So you think you can wrestle?

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The Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet, is basically like Christmas and New Years wrapped into one. It is the biggest holiday in the Vietnamese culture, and we just so happened to arrive during its start. Decorations of yellow and red filled the streets and houses throughout the village we were staying. During our first dinner we learned that Tet is ushered in with traditions that have been passed down for centuries. A few examples include parades, traditional dancing, wrestling, and of course food and homemade rice wine!

So, it’s the second day that we are in Son Duong and our program director decided to take us to a friends house in a rural village. We hop on a motorbike (yes three people on one motorbike) and we are told it’s just a short ride through the mountains. This short trip turned into a hour long drive through mudded roads.

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The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, but the mud caked onto our jeans was not so great, considering there was no way of cleaning them back in the village. Anyways, we finally get to the house and are welcomed with food and rice wine. Some weird looking chicken dish, something with pork in it, greens, and rice (of course). Regardless of what we were eating, it was fantastic! I can’t tell you how many unknown foods we ate so far, and they have been nothing short of amazing.

We’re on our hour long journey back to our home village and we see a crowd gathered on the side of the road. Of course we have to stop and see what’s going on! We pull over, park our motorbike, and get lost in the crowd of people. When we finally surface, we see that the people gathered to watch the traditional Vietnamese wrestling.

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Everyone was shirtless, shoeless, and all muddied up. Battle after battle we watch as the drums beat in accordance with the intensity of the fight. Once the shoulders of a wrestler touches the ground, the match is over and is concluded with one final beat of the drum. Next thing I know, everyone starts staring and pointing at me. So Angie and I are thinking that they are just pointing at the two elephants in the crowd. No. They are pointing at me. Not only are they pointing at me, but they want me to come wrestle. WHAT!? My heart immediately jumps out of my chest and I start freaking out. We go back and forth. Yes, I should do it! There’s no way in hell I’m getting in that ring. Yes. No. FINALLY, I tell Mr. Son I’m gonna do it…..

I’m met by an old Vietnamese man fully decked out in a nice olive green suit (badass). He said something to me in Vietnamese and I just shook my head like I know exactly what he said. Anyways I make my way down into the ring of people and am met by a cheering crowd. My heart is pumping! I’m surrounded by total strangers, whom, most of which have never seen a foreigner before. The drum gets louder…

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I take off my shoes and shirt as I kneel at the foot of the ring. I see my opponent. An older man, maybe in his 30′s? I can take him right? Oh my gosh what if make a complete fool out of myself and he ends up chokeslamming me like WWE. Whatever, too late to turn back. Drums beat louder and louder as I stand up and enter into the middle of the ring. The crowd roaring at this point. Adrenaline fills my veins. My oppponent stands across from me. Then…..All of a sudden……..

My program director stops the match because he doesn’t want his English teacher to get hurt… Womp, Womp. I cannot tell you how anticlimatic it was standing there, shaking out of my wits in anticipation and excitement, and then having that decision rain in on my parade. Gosh, I was so close! Needless to say, it still made for a great story and even better experience, especially for the second day…

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We’ve been without internet for a few days so I just wanted to give you an update on our travels! Angie will be posting soon.

Miss you all!

Matt

8,320 miles, one ocean, two continents and 36 hours later…

Oh hello world! So sorry we’ve been a bit MIA, we’ve been finally settling in to the city in which we are going to be living for the next two months. NBD. Obviously, you and us have

Us after landing in Hanoi after 30+ hours of travel

So excited to finally be in Hanoi after 30+ hours of traveling!

a lot of catching up to do, but we won’t bombard you with 39,567,924 details right now, rather we’ll break up our sequence of events over the next several days. BUT until then…we’ll debrief you on life right now.

Currently, we are about an hour south of Hanoi, in the province properly known as Hung Yen. We knew we’d be teaching about an hour away from Hanoi, but that’s it. Nothing more, no details, no idea how many kids or even exactly when we’d start teaching. On Monday we learned we’d be teaching in 3 different public schools, 6 days a week (yeah, we’re working on changing that…). We also found out we’d be teaching separately (not that big of a deal, but we are accustomed to teaching together and thought we would be). Oh and when we arrived, we found out we’d be teaching at 2pm that very afternoon…………what… So we were practically thrown into a classroom of 30 very…energetic…1st graders who spoke minimal English and were told, “go,” Um, needless to say it was pretty stressful, but hey, somehow we pulled it off and they didn’t fire us so…cheers! They children are absolutely magnificent. They are so beautiful, polite and eager to learn, we couldn’t have asked for better students.

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Our first day meeting the children at the local school

Also, our lives are awesome, haha, so we only have to work about 2, 2 ½ hours every day not including the time we spend preparing for class. Regardless, that leaves plenty of time for, anything. This morning we spent the our time exploring the town on a nice jog.  We stumbled upon a very traditional market with fruits, meats and other foods we have never seen before much less pronounce.  Did we mention Vietnamese is probably the hardest language on the planet? No seriously. There are six different tones so the same word can have six different meanings depending on where the accent is. Woof. We’ve barely been able to master, “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye.” Oh, and “I’m full.”

Us at a traditional Vietnamese wrestling match between two villages in Northern Vietnam. These matches are part of their many customs and traditions during Tet (Lunar New Year)

Us at a traditional Vietnamese wrestling match between two villages in Northern Vietnam. These matches are part of their many customs and traditions during Tet (Lunar New Year)

Anyway, as we mentioned, we are JUST settling in. We have been moving from place to place for awhile so it’s nice to finally get acclimated to one location. Something we have to note is how incredibly kind and welcoming the people have been. This whole process would have been a lot more difficult and tiring if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers.

Sorry we can’t provide a more in-depth post right now. As we said, we’ll be getting more posts up in the upcoming days. (note: Monday was the first day we had internet since we’ve been here). We just wanted to get something up on our blog so you wouldn’t forget about us!

We miss ALL of our friends and family members! We cannot wait to share our experiences with you.  If you can, please, please, please, add us on Skype, Whatsapp, Google chat, Viber, etc. We cannot express about much we enjoy hearing from you.

Love you all,

Angie & Matt

Enjoying some wine at JFK airport before we board the plane!

Angie:

Skype- Angie.m.duran

Gmail- aduran326@gmail.com

Matt:

Skype- bickerml

Gmail – matthewlbickert@gmail.com

A Taste of Vietnam-[Video]

 

Hands down this has got to be the greatest travel/food video of Vietnam, ever. Everything from the editing, scenery, music…the FOOD–I mean it’s just perfect. If you’re hungry you’ve been warned; you’ll be salivating in about 20 seconds flat.

25 days! And now for some Pho….or Banh Mi maybe….fine both.

- Angie & Matt

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Why Vietnam?

A lot of people have asked us, “Why Vietnam?” We’ll start off by explaining that there were several requirements that we needed to fulfill in order for us to be able to embark on our dream of seeing far corners of the world. One of them was that it needed to be affordable for us. Like we’ve mentioned, we’re both recent college grads and don’t exactly have the financial means right now to scurry from hotel to hotel as we traverse Southeast Asia. Besides, we figured part of the charm of being twenty-somethings was to have a bit of struggle. What’s a good story without challenges right?

Our second requirement was that wherever we went, we wanted to do something more. We wanted to contribute in some way with whatever skills we had that might be useful. We thought that this would not only help others, but would also give us the extraordinary opportunity to emerge ourselves in a new culture in a way that is difficult to do in sightseeing and spending only a week or two in a new city.

We figured that volunteering was clearly the way to go. But after a little research we found that while volunteering opportunities around the world are abundant, ones that are budget conscious are not. Many require you to pay for your time abroad, all while working for free. Finally we found it; the holy grail of volunteer travel opportunities. We introduce to you, Workaway. Simply put, Workaway is a database that offers direct exchanges between budget travelers, language learners, culture seekers, and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help in their place of work or home. For example, a bed V4D picture 1and breakfast in Tuscany will offer accommodations and food in exchange for a month or two of work. Workers can do anything from gardening, front desk help, painting, babysitting, building maintenance etc. Every single part of the world has opportunities like this. Maybe you’d like to help with childcare and house sitting in Antequerra, Spain, or with animals and sustainable eco-projects in Pohangina Valley, New Zealand. Or, help underprivileged and disabled children learn English in Vietnam. V4D picture 2

Since Matt and I took a course and received our Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, (TEFL) teaching English seemed like the perfect fit. Also, we had already agreed that Southeast Asia was the part of the world that we wanted to target first. So we joined Workaway. (Membership is a one-time fee of 22 euro or approximately $30 US.) This gave us access to all these opportunities and we were able to directly communicate with the director of the school in Vietnam that we were interested in. Several email exchanges and a completed application later, we were accepted to work at the school. In our case, the school offered us housing–an international house with other volunteers– and three meals a day (and according to the reviews from other volunteers who have worked there in the past, the cooking is exceptional), along with a $200US a month stipend which might not some like much, but actually goes a long way in countries like Vietnam. V4D picture 3

And that’s how we did it! We found a way to travel to other side of the world, contribute in some way and actually afford it. See, you can have your cake and eat it too.

27 days until we are there! We’ll be posting about itineraries, packing lists and budget planning soon. Follow us to get updates!

-Angie & Matt

[Photos taken from our school's Workaway page]

Why We Decided to Blog

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We decided to keep a blog for several reasons. First of all, our families really like us. A lot. And they are going to miss us. A lot. (And we miss them!) Naturally, our parents were a little worried about having their precious, little gems plop down somewhere in Southeast Asia with nothing but a backpack on their shoulders. To ease the pain of separation and to create a sense of constant connection, (communicating can be complicated with a 12-hour time difference) we came up with the idea of starting a blog. We thought it’d be a good idea to create a place where anyone at any time, from any place in the world could see what we were up to while teaching in Vietnam that had more substance than a Facebook status update or 140 character tweet.

Secondly, we wanted to share our experiences with people like us. Who are we?  But basically we are young, recently graduated twenty-something’s who have a desperate desire to see the world and all of the marvelous things it has to offer us. We understand that everyone has different goals and dreams, but to us, the “normal” path of life—graduating college, getting a 9-5 desk job, acquiring a several decade long mortgage, getting married, popping out babies—all before 30 just sounds like a one way ticket to a mid-life crisis complete with little red sports cars and boob jobs. For us, spending these formative twenty something years finding ourselves, indulging our passions and dreams, exploring and discovering new cultures, is about the most important thing we can think of right now.

Lastly, as you could’ve guessed by now, traveling is our passion. Back when we would spend hours daydreaming, “What if we just got up and went?” we spent a substantial (read: borderline unhealthy) amount of time perusing countless travel blogs. And then we realized two things: 1) We could do it and 2) We could make money doing it. There, we admit it. To us, the thought of having a job that allows us to see the world and share our experiences is a dream come true. While that may be a far-fetched dream, we both still aim to one day have professional careers in an international arena.  We hope that by having a blog we can make connections and establish a network of like-minded people and organizations that we can learn from or even work with one day.

Whether you are a friend, family member, travel enthusiast or confused post-college grad, we hope you will join us on our journey.

Please feel free to contact us via the Contact Us page or through Twitter and Facebook. We would love to hear from you!

-Angie & Matt

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Obtaining a Chinese Tourist Visa for Dummies…(U.S. ones to be precise)

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You know what’s wonderful about the Internet? All of the information you can access. You know what sucks about the Internet? All of the information you can access. One of the many reasons we wanted to start this blog was because when we began planning our trip, we felt overwhelmed with the amount of information there was. Especially since a lot of it was contradicting, out of date or incomplete. And honestly, official government websites are a pain in the ass and you’ll rip your hair out trying to find the one paragraph that is relevant to you among the 25 pages of very important yet, technical and very…very, detailed information. Matt and I particularly stumbled upon a lot of confusion when it came to our Chinese visa. Hopefully this is an easy and concise run down of what you need along with the links so you won’t have to scourge Google for them.

Initially, Matt and I were planning on starting off in China for a couple of weeks making our way down to Vietnam. We had been planning this trip for months and finally we were like, let’s just do it. So, we did it. We impulsively bought a one-way ticket to Shanghai and didn’t look back. Until we started the visa process. Yes, we should have done that first, but what kind of thirsty for adventure, twenty-something travellers would we be without a couple impulsive moves here and there, right? Right.

Getting a Chinese visa is not that complicated with the proper planning.

Here’s what you need to know for tourists from the United States (aka an L visa):

 passportWhat you need:

Here’s where we got confused/tripped up. You must be able to provide one of the following:

  • Proof of round-trip airfare (we bought a one-way ticket so there goes that) and copy of hotel reservations

OR

  • A letter of invitation
    • This letter can be obtained through:
      • Chinese travel agencies that are a, “Duly Authorized Tourism Unit” Agencies that are recognized will provide proof and information up front. Most specialize in getting tourists this letter.
      • Chinese companies or corporations
      • Or an individual in China with a photocopy of the individual’s ID

Fees: $140 for U.S. citizens for any tourist visas (http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/fees/t943877.htm)

To apply, locate the nearest Chinese consulate (http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/)  and submit the necessary documents. Note: they must be submitted in person or through a travel agent.

And that’s basically it. We decided not to do this basically because it was out of our budget. Since we didn’t have round-trip airfare yet, we’d have to get a letter from one of the travel agencies. Unfortunately, those tours can be pretty expensive and two weeks in China would have ended up costing us more than changing our flight to Hanoi. Which by the way a complete nightmare, I’ll save that for a later post.

The above information is only for TOURIST visas or L visas for U.S. citizens. For more information about business visas, student visas, work visas etc., check out the following links:

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/us/visa-application-requirements.htm

http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/adr/

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Hopefully, this was useful to some of you. Best of luck!!

-Angie

Yellow Fever Vaccine = Healthy (me) + Empty Wallet

Out of the 1,000+ things to do in preparation for our trip I decided to tackle the travel vaccinations during my Christmas break back in Pittsburgh. I checked out the CDC’s recommendations for people traveling to Vietnam as well as the recommendations from the Allegheny Health Department. The Yellow Fever Vaccination was the only one that was required, but there were other “recommended” vaccinations. Having no prior experience with vaccine pricing, I thought $101 (at the Allegheny Health Department) was a bit much. I mean, I’m trying to save every penny here! (No, I have literally been saving all of my coins for the past year). And we all know how difficult that can be with a crappy car and through the roof expenses… Since my insurance did not cover this, I was determined to find a cheaper shot. Figuring that it (my insurance) would work somewhere down in Maryland, I opted to give that a try. After endless hours of calling travel clinics and finding out the prices (around $200) I decided to resort back to the Health Department.

In my experience I learned that some travel clinics who do not accept insurance have certain “service or consulting charges and fees” that are added on to the cost of the vaccination. In my case, I was not about to pay almost $200 for a shot! Instead, I’m going to the Health Department where they have zero fees/charges added to the price of the vaccine, unless you use a debit card (don’t worry, it’s only a few dollars).

Packing lists and other trip preparation to come!

For more information about Yellow fever Click Here!

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-Matt

Getting Started!!!

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Hello world!

We are Matt and Angie. Currently we are living in the Washington D.C. area, but are planning on leaving soon! Matt graduated college in 2011 with a degree in International Business and Angie graduated this past December with a degree in Business and Communications, just in time to embark on the journey and experience of a lifetime. Matt studied in Rome, Italy for 4 months and Angie studied in Bogota, Colombia for 7 months.  These experiences sparked a deep desire to see the world through authentic experiences. We are both naturally happy, positive, outgoing people. We love to see new places and meet new people, but most of all we have a passion for learning about other people’s cultures.  We thought, ‘what better way to do that than through workaway!’  Our journey begins on February 11, 2013.  We will be spending two months in Hanoi, Vietnam where we will be teaching English, followed by one month of backpacking through South East Asia.  Angie and I are so exciting to work with some amazing people and hopefully establish future connections.

We will be blogging throughout the duration of our trip, so stay tuned for future posts!

Matt and Angie