On an Ao Dai High in Saigon

beautiful woman in Ao Dai

beautiful ao dai woman 1960ishShe was stunning. And, for all practical purposes, I was stalking her. Moving past a lineup of tarnished, stationary yet imposing tanks and helicopters leftover from the Vietnam War, the woman wore a long sleeved neon yellow tunic dress fitted over flowing white trousers that barely revealed the tops of pointy kitten heeled shoes. Although in full 2014 vibrant color, she looked like she came straight from a black and white photo shoot for a 1960s Life magazine pictorial of Saigon.

This was my first up-close sighting of a woman wearing an ao dai, Vietnam’s traditional, elegant high-collared dress with slits up the sides that is typically worn with silk pants.


In the courtyard of Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants museum, I first pretended to be examining a tank, US Army 09A78969, and then moved closer to a wall displaying bold primary colored propaganda posters. I scrutinized one featuring Ho Chi Minh as if I was completely literate in Vietnamese. Really, I was just working up the nerve to ask the woman in the ao dai for a photo.

She was standing with a man who wore a polo shirt, khakis and had a camera dangling from his neck. Since we were at a museum, I assumed he was a tourist and the woman was possibly his guide — especially since she gestured toward the tank while she talked to the polo man. In a quiet moment, I finally approached her and asked if she spoke English.

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A “crazy dog” and roasting marshmallows with chopsticks in Sapa, Vietnam


Li takes a rare break from our trek and checks her cell phone.

Li takes a rare break from our trek and checks her cell phone.

Outside of Sapa, Vietnam, May 2014

Along the 15 kilometer trek to a hilly homestay in Northern Vietnam, our 4’8″ Hmong guide, Li, insisted that 11 other tourists and I did not need to stop for water and that we would slow the whole group down by taking too many photos of the rice terraces.

One view of the stunning rice terraces around Sapa, Vietnam

How could we not take photos? One view of the stunning rice terraces around Sapa, Vietnam

Li was a tad hardcore. After all, she and other Hmong guides probably cruised that route at least twice a day while wearing what amounted to shower slip ons. So when Li told us she had news, and we better gather around to listen, the twelve of us did. Right away.

“There is a crazy dog in the village. It has killed four people,” she announced as she sat cross legged in the traditional Hmong black leg warmers on the cement patio floor of the homestay abode we had finally reached.

“Is she talking about a rabid dog?” I asked my friend Debbie in a hushed tone so I wouldn’t get reprimanded. Seriously? And I had been worried about the mamma water buffalo that seemed irritated when I inadvertently cut off her baby on the rice terrace trail.

“Do not go into the village. If you walk in the village and the dog bites you, it is your fault not mine. I tell you now,” Li said.

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Travel Oops: Leaving my beach bag at the Market Lady’s stall in Bali

© R. Stacker (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonasphoto/)

© R. Stacker

Sanur, Bali, 2010.

After taking another tasty, turmericy bite of Nasi Goreng, Indonesia’s version of fried rice, and sipping a semi warm Bintang, I look up and see her. The Market Lady—she is standing, waiting just at the sandy edge of the beach restaurant where we are eating in Sanur, Bali. As I make eye contact, she smiles and waves. Waving back, I look down at my rice.

“Kurt, the Market Lady is staring at us.” I tell my husband, since, from his plastic patio seat, his back is to her. “She’s following us.”

“Well, you told her we’d come back to her store.”

© Kermitz1 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/kermitz/9035768437/)

© Kermitz1

He is right. Earlier in the day, on our way to play in the Indian Ocean, we walked through a marketplace near the beach in Sanur. Despite the lack of customers, it was full of stalls with proprietors selling items, including wind chimes, kites, scarves, batik sarongs, bags, T-shirts, jewelry, straw hats and beach mats. Most of the shopkeepers were middle-aged women.

Sweating, Kurt and I trundled through with our kids, Eddie and Kasey, and lugged all our beach gear as one of the women approached us and gestured toward her store. She wore a turban-like head wrap, button down blue shirt, a gold and black batik printed sarong, as well as faded red plastic flip flops.

© Cameron Adams (https://www.flickr.com/photos/themaninblue/4542887953/)

© Cameron Adams

“Come, I have beautiful things to show you. I will make you a good price,” she announced. Limp tendrils of hair, which had escaped the wrap, stuck to her forehead; her temples glistened. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled and she exuded calm, which wasn’t surprising, really, since the entire island of Bali seemed to project that particular personality trait.

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Travel Oops — Memorable New York Moments

© Terabass

The clean version of Times Square. © Terabass

Gaping at the emerging New York cityscape through our smudgy cab window, I lurched to the side when the vehicle careened over into the next lane. Our cab driver leaned out his open window.

“What the hell? Get the FUCK out of my way!” He let go of the steering wheel with his left hand and flung it out the window with his middle finger completely erect. “You gonna CUT me off? (Rhetorical question, I guess.) You gonna cut ME off? We veered back into our lane, and I’m pretty sure there was screeching. I believe we burned rubber.


The cab driver leaned back out the window “You wanna die young?” He finally brought his head back in and to no one in particular, concluded, “Stick it up you ass.”

There was silence for at least a full awkward minute.

“So how long are you guys in New York?”

In the back seat, while my parents shared expressions of sheer shock, I looked over at my sister and our eyes both got wide.

AWESOME. TOTALLY awesome. It was like a scene out of a movie, and we had only been in New York a mere 30 minutes.

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Signs of the Times: Happy Trails?  I think not…

YIkes! I don't think I'll go any further.

YIkes! I don’t think I’ll go any further.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.

This is one way to keep people from tromping off the path — and, really, ON the path as well. Notice in the photo below that there is a bench right in the poison ivy patch. Good thing poison ivy is a perennial.

I think I stand, from a distance, thank you!

Have a seat? I think I’ll stand, from a distance, thank you!

Travel Oops: The ‘Tomato Sauce’ Tirade

The source of my ethnocentrism. Tomato sauce. © Amy Frazier

The source of my ethnocentrism. Tomato sauce. © Amy Frazier

Tomato sauce. That’s what made me go epically ethnocentric when I lived in Adelaide, Australia, for one year as an exchange teacher. I didn’t mean for it to happen, especially since, frankly, Oz is awesome, and I started thinking perhaps I was more Aussie than American. Plus, I’ve always tried to embrace various cultures, respect different customs and avoid going down Ethnocentric Avenue. After all, I once ate an entire portion of hideous headcheese in Paris for lord’s sake.

“We Gonna Rock Down to ‘Ethnocentric Avenue’”

Of course, culture shock is completely normal, and it’s to be expected that travelers will, in some way, compare the country they are visiting to their own. The international non-profit organization, Unite for Site, which relies on volunteers to help with global eye care health in remote villages, has a great explanation of culture shock:

No matter how open-minded or accepting, all travelers are susceptible to culture shock;  for their means of interacting effectively with society have been knocked out from under them. Even seasoned travelers are vulnerable to culture shock when traveling to an unfamiliar foreign country. What begins as discomfort and confusion subtly progresses to frustration, anxiety, irritability, loneliness, and withdrawal.

Unite for Site also warns about the dangers of ethnocentrism, which they define as “the unconscious presumption that there is one normal, single way of doing things, and that deviations from this universal order are wrong.”

An American roundabout. They actually make much more sense.

An American roundabout. They actually make much more sense.

The most adjusted travelers, in my opinion, also get ethnocentric about certain aspects of culture — usually over small things. At least that’s what happened in my case — when I had a tantrum over something trivial. It’s definitely a moment I cringe about now.

I actually thought I might lose it over driving through roundabouts, which terrified me every time they appeared in the road. Even my young kids knew this. “My mom hates roundabouts,” Eddie and Kasey would tell their new Australian friends.

While scary, roundabouts, I had to admit, were practical and more efficient than four way stops.

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Signs of the Times: See A Mountain Lion? Put Up Your Dukes…

© Stephanie Glaser

Utah and Colorado. Wildlife is great and all, and who doesn’t want to see animals in their natural habitat? There is something disconcerting, however, when you see these kinds of signs in the areas you will be camping or hiking. It’s even worse that the advice they post is pretty dang ridiculous — in that you’d actually be able to perform these death prevention techniques. Continue reading

Travel Oops: “Und Now Ve Dance…”

Scan 63

Cologne (Köln), Germany, May, 1995

The ill-fitting, bulky black pleather pants seemed suctioned to and definitely gripped to our German tour guide’s legs.

Meanwhile, the yellow tinted John Lennon glasses he wore had migrated down his glistening nose. He unbuttoned his tweed jacket, revealing a black T-shirt that covered a bit of a paunch.

Mike Myers as Dieter

Mike Myers as Dieter

He looked like a portlier version of comedian Mike Myers’s Saturday Night Live character, “Dieter,” from “Sprockets,” the comedy sketch about an avant-garde German talk show host who suggests to guests: “Und now ve dance” with spasmodic, pseudo techno, pre-twerk moves.

I was glad tour guide Dieter’s boss let him wear vinyl and black rather than some green and red lederhosen knickers nightmare. That, no doubt, would have completely crushed tour guide Dieter’s spirit.

While it was not a good look, the fact that he unbuttoned his jacket was the only sign, however, that Dieter may have overheated. He wasn’t, for a moment, going to let anyone see him crack as the result of an unseasonably warm day in Cologne, Germany, and some non-breathable plastic threads.

Cologne cathedral

Kölner Dom, Cologne’s impressive Gothic cathedral.

Without looking, he motioned toward the Kölner Dom, a UNSECO World Heritage Site and the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, as if it was nothing more than his parents’ basement. He then briefly mentioned something about the Cologne Cathedral being bombed 14 times, almost to the ground, by fighter planes in the early 1940s. He did not add that this was during World War II.

It was pretty clear that Dieter did not want to be leading Americans, or rather any tourists, on a walking tour of Cologne. But that was his job. I wondered what compelled him to do something he obviously loathed. Did he do this to fund a laser light show that he synchronized to dripping faucets? Or perhaps he needed to finance his Kraftwerk cover band or maybe he needed to buy acrylics for his modern art collection entitled: “Schwarze Kreise auf Schwarzem Hintergrund” (Black Circles on Black Backgrounds)

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Signs of the Times: A real travel Oops

© Lottie Nevin

© Lottie Nevin

Bali, Indonesia. How cool is this photo of this restaurant, which I feel compelled to visit!? This pic was given to me by Lottie Nevin, who is a fantastic blogger and photographer. Her hilarious blog is one of my favorites, and I consider Lottie to be a dear friend. She has always encouraged and supported me. Thanks, Lottie!

Signs of the Times: Slipping with Serious Style

Jazz hands everyone! Falling can be flashy..

From Ski Cooper, Colorado: Jazz hands everyone! The Flashy Fall.

It seems like in every country, we know that yellow or orange signs signal caution. But that doesn’t mean these signs have to be boring and the same! I’ve noticed that “Slippery When Wet” signs vary quite a bit. The above sign is my favorite — this guy knows how to slip and land on his bum Broadway Style. Jazz hands everyone!

The following photos are part of the Slipping with Style collection.

Ski Cooper, Colorado. Skiers may know a few things about falling so there’s nothing wrong with adding some style — like the can can

Love the high kick on this one. Time to do the Can Can Save!

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