Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Laurent a Hanoi

Laurent a passé quelques jours avec nous, on a bien rigolé. Dès qu’il est arrivé, j’étais toute contente de voir qu’il avait déjà masteurisé pas mal de mots Vietnamiens ainsi que l’art de marchander, donc super. Le pauvre n’a pas eu que des bons moments chez nous : il a quand même été malade toute une soirée, à courir à la salle de bain toutes les dix minutes, et le lendemain Dan l’a fait tombé de sa moto et lui a bousillé le pantalon et le genou) mais impertubable, Laurent a coupé son fut en short et a gardé le sourire. Il est très positif et facile à vivre, tout lui plait. Je l’ai emmené se faire faire un shampoing vietnamien, se ballader dans le marché à côté de chez nous, prendre un café sur le lac et meme dans une soirée organisée par mes potes sur le thème des années soixantes... bon joueur, il s’est enroulé une écharpe hippie sur la tete et a parlé avec tout le monde, en Anglais. Tout le monde m’a dit qu’il était très cool. Voila. C’etait sympa de l’avoir à la maison.


My mum and some random bear

A big call out from Hanoi to the old lady who has just graduated.


You have had some trying times of late and to finish your degree in around that is an awesome achievement. I hope you enjoyed the day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Idiot of Hanoi competition

You may be interested to know that there is a new Idiot of Hanoi competition currently running. At the moment there is only one contestant; me. There may be other like minded fools around the city that continue to do stupid stuff but at the moment I am only aware of myself.

My latest gaffe was to throw 3 weeks worth of wages in the bin and subsequently take the bin downstairs for disposal. I spent 3 frustrating hours turning the house upside down looking in completely irrational places and saying words I shall not repeat. Hungry, tired and with sweat dripping, the small and pained bit of mass that calls itself my brain remembered taking out the rubbish earlier that morning. Surely I wouldn't have thrown a wad of Vietnamese bills, totalling well over $1,000 into the bin. Only an idiot would do that. Well, as it turns out that is exactly what I did and hence why I am the lead runner for biggest idiot prize.

Holding my nose to block out the stench I prodded and pocked my way through the disgusting rubbish to find at the bottom, amongst the rotten apple and bin juice, my money. Drenched in filth I had to individually hand wash and dry each bill. It was not an enjoyable process but I was happy to know my last few weeks of work were not in vain.


Monday, April 26, 2010

CouchSurfing experiment

I heard about couch surfing through a book I read, sleeping around the world, and subsequently met some couch surfers who my mates in Sydney were hosting. If you are still wondering what the hell I am on about let me explain.

Couch surfing connects travellers around the world and, if you so desire, gives you the chance to let them crash on your couch. You can also be hosted when you are travelling which in my opinion is a great way to see the world. For travellers and hosters this is a great way to meet people and share travel and life experiences. There is no obligation and you decide if you want a particular person to stay. There is more to the couch surfing project than hosting or staying on a couch so check out the website, couchsurfing, for more details.

We currently have our first couch surfers staying with us. They are a great couple who are travelling much of Asia. Miguel is Spanish and his girlfriend Asta is from Finland. They left Europe and have spent 3 months navigating their way through Russia, Mongolia, China and now Vietnam. Listening to their stories over a few beers has been really enjoyable. Hopefully I have been able to make their trip in Hanoi fun and interesting as well.

All in all our first couch surfers experience has been a success and we plan to continue having people from around the world come and stay with us. If you are a traveller coming to Hanoi, are laid back and enjoy a laugh you can log onto the website and check out my profile.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Soirée 70s

Vendredi soir il y avait une fête chez Lindy et Matt. Lindy est ma copine à l’école, elle est néo Zélandaise et fetait hier son anniversaire/ départ sous peu pour... Toulouse. Si, c’est vrai, il y a des kiwis qui partent vivre à Toulouse, apparemment. Pour aucune raison spécifique, juste parce que ça a l’air joli. Ces derniers mois je l’ai un peu aidée avec son francais, elle le parle bien. A chaque fois que Matt et Lindy partent s’installer quelque part, ils apprennent la langue : voilà deux ans maintenant qu’ils sont à Hanoi, ils parlent tous les deux pas mal vietnamien. Le problème c’est que Lindy se mélange et met des mots de vietnamiens dans son francais, ce qui donne un resultat hilarant que si moi je comprends bien, Laurent lui par exemple... moins.
La fête était sur le thème des annees 60-70, autant vous dire qu’il m’a suffit de mettre mes habits de d’habitude et tous mes colliers/bracelets en même temps. Je ressemblais à une vraie hippie, encore plus que la dégaine baba normale que je trimballe depuis mes 15 ans. Tout le monde a fait un effort et on a passé une soirée chantmé. C’est cool à l’école maintenant, la plupart des autres profs sont des potes, et aller au travail c’est presque juste aller voir mes copains pour quelques heures, c’est bien quand on a atteint ce stade, un peu comme ma maman : elle aussi a ses copains au boulot, ca rend les journées plus sympas.
En ce moment nous avons Miguel et Asta à la maison, il est Madrilain, elle est Finlandaise : ce sont nos couch surfers. Eux aussi se sont déguisés : j’ai prêté une de mes robes fleurie à Hasta et une de mes écharpes hippies à Miguel... et une autre à Laurent, qui est venu lui aussi. Entre les bourrés et les chtarbés, on s’est bien marré tous les deux à cette fête.
Je poste ces photos qui sortent directement de l’appareil de Miguel : l’appareil photo de mes rêves, il fait des photos sublimes.

Friday night there was a theme party at my friends Lindy and Matt’s house. The theme was the 60s-70s, meaning yes I only had to wear my normal clothes and accessories, only all at once. Lindy was celebrating her birthday and her imminent departure for… France. Why is she going to leave Vietnam for Toulouse to spend a few years there? Well I don’t know, other than… well, I was born there so she probably just wants to be right in the place where all this wonder started… what can I say? I get it.
She speaks quite good French, although she does mix it up quite nicely with Vietnamese, the result being understandable for me and other expats of Vietnam only: Laurent for instance (my uncle, he spent a few days with us this week) has no idea what she might be talking about. She doesn’t even realise that a third of her french sentences are vietnamese. Hilarious. Especially when she’s a bit drunk.
Anyway, everyone made an effort dress up-wise, and the party was a lot of fun, I loved it. I feel like I have reached the stage now at work where most of the other teachers are friends and going to work is just going to hang out with them, it’s nice. That’s the same with my mum, she works with her friends, it’s great it makes the days so much more enjoyable. Miguel and Asta, are spanish slash finnish couch surfers, came to the party as well, dressed up in my hippie clothes as well, and from their state of the art wonderful camera, I give you these beautiful photos. I want this camera!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 8

grazed elbows and bruised legs......the life of a Hanoi rider

I have had a few bumps and even a small fall since arriving in Hanoi but yesterday was my first decent crash. I hit the road before I knew it and realised at once the importance of a helmet. It was not my fault, which really doesn’t matter that much, aside from easing the guilt I had for my helpless passenger. The helpless passenger was Celine’s uncle, Laurent.

Staying with us for a few days I decided to show him some of the sites while Celine was at work. We visited 40 years dead Ho Chi Minh and rode over the Long Bien Bridge. We stopped for photo’s and explored random streets. Coming back into the Old Quarter, heading towards the City View Café, we had our fall. A guy on a bike packed with empty water bottles came darting on the inside of us and when cutting back a bottle caught on my handle bar. Before I knew it I was making out with the dirty Hanoi road. I went head first and because of the helmet I only have a small cut on my lip. Laurent smashed his knee and tore a big hole in his favourite pants. As I looked at his grazed arms and bleeding knee I thought this is great for family relations.

We are both ok, walking away with a few cuts and bruises, but I am now more acutely aware of what can happen. As Laurent told me, an avid motorbike rider himself, things can turn from good to bad very quickly. It turns out the bad was sticking with me for the rest of the day because a few hours later, when driving to work, a taxi drove over my foot. Cheers!

I can’t help but feel guilty wondering, as Laurent limps around the house in his newly cut off shorts, if I could have avoided the situation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if I can offer any words of wisdom; please wear a good helmet, be attentive to what is happening around you and if a taxi is driving very close to you, don’t put your foot in a compromising position.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Children of Vietnam (1)

J'aime les enfants ici: toujours heureux. Ce post est le premier d'une serie qui continuera dans le temps, puisque je prends les enfants en photo tout le temps.
Ici, les enfants du Lac Ba Be, ou nous sommes alles passer quelques jours en Janvier.

I just love children in Vietnam. Always happy and adorable. This is the first post of a long serie, that will probably never end as I continuously bombard kids with pictures, wherever I go :)
In this post, the children of Lake Ba be, where we spent a few days back in January.

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 7

Celine and I now feel very Vietnamese when it comes to motorbike travel in Hanoi. This morning I think we passed the final test by carting many items across town. Today's load included one beautiful French girl, a double duvet/quilt, an easel, two canvasses and a bag of paints and paintbrushes etc. We got home in one piece and now have a cute little painting area set up for Celine on our roof.

For past ramblings about our experiences on a motorbike:

Hanoi Traffic

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 1

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 2

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 3

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 4

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 5

Confessions on a motorbike: Part 6

Monday, April 19, 2010

What the f&*k is that?

Last night in a fish tank at a restaurant, the Windmill, we were confronted with this grumpy little bugger. I have no idea what the hell it was but it was in the "eat me" tank. The photo is not the best but you can see its two eyes and seriously big and grumpy looking mouth. I guess if I was in a tank with hungry people peering in I would not be the happiest either.

I am quite adventurous with what I eat but I might steer clear of this one, that is of course unless anyone can shed some light on what it is?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Une maison pleine :)

Je viens de recevoir un coup de fil sympa: Laurent est au Vietnam. Pour ceux qui ne le connaissent pas, Laurent est mon oncle, ou le-mari-mais-pas-marié-de-ma-jeune-tante-qui-est-aussi-ma-marraine, et le père de mes deux petites cousines Sarah et Faustine, qui ont aujourd’hui 16 et 17 ans. Ou peut être 17 et 18 ?? Oups...
Bref. Il est à Hoi An la tout de suite, et va passer nous voir la semaine prochaine. C’est cool, on va pouvoir lui montrer Hanoi.
Dan a invité des « couch surfers » - ou des surfers de sofa – à dormir chez nous deux jours pile où Laurent sera là et ne veut pas decommander ce qui m’embête parce que maintenant au lieu de dans la chambre d’amis, ils vont devoir dormir sur des coussins dans le salon. J’aurais bien aimé que Dan décommande plutôt, mais Couch surfing c’est son projet et il y tient à coeur, alors je m’incline... plus on est de fous plus on rit, non ?
Si vous ne savez pas, Couch surfing est une communauté de voyageurs, un site web, sur lequel on peut s’inscrire afin de recevoir chez soi des gens de passage et leur montrer un peu notre coin du monde. C’est sympa et convivial, et gratuit bien sûr et puis ça va dans les deux sens... nous allons à Kuala Lumpur dans quelques semaines, et on va rester dans une famille pour deux nuit, ca nous permettra de se faire diriger vers les bons coins, les bars sympa etc... par des gens locaux... et puis ca économise l’hotel aussi, ce qui n’est pas une mauvaise chose non plus....
Quoi qu’il en soit, ce coup de fil matinal fut une bonne surprise ! J’aime bien les visites!

DIY in Hanoi

Why is it that my old man can build a house and I can't even change a light globe? When it comes to DIY stuff I am dead set useless. Sometimes I think my genetics have it in for me.

For my devoted blog followers, I think there are two of you, you would have read about our little mosquito dilemma on a post from around a week ago.

In short, our entrance is just a gate, not a wall, and at night we are attacked my Hanoi's mosquito army.

I decided to show some initiative and do the man's thing and sort out the problem. Step 1: ask our cleaning lady, Hien, for assistance. Step 2: Wait for Hien to come back to our house with supplies. To be honest, and in my defence, I didn't ask Hien to go and pick up the supplies, instead offering to go myself. Hien I can only assume measured up the situation and realised that there was little chance I was going to be able to achieve such a task.

This morning she arrived with a big roll of thick plastic, some thin wire and that thing you use to cut wire with; pliers maybe?......Dad?

Our aim quite simply was to cover all the gaps with plastic and bind it to the gate with the wire. An ingenious idea where full credit must go to Hien. My initial job of measuring with a tape measure how much plastic we needed proved a few centimetres to short. Shit! There is a small gap on one side of the gate which I am hoping the mosquitoes won't notice. Hien, was directing traffic, telling me where to bind the plastic while I was perched at the top of the ladder grunting and moaning and trying to maintain my balance.

There were sections that were not easy I tell you and it took we a while to finish. Hien and I worked on the project for a few hours when at one point she said in her broken but otherwise very good English, "Arh......Dan. I um.....I think that maybe this is not going to be your job. I think maybe you should stay a teacher". We both laughed. It seemed my attempts to look switched on and under control in the DIY scene were in vain. The truth was obvious to see. With the job done and looking pretty damn good, thanks to the help and management of 46 year old Hien, we will wait until tonight to see the results.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Eat Pray Love

Ce livre est merveilleux. Jetez vous dessus le plus vite possible, avant que le film ne sorte cet été. Eat pray love raconte la quête spirituelle de Liz, (l’auteur, car c’est une histoire vraie) qui a perdu ses marques et décide de partir à leurs recherche en Italie, en Inde et à Bali. L’Italie, pour se souvenir de ce que c’est de se faire plaisir, en Inde pour se rapprocher de son Dieu à elle à travers la meditation et la prière et à Bali pour réussir à trouver un équilibre entre les deux, plaisir et spiritualité.
Je viens de finir le livre. Je suis partie avec Liz en Italie, et au fil des pages j’ai plus d’une fois partagé sa table : je vais reprendre mes cours d’Italien et me faire plaisir au moins une fois par semaine avec un carpaccio ou un bon plat de pâtes al dente. J’ai vécu avec liz dans un Ashram en Inde et viens de m’inscrire à un cours de méditation. J’ai ensuite voyagé à Bali et me suis plongée dans un documentaire sur l’île en parallèle, il faut maintenant que j’y aille pour de bon.
Si vous voulez rire, vous poser des questions, vous reconnaître et peut-être même donner un coup de fouet à votre vie... mon conseil est celui-ci : lisez ce livre ! vite....

This is a wonderful book, jump on it now before the film comes out this summer.
Eat Pray Love tells or the spiritual quest of Liz (the author, as this is a true story), who has lost her bearings in life and decides to go find them in Italy, India and Bali. Italy, to step by step remember what pleasure means, India, to get closer to her god and find inner peace through meditation and Bali, so she can learn to balance both pleasure and spirituality for the rest of her life.
I have just finished the book. I have travelled with Liz: in Italy, I have more than once shared her table, and accordingly have started shopping in meditarenean little delis around Hanoi and have decided to treat myself with al dente pasta, carpaccio or al dente pasta at least once a week… then I lived in the indian ashram with Liz for a few days, am now looking for my own guru and have just signed up for meditation lessons… I even went to Bali and dove simultaneously into documentaries and articles about the place: I want to visit it for real, and find a healer there who would teach me…
If you want to laugh out loud, relate, question everything you know and maybe even shake things up a bit, here’s my advice: read this book. Quick…

Positives of hair loss

I used to dread getting a haircut. I had thin, stringy balding hair that unfairly decided to start vacating my scalp from a young age. The hairdressers mirror would always show me the truth and I spent my time there looking at shampoo bottles avoiding any contact with the guy staring back at me. I was self conscious about my hair loss and despite not being in denial about the reality I was definitely in denial about the best way to get around the situation. Years of different kinds of gel aimed to somehow hide the truth and give the thin, stringy battling strands some justice proved futile. Past pictures attested this point.

It wasn't until my younger brother offered some words of wisdom, possibly the only useful thing to come out of his mouth, that I was spurred into action.

He looked at me plainly and said "Why don't you just shave your head you f*&king idiot", or something inspirational like that. I did and I haven't looked back. It started with a number 3 on the clippers which gradually went down to a number 1. On arrival in Vietnam I took off the number one clip and just used the electric razor. The bald spot was getting bigger and more obvious you see.

Recently, I retired the electric razor to the back of the cupboard and returned, 4 years later, to the hairdresser. I had taken the final step on the road to baldness and went for the 0, or completely shaved head as they say. The past issues were nothing but a humorous memory.

This morning I went for my weekly head shave and had an awesome time. I had three young Vietnamese attending the delicate operation of removing the small amount of hair from my head. There were two cute girls and a guy, but for the purpose of the discussion lets not worry about him, shaving, shampooing and rubbing my head for missed bits. With my head as smooth as a pool ball I moved to a comfortable seat where my head and face was washed, cleaned and massaged. It was a treat and after 10 minutes of bliss I bid my farewell and parted with 50,000 VND or about $3. I look forward to my next visit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Epicerie Vietnamienne?....

Ces derniers temps j’en ai un peu marre du Phở. J’ai l’impression que la nourriture Vietnamienne ne me nourrit plus, j’ai besoin d’un changement. Je me donc rentrée en mode repérage de délis internationaux, boulangeries etc... qui offrent aussi des menus à livrer à la maison. On peut se faire livrer des plats fantastiques, en autres : Différents type de couscous, carpaccio de saumon, de boeuf, assiettes de fromages (c’est énorme ça, vu que le seul fromage que l’on trouve au Vietnam, c’est la Vache-qui-rit), salade de chèvre chaud etc... il faut compter au moins 3euros pour chaque plat, alors qu’un phở côute 80 centimes d’euro, mais de temps en temps ca vaut le coup. Aujourd’hui je suis allée au marché acheter des légumes pour une soupe : six pommes de terres, de l’ail epluché, un gros oignon, deux carottes, un chou vert, deux citrons et un kilo de tomates bien rouges pour une salade de tomates, le tout pour la modique somme de 1€80. Puis sur le chemin de la maison j’ai trouvé une petite épicerie qui m’a émerveillée : entre autres cet endroit fantastique vendait: de la tomme de Savoie, des pâtes fraîches, des POULETS ROTIS, du vinaigre balsamique, de la terrine aux morilles, de la baguette, lourde et salée (oui. Ici les baguettes, même dans les boulangeries « francaise » sont peu ou pas salées... c’est une déception amere à la seconde même où le bout de pain touche ma langue), des soupes et sauces pour ragoûts, du mais geant vert, des olives aux anchois, des fougasses, du fromage de brebis etc... Je courais d’un bout à l’autre du déli, en fourrant des fromages et des pâtés sous le nez de Dan, excitée comme une puce. J’ai acheté un poulet rôti, de l’huile d’olive et du vinaigre balsamique pour ma salade de tomate, du bouillon maggie pour ma soupe de légumes, 120 grammes de Tome de Savoie et une baguette encore tiède : le tout m’a couté... 15 euros. Là vous vous dites que ce n’est vraiment pas cher ? Peut être chez vous, mais croyez moi, ici, c’est une fortune : environ TROIS FOIS le prix d’un très bon restau, à deux.
Voila pourquoi je ne cuisine pas, ici. Et même quand je cuisine avec des produits Vietnamiens, ça revient au même prix qu’un plat vietnamien dans un restau de rue. Alors finalement, le seul intérêt c’est l’acte même de cuisiner, qui est certes agréable mais pas au point de se jeter dessus trois fois par jour avec délectation. Voilà pourquoi je commande à domicile ou je vais manger dehors.
J’aurai dû prendre une photo du déjeuner que j’ai concocté, ce midi, c’était délicieux. Soupe de légumes, poulet, salade de tomates à tomber par terre, nouilles aux champignons et en dessert, tome de Savoie. Quand j’ai servi son assiette à Dan, il a déchiré un énorme morceau de baguette et a commencé à se faire un sandwich.
D’habitude je suis partisane de chacun fait ce qui lui plait, mais la j’ai utilisé mon véto, et lui ai montré comment manger à la française, et comme se servir du pain en accompagnement et pas en plat principal releve le goût du fromage au lieu de l’étouffer.
Un succès! :)

Wounded reflections

I am sitting in a cafe on a street adjacent to Kim Ma, to lazy to go outside and find the street name, procrastinating. I dropped Celine at work and consequently have a few hours which I have put aside as study time. I am finishing off my degree while I am in Hanoi and as I don't work on Monday nights anymore it is the perfect time to hit the books. The business law text book looks to daunting so I am using all my available energy to avoid it, concentrating on other things.

At the moment I am concentrating on the pinky finger on my left hand. My pinky finger has a band aid on it. If I bend it, it hurts. This time last week, on this same very street but a different cafe, I was spending my time procrastinating from reading business law. I was enjoying a Vietnamese coffee and talking to the waiter about the possibility of buying the piano in his store. I told him I couldn't play the piano. He asked if I wanted it anyway. I said no. He laughed. So did I. I practiced my Vietnamese with him and we chatted about normal stuff. His English was very good.

After a while I went to the bathroom and on my return I was distracted by the busy streets outside. As I went to sit down I headbutted the low lying light shade over my table. It broke and a bit fell down and sliced open my pinky finger on my left hand. Blood starting pissing out immediately, on me and on the floor. I was still feeling embarrassed for breaking their light when I realised a young girl had grabbed my hand, wrapped it in cloth and applied pressure. The piano salesman was leading me to the bathroom and grabbing a bunch of band aids. They were amazing help and showed no qualms about the blood that was leaking in quantity whenever we looked at the cut. We wrapped it up tightly with a few band aids and they laughed when I tried to clean up the blood on the floor. It was a surprised, what the hell is this foreigner doing kind of laugh but the culture about dealing with other peoples blood is obviously different. I bid my farewell soon after and thanked them profusely.

Today as I searched for my retreat of procrastination I looked for somewhere with no obvious dangers for a clumsy idiot. So far so good....

Teaching in Hanoi

It's hard to believe I have been teaching in Hanoi now for over 7 months. I am currently teaching around 20 classes a week, kids from 7 to 18 years old. I am still really enjoying teaching and I am learning new things all the time. I am also learning new and insightful opinions/comments from my students. I was playing a game with the above class when one of them noticed my mobile phone and with surprise asked;

"You are very handsome Mr Dan. Why do you have this phone?" Its a crappy cheap $50 Nokia phone I have had for a few years.

"Ummmmmmmmmmmm" I replied

"Where is your iPhone?"


Despite having learnt and adapted well to the teaching environment in Hanoi and formulated teaching methods that are both fun and productive for the kids I still find I am often left speechless by the things they say; and that makes the job so much more enjoyable.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hanoi Traffic

and my love/hate relationship.......

The traffic of Hanoi is the blood of the city. The constant flow of motorbikes powering through the veins of the capital brings this place to life. It is frantic and hectic and stressful and fun. The traffic in this country is unique. It is a part of their culture and works in tandem with the Vietnamese way of life. I love the traffic in Hanoi. The streets are thick with commotion, a maze of metal mess moving continuously. There are over a million motorbikes in Hanoi. A million.

The traffic drives the city and starts early morning, carting anything and everything for the days trade. I am still often shocked by what I see on the back of a bike; be it TVs to bed mattresses, live chickens to kegs of beer, the small bikes are as resourceful as ever. You learn to accept the constant BEEPING as the beat that keeps the city moving. All day every day; BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.

I have felt it for a while and I still feel it now; when I ride the streets of Hanoi I feel a part of it. I am completely comfortable and relaxed and despite its obvious dangers I thoroughly enjoy it. It is fun.

However, as always there are two sides of the coin. The traffic is never ending and that means pollution. A million bikes spewing fumes everyday is going to take its toll. When the flow of bikes becomes blocked in a bottleneck, which happens daily during peak hour in many of the small unorganised streets, as a rider you really feel it. Sitting amidst hundreds of bikes releasing dirty fumes makes it hard to find fresh air. Throw in a big bus and a few cars and it gets disgusting. Often in these situations I am holding my breath as long as I can, coughing when I need some air. I have a few times fought off vomiting, having to pull over to the side of the road to compose myself. It can't be good for your health and I can't see it getting any better. Apparently the government is trying to enforce the type of fuel used in bikes but an the end of the day fuel is fuel and a million bikes means dirty air.

Walking around West Lake I look out over the city, a thick white blanket engulfing Hanoi. I try to go for a run but I can taste the smog. I feel a little disheartened and wish it wasn't so bad. I feel this not because I am a spoilt foreigner but because I love this place and when you love something you want the best for it. As I ponder this I am quickly brought back to the source of the problem, the very same thing that drives this city and helps make it the wonderful place it is; Hanoi Traffic. You can't have everything and to be honest I will quite happily continue dealing with the pollution if it means calling this place home.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thursday, 8th April

Electric tennis racket which zaps unsuspecting mosquitoes. Quite fun actually.

Today I woke up, turned on the computer and was happy to read that Manchester United are out of the Champions League. I then jumped on my bike and rode the short distance to a nearby bakery/restaurant, Maison Vanille, where I picked up a baguette for breakfast; I know, very Vietnamese. I was still waking up so I forgot my helmet and out of instinct was a little nervous when I rode past a policeman. In reality there is no need to worry as the police don't seem to worry about foreigners.

I prepared some ham, cheese and tomatoes with the baguette and watched a film, Closer, with Celine. The baguette looked and felt like a real baguette but lacked or had no salt so was a little disappointing.

After the film we rode to Cat Linh, the street where Celine works and had a bowl of noodles at a street stand. Celine bought a bag of strawberries. We then went to a cafe, L'Amour, and studied French together. A Vietnamese couple on the top floor were kissing and apologised when I went up there. I laughed and went downstairs. You don't see much affection in public here. We had our usual; hot Vietnamese coffee for Celine and iced for me. There was too much condensed milk in Celine's so it was undrinkable. We played French bingo. I won.

I dropped Celine at work and rode home and prepared my lessons for tonight. On the way back a truck veered from his side and was coming straight for me. He cut back at what seemed the last second as my heart jumped out of my chest. It scared the shit out of me. Bloody trucks.

I have 3 hours of lessons tonight and after I will meet some chick at a cafe on Kim Ma street about some extra hours. I don't know who she is or how she got my number but she wanted to meet instead of sending the details over email. Her English was only average so I gave up trying to understand who she was and decided to meet her. Mysterious.

I just got a call from our Hmong guide from Sapa. She was at the Home stay we stayed at on our trek in Sapa, this time with another group. She just called to say Hi.

Gate and entrance to our house which leads to a staircase which leads to our kitchen and living room

Now, at close to four in the afternoon I will delve into the fridge for an afternoon snack; sustenance to keep me going until the end of my classes. At this time I will inevitably kill about a dozen mosquitoes as I prepare my snack and wonder why the hell there is no wall downstairs stopping the countless insects. Instead of a wall there is a floor to ceiling gate which when locked is very affective in stopping humans coming in but has little impact on intruding insects. I didn't think about this little problem when signing the lease.

And that my friends are the simple and possibly quite boring (sorry) points that have made up my day, in Hanoi.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hanoi for Kids

I haven't written an article for a while as a result of being busy, lazy, preoccupied, uninspired and a mixture of all of the above but here is one I put together on Hanoi for kids a few months ago which has recently been published.

Food in Hanoi

I have often written posts on how wonderful the food in Hanoi is, mainly with reference to the tasty and authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I have also tried and written about many of the more adventurous things you can eat in Hanoi (with mixed feelings).

I haven't really written about all the food that is not Vietnamese and how spoilt for choice you are. You may not be aware but you can find virtually anything you want here at what are pretty reasonable prices. I have been to some great restaurants here from foods all around the world. There are some great Indian restaurants; Foodshop 45 and Tandoor, Moroccan; Le Marrakech, Ukrainian; Bud Mo just to name a very small few. There is Italian and French, Mexican or Russian. If you want Korean or Thai you have to worry about which place you will try. Australian or New Zealand beef can be found throughout the city as well as nearly any other kind of dish you can think of. I won't profess to be an expert on the best places to go because I have at least until now enjoyed sticking to everything Vietnamese.

The New Hanoian, a website for expats in Hanoi, has all the best restaurants in the city listed with reviews and suggestions. If you want to try some great restaurants while you are in Hanoi I suggest using this site as a guide as it is rarely wrong.

There are places in Hanoi where you can pick up a jar of Vegemite. For us Aussies that is pretty cool.

For other posts on Food in Hanoi check out the below:

Street Food in Hanoi

Foods of Vietnam

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sapa - walking in the mountains

Le Trek était super: une journée de marche plutot cool, une nuit chez l’habitant dans un village et re-marche le lendemain. Notre petite guide H’mong, Ke, avait seulement 19 ans, un anglais parfait, un français approximatif (« ON Y VA ?? ») un sens de l’humour incomparable, un mari, un bébé et demi et une forme olympique. Je vous en parlerais volontiers plus longuement mais Dan me dit qu’il veut lui dédier un post entier donc je traduirai ça. Je vous dis quand même que nous sommes vite devenues amies elle et moi, elle me prenait le main quand nous marchions et me parlait de sa famille... Elle m’a appelée cette après-midi, pour me demander comment ca allait, comment était le temps à Hanoi et m’expliquer un peu sa vie ces trois derniers jours :) mignonne non ?
La marche dans les montagnes était vraiment cool, a part les troupeaux de touristes que nous croisions de temps à autres. Le soir nous nous sommes arretés dans un village ou nous avons passé la nuit. Comme à chaque fois que nous dormons chez l’habitant (Mai Chau – lac Ba Be) les lits étaient confortables et l’ambiance chaleureuse. Pour la première fois nous partagions la maison avec d’autres touristes : tous Australiens ! Notre guide, Ke, nous a préparé un festin de nems, porc, boeuf et riz et après mangé nous a forcé à jouer à un jeu de boisson de type Mistigri qui nous a fait rire comme jamais, il faut dire que l’alcool de riz coulait pas mal. Les Australiens avec nous étaient complètement sympas, surtout une femme de 38 ans, Julie, un peu fofolle et facile a faire marcher, qui, avec Ke, a mis l’ambiance toute la soirée. Le lendemain on etait tous en forme (moyenne) pour repartir dans une marche mois facile que la veille : à pic la première heure puis à travers rizières en escalier qui, si elles sont magnifiques à regarder, sont, croyez moi bien, peu faciles à traverser.
Voici quelques photos qui vous aideront à vous faire une idée...

The trek was great : one day of walking – although not very steep so very enjoyable, one night in a homestay and we walked again for a couple of hours the next day. Our cute little H’mong guide, Ke, was only 19 years old, spoke perfec English, had a killer sense of humour, a husband, one baby and a half as she was three months pregnant, and an outstanding level of fitness. I could talk about her for a while but Dan tells me he wants to dedicate her a post, so I’ll just let him. I will tell you though that we became fast friends her and me, and we walked hand in hand talking about her life and her family. She called us this afternoon, to ask us how was the weather in Hanoi and tell us about her life in the last couple of days. Cute no?
Walking in the mountains was awesome, apart from a few flock of tourists we crossed paths with a few times. We would usually just stop and wait out for the flock to pass.
We spent the night in a village, where as with every other homestay we found comfortable beds, happy people and a warm atmosphere. This time though and it was a first, we shared the stay with other tourists: all Aussies, in fact. They were super cool and after a wonderful home cooked meal we had a fun filled evening playing drinking game (Ke made us and even drank a few rice wines herself). We were in passabe shape the next morning for the rest of our trek, which started off much tougher than the previous day: it was very steep for the first half an hour and got tricky when we crossed some levelled rice fields which if they are absolutely stunning to look out when making out an entire landscape, are a bitch to walk through!
Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of the amazing scenery…

Hmong Tour Guide in Sapa

We recently went on a two day trek through the gorgeous rice fields of Sapa. Our guide was a young Hmong girl named Ker who was 19 years old and lived in a nearby village. She was 3 months pregnant with her second child, her son now 15 months old. She was married at 16 and is one of 6 children. She walks on treks most days and is the breadwinner for the family. Her husband is a farmer and provides the food for the family. She earns about $5 a day from the hotel for taking groups on treks around the Sapa area. She has left her region once, travelling to Hanoi 3 years ago.

Ker has perfect spoken English as do many of the Hmong women around Sapa. She can't read or write in English and has learnt entirely through her interaction with tourists. She has not once taken an English class and tells me she has been practising for 8 years. She understands many difficult expressions, humour and double meanings and often held her own in my much loved use of sarcasm. She is not educated and left school very young but her use of English is very impressive.

She was a great guide and really sweet girl. She organised everything perfectly and even instigated some drinking games at night. It was I guess a sign of changing times but it was always amusing when this little local living on simple means would pull out her mobile phone and start talking away.

When saying our goodbyes she gave us a business card an Australian traveller, who must have also fell in love with Ker, had made and shipped to her. We exchanged numbers and only an hour ago I received a call from her saying hi from Sapa. She has invited us to stay in her home the next time we visit which is something we definitely plan on doing.



Nous revenons de trois jours à Sapa : un jour dans la ville de Sapa et deux jours en trek, avec nuit chez l’habitant.
Sapa et ses montagnes sont peuplées de H’mongs, une ethnie du Nord du Vietnam, et les montagnes du Laos, de la Thailande et meme de la Birmanie je crois. Les femmes H’mong travaillent dans le tourisme, en tout cas dans la région de Sapa ; elles sont guides ou marchandes de bibelots. Elles ne savant souvent pas lire ni écrire, mais parlent un anglais presque parfait (les vietnamiens qui vont a Sapa preferent souvent parler Anglais avec les femmes H’mong locales, que le Vietnamien approximatif proposé en alternative). Elles sont excellentes en affaires : je me suis retrouvée sans comprendre avec un collier, deux bracelets et quatre portes monnaies la fin du premier jour !
L’endroit est extrêmement touristiques, des trains entiers déposent les hordes de touristes tous les jours au petit matin, et la ville pullule de restaus à la cuisine internationale et d’hotels avec vue sur la montagne. Une de mes copines à l’école m’a meme fait partager son doute horrible quant aux villages autours de Sapa : certains n’auraient-ils pas été mis là expressement pour les touristes ?
Quand les gens les traversent ou y passent la nuit, tout le monde y gagne un petit quelque chose... on achète à boire et à manger, on paye l’habitant pour la nuit, on se fait plaisir en achetant une écharpe ou un sac etc... les parents envoient leurs petites filles de quatre ou cinq ans, bébé en bandoulière, vendre des merdouilles aux touristes et bien entendu on leur donne quelques pièces, elles sont si choupinettes, mais pendant ce temps, elles ne vont pas à l’école, forcement... c’est difficile dans ce genre de situation de savoir comment aider.
Quoi qu’il en soit, l’endroit est magnifique, le temps fut ensoleillé et nous avons de beaux souvenirs. Les enfants jouent dans les rizières et les chemins (cul nul pour les tout petits, lol) et je vous mets ici quelques photos de notre première journée à Sapa. Dans mon prochain post : le trek.

Vue de l'hotel:

Here we are : back from 3 days in Sapa : one day in Sapa town itself and two days on the road, trekking and spending the night in a village homestay.
Sapa and its mountains are populated by H’mong people, a mountain tribe living in North Vietnam as well as Thailand, Laos and Burma even. I don’t know if you recall, but in our first week in Hanoi Dan and I went to the cinematheque and watched a great documentray about the H’mong people and their yearly love market ritual. In Sapa, we found that most H’mong women worked in tourism: that is to say, they are guides or just sell stuff to tourist. They speak fluent English even though they often can’t read or write (vietnamese people have told me they prefer to speak English with the H’mong people in Sapa, as it is easier than the broken Vietnamese offered as an alternative), and they have a fierce sense of business: I found myself with a new necklace, two bracelets and about four wallets at the end of day one. They also have a killer sense of humour !
Sapa is a very, very touristic place. Every day at dawn, trains unload their hundreds of tourists and the town is crippled with international restaurants, hotels, Internet cafes and even a few pubs. One of my friends from school shared her worry with me that some of the villages around Sapa might have been put there expressely for passing tourists, as when they go through the village for an hour or even the night they eat, they drink, they buy a few things and everyone gains a little something from it of course. Parents send their four or five year old little girl, baby on the back, begging for a little money or selling cute bracelets and of course the picture is so damn cute and heart wrenching that you just want to give them all a little something to help… but while they are earning money this way, the little ones are not going to school so are you really helping? It’s tough to know how to help in these situations.
Anywho, the place is gorgeous, it was sunny and we saw many outstanding landscapes. Here are some pictures of our first day in Sapa, and in my next post I will write about the trek and the homestay.