If you’re considering visiting Viet-Nam, a must-see is the lovely coastal town of Hoi An located in Central Viet Nam.
The best way to arrive is to take a train from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. I recommend the sleeper train, it’s a bit cozy but you get amazing views as the train passes through rice fields and vast flatlands with water buffalo.
The people are charming and less likely to upsell foreigners. There are abundant tailor shops and art galleries that won’t break your budget. One of my favorite shops is Hoai Ngap (Reaching Out )Handcrafts, a gift shopped filled with fair trade crafts made by artisans with disabilities.
The cobble stone streets make it a pleasure for walking or biking amidst the ancient Japanese and Chinese style architecture. Kids will love drinking fresh fruit shakes on the beach or even taking a lantern making class in town. At night, the town is picturesque with several outdoor cafes and strings of colorful silk lanterns illuminating the streets.
The women at the market place will tempt you with fresh marigolds and lotus flowers and even offer you fresh slices of mangosteen and sweet lychees.
Officially Hoi An is listed as a UNSECO heritage site. Unofficially I can tell you this place has a lot of heart. Look for my auntie and grandmother who make banh mi (baguette sandwiches) with a slammin’ secret sauce. Their stand is near the south entrance of the marketplace on the river. Grab sandwiches to go and hop on the ferry for a breezy tour of the scenic Hoi An River.
Who says San Francisco is only for DINKS (Double Income No Kids)? For those of us with little ones there’s plenty to eat around town during our staycations. For a low-budget foodie tour, follow the itinerary below, it’s been kid-tested:
Little Saigon, Tenderloin—If you can handle the gritty neighborhood, the Tenderloin is the place to visit for authentic, healthy, and cheap Vietnamese food. For a $2 lunch, stop by Saigon Sandwich (560 Larkin St.) for hearty and fresh banh mi (viet-style baguette sandwich) At dinner time, I highly recommend Pagoloc (655 Larkin St.) Back in the 80’s, only local Vietnamese knew about this delicious family run restaurant. Now everyone will wait in line for a table. Try the seven courses of beef that includes making your own rolls with grilled beef. No worries, there’s plenty of veggie dishes too.
Clement St. (between 2nd and 9th Avenue)—Considered the mini-Chinatown of the City, this charming street is full of good treats minus the tourists. Look for Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement St) with all their tasty dumplings and baked goods displayed in the window. Kids will love the coconut buns, sticky rice, and shrimp dumplings. To satisfy a sweet tooth, walk a few blocks and visit Genki’s Crepes at 330 Clement St. The store offers made to order dessert crepes, Japanese snacks and toys, and international drinks.
May’s Coffee Shop, Japantown—Sure you can visit J-Town for sushi, but there’s something sweeter waiting for you. Only locals know about the fresh baked Taiyaki offered at May’s Coffee Shop (1737 Post St). It’s basically a pretty fish shaped waffle filled with sweet azuki bean paste. Hot ones come out every 10 minutes and they sell out before the end of the day.
Joe’s Ice Cream, Inner Richmond.—I grew up around the corner from this classic family owned ice-cream parlor located at 5351 Geary Blvd. It’s complete with hot dogs, grilled cheese, waffle cones, and chocolate covered bananas. Any scoop of ice cream can be hand dipped in chocolate. Joe’s is unpretentious and made for kids. Be sure to take a seat on the stools along the windows and people watch while enjoying a sundae.
For urban parents and toddlers who can’t connect with folk singers, you can now wave your hands in the air and dance to kid-inspired music.
A few months ago, I took baby Kai and my niece to watch Alphabet Rockers at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley. When we walked into the performance area, we noticed that the soulful hip- hop style of a show attracts a very diverse crowd. The group rocked it with a beat boxer, DJ, and two vocalists. The ABC’s and 123’s come alive with groovy beats that gets everyone up from their chair to dance. Don’t miss them on February 15 in Berkeley at Ashkenaz, skip the Baby Einstein DVD and head on over.
Kai’s first birthday will be approaching in a few months, and I’m already planning the party. I may pass on the Spiderman theme and opt for a birthday party full of cultural rituals.
A must-have ritual is thoi noi * which is from my own Vietnamese culture. While all the guests gather around, baby chooses from a variety of objects on a tray. The object Kai selects may predict his future passions or career.
Some common symbols used:
- paint brushes for an artist
- pen and paper for a writer
- an instrument for a musician
- something medical (e.g., medicine, bandage, thermometer) for a doctor or nurse
- a computer mouse for a techie
- piggy bank for banker
- rice for a chef
Another ritual I admire is shaving baby’s head. The “first haircut” is a rite of passage for many cultures including India, Tibet, and Korea. Shaving off the old hair cleanses the head of bad energy and allows for new and fuller hair to grow in.
The last ritual which encourages guest participation is the wish tree. This is one of my favorite multicultural traditions because the wishes are timeless. Guests will write/draw a wish for Kai and hang them on a branch. I can already imagine reading Kai wishes at bedtime for several days following his birthday. There isn’t a better birthday gift than that.
If you have other cultural traditions to share with us, please do!
*thoi noi-translates to baby’s coming of age, departing from the basinette
The other day I realized Radiohead is great for babies. I think it’s the combination of Thom Yorke’s distorted lyrics, dreamy melodies, and the white noise that accompanies the music often. Kai fell asleep instantly to “Hail to the Thief”
J got his hands on these two great finds that will also help your baby fall asleep:
1) Lullabies for a Small World (compilation by Ellipses Arts):
Great for the baby and you. My favorite track is number 3- Flor E Estrela – Teresa Ines. This song is so magical and puts the whole family in a deep slumber.
2) While roaming around at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, he stumbled upon this children’s book: Talking Walls Written by Margy Burns Knight and Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.
It’s the perfect multi-cultural book that illustrates how walls around the world may unite or divide communities around the world. I guarantee that you’ll learn some history as well.