Just another day in Hội An

Last week my best friend from college was in town for a vacation. We hadn’t seen each other for more than two years, so it was so much fun to hang out with her in Hoi An. Actually the first time I visited Hoi An was with her back in summer 2008. We had just graduated from college and took a South-bound trip across Vietnam together. Hoi An has changed so much since then, and so have we. That summer night in 2008 we went out and ate Hoi An chicken rice and drank their bitter rice-based alcohol. Afterwards we walked back to our hotel at 10 pm, and along the way we got a bit scared and lost among the many dark, quiet, narrow back alleys of the old town. But of course nothing happened other than in our imaginations.

And we helped take a million pictures for each other. It seems like nowadays we don’t like being in front of the camera anymore. We’re a lot more interested in photographing other people and scenes. So this time we just walked the old streets that are so much more bustling than they were eight years ago, talked and took pictures along the way, stopped for a coffee here and there, and then walked some more. It was so relaxing to just do simple things with her. After all, it doesn’t matter where you are and what you do; it’s really the company that matters.

Here are some photos I snapped during the walk with my friend that day. I hope you like them.

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Hoi An is a popular destination for pre-wedding photo shoots. It’s not unusual to see brides and grooms here in the early morning, late afternoon, and even in the evening. It always makes me happy to see them looking so young and in love.

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Portrait | Hà in Hội An

Catching up with old friends is always so rewarding to me! It’s as fun to make silly bad jokes as it is to sit quietly and enjoy their company. It’s comforting to know that I can repeat the same stories that were told last year, knowing that I’m never judged. And in the sense of seeing old friends, this Vietnamese Independence Day long weekend was comforting! Three of my old friends whom I met at different times in my life were on vacation in town. I had coffee with each of them separately on Sunday, feeling like I relived three different lives.

Hà was my college classmate in Hanoi and then she went to school in the U.S. around the same time with me. We traveled together several times to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It was fun this time to hang out with her in this little town of Hoi An. I took her to a friend’s place to buy a bag, got some clothes made, had lunch with grilled squid at a local restaurant, and then bought some more bags. (They were just Hoi An’s local straw bags, not Paris’ or Milan’s leather ones!)

I think Hà has a distinctive and beautiful look so I snapped a few photos and shared them here!

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PORTRAIT | QUỲNH IN HỘI AN

Quỳnh is an artist friend of mine in Hội An. I met her one morning last fall. When walking into my usual coffee place, I saw a woman hand-sewing blue leather straps into a beautiful reed bag. Turned out that she had painted that bag herself. Both of us loved her work and my husband asked if she would make a similar bag for his mom. Touched by a man looking for a pretty gift for his mother, she agreed to help, saying it was the first bag she made to order.

The second time we met, she was wearing Vietnamese modern áo dài that she designed and riding a little vintage Honda Cub in cream color. She looked like a Vietnamese woman back in the 1960s.

We met again a few days ago to work on several projects. I visited Quynh’s home and studio, where she lives with her boyfriend and a cat named Picasso. Her boyfriend is a painter too. Their studio is full of paintings, wood, textile and reed bags. Quynh has developed a bag line using local environment-friendly material (reeds). She embroiders or paints on the bags, and she even paints owners’ portraits on the bags as well. (I guess that would lower the rate of bag stealing.)

I went to her studio yesterday to photograph her bags in preparation for a workshop on bag-making and embroidery that she was teaching at a local crafts house. It was inspiring to see her and her boyfriend creating beautiful things in a little studio full of sunshine. I just had to capture that and share it here!

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Random thoughts and some photos of the Oregon Coast last year

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My mother-in-law is as cute and pretty as a doll. She was picking wild flowers for the house.
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I love wild flowers!

When I first learned about El Nino in middle school, little did I know that years later it would affect my very own cooking blog!
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Portrait| Katya in Hội An

I came across Katya’s cute and lively drawings on Instagram and fell in love with them instantly. I didn’t hesitate a second to ask her if she would be interested in trading a drawing for a photoshoot. The results are the lotus drawing you see in the blog header above and the photos below.

We took these on the streets of the Ancient Town of Hoi An one morning. Katya sketched out some ideas of how she wanted to be pictured, which made it easier for me as well. I like how the photos show different aspects of her that I feel in person: fun, calm, and mysterious. Thank you, Katya, for being such a beautiful model!

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“Greening” our tropical home

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We’ve been pretty busy for the past week “renovating” our house!

My feeling is that people here in Hoi An are very big on plants and bonsai. No matter how shabby a house might look, in its front yard there’re always frangipani, or some exotic, colorful tropical blossoms, or different kinds of palm trees and cactus. I spot people’s lovely plants and flowers every single day. I admire their beauty, and I get jealous! After one year of jealousy, I decided to add more green to our house and have been loving it so far!
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Beautiful Hội An | Early morning coffee

This morning I got up really early and took a walk in the old town of Hoi An. My new friend, Trang, a Hoi An local, took me to a street coffee place that was crowded at 6:30 am. 6:30! Yes, you heard it right!

Below are some snapshots I took during my leisure walk!

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Avocado and strings of steam rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. The latter became my breakfast soon after that.
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Trang showed me how to get to some nice local tailor shops and a beautiful hidden beach this morning. Can’t wait to check them out. It’s never too late to have the real local hook-up.

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a trip to a Vietnamese traditional mat-weaving village

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A reed mat (chiếu) used to be a must-have item in Vietnamese households when I was small. My family ate around a big round tray on a mat on the floor. One of my chores was to roll out the mat before meals and to neatly roll it back again after. In addition to using these mats as places to eat, we slept on mats instead of sleeping on a mattress. On hot summer nights when there was no power, my grandmother would put a mat on our roof top so we could lie there in the cool(er) air and I would fall asleep listening to her telling folk tales.

I found out about Cam Ne mat village last month when researching traditional handicraft villages in Hoi An bigger area. The village has been around since the 15th century and they used to weave mats for kings of the Nguyen Dynasty in Hue, which is about 100km from there. Obviously if the kings were sending for mats from so far away, they had some pretty good skills. I have always wanted to buy a couple of mats for our house because of my childhood nostalgia about them, and I was curious about seeing them made in the traditional method. So off we drove on our blue scooter to Cam Ne on a burning hot day.

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Portrait | Quỳnh – Anh

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I’ve always loved taking portrait photos of people. It mesmerizes me how somebody can look so different from different angles. Rarely have I posted portrait photos on this blog though, but after a conversation with a new friend yesterday I decided to post portrait photos that I like here. I figured that as long as it’s something that I like, somebody somewhere might like it too.
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Beautiful Hội An | Chula House

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Laura in her Hội An Chula House, wearing her husband’s design. Her hair pin is a dried plant she picked up on the street while taking a walk.
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The house has Hội An’s signature yellow walls and roof tiles.

Laura and Diego are a Spanish couple living in Hanoi, Vietnam. Their fashion brand, Chula, makes lively, sophisticated couture designs with tropical inspiration. Last September I took a calligraphy workshop in their riverside house in Hội An and I knew I had to photograph it someday. The ground floor is dedicated to an Artists in Residence Program where artists can host workshops and art programs. The pictures below are of their second floor, which is the living area. Despite it being quite small, about 60 square meters (around 650 square feet), this space is very thoughtfully designed and charming because of its bright colors and unique furniture.
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