Present times

 

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Loving the Present.

Monday reality this morning is a sigh of relief after successfully hosting nineteen kids at our house yesterday. Martha turns lucky number 7 in two day’s time, and she’s been planning her party since opening her final Christmas present.

Added to the already high intensity affair that Martha’s birthday parties tend to embody, it’s also a relief to have made it through another weekend keeping up with the slew of leaving parties that Saigon is awash with right now.

With only four weeks until school ends, local removal companies are making hay whilst the sun shines and the humidity grows even thicker.

The clammiest month of the year is also one of the most hectic. End of year dance shows, swim meets and football tournaments loom, but also end of era relationships, with transitioning ex-pats, turn the final page of their particular chapter.

Martha’s party was a hit, though. It was ‘Under the Sea’ themed, which meant that Saturday evening was spent with four willing volunteers sat on our sofas, drinking gin, tuning in to Harry and Meghan’s nuptials, and cutting out a variety of yellow, blue and green aquatic characters.

For the party itself, the now ‘signature’ flour, chocolate and water based team challenges were seamlessly orchestrated (there were two primary school teachers to assist) and topped off with Issy’s most elaborate and masterful centerpiece game to date: pin-the-lips-on-the-fish.

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‘Under the Sea’ birthday cake. Boom.

Being ‘third culture kids’ (a topic I touched on here last week) my daughters have been bracing themselves for saying goodbye to various classmates this summer.

Florence will be watching almost her entire “crew” of ten year old buddies disappear – to Europe, Colombia, Australia and (perhaps more realistically for a long weekend) to Thailand. Taking with them what I hope will remain very special memories and friendships for the future.

Making new acquaintances can be as exciting as reunions with old ones. This, perhaps, still stands throughout adulthood, however the bit that I find so energizing about youngsters spending time together, is watching how they easily slip into genuinely living in the moment of things. Something that does require a more concerted effort as the years roll on.

99% of Martha’s life, as this weekend has again been testament to, is lived about half a metre away from the end of her nose.

I’m guilty, 99% of the time, of failing to remember this, as I walk around the house, behind her, picking up a trail of discarded clothes, books, toys and other colourful debris that, moments earlier, were being given Martha’s undivided attention.

In anticipation of her 7th birthday, I’m attempting to leverage things to my benefit. A “7 clause” Pledge has been signed by Martha, and is currently pinned to our living room window.

The Pledge contains some routine opening conditions that Martha is affixing her commitment to, including: “flushing the toilet after using it” (for some reason this is one too many steps for her to follow during her daily ablutions); and “putting my dirty clothes in the laundry basket”.

I’ve then thrown in some more elaborate ones: “finding solutions to resolve arguments with my sister”; and “being gracious in defeat in all games and walks of life”.

Let’s see how those turn out.

As is perhaps standard practice, I’m as fired up in my annoyance of tripping over another one of Martha’s wet towels on the landing, as I then am in admiration for how exuberant and expressive she can be over the most mundane of topics or activities.

Perhaps this year ahead will mark the one where she becomes more self-conscious over her round-the-clock signing and roll playing, her curiosity about everything and her unashamedly ‘forward approach to communications’ (which may have been a direct lift from a previous school report of hers).

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On Friday evening, Issy, me and the girls took our friend Chloe out for a special leaving party, as she is also leaving soon – to teach in Switzerland next year. We headed over to central Saigon for a change of scene, and booked two rooms in a hotel for the night.

Fancy bubbles, cocktails and dinner were then followed by carefree larking about in the hotel’s roof-top bar.

There were other hotel patrons, sat next to us at the time, who perhaps wouldn’t have been so charmed by our presence, as another rogue peanut, aimed by one of my enthusiastic party, went zinging past my mouth and onto a neighbour’s table.

The truth is, however, and as I recall it now, that I hardly took in any of our surroundings during the entire evening. I was simply having too much fun.

Alcohol inspired it might have been, but it was a special cosy corner of the world to be dancing in for those moments.

Life was playing out about half a metre in front of my nose, and I didn’t want it to stop.

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Fancy Friday night out with Ms Chloe

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Martha in action during birthday water games.

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Cheering on Lulu in the flour game.

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Pin-the-lips-on-the-fish. Classic.

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19 kids. Our current paddling pool record.

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Pressing pause on life

 

It’s been 9 weeks now since I ran a single kilometre. Some kind of achilles tendon issue, which I’ve been unable to resolve, has kept me off the roads. A corticosteroid injection this afternoon will mark the latest in a string of interventions.

Since that last outing, I’ve been mainly frustrated at being “off games” – as we used to say at school – and quickly realised the need for new goals and focus.

We purchased a juicer (to help keep the carbs down) and I’ve spent more time than usual contemplating other things. I’ve had a steady slew of trips and, whilst home, Issy and me have kept up the routine of work, spending time with the girls, socializing, planning holidays, and indulging in those divine moments of quiet, when the house is still and you have no commitments or reasons to be anywhere else.

Overall, not running has meant I’ve read more, written more, and thought more about the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very keen to start exercising properly again. I wonder, however, to what extent my once regular 60+kms week was providing me with the space to think, or the space to feel dis-connected from the humdrum of the “day-to-day”? I think it was.      Continue reading

A little bit of culture

I’m renewing passports again, this time for my eldest daughter and, she doesn’t realize it yet, but this is the one where the photo of her, aged 9, which will feature in her new passport, will be valid until she’s 19 years old.

I can recall the relief updating my own passport at that age, after a long stint of mildly embarrassing immigration moments, as customs officials switched between staring at my ten year old passport photo and the teenager stood in front of them.

Both my daughters have spent their lives (mostly) growing up in Saigon. My youngest was born here, and she enjoys showing people the “HCMC” passport entry as her place of birth.

Someone once told me that Flo and Martha are “third culture kids”. This was a few years ago now, and I’ve never quite got to grips with it. My instinct leans in towards this catch-all terminology being intrinsically positive. The sceptic in me wants, however, to also challenge that presumption.      Continue reading

Get Up, Stand Up

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Image credit: http://www.cesie.org

This time last week I was waking up in Tbilisi, a tad dusty from an extended evening’s drinking with a colleague of mine, a Dutchman named Gerard, who has been living there for a while, and who naturally felt it appropriate to show me a variety of places, for the short time I’d be staying in “his town”.

We begun the night hosted by CARE’s local team, at a Georgian restaurant, where each new plate of food was brought out under a fanfare of live music and dancing, along with rounds of increasingly hearty toasting.

Post-dinner, and several watering holes later, I found myself sampling the country’s famous “cha cha” – a sweeter version of the grappa I’ve had in Italy – which came as a welcome tonic, given my stomach walls were still adequately fortressed with cheese and carbs, enough to keep out the most stubborn of digestifs.

We decided, bleary-eyed at this stage, to hit up one more venue close by – a favourite “low-key” bar of Gerard’s. Upon arrival we found it morphed into a darkly lit techno den, complete with strobe effects and a whole new type of Georgian dancing, quite distinct to what we’d witnessed over dinner. Nonetheless, we indulged in a nightcap, and then left for home, our ears ringing.      Continue reading

The Wizard

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One of the wonders of memory recall (for me, at least) are those flashbacks of a incident or a feeling from years gone by, that momentarily render all other things you are doing or thinking mute, for just a fleeting couple of seconds.

When this happens, I tend to drop out of the present moment and gawp pathetically out of a window, allowing the sensation to take hold. The kind words of a teacher, rain on tarmac, the excitement of passing your driving test, scoring a goal, watching live music…

I’m in Dubai airport – again – and all abuzz at Costa Coffee having just watched the last ever live show of Black Sabbath on the plane. Musical memory recall of the sharpest and sweetest kind.

The Sabbath were not quite on the plane. That would have been too spectacular, even for the stuff of dreams – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, bobbing in the aisles, whilst deftly plucking out the chords to Paranoid, and dividing the collective musical tastes of the passengers in a bizarre, stratospheric instant.     Continue reading

One day

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One day,

The wind beneath the wings of a soaring bird
will be felt on his face.

The scent of a crashing wave
will touch his soul.

The freedom of a child at play
will melt his eyes.

And the choices made by a woman living a life free from inequalities
will stir inside of him such unequivocal calm that

he, too,

will soar in the skies,
move with the ocean,
embrace freedom,
and choose to be all these things,

Every day.

A Poem by Flo

That was Vin Pearl

Remember that time when we hopped into a red cable car and threw shells in the gaps and into the sea.

Remember when we zoomed on the rainbow 🌈 water slide and we both arrived at the bottom at the same time.

That was vin pearl.

Remember that time when we got lost because we tried to find a rubber ring for the lazy river.

Remember when we were in the lazy river⛲️ and we saw pyramids in Egypt while relaxing in our rubber ring gliding through the water.

That was vin pearl.

Remember the time when we had freezing cold water melon lolly’s and they were in a tube.

Remember that time when the water melon lolly’s 🍭dripped all over our swimmers and we smelled like water melon.

That was vin pearl.

By: Florence
For: Jasmine


Just seen this sweet poem that Florence wrote for a friend of hers at school, about a trip they took to ‘Vin Pearl’ resort earlier in the year.

Go, all those young writers out there!

 

September

A blast of vacuumed heat before the
Metallic shuffle obediently find their seats
Among strange faces and familiar fare:
Screens, blankets, solace.

I linger inside the terminal.
Warmed by embalming recall of
A month’s journey –
Scaling Sapa’s peaks,
An utterance of life-affirming words,
The Comradery of new friends and horizons.

My feet take fresh steps towards the plane and
In a single and unexpected second,
I feel it.
The core of something changed and now fixed:
Anchoring, purging, reinforcing.

This is me and I am enough.

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