Me as a kid
When I was child, every so often my family would receive a gift from my Great Aunt Virginia. It would be from some exotic place like China or Japan, Italy or Switzerland, Kenya or Bermuda – places that as a young child I had no clue where they were, only that they were far away and tha I could only see on a map or television documentary. Invariably, these gifts would be oohed and aahed over, then put in our hutch so that we could see them, but where they’d be safe from a child’s clumsy hands. Then, the letter would be written to my great aunt who’d bought them while on vacation.
My aunt in Cuba in the 1950s
I suppose it’s only natural that my dream of traveling around the world was born because of this. I wanted to see those places where the gifts were bought. I wanted to have a different experience, an experience that went further than the beach in the east and mountains in the west, both of which are within the borders of my (extremely beautiful) home state, North Carolina.
When I asked how many countries my aunt had visited, the answer was an inconceivable “80,” so my goal immediately became “81.” So you can see that I’m calling this blog “#11” for a reason – Vietnam will be the 11th country I’ve been in - and what better day to tell you of my plans than on 11/11/11!!! I know that some take exception to two of the countries on my list – the UK and Japan – as I’ve only been in the airports in those countries so far, but my response is this: if you say I haven’t “really” been in those countries, then where was I at the time?
In Japan in the 1950s
Perhaps you're wondering why I chose Vietnam as country #11, so I’ll tell you. One thing about living in such a large, international city as Shanghai is that the English-language television station here shows programs from several English-speaking countries, not just America. I credit ICS (International Channel Shanghai) with introducing me to my favorite TV series: “Top Gear.” Some of you may have seen the American version on the History Channel back in the US, and you may even like it. However, having seen both versions, I can say that the American version does not hold a candle to the original British one! For those of you who’ve never seen it, let’s just say that it’s a car show, but one that’s a unique blend of documentary and comedy. You’ve probably never seen anything like it before!
Anyway, most of the Top Gear episodes are filmed in their studio and the average episode has a few different segments. However, my favorite episodes are the ones that show the three hosts involved in a challenge of some sort. Some of the challenges have been:
• To drive across the southeastern US in a $100 car, then try to sell it at the end of the trip,
• To travel through the African bush in a car that doesn’t have 4 wheel drive,
• To drive from the Amazon rainforest to the Pacific coast in a car they bought sight-unseen on the internet,
• To drive to the (magnetic) North Pole in a Toyota pickup truck, and
• To drive through the Middle East in a small convertible – with the top down!
By far, though, my favorite is the one where they have to drive from south Vietnam to north Vietnam on a motorcycle or scooter. In fact, the hosts are told that they have to complete this challenge in eight days, "something the Americans couldn't accomplish in 10 years." Hey, don't get mad at me - that's the way they phrased it on the show. But all jokes and hilarity aside, the episode showed an amazingly beautiful country! And since Vietnam borders China, I thought it would be one of the best and easiest (and yes, cheapest) countries to visit as I restart working toward my goal of 81 countries.
I have 3 weeks of vacation that I’m using in December to visit Vietnam, and since most of my friends here either don’t have as much vacation as me or tend to spread theirs out throughout the year, I’ll be traveling there on my own. I know this causes some of my family and friends to worry, but I have been researching and planning this trip for the past eleven months, so it's not like I'm going in there knowing absolutely nothing. One of my Christmas gifts last year was a Vietnam guidebook, which I’ve read cover to cover and finished sometime this past spring. I've also installed a travel app on my iPad which has proven invaluable in finding hotels, restaurants and things to do in each city I'm going to visit. Basically, all that's left at this point is to pack my bags and get on the plane.
I'll be writing in this blog a few more times before I actually start my trip on December 11th (wow, there's 11 again!), so if you have any questions for me, let me know. I don't want to spend too much time on my vacation sitting in a hotel room writing on the computer, so I may only write once from each city I visit. (That means six times.) Well, I guess that's all I have for now - I hope you enjoyed reading this and will keep up with me once I'm gone.
Me at Biltmore, December 2010