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 šŸŒˆ 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 riverā›²ļø 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 šŸ­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,Ā all those young writers out there!

 

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September

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

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

My feet take fresh steps towards the plane and
InĀ 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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Scaling new heights in Vietnam

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Running around the streets of Jodhpur before dawn

I’m not on Facebook however,Ā as of this week, I am on Facebook, thanks to a small voluntary organisation in Cambridge – called Fight Against Blindness – for whom I’m attempting to raise some funds over the next month.

Here is our combined “pitch” (just scroll down in the link) to anyone on Facebook, and interested in donating:Ā https://www.facebook.com/fightagainstblindnessRP/?fref=ts

And for any non-Facebook users, this is the direct link to the JustGiving site I’ve set up, should you wish to get involved: http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/saigonsays

Fight Against Blindness are a small voluntary organisation specialising in providing funds for Professional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for children at Addenbrookeā€™s Hospital Eye Clinic Cambridge, as well as other clinics in the South East of England.

I was first introduced to them via friends whose son uses their counseling services, and for whom this has had profoundly positive effects (the JustGiving page provides a small window into their experiences.)

I can’t recall if I’ve doused these pages with ramblings about the event I’m under-taking?

Some time back I used to run marathons, and then for whatever reason, and after a long stretch away from running, 10 months ago I signed up for a new challenge. This one is quite a departure from anything I’ve done before: 70kms, and mainly in ‘trekking’ conditions as opposed to road running. The event in total involves climbing 3,000 metres.

I’ll be doing this in Vietnam, in some of the country’s northern highlands. It’s a 4am start and I hope to finish around 5pm.

So, I wouldn’t say I’m ‘fit as a fiddle’ at this stage, but I’ve definitely upped my game because of the impending event…

Training in the sweat-box that is Saigon, with its pollution, humidity, crazy traffic, and ruptured pavements, is not always an uplifting experience, but all in all I’ve really enjoyed being back on the running scene again. Last month, in the UK, I embraced exploring old routes down the River Thames, and then indulged in the open outcrops of green down at my parent’s house in the New Forest, catching the deer off guard at dawn.

I’ve been running as much as I can these past months, and on as many of my travels as possible. I wasn’t allowed to run in Gaza back in May, but everywhere else I’ve been this year I’ve tended to use the opportunity to see some sights: from dodging Jakarta traffic, running along the ocean (whilst koala spotting) in Australia, skipping down Colombo’s beach front, meeting elephants in Rajasthan whilst searching for Forts and Palaces, all the way through to jogging through the Old City in Jerusalem, in awe at the American flags on display at the time (the day before Trump arrived there) – some spectacular sights, and some memorable moments, have been had, for sure.

I wouldn’t admit, on the other hand, that my recent commitment to “stay off the booze for 6 weeks” to get “really fit” has totally succeeded. I’m leveling most of the blame here onĀ Bombay Sapphire,Ā which I recently discovered uses Queen Victoria as its brand ambassador (the only Royal ever to promote any product) after she once noted that it was “every Englishman’s right to drink gin”. Enough said.

However, regardless of my terrible will power when it comes to an evening tipple, as of today I’ve run 2,140 kms since first pacing around Raymond Island on New Year’s Day (which was followed at the time by jumping in the adjacent lake to cure the hangover). This morning I also managed to climb up 200 flights of stairs, as part of my workout, and in a vain attempt to practice “hills”.

I’m nervous, and just ever so slightly thrilled by the prospect of what September 23rd’s race day will bring for me (will I make it round the course “ok” or will it be utterly horrendous?) The thought of lining up at the start alongside, no doubt, a herd of wiry framed Mo Farah lookalikes, head torches glaring and pulses up, will be something that keeps me awake for the next four weeks, although I am sure it will be quite a special experience at the same time.

Your support and your solidarity behind me will give me that extra boost of confidence, I have no doubt, and, most importantly I can assure you that theĀ Fight Against Blindness team will be hugely grateful for any funds or awareness you can raise for them in the process. Thank you in advance for either.

Wish me luck!

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Light show in the New Forest

Have you got a minute?

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Florence and Martha summer holidaying in the UK, July 2017

I read a moving exert recently by the late Australian born writer, Cory Taylor, taken from a body of work reflecting on the time since her cancer diagnosis in 2005.

There are many inspirational and thought provoking sentiments conveyed in the narrative, and something about the way she informally yet intimately connects with you as a reader which I found to be quite profound.

So many quotes and clichĆ©s about dying have been handed down through the generations, you’d think society would be more accustomed and familiar with how to handle the subject than it often is.

I find whole weeks can pass without giving a second’s consideration to the topic of mortality, but then a trigger moment will ensure it blankets all other thoughts for hours on end.

A crystal clear childhood memory I have was being told by my Dad that his mother – “Ma” – had died. I was around 8 years old and remember running upstairs and standing in the corner of my bedroom in tears. I can picture the colours in the curtains and that sensation of how my body felt absorbing this strange news. I couldn’t tell you anything else about what happened afterwards, but each time I’ve evoked memories of my grandparents since, they are always ones which make me smile, and I feel lucky to have been old enough to have these sit happily in my subconscious.

As a parent with an 8 year old myself, I’ve also spent time with these memories imaging what it was like for my parents to lose theirs. Cory Taylor’s clear advice – upon her own realisation that the decade of writing she had always imagined she’d have “in front of me” was now being taken away from her – is to accept that we are powerless over our own fate: “as if any of us are in control of anything”.

Decisions and choices made in life of course make a dent on things, but what I take from Taylor’s reflections are the advantages – in many ways – available to us when we embrace our own powerlessness in the order of the world.

Is it possible to “embrace” mortality also? Maybe. It’s certainly possible to use the perspective which mortality can provide when it comes to prioritising that most sacred of commodities in the world: time.

Time with family, time with friends, time for oneself.Ā Time invested in those pursuits which nourish and inspire, but which also open up contemplation. Time to be present, to be available.

This morning my girls went back to school, following a fresh dose of some quite splendid time spent back in the UK, reinforcing to me, as I pen this, how special the connections with family, in particular, will always be, and how they are somehow made and meant to stand the test of time. Seeing my girls engage so intuitively with their cousins and grandparents, uncles and aunts, only further underscores this.

One of Cory Taylor’s other observations that resonated with me was her view on the after-life. Assuming, as she does, that this is a concept unlikely to physically happen, she theorizes about how her after-life might be realised in a different way – an idea inspired whilst living in Arita, Japan, with her husband, Shin, an artist “who chose toĀ paint on porcelain, instead of on perishable materials like paper or canvas”.

“Arita,” she continues, “is littered with porcelain shards everywhere you look, and my husband likes to imagine that four hundred years from now shards of his work might be unearthed and collected by some curious traveler, just as he likes to unearth and collect fragments of work painted by his predecessors.Ā In that way, he says, he will have achieved a degree of immortality. I say that I feel the same way about my work. I like to think that, long after Iā€™m gone, someone somewhere might read a book or essay of mine in a last remaining library or digital archive and be touched in some way.”

Instead of visioning continuity as a physical entity, Taylor rather describes these more “ordinary ways in which we cheat death” – and this strikes a chord. Indeed, her work is already doing that, breathing momentarily through the medium of this post.

Whether it is “the evocative power of the objects we leave behind, or in a form of words, a turn of the head, a way of laughing” – as Taylor puts it – perhaps it is actually because of the ordinariness and the brevity of these “fleeting things” that their effectiveness in linkingĀ us to something past is ensured?

Like a small electric shock, that flickering recall of something that is, in fact, very much alive, and will always be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘funny thing’ happened to me today

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This morning I went out running and an unusual thing happened to me whilst I stopped to buy water – a toddler took a leak on my foot.

Unusual, perhaps, as I stop to buy water in Saigon most days whilst running, and in fact at least twice a day I’m likely to buy something from a street vendor, yet not in the 6.5 years since living here, has a toddler peed on me during any of these transactions.

In fact, I’m 99% sure this is the first time anyone has urinated on me in my life.

I was as angry as I was crest-fallen during the experience – albeit an experience which lasted just the few seconds until I noticed what was happening, prompted as I was by another customer astride a scooter pointing it out to me. I was angry at the person selling the water – for it was her toddler. And crestfallen at the incongruity and farcical parameters which framed this, now documented, episode in my life.

To accuse a one year old of a roadside crime is clearly nonsense.Ā Surely, I told myself just 20 metres away after marching off with my drink, this was a fluke coincidence of nature. A toddler needs to relieve himself and there, tree-like, stands a leg and a bright yellow trainer to take the hit.

However, once 50 metres away, I then recalled how, only moments before the act, the young chancer had tugged at the two inner soles I was carrying (my shoes were rubbing in the humidity and I’d removed the inners) but I’d refused him the chance of taking them from me. Perhaps then this was his way of having the last laugh, given I’d curtailed his advances on my tongue shaped slices of rubber?

As I’d marched off from the stall, snatching my change (and utterly losing face in the process, of course) the vendor yelled at the boy and started towards him. I started my run again but sure enough, as this quandary of speculation buzzed about in my head, I briefly turned to see the little guy bawling his eyes out, tottering about and looking just as confused as me about what had taken place.

So naturally I then felt the guilt of even stopping for the stupid bottle of water in the first place. I wished instead that I’d smiled more at both of them, found some empathy, rather than screwing my face up into the all-too-familiar incredulous ex-pat look, which somehow tries to convey, in one eyebrow scrunched-up stare, the words “seriously?!”

I invoke the “seriously” pose a lot in Vietnam – usually at 4×4 vehicles, driven badly or parked inconsiderately, however the pose is very adaptable, and works in restaurants, bars, taxis and generally in most walks of life out here. And each time the pose is deployed, I usually reflect afterwards what a waste of energy it (along with, now and again, some additional fist-pumping and gesticulating) ends up amounting to.

Another frequent “thing” concerns local dogs and their owners. I’ve often tried to take up roadside debates with dog owners here, as their mangy muts come hurtling up to me, yapping and biting at my heels.

Only this weekend, I was sprung upon by four dogs at once during a run, and the dog owner in question wouldn’t even look me in the face whilst I attempted to engage in a discussion about why they weren’t calling their dogs off me. Instead, the owner just swept their door-step. Their tactics and logic, I had to conclude, being that if they didn’t look at me they didn’t need to acknowledge the fact that I was stood there, with one of the snarling hounds attached firmly to my running laces, asking them to discuss their rather obvious lack of interest in disciplining their own dog.

After that encounter, I fantasized about picking up said dog, and hurling it into the canal opposite their owner’s house, only to then again wrestleĀ with the guilt of doing such a thing when clearly, as pets, dogs who lunge at any passing stranger are probably reacting out of fear and might be being “disciplined” daily – in perhaps the same way that the young boy this morning experienced: more corporal punishment, than pastoral care.

What to do about something (whether you might believe I’m rightly or wrongly laying judgement down on these individuals) that is beyond your individual control or influence?

Well, social movements have proven to influence and changes norms, and are usually initiated and inspired by small numbers of people, so one answer to this question is to start a movement against….against what exactly? I am asking parents not to hit their kids and dog owners not to beat their dogs? Well, yes, and….

Cultural and social norms are clearly so pervasive that they remain complex tectonic plates to shift. Unless, perhaps, inside of a respective society there are consensual agreements about some of these topics and behaviours, shared by all. Schools, governments, civil society groups, employers, parents – a united front is required to make certain things really become binding. You’d think. But we know of course that just because a country signs on to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the ChildĀ doesn’t translate necessarily into all children NOT having these rights taken away from them.

And me living in a different country, thinking one thing and carrying my own set of values, does not translate very effectively (I’ve learnt) into me and my “way” having any credence or traction with other people living here.

Agree to disagree, move on and let it be?Ā Maybe that is one answer, but it’s not really working for me (says the man who would throw a dog in a canal to win an argument).

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At a recent meeting with a local Saigon NGO, a colleague there talked very plainly about growing up in Vietnam.

“I was never allowed an opinion as a child” she explained, “not at home and not at school – kids here aren’t expected to have a view on things, or be listened to by their elders. So, I never did really talk to adults, except to do what they told me to do.”

Funny, how in this “modernising” part of Asia – labelled as such by many because of the region’s accelerated construction projects, bustling coffee chains and fast-foodĀ franchises, catapulting the middle classes into new and exciting public spaces, which will empty their wallets and fatten their waistlines – funny, how this changing face of Asia is, at once, scarring the streets of cities like Saigon, with an ugly new frontage of brands and plastic products yet, at the same time, does perhaps modernising bring with it a helpful scythe across the ankles of existing cultural and social norms, which may just be in need of some updating?

‘Funny’ indeed.

 

 

 

Rajasthani Rooster

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Smoke o’clock, Jodhpur

Indeed, the title of this post makes no sense really, without the additional footnote that, back in January during Chinese New Year (Rooster year) Issy and I took a trip to Rajasthan.

In fact, I’d set up these photos and curated that catchy title whilst we were on our flight home and yet had just not quite managed to write up some lines to glue the images and the memories all together – until now.

If my most recent work trip to West Bank and Gaza, earlier this month, already feels like a hazy memory, then the brain is really scratching around looking for the according nodules of recollection which house the sights, sounds and sensations that we experienced in India, four months back.

What does immediately come to mind is what a relatively seamless expedition we managed – 1,500 kms in 6 days from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, and back again – before closing out by dropping in at the Taj Mahal for a final day’s soak up of one of the world’s most iconic sites.

Getting around Rajasthan is fairly simple and affordable. The trains are a great experience, and we also lucked out with a wonderful driver and hire car for most of our trip “out west”. Ā  Ā Ā  Continue reading

My holiday in Australia (written by Florence)

Melbourne
After Christmas Day we flew to Melbourne, and we slept on the plane on our way there. We then met Phoebe at the airport. She drove usĀ to Pobby and Mike’s house (but Phoebe also lives in the house). So does Aggie their dog. Pobby had made an egg and bacon pie, mainly for Daddy. My sister Martha got lots of tattoos from Phoebe.

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Pobby’s egg and bacon pie

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This is where we slept at Pobby’s

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This is Issy, Pobby and Phoebe opening presents.

The next day we went to town mainly to go shopping to Smiggle for me and Martha. The adults went to other shops for some other stuff.

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We walked down this road. It’s called Brunswick Street.

After that day we went swimming with Phoebe and my sister and my Dad in a 50 metre pool. I swam laps.

Raymond Island
The next day we went to Raymond island for New Year’s Eve. We were seeing lots of people there and we slept in a tent.

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Me and Sunny playing at Raymond Island.

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Martha and Hazy at Raymond Island.

After that day we went to the supermarket then we swam in the lake and Bess took me for my first ever sailing lesson. We then played a big game of boules and my Daddy and Max won. That night we watched fireworks and all the kids stayed awake until after midnight.

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Me and Bess sailing.

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Playing boules.

The next day was New Year’s Day and we went for a koala walk and I saw 19 koalas.

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This is a koala.

Then we drove to Mark’s house….

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At Mark’s house we had 4 sleeps. We went there with Lulu, Sunny, Hazy and Ella, and also with Max and Quimby, Sam and Matisse and Henry.

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Mark made us spaghetti bolognese when we got to his house.

The next day Lulu, Sunny and Ella went to Little Nippers in the morning to learn to do life-saving. Sunny and Ella went to one beach and Lulu went to a different beach. Me, Issy and Daddy went to see Lulu that day. Martha and Hazy watched cartoons while we were gone.

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This is me watching Little Nippers.

The next day was Tuesday and none of the girls had Nippers so we practiced for a show. We did Wizard of Oz. On Wednesday we saw Ella and Sunny at Nippers then we swam in the sea with them and Lulu joined us. That day we performed the show to the adultsĀ and I was both the Wicked Witches and I had to melt at the end.

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Daddy’s favourite picture of the beach.

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Wizard of Oz Show.

At Mark’s we also did the following things – went to see a field full of kangaroos, me and Martha walked to the Lookout with Mark, we went to Mubbles ice cream shop, we played Rolling Sky and Piano Tiles, and we went to see Lulu, Chloe, Holly, Kiralee and Andrew because they also live there. Every night we went to bed late because it was light until very late.

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My photo of Martha at Diamond Bay.

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Collecting flowers with Lulu.

The very next day we went back to Pobby’s house in Melbourne.

Melbourne (again).
When we got back to Melbourne we did some relaxing with Pobby and Mike and I read Harry Potter and we also watched it on TV. And we watched Nanny McPhee.

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With Pobby watching TV.

We wanted to also go outside and so we went to the zoo with our friends Jasmine and Aleisha. I liked the elephants the best. Their Mum bought everyone slushies. Martha played lots more with Aggie and made her sit and shake hands.

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Daddy and Issy at the zoo.

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Eating snacks at the zoo with Phoebe.

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Drinking slushies.

On our last day in Melboure Daddy, Issy, Martha and me went to the Museum and saw real skeleton bones and animals and insects. We also went for fish and chips as it is my Daddy’s favourite food and we bought some yellow peach ice cream. And we had a swing ball tournament with everyone. I came third and Ella came first and Issy came second. In the evening Pobby made chicken pies and pavlova and we also had calipos.

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Pavlova with blueberries and passion fruit.

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Fish and chips was our last lunch in Australia.

On the Sunday we gave Issy her birthday presents and went to the airport. Pobby bought us more presents at the airport. We didn’t sleep on this plane but watched lots of movies and I read my kindle.

In the taxi home we all drank our drinks.

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In a Saigon taxi.

I had a brilliant holiday. This is one of the pictures I took that Daddy said is very professional…

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This is Diamond Bay near Mark’s house in the daytime.

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This is also Diamond Bay but when we went one night time and played goofy on the beach.

Back to the future

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View from a matatu, Kiboga, Uganda

In the summer of 1996 I arrived in Kampala aged 21. I’d spent the three months previous working in Israel on a kibbutz, had then dropped back to the UK for two days to meet up with a university friend, Flora, before we launched off on a year of teaching in Uganda. Last Friday, I returned to Kiboga, on the back of a week of work in Entebbe, and I re-lived as much of my year as a teacher there 20 years ago as I could squeeze into 36 hours…

As Flora and I walked out of Entebbe airportā€™s arrival terminal for the first time, back in 1996, and breathed in the fragrant dusty wood smoke that was to become a natural home for each of my senses for the year to come, I felt an innocent abandon about what lay ahead.

It was as if all I had known before then disappeared in that moment.

We arrived later in the night in the district of Kiboga, north west of the capital, deposited in an instant out of the side of a battered up matatu taxi, which had miraculously weaved its way unhinged over pot-holed dirt tracks for the previous four hours.

It was pitch black as we stood there on the roadside with Nathan Mayanja, a decorated local leader with whom I was to forge a twenty year friendship, and who had accompanied us from the airport.

I could feel the heat of adrenaline about what was in store next. The wood smoke scent was thicker here, and there was a constant procession of lumpy shadows and bike headlights bobbing past, as a flow of passers-by went about their evening bustle. Ā  Ā Ā  Continue reading