Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ultras and x-country, so similar and different!

Last weekend at this time I was visiting my family after the 100 mile PR and getting a foot rub from mom as well as the questions of what on earth am I thinking running 100 miles at a time.  Today I am lounging in Starbucks with the feet up on a plush velvet chair feeling totally rested and recovered after my cross country race yesterday morning and relaxed Sunday morning run today.  The contrast between a 100 mile race and a 4 mile race are distinct and in sharp contrast when you compare them on back to back weekends.  So let me begin with my x-country adventure story. 
So the idea started through some emails with the running girls.  I hear about this x-country thing that is going on that our running club Team Red Lizards puts on and will be there.  My wonderful friend Karen asks us all if we want to go out and support it, because she is currently taking a little break from running after an amazing running streak, so we get to talking.  I realize I am not signed up for a race this weekend so what the heck why not jump in and support the team by running in the event.  Well this seemed like a great idea over email.  Sunday morning after a night of dancing out with the girls dressed up like Madonna, the idea was not seeming so hot.  But nonetheless I crawled out of bed with only 4 hours of sleep and headed over to Karen’s house.  Over morning coffee Karen and I were talking and she revealed to me that the message board had been on fire with discussion of what racing spikes to wear for this run.  LOL UMM what?  At this point I realized that this was not my familiar fun happy ultra scene and I was in for a treat. 
We arrived to the race to people warming up all over.  This struck me as hilarious as I realized I have not “warmed up” for a race since high school.  I mean that’s what the first couple miles are for in an ultra right?  So this was all very foreign to me, but I nonetheless headed over to the registration table and signed up officially and received my bib.  Karen and I were just laughing the entire time as I was like OMG what did I get myself into.  Everyone around was looking uber competitive in their split shorts and racing spikes, while I was whishing I had my hand bottle and about 20 more miles to add to this race.  I did see some familiar faces before the race which made it feel more fun and since it was Halloween weekend the costumes helped break up some of the tension.  I declared that I would be a x-country running for Halloween!  After my quick “warm up” it was off to the starting line. 
As the starting gun went off people just flew off the line.  Naturally the first thought to cross my mind was “dear god where is everyone in such a hurry to get to?!?!?”  So I followed along just smiling wondering what I got myself into.  We hit the first hill on grass and my initial thought was, “no ultra running would run up this,” let alone sprint like we were trying to do.  But I followed along and listened to the panting going on around me and thought “wow I hope these people don’t barf on me.”  We hit the first downhill and I was like finally I can open up, as I love rocking the down hills fast.  But as soon as I felt the slippery grass with all the ruts below my feet and realized this was not a carefree downhill and I had to be careful so that I didn’t break something else.  Now I realized what these racing spikes are needed for!!  The warning from my orthopedic doc also flashed in my head “keeping running just stop falling!” so I really tried to stay upright through all the mud and slippery grass for the sake of my shoulder, well and the fact that I was already slow enough, didn’t need a face plant to add to my time out thereJ

It was great to see and hear Karen as I came around the first curve heading into the wooded area of the run.  I was back of the pack, but was getting the loudest cheers out there with lots of cowbell and it just made me smile and laugh and be happy to be able to be out there having this fun, no matter how “slow” I felt and how much the muscles and chest were burning.  Since we did a 2 mile double loop there were lots of opportunities to see Karen and she took some awesome pictures.  On one of my loops I called out to her “wow this hurts!”  It’s not a 100 miler hurt, but a totally different kind of hurt that felt really good to contrast, especially knowing that it would be over in 30 min vs. 22 hours! 
I came through the line just smiling and thinking wow what a blast that was.  Running on grass for 4 miles trying to go “fast” was a great way to kick off my Halloween weekend.  It was a good contrast to my usual ultra running, and really just a bunch of fun out there.  The awards were great with best costume awards going out along with the super fast times.  Although it was a lot different feel than an ultra at the end of the day we are all runners out there and that great running community came through here in the NW.  People were much more relaxed and chill post race, and we had some great laughs.  It was over pretty darn fast and it was a whole new thing to me to head out to a race and finish and still have most of your morning and day still open.  Although I did have the urge to jump out there for 20 or so more miles, I was happy with pushing myself in those 4 and doing something new and different.  Major thanks to Karen for getting me out there to try something new!  I love running all distances and events because in the end we are all runners out there doing our thing having a blast, loving life! 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Job, Madonna, and a broken shoulder, what a WEEK!

The week following a 100 miler is always a good one; you are recovering, happy with your accomplishment, and just basking in the glow of post race goodness!  This week was especially magical in many ways on top of the glow.  For starters I had my first MRI and found out the results of my shoulder injury from a fall I took in Vietnam.  Yes yes, I got “hurt in Nam!”  The doctors doing my MRI loved telling everyone else this story as they were prepping me for the injections and getting me in and out of the MRI tube.  This made for a really fun MRI and the cute guys even helped me removed the multiple earnings that I have, which I am sure was in their job description, but really sweet of them.  I had trouble getting a couple back in though so I did end up at Straight to the Point and while I was there added a new ear piercing with some bling to celebrate the PR at JJ100.  Seriously can’t go into those places and not get a new addition.  But I digress.  So I received the results of my MRI on Friday dressed up like Madonna for Halloween.  Bart told me happily that I had not torn anything, huge relief here, because that means I did not need surgery, but that I had fractured my shoulder bone.  There were various hairline fractures running through the front and top of my shoulder that have been causing the pain when I try to move it above my head.  The great news about all of this is 1.  No surgery! 2.  Just have to let it heal 3. Was encouraged to keep running to keep healthy blood flow to the body to aid in healing!  So dressed like Madonna getting these results was just so appropriate and I was ready to do a little song and dance!!! 
So to back track, this entire Madonna costume came from the 100 as well.  As I was out there running I promised my dodgeball team, yup that’s right I play adult dodgeball, that I would come up with a theme for our game Thursday night in honor of Halloween.  So while out on the course sometime around 9pm Danica and I came up with 80’s!  That’s where I got the idea to be Madonna and that’s where you get a sexy dodgeball team seen below!!  They were freaken awesome with everyone bringing it on the costumes!! 

Yes we did crpim our hair pre game at the bar!

So the new job this week was also a huge unexpected surprise.  I was approached by another Melissa form work while I was in Vietnam about a role she was looking for hire for in our Software finance group working on our apps store AppUp, and she had been sent my direction by our VP of finance, insert thrilled, unexpected happy face here.  Through our finance rotation program I was in the market, but thought that I would not really start interviewing until Q1, so this was a bit early, but I decided that this was a great opportunity that I was interested in so I had to go for it.  So while in Nam I threw my hat in the ring and actually ended up doing an interview for the role at 10pm US time while I was in the hotel lobby in Ho Chi Minh City about to get on a boat for Vung Tau.  It was insanity, but hey we made it work and I received and accepted the offer!!  It’s really exciting and there is so much going on at work now that it was crazy busy and stressful all week, but in the best way possible.  I love my current group and I am going to miss the finance and operations partners sooo much because they are amazing to work with, but change is inevitable.  At least I am only moving a couple of buildings over and will still be able to see them often.  It’s the start of a new adventure from the work perspective and I am really looking forward to the journey that is coming up! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

JJ 100 full moon running party!!!

I ran the JJ100 this weekend, starting on Oct. 23 as bib number 23 it being my third 100 miler.  I am happy to report that this was also a PR race for me coming in at 22:36, 8th place woman and 28th overall.  I went into this race with the goal of breaking the 24 hour mark and getting my first sub 24 hour belt buckle, but I never expected to PR by over 6 hours! 
The run takes place in Fountain Hills, AZ on the Pemberton trail, which is where I entered ultra running and ran my first 50k in February 2009.  The course consists of 6 washing machine loops of 15.4 miles and a 7th part of a loop, out and back.  The weather on race day was perfect, starting the day in the low 60’s and getting up to just below 80 degrees before dropping back down into the 60’s.  I was able to wear the same tank and shorts for the entire event and stay comfortable while LOVING the sunshine, blue sky, and beautiful desert landscape.  I was right at home and it felt great to be back in AZ.  We were able to experience a wonderful sunrise and sun set and a clear night sky with the full moon and beautiful stars. 
The day started with greeting many fellow marathon maniacs featured in the picture below.  I started out the run with pigtails and we ran together and talked for the first 5 miles or so which just flew by.  We had to compare notes on our last 100 miler, Pine to Palm, which was very fun.  She was on her 6th 100 miler of the year and I am just so in awe of that, really total rock star!!! 

The first 2 laps were great for me and I only needed to carry one hand bottle and just relaxed into a nice pace and enjoyed the morning and the people.  The aid stations were great, for the first mile 5 stop though apparently I was not totally awake yet and they asked me what I needed and I simply answered “Melissa.” LOL thinking they had asked me my name, they all got a kick out of this one!  After the first 2 laps or 50K it was getting warmer so I picked up my second hand bottle and was good to go drinking both of these every 5 miles or 40oz of water, but it was working great for me.  It was fun to see all the costumes out there and people just overall having a great time.  There were lots of opportunities to cheer each other on with the loops and this was really fun and helpful to see the happy faces. There was some good time to be alone with your thoughts and this was exactly what I needed after my travels to Vietnam and being on the go so much for the past few weeks.  I really loved the time that I had to reflect on the experience of the trip and what I saw with the kids and teachers over there.  I thought of the kids a lot while I was running and what they struggle with on a daily basis, and the fact that I had the opportunity to be out there running 100 miles just made me thankful and forget about any of the pain that I was having right then.  They made me stronger.  They are strong. 
On my 4th lap on my way to the 100k mark, or 62 miles, I took off.  I was feeling very strong and rand hard.  It was also getting dark and I knew that I would have a pacer, Danica, waiting for me and she would get there at around 6pm.  So I was a little off of that time so I tried to pick it up more so I could meet her and she would not have to wait for me.  I ended up being about 40 minutes off my wild ass guess of an estimate so I was pretty pleased with that and we meet up and headed out for my 5th lap.    Danica was just amazing and we had the best time talking and catching up on life.  She even gave me her head lap because mine was dying.  She kept me going, checked on my food and water intake, made me laugh, and just really was everything that I needed at that exact time. it was her first night trail run and she rocked it out!  She doesn’t know this yet, but she’s on the list for my Badwater crew!  J
Next and last full loop was with Emmet my second pacer of the night.  I gave an estimate of 10pm to meet him and was through the line at 10:15pm, so I was feeling pretty proud of my estimating time.  Apparently the score keepers though thought that I had a lot longer to go and told Em that I was not predicted to come through until much later so he headed to his car for a nap.  We quickly reconnected, with me being a bit too harsh, but hopefully after 77.4 miles Em will give me a pass on that one.  We headed out and Em supplied me with a fresh headlamp and all was good in the world.  Em and I had a great time catching up and laughing and talking.  He was also super amazing pacer!  He had a bit of a harder job because I was starting to feel it more towards the end of this lap, especially in my left hip flexor for some reason.  But he was there for me and kept me going.  He never made me feel bad and always made me feel stronger.  He was just what I needed for those late miles and hours. 
As we came across the line and completed lap 6 we were in go mode- getting food- new head lamp- water- chap stick- and Em was insistent that I stretch out my hip.  He pulled in Andi, our other super amazing ultra runner friend (third woman overall at Zane 2009, and fast and strong as hell, hilarious awesome chick).  Andi saw me trying to do what I could to get a stretch and was like um dude get up do this and directed me into the most wonderful stretch of my life! Seriously at this point it was heaven.  Em and Andi probably saved my race at this point because I was not thinking clearly enough to stretch but it was totally what I needed.  After that we got the glow stick and Em and I headed out for our last 8 mile out and back. 
This last 8 miles is where it was just freaken hilarious.  Well from what I remember it was, hopefully Em will agree.  I was still in a bit of pain, but we were humming along pretty ok until we got back to the rocky section.  I was doing what I could to keep “running” but it was tricky and I was hurting.  At one point Em put his hand on my back to help guide me out of the way of some runners finishing up their 6th lap and I said “Hey! No pushing on the trial!”  LOL I knew he was not pushing me, I was just being crazy, but I think it came out totally wrong.  Like a joke that just didn’t have enough energy behind it to come out like a joke.  Anyways he was perfect in doing everything to keep me going.  He made me laugh, forget about the pain for parts and let me work though some of it on my own when he knew I just needed to be.  He even sang out loud with me to music only I could hear when I asked because it helped distract.  LOL people on the trial were like wow I am sure as us to crazies came running around the corner singing “Mr. Officer weeeee a weeee a weeeee, weeeee a weee a weeee, like a cop car!”  LOL but it worked and was just freaken awesome.  We came across the finish line singing “like a G6” and just so excited!!!  I am sure Em even loved the big sweaty kiss I plopped right on his lips after our big sweaty hug when I realized we came across that line in 22:36!!!!  Oh what a pacer has to put up with!  I could not have done it without Em and Danica and I love love love them, they made this race for me! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our last day in Vietnam

Tuesday was our last day in Vietnam and I am reflecting on it as I am on the flight back to the US currently.  We did not have any planned teaching on the agenda for Tuesday so we were on our own.  I stated the day with, of course, an awesome run!  I went along my usually route following the river north and felt almost at home.  The fumes from the pollution were not getting to me anymore, and I barley noticed the crowds and traffic.  It was a very nice run and I was just thinking about how lucky I was to be able to have the time and energy and means to go out and run in the morning.  I also noticed that I have not once checked my pace on these runs all over Vietnam.  I will have to go back at some point and see how I was doing, but I was so into the moment of each run that it was not what mattered to me.  The movement and being there with my thoughts and seeing the sights and people and living right then was what was important. 
After our final breakfast of dragon fruit and the wonderful woman that manages breakfast everyday that greets us with “teacher teacher,” Lori and I were off to shop.  We were on a mission to get our lovely guides some “bling” for their hair, which we were successful of finding at the Ben Ton Market.  We then ran into our fellow teammate Minh in the streets and he showed up where the indoor market was where we did the rest of our shopping.  Being a huge Starbucks fan I also had to check out Highlands’s coffee because that is the biggest there and Starbucks has not entered the market.  I think this coffee was good, but with the US prices they are charged here and at Gloria Jean’s, Starbucks could totally compete and I wonder why they have not entered this market yet.  But I digress. 
After we had finished shopping and walking around the city and had enjoyed our liquid lunch of Highlands coffee it was back to the hotel.  Once we got back I realized I was super tired with all the work and travel catching up to me, so as Lori headed out to check out more sights, I curled up in bed and took a nice long nap, it was so needed as I was starting to feel a bit worn down with the early hours I had been keeping to ensure I ran and still was able to fit everything else into the packed days we have had for the past 2 weeks.  While I was resting, Hoang was out cruising the town on a friend’s motor bike!  I wish I would have coordinated this one better so that I could have take a ride with him, but he had a blast and saw the city from an even more unique perspective.  To sum it up in his words “it will appear that we are going to get into an accident every 2 seconds, but then we won’t.”
Our last commitment of the trip was a hosted dinner at Tad, or Orphan Outreach NGO program lead in Vietnam.  We headed over to the house with everyone on the team besides Minh who was not feeling well that night.  It was a shame because this was our final closing dinner together as a team and we really missed him.  Tad lives in a high rise condo in an international neighborhood across from the international school his wife teaches in.  Their place was small by US standards, but huge by Vietnam Standards. With what appeared to be 2 bedrooms and one bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room, and laundry room.  It was a lovely place and as a team we were honored to be invited over for dinner with him and his wife.  The meal was amazing!!!  It was the first time I had hummus since I left the states and I was just in heaven with all of the Mediterranean vegetarian treats.  Hoang, our Vietnamese food coinsure, was not too excited to be eating something different, but it was the first time him, Linh, and Diem have tried hummus and they liked it!  It was a really fun evening discussing everything we had done and experienced over the two weeks, and sad at the same time that we would not be waking up and doing it again in the morning.  Yet we had to wrap it up and head back as we had to depart the hotel at 3:50am for our flights back to the US. 
I set my alarm for 2am while I went to sleep at 11pm so that I could get a few mile run in before I had to get on many planes and be traveling for over 24 hours straight.  My last run through the city at two o clock in the morning was maybe one of my favorites of the entire trip.  It was an entire new perspective on the city.  When I left the hotel it felt as though the city was just winding down, there were still people out on the streets walking around, granted very few compared to the usual day or evening, but there was still some life.  As I made my way long the usual streets there were mainly big trucks moving through the city and very few motor bikes and cars.  It was the quietest I have ever experience the place and very peaceful.  It almost looked like a totally different town with all of the store fronts closed and locked up tight.  The only scary part were the rats that were bigger than cats, but they were not all over, and just more surprising than anything else.  As I made my way back to the hotel I noticed that the streets had also cleared of people.  By the time that I got back to the hotel just before 3am it was a ghost town and everyone was asleep for the night including the door man that sleeps in front of the door to keep the hotel secure and had to unlock everything to let me back in.  This last run was the perfect conclusion to my journey to Vietnam.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to do this and to give back and be a part of something larger with a team of amazing people.  I loved every moment here in Vietnam, even the rough ones because there was always something to learn from it.  I came here as part of a group to “teach” about computers and technology, but I realize that I am the one that did I ton of learning in the process. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Starting out the week in Saigon

Starting out the week in Saigon
I write this post on the bus as we drive back from the Intel factory visit we just went on with 22 kids from the Tu Xuong Center listening to the Vietnamese music CD that Diem burned for me with some of her favorite songs.  It’s got some good beats; I may find a G6 Vietnamese equivalent!  The music goes back and forth between English and Vietnamese and I really am a big fan. 
We had so much fun at the Intel factory today.  The kids were able to see the factory floor, which is incredibly empty right now, the cafeteria, the cubical area, the “chill room”, the workout room, and various conference rooms and meeting spaces.  Overall I am really impressed with the entire Intel facility here in Vietnam.  It was bright and colorful with beautiful pictures in the conference room and lovely pictures throughout the facility of the lotus flowers and other local flowers.  The kids seemed to get a huge kick out of it and I think it was a great experience for them.  It is a very different environment from where their parents currently work if they have formal jobs at all. 

 Earlier today I started with a run in the crazy Saigon rush hour traffic.  The sun was out and it was hot and beautiful and I was loving every second of being out there to start the day and watch the sun come up bright and strong.  It gave me a chance to reflect on my time in Vung Tau and the overall experience so far.  My shoulder is still giving me trouble, but it is only with the forward lifting motion.  I cannot raise it above my head but for running it is pretty ok.  I will have to get it checked out in the US when I get back, but for now it is ok.  I ran down to the international neighborhood of Saigon Perl in district 2 from our hotel in district 9 and the traffic was a massive Monday morning rush hour.  In the morning it appears that the sidewalk will either turn into a turning lane or alternate route when there is an accident.  At one point motor bikes were on the side walk honking at me and I wished I had a horn to honk back and say- hey this is the side walk.  The honking is more like, “hey just a heads up I am driving on the sidewalk straight at you currently, but I see you and just want to make sure you know I am here” vs. “move get out of my way.”  But it was not too bad and I made it though the run in one piece.   The route that I run may be somewhat the same, in Ho Chi Minh City, but with the moving street vendors mixed with the crowded traffic, it is always different in terms of what it looks like and where they are located and the ways you have to run to get around the crowd of people.  It’s always an adventure but very good to keep me on my toes. 
Lori and I enjoyed a nice breakfast back at the hotel together (more dragon fruit!) and discussed the plans for the day.  We saw the rest of the team in and out and I do have to say that it was reminiscent of the college dorms.  We lived there together, ate together, and saw each other coming and going.  This was especially true when we were in the Vung Tau Providence and when we were checking into the hotel going room to room to see what everyone else has and where they “lived.”  It has been a lot of fun and a great way to get to know the team who were strangers just a couple of weeks ago. 
We headed out around noon to have lunch with the kids at the Tu Xuong Center.  We ordered pizza for the group and they loved it!  As we arrived Linh and Diem were enjoying a treat from the street cart and invited Minh and I to try it as well, so we did.  I am not sure exactly what I ate.  LOL Something with seaweed, beans, coconut, and ice.  It was really tasty and I didn’t get sick, so that’s overall a big success! 
There was not enough room in the actual classroom for all of the kids and teachers, so me, Hoang, and Matthias went next door where Hoang found a completely vegetarian Pho place where I could finally try some authentic Vietnamese Pho.  This was fabulous as well and I really enjoyed it.  We had the meal for the 3 of us with the Pho and about 4 appetizers and it all cost about 5 bucks.  Gotta love that.  (pictured below, all veggies, but I bet you can’t guess what kinds!)
 After lunch we boarded the bus to Intel.  It was fun to see the kids so excited about the tour and made me proud to work for Intel and be able to share that with the kids.  The new plant is really impressive and I could see myself working there.  Three years ago when I was here they were just breaking ground, so it was like coming back to see the wonderful finished product.  It was a beautiful day for the visit and the new facility is such an awesome sight. 
Once we made it back into the city Lori, Hoang, and I visited 2 of the children’s homes that are currently students at the center.  The first home that we visited was one room, smaller than most master bedrooms in the US, in the back of an alley that was a complex of 4 total rooms that shared one bathroom.  In this one room the student shared it with her mother and 2 younger sisters.  Their father left when they were very young and they do not know him.  The mother was still at work when we came to visit and the sisters were out, so we only talked with the student that lives there.  The room consisted of a desk, lots of storage units, a computer, TV, rice cooker, shelves that made up a “kitchen area,” lines to hang clothing on, some torn and old posters on the walls, a single fan, one light and many old books.  It also had a faucet with running water that drained through the floor.  The girls only rolled out mats on the floor that we were currently sitting on to sleep.  It was hard to imagine that all 4 of them lived there and paid about 50 US dollars a month in rent.  The mother is a maid and works very hard from early in the morning until 11pm and does not earn enough to even cover the rent amount, so the girls work at collecting bottles or doing odd jobs where ever they can to contribute to the rest of the rent.  There are often times when they do not have money for food, let alone anything else.  Although the space was small and crowded with storage for the 4, it was clean; everyone still takes their shoes off at the front door and there were no bugs of any kind.  It was a very unique perspective to get on the challenges that these kids are facing and still trying to go to school and get an education. 
It was off to the second house from here.  This one was the home of the best student in the school, a 17 year old boy who hopes to get a scholarship to attend the University once he graduates.  This was another single room, but with a loft type of set up on the “second floor” for more sleeping area.  This home was set up the same but a little less crowded because of the second floor area.  Here the student lives there with his mother and 2 cousins.  He also does not know his father.  His mother works as a street vendor selling water and soda from a cart to earn money.  His mother took time away from work to be there and host us for the visit and even had iced tea to offer us.  This was an extremely generous offering and so extremely sweet.  My heart was touched that these people would welcome us into their home to help us understand their backgrounds and get to know them better.  I am sure it is a place that few foreigners have traveled to or have had the opportunity to experience firsthand.  The student goes to school as well as works to bring home more money to help pay for rent and food.  His days start at 5 or 6am and he is working or studying until past midnight most days.  As we talked he was full of hope and ambition of what he is going to do in the future.  He has big goals and his English was very good so we were able to talk about his family and we could answer any questions he had.  It was a very nice time visiting with the family and learning more about their background.  We tried to encourage both students to continue to do what they are doing and study and work to get to the next level.  They had questions about how they could work at Intel in the future and I think seeing the factory and the offices really opened their minds to the possibility of meaningful work and a very different future from their present conditions.  They were very excited about it and this just made me so happy.  I feel like we were able to share and learn from each other so much in this day.  Its eye opening to say the least, these kids are struggling to survive day to day and they still are going to school, making friends, laughing and smiling.  I am truly inspired by what I have experienced here.  I am extremely blessed to be able to do what I do and be where I am. 

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today I woke up in Vung Tau and the shoulder was completely sore.  I could not move my left arm at all which made running impossible and showering and getting dressed and ready a hilarious trial and error as I figured out how to do most of the things with only one arm.  I guess I should be happy that it was my left and not my right, being right handed, that would make for an even bigger challenge.  So after a struggle to just get my arm moving in the morning as well as packing up my stuff it was a pretty good work out and I was able to get more movement in my sore muscles. 
Today was our last day in Vung Tau and we were working with the teachers at the orphanage on how to maintain the computers as well as the different lesson plans that we have already covered.  There were 8 teachers that came in on their Sunday to work with us which was a great showing considering it was a beautiful day and there are many things to do.  The teachers at this facility really show how dedicated they are to helping the kids of Vung Tau who would otherwise be out on the streets or abandoned.  They are very good people.  The kids were really great as well and as we were heading out they were just starting their lunch and even though they have so little they invited us to come share lunch with them.  They are very sweet children and it touched my heart to see how full of life they are.   I hope that the computers and training will offer these kids a better life and future and at the very least help them learn more than they otherwise would have and offer them a connection to the bigger picture.  After we did this session with the teachers for 2 and a half hours it was off to a quick lunch before getting on another ferry back to Saigon.   

The ferry ride was really cool because it was sunny as we left Vung Tau and I spent most of the trip outside the boat soaking up the beautiful sunshine jamming out to my Ipod and loving life in that moment.  It was nice to pause and reflect on all of the amazing things I have seen so far on this trip.  There are many things that need to be done for the children here in Vietnam, but there is progress being made.  There are many people that care and that is uplifting and inspiring. 
Once we got back to our original hotel I was off to run, even with the sore shoulder I just needed to get out and stretch the legs and lungs.  The shoulder is not great, and hurt for the beginning of the run, but I got used to it.  Lifting it above my head is the part that is almost impossible.  I think an MRI is in order once I get back to the states, but I will deal with that in a few days.  Who knows maybe it will get much better and heal on its own and I am just being a big baby, I hope that is the case.  On my run it was interesting to note how many street vendors were off texting or talking away on their cell phones.  The technology is everywhere!
After a delightful afternoon run it was off to a dinner with a small sub set of the team and then to hit the streets of Saigon for some shopping. We missed all of our Vietnamese friends at dinner tonight, but we will rejoin them in the morning.  It was a good Sunday here in Vietnam.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New clothes and bad falls, all in a day here!

Saturday in Vung Tau providence started out again with a beautiful run on the beach for me.  It was sunny and lovely outside and the beach was beautiful.  There was a lot going on with fishing boats coming in with the day’s catch, to people praying, to others running, and of course lots of swimming.  Pictures from the morning run below. 

We headed back to the Vung Tau Orphanage to work with the kids on the second part of the lesson.  While the sessions were going on a couple of us snuck out to the market to buy some clothing and shoes for the kids.  The market was an entire different experience on its own with the crowded streets being overtaken by street vendors to the point where a single motorbike could not move through the crowd.  We were able to make our way though and buy the items we came there to get for the children. 

There was a set of brothers that were dropped off yesterday with only the clothes on their back by their father.  He could not care for them any longer because their mother left and he injured his back.  Minh from the team discussed this with him and found out the heartbreaking story of what happened and walked him out as he had tears streaming down his face.  The little boys are 6 and 7 years old and are extremely tiny for their age.  We made sure they had extra snacks yesterday and the girls, Diem and Linh, brought them breakfast today.  The two brothers received extra clothing and then we got everyone kid in the center a new shirt and shorts so they have a full new clean outfit.  Today we also learned that 2 of the children we are working with also are HIV positive but just recently started receiving medicine.  There are many challenges that the kids are facing here at the center, but they still smile and play and have been enjoying the computers.  It’s heart breaking and inspiring at the same time to watch and be a part of. 

We left the center for a quick lunch and had some interesting food.  Well mine was boring, just veggie pizza, but others had more of the traditional food offered.  Hoang also brought some delish local fruit that we enjoyed after the meal that included bon bon’s and grenade fruit.  Pictures of the meal are featured below.

After out final afternoon session with the kids at the Orphanage we headed back to the hotel and ended up with a couple of hours of free time before we dinner that we were invited to by the director of the center.  So the team headed out to various places.  I ended up on the top of the mountain with the statue and then over to the beach.  On my way over to the beach though I took a nasty fall on the side walk made of granite and this was good to prevent road rash as it’s smooth as glass, but in landing on my forearm to try to brace the fall it completely slide up above me head and dislocated.  This hurt.  So I was trying not to pass out as people that saw the spectacle of a tumble started to come over and see if I was ok.  I tried to stand up and there was a horrible “pop” in my left shoulder putting it back into place.  This hurt more than the fall and I almost barfed and passed out at the same time with the wave of white hot pain that ran through my arm and body.  After a few deep breaths I tried to tell the nice people that I was fine and made my way back to the hotel.  My camera that I was holding to take some awesome shots from the top of the mountain did not survive the fall and so hopefully I will be able to recover those pictures at a later date and share. 
After the run it was off to dinner with the team and the director of the Vung Tau Orphanage.  The meal was delish and it was great to meet the director and enjoy the evening with the team.  The weather was beautiful and perfect and we sat outside right next to the beach with waves crashing up just feet from where we were dining.  I would share some of the beautiful pictures here, but until I am able to get my hands on a new camera you will have to visualize for nowJ  Overall even with the fall it was still an amazing day here with the kids and the team.  This experience is really once in a life time. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday Travels Through Friday

Today was our last day teaching in Ho Chi Minh City, with a morning session with the kids at the Tu Xuong Center.  I did a 5am wake up so that I could get in a 6 miler before we headed out.  it was very peaceful this morning and I really enjoyed running the same route and saying hi to all of the locals in their normal spots.  There is the lady that sells these green pouches of food in the same spot, she is there from 5am until late as I saw her last night at 7pm on the evening run.  There are the 3 guys that smoke and drink their morning iced coffee on the corner by the bridge.  There are the security guards at the International neighborhood, who sometimes wave, sometimes ignore me, and sometimes they are sleeping.  There are also the Navy Security guards or Navy equivalent in Vietnam, that are posted there every morning who I always smile at, but only receive expressionless stares in return.  It was a very good morning run and a good sunrise to start the day. 
As I usually do every morning after the run here, I get on email and facebook to catch up with the US and rest of the world and found a great note from my friend Rose.  She let me know I won the 20’s year age division and was the 7th woman overall in the OR train running series.  I am so excited to find this out, I didn’t know I was competing in it, but still an awesome way to start out the day!!  Standings at the link below:
After a quick breakfast loving the dragon fruit still (pictured below)
we were off to the Tu Xuong where we continued on a lesson plan were the kids were making presentations about themselves and then giving presentations in English.  The students were very good at using the web to find information and then transfer that into slides that contained images, graphics, and transitions that were unique to their style.  In a culture where there is very little opportunity to stand out and be different, we were able to really see the kids personalities shine through in their creative work in the presentations.  Most of the students were shy about presenting in English, and since I started doing my introduction in my just learned Vietnamese I can relate to the feeling of standing up in front of the group and trying to speak in a language that is not natural for you.  The kids really did a wonderful job and were very fun to work with. 
We headed straight back to the hotel to pack up and do a quick lunch and then it was off to the boat for a 90 minute trip to the Vung Tau Providence.  The boat ride was totally easy with many people taking the time out for a quick nap.  I took the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and take some pictures. 
We arrived to our hotel only to experience a hilarious calamity of events from the overall hotel not being actually complete due to construction to my room having an entire window that was not finished, to broken AZ, non working internet, and then the power went out, which made the entire hotel pitch black with no back up lighting or generators available.  Let’s just say that it was an interesting experience to say the least, but nothing that some rice wine with dinner could not cure.  Plus some of the views are very cool as pictured below with some of our fabulous dishes from dinner below. 

After dinner we had to work on setting up some of the programs on the computers for the next day of teaching.  So we piled into 2 war rooms and began our work with one room working on teacher prep and the second room working on computer configuration.  I do have to say that with the music and fun dance party the config room won out on most fun for the night.  Note this is post rice wine and yes there was most definitely some G6 involved!!
Friday morning I woke up early even though we did not get to sleep until late thinking “I am in Vung Tau!! There is no time to be tired, I have to get out there and explore!”  So that is what I did.  Our hotel is less than a mile from the beach so I ran straight there seeing, for the first time in Vietnam, more people on the streets than motorbikes and traffic.  It was really cool to see how many people are out there working out and running first thing in the morning here in Vung Tau.  It was early enough that the beach was not too crowded so I ran along the water line for a few more miles and just soaked up the calm of the water and the beautiful scenery around me.  It was a wonderful run and a great start to a another fabulous day. 

After a quick breakfast, lol ok well it was somewhat quick and interesting.  I was tempted to order the “crap mea” but we just didn’t have time for that in the morning, so instead it was bread with jam and butter, and they also brought me just a bowl of sugar, but as tempting as it was, I did not add it to the loaf. 

We headed to Vung Tau Orphanage to meet 4 groups of kids that we worked with the entire day from 8 to 5 teaching varying levels of computer skills.  This group was a bit more challenging because they really were at all different levels from never have worked with a computer and did not know now to read and write to those that have used the computer before.  Even with these challenges the kids were excited to be there and to learn. 

After our long day working with the kids I was ready to get out there on foot and explore the city a bit more first hand.  So back on with the running shoes and out for another adventure around town before I completely lost the sun.  I headed out in the pouring rain during a thunder storm and ran completely free, it was amazing just to be out there and alive and I was thankful for every second of it.  It has been eye opening being here and I can only summarize here in the blog, but taking the time out to run once or twice a day is when I really get to reflect on this experience and really be so thankful for every experience and person I am so blessed to have in my life.  Love you all and thank you for being a part of this journey with me.  xo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Made it over the Hump

Happy Wednesday in Vietnam!  Today we did not have a morning session to teach so we each had time to rest and relax.  Some of the team went out and walked around and saw the city, or got a haircut, or caught up on some much needed sleep.  I did a combo and slept in until 8am which was a huge break from my usual 5am starts.  I headed out in the sunshine  with loads of traffic for a nice run.  It was not like the rush hour run last night, but it was a lot more than what is usually out there at 5am.  As I was running along the funniest thing happened and some of the locals pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures of me.  So of course what did I do?  Smile big and wave for the camera!  Love the paparazzi, totally could get used to that! :)  I wondered what they were thinking and one of my teammates suggested that they never see runners out, either that or they thought I was Brittney Spears.  LOL Too much fun on a simple morning run.  This morning it was hot and sunny which I was LOVING and it was great training weather for JJ100 coming up in a very short 10 days! 
We met up with the team at 11:30am for lunch of Pho but there were no veggie options so I just had a fruit shake for lunch, which was delish.  I did want to try some good Pho, but I will have to work harder to seek out a place that does not make everything with beef or chicken broth.  The team really enjoyed their dishes which are pictured below.   

The traffic here is so totally incredible really at all times of the day be especially for rush hour traffic in the morning, lunch time, and evening.  You see that people carry all different kinds of things on their motorbikes.  Like say a bed for example- pictured below. 

After lunch it was off to the Binh Trieu Center for our third and final session with the two groups of students.  Today we covered Google searches and Skype.  The kids were so very excited to see the video for the first time pop up on Skype as they began their video calls with each other in the next room.  The kids really seem to be picking up the computer skills very fast and I hope they will continue to progress after we leave. 

After our two sessions at the Binh Trieu Center we headed back to our hotel to split up into a group that will visit local families and the ones that will go next week.  I was in the group that did not go tonight so I got back to the hotel and started to pack up because tomorrow we leave for the Vung Tau Providence.  I also was feeling like another run was in order so I headed out just past rush hour to get another great run in and see the city from a different perspective.  Overall it was much calmer past 7pm on th streets and I had a very nice time out there reflecting on the day and the trip so far.  I am so impressed with the team that I have the privilege of working with.  They are great people and have helped make the time here even more meaningful.  I am lucky to be here doing what I am doing.  I do not take that for granted for a second.