to 2,000 people. And a lot of the future leading figures in Communist North Vietnam spent time here in the 30s and 40s. The prison became a symbol of the colonialist abuse and the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French continued to increase. 

A few people dug through the sewers to escape. 

Some of the women inmates during the French period. 

The Hoa Lo Prison tour is not something you should pass on while visiting Hanoi, but be prepared. The information signs around the museum are very much -look how horrible the French were to us. And the rooms that talked about the American POWs were very much- look how nice and accommodating we were to the prisoners. 

Other than visiting Ho Chi Min's mausoleum this was the biggest reminder that we were in a Communist influenced country. It was really interesting reading their take on the American POWs. I think all countries do this to an extent- it was just interesting  being on the other side of the story this time. 

If you are looking for a nice sunshiny place to visit- Hoa Lo Prison is not the place. You are given a pretty clear picture on how all the prisoners were treated- and it might give you the creepy crawlies. But I think it's worth a stop. It's only a couple of bucks, and not too far from the city center. 

Basic Information: 
Price- 15,000 Dong (less than a dollar)
Hours- 8:00-5:00 

Have you ever been to Hoa Lo? Would you put this on your lists of to-dos in Hanoi? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflections: Month 14

Happy Monday Y'all. 

I hope you had a wonderful weekend. 

Last week, I hit my 14th month anniversary of living in Korea. We are down to only having 7 months left in the country. Time is flying by. It's exciting to be moving on to the next stage of our lives, but it's also sad to be on the downward side of our expat adventure. 

Throughout the last month, I've been thinking about my time in Korea and all the many ways I've changed since moving here. When you move to a new place, whether it's across the country or across the world, it's natural that some habits and ways of your life are going to change. And it's natural that you hold onto some things from your old life. This is kinda what I've been thinking about the last couple of weeks- and here is what I've come up with.

Things That Have Changed: 

1. Shoes off in the house- this actually changed when I moved to Hawaii back in 2007, but the habit continues here in Korea. When I see people wearing their shoes inside- it drives me crazy! I watch TV shows and I'm like "who wears their shoes on their bed!" I know this habit is going to stick with me back in the states.

2. Squatty Potties- While there are tons of Western toilets here in Korea- there are also many Squatty potties. Most public bathrooms have both set up. So if you're in line you just go to which one opens up first. I used to be scared about using them, but now it's no big deal. I'm really glad I got used to them because in Mongolia- we were lucky if we had a squatty potty while out on the road. It was usually just a nice hole in the ground and good luck.

3. Tissues- Speaking of potties. Let's talk tissue aka toilet paper. Since moving to Korea, I've started carry travel toilet paper with me. Most places around Seoul have toilet paper, but I've run into plenty of places that are BYOT. I've learned that it's better to be prepared then not. So tissues are always in my purse- wherever we go.

4. Style- I have gotten so used to the way Koreans dress. I actually love it. I haven't going shopping too much here, but I know it's in our future. I love the baggy sweaters. And the legging skirt thing that's going around. I love the mixed patterns.
{In fact, I tried the mixed pattern thing, but I just looked like a hobo... unfortunately this was the day for school pictures for the website... so Awesome!}
I love the weird Konglish on the shirts. And I love couple outfits. When I see pictures of people back in the states- I'm like 'wait- this is what people are wearing....' So mixed patterns and baggy Konglish aren't in fashion?!? I'm so confused.

5. Seeing other Westerners- Whenever I see another foreigner, I stare. It's like whoa- what are you doing here. I've actually realized that I hate being around other foreigners. I hate being able to understand their conversations. I don't really like hearing English- which is weird I know- but there it is. I much rather hear a bunch of Koreans talking. Koreans are loud, but for some reason foreigners seem louder- maybe it's because I can understand them. {Sorry if that sounded rude.}

6. 'Foreigner'- I use the term foreigner. I used to use Expat. Expat is much more glamourous, but Koreans say foreigner- so I say foreigner. This is how I describe myself, which I think is so bizarre, but that's what happens with changes.

7. Chopsticks- I can't believe I went 25 years without knowing how to use chopsticks. In my defense, until moving to Hawaii, there was really no need. And even then- I never ate Asian food. So really I just needed it here in Korea, and once here I learned within a couple of weeks. Now I see people using a fork to eat Ramen, and I'm like ummm- that's not how you eat that. :) I'm so judgy.

8. Palate- The foods that I am willing to eat has increased by a lot. I used to be such a picky eater, but I've gotten a lot better. I love sushi, esp. sashimi. I constantly crave wasbi. I've eaten octopus and loved it (if prepared right). I've eaten kimchi- which I'm not a huge fan of, but I love kimchi pancakes. Since being married to Matt my food range just keeps expanding and expanding. Which I love because it's so much easier for us to eat together. I still love my simple turkey sandwiches (that are hard to find here), but I also love Asian food a lot more. Give me some Pho, or a nice Korean stew and I'm set.

Things That Haven't Changed:

1. Metric System- Still don't use it. I convert every km into miles. Every kg into pounds. It's all just easier for me to think in miles and pounds.

2. Currency- I convert everything back to USD. Because the Won and Dollar are so close- this is pretty easy. But I always use Dollar- which is weird because we get paid in Won. I don't know why- but I can't seem to kick the Dollar habit. Although- I do much prefer the currency in Korea. I love that each bill is a different size and color. And I love that the change is much more useful. Whenever I hold USD- I get a bit confused because all the bills are the same!

3. Potatoes- I am still a potato person, and I think I always will be. Korean rice is delicious- in fact, I think it's the best in Asia (and I've had my share of rice). However, when I am at my home- I want potatoes.

I think change is a part of the expat life, and that's how it should be. You grow while living in a new place. You should adopt new ways and take them back with you. At least, that's my thought on the matter.

In what ways have you changed? 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Letters 59

Happy Friday Y'all! 

I hope your week went well. 

Here's our letters for the week. 

Dear Seoul, Like always- thanks for being so great. We always enjoy wandering around and seeing new things. We met up with some family for lunch- which was -of course- yummy Mexican food. And then we wandered around a bit. That night we met up with one of Matt's friend for dinner. We went to this amazing pork place. Oh my gosh- it was to die for. I am already thinking about the next time I can go there. While we were there, we walked around the area Sinchon near Yonsei University. The university students were having a pep rally of sorts and we got see them in action. It was so much fun. I took a quick Instagram video if you want to see a bit of life as a university student in Korea. {At least, a student on a Saturday night!} 

Dear When Harry Met Sally, Thanks for being an amazing movie. Every time I watch it- I just love it. I've been reading Billy Crystal's book Still Foolin' 'Em, and it made me want to watch the movie this week. This was the first time Matt has seen it, and he really liked it. It's the perfect feel good movie. 

Dear White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms, Thanks for being in my life again. I've already polished off a bag of candy corn, so I 'm glad I had some more candy in my life. 

Dear Matt, Thanks for being so cute. This weekend, while I was working on grad school stuff- he kept himself entertained the whole day. This is a pretty big deal to us since we have such a small space- there's not much we can do. 

Dear Work Week, Thanks for going by so quickly. Two more weeks and we are in the holiday season. I feel like Halloween is the start of the count down to the end of the year. Is it just me- or are the years getting faster?!? 

Dear Change of the Season Cold, This time of year you always come around. I thought I had missed you this year, but I guess you were running a bit late. Thanks for stopping by, but if you don't mind, you should leave. 

Well- as you can see- our week was pretty low key. How was your week? 

Have a great weekend. 

Love, Alex

PS- Have you seen this? It really made me laugh. 

PSS- This too. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum {Travel Tuesday}

Happy Tuesday Y'all! 

Today I wanted to share a unique experience we had while visiting Hanoi- 
the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. 

Ho Chi Minh was the Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 till his death in 1969. Chairman Minh is considered a national hero of Vietnam and to this day is greatly revered. {He is on all the currency.} He is loved for both the role of liberating Vietnam from colonialism, and for his Communist ideals. When he died he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread across the country however, the country had a different idea.

They decided to embalm him and build a mausoleum for people to visit him long after his death. This idea was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow. His body is embalmed and preserved in the nice air conditioned main hall of the mausoleum. There is a 24 hour military honor guard all dressed in white. And the body is in a glass class with lights under his hands and face. (Just picture Snow White's casket and you get the idea.) 

The mausoleum is supposed to representative of a lotus flower, but it kinda just looks like a cement square with pillars. It was actually voted the #6 ugliest building in the world by CNN in 2012. 

This might seem like a weird thing to go and see, but I really couldn't imagine passing up an opportunity like this. Embalming and putting people on display is such a foreign concept to us that I just needed to see it. This wasn't really on Matt's to-do list, but it was a high priority for me (just call me morbid).  And it really lived up to my expectations. 

Most of the people you will see are Vietnamese people traveling to pay their respects. People travel from all over the country to be able to see this mausoleum and to see Ho Chi Minh. It was interesting to see their reactions when we got into the viewing hall. 

{This is how it looks- if you were curious. Image via

Helpful Hints and Our Experience: 

Hours: 8:00-11:00 am Tuesday-Thursday
Saturday-Sunday close at 10:15
*It is only open a few hours every day, so make sure to get there early to make sure you get through. 

LocationHung Vuong, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam
  1. *Taxis know where to go. Unless you got the one we got. Ours dropped us off by the palace, which is at the front of the mausoleum. Unfortunately, we wanted the visitor's gate and had to walk all the way around, and trust me, you don't want to make that walk. So- if you see a yellow building don't get out of the taxi- wait until you see the visitor's gate. 

Cost: Free 
*However, there is a Ho Chi Minh garden/ house tour that is a couple of bucks if you want to see that. 

No photography is allowed in the mausoleum

Dress Code: No tank tops, shorts, or anything above the knee allowed. 

*You may see locals pushing the dress code line, but if you are a foreigner- you will need to be wearing pants or a long skirt and a top with sleeves.

 Matt actually didn't bring any pants with him on vacation and they wouldn't let him in. I thought he would at least be able to walk in line with me and then not go into the mausoleum, but he couldn't even do that. I didn't want to walk by myself in line because I didn't know how long it would be. We started to leave- but then I saw a place to rent pants and we were back in business. Poor Matt! I made him rent the pants and come check out Ho Chi Minh with me. The rental was only like $4. Totally worth it! 

{Check out those pants} 

Bag Check and the Line: No food or drinks are allowed and this is enforced at the start of the line. There is also no photography allowed once inside the mausoleum. So there is a bag check at the very start if you want to use that. You can check your food and drinks as well if you want. The bag check is free. 

But your bags and camera are allowed in the line. I would recommend holding onto your bags since they let you walk into the mausoleum with them. If you have a camera- they will take that closer to the mausoleum. You get this red bag to put your camera in, and then they give you a numbered keychain that matches the number on the bag. So when you are out of the mausoleum you just go grab your camera. It's super easy. 

The line snakes around the whole mausoleum complex and moves really fast. It ends at the front of the mausoleum, and then you walk in and check out Ho Chi Minh. 

Maintenance: Twice a year the body is sent to Russia for maintenance, so check and make sure he is actually there before making the visit. 

Shopping and Eats: After visiting the mausoleum, there are a lot of shops and little snack places for you to grab something. 

After the mausoleum there is a garden area and the living quarters tour available if you want to pay a small fee. 


There is also a museum if you want to check that out. 

After going inside the mausoleum, you can go out to the front and take pictures. Just make sure you don't try to stand anywhere other than the sidewalk. The inside square is off limits- and you will get yelled at. 

We actually saw this group being escorted into the mausoleum. As far as we could tell, they were a veterans group paying their respects. It was pretty cool to see the guards escort them. We got to see a little of their ceremony. *If you can catch a changing of a guard ceremony- do it. I heard it was cool to watch. 

If you are staying in the Hanoi area- you really shouldn't pass this up. The lines do tend to be long, but they move really fast. The line was backed up to the bag check by the time we got the visitor's gate and we only waited like 10 minutes- and we were moving the whole time. So don't let the long lines stop you. Plus, they've added a covered walkway the whole way through the line, so it's nice and shaded. There are also ways to get advanced tickets and get VIP treatment straight to the doors, but I don't know how to do that. 

This was such a unique experience, and I'm glad we did make this stop. 

Question: Would you ever visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum? 

{linking up with Bonnie

Monday, October 13, 2014

Digital Project Life 2014: Update

Happy Monday Y'all! 

I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Matt and I had a great weekend- we went up to Seoul on Saturday to meet up with some family. I can't wait to share that with y'all. 

I've also been working on my Project Life album some more. I've caught up all the way to August, so I really think it's possible for me to catch up and be ready to order by this January. {Fingers crossed.}

Every time I work on my book- I feel like I learn something new, or I start doing things a little better. I have a pretty good system down to make sure I catch my mistakes before moving to a different page, and I think everything is coming together quite well. 

As I said before, I upload my completed pages to my Shutterfly book when each page is finished. This helps me see the book together, and it shows me how many pages I have left for the year. This helps me budget out my pages for each event. 

Here are the pages I've been working on:

I loved incorporating the screen shots of our Skype dates. Skyping is such a part of our lives as expats, and I really wanted to make sure that was shown in our book. I often use pictures of our daily life because that's what Project Life is all about- capturing the everyday moments. A lot of our book is focused on our trips, but I also wanted to show that not every day is filled with wonderful adventures. Sometimes finding an avocado is a pretty big adventure here in Korea. 

I am in love with these Disney pages. We took tons of photos, and it was hard to select which ones to use, but I'm happy with how they turned out. I think we have a good mix of the park and each other. As much as I love pictures of temples and buildings and the sites, it is way more important to me to have pictures of Matt and myself. Call me vain- but I want to capture us as much as the cool sites we see. 

I also really love using collages in my pages. Eating all the food at the Disney park was a huge deal for us. But not every food item needed its own picture slot, so I made a collage. And it's perfect. I get to remember all the food, but I saved some space. 

I am also loving the Squared Away templates. They are perfect for Instagram pictures. For July, I realized most of our pictures were Instagram, so I chose to do a layout of just those pictures. I think it turned out quite cute. 

While Matt is very supportive of this project (ie- proofreads my pages and helps pick out pictures)- he is not usually very involved in the making of this book. But there were a couple pages that I really wanted his input and journal thoughts because the events were important to him. So on the Korea War Memorial, 1 year anniversary, and the Harajuku page- he wrote out his thoughts on a journal card and then signed his name. I loved having his thoughts written down because it shows that this is his project as well as mine, and it puts him in the book. I also love reading his thoughts about certain places- not just hearing my own voice. 

I am still really enjoying my Digital Project Life. {Can you tell?} I am already shopping for a core kit for 2015, and I'm pretty I'm going to play catch up with my 2012 and 2013. So far, looking back on my book, I've only seen 2 pages that I'll have to go back and fix. And they are both in February, so it was my early Project Life days. I've gotten a lot better about triple checking my work before moving on. 

I really recommend this project to anyone looking for an easy way to document their lives. Project Life is all up to the user. My book is not like the typical weekly Project Lifers, and I am completely okay with that... because it's MY book.

Question: Is anyone else a Project Lifer? Digital or Paper? Would you try PL? 

Have a great week! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Friday Letters #58

Happy Sunday Y'all!!

Sorry for the late letters... I may have forgotten to post this. 

I hope you had a wonderful week. We had a nice 4 day week again this week, so woo hoo for that. 

Here is our week in letters. 

Dear Sorkasan, Thank you for being so beautiful. Although we could have done without the traffic packed 6 hour bus ride down there. Yup- a regular 3 hour ride was doubled because of the holiday traffic. Sorkasan- we enjoyed wandering around and seeing the fall leaves. We really enjoyed snacking on yummy Korean food. And we really really enjoyed seeing all the wonderful hiking outfits. We can't wait to return and explore some more.
Dear Matt, Remember that time you were way too close to the edge..... yeah- don't ever do that again!

Dear Pho, Sometimes you are the perfect meal to end the week with. I love that the cool weather means more Pho in our lives. Yum Yum!

Dear Mom and Dad Ho, Thank you for the Halloween package. It was perfect. I'm so excited it's candy corn season again! We hung our little skeleton men up and it's already feeling a bit festive in our place. Our families are so great- they are always thinking of us and sending little gifts. 

Dear Digital Project Life, I love you. I'm so excited to be almost caught up with the year. I love working on our book and putting our memories in such a beautiful place. I would really recommend Project Life for anyone looking for a way to document their life. I can't wait to order our 2014 book and see all my hard work in one book. I've decided I'm going to also work backwards and do 2013 with Project Life as well. I just love it! 

Dear Grad School Applications, Boo- are you boring... and a little bit stressful. I'm excited to start this new adventure, but I could do without the whole application thing. We are looking at school in California and Georgia, so right now we have no idea where we will be after Korea. I'm looking forward to finishing applications and seeing where we will be.

Have a great week y'all! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Old Quarter: Hanoi {Travel Tuesday}

Happy Tuesday Y'all! 

For today's post, I thought I would share a few pictures we took while exploring the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The Old Quarter is comprised of 36 streets and tons of places to eat and shop. It's a great place to walk around and experience the craziness of the city. The set up of the streets is still very similar to the way it was in the old city. 

We really enjoyed walking around and seeing the mix of architecture throughout the city. There is tons to see and do, so maybe give yourself at least a half day to a day to explore. Plus- the shopping is pretty great. We got Matt an outfit for about $10. There is tons to find and it's all pretty cheap. You can try your hand at bargaining if you want. We also had some delicious Pho noodles from this small shop on the street. I believe it was called Pho 10 (orange sign). Oh man- the Pho was so good. We have Pho in Korea- but it is not nearly as good. 

 {Temple of Literature} 

Motorbikes pretty much run the city of Hanoi. 

{Hanoi Opera House} 

 {Turtle Tower} 

We saw some pretty great things running around the Old Quarter. People had things stacked like crazy on the back of their bikes... eggs- goats- pigs- food- you name it- we probably saw it. 
We saw tons of people just pulling down their pants and peeing (I guess if you gotta go- you gotta go). I wish I had gotten some pictures of the shopping stalls. They are just typical Asian market type- jam packed with stall after stall. It was fun to browse around.

If you're in Hanoi- make sure the Old Quarter is on your list of to-dos.

{Linking up with Bonnie}