Short and sweet

Hello.  Now where was I?  On the verge of heading to India about a month ago, I seem to recall…

Well, India, Delhi, the Holi Festival, and the workshop I was running all went off well. Delhi is thriving, the weather was sublime, the food delicious and, as you’ll see from the photo below, I managed to pull off a mean impersonation of some kind of overweight commando at the end of an afternoon of celebrating the first day of Spring, in true Hindu style. Memorable stuff.

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On next to the UK, for some long days of meetings, but intersected thankfully by short snippets of quality time with friends and family.

Some of which took place in pubs and involved pints (I miss pints).

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There was even time whilst I was in London for some swapping of school day photographs on a night out with mates from the Merchant Taylors’ years, circa. 1985-1993.

One I can’t help but post being of our fly-by-night sixth form band, Orange Bud. Watch out music seekers, it’s not too late for a 40 year birthday reunion in 2015.

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And the past week has been back in Saigon, hosting the delightful Hellewell family, over from the UK shires.  Kathryn, James, Leo and Sam collectively took to the heat, humidity and cold beers over here with ease, and provided some wonderful times together (crammed in to my apartment as the seven of us all were!)

So “local” were the Hellewells, that they can now tick off ‘riding Vintage Vespa bikes in the Mekong Delta with the kids’ from their bucket list.

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Tomorrow I am off to celebrate a friend’s wedding up in Nha Trang on a stag weekend, over Easter I’ll be playing in a football tournament in Shanghai, and I’ll be up to Hanoi and across to Bangkok for work after that. On the cards for May currently is Beirut and the Philippines (both work) and planning out Martha’s 3rd Birthday party (very much in the ‘play’ category).

Happy Easter to you all and, next time, I promise some more words and less bullet points.

Chocs away!

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Year of the Horse, belatedly

My last post on this site was pre-Christmas.  I spectacularly missed the opportunity of writing about my January 1st commitment to stop smoking (achieved so far with flying colours, by the way).  I then reneged on posting suitably colourful and joyous photos of my kids enjoying the Chinese (in Vietnam, ‘Tet’) lunar New Year celebrations last week, as well as the standard picture of my Tet tree in bloom, them performing in their Tet concert, and me pontificating on what the new Year of the Horse might all be about.  On which front I am still none the wiser.

February kicked off nearly a week ago, and my “No Booze Feb” pledge was underway (watch this space, at this rate, next month I’ll convert to Buddhism, take up sunrise yoga classes and become a caffeine-free, vegan) in earnest – and yet I just didn’t get round to documenting this very sobering moment in time.

If I’d had the chance, I would have regaled you sooner with the rather tragic weekend story of how a stomach bug last Saturday ensured my quick demise over a 48 hour period, during which I didn’t eat, and spent as much time in my bathroom in two days as the average person might spend in a year.  It was not pretty.

And then, yesterday, I flew up to Hanoi on business, to find the Old Quarter looking resplendant in Tet decor, and abuzz with a heady mix of local adults drinking Tiger beers from 9am, and kids dancing in the streets (for once, not crowded with bikes and traffic).

All of this I have failed to represent so far in 2014.  Such slackness is potentially, in itself, a fatal start to any new lunar year.  Even my Tet tree flowered 6 days late.  The omens are not good. Continue reading

Walking in a Metrosexual Wonderland

Taking pics of fruit and veg - is this evidence enough I am embracing my inner "Metro"?
Taking pics of fruit and veg: isn’t this evidence enough that my inner “Metro” is alive and kicking?

That I even have a fruit bowl, is the first admission I’ll make on this rather “forgive me Father” Sabbath day journal entry…

Forgive me, for I appear to have rather over-embraced my inner ‘Metrosexual’ wannabe, released as it was yesterday like some kind of bottled up camp genie, deliriously happy at the prospect of all the indulgences available, given I was home alone for the weekend.

The early hours of yesterday began with feet firmly (despite the number of drinks I’d had that evening) wedged into hetro-man world.  I was in town, out with a mate from my football team.  All the raw ingredients for a “boy’s Friday night” were in play: games of pool, booze; sports talk; rock music – life was uncomplicated.

You’ll imagine my surprise then (or some won’t, as it would seem many of you clearly “outed” me as a metro-man many years back) when in a moment of mild panic yesterday evening, I briefly took stock of my day’s activities, which included the following: Continue reading

Colonel Sanders in Saigon

Guest Post by Martyn Barmby

Why would you fly 6,000 miles to Vietnam to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Twice actually: once successfully and once with the bathetic failure of vegetarian falafel.

It’s not that I dislike Vietnamese food; I love it.  Nor is it that I lost patience with my badly wrapped Banh Xeos (“I would not smoke it, never mind eat it” was the withering review of my efforts).  It is not even the repeated faux pas of mixing the wrong sauce with each gorgeous parcel of fish, vegetables and the most fragrant herbs.  It is more about friendship with a dash of nostalgia and maybe a dipping sauce of stubbornness.

Uncle Cake encounters his first Banh Xeo one hour into the weekend
Encountering my first Banh Xeo one hour after arriving in Saigon

After what might technically count as a long weekend in Saigon I got a second taste of what our dear friends love about the place.  Although crossing the road in itself is as fun as going on your average roller coaster, Tim Bishop tours laid on a number of special experiences. Continue reading

The bicycles hit back

Who said men have all the fun and the power in this country. And who said that the hierarchy of who drives what on Saigon’s busy streets always needs to be prescribed by the size of your vehicle…

Check out this cool customer (courtesy of http://www.saigoneer.com) riding her bicycle the wrong way up a busy street, and knocking over two frustrated men on their motorbikes in the process.

With her headphones playing her favourite tune, and her shopping basket hardly compromised, the cheeky cyclist walks off and leaves them with nothing to do but gesticulate in vain.

And there was me worrying about the hapless bus drivers on my commute each day.

Girl power.

Ode to Saigon

I weave between metallic shine
Of white hot hub cap, cyclo frame
And taxi bumper: brake, and pause,
Before gearing off again.

I know these roads, littered as they are
With street-vendor, conical hat and coffee stalls.
I know this city, its adrenalin glory
Bewitches travelling hoards who
Melt the sidewalks, daring to cross.

I know this city.
Am rooted here, breathing in
A now familiar pulse.
Saigon.
Sentimentally I am yours.
Energetically you are the calm and constant
Backdrop to my life.

Your ebb and flow at once collide
And soothe, and guide.  And hold me tight.

Before too long I’ll view you from afar,
Becoming me, indebted as I am to all you stand for.
For all you are.

 

June has, and continues to be, a month of travel for me…

It is also the month I will remember introducing Florence and Martha to Shel Silverstein, whose poetry is now recited daily by them both in mock recitals at bed-times!

With that in mind, and in the hope that one day they will read this self-indulgent journal, and remember Silverstein’s “Lazy Jane” verse (Flo’s current favourite) I hope they also like this one from Daddy.

Com Tam Time

Streetfood has remained a permanently exciting and indulgent fixture in my daily comings and goings around Saigon.

I have expressed a few thoughts on this blog in the past about pho, the staple Vietnamese noodles (increasingly popular and available in the UK now, I noticed last month) and which we usually eat two or three times a week.  There are some moments when noodles just hit the mark.  Fiery chili heat combined with leaves, bamboo shoots, raw steak and delicate broth.

There are some moments – for me, this is currently every day, hence capturing this for future posterity – when only Com Tam will do.

Com Tam translates as “broken rice” and is a special type of rice, shorter, slightly more al denté than normal rice, and typically accompanied with chopped cucumber, chives, bbq pork (or other types of meat) sweet honey sauce, chili and, should you desire, a fried egg on top.

Behold…

Feast your eyes, and your stomach...
Feast your eyes, and your stomach…


Continue reading

The Art of Being Vietnamese

In a short while, we will be subjected to 2012 “lists”.  Top Ten Celebrity Gossip of the Year.  Most Popular Boy’s Name.  Worst Dressed Politician.

All of the above, and more.

Inspired by a meeting with an elderly Vietnamese monk last month, here, in the spirit of such things (ie for fun, rather than for anything more meaningful) are my “Top Things Learnt about the Vietnamese in 2012”.

Anyone is welcome to add more to these or, indeed, share with me their own SE Asian (or elsewhere…who cares!) versions – I expect to add to this myself in the future, however I only had a short window at Singapore airport earlier to reel these off…

1. Face protection – “one life, one face” is up there as a life motto for most Vietnamese.  No matter what the scenario, saving face in all situations is paramount.

Granted, face saving is not specific to Vietnam, however they do it so well over here! Continue reading