Wednesday, March 26, 2008


There is no place like home. I came home on the 21st after a 14 hour flight. It was supposed to be a 4 hour direct flight!

I spent the last weekend in Mexico City because I wanted to see the Museum of Anthropology and the historical downtown. I thought Mexico City would be overwhelming, but it is quite manageable. It doesn't seem to be as crowded as some Asian cities.

The museum is huge! My legs were sore by the end of three hours from all the walking. The Mexican culture is very rich; the indigenous section alone took two floors of the building.

I went with another student, Ryan, who has been in Mexico City many times. We took the metro to get around. It's very clean and cheap. Although, it is one of the most dangerous cities, it did not feel like it. I saw a few ruins inside the metro station as well. When the government was digging the city, they found a few underground ruin sites. The government designed the city around these sites to preserve the ruin. The biggest of this ruin is the Temple of Mayor which is in the historical district.

The historical district also have a small Chinatown. We had food at a Chinese restaurant, which was good, but a bit greasy.

I liked Mexico City, but I like Cuernavaca a lot better because it is more manageable; however, it can be more expensive than Mexico City.

I also spent an afternoon at a water park a couple hours away from Cuernavaca. I tried out all the rides. Some of the water parks have very dangerous rides that they have women signed a liability form before riding it.

Overall, the trip was worthwhile. I enjoyed learning about the Mexican culture, the cuisine, the polictics and appreciate the friendliness of the people and the hospitality of my host mom. I couldn't have done that without living here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I just got over my seven day flu! I didn´t think I was going to get it in Mexico. I don´t even remembered the last time I had it. Cuernavaca´s climate is dry so it´s extremely hot during the day and very cold at night.

Its architecture is a reminder of the colonial time. Hernan Cortes, the Spaniard conquistador, who built his palace and country home here. I saw his country home, the Haciendas de Cortes, which has been renovated into a hotel, and it`s gorgeous!

Before I got sick, I went to a nearby village called Teopotzlan, and climbed a steep hill to get to a pyramid. The village is full of cliffs and mountains and has been in major film productions due to its magnificient landscape.

I plan to go to Mexico city this weekend to visit the historical center and the Museum of Anthropology. It is one of the best and biggest museums in the world. Can´t wait. I hope all of you well.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Week 2

Cuernavaca is beautiful and manageable in spite of recent commercialization. I only spoke Spanish—broken Spanish that is—as soon as I got here. I didn’t have to start school right away so I did some sightseeing of the city. I visited the botanical garden that was the home of Emperor Maximilian and was disappointed by the scale of the place and collections of plants. It was probably half the size of the National Mall and the plants were pathetic.

I also visited the Palace of Cortes, which currently house a museum. At the entrance was a skeleton in its original state in a fetal position. I think that how people were buried back then.
The museum traced the history of Mexico from prehistoric to modern times. I especially the revolution section and learned more about individuals who contributed to the cause including Vicente Guerrero and Emiliano Zapato. I also saw a huge mural painted by famous artist, Diego Rivera, that visually tells the history of Mexico. I hope to have a chance to visit the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo museums in Mexico.

I also visited the Cathedral. It’s kind of ironic that their was a crossbone and skull at the entrance. It was used as a fort as well. The church is still in use. It has a very mystic feel to it. It is probably one of my favorite churches.

I went to a local park near my house, Chapulterpec, which was a lot nicer than the botanical garden and saw all kinds of animals and befriended a gardener who taught me the names of different herbs and plants in Spanish. There are lots of bugumbilias here in brilliant colors of hot pink, purple, yellow, pink, etc. It looks a lot like downtown DC when the cherry blossoms are bloom except their trees that blossom here are called jacaranda ( I think).

My favorite place is the Morelos Plaza which is filled with the young and old, vendors, skaters. At dusk, people come out to dance on the plaza. It has a very cozy feel to it. I bought a few jewelry pieces there. Atiyyah, I got your present already.

The people are very friendly and helpful. Some helped me practice Spanish while others help me navigate the bus route. The public transportation is amazing here, although the buses are quite old. At most, I have to wait for 5 minutes before the bus come. The bus drivers are very skillful at driving a manual bus and giving people change as board the bus. It only cost about 30 cents to go around the city. On average, people’s average monthly salary is $3000 pesos, which is about $300 U.S dollars.

My host mom, Carmen, is a great cook. Her cooking is very healthy and not as all greasy. She also teaches me how to cook Mexican food as well. So far, I´ve learned how to make Mexican rice, guacamole, and cactus. I also made a few Vietnamese dishes for her, but of course, my cooking is not the same since I can’t buy fish sauce here. Unfortunately, I have to shop at a Wal-mart store since it is the closest one to my house. I also learned that the grocery baggers do not get paid here. Instead, they earn money from tips.

I don’t like eating out here because I never know what to expect. I ordered a Cuban sandwich from a vendor and I was afraid to eat it because she put too much meat and the meat looked kind of old. I also went to a fancy Japanese restaurant and the food was horrible! How could they messed up on a California roll or fried rice!

I started school last Monday and it’s very tiring since I am in sessions from 9 to 2. It takes me about 45 minutes to get home and I am starving by the time I am home. But then again, after lunch, I’d take a siesta. I learned from my host mom that the biggest meal here is lunch and dinner is very small. I love the fruits here. Mangoes, papayas, avocadoes are in abundance. I have them every morning along with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.

I had an opportunity to visit one of the largest and most important ruins in Mexico, Teoticuahan, but I didn’t take it because I saw too many ruins already! When I was in Asia, I saw too many temples and in Europe, too many churches. I guess, every country has its specialties.

I am enjoying my time here, but it would be nice to share the experience with someone or to have some familiarities. I guess, that will come with time. As for right now, my priority is to learn Spanish since some of you’ve already written to me in Spanish. My goal is to have a strong foundation of the language and then to continue to study it in the U.S. Already, I am having a hard time conjuring up some words in English. I hope to dream in Spanish soon since it’s a sign a comfort in a language. Hai and Victor, are you guys dreaming in Vietnamese yet???

Take care. Until next time…. By the way, I had a dream in Spanish last night!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Week 1: Vacation in Cancun, Riviera Maya, and the Yucatan

This is my attempt to stay in touch with you all while I am in Mexico until the 21st of March. Feel free to post your comments or share your own stories. Let´s stay connected! Here is the link our photos:

Day 1:
As soon as we arrived in Cancun, a woman tried to get us to go on a timeshare presentation while we were picking up our rental car. Hai and I learned from our past mistake of going on a timeshare presentation in Puerto Vallarta where we lost the entire afternoon to people trying to get us to buy a timeshare condo for a ridiculous price. After picking Hai´s favorite car, the Chevy Comfort, we drove off to Playa del Carmen, which is south of Cancun.

The Frommer travel book claimed that Playa del Carmen still have a small town feel to it; this was not the case. It has a major highway running through it. We did do much for first day, except eating at a bad restaurant and walking on Playa del Carmen´s crowded beach, and having agressive salespeople trying to get us to go a snorkeling trip or to buy souvenirs on 5th Avenue. They tried to get our attention by asking us, ´´Do you speak English? Japanese? Are you Canadian?´´´After awhile, Hai and I became nonresponsive to these questions.

Day 2: Cozumel

The next day we took an expensive ferry ride to Cozumel, which is off the coast of Playa del Carmen, to meet up with Hai’s parents and traveling company: Hai’s uncle and aunt, and his parents’ friends. They were on a Caribbean cruise and their ship was docking in Cozumel for the day. We spent the afternoon at the Paradise beach where some of us went kayaking, rode the waverunner, swam and lounged on the beach. I was impressed with the old men because were the one who went kayaking and the wave runner! There wasn’t much to see on the part of Cozumel that we saw, just lots of shopping. After parting with Hai´s parents and had dinner there, we headed back to the mainland. Again, we were met by the salespeople on 5th Avenue who kept asking us, “Do you speak English? Are you Japanese?” This pretty much happened for the rest of the trip.

Day 3: Tulum, Sian Kaan Biosphere, and Muyil

Tulum served as a sea port to the Mayan and still flourished for another 70 years after the Spanish conquest. The ruin wasn’t that spectacular, but it has a gorgeous turquoise beach overlooking a cliff. I went for a dip alone since Hai forgot his swim trunk. We saw lots of iguanas chilling in the sun and didn’t seem to mind being a center of attention to the tourists.

We headed south afterwards to the Sian Kaan Reserve, which is a protected jungle and this was where the road signs just suddently disappeared. We ended up wasting half an hour trying to find the entrance. We actually went too far and had to run around to find the entrance at Muyil, which has several ruins located before the lagoon, which is where the jungle begins. We saw a couple of ruins before walking through the jungle. It was treat not to have any other tourists or anyone else there, except for this little boy who we thought was another visitor. However, as we headed towards the laguna to see the jungle, he charged us more money to enter. It ended up costing us about $10 for each person more than what we paid for later on when we visited the Ek Balaam ruin and Chitchen Itza ruin. When we arrived at the lagoon, we found out from the boatmen that can take us around the lagoon to see the mangroves and such for $60. We didn’t bother to negotiate since it was late and we decided to head back to Playa del Carmen. We didn´t want to drive back in the dark on the highway that there were no streetlights.

Day 4: Cancun and the horrible hotel
I reserved a room at the Imperial Laguna Hotel for $40 on Priceline was good to us last time when we were in Mexico, but not this time. The location, garden, pool, and restaurant, were great, but our room was awful. It was musty and old. It seemed like no one had been there for awhile. As Hai put it, it felt like being in a basement. Two hours into the night, we both agreed to move to another hotel even though we already pay for the four nights. We couldn’t even sleep that night!

Day 5 and 6: Isla Mujeres
2/16 and 2/17

The next day, we headed off to Isla Mujeres, a small island off of Cancun. We got a nice and clean hotel for the next two nights. This was the most relaxing, but also the most frightening part of our vacation. We spent most of our time walking around town, chilling at the North Beach, which is pristine and shallow. We literally walked over a km into the ocean and the water had only reached our waists. We had great and affordable food there, but nothing compared to what we had on our last trip in Barra de Navidad.

The relaxing trip turned deadly when we snorkeling. After checking out three snorkeling shops, we went with the one that offered grilled fish for lunch. I ate a lot of pescado frito (fried fish) on this trip. Hai also enjoyed it, too. He likes anything that is fried. Unfortunately for us, the water was rough for snorkeling. Our two young guides, one is about 20 and the other 12, did not speak English. They forgot to give us our flippers. The 12 year old one served as our guide. He wasn’t not wearing a float or had any rescue equipment. The water was so rough that we did not have control of where we were going. Hai suggested for us to go back to get the flippers. I didn’t think they would help, so I suggested otherwise. It was a mistake, the farther out we went, the less control we had. We ended up being left behind by our group as we being pushed toward of the reefs.

Luckily, Pepe came to our rescue. He’s a legendary dolphin that is well known for saving people.

Just kidding...although we saw dolphins. For $125, one would be able to swim with the dolphins for 20 minutes or so. Pepe was a leader of another group and was doing a good job in directing his group and making sure that everyone is accounted for. He noticed that he wasn’t not part of his group, but he told us to stay with us. When he noticed that both Hai and I were tired and scared, he told us to rest on his rescued float as he pulled us along. The people in this group also looked out for each other making sure that one is left behind or going to far. Although, I usually find Americans to be obnoxious abroad, this was one of the few times, I am glad that they were looking out for Hai and I. As we fought to stay afloat, I wanted to make the snorkeling trip worth by putting my head in the water to look at the fish. I kept telling Hai to do the same. It was the last thing he wanted to do! Then, one of the guys in the group, wanted to take a group picture! For God’s Sake, we just wanted to make alive. Granted we had floats on, but it was a scary experience being pushed by the water so forcefully.

The guide on the boat went back to look for us, but then left again. Once Pepe saw that we were out of danger water, he told us to swim towards our boat. We were grateful that he was there. We are going to name our new dog, Pepe, when we get one this coming April.

Day 7: Full Day in the Yucatan

We took the toll highway towards Chitchen Itza and made a pit stop at a town called Valladadoid, where I bought a pair of sandals made by a local shoemaker and Hai bought another turtle, a wooden and orange one. We bought a whole bunch of toy turles on this trip. My pair of sandals were comfortable and cheap. We also went for a swim at Cenote Ditznup, which is located outside of town. Mexico is filled with cenotes, which are natural underground pools located in caves. The water was very clear and full of fish. It was refreshing and great to swim in the mineral water that took thousands of years to accumulate.

After the swim, I convinced Hai to take another pit stop to Ek Balaam, (translated as Black Jacguar), a recently discovered ruin that have a pyramid higher than the main one in Chitchen Itza. Again, we got lost because of the limited signs directing us there. We went too far, had to turn around, spoke broken Spanish to ask for directions. Mexico has many unnecessary signs like “Buckle Up! Don’t Drive When Your Tired. Do not Throw Trash,” but very few signs to the actual destinations. The trip was worth it when we saw the ruins. It was magnificent and manageable since there were only few dozens tourists there. We hopped around from one ruin to another. Climbing the step of the tallest pyramid there was fine, but coming down was a bit scary. Although we did not see any jacguar inscriptions—probably removed for research and restoration—we saw the gigantic teeth of the jacguar.

By now, it was bout four and we did not expect to get to Chitchen Itza before dark, but wanted to catch the laser light show where lights were beamed on the major ruins in the front, including the main pyramid. A Spanish narration accompanied the light show, but ended up getting bored because we did not understand much. We did not think that the light show was going to be so wordy and didn´t bother getting an English interpretation headset.

The good thing was that the the waxing moon was out, illuminating the whole area. That was nice.

We left for Cancun at 8pm, but somehow was driving on the free highway, which was slow since it was full of topes or speed bumps every time we passed a village. We entered the toll road in Valladadoid to save time. The toll highway is very expensive in Cancun. It cost us $25 to go to Chitzen Itza, which is only two hours away. Needless to say, we were tired and cranky ( the latter part is mostly me), and checked in a hotel near Puerto Juarez, the Cancun port area. A few hookers approached our car as Hai tried to park the car. I am bad at choosing hotels. Can you tell? The hotel was shabby, but a bit nicer than the Imperial Laguna hotel. It didn’t have any hot water!

Day 8: Encounter with the Policia
The next day left at 8am for the airport and as we left the hotel, I told Hai to take a left on a one way street when his instinct was to take right. To my defense, there wasn’t any signs there to indicate that it was a one way. Just was we took a left, we faced a police car. We were pulled over! One of the two police officers approached our car, asked for Hai’s driver’s license and registration, and proceeded to tell us that he did not have any tickets, and he would need to take the registration and ID back to the station where we would need to pay our fine for our infraction. Using my broken Spanish, I begged, “ Our flight is at 10! We’ll be late! We did not know. Our hotel is right here!” He was not empathetic.

“Can we just pay you?” We hit the right question. He went back to his car and discussed the fee with his partner. When he walked away, I took $400 pesos from Hai’s purse and hid it. Just in case, they took everything, we still have some money for gas. When he came back, he asked us to pay him $5000 pesos! It turned out his English was not good and he meant to pay him $500 pesos. We paid him and could not wait to return the car. I felt so bad. It was one of the few times when I was wrong. Just kidding, Hai. It was Hai´s first bribe to the police. :0)

I was sad to say goodbye to Hai at the airport. It did not hit me until then that I’d be without him for six weeks.

The flight to Mexico City was on time. I took the bus to Cuernavaca straight from the airport. The ride was soothing and the sceneries were of luscious, green, and rolling mountains. To be continued....