Our First Airbnbs

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I’ve always wanted to try Airbnbs and now that I have, how can I ever go back to staying in hotels?  This is way, way, way better — much more space and the feeling of home for much less cost.  It gets addicting poring over the choices but once you’ve made the choice and dive into it, the rewards are enormous.

The first one we stayed in Ho Chi Minh was in a little alley in the older part of town and even though the roads are noisy, you are completely protected once inside.  The space was a celebration of light, of getting light through to the inner areas and of simple and honest construction.  Joshua can’t forget the banh mi on the street corner down the road and I can’t forget the pho.

The second one was in Nha Trang, a bit off the central area.   The unit was on the 35th floor of a tower block and it was a bit inconvenient going up and down because there were too many people and it made me yearn for being in a low building like the first bnb.  The reason I chose this over the others was rather silly but practical.  It was because it had Netflix!  This location had another unexpected advantage: the beach is quieter and less populated than the longer stretch of sand Nha Trang is famous for.

The third was back in Ho Chi Minh but this time we picked a spot near where James lived which is where a lot of expats are concentrated where there are a number of International Schools.  Modern areas meet the older parts of town in a healthy jumble.  The owner of this Airbnb enjoyed adding touches of home that even the WiFi password, “welcomehomemydear” makes you feel exactly that way.

Three Airbnbs, two nights each, allowed us to vegetate, chillax, do a good share of study and work in the comforts of homes that don’t make you feel like a total stranger in a strange land at all.

After writing that, we went to the airport where too belatedly, I realized rather sheepishly that 1:35 does not mean PM but AM.  I needed to scrounge for a fourth Airbnb and if the first three were a walk in the park, the fourth one was anything but — giving me more lessons in an already learning-laden trip.  The owner of the condominium unit was from Korea and because I had booked on the same day, the cleaners arrived late so the owner did not know on the ground what was happening.  I kept messaging him and he assured me everything was okay when it was not.  Anyway, long story short, there is the side of Airbnb that may not be as idyllic and it’s as business-driven as any.  They seem to raise prices on weekend and the more you search like other algorithm maximizing platforms.

Still, adventures into the unknown are beset with uncertainty and the more you experience, the better it is for your learning curve.  The lesson learned in this case is — it’s better to book in advance when it’s Airbnb.  However, when you do need the Airbnb right away, be careful of owners who have multiple units in the same building because there might be a mix-up and be ready to accept that it might not be cleaned up on time.

Still would choose Airbnbs over hotels if given the option.

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In Love With Design Again

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It’s me and my ex-boyfriend again, my on-and-off — Architecture — because Vietnam reminds me this one is a keeper and I’d be foolish to let it go — design that sparks joy because love is at the root.

This is just one restaurant with gorgeous interior-exterior and equally superb food:

 

The name of the place is:

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I wish I could go back to Hum during the day time and take pictures of the crazy fun sculptural tree house in the middle of the courtyard.  There’s a swing and boxes filled with wooden blocks and toys to entertain the kids while their parents dined on vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.   If it weren’t for James, I would’ve just been too lazy and chosen a place in the mall because it was right across the Airbnb.  There are many more like this gem where attention is paid to details but I didn’t have enough time to discover them since the kids were too tired to explore.  However, it’s more than enough to see glimpses and snippets, to feel gratitude and feel revived.

 

Well, I got my wish in an odd sort of way that the universe plays almost a mean joke.  I made the mistake of thinking 1:35 meant PM, not AM and we had to stay in Saigon an extra day.   So I was able to take more pictures:

 

I see parks like these in other countries and I wish I can be Bill Gates rich and buy all the land and turn them into parks with libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chill and Not-So-Chill

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We settled on a totally chill, lazy holiday pattern of waking up late, doing a bit of writing and reading exercises for the kids to make up for the sin that is to come — binging on Netflix and games, plus drinking too much bubble milk tea simply because it was there and there were no lines unlike in Manila.  We managed the minimum of sightseeing — just enjoying what’s there in front of us although we took the effort to fly to Nha Trang from Ho Chi Minh and suffered the regular flight delays that brought us back to Saigon at 4 am instead of the expected, ticketed midnight.  In Nha Trang, we stayed in the quieter part of the long stretch of beach towards the north.  Huge tower blocks housing tourists still loomed overhead but the shoreline is not as inundated with bodies as the famous lengthy stretch of sand south of the bridge.

The food, of course, is the best thing about Vietnam as Anthony Bourdain would probably agree, salivating over the plethora of street food that celebrates the bounty of the land.  Oh those generous plates of mint and greens that come with everything!  That beautifully soft Pho that is not supposed to be pronounced with an “oh” sound but an “uh.”  And I have passed on my love for Banh Mi to Joshua and Jimmy but where will we ever get that perfect baguette when we go home.  The kids were intrigued by ice cream made on a metal table that instantly freezes fruits, oreo, chocolate powder, together with milk to make thin crepes rolled and slid into cups.  The fish with big bones cooked in foil sealing in layers and layers of flavor — the cost is unbelievably low for all these.  I wonder and lament how can we get good food so way overpriced in our own country.

What’s not so chill is being the referee between a 9-year old and a 6-year old who are at each other’s throat, ready to kill each other.  What’s not so chill is being the only parent there with no reliever.  I appreciated my husband’s role even more because it gets too tiring to keep the two apart when they fight.  What’s not so chill is losing my temper because I’m sick of the whining and ugly attitude.  What’s not so chill is resorting repeatedly to reward and punishment and wishing there was a better way based on intrinsic motivation more than anything else. What’s not so chill is the nagging complaints about flight delay that I just promise them I’ll never make such arrangements and we’ll just stick to one place next time.  I’ll probably be tempted to organize another crazy schedule in the future so then I’ll need to remind myself of the three-hour delay and the sleepy eyed, slumping lumps who almost refused to carry their own weights up and down the plane.

Still the best part of the trip for me is spending time with James and bonding with the kids.  James solved the problem of Joshua’s PUB-G not being able to update.  We were able to listen to James’ reading of the Lorax in celebration of Earth Day at the school where he works.   The night time breeze, swinging in the park, flowers that smell divine, enjoying an extra hour with Amani at Jump Arena, riding two grab motorcycles, watching footballers on the sand, creating a temporary masterpiece that can’t be captured by my camera, finding the perfect luggage and Pikachu in the airport — like layers of flavor build up a dish, layers of moments build up our lives.  The chill parts still override those that are not so chill.

 

Escape to Vietnam

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The escape to Vietnam started on the wrong foot.  We erroneously thought that visa on arrival meant that Jason could literally get a visa “on arrival” but it actually meant applying online days in advance.   Jason stayed behind while the three of us flew and arrived after midnight in a strange, seemingly unfriendly city because the immigration officer was gruff — yes, that’s their job — but to shout, “I don’t care!” like a tantrum-throwing child is quite another thing.  Then against all travel wisdom, I got hoodwinked by a driver who approached us in the airport and overcharged us but not by much since I fought with him each step of the way.  I wanted to step out of the car but it was nearly three in the morning and I had to get the kids to the Airbnb.  These unpleasantries were completely erased the morning after by the sheer joy of seeing James, a friend from TEDA, China days whom I haven’t seen since Joshua was a year old.

This is the perfect holiday for me — just to reunite, catch up with life stories with an old friend.  And for Joshua and Jimmy’s perfect day, James arranged a mega playdate with four other boys — Amani, Thyrdy, Raighne, Rafee, complete with swimming, giant sandbox playground, chips, cupcakes, skateboarding on a rooftop and late night movies.  It was great to meet fellow Filipinos, Rasul and Dianne from James’ school plus Mei and her three-year old daughter, Ella.

Joshua and Jimmy took turns riding with James on the Vietnamese’s preferred mode of transportation – the motorbike.  How complete can one’s experience of Ho Chi Minh be?  With James, the bad impression in the first few hours in Saigon flipped over to “I want to live here!”  I totally understood why James, Rasul and Dianne loved being here and how more relaxed and uncomplicated life is.

 

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Lift Off!

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On the second floor of Commune Cafe at Poblacion, one of the most happening places in Manila, Abot Tala rocketed into space — it’s temporary abode for the summer months of April and May while its home in Taguig is being renovated.  Maybe one week is too short to say but we are already loving it so much, we wish we could expand the age group to cover grade school, not only high school.  Our hearts are brimming when teens, tweens and parents describe their experience at the center.

It’s not too late to join.  If you think self-directed education is something that resonates with you and would like to try it out, just send us a message or drop by Commune.  We’re there Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 3pm.

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Abot Tala is a member of the Liberated Learners which seek to spread the North Star model of self-directed learning for teens. Read more about it from Ken Danford himself, founder of North Star: Building a New Reality: School is Optional.

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There are so many people to thank, so many supporters, cheerleaders, believers, people who gave us courage and strength.  Our deepest gratitude and appreciation goes out to each of you for making this possible.