15 Hundred Dong


“15 hundred is different from 1,500,000. 15 hundred is one thousand five hundred,” I explained. I thought the man was just poor in Math, but it didn’t seem so. Our conversation escalated into an argument with each one raising their voices. I saw two middle-aged Caucasians passed by and I had the slight urge to ask them for help. I could already feel my hand shaking and I was constantly trying to maintain a fair amount of space between me and the man to keep him away from the wallet I was holding and to protect myself from any possible physical injuries he might inflict on me. The male Caucasian looked like he didn’t want to be involved in what was going on so I didn’t bother. I kept walking backward while still having an argument with the man who was my motorbike driver.


delicious Bánh mì and iced coffee at Charm Bakery

It was a beautiful morning in Ho Chi Minh City. I just had a satisfying breakfast of Bahn Mi and iced coffee in a bakery. I stopped in front of a central area and got my camera to capture the scene highlighting the chaos of motorbikes that filled the street. After a few minutes, a man riding a motorbike stopped near where I was standing and said hello. He was maybe in his 60’s. He reminded me of a grandfather which made him seem harmless. It was New Year. I was in a good mood. I didn’t have any reason not to respond to questions of a friendly local while I finished taking photos of the street scene.


When the man found out I was planning to go to Ben Thanh Market, he told me it was still closed. I knew he was lying because I did my research about that place. His lie should have been the first ring of alarm but I disregarded it. He laid out a pamphlet with different tour options. I was enticed by his offer of a tour to three places for just 15 hundred Dong. I was wearing my flip flops and my feet usually ache when I’m not wearing the right footwear during a long walk. So why not grab the offer? The amount was considerably cheap but I thought maybe that’s because the mode of transportation was a motorbike. And besides, he has a notebook of testimonials from other tourists who availed of his services. Someone even wrote in my local language. And I made sure both of us were pristine clear that I was only going to pay him 15 hundred Dong.

He opened his motorbike seat revealing a storage space where he said I could keep my things. I told him I’d just hold on to my bag. He put the helmet on me and I took my spot and placed my hands on his shoulders. He got my hand off and instructed me to hold the back part of the seat to maintain my balance. Until now, it was the most valuable learning I had when riding a motorbike. I didn’t know that specific part is used as a grab handle.  The last time I was a passenger in a motorbike was five years ago. I told him not to ride too fast because I was afraid.


After having gone to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Central Post Office, and Notre Dame Cathedral, we drove to a small park which offers a view of the river as well as the bridge. There were a few families with children playing in the playground. They were mostly locals. The area was supposed to be a point of interest but I hardly saw any tourists. And it made me wonder why the man did not drop me off in the playground area considering it’s the nearest. Instead, he drove to the farthest side of the park away from the people.  I took pictures and I pretended the view was worth something. There was nothing special about the bridge. The water in the river was brown and muddy. The buildings in the background weren’t even tall. I was disappointed but still wanted to look polite.

“Come here”, he motioned with his hand. He was standing under the shade of a tree near his parked motorbike. I had walked several steps away to take pictures. It hadn’t been more than 5 minutes when he called me to come to him. “In Ben Thanh, there are many mafias. It’s dangerous there. Don’t show your wallet when you are there.” I thought it was thoughtful of him. “Just pay me now. It’s not safe there.” That was when all the bells in my head rang. I tried my best to insist that I’ll just pay in Ben Thanh, but eventually, I gave in. “Don’t let this be a scam. Don’t let this be a scam.” I kept telling myself as I got the 1500 Dong from my wallet. When he rejected it, I knew I was in a bad situation.

I came to Vietnam as a solo female traveler. And there I was away from the busy crowd of Ho Chi Minh City. I was afraid of what he was going to do to me if I didn’t give him what he wanted.  He insisted on 1,500,000 Dong. I kept telling him we agreed on 1500 dong and what he was asking me was so expensive. He was shouting at me and I kept telling him to back off and not come any closer to me. I got my cellphone and did a quick search on how much a tour would usually cost. I stood my ground on not giving him more than a million. He eventually lowered the amount to 500,000 Dong, but I was still hesitant. He wouldn’t accept 100,000 or 300,000 Dong from me. As we kept arguing, several things kept running on my mind. Maybe I could hail a taxi and just run away. Or go to the playground area and let the people know what he was doing to me. But I was thinking I might endanger the children there since I didn’t have any idea what he would do.

I handed the 500,000 Dong and we walked away in opposite directions. Just after I had taken a few steps, he called me and showed a 200,000 Dong saying I gave the wrong amount. “No, I gave you 500,000 Dong!,” I shouted and surprisingly he walked away quickly. I kept walking until I reached the farthest side of the playground where there were benches. I decided to sit for awhile to calm myself. My hands were still shaking from the whole incident. I stayed for 30 minutes and then I crossed the street and got myself out of there.


spring rolls with peanut sauce in Bến Thành Market

Many travelers often say to meet with locals and engage with them so you can have a rich cultural experience. It was unfortunate that in one instance when I chatted with a local, I was scammed. People go on a trip for various reasons and I realized I don’t have to force myself out of my comfort zone just because of other’s view on what a real meaningful journey is. I am a very introverted traveler and a cautious one. Never was it a hindrance in my enjoyment abroad. I have to say that in my future travels, I would definitely stick to my own rules. I thought I’ve read enough and prepared myself for any travel scams I might encounter, but I still made a mistake.


inside Hồ Chí Minh City Museum



Ho Chi Minh City Hall


Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts


my first taste of Phở at Tan Son Nhat International Airport


I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.

It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues.  The scenery in the photo amazed me.  I wondered in which country she went.  I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad.  It’s just here in Japan.

It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps.  I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend.  I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see.  In the end, I chose to travel domestically.

It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi.  I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom.  I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food.  I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal.  I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.

I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket.  The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.


How To Get There:

From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station.  It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.



I hadn’t seen a field of tulips before, so I decided to visit my favorite garden in Mie which is Nabana No Sato.  This place changes the flowers depending on the season.  I remember in autumn it had cosmos festival.  And I think by the end of May,  a new set of flowers will be planted as soon as the tulips have withered.

DSCF6758DSCF6888DSCF6885DSCF6879DSCF6877DSCF6870DSCF6866DSCF6854DSCF6852DSCF6825DSCF6760How To Go There:

Go to Meitetsu Bus Center just somewhere at the back of Nagoya Station.  Buy a ticket to Nabana no Sato.  Here’s the bus schedule. (*Schedule may change without prior notice.)




SeoulO Trip, South Korea

I stared at the view from the bus window searching for signs that would make me feel that I wasn’t   in Japan anymore. There was only the greenery— not enough to give a distinctive feel of the city.  I felt bored but at least I was sitting comfortably in an airport shuttle bus bound to Seoul.  The passengers were a mix of Koreans and Asian tourists. It made me feel at ease that I wasn’t just the only foreigner.  It seemed that the trip to my destination would take more than an hour, so I decided to get some sleep.

I traveled to South Korea for spring vacation.  It was only an hour away from Japan and it was one of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to.  I think I might even have more knowledge of Kpop culture than Jpop.  Despite being one of my must-see places, I went to Seoul to get away. I wanted to be out of Japan even just for a moment, just so I could breath.

I got off at Namdaemun Market bus stop as instructed by the hotel staff where I was going to stay.  The driver seemed kind of irritated because it took more than a minute for us to find my small luggage in the bus compartment.  It didn’t bother me at all and even assured me I was not in Japan anymore. (You know how Japanese are very polite and very service-oriented.) In fact, it was one of the very few incidents that made me feel that I was back in the real world.  And I loved it!

The Seoul subway station was one of the places I felt comfortable.  I relished the noise inside the train. I liked how the ahjummas and ahjussis would claim their rightful spot in the reserved seating. I even liked how some people would slightly bump into me without the need to say sorry. I liked how they would rush into the first available seat they would see. I liked how they didn’t have reservations to sit next to each other. I liked seeing them express their emotions. I sincerely liked those things. Somehow, all those things reminded me of home, of normalcy.

I’ve been stressed for a while in Japan because of one thing. Being surrounded by people aggravates it even more. My visit to Seoul was just what I needed.  I kind of feel like some of the things that I initially love in Japan are getting on my nerves. Well, I certainly know what I’m feeling right now is because of stress. But Seoul has truly been a perfect escape, even just for a few days.

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This is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid.


Night view in Dongdaemun



Myeongdong Market


Shinjuku (新宿)

The moment I stepped out of Shinjuku station, I got struck with homesickness. Seriously, I wanted to hop on the next train bound for Gifu. There’s just something about the Tokyo area that always makes me want to go back to the town where I live. Shinjuku is a place you won’t fall in love in the daylight. There’s trash everywhere. Of course, for some people this is a typical sight. But for someone who lives in rural Japan, it is rare to see piles of garbage in the street. It’s not the Japan that I know of. It just lacks the warmth of the people in the countryside. And I don’t like the feeling of being vigilant again. But I wanted to give Shinjuku a chance by choosing to stay here for a 3-day vacation. It had a negative impression on me considering that my only idea of Shinjuku back then was Jackie Chan’s bloody violent movie ‘Shinjuku Incident.’ Although I still don’t have a positive view of this place, it is fair to say that it has a beautiful nightscape.15800793_10209279358353228_6561047697626030977_o15774820_10209279358713237_2078689694697924809_o15774634_10209279360513282_9019011874566161408_o15874912_10209279359913267_2319753117971210950_o15874808_10209279359713262_7282708808739589289_o15874780_10209279360393279_3432140022357176171_o15844570_10209279359433255_2667903837648344134_o15776832_10209279361153298_7710787402555857259_o

Thoughts on Walking

I put on my white Adidas shoes as this is the only pair of sneakers that goes fashionably well with skirts, dresses, and suits.  I hurriedly went down the stairs of my apartment trying to make it to the main street before the school hymn of the nearby school came to an end.  It’s normally my cue to leave the apartment already or else I’d be late for work.

My workplace is a 30-minute walk from my apartment.  I’ve been going to school on foot for more than a year already, so I usually make it one or two minutes before my log-in time.  And that includes grabbing lunch and snacks in the supermarket next to my workplace.  My apartment is situated uphill and my workplace is located in another uphill ground.  It’s like going from one valley to another valley.  On regular weekdays, I walk a total of almost 5 kilometers.  I’ve walked in different seasons and I’ve realized that the different seasons play a big part on what I feel and what I think while walking.


Summer is unforgiving.  The heat is intense and the wind does not even let its presence be known.  I start to pity myself.  My upper clothing is drenched in sweat.  And because of that, I usually bring a towel and an extra blouse.  There seems to be no point wearing make-up.  By the time I arrive in the workplace, I look as if I’d just completed a morning workout.  My hair is messy, which is enough to be stressed out for the day.  Walking in summer feels like never ending especially if it’s an upward slope.  Every turn I take, I would wish it were the last.  And in every step, I’d repeatedly question why I placed myself in this situation.


Summer – Shirotori Garden, Aichi Prefecture



Autumn is the beginning.  I’d like to think of autumn as the start of good things to come.  It’s much more comfortable walking in autumn.  It is when the feel of the cold temperature seems so much more inviting.  The color of the autumn leaves is striking—- may it be yellow, red, or orange.  There is a gingko tree with dark yellow leaves alongside the street I pass by.  I used to hate that tree not knowing what it was because its fruits would fall all over the ground and smell so bad.  Sometimes I would see its owner cleaning up the ground with a broom and I used to pity her.  It made me wonder why she would go through the hassle of sweeping the ground early in the morning.  Sometimes she’d collect a total of four garbage bags full of rotten fruits.  I didn’t understand then that that tree is like a shining star in the autumn daylight.


Autumn- Tachikawa, Tokyo Prefecture



Winter is depressing and lonely.  That’s when all the dark thoughts occupy the mind.  It’s five in the afternoon and the light has retired early.  I shiver in cold as I walk my way uphill with nobody in sight.  Sometimes I daydream I am in the setting of M. Night Shyamalan’s chiller movie The Village.  On rare occasions, I see some students on their way home.  It sometimes boggles me how the female high school students can manage the cold in their mini skirt uniform whereas I, completely bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, can still feel the biting cold.  But if I’d have to choose, I’d pick winter over summer because I still look exactly the same as when I leave the apartment—- make-up intact and strands of hair still in place.


Winter- Shirakawago, Gifu Prefecture



Spring is salvation.  The light after the dark.  It’s the season that constantly makes me want to freeze time even just for a minute, so I could appreciate the beauty of cherry blossom trees that line the street.  There are times when the wind would blow and the cherry blossom petals would rain on me.  And in my mind I’d be doing a twirl in my cute dress.  Or sometimes I wish someone would film me in slow motion as I gaze up completely amazed at the falling white pinkish petals.  But, nope.  None of that as I need to hurriedly get to the workplace. But my hopes are still high as I know there are two more blossom trees on the way.  It’s only in spring when I wish that the traffic lights would remain red, so I could enjoy the view of the cherry blossom tree standing near the stop lights.  And as I completely enter the compound of my workplace, another cherry blossom tree lifts my mood up.


Spring- Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture


Walking throughout the four seasons allows me to think of different things.  It’s not just a routine to reach my destination.  It’s a process that allows me to talk to myself and solve my worries.  Sometimes I’d go home filled with problems that only people living abroad would face.  In the whole 30-minute walk, I’m usually able to analyze the why’s and how’s of my situation.  By the time I reach home, the negative thoughts don’t linger anymore.  Walking is an invisible friend.  It’s solitary, yet, it brings me solace.

Halloween at Universal Studios, Osaka

I stood for less than an hour on my shinkansen trip from Nagoya to Osaka.  I stood near the door exit and just enjoyed the sight of the rice fields and the small typical Japanese houses that we passed by.  There were times when we got a glimpse of wide cosmos flower fields for a matter of a few seconds and all I could do was long for it and daydream about running across those fields. Every time I ride the shinkansen/bullet train, I can’t help but be amazed at the speed and convenience that it provides passengers especially those who get dizzy from long distance travels.  After a short stop over at Kyoto, I couldn’t help but feel excited to arrive in Osaka in a matter of a few minutes.

I decided to go to Osaka to experience Halloween at Universal Studios (USJ).  Halloween Horror Night was at the back of my mind for a long time already. So I was ecstatic that my friend was more than willing to travel for more than six hours from where she lives just to go to USJ.  She was more interested in seeing the Harry Potter attraction while I was filled with excitement to see the zombies roam the streets in USJ come night time.  I was also looking forward to seeing the Death Eaters at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

My friend and I decided to visit Osaka Castle just before heading to Universal Studios.  I was thinking that since we were going to stay until night time at USJ, it would be much better to see other sights in Osaka in the morning.  I actually got confused with the train rides in the Osaka Loop Line.  For instance, we were supposed to take the train running in the clockwise direction, but we ended up getting on the train in the counterclockwise direction. It happened twice, so it added to our travel time.

I enjoy more the area outside the castle than the castle itself.  I’ve already gone to many castles across Japan, so I know what to expect.  But since my friend wanted to see what’s inside, we decided to go in.  The interior of the castle has been transformed into a modern museum.  I was more pleased with the view offered from the top part of the castle where you can see some parts of Osaka.  There’s also this modern building in the area with mirror windows that reflect the sky.  I really find it stunning.

After a few hours in Osaka Castle, we headed to USJ.  It was really really crowded and mostly everyone was in costume.  I admire the effort that everyone exerted on their make-up and costume. I wished I wore a costume, too, but I ran out of budget.  When we got in, we directly headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the timed entrance.  To our disappointment, the only available schedule was around 9 pm.  We could not take that schedule because my friend’s bus departure going home was an hour after that.  I could tell she was extremely disappointed and I felt sorry for her.  Ooops, I shouldn’t have suggested going to Osaka Castle.  So if you ever plan to enter the world of HP, make sure you go there the moment USJ opens just to be sure!

My friend and I just decided to roam around, eat, and take pictures until night time.  We couldn’t enter any attraction because the lines were long.  Waiting time consisted of two to three hours.  Halloween Horror Night was such a famous and crowded event at USJ.  When the clock struck six, different types of zombies came out.  They were really scary and made us run away or scream when they came near.  I was really satisfied with my Halloween experience.  It was what I expected minus the Death Eaters.

Spending Halloween at Universal Studios with your friends is a good idea just as long as you don’t mind the crowd.  You can wear a costume and admire other people’s costume, too.  If you really stand-out, people would want to take a photo with you.  My friend and I enjoyed having our photos taken with ordinary people in costume.  They were such a sight to behold— interesting, weird, cool, scary, awesome!