Feeling at home, far away from it

The weekend sun rising. Kuala Lumpur airport.

Pit-stopping on the way back to Saigon – Starbucks, Kuala Lumpur airport, no less – I’ve the usual frisson of excitement about walking back through our garden at home a few hour’s from now, picking up the girls (Issy is in Germany this week, checking out fashion trade shows) and flopping on the sofa.

After five days in Sri Lanka, to work with our Chrysalis team there (musings on which from earlier can be found over here) I don’t, in some ways, feel like I was away from ‘home’ much at all this week.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Sri Lanka about ten times since 2009. I’ve written about it quite a lot, and that, no doubt, underscores why it’s one of my favourite places to spend time.

Aside from the professional experiences gained from engaging with our team there, and the organisations and people I’ve met along the way, it’s the day-to-day flow of contact and the momentary interludes that weave through these trips, which I think bind each together in a way that feels so familiar and reaffirming.

Moreover, it’s the simple easiness curated by the people you meet which imbues such a comfortable backdrop.

Dropping down to Galle on a quick pre-wedding whistle stop reconnaissance earlier today, to check on bookings and inhale the ocean breeze, I learnt about the reality of the recent Easter Sunday attacks, in terms of their impact on the tourism industry.

Not unsurprisingly, many tourists canceled their trips in May and June as a result of the bombings, and some hotels had to close completely. July and August are typically low season months too, and so a few hoteliers I met spoke of the “double whammy” of the events happening when they did.

Bookings are picking up again now. And whilst there is heightened security evident, things seem to have settled down. The country just this week was elevated to “middle-income” status by the World Bank, and the high ranking top spot given by The Lonely Planet earlier in the year to Sri Lanka, appears to have been reallocated back to the country, even though most of Sri Lanka remains in a state of deep shock over the events of April 21st.

With such charming scenery, culture and opportunity for the visitor, let’s hope that a  positive trajectory of tourist bookings returns.

As my taxi driver, Mahinda, took a short detour this evening, on our way to the airport, to stop and offer me tea and bananas at his house, and the opportunity to meet his wife and daughter who was awaiting her ‘A’ level results, I was touched by the sentiment and the care he took to make me feel welcome.

I found the same hospitality and warmth earlier in the week when invited over to my Air BnB host’s living room, to share dinner with him and his wife.

Listening to Mahinda’s daughter talk about her plans for university, and for finding work somehow with her degree (biology) I couldn’t help hope that, in the future, not only will my daughters have the self-esteem and spark to be excited about a feeling of “doing my best” in the world, as this young woman did, but also that they – and beyond them, that I too – hold close that very core humanitarian embodiment of connection and understanding that I felt, sat with a cup of tea in my hand, listening to and being a small part of, this family’s time together.

The overwhelming feeling of being truly welcomed into their home, for a few precious moments, will stay with me forever.

Colombo at dawn.

 

 

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Wanderlusting

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Sunset on Dili beach, Timor-Leste
I double checked the meaning of Wanderlust – which turns out to be the “strong desire for, or impulse to, wander or travel and explore the world”.

Since running off to Uganda when I was 21 years old, in the absence of having any more concrete a plan for how to handle life after university, I’d say my Wanderlust levels have remained piqued ever since.

No doubt some genetic influence from my parents helped fuel my appetite for getting out and “seeing the world”. In reading Dr Suess poems to my daughters (as well as flying them off to different countries almost every school holiday) I suppose instinctively it feels appropriate to want to pass on that particular piece of DNA, connected to wandering, to them also.

Over the past five years, even without that DNA, the travel I’ve undertaken as part of my job has secured for me a schedule for which any aspiring “Wanderluster” would have been thrilled.

As someone working in international development, I can’t quite settle my mind about how conflated my footprint and actions in the world are. Choosing to direct my career into finding better ways to serve the poor, whilst simultaneously responsible for emitting more carbon in an average month than the output my entire family back in the UK manage in a year (ok, Mum and Dad are relatively guilty on the carbon too, but I wanted the analogy to sound extreme!)      Continue reading

A Brief Spell Down Under

Monday. And, so far today, I’ve flown to Singapore and just put in six hours working out of a business lounge and still have another eight to go before I get to kip (am Colombo bound this evening for the week…)

Mustn’t grumble however as, since my last post about our summer holidaying in Europe, Issy and I have also just indulged in a trip over to Melbourne earlier this month for weddings, family birthday partying and some brief flirting with a delicious vineyard and the salty ocean road inhalations on offer down in Sorrento.

As is the form when I get back over to the UK, trips like these are extremely special and also meticulously executed, in order to maximise each and every hour with all the important things in life.  In the case of this particular trip, the important things consisted of: new babies; zany nieces; legendary siblings; old school friends; and then an inevitable immersion in all of the particular shopping experiences and drinking haunts yet to reach the humid back-streets of Saigon.

We fitted it all in, and lapped it up (although, truth be told, for me to be accepted into the funky suburb of Fitzoy I’ll need to grow an exceptionally impressive beard – and this may take me a while.)

Video compilations with be forthcoming however, in the meantime, heartfelt thanks to Mark for the most spectacular day at Yabby Lake, to Phoebe for all the snippets of special laughs and larks, to Pobby for the Aga coffee and the egg and bacon pie on arrival (plus about two dozen other mouth-watering dishes enjoyed throughout the week) and to Mike for a lesson in cryptic cross-wording that I will never forget (I hope the Tuesday Latin tutorials continue to go well).

To all the other family and friends entourage, thank you for making me feel at home and for making me smile, constantly.

And to Alice and Richard Cook-Watkins. For seating me opposite the bride (I have been dining out on that since) and for laying on a seamless day of memories for us all.

So, as Mike would recommend – to anyone curious enough to ask – it is with whisky that one should finish one’s day and so, in spite of the fact that I am long off being asleep, I may just – on this one occasion – take him up on that and bid you farewell, for now…

Until next time.

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Melbourne skyline. Obvs.
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Emily, Archie and Ben. Stripey boys.
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Fitzroy chic. Also obvs.
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OK, I’ll admit it, the coffee ain’t too bad here…
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These lot know how to do ice creams.
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Replica clock-tower from Ben Thanh Market, Saigon. Love it!
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End of day beer at Naked for Satan. Yeeees.
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Brunswick Street bakery. Spectacular.
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‘Knock off’ gin and tonic time in the garden.
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Pobby’s kitchen. Aga toast – ooooooooooooooooh!
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Yabby Lake vineyard.
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The calm espressos before the twelve bottle tasting storm. Happy days.
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The BEST lunch.
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Diamond Bay. Hmmm.
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Issy likes green. I like blue.
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Everyone likes a good sunset.
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Pin the tail. Hazy’s 3rd birthday.
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Squirt the person who is pinning the tail.
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It’s OK, it’s only Sam!

The Art of Smiling

Late to the party, as usual, I’ve been enjoying the work of Yang Liu – a Chinese-German artist http://www.yangliudesign.com/ whose interpretations of the differences between these two cultures is captured in her East vs West series.

Interpretations which make for some fun talking points for a Brit like me, who has now been living in Vietnam for a year or so.  Take a look at your leisure…

Continue reading

Model parenting

When I am not travelling with my job, (I like to think) I play a key role in the “getting up and getting ready” part of our family’s day, as well as offer some well-timed interventions at the “winding down, it’s time for sleep now” part.

However, at weekends I get the chance to experience the full effects of being in charge of both our children for longer than about two hours at a time.  With Lou out shopping yesterday for our upcoming trip back to the UK, up stepped Mr Model Dad, on hand to ensure a day of quality food and entertainment lay ahead for everyone.  I realised though, on reflection later in the evening, that I may still have a way to go. Continue reading

January journal + Hoi An photos

Although I went back to work on Friday, it was with a sense of having been somewhat indulgent, as Vietnam enjoyed its annual lunar New Year shut down last week and, life as we know it here in Saigon, ground to a very pleasant halt.

Our blossoming Tễt tree

Families and friends idled away four days of public holidaying, the focus being on eating festive foods, drinking large quantities of alcohol, and speculating at length what the year ahead might hold (see previous post on Dragons, although for those with less time to spare to read post, the nuts and bolts of it is that the Year of the Dragon is an auspicious year in the twelve yearly zodiac cycle, and there is heightened expectation amongst people here about what 2012 will bring.) Continue reading

December journal + Hanoi photos

Sunday afternoon, and I have a hangover.

A fitting state perhaps to welcome in the start of the festive season, although the combination of last night’s beers, 5 hours sleep, Martha wailing like a banshee, and Florence enthusiastically using me as her personal drum-kit, was not quite the ideal scenario first thing this morning in terms of remedying a sore head.

I used to love December back in the UK.  It can be the most indulgent month of the year, and also the most random in terms of habits.

On the social side, for example, people start warming up their red wine and adding in fruit. More pastry gets consumed in one month than during the whole of the rest of the year.  For some reason, we also decide it important that we simply must meet up with certain friends for Christmas drinks, often people we haven’t seen or heard from since the previous year when we committed to do the same, but one of us bailed out due to being “crazy at work”, “down with the flu” or “double booked” for the night. Continue reading

August journal

We’ve been living in Saigon for very nearly half a year now. 

It’s hard to imagine that the school summer holidays are coming to an end, we’re back into a new term and new class for Florence tomorrow, and fast kicking at the heels of September.

Living where we do in District 2, a heavily concentrated area for foreigners, there has been noticeably more ex-pats moving around over the past fortnight, as a new influx of residents arrives, and those overseas from their summer vacations return. 

In the local supermarket yesterday we saw a couple piling high their trolley with mops, buckets, coat hangers and many other tell-tale signs that they were obviously fresh on the scene, and kitting out an empty apartment. Continue reading