Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Helping the Kids of Vietnam

Three little ones at the orphanage

A few months ago when Celine and I were travelling through Vietnam we came upon an orphanage in a town called Kon Tum. There are many orphanages in the area and most have little or no support. We were directed to a particular orphanage on the outskirts of town. It took us a while to find the place but we finally did, up a dirt road on a small piece of land. There we met Teresa and a bunch of the kids at the orphanage. Teresa looks after the kids 7 days a week with the help of three sisters. She herself grew up in an orphanage in the area and is now dedicating her life to helping out others in need. She is a wonderful person. The kids are great too. They are happy and for the little they have are well looked after. This orphanage is not written about in any of the guide books and Teresa said we were only the second lot of foreigners to visit in the past year.

Teresa teaching away

We gave the orphanage a few small things; a bit of money and some food which is what anyone would do in the same situation. Celine and I left the orphanage wanting to help out; not just in a small one off way but over the long term. We have been thinking of ways to do this ever since.

Playing a skipping game with the kids

Why do they need help

There are currently 73 kids at the orphanage with only 58 beds

They eat two meals a day. They eat rice and vegetables, many grown in the fields. They don’t eat fish or meat. They are sometimes given food from the market but this is the old stuff that is generally unsalable.

They are often running out of medication. Recently many of the kids had an eye infection but they didn't have enough medicine.

The kids sometimes go to school, mostly by foot because they don't have enough bikes. The few bikes they do have are old and run down. Teresa, when she can, teaches them subjects like English and Maths at the orphanage. She has a blackboard in the main room that she uses.

The kids have one school uniform, a T-shirt for at home and a set of warm clothes. When we visited most of the kids were wearing dirty clothes.

Structurally, there are a lot of things that need to be done around the orphanage. They have a well that someone made for them but it is very unsafe for the young kids running around. The storage room that hold the rice and other important things is in bad shape. They have electricity but they can't afford to use it.

Hanging out with some of the kids

How to help

I have been in contact with an NGO operating in Danang who has been supporting disadvantaged kids for a number of years. After discussions with them it looks like they are going to work with me to start a project working with the orphanage in Kon Tum. For me this is great news. I want to put in place a long term solution, one that continues when I leave Vietnam. I am confident that we can work together in helping the kids have a better quality of life. If I can provide funds for the project they will source and distribute everything that is needed.

How can you help

The first and most obvious is to donate some money to the cause. A few dollars from everyone I know would easily cover the most needed things; that being a decent meal, adequate medicine and quality clothing. That is what I want to achieve first but I have many ideas for the future. I am still finalising the best way to collect the money so for the time being this post is to create awareness. I want people to know what I am doing and why I am doing it. Forward this post onto your friends and get people involved.

If you would like to help out please leave a comment on this post with your email and I will soon provide updated information. If you want more information, please get in touch with me and I can answer any questions you have. If you think this is a good idea please send this onto your friends and use social media to get my idea out there. Anyone that has been to Vietnam will know that many are living a hard life. These kids are born into this life and deserve our help. I have heard some terrible stories about the plight of young kids, often newborns in this area. This orphanage has provided a chance at life for many of these kids; a chance many before them never had. They have this chance because of wonderful people like Theresa who dedicate their life to helping others. I want, in a small way, to help too.

Get involved guys. A little help can go a long way. I will send an updated post once I have confirmation from the NGO on how we are going to proceed. In the meantime, tell others about helping the kids of Vietnam.

For my previous post of the orphanages of Kon Tum CLICK HERE

Truc Bach Lake

I just got back from lunch with the inlaws on Truc Bach Lake. On one stretch of the lake is a line of Hot Pot, or Lau in Vietnamese, restaurants. I am not usually a hot pot fan and Vietnamese people have warned us away from these particular restaurants, citing bad quality, but I enjoy the experience. It is a good way to spend lunch on a cold and otherwise disagreeable day. For a beef hotpot it costs around 200,000 VND. You get a plate of meat, vegetables and some noodles. With the hotpot sitting on a small table you sit on the ground and gradually add ingredients as you wish.

The setting is very peaceful and you have picturesque views of the lake. My only suggestion is don't look down. Sitting right on the edge of the lake you have the unplesant first hand view of the filth that is Truc Bach Lake. At the edge of the lake are dead fish among other things. If the fish aren't dead then they are not far off. You see many flopping around at the surface, struggling to stay alive. You can see the layer of pollution on the surface of the lake and rubbish is scattered around. At other parts of the lake I have seen Vietnamese guys happily and frequently relieve themselves leaving a rotten stench whenever you walk past.

The areas around the lakes are great and the city is lucky to have them. The locals, in my opinion, need to make more of an effort to conserve the lakes and reverse the years of abuse they have suffered through continuous pollution. Truc Back Lake is where John McCain, US Republican politician, was shot down during the Vietnam war. He landed in the lake. I can only hope for his sake that the lake was in a better shape back in the late 60's. I would not like to be the person who had to get into Truc Bach today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Leg

A big happy birthday for the beautiful Celine. We are spending the day in Hanoi with Celine's sister and mother. We started the day at the gym which is a pretty good effort for a birthday morning. After a swim we dug into some French delights; criossants, madeleines and some pain au chocolat. We washed that down with a few cappucinnos.

The girls are spending a half day at Thu Cuc; a spa and massage place. After a few hours relaxing in the afternoon we will have dinner at a seafood buffet restaurant.

I hope you have a great day Leggoy :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hitting the Gym

So it has taken me 28 years but I have finally joined a gym, albeit only for a month. A new gym, Elite, has opened up in town not far from our house. It is very impressive and I would assume matches any top class gym going around. It has an abundance of choice with brand new facilities including cardio equipment that has a TV and Ipod connection. There are heaps of weight machines and free weights. They have classes running everyday including yoga and a bunch of other things I really have no idea about. The spin class looks fun. Celine is taking me for my first yoga on Monday so I will see how that goes.

There is a heated pool with a retractable roof and a sauna and jacuzzi. I also think there is a spa opening soon. The drawback, of course, is the price. It is more expensive than Sydney and costs a few hundred a month. As part of their grand opening they offered one month memberships for guests of a current member. Because of this I signed myself up for a month for about $30 and thus have my first gym experience.

I started going on Monday and have been back everyday with the exception of yesterday. I am really enjoying it. The good thing about the price is that no one else goes so the gym is virtually empty. I work out on the bike for about 30 minutes before hitting a few weights. The weights room, which consists of about 30 odd different machines and a whole free weight section, is usually completely vacant so I don't have to look like an idiot lifting 20kg weights :) After that I try and do a few laps of the pool. Celine and I try and go together so we motivate each other. As I only have a month I want to try and get the most out of it; meaning get rid of my beer gut.

I don't know how they make there money but I am happy with the quiet atmosphere.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Question for the Vietnamese: Part 2?

Note: This picture is not a reflection of the length of the Vietnamese nails. The nails I have seen are around the 5cm mark

Often I see Vietnamese men with one or two exceptionally long and immaculately clean fingernails. Now, I have been told a few conflicting things. Some people have said that this is a way of showing society that they are not workers doing manual labour. Others have said it is a fashion statement. The guy that shaves my head once a fortnight has two finger nails on one of his hands that are about 5 centimetres long. Any girl would be proud of how well they are kept. I have seen other guys with one nail that is impressively long and others with four or five long fingernails.

So, in my quest to understand all things Vietnamese, I want to get to the bottom of why the men do this and why do some only grow one fingernail and others two, three, four or five.

Any thoughts?

You can also join the discussion on another all important Question for the Vietnamese

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back to the French

After a 6 month break from my French studies I have re-enrolled with the only French language school in town; L'Espace. I am now studying level C and so far enjoying it. The school has changed the books used to teach students which I think is an awesome idea. The new book is a big improvement from the last one. Also, my teachers are motivated and friendly; teachers can be a hit and miss at this school.

The facilities are very good for the price you pay and this point follows on from my last post; services among other things are very cheap here. An 8 week course, studying three times a week for 1.5 hours, with both French and Vietnamese teachers costs about $70. That is incomparable to anywhere else I know. It is more expensive for the Vietnamese to study English in language schools in Hanoi than for me to study French. In Sydney an 8 week course, 4 hours a week, at the Alliance Francais will cost you $575.
It is such a great opportunity learn a language at an affordable price. Now that I am back I am a bit angry at myself for not continuing the whole time I have been here, but I also had to concentrate on my Uni studies.

In a few weeks Celine's mother and sister arrive in Hanoi and as always I boast about my French skills; without much to back that up. I hope I have improved enough this time to have a decent conversation with them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cost of Living in Hanoi

You need to leave Hanoi, or I guess Vietnam, to realise how amazingly cheap it is to live in this city. I recently got back from Seoul where a basic green tea was about $4. (Note from Celine: actually, yes Seoul is more expensive than Hanoi, no doubt about that, but regarding that green tea, our friend Diana who lives in Seoul clearly told us we got ripped off as green tea should cost between nothing to $1.50)I can get 40 green teas in Hanoi for that price. yes I said 40. A beer in Seoul is from $3-6 in a restaurant or bar. Most places in Hanoi won't be more than a $1.5. Last night I stopped to get dinner on the way home. I bought Xoi Ga, which is sticky rice with chicken, for $1. I also bought 3 cans of beer for $1.5 in total.

I get my head shaved once a fortnight, in a salon, for $1.5. If I want a head massage and a face wash (not really my thing) I will have to fork out an extra dollar.

I hire a motorbike for $40 a month spending $3 a week on petrol.

A smallish one bedroom apartment close to the city will be around the $300 per month mark. We live in a 5 story house with four bedrooms for $800 per month. You can share with a few friends and split the cost but even the whole amount would easily be manageable with the salary you earn. We don't want to live in a big house on our own so we share with one of our friends.

In Summer with the Air-con at full strenght all day and night, electricity bills come to around $50 a month. $70 includes all other bills as well; water, telephone, Internet and what ever other small random bill gets delivered to our door. In winter the amount we pay drops quite a bit.

You can get a massage (not the dodgy kind) anywhere from $3 per hour. An hour massage in a decent place, often frequented by foreigners, will be around the $8 to $10 mark.

A smallish trip in a taxi (make sure you ride in a decent one) should only be a few dollars.

In short the cost of living in Hanoi is extremely low. Food is very affordable; to the point where it's cheaper to eat out than cook at home, services are generally inexpensive and to counter all this the salaries are good. This low cost of living with an OK salary leads to a good quality of life. Any western comfort such as cappuccinos or a decent gym will cost you a lot more, but if you are willing to live like a local it will cost you next to nothing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Korean or Vietnamese street food?

Street food stand in Seoul

Personally, I don't think there is a better way to sample the food of a culture than sitting on the street with locals. I love eating street food in Vietnam and do so most days. I was very happy to find a similar culture, albeit in a different kind of set up, when I went to Korea. Koreans won't sit down and eat street food like in Vietnam, instead eating as they walk or standing at the stand and eating it there.

My top street food eats in Seoul are:

Tteokbokki - I kind of rice cake stew swerved in an orange sweet and spicy sauce. I loved this stuff but man it was spicy sometimes.

Kimbap - Korean Sushi. Delicious and cheap.

Odeng - boiled fish cakes on a stick. Does not sound that appealing but was a good, quick and easy snack.

Noodle soup - not sure of the Korean name but a big bowl of think noodles in a steaming but light tasting broth with chill paste was perfect for a cold evening. For only a $1 who can complain?

Ggultaraeyeot (Yongsuyeom) - Korean sweets made from honey and corn flour. The sweets were ok but seeing how it was made was very cool.

Making the candy in the Insadong district; the boys were funny which was the main reason we bought some

Dalgona Bbopgi - Candy on a stick. Celine loved this.

As with the sites of the city, when it came to street food we were only able to sample a few of the many options. From what I tried I was very impressed. I miss the food already.

In Vietnam we sit on the street, on small plastic chairs, or occasionally take the food away.

My favourites street foods in Hanoi are:

Pho Bo - Noodle soup with beef

Xoi ga - sticky rice with chicken

Banh Mi Pate - A pate sandwich with strips of pork, cucumber and some type of sauce with chili. Simple but i can't get enough of it.

Bun rieu - crab noodle soup

Kebab - I know, not very Vietnamese they are all around the city and at under a $1 I just love them.

I wrote an article on Street Food in Hanoi a while back giving a bit more information on some of the foods available. Have a read

What street food is better?.........That is a tough one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The sites of Seoul

Seoul by night

Seoul is a great place to spend a few days. We stayed with our friend Diana, a teacher, in her apartment not to far from the city centre. Diana lives in a small block of flats on Metro line 4. It is a simple apartment but you can still see the modern, technologically based life the Koreans live; she has no key, using a touch pad to enter the block of flats and her apartment, and her floors can be heated. I am not used to that. If you want technology come to Seoul.

We spent the days travelling around the city, catching up with Diana in the evenings. We walked Diana's area which is around Sungshin Women's University. There are shops, a high street, restaurants, shopping malls, street food and generally a buzz everywhere you go. We found that in many other places as well.

Around the palace

We checked out the shopping area of Myeongdong, the foreign district of Itaewon, the cultural and arts area around Insadong, the parks around the Seoul Tower and the main palace of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung. We also explored the area around Hongik University and around City Hall. My favourite place was Insadong and the parks around the Seoul Tower. Insadong a neighbourhood in Seoul has one main steet with a heap of small alleys feeding off it. There are art galleries, traditional shops and local markets. This area has a real soul (no pun intended). On a clear day the Seoul Tower is a great place to go. The veiws of the city are amazing - appartantly sometimes you can see over to North Korea. Surrounding the tower are public parks; a great place to walk and get away from city life. The park was really beautiful this time of year.
Views from the tower

We bought a Seoul hop-on-hop-off bus ticket; the same concept as the one we did in Kuala Lumpur. It was just as touristy as the last one but is a great way to see the city when you have limited time. For 10,000 Won or about $10 it is a great deal.

Autumn colours

Seoul is a mega city, home to around 12 million people. There is so much choice and we both found Seoul a truly impressive city. Seoul is surrounded by mountains and the autumn colours are in full force this time of year. It is getting cold at the moment.

We left content after our short trip in Seoul but felt it was definitely not enough. There were so many things we didn’t get to see. We would both love to go back.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

First impressions of Seoul

We arrived in Seoul for a 5 day trip, catching up and staying with our crazy friend Diana. It was time for a visa run so we decided to head up to Korea and see Diana while checking out Seoul at the same time.

Seoul is ultra modern. The city is clean and has a bustling atmosphere. There are things happening everywhere. There are shops and things to do and see everywhere you look. Each area of town has an abundance of choice for shopping, eating and many different tourist attractions. They are big on skin-care here (Celine's observation, not mine) and spend a lot of time hanging out in the countless chain stores. I must have seen a hundred Dunkin Donuts, Lotteria and Starbucks throughout the city. There are many other ones as well; every street has at least one so they are hard to miss.

The train travel is very efficient and pretty cheap. You can travel most places for about a dollar. The Metro is massive but never seems super busy which makes it a nice may to travel.

Koreans are very trendy and fashionable (I look like a bum here). Technology is important and is part of the Korean fashion statement; on trains and in the street I- Phones and other high-end gadgets are everywhere. I merge into the crowd here which is a welcome relief to Vietnam where they stare. The Koreans don't seemed fussed at all about foreigners, oblivious to us and anything we are doing. In saying that, I must say that the Koreans are super friendly and helpful. Anytime I have pulled out a map someone has come and asked if they can help.

So, first impressions are good; it's a busy, exciting city with lots to do. The food is tasty and the people are friendly. It is easy to get around and each neighbourhood has its own charm.

We have a few days to explore the city which should be fun. It is getting cold this time of year so I have to wear shoes for the first time in months; not to happy about that.