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”.

Starting in Delhi, dodging thunderstorms in rip-off auto rickshaws and finding everything closed for Republic Day, we did finally stumble upon a quaint haveli — Dharampura — to escape the showers and drink some tea. One of those preserved throw-back buildings which mesmerize, given the back-drop outside of cluttered hole-in-the-wall shops, constant traffic, shuffling feet and precarious potholes.

It was a charming find, for sure.

Dharampura Haveli, Delhi

In search of tea and havelis, Delhi

We had two visits to Jaipur, the first being a brief layover on our way westwards to Jodhpur, and to pick up our car.

Jaipur is famed for its “pinkness” and its fabric, and so we put in an early morning run to get a glimpse of the former, and we were then on a promise for a longer stay on our way back, very much because of the latter…

We love our instagrams-whilst-jogging we do

And so onto Jodhpur, and a second fleeting one night stay, complete with early morning run, to cram in as much seeing as much as we could.

Notable memories (revisiting these photos is helping blow the cobwebs away, it turns out) included our first mouth-watering parathas, but also then being chased by stray dogs at 6am the next day, whilst we were in hot pursuit of a sunrise shot at the Mehrangarh Fort.

Sadly, we weren’t allowed in to the Fort itself (apparently we were 3 hours too early) and so, once more, we pledged to come back on our return leg.

Meantime, not a moment to lose – we had a hotel booked the next day in Jaisalmer…

Serene (in spite of a hungry pack of dogs waiting around the corner)

Jodhpur, the blue city

Khandela Haveli, Jaipur (yes, photos out of order at this point)

Lunch stop somewhere in Rajasthan

Jaisalmer — and what a glorious place on earth this place is.

Our daily hotel budget was well and truly blown out of the water for our inaugural night here, staying at Killa Bawan, and taking a room in their fort hotel, with a balcony fit for a Bollywood rendition of Romeo and Juliet. 

Perhaps the chance to rest up here for a few days helped, however I think Jaisalmer is just one of those places that you simply have to embrace, and let it take the lead.

There’s no sense of the pulsating industrialised throb of India’s urban centres here, Jaisalmer instead offers a languid slice of the past with a double measure of fun and humour and humility (and we were literally staying “on the rocks” in that Fort, too, were you to want to extend this gin and tonic analogy to its natural end point.)

We had three nights here (a veritable ‘eon’ compared to the prevailing 5 days of chop and change) including a middle night where we embraced the obligatory camel safari and slept in a tent, out in the (quite) famous Sam Sand dunes.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the full tent experience. That said, the comedy on arrival of there being a complete absence of anybody to meet us, coupled with the so-excruciating-it’s-fantastic evening entertainment, as well as the overall bathos of sleeping in a plastic tent with dark blue walls and sparkly stars stuck on the roof, the very night after the luxury of Killa Bawan where we’d pretended we were in a Shakespearean play, loafing about on a balcony did, I’ll admit, provide us with a generous portion of hilarity.

We also managed to find a branded “UK” off-licence out in the desert, which perhaps made this, of all our nights in Rajasthan, one never to be forgotten.

The view from our room at Killa Bawan, Jaisalmer

As cups of morning coffee go….

More running in Jaisalmer

Lake views

Nomad for the night at Sam Sand dunes

Our camel’s name was ‘Babaganoush’

Love at first sight

After our final evening in Jaisalmer – staying at the sister hotel to Killa Bawan and run by the same loveable and eccentric family – we said our farewells, and turned on our heels.

Our driver, Mukesh, was beaming that morning, showing off his newly acquired threads, after being paid half his fee, and I think also having found his own zen amongst the local cafes in Jaisalmer (whilst being in frequent contact with his mother back home on his phone).

Doubling back through Jodhpur and Jaipur was fab – we had that extra ounce of being “in the know” and we were also deep into the second half of our trip, and so were prioritising and “getting stuff done”.

For Issy, this largely meant shopping. For me, the focus was more on running lots in order to then be free to consume as much food and beer as possible.

After several days of fine tuning our respective objectives, we left Jaipur by train, and across to Agra, with smiles on our faces (and carrying the extra weight of various fabrics, plus some extra “me”).

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Running upto Amber Fort in Jaipur

Jaipur market

By the time we’d rolled off a thousand selfies at the infamous Taj, and then collapsed asleep back in Delhi, after a final night out there with some colleagues from CARE, we’d well and truly ticked all the various pre-arranged boxes for this very special visit.

It had all been so deliciously intoxicating – that dreamy assault on the senses that India tends to deliver.

This is a country, as I’ve many times attempted to summarise on these pages, unlike any – for various reasons and on many different levels – and I can only hope that time will pass quickly enough, and fate will conspire, to get us back there again soon.

There she is!

After dinner paan sampling selfie, in Delhi with friends

Issy at, and looking, ‘Killa’

Jaisalmer streets

One of Issy’s favourite shops (which was a franchise to boot so plenty of choices!)

“This way to the UK off-licence, it’s buy one get one free on Mondays”

Where for art thou?

Issy in India

Issy “on a finger at the Taj” shot

So many quaffable sunrises…

…and sunsets

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Sight

Perhaps the old adage rings true – it can be hard to keep the flame of familiarity burning after long spells of absence, and “out of sight” all too easily leads to “out of mind.” How often do we find ourselves thinking this at the chink of two glasses once again toasting a re-acquaintance, or, as we scramble to agree over the phone on the specifics of a last encounter?

But then, hands up, there is also the sheer laziness on my part of not tending to this blog for the past four months. This blog being one of the only portals I have of putting down a few etchings of my current life, in the hope of forming some vague picture – for the now, and for some day in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our all too often glossed over 24/7 news cycle, to the headlines…      Continue reading

Catching a breath in February

Happy New Year!

2016, and Saigonsays trundles on…

This weekend will mark five years since arriving in Saigon, when these pages first kept track of life and work out here and across Asia. Some defining moments within that particular half decade have been and gone, and the familiar confines of my apartment continue to provide a reliable anchor from which it becomes, then, and with a healthy dose of catharsis, a comfort and a pleasure to spin out these words and images.

Two months back, Boxing Day, and Issy and I were headed down to the coast after a tremendous Christmas Day hosting a cheery hoarde of festive revelers. A month ago I was off in Abu Dhabi meeting up with my best friend (and previous author on Saigonsays) for a weekend of “catching up”.

Last fortnight, and over the Chinese New Year period (called ‘Tet’ here) and I was side stepping down a sled run in France, propping up Flo as she skied solo for the first time in her life. And then this week, I’be been working across our closest border, in Phnom Penh.

Next Sunday I’ll fly to Ethiopia on an exciting new project. Bangkok, Hong Kong and Cairo are on the March itinerary also. Yesterday morning an offer landed on my lap to head to Timor Leste shortly after that. And so it goes on…

Too many details to catalogue since I was last peddling these pages (back in Vientiane in November) however the intention is that, hopefully, these two family videos (our Tet skiing holiday to France, and previous Australia visit back in October) might go a way to capturing some of the special experiences shared on both adventures. The photos below that then piece together December festivities and a window into life here since then, with two increasingly active little girls performing, as usual, for the camera.

Stay tuned for some more regular updates (a New Year’s resolution of mine) here and before you can say “where did the first half of 2016 go?”


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Christmas elf

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Christmas cheek

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Christmas gingerbread making

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Christmas Day

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Yellow!

 

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Dig in!

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Four minute Cinderella panto

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Robin Hood

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Boxing Day treats

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Boxing Day walk (in Vung Tau)

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New Year’s Eve boys (Saigon)

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New Year’s Day girls (Mui Ne)

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The view from…our bungalow

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Birthday girl (@ Park Hyatt)

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With Cake (@Abu Dhabi)

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Another year, another sports day

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Tet celebrations

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Poseur

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The view from…the de Groot balcony

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Layered up

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Catching the first powder and remembering how to ski again

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Mont Blanc (on the left)

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Sunrise back in Asia (Phnom Penh) this week.

 

 

 

Springtime in Saigon

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washing Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind…

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And off we go again

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Flo’s first day at her new school

It’s been so long since I wrote a blog here, that I had to remind myself of the correct address of my own site.

August 11th, and too much to fill in since my last post, but several fabulous weeks back in the UK recently – both girls had 6 weeks over there in total, having a blast up north, down south, in London and on the beaches of Cornwall and Devon – and then a new school term underway as of this morning, back here in Saigon, and we are off again, refreshed (partly, the jet-lag this weekend was a killer) and ready for the long run into the next break at Christmas…

The merry-go-round is in full tilt.

The happy and somewhat jaded campers (above) took it in their stride this morning that the summer holiday adventures were over. Bless them both, Florence and Martha just seem to take whatever is thrown at them and make it fun. 

Flo was not the least bit put out for example that it took me twenty minutes this morning to realise that her penguin stepping around the apartment in her new skirt/shorts combo for Day 1 at the Australian International School, was in fact because when she’d got dressed she had put both feet into one shorts leg, rather than what she was thinking to herself at the time, which was that her new school practice some quasi-Geisha ritual for their Year 2’s, by forcing them to hop about the classroom for the first term.

Nor did she seem intimated by the chaos of the busy new school gates, or the strangeness of her new surrounds. She was too busy taking it all in to kiss us goodbye.

Anyway, you’ll hopefully find me more prominent on these pages soon, but in the meantime I wish you all happy ends of the holidays when you get to yours.

Much love to all.

Happy Daddy

Florence's Father's Day card

Florence’s Father’s Day card

For the past three years I have been overseas during my daughter’s school Father’s Day Celebrations. This year had to see the record set straight, and so I put in a special request for the school to host their 2014 “Daddy’s Day Breakfast” today, as I am flying to Amman tonight for the rest of the week.

The children sang all of us Dads a special song, served up croissants and boiled eggs, and then Florence and Martha even made me a coffee between them (with Martha on mixing duty, and Flo doing the more precarious carrying work). All of this on the back of another fun-filled weekend of parties, dancing in monsoon rain, ten-pin bowling competitions, and watching 28 performances at the annual Dance Centre Show.

Leaving to spend the rest of the week in Jordan will no doubt produce some new thoughts to populate the pages of this blog, however after spending quality time at home it doesn’t get any easier hauling myself 1,000 of miles around the region, and having to stage a not-too-dramatic goodbye to the girls.

That said, this morning was the perfect send off.

I was crowned a mini VIP for half an hour, wearing the brightly coloured hats the girls had made for me, and touched by the two wonderful cards they’d prepared the week before (above and below).

Martha's Father's Day card

Martha’s Father’s Day card

And if the wise words on Martha’s card above weren’t thought-provoking enough, I feel today is my day to challenge the most enthusiastic team of Poet Laureates to stir up something more magical and endearing than the poem which I found inside Flo’s card:

Daddy, you are
as smart as Ironman
as fast as Superman
as brave as Batman,
you are my
favourite Superhero
XX.”
Florence

I’ll not stop smiling all week now.

Daddy's Day Selfie

Daddy’s Day Selfie

Cake or Death?

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Hungry for cake anyone?

Excited, beyond levels that normal measuring instruments would find hard to measure, Florence and Martha have been galloping through a recent spate of birthday celebrations.

My 39th last month – pic above – was ushered in with some chocolate and raspberry cup cakes. Martha’s 3rd – last Friday – was awarded double cupcake supplies: first, for a family trip to school and some mid-morning songs and card opening, and second, for an end of the day fancy dress party in Lou’s apartment, where the luminous green cakes were complimented by that reliable choice favourite – the humble pizza.

As you can tell from the photos below, at both events, Martha (playing the part of the Disney movie Frozen’s Anna in the afternoon) was quite “up” for sweet treats, celebrating, and having the day’s limelight opportunities shifted in her direction: Continue reading

Easter in Shanghai

And so it was to Shanghai last Thursday for the Easter weekend.

I am not sure when it was ever the sensible option to plan a stag weekend in Nha Trang back-to-back with a football tournament in Shanghai, allowing me just four days in between of relative calm?

Perhaps it’s best sometimes not to over think these things and, instead, just embrace them.

Am typing this in bed on Sunday, back in Vietnam (although in Hanoi, in fact, with work for the next three days) after being upgraded earlier this afternoon at Shanghai airport by Vietnam Airlines, who I would typically focus my frustrations on due to their often sub-optimal service but today, however, I was close to falling in love with them as they expertly whisked me back in business class, me having successfully competed (unscathed) in this year’s Vikings Cup football tournament, with my local team, Saigon Raiders FC. Continue reading