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July 8, 2010

Good Morning, Vietnam

Hello all. In a stunning attempt to keep my promise, I am going to attempt to capture my travels on this blog. For those of you who do not know, I am in the middle of a very exciting five weeks in my life–I rented a cabin in Lake Nebagamon, WI for a week, am in the midst of 12 days touring Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and will be going to Shunde, China for two weeks of work at the end of my trip.

Although a few days have passed, I will do my best to recreate my trip up to the northwoods. As many of you know, Camp Nebagamon is without a doubt my favorite place in the world. As much as I would like to keep going there every summer as I have all but two since 1996, it can be incongruent with career advancement as it was for me this summer. Still, I was able to sneak in a week up there with a bunch of my closest friends as we tried to squeeze every possible drop of nostalgia and gluttony out of the trip. Our cabin was located right on Lake Nebagamon, three driveways away from the famous Dairy Queen. We had an unreal view of the lake, five beds, two pullout couches, a grill, a canoe and, most importantly, great diverse company.

The week started with a great council fire by my good friend, Grant “Shimpkins” Rosskamm. For those unfamiliar with Nebagamon, a council fire entails a senior member of the staff’s putting together a series of skits around a massive camp fire that are meant to convey a general life lesson. Shimpkins titled his fire “A Touch of Grey,” and showed that no matter how seemingly perfect a situation may be, we will never be able to rid it of minor imperfection. Still, though, if we strive for perfection, even as we will never fully achieve it, we will find ourselves happy with the overall results. Rosskamm did an incredible job conveying this complex theory and those of us that knew him best were extremely proud to be there for it.

The rest of the week, we did our best to strive for perfection in the consumption of red meat, cheese, and beer. On Monday, we headed to Superior Meats and, after a few minutes lost in the godly selection of steaks, sausages, ground beef, and brats, settled on the #7 c0mbo – 16 pounds of four different types of ground beef and seven pounds of seven different types of Brats for $70.00. We got our money’s worth. My favorite meat of the group was the ground beef that they had ground bacon and cheddar into. We grilled these and topped them with cheese curds to make one of the best creations I have ever eaten.

On Tuesday, we went to Gooseberry Falls State Park in Minnesota, a beautiful stretch of land that overlooks Lake Superior. We grilled up the rest of our meat and, shockingly, consumed a hearty portion of beer. On this day we also stopped at Lou’s Fish for a pound and a half of beef jerky (I dare you to find better), Betty’s Pies where I got a slice of butterfinger pie, and Fitger’s brewhouse for two growlers of beer.

The rest of the week was spent mostly at the cabin or at Bridge’s Bar. Bridge’s, which I can only assume was the inspiration for Toby Keith’s “I Love this Bar,” is a completely unique experience to the northwoods. You can go there at 4 pm on a beautiful 75-and-sunny day and see the normal cast of characters chainsmoking and sipping away on their Busch Lights (I think they cost a dollar). I am certain that Philip Morris shed a tear this past Monday when the statewide smoking ban went into effect in Wisconsin. The bartenders, always happy for new company, treat us very well. You can consume to your heart’s desire and it is very difficult to amass a tab over $20 in a night here. The bar has a great jukebox, a pool table, and an outstanding shuffleboard table. We were there until closing 5 of our 7 nights in Lake Nebagamon.

Overall, the week at the cabin was everything that I could have possibly hoped for. I came back relaxed and fat and ready to face more challenges in my incredibly difficult life. The day after I got back to Chicago, I left for Vietnam. Unbeknownst to me before the trip, my family was to spend our entire two weeks in 4 or 5 star hotels.

When I arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I was struck first by the amount of scooters (there are 9 million residents of the city and 6 million scooters). Although I only spent about 12 hours in Saigon, I was able to experience the large indoor market where I got a North Face backpack for $10 (it looks very authentic). Our hotel had an absolutely spectacular breakfast spread; there is nothing I could have reasonably wanted that was not available and, in addition to the great selection, everything was exceptional quality.

From there, we moved on to Hoi An, a city with exceptional beaches and over 200 tailors. I got a tailored cashmere suit for about $300 and a pair of leather loafers for $25 and had a few great meals before jet lag hit me in full force. I would love to regale you with tales of my heroics yesterday but in reality I slept from 2:00 pm until 6:00 am this morning. Hopefully it is all out of my system now and my body will have fully adjusted to the new time zone.

Hope to write again in a few days.

-Ryan


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