Women on the Move: Hanoi’s Migrant Roving Street Vendors

Bangkok is the perfect springboard for exploring southeast Asia. Flights are short and inexpensive. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve visited Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines – 6 of the 11 southeast Asian nations. (Of the remaining countries, Laos is at the top of my list.)

When I was a child, I bought pencils and keychains as souvenirs. Then it was t-shirts, but I found that in Asia, they don’t fit me very well, so now I buy art and sometimes books. In Singapore, I bought The Little Singapore Book, a children’s book with beautiful illustrations that is also perfect for adults. At the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi, I bought Women on the Move: Hanoi’s Migrant Roving Street Vendors.

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George Town, Penang: Sleeping and Eating

So I now know how to plan a I-have-to-leave-the-country-in 5-days trip. My first thought: I need to go somewhere where I don’t need a visa and Worchihan can get one quickly. That meant Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos were out — Americans need visas for them all — so Malaysia it was. I had heard that George Town in Penang was a cool place so I headed straight to Agoda and then to Google Flights, which is clearly out of order (no one makes me feel more like I have to do something RIGHT NOW than Agoda). It wasn’t until we got to the airport that I looked up how we could get to George Town from the airport — and that’s all the research I did. (Old Susan may not have been friends with new Susan — I mean, come on, I did have 4 full days to plan the trip!)

So, I come to lesson 1: You can have a great time on a trip whether you research the heck out of it or not.

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Looking for a Place to Live in Bangkok

I moved to Bangkok in August of 2011. Moving overseas is a pretty overwhelming experience, especially for a 25-year-old who had never even been to Thailand (and who had eaten pad Thai only once), but I was ready. My move was made easier by good friends who had moved to Bangkok 6 months before, so I had someone who could answer my questions, like What should I bring? (My friend’s answer: a top sheet!, but don’t worry, readers, we have IKEA now.)

Now that I’m on the other side of that question, I’m ready to help with a series of blog posts for people moving to or new to Bangkok, starting with looking for a place to live. Let’s get to it!

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Bang Kachao, Bangkok’s Green Lung

So folks, we find ourselves with another holiday (and another three-day weekend, at least this year) in Thailand. On May 14th, the birthday of the newly-crowned Thai queen, June 3rd, was declared a public holiday. Since we got out of Bangkok a couple of weekends ago and learned how bad the traffic is on three-day weekends and just found out that June 3rd is a holiday on May 31st (we’re not often the first to find out what’s going on here), we decided not to waste the day but to spend it in the sweltering heat of Bang Kachao.

Bang Kachao, otherwise known as Bangkok’s Green Lung, is actually an island formed by a sideways U-shaped bend in the Chao Phraya River and a canal at the mouth of the U. It is accessible by car, but it’s more fun to take a boat.

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Beach Weekend: Cha-am or Hua Hin?

If you can handle the traffic, it’s best to get out of Bangkok on a three-day weekend. Which we have a lot of in Thailand (though contrary to the belief held by expats in Thailand, Cambodia, at 28, has the most public holidays — Thailand apparently has only 16).

So this past weekend, we got out of Bangkok. We made the mistake of going to Cha-am instead of Hua Hin, though I should have known better. I’ve been to Cha-am twice, including a solo trip my first Christmas in Thailand. I blame nostalgia.

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Our Wedding PART 2

So now that you know that Worchihan, his family and his villagers were 100% responsible for the preparations for our wedding, let’s move on to the wedding. Which was INCREDIBLE, a word that actually means unbelievable, not amazing, but it was that too.

If I had known what our wedding was going to be like (I didn’t really because Worchihan left for our wedding more than a month before me to prepare and the internet in his village is terrible), I would have invited National Geographic (is it too late, NG?). It was beyond words, so we’ll show you plenty of pictures. (All photos were taken by Wren Raleng — thank you, Wren!)

The photographer took quite a few spontaneous pictures before the wedding, including this one of Worchihan, his parents and his younger brother Rammayon (who is actually getting married next week!). How good is it!?! He also got a really good shot of Worchihan’s grandmother (on the left) and her friends.

A few minutes before nine o’clock on the morning of April 14, 2016, Worchihan and I walked together to the mountaintop where our wedding was held, followed by our friends and family.

In Tangkhul tradition, the groom’s male relatives walk down the aisle behind him. I love these pictures, because they show how many men helped raise him and will always support him. Worchihan and I each chose a song we wanted to walk down the aisle to; Worchihan chose “How Great Thou Art.”

Because both of Worchihan’s parents walked him down the aisle and because I wanted my mom to participate in the wedding, I asked my mom and my dad to walk me down the aisle. We walked down the aisle to “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I could do nothing but smile all the way down the aisle.

The weather on our wedding day was perfect: warm, but not hot. We were all in the sun, but the wedding wasn’t too long, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. A rogue bee buzzed around me for a few minutes and I did get a little bit of a sunburn, but that was a small price to pay for such a beautiful wedding.

Three of my friends came from Bangkok to be my bridesmaids. One of Worchihan’s friends came from Chiang Mai to be his groomsman; the other two were his cousin and his brother. Worchihan’s parents asked the pastor of Union Baptist Church in Ukhrul, a town about an hour and a half from the village, to serve as the officiant. I never thought I would meet the pastor who did my wedding at my wedding!

Much of the ceremony was in Tangkhul, the language of Worchihan’s tribe, as most of the villagers don’t speak English. It’s funny to me that this didn’t bother me at all. Whatever needed to be in English was in English, like the vows and the exchanging of rings.

The men and women who attended our wedding sat on different sides of the aisle, according to Tangkhul tradition.

During the ceremony, our photographer went up on the hill behind our venue to get this shot.

Our wedding was a blur — they all are, right? — but I will never forget the moment the pastor prayed for us because HIS PHONE RANG for at least an entire minute during the prayer.

Another cool thing about Tangkhul weddings is the blessing both sets of parents and other family members give at the end. Worchihan’s parents came up first and then my parents, followed by his grandfather (mother’s father) and his grandmother (father’s mother). I love how this honors our parents and grandparents for everything they’ve given us and done for us.

During the ceremony, our parents sat together at the front, which I thought was very sweet.

At the end of the wedding, Worchihan was given a pashi, the headpiece he is wearing in the picture below, by the eldest Zingkhai male. For many Nagas, the pashi symbolizes victory and manhood and is worn only at special events.

After the wedding, our guests ate lunch and we took pictures for maybe 30 minutes, though I had no list of what pictures I wanted like you (and I) might have expected.

After lunch, which Worchihan and I didn’t eat, was the presentation. The presentation involves the bride and groom giving gifts to their relatives to express their appreciation. At the beginning of the presentation, some of the villagers danced and sang traditional Tangkhul songs. The women even wrote a song for us, which was a thoughtful and humbling gift.

After the presentation, Worchihan and his family walked back to his house to wait for me and his female relatives and villagers who escorted me. Before I left for his house, I was given the necklace, made from river stones, that Worchihan’s mom was given by her parents when she got married. That was a huge honor for me. If Worchihan and I have a daughter, we will pass the necklace down to her when she gets married.

I also carried a basket on my head (you can see the strap in the picture below). Inside the basket was a traditional wraparound skirt (similar to the ones I wore for the wedding and the presentation) and a traditional shawl, which is more like a blanket. I also wore 2 small shawls and carried a spear.

The basket represents the responsibility I took on as a wife and future mother by getting married. The spear is a traditional Tangkhul weapon. I was given a women’s spear and Worchihan was given a men’s spear.

In Tangkhul culture, the groom and his family welcome the bride to their house, symbolizing her new life as a wife and as someone who bears responsibility for the household.

After everything was over, our photographer caught this moment. If you know my mom, you know she is often the life of the party, even in the village.

Worchihan and I are grateful to everyone who helped make our wedding so memorable. We are grateful to our parents for their love and support, to our families and to Hannah, Deb, Deanna and Scott for coming from Thailand to be in our wedding. We are grateful to everyone who came and celebrated with us.

And Worchihan, thank you. I never really thought too much about what my wedding would be like so I for sure had no idea it could be so beautiful. In a world where the bride often does most of the work, you took it on and you put your whole heart into it. (Maybe it’s time to consider a career as a Naga wedding planner?) I love you.

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My 3 Favorite Children’s/YA Novels in Verse

Even though I studied Secondary English in college (this is what people who want to teach middle and high school English study), I am not a huge poetry fan. Maybe I should be, but I don’t enjoy reading what I don’t understand. There IS a lot of accessible poetry out there though — accessible enough even for children — so really everyone can enjoy poetry if they’re exposed to the right stuff. And why not expose children and young adults (aka teenagers) to poetry so that they have more time to enjoy it?

Each of these novels could be a good introduction to poetry for kids and teenagers who haven’t yet been introduced because these books are the best of the best; all are highly acclaimed. They’re also great resources for teaching poetry in the classroom (or the kitchen).

Without further ado, here are my go-to free verse novels, in recommended-age order.

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Our Wedding PART 1 (Or The One Where the Bride Did Nothing)

I’m pretty sure Worchihan and I had one of the easiest weddings ever. Well, at least it was easy for me. I did ALMOST nothing.

How is that possible, you might ask? To be fair (to myself), the location determined pretty much everything — especially the fact that I wasn’t going to be a lot of help — and made the decisions easy.

When to get married? We got engaged on November 4 (Worchihan had a pretty sweet reason for asking me on this particular day) and visited Worchihan’s family in the village that Christmas. Our next shared holiday was Songkran, the 3 days + a weekend mid-April Thai new year celebration, so that was the obvious choice. When you are as old as we were when we got engaged (Worchihan was 29 and I was 30), you gotta get married. Fast.

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