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

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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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Scaling new heights in Vietnam

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Running around the streets of Jodhpur before dawn

I’m not on Facebook however, 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: 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 Addenbrooke’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 on Bombay Sapphire, 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 the 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 clichés 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. 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 to 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. 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 I’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 linking 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.