Friday, February 26, 2010

Fan Mail

Today is a happy day and it just makes all the painful hours writing away worthwhile when you have one adoring fan take the time to pass on a few kinds words. Well for me that day has come and to say it is gratifying is an understatement. Below you will find some fan mail I received about an article I submitted online on eating a snakes heart in Hanoi.

As an expat living and working in Hanoi can I say how sick I am of the following:

1. Bone headed drunks paying to be macho by eating snakes, snake blood, still eating snake hearts etc.
2. Equally stupid macho idiots writing about the above on their ill-informed blog so they can show off to their mates at home
3. Journalists also doing the above and kidding themselves that somehow they have found the "real Vietnam"
4. Dumb websites, newspapers etc reprinting it and therefor encouraging yet more macho prats to do the same.

This is why you shouldn't do what the idiot you wrote this blog did:

1. You may think you are doing something uber traditional and whose to say the practice hasn't gone back a few centuries, however, nowadays, it's pretty much just for tourists. I've lived in this country for three years and I have never, not once, been asked to take part in something like this by a Vietnamese person.

2. Extreme eating is an incredibly dangerous practice in developing countries. It's the same thought process that sees people pay large amounts for rare animals to eat. A new eating experience. "There's hardly any of them left...heck then I better eat one now then."

A great number of NGOs are investing large amount of money to try and change the above attitude of macho eating. And then idiots like these stroll into town and put their dollars on the table and think that eating part of an animal that is still not yet dead is somehow acceptable.

3. People in Vietnam eat many things but, meatwise, they mostly eat chicken, beef and pork. So...

4. Vietnam has incredible food that you could write about for years and still not cover every dish, recipe etc - so why waste your time on this? If you are a writer and you really care about writing something accurate regarding the country you are in then please don't write about this snake heart crap. Go grab a bowl of Pho.

Matador travel...please get a little more picky in the crap you decide to highlight.

* All jokes aside, criticism is always welcome and is part of the writing game. Personally I don't believe with most of what my adoring fan had to say. Why? Because I have talked about the subject with many Vietnamese over the past 6 months.

My reply:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Joyeux anniversaire maman

J’ai quelques jours de retard sur le blog, mais j’ai téléphoné a temps!
Un très joyeux anniversaire à ma maman, toujours supportive et aimante, ou que je sois.
On a hate de te recevoir ici, et de te montrer notre nouvelle vie, que tu appreciera et valideras je le sais, comme pour toutes mes vies précédentes : Paris, Southampton, Sydney. De la part de Dan : bon anniversaire Chandler. Le surnom est né il y a quelques années, quand j’ai dit à Dan avant qu’il ne rencontre ma mère pour la première fois, pour l’aider à se souvenir de son prénom, de penser à la série « friends ». pour ceux qui ne le savent pas, ma mère s’appelle Monique. Dans friends, Courney Cox s’appelle Monica. Arrivés au restaurant, on a discuté joyeusement tous les trois, et quand j’ai demandé a Dan si il se souvenait du prénom de ma mère, il a pense a Friends, comme prévu, et a dit « Chandler !! ». J’en ris encore.

I am a bit late on this blog to wish my mum a happy birthday, but I did call her on time, three days ago.
My mum is always supportive and loving, wherever I am, and she has always liked and validated every life I built for myself over the years: Paris, Southampton, London, Sydney and now Hanoi.
From Dan : happy Birthday Chandler !!
The nickname goes bask a few years. My mum’s name is Monique – in English it would be Monica I guess. Before Dan met my mum for the first time, he had troubles remembering her name so told him to think about the series Friends, which he knows well for I watch it compulsively – this and many other ones. We met with mum at a restaurant and after a while I asked him if he remembered her name: he went to friends like a good student and blurted out “Chandler!!”. I was puzzled for a second, and then my brain followed the path his just had: It makes me laugh to this day.

Proud of my wife

Two days ago we were invited to a Tet (New Year) lunch. Our neighbour was finishing off the Lunar New Year celebrations with a big lunch at his home for which he had hired the chef from the nearby Sheraton Hotel.

We happily accepted his invitation and I picked up a nice bottle of Australian red wine as a thank you to the host. The host and his friends could not speak English. One of the other male guests was French, a neighbour as well, who could speak pretty good Vietnamese.

We sat down at the table with a big salad and various chicken, beef, pork and vegetable dishes. The wine I gave as a gift was sitting on the table. There was one other woman at the table, Lan: she's our favourite neighbour, she brings us nem and lets Celine cuddle her 9 months baby all the time, she's the French man's wife. The rest were all friends of the host; 7 guys in total. The hosts friend brought out 8 shot glasses; 7 for the guys and one for Celine. He poured the red wine into the shot glasses for each of the guests. I remember Celine saying it was a nice gesture to share the gift with everyone. The glasses were raised to a CHEERS and before I realised it everyone had downed their wine; with the exception of me, Celine and the French guy. Trying to fit in with the crowd I quickly downed mine as well. Celine and I found this very funny. It was the first time we had seen that. I am not sure if it was the taste or its lack of alcohol but the boys turned to xeo, the local rice wine after that shot.

Fitting with Vietnamese custom, the boys eat only a little and drink a hell of a lot. After two shots of xeo Celine realised she was not being included. The men would raise and clink their glasses but avoid Celine. Avoid may not be the right word as I don't think there was any malice in it, just that it is not the norm for a girl to be enjoying this drinking ritual. In six months I have only seen a handful of girls drink any alcohol and when they have it has not been xeo; instead sipping a beer. Regardless, for Celine I imagine it would be a bit disheartening. On the third shot she tried again with the same result. She didn't take it to heart though and persevered. We both realised it was a man's lunch. The hosts wife, one of two, helped prepare the meal and while we were eating at the table she ate in the lounge with her son. Celine contemplated asking her to join but we thought it was probably not the best to ask.

As I said Celine persevered. Celine spoke to the guys in Vietnamese and she was good. Celine commented about the food and about the host and about his friends. They laughed. Celine understood their replies. Celine made jokes. They laughed. Celine explained to me when I didn't understand. Celine raised her glass and said CHEERS and all the boys responded, raising their glass, a big smile on their face. In a man's world I was extremely proud of Celine. At times she owned the table and had every one's attention. She was invited, with me to come along, to a lunch at a beer house the following day.

All the guys at the table, 40 years old and above, are a part of a culture where the women usually play second fiddle when at a lunch/drinking celebration. They are often not even there. Seeing Celine speak and laugh and win these guys attention made me incredibly proud because I don't think it is an easy thing to do.

At one point Celine said she was fat compared to the Vietnamese women. They all shook their had saying "No No No" The host saying "No fat.........big boobs!!"...........Funny!

Dan explique qu’il est fier de moi parce que dans un monde d’hommes, je sais me faire respecter (surtout parce que je parle Vietnamien avec eux et ma prononciation dramatique les fait rire, ces hommes :))
Anecdote: nous etions invite a dejeuner chez notre voisin, que des hommes a la table, et je discutais avec l'hote de differences physiques entre les filles de l'Ouest et les Vietnamiennes. Quand j'ai dit que j'étais grande et tanquée par rapport, ils ont tous dis "non non pas du tout grosse" mais ont fait des gestes de gros seins. Les gens sont plutot pudiques ici et ce genre de reflexion n'est pas courante... Dan s'est etouffe de rire dans sa bière.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It just doesn't happen at home

I went out for a quick dinner last, opting for a place on Yen Phu street, not far from my house. It was a simple setup; the cooks make the food out the front, you sit inside. I ordered my food in Vietnamese, incorrectly, and then went and found a seat as the young cooks had a laugh at my pronunciation. There was no one else in the place. Not a soul. This may have made me a little uncomfortable back home but it didn't bother me here.

I was taking in the place in my moment of solitude when a guy walks in and without hesitation sits opposite me. I nod and say xin chao Anh (hello big brother) to which he replies xin chao Em (hello little brother). At first I thought me might have been one of the cooks or that he worked there but after a few seconds he ordered his food which raised my eyebrow. "Is he getting his food to take away" I thought and even so why does he have to sit here, virtually on top of me. The seats and tables are plastic and kids size in most street food places. Here I was sitting on my chair with my feet on the ground and my knees were higher than the table. The table was small as well so with two plates and a glass on my table I really had to start maximising the space.

I have learnt to accept the small chairs and tables but the fact that this guy chose to sit right opposite me in a completely empty restaurant really challenged my cultural boundaries. If he had really wanted to talk then I could acknowledge his decision but he wasn't even a little bit interested. I smiled and said a few things only to be met with nonchalant replies or glances. This made me a little uncomfortable and as my dinner was served I could only think "Why........Why are you fucking sitting there".

Not enjoying my meal I tried to forget about it and take myself away to a happy place. I was getting somewhere quite happy but was rudely distracted by the guy turning around every 20 or so seconds to watch the Korean soap show on the TV. His back was to the TV so his only way to see what was going on was to of course turn around. This was taking me away from my happy place. It didn't occur to him to change to one of 37 empty seats, yes I actually counted them. His food arrived and now we had two massive plates, two bowls and two glasses all on a tiny table fit for a little girl and her first tea party.

I ate my food quickly and left. Riding home I wondered why. Why did this guy sit where he did when he had 37 other options; 37 other options me or probably anyone from the western world would take. Maybe it was his seat. Maybe he comes in everyday and sits in the same seat. Maybe he has OCD and under no circumstance will he sit anywhere else. Maybe sitting on your own is not cool but there was only me to judge and I would have happily called him cool if he sat somewhere else. I really don't know the reason but one thing I know for sure is that it just doesn't happen at home.

Dan explique que dans la série "ca ca n'arriverait jamais chez nous", il s'était installé dans un troquet vide pour manger une soupe de nouille, quand un local est venu s'assoir a sa petite table, en face, alors qu'il y avait 31 tables vides autour. Dan s'est dit que le type devait avoir envie de compagnie, mais non, il répondait d'un grognement a ses tentatives de conversation.
Parfois, il faut juste se dire qu'on ne comprend pas bien et que ce n'est pas grave. :)

La reprise - back to reality

Il fait très très froid sur Hanoi.
J’ai repris les cours hier: un Dimanche, la journée de loin la plus violente de toute la semaine, avec 4 classes d’affilée de 90 minutes chacune, des enfants surexs, tous les ordis sont pris, toutes les imprimantes déconnent, il y a 25 profs dans la salle des profs. C’est la bordel. C’est la reprise.
Franchement, je preferais la rentrée des classes vue de l’autre coté de la cloture : a travers mes yeux d’enfants, c’était super. A travers mes yeux de profs, c’est moins la joie. D’ici à quelques années j’espère pouvoir vous dire ce que ca donne à travers les yeux d’un parent.

It's very cold on Hanoi. The first day back to school was yesterday, and Sundays are way more stressful and full-on than any other days of the week, with four classes in a row, lots of excited kids, twenty people on the teacher's room (3 computers), broken printers and craziness all around.
Yep. Back we are.
when I was a kid, I looooved started school again after the holidays. It's a big deal in France, the whole country gets ready for the first week of school. I found it so exciting, buying from the new stationary list, finding out about my new time table...
Well, as a kid I loved it. As a teacher, I can now say I love it a lot less. Hope I can tell you in a few years how I like it as a parent...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Benny the Monkey

If there was ever a monkey who helped pen the expression "Cheeky Monkey" then I think Benny deserves that honour. This little guy hung out on Ton Sai Beach and was hilarious to play with. I had to stop running the video so I could try and remove Benny who was happily dangling from Celine's hair. We may contemplate getting our own monkey; how cool would that be.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ton Sai Beach, Thailand

Ton Sai Beach, Krabi is a climbers retreat. Travellers not tourists descend on this small stretch of sand, their mentality different. From around the world they come, all sharing the same passion. I am not a climber but I feel comfortable here.

As I sit on a deck chair, feet playing in the morning sand I take in the entirety of this place. It is 7am and the monkeys own the cliffs enjoying this sought after spot in the cool of the morning, rumbling with each other. At 8am they lend the rocks to the climbers who have an abundance of choice negotiating themselves up the cliffs. The climbers are brown and tanned, all fit and healthy. They are European, American, South American and Asian. If they are not climbing they talk climbing.

Ton Sai Beach is a beautiful part of the world. Sitting on my chair I watch the campers arise, stretching out the sleep of the night, contemplating the day. The ocean is inviting with shades of green and blue. The water clear. A lone swimmer owns this part of the ocean doing laps along the beach. In the distance the horizon is painted with other islands.

I smell the morning smells, spices cooking breakfast, a hint of burnt fuel from a distant long boat. Most boats are still at this hour. They sit on the beach waiting for the day to start. A small Thai flag flies on each boat, flapping in the morning wind. The air is fresh and the sky is blue. I sit in the shade of the cliffs above, under a tree a few metres from the water. Miniature waves crash the shore; a relaxing repetition. I look up at the cliffs to my left, orange and grey, stalagmites hanging down and I feel inspired. I don’t want to leave.

The food is cheap and delicious. Tom Yum, Pad Thai, Green Curry. Sitting on the deck chair down wind from the food stands means an early lunch. Always spoiled for choice it is often the hardest decision of the day.

As the day grows the sun pears over the cliffs above hitting the sand below. The climbers call it a day and the sunbathers emerge. The water is warm and clear however a little rocky underneath. This is not the best beach of the area. That honour probably goes to West Railay Beach, a ten minute walk over and around rocks from Ton Sai. That is a beach of tourists and the vibe and body shape changes significantly between the two.

There are no ATM’s on Ton Sai and the accommodation is primarily for the budget traveller. There are options on the beach but most accommodation is 100 metres back. Many bungalows have no electricity in the day. Most toilets don’t have flushes; self flushing with small buckets of water the alternative. The beach is lined with bars, many basic made of rattan and bamboo. The bars are open to the world, no walls in the way. Hammocks and cushions the furniture of choice. They fill at night where tanned locals perform fire shows, Bob Marley blares and travellers chat about their day, planning tomorrow. All of a sudden everyone looks up. A base jumper leaps off the cliff above, reaching the ground in seconds, to cheers and applause.

I sit on the beach at peace, feeling lucky and content. With a cool breeze on my face I think to myself that this has to be my perfect beach holiday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thailand Scorpion

As I was walking along a dirt road with Celine, minding my own business, contemplating dinner choices, I felt a sting on my toe, right above my nail. At first I thought I clipped a bit of broken glass and continued on towards our bungalow. Mild curiosity took over a step or so later so I turned around to investigate. My eyes widened and mouth dropped when I saw a mean looking scorpion right where the broken glass should be. Alarmed, I told Celine, who on view of her first ever scorpion started panicking a little: where we come from, a scorpion sting is not to be taken lightly. She jumped to the Thai lady selling pancakes nearby, deciding in a split second that the local lady's reaction would give us a good idea of the gravity of the situation: if she looked alarmed then alarmed we would be too. The lady raised her eyebrows and in gestures explained that the scorpion could sting. Then she laughed. Celine was slightly reassured and came back to me. What I should highlight though is that Celine forgot to tell me the whole thing when she found me still shocked in disbelief by the side of the road, and just took me straight to our bungalows reception ladies.

After I saw the scorpion, almost at once my mind went into overdrive; I am on an island a long way from any kind of medical help, the closest pharmacy is two beaches away and is closed more often than not. The previous day, the lady at the pharmacy had had problems recommending anti allergy medication for Celine so any insight on venomous monsters would be hopeless. In short I started to shit myself. With thoughts of venom spreading through my veins I tried to muster all the first aid knowledge I had and came to the realisation I had to cut my toe off, and quick.

But then as you know, Celine and I opted to discuss my predicament with the ladies at our bungalow reception before any amputation surgery. I think the anticipation of their response caused some panic, a heat rush to my face, which I took as the venom taking affect. With increased anxiety my heart started to race as I tried to explain what happened.

The girls didn't seem too worried about it and said I was very unlucky as scorpions are pretty rare. It turns out it is only the pain of the sting that causes you any problems, unless of course you are allergic, like with a bee sting. Just to be sure, as the Thais are generally very relaxed, I asked a couple extra times....."Am I going to die tonight?". After laughing and confirming this was not going to happen they cleaned the cut and put some tiger balm on. Celine and I could finally breathe easy.

A few hours later Celine was kind enough to explain to me the pancake lady episode and how it had helped her first rush of panic. Wish I could say the same: cheers for sharing, wifey!

I got my revenge by eating a grilled scorpion when I reached Bangkok.

Traduction à la première personne, c’est Dan qui parle, pas moi.
Tonsai beach, Thailande. Alors que je marchais pénard sur un chemin de terre, me demandant ce que j’allais manger ce soir, j’ai senti une douleur, comme une coupure, au bout de mon orteil. J’ai tout de suite pensé à un eclat de verre, et me retounant pour constater le fait, j’ai vu par terre, à la place de l’éclat de verre auquel je m’attendais... un scorpion. Quelque peu alarmé, je l’ai dit à Céline qui a regardé le scorpion sans comprendre, palissante. Pendant que je restais sous le choc, Celine a abordé la première personne locale qu’elle a trouvé : la marchande de crêpes, et lui a montré le scorpion du doigt. Son instint était de sonder la premiere réaction de quelqu’un de local : si la dame paraissait alarmée, alors alarmés nous serions aussi. En l’occurence la marchande de crêpes à levé les sourcils, expliqué par gestes que les scorpions peuvent piquer (merci madame la marchande de crêpes) et éclaté de rire. Ca a tout de suite calme Céline. Mais quand elle m’a vu sous le choc elle m’a pris par la main et emmené vers la reception de notre hotel-bungalow, malheureusement omettant au passage de me dire ce qu’elle venait de constater.
J’étais sous le choc parce que pendant que Celine parlait à la crêpiere, moi je tournais le secnario dans ma tête : petit ile Thailandaise loin de tout. Pas de docteur. Une pharmacie deux plages plus loin, fermée à cette heure, ou de totue facon la pharmacienne locale avait été incapable la veille de me recommender un médoc pour Celine et son allergie au soleil, autant vous dire qu’elle ne saurait pas quoi faire devant une piqure de scorpion. Gloups. Puis j’ai essayé de faire appel à toutes mes connaissances de premier secours et me rendant compte que j’en n’avais absolument aucune, suis arrive à la conclusion qu’il allait falloir qu’on me coupe l’orteil.
Du coup quand on s’est presentés aux filles de la réception, et je redoutais tellement leur réaction que ma tête s’est mise à tourner, ce que j’ai pris pour un effet du venin. Mais les filles n’ont pas eu l’ai inquiètes du tout, et m’on expliqué que meme si je n’avais vraiment pas de pot parce que les scorpions sont rares dans ce coin, je n’avais à redouter qu’un peu de douleur et au pire une réaction allergique comme parfois pour les piqures de guêpes. Elles m’ont mis du baume du tigre sur l’orteil et donne un nurofen. J’ai respiré. Celine aussi. Mais elle semblait plus calme que moi de toute facon… quand je lui ai demandé pourquoi, elle m’a expliqué la réaction de la crêpière qui l’avait rassurée tout de suite. Humm.. J’aurais aimé pouvoir en dire autant. Merci pour le partage d’info pendant la crise, Leg!
Pour me venger, quand on est arrivés a Bangkok quelques jours plus tard, j’ai bouffé un scorpion grillé.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A day in Tonsai

7h00: I get up, jump in the bathroom: four walls and no ceiling, only trees and birds above me while I shower.
7h20: We have breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and fruits on the beach, looking at the climbers on the cliff above us. Then a strong “real” coffee as they call it here.
8h00: Yoga. Some days the yoga session lasts one hour, sone days two hours: in that case, the level is advanced and I laugh to myself while the others do the headstand: yeah, I’m not quite there yet.

10h00: we read on the beach, waiting for the hot sun to reach the part of the beach we lay in chaises longes.
11h00: I go swim for about one hour, towards the islands on the horizon. It looks like The Beach – the film. Then we take the sun for a while.

12.30: I have my usual lunch: spicy coconut soup with king prawns. Amazing.

13.30: I go for a nap, either back in the bungalow or anywhere else. You can nap anywhere in Tonsai.
15.00: It’s really hot now. We set camp in the shade of a café where we drink organic iced tea, real coffee or fruit shakes, while reading in hammocks until the day cools down. Sometimes we watch a film, too.

18h00: it’s getting cooler, we sit up, play cards or go for a walk. Then we have a shower, apply after sun cream because we burnt in the morning and we go to dinner
19h00: dinner of the same coconuty soups, pad thai or salads.

20h00: Re energising massage session and in one case: acupuncture.

21h30: We share a cocktail at the local bar, comfortably settled on Thai cushions, watching people juggle and spit fire. We laugh, we clap, we chat with others. Pretty soon I’m tired: I have to wake up early for yoga.
Midnight: we put down the mosquito net in our bungalow and go to sleep. I sleep so well in Ton Sai.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ton Sai

Au bout de la plage de Railay Ouest, il y a des rochers qu’il est possible de contourner à marée basse, ou d’escalader à marée haute, pour accéder à la petite plage de Ton sai . Après deux jours à Railay nous decidons de faire ca, et d’aller se ballader de l’autre côté des rochers. Après une escalade à pic nous arrivons essouflés de l’autre côté, sur la plage de Ton sai. Derrière la plage on grimpe dans la colline, pour accéder à une sorte de village fait de paillotes et bungalows, tout en bois, au milieu de la nature. La population me parait relax, sans le sou, un peu artiste. Je suis complétement sous le charme. Le lendemain matin on prend nos sacs et nos affaires et on quitte Railay pour s’installer à Ton sai.

Je pense au début que nous voilà dans une communauté hippie. Je pense à ‘la plage’, le film. Après quelques jours je me rendrai compte que c'est une communauté d'escaladeurs. Je savais que l'escalade était l'attraction principale icimais je n'avais jamais compris que , c'est aussi un mode de vie. à Ton sai j'ai rencontré des anciens traders, financiers, avocats. Un jour l'escalade a pris le dessus et ils ont tout quitté, et laissé leurs possessions materielles pour une vie de voyage entre rochers et falaises, toujours à la recherche de la prochaine montagne.

Tout le monde sur l'île est bronzé, musclé, éclatant de santé. Les gens vivent ici pendant des mois, ils créent des connections, échangent des services, des cours, des moments d’escalade. Ils ne se bourrent pas la gueule comme des fous le soir dans les bars: à part quelques backpackers de passage. Les bars sont zen et on y joue de la musique live, et on y performe des tours d'adresse: équilibristes, funambules, jongleurs. On va se coucher avant minuit. Je dors mieux que jamais, malgre un matelas qui laisse vraiment à désirer.

Je suis de plus en plus sous le charme. Je relaxe completement. Je lis tous les jours, je nage loin et je fais la planche, rêveuse, en regardant les falaises. Je me fais masser tous les après midis, une heure de massage Thailandais qui défont les noeuds aux épaules et dans le cou; les masseuses appuient toujours sur des points qui n'ont jamais été stimulés et je me sens complétement re energisée après, au lieu d'etre à moitié endormie comme après un massage normal. Je ne mange que du muesli, des soupes à la noix de coco et des fruits.

Je commence à faire du yoga tous les matins : je suis plutot novice et ca se voit, mais des le deuxiéme cours je me sens dans mon élément. Je rencontre des gens de plus en plus intéressants, ils me parlent d’energies, de Chi, de Ying et de Yang, de méditation. Une semaine plus tot j’aurai été perplexe, mais à Ton Sai on ouvre son esprit. Je fais une scéance d’acupuncture servant à rebalancer mes emotions : tous mes petits bobos disparaissent et je suis de parfaite humeur les cinq jours suivants. Dan ne se plaint pas!

On annule tous nos projets pour ces vacances : plus de Koh Lanta, Phi Phi island, etc. On reste à Ton Sai. C’est là qu’on se sent bien. Mars sera assez fou comme ça, restons là ou on a trouvé le calme et le bonheur.

Le dernier jours, on part en Kayak juste tous les deux. On pagaie des heures et on s’arrête souvent pour nager. On brule. Quand on s’arrête sur une petite plage pas loin de la notre, on se retrouve ensardines entre des corps tres differents de ceux de Ton Sai, dégoulinants de monoi, de fric et de hamburgers, les stands qui vendent des fringues affichent des prix déments, un groupe de japonaise est hysterique à cause de quelqu’un apparemment célèbre au bout de la plage : on repart en courant. Enfin... en pagayant. On va se cacher dans une grotte pour une heure ou deux, et on rentre à Ton Sai. C’est la seule plage comme ca, ici, quelle chance on a eu de la trouver.

I don't add a translation to this post as Dan's post "Ton sai Beach, Thailand", if not exactly the same as mine, describes his view of the place in much more beautiful terms than those I would chose to translate my words here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Baby's arrived!

A big hugs and kisses congratulations to Christelle, Cedric and the kids on the newest member of their family. Celine and I are thinking of you guys and hope Charlie is enjoying his first few days. We were so happy to hear the news yesterday and shared a celebratory drink in Charlie's honour. We can't wait to see the pictures.

PS: I apologise for any incorrect spelling of names :)

Félicitations a Cedric, Christelle (ma grande soeur) et leurs enfants Noe et Alice pour l’arrivee de bébé Charlie. On savait que Charlie arriverait hier, et on a attendu toute la journée. Quand on a appris la bonne nouvelle, on a bu un verre a la santé de Charlie, et a la vôtre.

Beautiful Thailand

We are in Krabi at the moment, staying on East Railay Beach. It is very beautiful here. We are spending our days on the beach, eating amazing Thai food and enjoying drinks in the evening in a cool, chilled out setting. We plan to head to Phi Phi island on a snorkeling tour tomorrow, followed by a trip to Koh Lanta the following day. We will stay there for a few days before making our way back to Bangkok for a return trip to Hanoi on the 17th. The beach is a welcome treat after Hanoi and we are enjoying every minute of it.

Internet access is quite expensive here so we will give a proper update when we are back in Hanoi. I am sweating profusely as I write this, contemplating a swim or another Thai soup to prepare for the rocky walk back to our bungalow from Ton Sai beach, the rock climbers hangout of Krabi. Celine is chilling watching a movie nearby loving the relaxation this place offers.

Updates to follow...........

Nous passons quelques jours a Railay East, une petite plage près de Krabi, ou l'atmosphère est extrèmement détendue: dans tous les bars (ou plutot paillotes), Bob est vénéré et les groupes ne jouent que du reggae. La plage d’a coté, Railay Ouest, a 5 minutes de marche, est plus célèbre prce que plus belle, mais après y avoir passé une après midi je peux dire avec certitude que je préfère notre côté. De l’autre côté, tout est plus cher et la plage est pleine de touristes huilés. Ici
c’est plus zen, et roots.
Je fais mon maximum pour essayer de complètement décompresser. C’est mon seul but pour ces vacances : relaxer, et récupérer de l’energie. A mon âge je pense que ceci n’est pas possible à travers une semaine de picole et fiesta, non pas que ca ai jamais été mon truc, et j’ai compris qu’une vraie semaine de relaxation implique une certaine dose d’exercise et d’alimentation fraiche et saine. Jusqu’ici je me sens dans la bonne voie... je suis ici depuis deux jours : j’ai nagé presque une heure par jour et je mange beaucoup de fruits.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Joyeux anniversaire Arthur!

Aujourd'hui mon petit cousin Arthur a 16 ans!
Petit? oui, c'est un grand petit d'1 metre 80.
Je me souviens très bien du jour ou Arthur est né. Je vivais a Paris et me trouvais fort mécontente de ne pas pouvoir rencontrer mon nouveau petit cousin là, maintenant tout de suite. Quelques semaines plus tard Christine - la maman, ma tatie - est venue nous voir a Paris, son bébé sous le bras, et je me souviens aussi parfaitement bien des quelques jours qu'ils ont passé chez nous. Arthur au cours de cette semaine a réussi a porter sa tête tout seul pendant quelques secondes, allongé tout nu sur le ventre, et nous étions tous exasiés devant une telle prouesse!
Et oui, le temps passe vite. Arthur a maintenant une voix de Croc-Magnon, deux boucles d'oreilles et du poil au menton :)

Joyeux anniversaire, mon beau!

Ba Be Lake - Suite et fin

Le troisième jour a Ba Bê, on a fait un trek de plus de 7 heures dans la montagne, crevant mais superbe. Crevant pour nous et nos copains Espagnols. Le guide Vietnamien qui pourtant avait fait la Tawa toute la nuit d’avant, était frais comme un pinson, comme dirait ma copine Camille, et n’a pas ralenti une seconde une seule fois a part quand on le suppliait.
Le trek nous a emmené dans deux villages de minorités, les Tays, et nous avons mangé chez l’habitant, dans une maison sur pilotis. On s’est fait copains avec la petite ado de 15 ans qui m’a laisse lui brosser les cheveux avant de partir à l’école.
Encore une fois je vais laisser parler les photos...

The third day in the Ba Be lake region, we went on a seven hours Trek in the surrounding mountains, and stopped in two Tay villages – the local mountain Ethic minority. We stopped in someon’s house for lunch – one of those beautiful stilt houses and befriended the 15 years old daughter of the family who was so sweet – she let me brush her hair before she headed out to school.
The Trek was exhausting (for us, that is, the Vietnamese guide, despite a previous night og heavy drinking from what he told us, did not break a sweat.) but wonderful. Once again I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

6 months and counting.....

Well the time has come, much quicker than I thought, where Celine and I have to leave the country in order to renew our visa. We will have been in Vietnam 6 months tomorrow which was the maximum tourist visa we could get. We are heading to Thailand and staying there for a week and a half before returning on the 17th. We can only renew our visa for 3 months due to government changes so I will have to head out of the country again in May. With the countries surrounding Vietnam this is by no means a drag. Celine will hopefully have a work permit sorted soon so will not have to worry about renewing the visa every 3 months.

Our 6 months in Vietnam is in line with the countries Tet (New Year) celebrations which is often a good time for foreigners to head abroad. For more details on Tet see Celine's post but basically everything shuts down for two weeks as locals spend time at home with their families. For our week and a half break we will be dipping our feet in the beaches around Krabi and Koh Lanta. Relaxing on the beach with some island hopping thrown in seems a welcome change from the hustle and bustle that is life in Hanoi.

Our 6 months have been extremely enjoyable, entertaining and educational. We have learnt and experienced many new things and consider ourselves lucky to have the chance to be here. We can't wait for the next 6 months.

Hope to see some of you here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Eating a snakes heart

Shots of snake blood and bile. Yum!

Eating a snakes heart is not for the faint hearted; in fact you really should be aware of exactly what goes on before making the trek out to the renown village, 15 kilometers from Hanoi. I made the trip yesterday with a Contiki group where my mate was the tour leader. About 12 of us jumped on a mini van in the Old Quarter and headed out to Le Mat village.

The killing of the snake (don't watch if you don't want to see)

The restaurant setting is very nice indeed but the festivities are somewhat different. Basically they bring a bunch of snakes out and present them too you, still very venomous. From there you can decide on your snake, it's level of aggression an apparent sign of its tastiness. Being amateurs we opted for one of their choice. The process happens pretty quickly with the snake being brought out by a handler, its throat cut for the blood, followed by the bile and then lastly they rip out the still beating heart. The snake is then promptly taken away where everything, and I mean everything, is cooked to make 7 different dishes.
The end result; a glass of blood, a glass of bile and a beating heart

The snakes blood and bile is mixed with rice wine and served in shot glasses. The heart was presented to me still beating in a little white dish. After instruction I dropped the heart in the glass of snakes blood and downed it. It reminded me of many an oyster shot I have done but this time I decided not to chew. It wasn't that bad but I could definitely taste the blood. They say you can feel it beating as it goes down your throat, which I didn't, but without a doubt I could feel it lodged at the entrance to my stomach. Cheers!

Angry Cobra
The snake dishes were mediocre to say the least and at 200,000 VND a head it is not my number one for a culinary experience. Locals Vietnamese were flocking to the place though and by 12.30pm it was packed meaning that there was a lot of snake killing going on. Animal lovers to put it bluntly would hate this place. Some of the cobras they had were massive and at times we were less that a meter from the deadly creatures. After lunch and about 12 snake killings it was definitely time to go. It was an experience to say the least!

Lake Ba Be - day 2 on the lake: more pictures