Stuff I Ate Vol. 1

So I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for almost six months now. Besides dropping about 8 kgs, the biggest change I’ve noticed is that I no longer get sick as often as I used to. That is pretty huge for me. My digestive issues are under control and I don’t get the flu as easily anymore. One of main reasons I went vegetarian was that I wanted to improve my immune system, so to see such drastic results has me floored and given me more reason to really stick with this new lifestyle.

Also, I’ve noticed my hangovers aren’t as awful. These are all good things! Enough to make me want to do this for life. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating; going veg has also made me more excited about food. Back when we still ate meat, Joff and I relied a little too heavily on our tried and tested routine of roasting meat (usually, chicken) and pairing it with a salad. While it was delicious, I realise now how boring it became. Sure we ate other things and experimented with new recipes, but it’s only now that I feel like I’m really testing my mettle in the kitchen, and it just feels so much more gratifying.

Being vegetarian/vegan is my new passion. I know I might sound a little evangelical about it, but it’s been a while since I’ve felt this way about anything. So I thought I’d write about some of the stuff we’ve been eating/cooking lately.

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Since discovering them back in May, Joff and I have become a bit obsessed with Vietnamese com chay. Com chay are Buddhist eateries that serve rice (com) with an assortment of delicious vegan (chay) sides. The plate you see above is from our favorite com chay, Bo De Quan on Au Co street. The place stays open all afternoon, which is a godsend since I work til 2 pm, and has hands-down has the best tasting food.

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Vegan banh mi

I’ve been slowly making my way through Lucky Peach’s Power Vegetables! cookbook. Pictured above on the top row is ABC Squash, then from L-R it’s a simple tomato sauce, falafels, and tofu akuri. Peter Meehan is my hero. He takes the fussiness out of recipes and replaces them with something fun and, more importantly, simple. This is our third Lucky Peach cookbook (the other two are Easy Asian Recipes and All About Eggs), and we couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve been documenting all my Power Vegetables testing over at my Instagram account.

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This one was really good. I made the Power Vegetables simple tomato sauce and mixed in some cooked green lentils for a vegan version of bolognese. I topped it off with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for some umami, cheesy goodness.

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Squash curry topped off with scallions and crispy shallots. Coconut milk just makes everything good.

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Black bean salad with a roasted red pepper sauce. The black beans were cooked with garlic, onions, cumin, smoked paprika, and chipotle peppers. I added some pickled jalapeños and chopped cilantro after taking this photo and it made it even better. The roasted red pepper sauce is one of my new go-tos. I’ll post a recipe here for that on my next entry.

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The Sunday Currently Vol. 3

Reading

Almost finished with Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history of the New York music scene during the 2000s. There is so much delicious gossip and funny anecdotes about the era that gave us The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the White Stripes, among a slew of other seminal bands. I thought I’d finish it quicker but even though it’s a really easy read, every time I read something extra juicy I have to put the book down for a while so I can process the information. It’s pretty much all I’ve been talking about to friends and Joff for a few weeks now and I think I might be annoying them already. Everyone needs to read this book!

Writing

I wrote this for FHM a couple days ago. And I’ve started working on my food zine again LOL. I swear to glob I’m going to finish it this time.

Listening

I was heavy on that Bodak Yellow tip a few weeks ago. Cardi B is a QUEEN. These days I’ve been listening to Rilo Kiley, Wilco, Frankie Cosmos, Father John Misty and Johnny Gallagher’s debut album Six Day Hurricane.

Thinking

I’ve been thinking a lot about to use my time more productively. I’ve got a lot of plans for September and I really hope I get everything done.

Wishing

We could get a dog already but we have to wait another month and it’s killing meeee.

Hoping

For better weather. I can’t with the insane humidity anymore.

Loving

The Good Wife! Lol. I’d been meaning to start it for years but just got around to it a couple weeks ago and I’m really loving it. I’m almost halfway through the second season.

Wanting

More fast food vegan options. Been craving hotdogs recently and wish I had access to good vegan sausages. This dude’s Instagram feed is not helping.

Needing

I ran out of my Sephora clarifying booster a month ago and started to notice a difference immediately. The stuff was so good for my skin! It got rid of redness and reduced the appearance of my pores. But since it’s still out of stock I’m gonna try some Cosrx products that I read about in this article (do check it out, it has some life-changing skincare advice).

Feeling

Pretty good! Joff and I went on a nice walk around the neighborhood this afternoon and got some delicious vegetarian pad thai and tofu with tomato sauce for dinner, then capped it off with pistachio and mascarpone gelato. A Sunday for the books.

There’s something exciting about hiding in plain sight

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I had a few realisations while I was away. One of them was that I no longer want to live quietly. I love my routines and daily rituals, but I admit I have a tendency to withdraw into myself and become reclusive. I think moving to Vietnam made me lean into that part of myself a little too much. Not having that many friends gave me an excuse to just stay home and avoid socialising. I’ve been too easy on myself and I’m gonna try to be better about holding myself accountable for behaviours that don’t enrich my life. Maybe it’s existential FOMO, but I do think this has been holding me back from fully immersing myself into life here.

I’m gonna try my best to invest more time into new relationships here. Right now I have a handful of friends, most of whom I don’t see very often. I have noticed that on the days I do make an effort to leave the apartment and hang out with people I feel a lot better the next day (minus the requisite hang over, that is).

Ugh, why does making friends in your thirties have to be so dang hard?

The Sunday Currently Vol. 2

And eight months later, we’re here. Sorry ’bout that. When I last updated, we had just moved to our apartment in Hai Ba Trung, had just taken up running, and I was still freelancing. Joff was still with ATK and we were settling in nicely into our life in Hanoi, five months into our move. Today, we’re a year and two months in and life is pretty fucking peachy. I’ve had a steady job since last November, Joff now works at Rec Room, and we’ve just moved into a new apartment in Tay Ho. I’ve also been starting to run a small food business once again selling hummus, baba ganoush, and a few other vegan provisions. A lot has happened since I last wrote. In April, Joff and I became vegetarian and it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Aside from losing some weight, I feel like my whole perspective on food has changed. I’ve found that I’m enjoying cooking and eating a lot more than before. It’s gotten me really excited about food again, and I’m glad for the mental shake-up.

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Today’s lunch at Sesame, our favorite vegan restaurant

Anywho, here’s what my Sunday looks like.

Reading

I’m in the middle of two books that I honestly have been struggling to get through: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue and Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. They’re both great; I just haven’t been in the best head space the last couple of months. I might just abandon them and start something new. I’m thinking I’ll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell because I could use a good laugh.

Writing

As usual, I wish I was writing more than I actually have been. Recently I wrote two articles for Esquire Philippines; both travel articles. One on Vietnam, which you can read here and one on Bangkok.

Listening

The last thing I listened to obsessively was the Big Little Lies soundtrack. Other than that, podcasts, specifically My Favorite Murder, Two Dope Queens, and Special Sauce with Ed Levine.

Thinking

Drag Race off-season SUCKS.

Smelling

Freshly cooked chickpeas that are sitting on the kitchen counter. Making a big batch of hummus tonight.

Wishing

I’d bought a cute pot for my new plant yesterday at plant street (Hoang Hoa Tham).

Hoping

This month goes well. We’re flying to Saigon in a couple days then to Manila/El Nido for my brother’s wedding. Excited to be going home and seeing everyone. This is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family and I really miss them.

Loving

Our new apartment and the show GLOW. I finished it in two days and I need MORE.

Wanting

More plants and an English bulldog. A new show to obsess over.

Needing

More art to hang in this apartment.

Feeling

Cautiously optimistic.

Clicking

Anything related to drag queens. Mostly videos from here.

October sure was a doozy: Pt.1 Bangkok

A doozy in a good way, of course. We went to Bangkok for four days, went on our first three-day motorbike road trip with our friends Nini and Jack, and my entire family came to Hanoi for a week-long visit. After my brother and his fiancée left, Joff and I went to Hoi An with my parents for a few days. I haven’t had a month this busy in a while; it was a nice change of pace, but of course, also had the introvert/recluse in me longing for an extended breather.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized one of my favorite parts about going on vacation are the few days after coming back home: decompressing from a whirlwind itinerary and settling back into life and routine. It’s really become something I’ve started to relish lately. Those first few delicious days being back from vacation, when everything’s still ripe with potential and possibility, like a second chance at a clean slate, or just being able to enjoy the minutiae again. Quiet mornings spent making eggs and reading, being able to go for a run in my favorite park again, going to bed embarrassingly early. Yup, I am basically an octogenarian in a 32-year-old’s body and I love it.

Being on the road and away from home for extended periods has always made me crave familiarity. It’s been this way since I was a kid. Even as a 16-year-old at Art Camp, in between reading books on Wicca and drawing pentagrams on the wooden floor of the room I shared with my best friend, I remember calling my mom to tell her I wanted to go home. I guess people don’t really change. That being said, I loved every minute of this month, especially the parts that took me out of my comfort zone (see: three-day motorbike trip).

BANGKOK

I’ve fallen hard for this city. This was my second time in Bangkok and I can still say I’ve barely scratched the surface on everything this city’s got to offer.

We stayed on Sukhumvit Road, one of the city’s busiest roads, at a hotel that was a stone’s throw away from the Asok BTS station. It wasn’t the nicest hotel but it was reasonably priced and the location was perfect. It got a bit noisy at night but by the time were in bed we were too tired to give a shit.

All we had planned for this trip was eating and shopping and we did plenty of both. Here are some highlights:

Sit and Wonder

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We loved this place so much we ate there twice. It was our first and last proper meal in the city. My favorites were the noodles with the sweet black bean sauce and the winged-bean salad with coconut milk. The best part was everything was cheap as fuck! Each meal cost us roughly 10 dollars, and each time we ordered about four dishes and left feeling stuffed to the gills. Don’t sleep on this place if you’re ever in town.

After You

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The best bingsu I’ve ever had was at After You, a cute little dessert place our friend Cayo took us to after dinner at Soul Food. They’ve got multiple branches across the city but the one we went to was in Thonglor. We ordered the strawberry bingsu and honey butter toast; they were both so good I swear my eyes rolled back every time I took a bite.

Kinda glad there isn’t a branch in Hanoi because I might eat here every day if there was.

Paragon Gourmet Market

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The Siam Paragon is a high end shopping mall just off the Siam BTS station. It’s flanked by three other malls, MBK Center, Siam Square and Siam Central. As we were in Bangkok to do some shopping, we did end up spending a lot of time here. But aside from clothes shopping (mostly to prep for our first Hanoi winter), we knew we had to hit up the Gourmet Market at Paragon. The Gourmet Market is a grocery/food court that spoils you for choice; whether you’re looking for sausages, sushi, milk tea, or just something to snack on while you’re perusing their insane selection of fine foods, they’ve got it (and a bag of chips). When we were there last year, we took home a few bags of fried insects (that were flavored with different seasonings, too). So if you’re looking to test your mettle on the food of the future, you know where to get them. This time we took a hard pass on the bugs and, instead, hoarded packets of spices and curry marinades, bottled shrimp fat, and a huge disc of coco sugar.

BAKE CHEESE TARTS

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Thank glob our friend recommended we grab a few cheese tarts from a place called Bake. THEY WERE GLORIOUS. I could’ve eaten six, but stopped at one. I deserve a damn medal.

THE FOURTH BEST PAD THAI IN TEH WORLD

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Not wanting to leave Bangkok without getting our pad Thai on, on our last day, we grabbed lunch at this place that served the crispy kind. They had a sign outside saying that their pad Thai was the fourth best in the city, which was a bit strange. Who brags about being fourth best? Still, it was pretty darn good. So good we both had two servings… each.

Ugh, I miss you already, Bangkok!

It was dark as I drove the point home

In an attempt to quell some anxiety, I will blog today. Seriously, if I’d spent half as much time writing as I do thinking about writing this wouldn’t be a problem. But alas, my capacity for crippling self-doubt coupled with my penchant for procrastination knows no bounds. Points for consistency? *shrugs*

A few updates since my last post:

  • I am no longer unemployed! Well, sort of. I’ve been getting a lot of freelance work lately and it’s been great. September was awesome. Riding a wave of depression at the tail end of August, I suddenly had a string of good luck come my way and it’s really done wonders for my mental health. Hopefully it continues for a while.
  • My family is coming to visit at the end of the month! You can’t imagine how excited I am for that.
  • I’ve taken up running! As someone who used to share Ann Perkins’s feelings about it, this is a huge feat, one that was made a lot easier with the help of this particular app. Since I started almost two weeks ago, I’ve run about 33 km already. It really helped ease me into the routine, especially as someone who couldn’t really run continuously for very long. It helps that I live right next to a massive park that has running trails and scenic views. I don’t think I would’ve started if I had to run on the street.
  • We moved to a new apartment! It’s been more than two weeks since we moved to Hai Ba Trung from our Hoan Kiem apartment and it has been wonderful. I love this neighborhood so much! Don’t get me wrong, I kind of miss the wide roads and the proximity to the Old Quarter, but, yeah, that’s about it. I love that everything is literally right outside our apartment: the best cafes, bun spots, and of course, Tong Nhat Park. In the last week alone, we’ve discovered our new favorite Japanese restaurant (that’s open til 2 am!), a gem of a banh cuon place near Vincom, an amazing dim sum place, our new favorite massage parlour, and a corner cafe that sells a mean ca phe sua chua (yogurt coffee). The fact that ATK (the bar where Joff works) is just three blocks away is a bonus.
  • We’re seeing Morrissey when we’re in Bangkok in two weeks. It’ll be my second time seeing him and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Been listening to not much else but The Smiths lately. It’s bringing me back to my early 20s when that’s all I would do. It got me thinking about what my three favorite songs of theirs are and I came up with: Rubber Ring, Back to the Old House, and, probably my all-time favorite, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. (If anyone’s reading this, what are yours?)

The answer is perilla

Hi y’all. I’m writing this on a particularly good day. Joff and I made burgers for lunch, booked our tickets/lodging for our Bangkok trip in October, and I got some writing done! And all before 4 pm! That’s enough reason to celebrate, if you ask me. (Scoff at my measly productivity goals all you want. I’m an unemployed loaf, cut me some slack.) 

I want to tell you about the spring rolls I made last week. Now, I’ve made spring rolls a bunch of times in the past, but these were different, these spring rolls were special~ and that’s all thanks, in part, to the wonder herb that is Vietnamese perilla (aka shiso).

Typically, Vietnamese spring rolls contain pork, shrimp or crab, mushrooms, carrots, (arrowroot) vermicelli, onions, and garlic. It’s seasoned with some salt, sugar, and fish sauce before it’s rolled up in some rice paper and fried til crisp. Lately, though, I’d been daydreaming about a certain flavor combination that I thought would go really well together: pork and perilla.

Ever since we moved to Vietnam, I’ve been obsessed with the local herbs, Vietnamese perilla and lemon balm in particular. These two herbs are always on the table during bun cha and banh xeo, tucked into a bowl of bun bo nam bo, and of course, served with a plate of spring rolls or nem. I affectionately refer to them as the Splash Brothers of Vietnamese cuisine, cos as long as they’re around, you’re guaranteed a winning meal.

So this time, in addition to the traditional spring roll filling, I added some chopped perilla into the mixture, and let me tell ya, the moment I took a bite, this song for real started playing in my head.

 

Here’s the (rough) recipe:

  • 350g ground pork
  • 8 brown mushrooms, diced
  • half a large carrot, diced
  • 1/4 a large white onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped perilla
  • seasonings: 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. fish sauce, 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • a pack of rice paper wrapper
  • vegetable oil for frying

1. Dice the mushrooms, carrot, onion, and perilla.

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4. Mix the veg and herb with the ground pork. Use your hands, get dirty.

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3. Pat the mixture down, spreading it out until you’ve got about an inch of filling from the top to the bottom and all around the bowl. This will make it easier to incorporate the seasoning and will give you a good idea if you’ve seasoned enough.

4. Sprinkle the seasoning on the mixture making sure to cover all areas uniformly, then mix with your hands to fully incorporate.

5. For the rice paper wrapper, grab a bowl and fill it with warm water. Working with one sheet at a time, dip the sheet into the water until the paper becomes pliable (til it’s the texture of fresh spring roll wrappers), then lay the sheet on your working area (I use a large chopping board).

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6. Take about a tbsp to tbsp and a half worth of the filling and place it near the top of the sheet. Working from the top, take the top and fold it over the filling, then take each side and fold it over that, then roll the wrapped filling all the way down.

7. Heat some oil in a pan and fry them babies up til they’re crisp and have lightly browned.

For the dipping sauce (nuoc cham):

  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 c water
  • splash of rice wine vinegar
  • chopped garlic and chili
  1. Mix the first four ingredients in a bowl til fully combined (make sure sugar is dissolved), and top with the garlic and chili.

* Note: I never measure anything when I cook; I just eyeball everything. The measurements you see here are just rough estimates/guides. Before filling the wrappers, take some of the mixture and fry it up so you can taste if it needs any additional seasoning, then adjust accordingly.

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they may not be the prettiest but they sure are tasty

So that’s my first recipe for this blog. That was pretty fun. I promise to take better pictures next time but when you’ve got raw pork in your hands, washing your hands and taking photos every few minutes is kind of a hassle. (Which is why I enlisted Joff to take some process photos while I did the spring roll wrapping.) Also, it’ll give me an excuse to make more gifs! Please notice the gif!

If you need me to clarify any of the steps, just holla.

The Sunday Currently Vol. 1

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Reading 

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I was a bit worried it might be a little too heavy for my current mood given the subject matter, but I’ve been loving what I’ve read so far. It’s the eighth book I’ve read–or rather am reading–this year, which means if I want to make my goal of reading at least 30 books this year I really need to step it up. But then again, compared to the two measly books I read last year, it’s a huge improvement, so I’m not gonna be too tough on myself this time.

The other books I’ve read this year, ranked by the order I read them:

  1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
  3. The Sell-Out by Paul Beatty
  4. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein*
  5. Outline: A Novel by Rachel Cusk
  6. Double Cup Love by Eddie Huang
  7. The Girls by Emma Cline*

(* – the books I especially enjoyed/loved)

Writing

Inspired by a blog I stumbled on last week, I’ve started a daily writing project: flash fiction inspired by Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. It’s been really helpful in keeping me writing, especially given my current situation of being in between jobs, it helps me feel like I’m at least getting ‘something’ done, however inconsequential that ‘something’ is.

Listening

SaigonRockandSoul

Since Joff’s usually got some music playing, it’s been a while since I’ve actively sought out new music online, but I’ve been hearing some good stuff at CAMA ATK, the venue he works at as events/operations manager. So far, I’m really liking Sunflower Bean, Alvvays, and this amazing compilation of songs by Vietnamese bands from the ’70s called Saigon Rock & Soul. Listen to the whole album here.

Thinking

I should really start looking for a new job. We have friends visiting from Manila this entire month so it’s been a little difficult focusing on what needs to be done. Luckily I still have money saved from a previous job so the situation isn’t that dire.. yet.

Smelling

Some lingering smells from the Thai food we had delivered for lunch today.

Wishing

I would learn to multitask better.

Hoping

For good weather tomorrow. It’s the last two days of Seka and Roman’s trip and it would suck if the rain ruined that.

Loving

David Cross’s new comedy special on Netflix, Making America Great Again.

Wanting

My purple Uniqlo raincoat and moss green rubber hi-cut Chucks I left in Manila.

Needing

More time to read, and more books! For anyone who’s reading this, I’d appreciate your recommendations. I have a few lined up but could use a nudge or two in the right direction.

Feeling 

Drunk on pizza. Had dinner with Seka, Roman, and Joff at Pizza 4 P’s, an awesome pizza joint here in Hanoi that’s got some pretty terrific and unconventional flavors. My favorite from tonight’s dinner was the duck, apple and gorgonzola pizza.

Pizza 4Ps Duck gorgonzola

Clicking

On the importance of ending the stigma of HIV – http://www.bustle.com/articles/176482-i-have-hiv-but-its-stigma-that-makes-me-sick
On creativity and what it means to be a ‘good reader’ – https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/08/10/auden-dyers-hand-reading-writing/
On child boxers in Cambodia – http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/08/Cambodias-Child-Boxers/495083/

(Got the idea for this post from Carina, who got it from siddathornton.)

32

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I turned 32 four days ago in Singapore surrounded by my nearest and dearest (including a not-so-little girl I haven’t seen in two years). It was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a while.

I don’t know when I started feeling weird about birthdays, and not in that oh-god-I’m-getting-so-old/here-come-the-birthday-blues kind of way, but more of a geez-are-we-really-still-doing-this? kind of ambivalence. After a certain age, maybe 25, I just feel like celebrating becomes kind of unnecessary, even a bit excessive. It’s weird, though, because I do get a little intense and excited about other people’s birthdays, and I always insist that people make a big deal about theirs. But my own celebrations just feel a little embarrassing, but I guess that says more about my own insecurities than anything else.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, despite my own feelings of inadequacy, sometimes, birthdays are kind of rad, especially when they bring together the people you love.

While I may have turned 32 in Singapore, today I reached another milestone: it’s been two months since I moved to Hanoi and I’ve never been so grateful and happy about a major life decision ever. It’s early days still but I really do believe it was the right thing to do. On our way home from the airport, I was beaming. It felt really good to be back. Manila had me by the throat, so it feels good to be somewhere I can breathe.

You were so poorly cast as a malcontent

I’m writing this from my parents’ house in Merville six days into our post-Poblacion existence. Moving out of that apartment, one we’d spent the better part of two years in, was a lot tougher than I had anticipated. Sure it wasn’t the best apartment, in fact it had started falling apart about four months before moving out.  The pipes underneath the bathroom sink wouldn’t stop leaking, then the toilet started leaking, shortly after that the kitchen sink started making this loud ringing noise. I told myself this was the universe’s way of encouraging us to leave Manila; the truth was was that the building just had shitty plumbing.

Still, it was the first apartment I had made my own. And I will always look back on our days there with a fondness reserved for beat-up books and dirty, overused sneakers.

So long, 2A.

Moving on, this is the second time I’ve contracted some sort of stomach infection in the last three weeks. I wish I could chalk it up to stress but all I’ve been doing is going to the beach on weekends and vegging out at home, so there’s no excuse for my shitty immune response. Ugh. It doesn’t help that I am seriously craving Korean food right now and miss the days when my fix was just a two minute walk away. Jumong, I love you forever.

15 days til Hanoi.