Saturday, August 28, 2010


I have worked for a number of English language schools since arriving in Hanoi. One of those is Homeschool, an English language school run by an Aussie and his Vietnamese wife. They run the school from two large houses and have over 1,200 kids. I have been there for about 7 months teaching kids from 6-19 years old. There business is doing great, so much that they don't have enough room for all the kids wanting to come and learn. I am pretty sure the demand is based purely on me. I think they have plans to expand soon and start a third school.

They recently put together a little marketing video and really wanted a good looking foreigner to sell the school. Naturally they chose me.

Have a squizz at the You Tube video, Homeschool, Hanoi for an exclusive look at me pretending to know what I am talking about. I pop up around the 7 minute mark. The video is a vast improvement on my only other You Tube entry which saw me krumping in Krakow, Poland.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eating and cooking in Oz

My grandmothers homemade tomoato sauce - delicious!

It has actually been very nice to cook while being back in Australia. For the best part of a year I haven't cooked, instead opting for eating out or occasionally ordering in. The main reason is laziness but it is also nice to eat out with the locals. We have a big kitchen which is rarely used; something we won't have when we move back to a developed country.

Eating out is extremely cheap with meals starting from a $1. There is little meat in the meals in Hanoi so cooking up a big steak or some pork chops every night here is great. I am still waiting for my grandmother to get out of hospital so it has been George and I holding the fort at the farm. I have been cooking our meals while he is doing things around the house that he shouldn't be doing - he has just had two operations and needs to be resting. I try to feed him vegetables on the grandmothers instructions which he refuses outright; a similar response to that of my two year old nephew.

After threatening to ground him I went to check my emails only to later find he was outside collecting firewood. I couldn't find him the day I arrived because while I was having a shower he went outside, jumped on the bike and rode around to check the sheep. I spent a weekend at my old man's farm and while I was away he jumped on the lawnmower and mowed the lawn. He is fiercely stubborn and independent but is as tough as nails.

Tonight I am cooking a big fat steak with mash potatoes and peas. George will undoubtedly refuse to eat the peas but I will persevere on the bosses orders.

Must go now - George is yelling abuse at the cat who seems to have vomited all over the carpet. I will go and clean it up I guess. The cat wouldn't get away with that in Vietnam.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend on the farm

Views of the farm

I just spent the weekend on my old man's farm, which is about 20km from my grandparents farm. My earliest memories are from here and the weekend was used as a chance to catch up with some family and friends. My brothers, old man, a few cousins and two friends came up to the farm for the weekend.

Brother Chris and nephew Dexter

We had a good time eating and enjoying a few beers while sharing stories of the past year. We had a big bonfire and battled the near freezing temperatures. We all spent a few hours tidying up the garden and I somehow managed to lose my wedding ring. The cold temperatures shrink my fingers and I assume I lost it into the fire as I threw on a bunch of sticks. It is quite upsetting because we picked out a unique ring which we both really liked when we were in San Francisco. I will have one last attempt to find it but without knowing exactly where I lost it the chances are slim to none.

Dinner on the farm

Smoking the sheesha

The stupid thing is that I was telling my friends Tom and Garry earlier that day how I nearly lost my ring in New Zealand. It would seem, based on repeated idiotic occurrences, that I am not the brightest person going around.

Driving the tractor

Mudgee Wombats Grand Final

Congratulations Mick!

I grew up in a small country town called Mudgee. Mudgee is about 50km from my grandparents farm and is how to around 10,000. Mudgee is renowned for its wine with a good selection of wineries, around 40 in total, scattered around the region. Mudgee is a popular tourist destination with a constant flow travelling here throughout the year. Other industries in the region are coal, sheep, cattle and various other rural produce. The first settler arrived in the region in 1821 and by 1841 the Mudgee village was under way with a number of houses as well as a hospital, post office and a few hotels. Mudgee would have to be one of the earlier inland settlements in Australia and many of the old architecture still stands today.

My family still lives in Mudgee and one of my good friends, Mick, has just won the rugby grand final. The grand final was against Coolah, a tiny town of around 1,000 in central northern New South Wales. It was a close game but Mudgee came out on top 22-16. For me it was nice to see some good country rugby where locals shout encouragement to their team and yell abuse to the visitors. Country boys drink a few beers, eat steak sandwiches and toot the horns of their cars as the game progresses. Occasionally a town song will break out, first Coolah then Mudgee, each trying to be louder than each other.

Mick, is currently taking part in his third day or partying, the traditional Mad Monday where cross dressing and alcohol bare no limits. I look forward to see the photos.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Skype family gathering

Skype c'est de la balle. Je vois mes neuveux et ma niece grandir en live
Trop beaux, hein?

I can take 100 books on my trip around Vietnam next month

Yes! 100 books. You'd think this not very practical, when carrying around a single backpack for a month, right?
I'm not talking about a Kindle. I don't have a Kindle. I want the Kindle, so badly, and I've wanted it for a long time, mainly because of its audio option: I could listen to novels while painting, driving or doing anything with my hands which stops me from reading an actual book, but not from listening one. But Amazon doesn't seem to deliver to any of the countries where I've lived, so I'll wait a little while longer for my Kindle.
In the meantime, I'm using my Nintendo DS. I bought a "game" for the DS back in Sydney, which is not really a game but a 100 classical books which can be read by turning the DS on its side. I completely forgot about it this year until last week I dug up my DS from a forgotten pile in my bedroom. I did this knowing that now Dan has gone to Australia, I'll have much more alone time to do some reading, which I do.

Now I'm reading Mansfield Park, which I had never read, and I'm already half way through it, because I take my little DS everywhere!

When I turn it on it remembers what page I was on last and takes me straight there. It also has a background sound feature so I can read Jane Austen with birds chirping in the background, or the ocean, or a quiet stream. It makes even the profoundly annoying Jane Austen enjoyable. Yes, sorry Gaby, sorry Lanette, it's the fourth Jane Austen I have read and I am still not liking her characters, whose shallow concerns make me feel like they belong in High School with Hannah Montana.
But reading Mansfield Park on my DS, that's great. The DS screen is lit up, so I can read in the dark. I didn't think I would be able to concentrate properly reading from a game console, but I am, so I'll take it on my trip. I love that I have so many options! after Mansfield Park I'm thinking... Moby Dick, Little Women (les 4 filles du Dr March), Jane Eyre or even some good old Shakespeare. I haven't read any since studying English at University, close to 10 years ago...oh my God. My brain has turned to mash potato from reading too much Twilight, Bridget Jones and Harry Potter.

My DS rules.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's YOUR dream job??

I was teaching a new class of adults level 3 tonight. The lesson was about jobs. I love my Vietnamese students, they're oh so awesome, most of the time not on purpose, but still.

Tonight, after studying the spelling and pronunciation of every job under the sun, I started a discussion with the students this way:

"If you could have any job in the world, what would you be?"
"Can we choose anything? Really anything?"
"Yes, absolutely anything you want! Trang, you start"
Trang: "Secretary!!"


Everyone was nodding wisely. So I did that too, but then I said:

"Secretary is good... it's good... but I mean your DREAM job like... President or Super model or Hollywood actress you know?"

"Yes! secretary."

"All right then. What about you, Duc?"

"Me, accountant!"

Love it.

I got two "Superman", one "Obama" (not President. Obama, that's a new job out there) one cook (not chef, cook), and one hairdresser.

I love my students.

Australian Election

Julia Gillard - look at those lobes

The next Australian Federal Election takes place this Saturday and since I am in the country I have to make a choice. Voting is compulsory in Australia which is ok for me because I believe in taking part in the voting process. It is definitely a change to the one party policy in Vietnam where politics is rarely discussed. I believe in the right to vote and the right to choose who leads a country but I am sick and tired of the dribble you here constantly leading up to this election.

Tony Abbott - seriously, put some clothes on

Since I have been back Julia Gillard, the chick who helped get the past PM kicked out, and Tony Abbott, who is painfully conservative and out of touch, have been at each other with school kid like jibes. I don't want to think of the money they are spending trying to persuade votes. Will they actually change anything, or live up to their promises? I don't know the answer to that but I am not ultra confident with the options I have to choose from. It basically comes down to choosing between a guy who flaunts his package in socially unacceptable speedos or a red head chick with exceedingly large ear lobes. I have heard there is a sex party you can vote for; maybe there is hope yet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Boys night out

Amazing steak we had for dinner

So the last few days have been spent in Dubbo, a town of approximately 30,000 people, around 140km from the farm. Dubbo is definitely not a town I would go to by choice but one of the top back surgeons flies there from Sydney a couple of days a week and Delia, the courageous grandmother, had an appointment. I was the designated driver for my grandfather so we hit the road and followed. Delia was soon scheduled for surgery and a long story short, it was a success and she is already making great progress. Today she was making cheeky sarcastic comments, a testament to her improving health.

Extremely filling breakfast

George (my grandfather) and I would spend most of our days in the hospital, before and after the surgery. We would head out for lunch and dinner and stay in a nearby hotel. We have been eating like kings the past few days, only to return to the hospital to share our discoveries with Delia. This was possibly a little cruel as she chewed on a plain and somewhat dry sandwich. For breakfast we had an all our can eat buffet where your eyes inevitably turned out to be bigger than your stomach. For lunch we munched on a bunch of burgers that my heart seemed afraid of. They were amazingly unhealthy but extremely delicious. They had pineapple and beetroot on them as well. It has been a while since I have enjoyed that combination. Seriously, how can anyone knock beetroot on a burger? For dinner we dined out at a nice restaurant eating delectable oysters and prawns as well as chunky tender steaks. It was a real treat to eat such great food. Celine and I eat quite well in Hanoi but the quality and quantity just doesn't match what the fine people of Dubbo can provide.

Our country hotel - won't find one of these in Hanoi

If you ever want to come to Dubbo I can tell you three things; 1. The people, especially those in the hospital, are very friendly and helpful 2. You can find some great places to eat and 3. There is a decent sized zoo you can visit.

George and I have had a good time hanging out over the past few days; eating well, giving company to Delia and sharing some rather interesting stories. Our distant, distant relatives go back to Mary Queen of Scots, George used to be an aspiring jockey, my grandparents met on a blind date and hated each other and George had the hide to say I wasn't very photogenic in my younger years. You can find out a lot of things if you spend some quality time with your grandparents.

Bangkok vs Hanoi

Je viens de passer quelques jours a Bangkok, toute seule. J’ai decouvert plein de nouveux coins: d’habitude a Bangkok on squatte autour de la vieille ville, vers Kaosan road et la riviere, mais cette fois j’ai pris residence a Sukhumvit, l’avenue des expats. Ce cote la de la ville est totalement different... plus proche de K. Lumpur que d’Hanoi, en tout cas : ultra moderne, avec des grattes ciels, des parks, un sky train et des tonnes de centres commerciaux.

Voila un an maintenant que je vis au Vietnam. Le rush des premiers mois a disparu, pour faire place a cette realisation : beaucoup de choses me manquent ici, de choses que je ne pensais pas m’etre essentielles, jusqu’a ce que l’on m’en prive pour si longtemps. Hanoi n’est pas tres ouverte sur l’occident culturellement et economiquement... alors certains d’entre vous vont me dire que c’est faux, mais non, ce n’est pas faux. Venez vivre ici un an et vous verrez. Meme si le Vietnam s ‘ouvre de plus en plus, que ca soit une bonne chose ou pas, ca c’est un autre debat, il reste encore un trop long chemin pour que la vie ici ne fasse pas ressentir des manques apres quelques mois. D’autre d’entre vous me diront que c’est vrai, tout ca, mais tant mieux, que le Vietnam ne perde pas son ame dans la mondialisation, et je suis d’accord avec ca, completement.

Par contre du coup je ne pense pas que ca soit viable pour moi pour trop longtemps.

Alors en ce moment, nous flirtons avec l’idee de continuer notre aventure Asie a Bangkok. Pour vous aidez a situer d’ou vient cette envie, et pour m’aider moi aussi a prendre une decision, voici une liste de choses qui me manquent, que je trouve a Bangkok mais pas au Vietnam.

-Des trottoirs

- Des cafes avec tables et chaises taille normale

-Du vrai Ketchup dans les restaurants. (OH MY GOD !!! Mais pourquoi aurais-tu besoin de Ketchup, Celine, en Asie ?? Mange local !! Oui. J’ai mange local a tous les repas pendant 6 mois. J’en ai marre de la soupe aux nouilles.)

-Cafe Latte et cappuccinos qui ne cassent pas la tirelire. A Hanoi ce type de cafes se trouvent, mais il faut connaitre les spots, ce sont des regrouprment d’expats et comme pas permis, et franchement chers. A Bangkok mis a part les dizaines de Starbucks, Gloria jeans, Cafe Nero et autres, vous trouverez aussi des stands a cappuccino (coffee cart, en Anglais, je ne sais pas comment traduire) a tous les coins de rue et dans toutes les stations de sky train.

-Des 7/11 et autres superettes partout.... AAAhhh, comme ca manque, quand depuis un an je dois me rendre a 14 endroits differents pour acheter une liste de courses complete.

-Des glaces a l’eau pour quand il fait chaud, parfums normaux type citrons ou fruit de la passion. A Hanoi les parfums de glace a l’eau sont plutot : riz vert ou Durian. Vous connaissez le Durian ? Ils en ont aussi a Bangkok, croyez moi, je les ai senti la bas aussi. Ce sont des gros fruits jaunes qui puent le mazout.

-Des restaux vegetariens, vegetaliens, et des restaus sains calories legeres.

-Des fringues, chaussures et soutifs a ma taille

-Une vie, la nuit. Alors ne soyons pas hypocrite, bien que la vie nocturne soit inexistante a Hanoi (il y a un couvre feu a 23h00 ou on se fait enfermer a 100 dans un tout petit bar enfume, tous planques) ca c’est quelque chose qui ne me manque pas specialement. La vie apres minuit, pour moi, se fait dans mon lit avec un livre. Mais ca manque a Dan. A Bangkok il y a une multitude de bars et restaus, pubs et boites de nuit, que je ne peux meme pas commencer a decrire. Je n’ai JAMAIS vu ca de ma vie, jamais. Dans chanque rue ou je suis allee me promener, il y avait une dizaine de bars. Fermes, par contre, parce que moi je me ballade a 7heures du mat quand le reste de la population de touristes ou d’expats va au lit.

-Boots. Oui, j’ai toujours ete une grande fan de cette grande chaine de parapharmacies. A Bangkok, il y a plein de Boots. Et dans chanque Boots, il y a du vrai maquillage. Et chez Boots Thailande j’ai trouve : des serviettes hygieniques qui s’appellent « Diana » : j’ai pris une photo pour ma copine Diana, et aussi une chaine d’eau de toilettes pour minettes style bouteille en forme de coeur, rose, qui s’appelle « pucelle ». J’en ris encore. De toute evidence cette societe de parfums ne parle pas francais.

-Un choix autrement plus important de services medicaux dont dentistes, generalistes et par example, psychologues. On se demandait avec ma copine Dana si c’etait possible de faire une petite therapie par ici. Apres une semaine de recherches, laissez moi vous dire que des psys a Hanoi il y en a... un. Le cout d’une sceance par semaine equivaut mon salaire de 5 jours. Serieusement.

-Des GYMS !!! De partout, il y a des gyms. $30 par mois. A Hanoi : $115 par mois, dans les hotels de luxe. A Bangkok il y a aussi des cours de yoga partout, de meditation, de Pilates, de tout. Il y a meme des Thalassos a l'interieur de Bangkok.

-Des tonnes de bouquinistes. C’est la mort pour se procurer des livres a Hanoi, et comme tout met rare, c’est cher. Bangkok est pleine de petit bouquinistes d’occaze.

Il faut aussi dire que la cuisine Thai est – et de loin – ma cuisine preferee au monde. Les soupes a la noix de coco, les currys Thais, les stands de rue qui vendent des trucs delicieux. Pour etre honete, ca ne me manque pas tant que ca a Hanoi parce qu’il y a quelques restaus Thai et ou je commande tout le temps. Mais la street food Vietnamienne ne me plait plus beaucoup, en comparaison.

Voila. Et ces quelques examples sont le produits de deux ou trois jours de ballade en touriste, pas plus. Si j’etais installee la bas et que je me penche sur la question plus serieusement, je suis sure que je trouverai tout un tas d’associations, de cours de... tout, de services et d’alliances etc... qui me feraient rever.

Pour rester fair, Hanoi a aussi des avantages de vie sur Bangkok. Par exemple :

- Hanoi est 1000 fois plus safe.

- La langue. Je parle Vietnamien maintenant, pas couremment mais suffisamment. Et puis je comprends les signes et les menus, alors que le Thai a son propres graphisme, incomprehensibe, et meme si j'apprenais la langue parlee je ne pourrai jamais la dechiffrer.

- A Hanoi on se deplace en moto, et j’aime ca, meme si je me suis cassee la tete une fois. A Bangkok c’est deconseille.

- Hanoi est moins chere, surtout sur les loyers. Pour le meme loyer qu’ici, nous aurions un appart avec une chambre, peut etre deux. Ici nous avons une maison a quatre etages.

- Pas de nanny... ou a un prix beaucoup plus important qu’a Hanoi. On sait jamais si on a des enfants, ce type de consideration compte.

- On ne peut pas traverser la rue a Bangkok ! Moi j’ai pris l’habitude de traverser ou et quand je veux a Hanoi : il suffit de savoit s’y prendre. Traverser les avenues de Bangkok c’est un peu comme d’essayer de traverser le perif. On peut pas. Et personne ne s’attend a ce que l’on essaye.

- Les transports en commun de Bangkok sont parfaits, et modernes, et pratiques... et c’est bien ca le probleme. Metro boulot dodo je connais. Je m’etais enfin sortie de ce rituel barbare et je n’ai aucune envie de m’y replonger.

- Bangkok est la capitale de l’arnaque. Il faut toujours avoir son radar arnaque au max. Ca me saoule au bout de deux jours... alors deux ans ?

- Les coiffeuses a Bangkok font shampoing brushing mais pas de gommage du visage !! Impensable.

Alors voila. J'ai atteins un stade de ma vie d'expat ou j'ai besoin de trouver plus de choses, biens comme services, qui viennent d'un monde que je connais et dans lequel j'ai grandi. Hanoi, avec tout son charme et son authenticite, ne peut pas offrir ces choses la et tant mieux, c'est qu'elle reste elle-meme. je n'aimerais pas voir pulluller les Mc Do et Starbucks dans les petites rues de la capitale Vietnamiennes. Mais moi j'aime Starbucks. Et Starbucks me manque.

Que faire, que faire...

Joyeux anniversaire papa, joyeux anniversaire Charlotte

J'ai quelques jours de retard - 2 pour mon pere et 3 pour ma jolie cousinette, mais comme d'habitude mon excuse est: je pense aux gens le bon jour, j'ecris sur le blog en retard :)

Je n'ai pas de photos de Charlotte pour le moment: il faut que j'aille les chercher sur facebook et je n'ai pas acces a facebook en ce moment... au Vietnam, ca depends des semaines.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back on the Farm

Views from the house

On Saturday morning my two younger and less attractive brothers and I jumped in the car and headed over the Blue Mountains to our grandparents farm. The sheep and cattle farm is near a small country town called Rylstone. We were heading back to a family lunch; a celebration of my return. Usually people celebrate when I leave so it was nice to have a celebration for my arrival :)

Views from the house

Most of the family was there, with the notable exclusion of my Grandmother, Delia, who was in hospital nursing terrible pains in her back. A small bone had broken off from her spine, pushing into her nerve and causing excruciating pain. She was bed ridden and taken to hospital waiting for an appointment with a specialist. I went to see her in the hospital, which is only 5 or so kilometers from the farm, and the first thing she said was sorry she hadn't mown the lawn. As you can imagine, after a year away, returning home to find your dear Grandmother in an unbearable pain; it would be utter devastation to find that the lawn was not mown. I mean, how rude is that. I told her so too.

Lunch including two younger yet terribly unattractive brothers

We had a great roast lunch, each taking turns to ferry different parts of the meal to the hospital so Delia (nickname I gave her) could, at least partly, join in the celebrations. It was good to catch up with everyone, share some stories of Vietnam and catch up on what was happening in their lives.

Random bear enjoying lunch

I am staying on the farm for the majority of the time I am in Australia and the weather is a bitter change from Hanoi. The past few days have had temperatures around 5-10 degrees. The days are usually sunny and if you stay in the sun it is crisp but pleasant. Inside we have the fire burning all day and night and have electric blankets going at night on the beds. It is definitely a change from Hanoi where I spend most of my days sweating or washing off the sweat and dirt and pollution my body accumulates when I am outside. The pace, obviously, is much slower here and it is a welcome break from the busy, noisy and polluted street of Hanoi.

Keeping the sheep out

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back in Sydney

After a flight to Saigon, followed by a flight to Darwin I finished with a third flight to Sydney arriving around lunch time on Friday. The joys of low cost airlines. I was picked up from Sydney airport by two of my brothers and my little nephew and we headed down to Coogee for a bite to eat. Two beers cost the same as a case in Hanoi and the meal, a tasty chicken parmi, would buy me 20 meals back in Vietnam. The joys of living in Sydney.

I hung out with my brothers for the day, around Coogee and Maroubra which is where they live. I was only in town for one night before heading over the Blue Mountains to see my grandparents; about 3 and half hours north-west of Sydney. The decision of where to spend my one night in Sydney was easy - the Newington Inn in Petersham. I have been going there since I was 17. It is a simple pub with a nice outside eating area which has the best cook your own meals in town. For $10 you can grab a steak, salad and a spud and cook it yourself on the grill. If you are a fan of condiments then this is the place to come; condiment heaven. Great value and it is good to see that inflation hasn't kicked in after a year abroad.

I had a feed and caught up with a bunch of friends which was really enjoyable. We had a few beers and watched a game of footy. It really felt like I had seen them only a few weeks ago. Its a frequently used cliche but time does fly.

I prefer the local pub scene to the pretentious bars and clubs that litter the city. I find many of Sydney's bars and clubs, more than any other city I have travelled, are filled with pompous wankers. The bouncers are often worse, in complete denial about the importance of their position, taking much joy in flaunting their arrogance and inflated egos. I have no interest in going out in Sydney anymore, unless of course my good mate Brett Watkins is in town; he loves the place and I feel bad for not going out with him.

The local pub scene does present some interesting truths; things don't change. It has been over a year since I have been to the Newington Inn and it really feels like it has been a week. All the same staff are there, serving the same locals, doing the same karaoke on Friday night, shouting at the same football screens. I am not knocking these people as I don't know what they do in the rest of their lives but there is an image of a year gone by with nothing changing when I come back to my local. People have different needs and wants in their life as well but for me I need to change my environment. It is therefore a double positive; firstly, I love my little local and I am so happy to come back here and enjoy a night out with my close friends and secondly, it gives me the added push to go out there and do the things I want to do because time does fly and life really is short.

Next stop - the farm.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Guy Love

In Hanoi I have noticed on a number of occasions that men, grown men, have no issue showing affection to each other. They will happily walk down the street with ones hand wrapped around the others shoulder. Sometimes one will sit on another ones lap or rest their head on a friends legs while they are sitting down enjoying a coffee. One time riding home from work I saw a grown teenager peddling his bike along the road. Sitting the opposite way cuddled up nice and close was another fully grown teenager with his head rested on his friends shoulder. There they were doing what seemed an extremely difficult task with great ease. They must have done this before.

So I don't know what you call it; guy love, man cuddles or a bro embrace; regardless I have seen it many times in Hanoi and it is nothing more than friends hanging out. There is little to no gay culture in Hanoi, at least that I have seen, so the guy love that you see has nothing to do with their sexuality. In fact, I don't see any affection from couples in Hanoi. In public that just doesn't happen. I think I have only seen one couple kiss in a year in Hanoi and that was when I accidentally walked in on them. Sorry!

So when I arrived in Sydney today I went down to Coogee Beach to have lunch with my brothers and my two year old nephew. The little one was a bit sick so we were taking turns looking after him, holding him, giving him cuddles and grabbing tissues to rub wipe his runny nose. We were in a pub where groups of friends were hanging out chatting and having a few beers. With all our energies concentrated on looking after Dexter we attracted a few looks from the groups sitting at the tables. I wonder what they were thinking...... two brothers hanging out, guy love (Hanoi Style) or guy love (Australian style)..

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heading Home

So after a year of living life in Asia I am heading home, briefly, to catch up with family and hang out with friends. The last few days have been quite hectic getting everything organised because we have a cross country motorbike trip planned as soon as I get back.

I am leaving tomorrow, flying into Sydney around lunch time. My brother and my little nephew, who I haven't see grow over the past year, will pick me up from the airport. After a night on the town with friends I will head north-west over the Blue Mountains to my grandparents farm where I will relax, catch up with family and perhaps assist on the farm. It has been many many years since my hands have done any real work so I am sure my grandfather will be excited to get me doing some real man's work.

I fly back to Ho Chi Minh on the 31st of August where I will meet Celine and after a trip with friends to Phu Quoc Island we will ride a bike back towards Hanoi. I have had to organise a bike here in Hanoi, one that is reliable and can handle 1,000km + with two of us. The bike is getting shipped down on the train and we will collect it there. I have had to sort out visas and rent here and normal boring jobs I guess, but they require a different strategy in order to get them done.

Once we both meet in Ho Chi Minh we plan to head towards the coast to Mui Ne (beach town), followed by Dalat (mountain town) and then onto Nha Trang (beach again). We will head inland then and ride up through the Central Highlands through the towns of Buon Ma Thout, Pleiku and Kon Tum. From there we plan to ride across to the Hoi An (World heritage town, on the sea that seems to be most peoples favourite). At Hoi An we will hang out for a while, meet my brother Tim who is coming across for a holiday, and then up to Hue. We will probably end our bike trip there and head back to Hanoi on the train. We only have 3 and a half weeks so timing could be an issue.

We will fill you in with photos and our thoughts of all the places as we are there. We both can't wait for our Vietnam trip, something we have wanted to do since we arrived. I am also looking forward to my trip back to Oz. I will see some of you guys soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One year in Vietnam

Well how quickly was that! A year, living and breathing Vietnamese life, has past us by and we are left with the re-occurring question; where does the time go? It is a bit scary, to be honest, to find another year passing by but if we sit back and take in what we have experienced and learnt we can start to appreciate our little adventure as an overwhelming success.

We have seen, experienced and achieved many things over the year and I personally don't regret a second of it. Firstly, we have learnt to be teachers and I think good ones at that. We have built great relationships with many schools, some who are asking for us to return as soon as we finish our holiday. We have bonded with our students and learnt a great deal about Vietnamese culture from them. Some of our adult students have become great friends and we have enjoyed countless nights eating and drinking in the Vietnamese way.

We have mastered, I use this term loosely, how to ride a motorbike in Hanoi. The motorbike is the heartbeat of the city and once you are riding with confidence you feel like a local. We have visited all the famous, and not so famous, sites and know and understand the city streets well.

I have eaten and tried all the weird and unusual foods of Vietnam which has been an experience in itself. We have also eaten all the local speciality dishes and can order Vietnamese food with ease. This was helped dramatically by our Vietnamese lessons which we have once a week and now Celine (me not so much) can have basic but extended conversations with the Vietnamese. We know a heap of vocabulary but the pronunciation is a killer.

We have travelled to Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Haiphong, Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island, Sapa, Thai Binh, Ba Be Lake and will soon to a cross country motorbike trip taking in the rest of Vietnam. We have also had holidays in Thailand and Malaysia.

We have lived with a great Vietnamese family who welcomed us into their home and showed us many things. The Grandma of the house lived through the war, was given an award for bravery and personally met Ho Chi Minh. We have also lived in 3 other houses/apartments over the year; all in different areas of town.

I have been to a Vietnamese wedding and dressed up as Santa for 1,200 kids. Celine has started Kung Fu and explored traditional medicine. I have improved my French and had a chance to read some interesting books on Vietnam. I have started University again and even had a few travel writing articles published.

It has been a great year; one of discovery and change. The people and experiences we have I think help shape your character and it has been truly rewarding. The above are just a few things we have done in our year. We are starting to think of the next challenge and have a few ideas in mind. We have a great cross country trip planned for September and have a number of things to do before we will be completely satisfied with our stay here but all things considered, it has been an awesome year.

For some awesome photo's of our year in Vietnam CLICK HERE

Thursday, August 5, 2010

French influence on Vietnam

The French influence on Vietnam is still evident today, albeit small. Baguettes are sold in the street, old men on push bikes speak French and wear berets and colonial style architecture stands throughout the inner city. It's an obvious dwarf of colonial times and the Vietnamese are definitely carving a new future and moving in their own direction but the little things are still there. There is little desire to learn French here, with one main language school the only option. English is in great demand with countless schools throughout the city and more popping up all the time.

What surprised me, and Celine, was the language and the similarities to French.

Vietnamese is written in Latin alphabet. There are 22 letters as per the English alphabet with the exception of f, j, w, and z. There are seven modified letters which this damn post won't let me upload. They are modified versions of d, a, e, o, u and make for a very difficult time when trying to pronounce. Celine and my Vietnamese teacher had a great old time listening to me trying to learn how to pronounce them.

Apparently this system was developed originally by Portuguese missionaries and then later adopted by the French under colonial rule with the intention of breaking links to China and encouraging Western ways. This is now the main language in Vietnam today.

The Vietnamese have many borrowed words from the French language and only with practice of our pronunciation have we realised many of them.

For example in one of our Vietnamese lessons, Noppie (The Nickname I gave to my Vietnamese teacher) was teaching us vocabulary from the bathroom. Xà-bông is soap and despite the spelling, is the same as the French savon. Celine, has come across many of these similarities in our time here.

To read an interesting article and understand more about some of the borrowed French words in the Vietnamese language check out this article from the Taipei Times:

What's that 'Pho'

My Friend Nam

Last night I met my friend Nam, and a bunch of his friends, at a cafe. We were meeting to discuss a trip to Phu Quoc island, a tropical paradise about 50 kilometres from the Vietnamese mainland in the Gulf of Thailand. I have always wanted to go there and have heard many great things so Celine and I jumped at the idea when Nam invited us.

Nam, in my opinion, has a different perspective to a lot of Vietnamese. He travels whenever he has spare time and really appreciates seeing new things. That's not to say other Vietnamese don't like to travel but a big majority of my students are more than happy to stay in Hanoi and have no desire to spend their time and money going on holidays.

The trip to Phu Quoc island is planned for the start of September where we will spend five days both on the island and checking out Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. The catch up at the cafe was a chance for everyone to meet each other and to discuss the trip. Nam, and his friends, all have pretty good English but the three page itinerary, written in English, was purely for our benefit. It was such a nice gesture and it would have taken a while for him to write up. All his friends were so welcoming and friendly.

I really like the last page which had a list of "The Members In The Trip". There are 11 of us going and Nam went out of his way to describe each person. I am happy to report that I am a handsome man from Australia. Some of the other descriptions made me laugh.

We are both really looking forward to the trip and hanging out with a great bunch of Vietnamese who can give us a good insight into the area from a locals point of view.

Cám ơn Anh Nam

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Joyeux anniversaire Noe

Encore une fois je rate l'anniversaire de mon petit filleul - et neveu. J'en ai ras le bol de rater ses anniversaires. Loulou l'annee prochaine je serai la!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

End of the Summer Program

It is with much relief that my intensive English Summer Program has ended. For the past two months I have been working for an English Language School, Language Link, taking part in a Summer teaching program while the kids are on their summer holidays. The program was around 6 hours of teaching a day for kids from 6-18 years old. It was pretty full on and tiring. I also had commitments at another school which was a full day on Sunday so my weeks were busy. If I wasn't teaching I was preparing lessons or marking tests. I didn't have time for much else.

There were about 12 other teachers working on the program. Most of them had flown in to work just for the summer. They were from Oz, UK, America and France. It was a good bunch of people and we all had a good time working together.

As many of the other teachers are bidding farewell to Hanoi I am also getting ready to jump on a plane. I am heading back to Oz for a few weeks to catch up with family. I will be spending most of my time on a farm in the middle of New South Wales, 3 hours North-West of Sydney. I plan to spend most of my time with my grandparents who live on a quite large sheep and cattle farm. I will be there in a little under two weeks. I was thinking about the contrasting images of Hanoi to their farm as I ate my breakfast on a busy street this morning. I have adapted to life in Hanoi and everything that comes with it. The street this morning was noisy and crowded and as always, a multitude of things were happening all around me. I am used to this setting now. Bikes were zooming past in each direction, men were pushing carts of soil, women were selling and buying and cooking and eating. Kids were wandering by, oblivious to their surroundings. A chicken walked past, her owner no where to be seen. Smells from various noodle stands wafted through the air. This kind of life can and does get frustrating. Celine and I both find it hard to comprehend why some things happen. On this same busy but very narrow street, two weeks before, two taxis attempted to drive down it in peak hour traffic. Not only was it peak hour traffic but it was through the middle of a market. It took 25 minutes to go about a hundred metres. It defies logic why they would attempt this, but they do and the rest of the traffic seems to accept it.

In two weeks I will be waking up to the sound of nothing; possibly a bird in the distance or one of my grandparents sheep. There will be no traffic, no noise, no pollution and no taxis. There will possibly be the same amount of dust but all in all the contrasts are great. I love it here in Hanoi but I am looking forward to a change and a different scenery; if only for a few weeks.