Where to start… Well first let me explain why I haven’t written in so long. The reason is, in short, the environment in America and race relations has been so heavy on my spirit that I felt I wasn’t in the right headspace to share my thoughts on anything else in a constructive manner. Oh yeah and Covid. I am back though because I really wanted to share my experience of forced repatriation during this time of Covid. I will start from the beginning, when I left China for my Chinese New Year vacation and the events that lead up to that trip-so here goes.
My mom and I thought (foolishly) that 2020 would be a great year for her to come spend an extended period of time with me in China; so, we made her travel plans during my 2019 Christmas trip home to Texas. We decided she would return to China with me after Christmas and we would tour my new city of Suzhou, Shanghai and visit Vietnam for Chinese New Year before she returned to America. Well… some of that happened.
A little Christmas fun! Poker in PJs and gingerbread mischief.
I had to get right back to work when we returned after the new year. This left my mom spending most days recuperating at my apartment during the day and doing light sightseeing after work hours. I figured we had several months to see the city and nearby Shanghai so we were in no big rush. In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year holiday, we confirmed our travel plans for three cities in Vietnam, Hoi An, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. In the last two weeks of school, a few classes in my primary school closed as several students fell ill with what we were being told was “an awfully bad flu season.” Once several students in one classroom fell sick, the school would close the class and ask all students to stay home. I had heard of this happening in my former school when students contracted lice, so I didn’t think anything of it. Two days before the holiday, my school decided to cancel classes schoolwide and informed us to be extremely careful of the “very serious flu” and to wear a mask when in public. Friends and I went out and bought several face masks as they were becoming harder and harder to find. We also bought what little hand sanitizer we could find and thought little more about it as we prepared to enjoy our vacation to Vietnam.
[Below are some of the few activities my mom did before we left to Vietnam including my schools holiday festival, sightseeing in old town, Sunday church service and attending my schools holiday party]
My mom and I pack a few warm weather outfits in one shared suitcase in preparation for our eight days of travel through Vietnam. We were traveling with a new friend of mine I met and immediately clicked with upon arriving in my new city, Suzhou. Her name is Marni and this was her first abroad teaching experience. We had traveled to Thailand together earlier in the year and she was excited to see her second Asian country since arriving in China. Our plan was to spend most of our time in Hanoi, spend the night of my birthday, January 29th, on a boat in Ha Long Bay and then two days in Hoi An. I had a basic list of must sees in each city but other than that, we really had no plan for our trip.
We left for Vietnam thinking China is experiencing a bad flu season and things should be better by the time we returned, that is until we got a glimpse of the news in our hotel in Hanoi. That’s when we heard there was a sickness that was affecting people across the world in small numbers and that we should be extremely careful.
Our first homestay in Hanoi was a two-bedroom, two bath apartment in a high rise building quite removed from the action of the city. Once we arrived to the busy streets of Hoan Kiem Lake area, we found a banh mi and egg cream coffee to check off our must-do list.
Hanoi was our base city and we enjoyed most of our time there. Marni and I ate plenty of street food from banh mi to fresh fruit and pho (minus the mystery meat) but what I discovered is that the very best thing I put in my mouth was the iced coconut coffee. OMG! First, I love coffee but it/caffeine does not love me. It makes me talk fast and my heart race. I become sweaty, fidgety and nervous so I rarely drink it and when I do I ask for decaf. No one in Vietnam knew what I was talking about when I asked for decaf so I sacrificed and drank only caffeinated coffees. Lol! These icy, creamy and mildly sweet and bitter concoctions are simply the most delicious coffee drink I have ever put in my mouth. It was far better than the egg coffee and egg hot chocolate. My travel mates had to ration them to me because they got tired of me complaining of heart palpitations. If I ever get my hands on one of those fancy espresso machines I promise to try and reverse engineer this addictingly delectable drink.
Hanoi was beautiful! We hung out mostly near Hoan Kiem Lake where good food, according to my mother that means western food; shopping and all around good vibes can be found. She, my mother, totally lost it on me and Marni when we discussed trying a new restaurant in the area. She was clearly hangry and tired and really didn’t want to experiment with food at that point. After reading her the menu and and asking the waitstaff about a few items, Marni and I talked her into going in. Then, she raves that it was the best fried rice she has ever had in Asia. We also did a red bus tour in Hanoi, hung out on beer street and watched a traditional water puppet show. Hanoi is definitely worth visiting but keep it to 2-3 days.
We spent my birthday on an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay.
I started this excursion with a great deal of excitement until my mother’s complaints about sleeping on a boat threatened to ruin my day. Can you tell by the look on my face that I was over it?? She commented multiple times that she felt uncomfortable sleeping on the water… she was nervous… she can’t swim… I mean one would have thought I booked us on a plastic life raft for the night. Hell I can’t swim either but there was zero chance I was going to Vietnam and not seeing Ha Long Bay. So we went. We had a pit stop at a pearl factory on our way down.
Ha Long Bay was magnificent! The small, yet tall tree covered mountains darted from the water in every direction. The only thing that could have made it more beautiful would have been to visit on a sunny day. Even with the grey backdrop, this place seemed majestic. There were lots of boats in the bay. I found myself thinking I hope we do not ruin this place with trash and chemicals from the boats.
We visited two large islands where we did some impressive hiking. I was proud of myself and my momma-even though she lit a cigarette half way up one of the cliffs. The height made the views even better. Marni and I took a smaller boat into one of the caves. There were many monkeys inside the cave areas. You guys know I don’t do well with wild animals. They stayed on land, luckily.
When we returned from Ha Long Bay, the news that this “very serious flu” was spreading all over the world. At this point, I don’t think there had been any deaths in America but we knew it was indeed serious and highly contagious. More people were wearing masks in the streets. Around this time, my mom started to feel more tired and was having trouble with both of her eyes. She was beginning to get a stye on the top of one eyelid and the bottom of the other. I warned her to stop wearing her makeup but she refused for several days. Within two days both of her eyes were almost swollen shut and she couldn’t keep her hands out her face. We got the name of an over-the-counter eye cream that we picked up from the pharmacy. It didn’t work so she unfortunately had to have a minor procedure done in a small medical center were the doctor lanced and drained one of the styes. It was painful to watch and she screamed and cried but managed to make it through. They gave her a nifty little eye patch to rock for the rest of the day. I accidently left her in the middle of the street leaving the doctors office. I forgot she couldn’t see from one side. I had to run back and grab her because the traffic don’t play in Vietnam. She began to feel better almost immediately despite how crazy she looked. Lol!
My mom enjoyed the rest of our tour through central and northern Vietnam so much more after having that stye lanced. She was much more fun to be around too. Lol! From here, we visited Hoi An and Da Nang. I will tell you about that adventure in part 2 of My on the Run Tour-From China to America and Back to China Again. See you then.