Its easy for people to settle in their comfort zones and cruise through their days without doing new things and expanding their horizons. Problem is, you don’t learn or grow very much this way, and its kinda boring.

I think I’ve discovered an anecdote that I’ve been applying for the last few months: giving myself specific, short-term challenges. Maybe “discover” isn’t the right word, but I do think I’ve atleast made an admirable attempt putting into action a wide-range of different challenges. Below are a few examples of ones I’ve done, and at the end I’ve listed out a few that are potentially on the horizon. I’d love to hear any ideas you have for new ones, as this is a process that I don’t plan on cutting short anytime soon.

Here they are:

Hanoi Fear Factor Challenge: There are tons of kinda crazy/weird stuff to do in Hanoi, but on any given day you’re just not going to feel inclined to say, eat duck embryo. So, when my brother was here we created and did the “Hanoi Fear Factor Challenge”. This consisted of riding around town and completing a range of events, which were:

1) Eating dog: yes, that’s right, I’ve eaten dog. This will be the subject of an upcoming post, but let me say two things: first, these aren’t cuddly poodles, they’re dogs that were bread like you might breed chickens. Second, it tasted terrible, which was mostly due to the shrimp paste that comes with it, which reminded me of throw-up.

2) Eating Snake: after eating dog, the snake tasted like a slice of heaven. After they kill the snake in front of you, they drain its blood and gall bladder juice into little shot glasses. These are good for your “virility” and “health”, though I think I was still feeling a little queasy afterwards. Also, the snake’s heart continues to beat after it has been removed from the body. I ate that as well, and really all I could think about was how much better than dog it was.

3) Paddle Boat Races: The next challenge was a paddle-boar race around one of the lakes in Hanoi… it sounded like a great idea, but you’ve got to work so hard to go so slow in those things. We were all drenched in sweat by the end of it.

4) Eating Duck Embryo: These are basically almost-born duck-eggs that they cook. When you bit through them you can definitely tell that there was a duck in there. This particular challenge led to a lot of gagging on my part, but eventually I was able to eat the whole thing.

5) Bia Hoi Challenge: Bia Hoi is fresh beer brought to “Bia Hois” around Hanoi daily. The challenge was to drink $2 worth of beer. Since they cost $.16 each (3,000 dong), the challenge was to finish 12 of them the fastest. Granted, they’re a little watered-down and the cups are maybe half of the size of a bottled beer, but finishing off with a few beers was a great way to wind down the day.

My brother brought his nice camera around and we filmed a lot of this. He’s been busy working on another project, but hopefully we’ll finish it over break and I’ll post it.

Water for a Week Challenge: Pretty straightforward, don’t drink anything except water for a week. After four days of only water, I couldn’t turn down some rice wine at the base camp of Mount Fancy Pants (ok, Phan Xi Phan) after hiking 15km to climb it. I got something out of those four days.

Vietnamese Food Challenge: I’ve never been a huge fan of Vietnamese food, though I had definitely found a few dishes I liked. Still, I never really craved it, and as a result I often ate western, Indian, or other Asian fares, with some Vietnamese dishes in between. But there were so many things I hadn’t tried, so it became a challenge. Eat only Vietnamese food for one week. Many people do this all the time, as it can be delicious, its cheap, and oh yeah, they’re in Vietnam. I decided it was time to see what’s out there.

This one I did for five days in a row before caving. I think I was out one night and didn’t have much of a choice, and then that turned out to be a slippery slope. But during those five days I discovered a ton of foods that I wished I’d found months before. You don’t even have to win a challenge to benefit from it.

Fasting Challenge: I know this one sounds a little weird, but one day I read something about a religious fast, and then realized that I’d never been compelled to fast in my life before. I had never even gone for one day without eating food, so I thought I’d see what it was like. The night before it started, I went to My Burger My, the best burger in Hanoi, and chowed down as the clock approached midnight. The next day was easy, I was hardly hungry after the midnight feast. Day two began with some unease, and throughout the day I wasn’t aware so much of being hungry as I was just jolted into being so awake and alert, my body was just running on adrenaline. That night I was starving, and I remember thinking that this part of the hunger was what it was all about, I couldn’t stop thinking about food. I woke up at 5am the next morning in a sweat, and I knew it was time to quit. I got dressed immediately, set out chugging a big bottle of water and looking for a cab. Traffic that morning was terrible, and while idling amidst a sea of motorbikes in the old quarter, I threw open the door and threw up bits of nothingness onto the street. The cab driver turned around, I gave him a reassuring nod and told him I was fine. Two minutes later, fifteen yards further down the street, again threw up.

When I finally made it to the Highlands Coffee by my work, I walked in. As soon as I opened the door I cut the wait staff off by ordering a ham and cheese omelet and a coffee. When it finally arrived, I managed to get two bites in before throwing up again all over the floor. It was kind of ridiculous.

So, in the end I kind of got what I came for: a taste of what its like to not eat for two days. Not something I’m keen on trying again any time soon, and definitely not for two whole days, but not an entirely regretful experience either. What did I learn? Not eating for two days sucks, and if you don’t eat for two days, don’t end your fast with a ham and cheese omelet.

OK, that’s all I can remember so far.

Upcoming Challenges

– Be a vegetarian for one week
– Some kind of fitness challenge?
– Reading challenge
– 4 Hours of Sleep/Night for 1 week challenge
– Blog writing challenge?
– [your suggestion here]

Also,  I heartily welcome all fellow challengees… do some of these with me, we’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we may throw up, but we’ll definitely have a good time.

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  • Andrew

    Live like a local challenge. You can only spend as much money as the typical Vietnamese citizen does in a given amount of time. I don't know. Good stuff though Jesse.

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  • hmarston

    You're nuts! Nuts!

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