Thursday, November 24, 2011

KOTO Bike Ride 2011

KOTO (Know One, Teach One) is a great organisation here in Vietnam that helps disadvantaged and street youth by giving them the opportunity to learn life and hospitality skills. It was started by an Australian and if you're ever here you should definitely drop into one of their restaurants. The training and value they give is evident simply being there.

Once a year they do a charity bike ride from Hanoi to the national park in Ba Vi. Johnny did it years ago, and I tossed up that we should do it this year. Then I found out it was $200 and that put an end to that. Then, a week or two before Johnny got CBA on board and suddenly a bunch of us were doing it.

The first thing I should note is that it was 70kms. SEVENTY KILOMETERS. It started off at 60kms, then on the morning Johnny said it was 65kms, then at the end of the ride someone said it was more like 70kms. Let me tell you now, when you're hot, tired and about to burst into tears, it's a very big difference.

But the key point here is that we finished it. Or more importantly, I finished it. The first half was "okay". It was definitely novelty riding through the countryside and seeing children run to the streets to yell "hello!". By the time we pulled into the halfway point I was ready to quit. It was emotional. For some reason I kept going. I think it was because:
   a) I was under the illusion of "how much worse can it get"
   b) Surely there's some type of barrier I'd "break through" or
   c) Not wanting to be "that person"

The second half was painful. Tears were imminent the whole way. I did not break through any type of barrier. We rode through amazing countryside but it it now tinged with pain. I will never look at it the same way.

The upside is: Johnny has proved himself to be an AMAZING partner. I'm not going to get gushy but we all know how competitive he is. He, instead of taking up the challenge rode with me the entire way, didn't get angry or frustrated, and knew when I was about to burst into tears and stopped. He said later he didn't even feel like he rode all that way. To him it was a walk in the park. Oh the other upside is that I didn't die. And KOTO raised money.

The irony is that they called this a "fun ride". IT IS NOT A FUN RIDE. It is a physical and metal challenge. My sense of achievement is overshadowed by pain. Pain that will live forever.

* This isn't meant to be a negative post, it's supposed to be a happy one about achievement blah blah. Yeah!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three's A Charm

Yeeyee, Daphne and us on the Hanoi Street Food Tour

Angie & Christa embracing Asian poses

Renee and Emily @ Cong Caphe
Amazingly, in the last two weeks we managed to have 3 sets of guest stay with us back to back. The great part about this is getting to show people that you do in fact live in Hanoi, and all the things you love about it (in case that sounds sarcastic is isn't). It also means there's lots of validation that it's not easy living here and it's also an excuse to get Johnny to take me to my favourite french restaurant La Badiane. Any excuse is a good excuse.

I'm going to do a post of all the must-do things in Hanoi in case anyone ever needs it. But in the meantime, here are some high and low-lights from our guests.

Top 3 Highlights
1. Listening to John have the conversation with the bakery
2. Caphe Cong and the special caphe (yoghurt coffee!)
3. Walking the streets of the old town and lake
3. Doing the exercise class (park booty dancing)
4. Mint slice cake

1. Tai chi on board the boat at Ha Long Bay
2. Eating bun cha
3. The crazy energy

1. Fried noodles on the Hanoi Street Food Tour
2. Bar Betta
3. The sunset at Ha Long Bay

1. Street Food tour!! loved loved loved. I actually really like the last bit where we had squid and sat by the side of the street on the straw mats
2. Getting to visit the wet market and the cooking class. Wet markets were more interesting for me.
3. Getting to see u the lady of lesiure u in full glory! muahahahahahahha

Top 3 Lowlights
1. Getting ripped off
2. Feeling like i was getting ripped off
3. Watching the driver run over to us and knowing that my life was in his hands
4. Feeling very fat

1. Rotting seafood garbage on the streets
2. Shrimp paste
3. Public urination

1. Undisciplined children
2. The beeping
3. Bad air

Who else can add some high and low-lights?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Malaysia: That Place In Asia

Novelty frame
This was very, very exciting

I don't know who they were but they were dancing at the wedding

Family portrait

Watching Australia play badly in the World Cup

My dad turns into putty


Tea ceremony


Assam Laksa. NOM.

Daphne showing how it's done Penang
Malaysia was a funny trip. First of all, I didn't know how long I was going to be there for (I bought a 1 way ticket)- all we knew was we were there for a wedding. Secondly, it was a cast of thousands. Not only was there already a whole heap family there already, add 8 others from Australia. As a result, we were "going with the flow"- something which as you get older suddenly feels more and more scary.

The highlights:
:: Being surrounded by lots and lots of family. This includes Daphne being let out of the country (whoo), seeing my super cute nephew Callum, and lots and lots of new babies. I also now have a much better grip on my dads family tree.

:: FOOD. Although later on in the trip I felt physically overwhelmed and sick from constant eating, I can't say I'm not proud. It's true, Malaysian are obsessed with food. Even if you're already eating at the time, every conversation is about food and the next meal.

:: Naps. I'm pretty sure one day Johnny and I had three of them.

:: Staying in a hotel in the city for the first time. This was pretty exciting cause I'd never stayed in the middle of it all before. We were still in bed at a pretty decent hour...

:: Seeing all the traditional Chinese wedding customs and almost having an asthma attack from fireworks.

:: Visiting Melaka for the second time in ten years. I had completely forgotten it. It's positively kitsch and cute. It's fun being a tourist sometimes.

:: Going on a road trip to Penang. This was pretty much an eating tour. It was great being near a beach, but the real highlight was listening to an Auntys story about how there was a ghost was in her bed!! She actually held on to the end of the trip to tell us because she didn't want to scare us! We also went to a spice garden where out guide told us that nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise will kill us. In so many words.

:: Catching the bus to Singapore. I caught an Aeroline coach and it was one of the best travelling experiences EVER. I can't recommend it enough. A return ticket cost about $60AUD and they serve you lunch as well. Every seat had it's own little tv with movies and music you could choose. It was just like a flight except pick-up and drop off points were in convenient locations and there was stuff to look at outside. From beginning to end it was almost exactly 5 hours including a pitstop.

:: Hanging out with Ray in Singapore. Again with the food. One day included eat yum cha, going to have cake and coffee, talking entirely about what to have for dinner, then going to dinner. Singapore itself blew me away. Everything was beautiful and well looked-aftered. You could tell there was thought put into everything unlike you know where (Vietnam).

:: Being ready to come home. I actually missed it. Who would have thought?

*Disclaimer: Because Johnny could only stay 4 days because of work he actually missed out on most of these highlights which sucks. On the upside, how lucky am I to be sent on holiday? At dinner last night we talked about how even though it sometimes it's hard living here and away from everyone, we actually have it really, really good.

Friday, November 18, 2011


One of the questions I get frequently get asked by Sydney people is " who do you hang out with??".

This is a bit of a late post about my friend Charmagne. I met her through some random correspondence through the i.n.t.e.r.n.e.t. (she found me through twitter) and it went from there. Things like that happen in Hanoi.

She was here from the States working at the swish Sofitel Metropole as their in-house jazz singer 6 nights a week. She lived there too which was awesome because it gave me many excuses to simply be there. If you've been there you know that that's kinda cool.

We got on like a house on fire because we both knew living here was hard and scary, and we knew we could say anything. Usually something inappropriate and hilarious. Oddly, she got me into Indian food too.

The reason why I'm posting? Besides being a blog post version of stamping my feet and yelling "I DO HAVE FRIENDS!" before I bursting into tears and running away, it's to make 2 points:

1) Anything can happen here- when or where else would a black American lesbian jazz singer (who's HAS A GRAMMY) meet and be friends with an Asian-Australian housewife in her twenties?

2) Your friends leave you- or if you're lucky, you leave first. It's kinda like saying to your partner "I hope I die first". But that's okay cause that's just how it goes. I probably sound melodramatic but really it's just my first, and I know many others have had to deal with it time and time again.

Oh the life of an expat.

*hello Charmagne!*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oh Saigon

Our teppanyaki chef pulled out a Michael Jackson routine
Johnny and a giant ball

Johnny is their target market

We met up with Angel!

Fancy oysters at The Deck

There's no doubt this blog has been a tad quiet. We've been busy with lots of trips, visitors and crazy work situations (okay Johnny at least). There's alot to catch-up on and the OCD in me feels the need to backtrack and post about everything separately, and in order.  So first up, Saigon.

It's been about 2 years since I packed up and left the city to go back to Australia. I often listen to other CBA people working here talk about how great they think it is and how it's so much better- so much more modern and cleaner they say. I asked my friend Kate who lives there about this and she said it was still crap.

So we went down. I was excited. How much had it really changed? Well, alot. It DID seem more modern and cleaner. When I was living there is was a dirty town full of construction. All that has now been turned in modern buildings with shops and restaurants that you can spend lots of money on. Well, in comparison to Hanoi anyway (and yes, we did spend lots of money).

Key points:
:: Saigon is totally the cliche Sydney (loud, brash, crazy) of Vietnam, and Hanoi the cliche Melbourne...or Canberra (quieter, cultural, a bit more refined).

:: Saigon made me feel really claustrophobic- something I was glad to come across because that's exactly how I felt when I was there before. Hanoi isn't as built up and the lakes somehow make it seem calmer and more beautiful.

:: People down south are nicer, and less arrogant. And have better English. That's pretty much agreed among everyone you talk to about the differences.

:: Johnny really wants to move there and day by day is plotting it through work.

:: Southern pho is delicious. Yes, yes it is.

:: We met up with Angel and ate snails. YUM. I missed them. She showed us a photo of her baby and he's very, very fat.

:: Warda and The Deck are still awesome. Put them on your list of places to visit while you're there.

:: They have Beard Papa! Nom nom nom nom nom. I bought 6 and really, really wanted to eat them all (but didn't, phew). In hindsight, I totally should have.

So that was our trip. I felt sentimental about being back for a total of about 5 minutes and was glad to be home. If we move there? Well, that will be another blog post.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fear & Loathing In Vietnam

Do you often have thoughts of self-loathing with a few sprinkles of shame? My guess is that unless you live in a developing Asian country, probably not.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of me rambling to you, or picked up from this blog, a lot of bad things happen in Vietnam. No, I take that back, a lot of challenging things happen in Vietnam. Challenging things that make you think about who you are in particular- and let me tell you, 99% of the time inevitably ends up in self-loathing.

It commonly starts with some kind of “incident”; this can be anything from your order being completely forgotten about to being completely ripped off to facing a situation that makes no rational sense (to which there are many). Anything.

Then you react, usually frustrated, and in way only you only can after living in Vietnam. Words are said, the volume rises, you mount up on that high horse you never knew you had. Every so often you may COMPLETELY lose it, but what I’m talking about today are the numerous smaller and medium “moments” you have before that.

Once the dust has settled there’s usually 1 of 2, or even 2 of 2 key thoughts:

1) Oh God Am I An Awful Person?
The latest incident was my experience booking a cooking class. I called and booked a certain day. The spot is free and everything was fine except I needed to call back to see if they had someone to teach that specific subject (otherwise I we had to do what their chef that day could teach which was okay). ALL GOOD. I lined everyone up and made it sound awesome and exciting.

When I called back, after a few minutes of explaining why I was calling it became very clear that all was not indeed good. There was another class booked at the same time and too bad for us.

I was annoyed. Really pissed off to say the least. I asked what they could do and made clear how bad this situation was. I said I’d call back and let them know what I wanted to do. I realised at this point I couldn’t lock in anything else and the very first group activity would be scrapped for now. I wondered if I should even bother calling back and letting them know, and in the end I figured I should (though it remains whether they would care). When I called back they put me onto an Aussie chick that apologised and so on.  Done.

Then it starts- what I said, how I said it- was I a massive bitch? Was it justified? Would I act like that at home? No matter how long you think about it you never get an answer.

Later comes the bonus thought of “oh god who am I to push these western ideals and standards” in a country that so obviously far from what we know. Don't even start me on the guilt on how they earn a fraction of what we do. Is it okay if they try and make you pay double just cause it's an insignificant amount to you? 

So these are the types of thoughts that go round in my head and as a result even a week later I still feel torn and wonder if I behaved as I should have.

Actual shot of things going well 
2) It’s All My Fault
This is somewhat of a cynical view, but nonetheless true.  When something happens and you get completely screwed over in some way, you think to yourself, “it’s all my own fault”.

Why? Because simply, it's true.  I should have known better and known that this outcome was always going to happen.

Tailoring is a pretty good example. My friend Charmagne and I were excited to find this shop/tailor with beautiful fabrics. She chose some fabric with some feature embroidery and got measured up for a simple long fitted dress with the zip on the side. We had an interpreter. Comprehension seemed high. Things were being written down. ALL GOOD.

But things were not all good. When we went for the fitting we found they cut directly through the feature embroidery. The dress was too short. The zipper was on the back.

Whose fault is this? Not the tailor who got it completely wrong, but it was us who actually thought this would work out. We mumbled something about fixing something and left.

Charmagne could never bring herself to go back to get the dress (and as a result forfeited her deposit). It was just too awful, as was the experience.

There have been many many times I’ve had those famous words “what did you expect?” said to me, and I hang my head in shame accordingly.

Living here is an interesting way to get to know yourself and I’m sure some kind of basis for a reality TV show called “Perfectly Sane People Lose It In Vietnam”. Starring me of course. Johnny can be in it too I guess. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

What's That Smell?

This was a question Johnny often asked me in our apartment and justifiably so. To put it simply, every so often (and more and more often) our house would just smell weird, and weird in a bad way.

Johnny described it as "like a dead rat in our vents", which is coincidental because Tammy who lives in the same building the next day described it as "like a dead rat in the vents". I however took the more rational approach and said "it smells like Vietnam". Once it smelled like delicious Vietnamese food so I was totally right.

Then came the day that Tammy actually got the building maintenance guys in and found there was some kind of leak in the roof. This meant there was dirty Vietnam water festering in the dark warm air and that was THE smell. So kind of like a dead rat after all. In what should have been a glaringly obvious clue that also explained the water damage stain that had begun to appear on our ceiling.

Unconnected to the main smell there was another, probably more awful smell in our laundry.

So we get the maintenance guys in. Keep in mind this is one of the most, if not the most "prestigious" and expensive apartments building in Hanoi. Of course it doesn't smell they get here, but this is a summary of the type of things that went down.

A concierge chick and maintenance guy come and have a look. They discuss and decide the solution is to the paint the ceiling. I tell them it's leaking and they need to FIX THE LEAK. He decides he needs to discuss the problem with other technicians. I tell him we already know the problem, they solved the exact same one in the other apartment, so they need to FIX THE LEAK.

They discuss more and he grudgingly leaves to get a ladder and comes back 15 minutes later. He comes back with another concierge chick (so now there are two) and looks in the roof. It seems there is a leak. I tell the new girl they need to FIX THE LEAK. She explains what the problem is- "the air-conditioning is too cold". She also goes on to say, that it won't leak anymore, it's happened before and now it won't leak anymore.

The important part here is "it's happened before", it's happened again, and although they have done nothing at this point, magically it WON'T LEAK AGAIN.

Things get hazy here, mostly because if I think about it more my mind goes hazy from lack of any sort of rational at play. I wish I could tell you that my careful explaining about how if you eliminate the leak now there won't be a smell, or a stain and therefore you won't have to paint the ceiling (for a third time), or how if there was an leak because the air-con was "too cold" then they needed to fix the air-con suddenly clicked everything into place for them. Alas, there wouldn't be a blog entry if that was the case.

She told me when I used the air-conditioning that I should close all the curtains and slooowly put the temperature down.

Then they painted the ceiling.

Ironically, one of the girls dropped off a Service Quality Survey today. I looked through the questions and I couldn't actually note a bad thing. The smell seems to be gone after all and the ceiling is painted. Shock horror they even called after the work was done and asked if everything was okay. The next day as I walked in another girl asked how things were too.

The conclusion? Just like they are, I'm just hoping for the best.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hello Bangkok: Take Two

On the BTS

At Cabbages & Condoms- I never thought I'd be at a condom themed restaurant

At The Nest until we got sleepy

Love the look Joshua's giving

About 5% of Joshua's dinosaur collection

Lady Gaga inspired video art

At IceDEA, possibly the coolest ice-cream place on earth. A must visit!


Calypso Cabaret- super dramatic & over the top & awesome

Caption contest!

Yes, really, YOU'D be fooled.

Proof we were young and carefree

This is an Australian sugar glider. Apparently not endangered but still pretty confronting.

A frozen banana dipped in chocolate & coated nuts was always going to be awesome

I've said it before, and I'll say it again- I Love Bangkok. In sentence capitals no less. The BTS is amazing as always, processes for things are clear and stress free (you need to live in Vietnam to appreciate that) and everywhere I look there's girls looking so damn cool.

This time was a little different to the other times we've been, though the same in that it never feels like long enough.

We flew over for a couple of days to meet Ben and Erin, or who I like to call Berin (I often try to think of my & Johnny's celebrity name but it just never works), as well as hang out with the Terricani's and make sure the kids still knew who we were.  Baby Maddie was sick the whole time poor thing and the boys were crazy as always.  We cooked them pancakes and have decided here on it would be "our thing" so they have fond memories of us in case we're old and need them to carry things up stairs.

We did lots of cool things on this trip I'm putting down on the list of essential "to dos" if you're ever in Bangkok- Calypso Cabaret (SO good, over the top and doesn't take itself too seriously), the fish section of Chatuchak Markets (like an aquarium you'd pay to see, the pet section is a bit scary though) and a visit to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (how did this ever escape my list before?).

So- on to how it was different. I realise that every time we're there, we're very very lucky in that we get to stay with Aimee and co in a very cool apartment right in Sukhumvit where it's all happening, are right on the BTS line, and have truckloads of helpful advice and recommendations. It's awesome and easy and means we've never had to battle the things other tourists have to go through.

With Ben and Erin in staying Chinatown it meant going off in uncharted non-BTS territory. Nothing bad happened really, except getting into a taxi and the driver not taking us to the club we wanted to go to (basically just ignored just) but took us to another one instead where he would get kick-backs. Wait, that does sound bad. Well it was bad, but in the moment with other people who aren't cynical and don't live in South-East Asia it wasn't. He told us that the club we wanted to go to would be closed at the 2am curfew time and this one wouldn't. We go in, pay lots of money for entry fee, it's really shit and loud and than TA DAA it gets shuts down at 2am. Not a surprise at all really.

So it just makes me appreciate that fact we're spoilt in Bangkok and never have to go through situations like that regularly. I still love the city but know it probably shares a lot of the things we hate about Vietnam. But I'm okay with rose coloured glasses for now. And if the opportunity comes up to move there I'm all in. As long as we're on the BTS.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Makes A Good Day?

1. Going to the gym

2. Wearing a supercute outfit (including a vintage wool skirt bought years ago and never worn before)

3. Going grocery shopping and the taxi driver takes you DIRECTLY there without ripping you off

4. Discovering where to buy supercute cupcake cups and almond meal from

5. Ticking off your shopping list efficently

6. Your friends recommendations being spot on for the best fruit & veges and getting amazing service

7. Not ever having to walk ages away down a dirt road for fruit & veges ever again

8. Getting a cab hailed for you and the taxi driver takes you DIRECTLY home without ripping you off

To celebrate, I think I shall bake.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two Things Happened Today

Yes, yes they did.

I was riding my bike to the supermarket when this guy on his motorbike started following me. Like I'm sure any other person would I didn't properly realise this at the start, and when it became blatantly clear I ended up saying "WHAT DO YOU WANT", to well, try and figure out what the hell he was doing. That and western culture means you kinds give someone the benefit of the doubt and time of day.

Then he didn't go away, then he kept talking to me and saying 'dep' which means beautiful and THEN doing this weird tongue thing and saying "hotel".

DO I LOOK LIKE A PROSTITUTE? The pink bike with flowers and a polka dot dress say no.

I considered stopping near a policeman to try and get them to shoo him away, but realised this is a flawed plan as they wouldn't actually care and may also be on his side.

I stopped and called Tabitha who I was hoping would tell me it had happened to her and it was normal. It's not.

He went away and when I breathed a sigh of relief he was back. And kept following me. My asian-ness kicked in and I ignored him like I've never ignored anyone before. About 4 blocks later, once I had recalculated going to the supermarket and decided to go straight to my crowded, western, lunch venue instead, he went away.

So. Awkward. Weird. Creepy.

After I thought he'd gone the first time, I looked over to the side of the street and saw a mother holding her 2 year daughters legs up to pee. This, I've seen a thousand times and can possibly be deemed 'bearable'. But she didn't pee. She shit. She shit directly on the street. I saw it come out. On the side of the road. Do you think they put it in a nice little plastic bag disposed thoughfully of it? No. There is human shit on the streets of Vietnam folks.

On the upside, I bought cake tins today. Johnny is away in Cambodia for four days so I thought I'd also treat myself with this bag and dress too.

Next weekend we're in Bangkok for three days! What has everyone else been up to?