Northern Vietnamese Rib Noodle Soup Bowl

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I was silent last week on the blog because we went to Bangkok for a mini vacation. We had a lot of fun there just strolling around the city, shopping for cute, inexpensive hand-made T shirts, and eating mango sticky rice, a popular Thai dessert, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and after dinner snack.
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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.

Hoi An ancient town wedding
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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Craig’s banana bread (photos)

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Living in Vietnam has shown me different impressive sides of my husband. Last month, he mixed an environment-friendly ant and roach killer from syrup and borax, and last week, he baked amazing banana bread. (I’m grateful he can do both because now that we have delicious sweet banana bread on our dining table all the time, the big ants really have to drink their special syrup.)
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Vietnamese Corn Pudding

There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post.

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Finally we decided to get an oven last week. Ovens aren’t typically something found in Vietnamese homes because electricity can be expensive for the average Vietnamese family and the addition of a heat source in the house during hot months is a pretty foreign idea! However things are changing and Vietnamese are falling in love with baking. After baking our first loaf of bread (and eating it all down it soon after that), we wondered why we hadn’t bought it earlier. I’ve tried so many delicious recipes with it and my husband has been baking bread (and cookies!) nonstop. I’m wondering if I should photograph and write a blog post of him baking banana bread. Well, why not. He’s a super cute baker and the bread is super delicious!

The one thing that I haven’t tried with an oven is baking cakes. It’s because, being a Vietnamese I didn’t grow up with cakes and so I haven’t fallen in love with them yet. Usually in Vietnam we just eat fruit for dessert or the traditional dessert chè.
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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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A simple Vietnamese butternut squash soup

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A typical Vietnamese meal with a soup bowl, a plate of protein and a plate of vegetable. Here I have butternut squash soup with minced pork, sautéed beans and carrots, and crispy caramelized river shrimp.

For some reason I’ve always enjoyed doing repetitive, mundane tasks. They provide a sense of peacefulness and contentment in seeing the results of my efforts. My mind quiets down and I get to enjoy a sense of oneness with my task.

When I was in tenth grade, my summer job was to put bra sliders into bra straps. My mother worked for a garment factory, and every day she would bring home huge bags of bra straps and bra sliders. Like a machine, I spent every single day of that summer putting sliders into straps. I didn’t get bored at all. In fact, I even found great joy in doing that. I didn’t have to think much, and I was content with the accomplishment, which was piles and piles of nice and neat straps in front of my eyes.
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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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