Family (Re)union

Graduate: check

Introduce Peter to his Vietnamese relatives: check

Get Peter home in one piece: check

Get pharmacy license: pending

Get a job: pending

I survived my final rotation at Baystate.  I had a fairly large audience for my final case presentation on thrombolysis in submassive pulmonary embolism, so I think I picked a good topic.  That was Wednesday, and my preceptor told me that I could be done that day since I had an interview for the biomedical informatics/pharmacogenomics fellowship on Thursday.  There was little reason to come in again on Friday after my evaluation had already been completed.

The school of pharmacy’s awards ceremony was Monday during lunch.  As expected, I received my Postgraduate Training Curricular Track certificate (oh, the irony…) and the Pharmacy Practice Excellence Award for my graduation poster.  I had assumed that I would receive the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association Student Excellence Award because after all, I received the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association Foundation Scholarship (and aren’t those the same thing?).  Turns out that those two awards are not one and the same, though, and I instead was awarded the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists award for my “passion for geriatric care.”  I was not the only one who found this a bit ironic (how did we get from Packages for Preemies to Passion for Geriatrics?), but I suppose that my publication on medication-related falls in the elderly did fit the criteria of “demonstrated interest in optimal medication management and improved health outcomes related to senior care.”  The award carried a $250 monetary award, so I was more than happy to accept it.  Out of the two dozen awards that were given during the ceremony, only 8 carried a monetary award, so I do feel lucky.

It was nice to see my friends and classmates again during NAPLEX review week.  I invited Casey and Steff over for dinner Tuesday evening.  We had watermelon, chocolate cream pie, salad, couscous, shrimp scampi, and salmon.  As usual, I cooked too much, and it took until Friday to finish the leftovers.

I had my second interview for the fellowship position on Thursday that week.  It went well and I loved the three people I interviewed with from Harvard and Children’s, but I found out a week later that I was not their top candidate.  The fellowship went to someone with more education and some work experience in pharmacogenomics.  Can’t fault that logic, especially since this is the first year that the fellowship is being offered.

My parents arrived Friday night before graduation.  On Saturday morning, I was (apparently) still tired from the interview and travel preparations, so  I twice had to turn around after leaving for Gillette Stadium because I forgot something (e.g., my graduation gown).  It rained fairly hard on my way to the stadium, but happily, the rain stopped shortly after I arrived, and the clouds parted during the ceremony itself.  I ended up with a slight sunburn on the lower half of my forehead at the end of the 4.5-hour ceremony.  The ceremony itself was nice, though I’ll admit that the speakers made me cry a bit.  It felt like such an irony to be there, graduating summa cum laude with Phi Lambda Sigma cords – one of about 5 students in my class of 280 with such dual distinction – but without any plans for after graduation.  How did I fall into the ~15% of my class that is unemployed?

Overall, though, it was a happy day.  Peter did well waiting through the graduation, and he was very excited to see me on the jumbotron.

I saw Mama on the TV!  Mama, you looked pretty on the TV.  I like your colors.

Happy for Peter, the school promised to send me a DVD recording of the commencement ceremony.  So he can see Mama and her pretty honor cords on TV over and over again.

We went out for lunch at The Lafayette House after the ceremony.  I had a salty but delicious bouillabaisse.  Peter had ice cream and butterfly-shaped crackers.  Then he played with glass salt and pepper shakers.  And then he broke them.  (Oops!)

We set off for Vietnam Sunday morning.  Home to Union Station via car (15 min).  Union Station to South Station via commuter rail (90 min).  South Station to Terminal E via Silver Line bus (20 min).  Logan Airport to Narita Airport via JAL flight 7 (13.5 hours).  Narita Airport to Noi Bai Airport via JAL flight 751 (6.25 hours).  Noi Bai Airport to Hai Phong via taxi (2.5 hours).  Total transit time = 24.33 hours.  We left at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday (EST) and arrived in Hai Phong at about 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday (Indochina Time Zone).

Happily, Peter enjoyed the train ride, did remarkably well on the flights, and slept through the taxi ride to Hai Phong.  He particularly enjoyed studying the flight maps on his personal television set during the plane rides, but this was no surprise given his current fascination with “vowels and continents.”

On Tuesday morning, we went to a cafe for breakfast.  Son ordered eggs and beef for me, so I stole his bún cá and made him eat my plate.  (Now he knows better than to order eggs for me, even if I say I want to eat bánh mì.)  We went to a nearby shopping center, and I successfully avoided buying a toy for Peter.  Son caved and bought a couple dinner plates in our phasing-out-of-production green lotus dinnerware pattern.  My parents had fun buying a beverage assortment at Big C.  Back at Chị Hiền‘s house, we had an amazing lunch of seafood springrolls, mixed greens, and… I forget what else.  Maybe clams, shrimp, and Vietnamese chopped salad?  I guess I had too many amazing meals in Vietnam; they have run together in my memory already.  After lunch, I walked back to Big C with my parents (to purchase more beverages).  Peter fell asleep and was out cold for the rest of the day.  We went to a nice restaurant with Chú Lanh and his family out for multi-course dinner.  Again, it was amazing… they kept coming out with course after course of unusual dishes.  We drove around downtown Hai Phong for a little while after dinner so that my parents could see the city center.

On Wednesday, we had bánh mì for breakfast and then took a taxi to Ha Long, where we chartered a boat to take us into the Bay, dock at two islands for 3 cave tours, prepare lunch, and drop us at Cat Ba Island.  Peter was able to convince his aunt to buy him a model bicycle and a toy excavator-dump truck.  Anh Châu bought my parents a coal sculpture of Ha Long Bay’s fighting cock rocks.  Peter fell asleep on the taxi ride through Cat Ba Island.  We got hotel rooms at a large guest house and then went swimming at the beach.  (Well, except Peter and Son… they snoozed in the hotel room.)  It was near high tide, and the waves at the beach were impressive, big enough to surf.  Back at the hotel, we had dinner (fried rice), and when Peter decided that he was sufficiently awake, we walked along harbor.  Peter rode an electric kiddie car for about 15 minutes for $1 and was later treated to ice cream.  He had a ton of fun steering that car around.  He wasn’t very good at planning a route to drive, but he was good at following my commands to “Go right!  Go left!  Go straight!”

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Son, Peter, and I woke early on Thursday and went swimming at beach.  We went the long way back to the hotel, on a cliff path.  We came upon a nicer beach with cleaner, drier sand along our walk, and Peter happily played with his excavator-dump truck in the sand. After we got back to hotel, Son decided to rent a motor scooter ride up the mountain and see some cannons.  The cannons weren’t that exciting, but the French fort itself was interesting, the view was spectacular, and the number and variety of colorful butterflies on the mountain was amazing.  Peter enjoyed the motorcycle ride, and we took a few minutes to drive around the town after descending from the mountain.  Back at the hotel, Chị Hiền had bought some fresh seafood from the local market and asked the manager to cook it for our lunch.  Anh Châu had bought us a model boat made of sea shells at the local market to bring home as a souvenir.  Chị Hiền decided that she needed to rest after lunch, so I offered to show my parents the way up the mountain (on foot).  The Vietnamese all thought we were insane, hiking in the midday sun.  I, on the other hand, felt quite sprightly, walking without a 3-year-old on my back.  The Vietnamese at the gate to the fort were all asleep, so we proceeded without purchasing tickets, hoping that a ticket was not needed for pedestrians.  My dad took a bunch of photographs, and just as we were ready to head down the mountain again, a girl from the cafe came running after us, asking to see our tickets.  She wanted us to purchase tickets from her, but she had no tickets to give us.  After a lot of stammering, she finally agreed to let us purchase a ticket from the gatekeeper.  Once we got back to the hotel, it was time to catch a bus to the dock where the ferry left for Hai Phong.  It was a beautiful bus ride as we passed between the mountain cliffs, past mountain goats and small villages.  I fell asleep after we got back to Chị Hiền’s house and missed dinner.

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I woke very early Friday morning and checked my e-mail.  I found that the second page proofs for my Consultant Pharmacist manuscript needed review.  While reviewing them, I found out that the fellowship opportunity had slipped through my fingers.  Drat.  At least Tayyiba was online and able to offer consolations.

We caught a taxi to Nam Dinh later that morning.  Bà Cúc seemed very happy to meet Peter for the first time, but Peter was a bit nervous.  We had lunch at Bà Cúc‘s house, gave my parents a taxi tour around town, and checked into Son Nam Hotel.   Dinner was at Bà Cúc‘s house.  We walked back to the hotel, and on the way, Peter was treated to two rides at the lakeside park – bumper cars and a kiddie train ride.  The train ride was later determined to be his favorite ride.

We had breakfast – phở or bánh cuốn – every morning at the hotel.  Saturday morning, my parents, Peter, and I walked around Nam Dinh.  We stopped by a jeweler to exchange money, got ice cream for 4000 đồng (about 20 cents), let Peter play on the slides at a city park with Vietnamese kids, purchased a ceramic fish tank ornament for 40,000 đồng, walked around the history museum grounds, and checked out the city market where household goods could be purchased in bulk (the place was reminiscent of an extreme hoarder’s house, with piles of stuff and little room to walk).  We had lunch with family, friends, and neighbors at a restaurant.  The Vietnamese seemed to appreciate the “interesting” dishes – congealed blood in sliced intestine, goose liver, a giant herb pork meatball – but my mother did not.  Peter liked the shrimp, and I liked the giant meatball.  After a midday siesta, Son took Peter, my parents, and I to visit the pagoda and temple just outside the city.  It was (relatively) cool and relaxing there.  Peter slept through the excursion.  Dinner was at Bà Cúc‘s house, and Peter got to ride three kiddie rides at the park that evening (the train, a train of cars, and a helicopter).

On Sunday, we left early in the day with Bà Cúc, Bà Liên, Dương, Hương, Việt, and Anh Xô for Ninh Binh by taxi.  We first visited Chùa Bái Đính.  It is an impressive complex on a lovely hillside, but the heat and humidity made the climb to Tam Thế Hall less enjoyable.  I didn’t want to carry Peter on my back, especially after he spilled a can or winter melon juice on his shirt.  We convinced Peter to pretend that he was the Little Engine that Could, and we eventually made it to the top of the proverbial mountain.  After making it back down the mountain, we headed over to the banks of the Ngô Đồng River for lunch.  It was very hot, the sort of day where you melt ice cubes against your skin to help you cool off a bit.  After lunch, we caught two row boats for a trip through Tam Cốc – a series of river caves (3 natural, 5 man-made) in the karst mountains that dominate the area’s landscape.  It was breathtaking – beautiful like Ha Long Bay but much more intimate.  And happily, the weather was quite tolerable on the river.  I highly recommend Tam Cốc as a fantastic tourist destination to anyone visiting northern Vietnam.  We headed back to the hotel after our boat ride, and I was exhausted from the heat after we got to our room, so I slept through dinner once again.

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On Monday, we sent my parents off to Ha Noi by bus.  We spent the rest of the day  bus station, home during the day at Bà Cúc‘s house.  I noticed that I was developing a rash which I later determined to be due to the heat.  Son and Peter also developed mild heat rashes, but my mom developed a fairly severe one.

On Tuesday, we went to Thai Binh with Bà Cúc to visit one of her brothers and his family.  Two children live in the house where we met for lunch, so Peter was happy to play with their toys (and take several back to Nam Dinh with him).  On the way back to Nam Dinh, we stopped by a wall hangings shop and purchased an embroidered picture of carp.  We also stopped at a cemetery to pay respects to Bà Cúc’s parents and sister.

Wednesday was another uneventful day spent at home in Nam Dinh.  Peter learned to love taking baths in basins and ate about half a watermelon by himself.  I got some MPJE review done. Peter took advantage of his last opportunity to ride the train at the park before bed that evening.

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Thursday morning, Son and I walked around Nam Dinh (Peter rode on my back as usual).  Son bought me a dainty white gold bracelet, bought his father some silk flowers, and bought himself a Bat Trang figuring.  Back at home, Chị Nga insisted that she wanted to buy me a gift before we left, so I received a new wallet to replace my worn Indian one.  We had lunch at home and said our goodbyes to Bà Cúc, Bà Liên, Hương, Việt, and Chị Nga before heading to Ha Noi by taxi.  (Peter graciously gave everyone a big kiss and a hug before he left.)  It felt nice to spend the hot early afternoon hours in an air conditioned taxi, but I started feeling very nauseous shortly after we arrived at Bác Toan’s house.  Happily, the nausea and cramping passed after a few hours, and Son, Peter, Bác Toan, and I took some time to visit Chú Long that evening.  Chú Long, his wife, and his daughter seemed delighted to meet Peter, and they gave him a toy airplane.  They showed me a picture of Son and his father, taken just before Son’s dad fell sick.  I felt sad that I missed the opportunity to meet Son’s dad by just a year.  We stayed at a small but very well-kept guest house that night.  The room had a lounge chair that Peter quickly determined was best used as a slide.

Friday morning, we met my parents at Sofitel Plaza after they got back from Sapa.  The hotel was beautiful, and the staff were amazing.  My father said that it’s probably the nicest hotel that he (a pilot and well-traveled tourist) has ever stayed at.  Son left us to visit his father’s cemetary and several friends/relatives.  My parents and I took Peter to visit the botanical garden.  Peter had fun on the swings and giant slides in the garden, and he had fun reenacting Thomas and Friends episodes.  (He and I took turns being Gordon or Paxton.)  The garden featured an unkempt orchid garden, peacocks, monkeys, and a sculpture display.  We headed back to the hotel as it started to get very warm (the high that day was 104 Farenheit) and purchased some bread, ham, and cheese for lunch.  After lunch, we went swimming in the hotel pool, and Son caught up with us.  We took a nap, and Son snuck out to visit more friends/relatives.  We had dinner with Chị Thủy, her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend.  The meal was very nice, featuring snail springrolls, skewered fish (my mom avoided that one), do-it-yourself summer rolls, and beef hotpot with bún.  We visited Anh Bình afterwards, and my parents appreciated the architecture of his French-era house as well as his red water.  Peter ate half a watermelon by himself, as usual.

Saturday morning, Son, Peter, and I visited two relatives.  We had lunch with about 9 of Son’s friends at an amazing buffet-style restaurant that served an assortment of shellfish and other appetizers right to your table.  The friends were having so much fun that after 2.5 hours at the restaurant, Son had to insist that we really had to leave so that we could make it back to our hotel by 2 p.m. check-out time.  My parents were waiting for us, and we all went to the history museum together.  Peter wasn’t a huge fan of the museum, but he had more fun after one of Son’s friends met up with us because she brought her daughter, and the two kids chased each other around the museum’s foyer.  We then went to see the water puppet show at Hoan Kiem Lake.  Peter enjoyed the puppet show but would have preferred if it had been slightly shorter with better seating (it was a bit warm and quite cramped with insufficient elevation between the seat rows for a child to get a good view of the water).  Peter fell asleep on the taxi ride back to the hotel, and Son and I spent out last few hours in Ha Noi eating gourmet cookies, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, and listening to live music in the lobby of Sofitel Plaza.  Chị Oanh met up with us there and gave Peter and me silver bracelets that her sons had worn (to stay warm).  Finally, at 8:30 p.m., we headed back to Noi Bai Airport.

The return trip was somewhat shorter and therefore easier than the first trip.  We got home at about 1 p.m. on Sunday.  My parents stayed at Logan and caught a late afternoon flight back to Minneapolis.  I’ll add more photos at some point if I can get hold of my father’s SD cards; he took more (and better) photos than Son and I did.

So that’s it for now.  Monday was Memorial Day, so Son took care of our 2-foot-tall lawn, and I weeded and mulched our front garden.  I mailed my licensure application on Tuesday.  I doubt I’ll have much luck job hunting until after I am licensed because I’m competing with PGY1 residents right now.  I may have some luck with pharmaceutical industry jobs, so I’ll focus on those positions (entry-level pharmacovigilance pharmacist, perhaps?) and prepare for my NAPLEX and MPJE.  I’m adjusting to stay-at-home-mom life with Peter and hope to have a lot of fun with him this summer.

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