February 16, 2016
Two weeks ago I made a quick trip to Europe. Well, I went to Ikea, which is equal to a half day Europe spa. I could feel the excitement when we were approaching the blue building with its colourful flags. As soon as you enter there is this unique Ikea smell – and I am not talking about the köttbullar – they use a particular fragrance on their premises which is the same around the world. You know with all your senses that you have reached your destination. But why was I so excited? Well, I have not been to Ikea in over one year and I had an overload of Asia over the past weeks.
We left for our trip to Vietnam on Christmas Eve and returned on January 9. On January 10 I left again to spend two weeks on a training programme in Bangkok, Thailand. That adds up to almost 5 weeks spent in Southeast Asia. I enjoyed this time a lot, but I was also missing home. One of the first things I did when I came back to Tokyo was to get some Sushi!
Our trip to Vietnam was amazing. Even though the weather conditions were pitiful throughout the first part of our voyage, we enjoyed every day. We started from Hanoi taking the night train up North and spent some days around Sapa, visiting some minority villages of the Hmong, the Red Dao and the Flower Hmong. Unfortunately the fog was very heavy so we know that we have been to one of the most spectacular landscapes with incredible rice terraces, but we only occasionally got a glimpse when the fog cleared up for a few minutes. Most of the time we could just see as far as the
trees next to the road. Walking through the villages and talking to the women we learned a lot about their daily life and the constant struggle as a minority.
Taking the nigh train in Vietnam is by the way much better than taking the night train in Germany. You do not have a sink in your compartment and the toilets are not as clean or as sophisticated as with DB, but you can sleep! There is no nerve-wracking noise that wakes you up every few minutes, no switching maneuvers in the middle of the night etc. Just the repetitive sound and movement of the train on tracks.
Another highlight of our trip was the cruise through Halong Bay and our trip to Halong terrestre. I leave it up to you to go to google images for some nice pictures. Our two day cruise in Halong Bay only had a few moments of sun. And our boat tour in Halong terrestre started in the rain. It it is still one of the most impressing landscapes I have seen so far.
The rain seemed to follow us a little bit along the road, but the further we got South the
better it got. And one thing that was always good no matter what, was the food. We discovered the most amazing restaurants. Mark has a real talent in identifying the extraordinary ones in the mass of trip advisor reviews so we had many many wonderful dinners and lunches. The boys enjoyed all food as they always do, and even Lilo found a lot of things she liked. Her favourite is Pho – the Vietnamese soup.
After visiting Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta with its floating markets, we spent the last days on the island of Phu Quoc. It could be a paradise, but it’s a paradise lost. The island has wonderful beaches and hiking areas in the mountains, but it has no waste or waste water management system in place. To prevent tourists from swimming in garbage, hotel beaches are “protected” or fenced off by nets in the water. The beaches are cleaned every morning, but as soon as you go for a walk you find the garbage piled up on the grounds between the hotels. And the worst are not the plastic bags or yoghurt cups, it’s what you cannot see that scares me. After our trip to Bali last year, this was my last beach holiday in Southeast Asia. It is just too frustrating. And somehow I have the feeling that it does not irritate other tourists as much….
Bangkok only a few days later was hot, noisy and dirty – but which place is not dirty compared to Tokyo? I basically spent 2 weeks in a meeting room with a great view, but with an air condition so cold, the maintenance man came to cover the ventilation slots with sticky tape. My training to become and intercultural trainer was definitely worth all cost and effort. Now I have to deliver a training concept and pass the certification exam – one step closer to a professional trainer existence. Coincidentally the other four trainees were German as well. Even though we decided to hold the training in English, we spoke German during the breaks and of course in the evenings. Mark is almost the only person I speak German to in Tokyo so I really enjoyed the conversations.
The exchange with the other Germans also made me realise how much I have adapted to the Japanese life. Their feedback on my presentation was that I speak very slow and make many pauses. Eureka! That was one of the most difficult behaviour changes for me in the beginning. Questions like “When is Rosenmontag (carnival) again this year?” do no longer make sense to me. And I am not aware of many other bank holidays that are relevant to plan long weekends 🙂
It’s good to be home again with my family and to be busy with concept writing, preparing my tax declaration, going to network meetings and to my weekly Dale Carnegie training and of course delivering trainings!
One more day of work and we are off skiing!
Today’s fun fact:
If you enter a Japanese house, you take off your shoes and put on slippers provided by the host. Same is true for visits to doctors, physiotherapists, massage places and many more. Today I walked passed a shop that is for rent. Notice the colourful slippers on the right? 4 pairs are ready for the real estate agent and the interested party.