Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No internet? Look out the window.

This is post is brought to you by the wifi at Noa Cafe in the Centec Tower.  Mr Martin, formerly known as RSB (Rock Star Boyfriend) very inconveniently forgot that he band practice tonight. So, as a Good Wife I had to lug two electric guitars to his office. Much to the amusement of the xe om drivers at the end of my street.  Lucky for me they have taken it on as their vocation in life to flag down taxis for me. And now I am having lunch by myself in the cafe, but I can't say I'm that upset about it because not only does Noa have truly great coffee, but it's a chance to squeeze out another one of those posts about the Mekong Delta trip.

Apart from the ubiquitous wily sparrows that seem to own every city in the world and a few mangy pigeons (nothing like the sleek musty birds that used to rub their scent off on my grandfather's hands) I almost never see a bird in Saigon.  Bats - yes.  By the hundred every evening at dusk, but birds not so much. At actually, at the Mekong Delta the birds were not so easy to spot, either. But we could definitely, always hear them.

New Zealand birds are famously stupid when it comes to hiding from potential predators, but getting out of sight and staying out of sight is something their distant Vietnamese relatives are definitely NOT bird-brained about by comparison. The Vietnamese have been too hungry too often to leave the feathered folk alone and the birdies know better than to hang about when someone's watching.  So obviously I didn't get any pictures, but I spent a lot of time gazing out the window saying things like "Big red bird! Big red bird!" and desperately trying to get glimpses of the big blue parrots I could hear cackling in a stand of trees on the next lot.

There was something else I didn't see in Mekong that is everywhere in Saigon - cars. After stepping off the bus on the main highway there was not a car to be seen - not even taxis. We had to get xe om to the tourist pier. It gave us a glimpse of what life in Vietnam was like before cars - and not that long ago, either.  Many of the roads were very narrow - wide enough for two bikes to pass one another but that's all. And they were often in surprising good condition - smooth surfaces that had obviously been swept free of stones and other things that could pierce a thin bicycle tyre.  The local still ride bicycles a lot, and motorbikes, of course. And the ferries (of which there are many) are all designed to carry bikes as well as people.

The sky looks a bit heavy and dark in that photo and it was a bit rainy that weekend.  We had a brilliant electrical storm on the second night, with loud cracks of thunder and fork lightning striking the island across the river. The lodge where we stayed at has a sort of eco-philosophy that translated to some vegetables and fruit growing in the garden on site, wooden chopsticks and no TV or internet (or fridge, which bothered me a bit because I wanted cold water all the time) in our room.  So our options were reading books, talking to each other or staring out the window.  Somehow, staring out the window was never boring for me - especially in the storm.
Our room at night.

Monday, May 30, 2011

So we went to the Philippines...

I know.  I haven't even begun writing about Mekong Delta, and now I'm all full of Philippines stories, and I've left you all hanging there thinking about my maids and how I probably need to get a life for three whole weeks.

Oh well.  Suffer in your jocks, I guess.

Anyway - I thought I better write some kind of update before the blog starts growing cobwebs, even though today I have quite a bit of stuff to do, actually.

My projects for today include:
  • Taking a bolt of fabric to a dress maker.  It's project runway time!
  • Writing some marketing material for Helping Hands Saigon. We have set up a really neat project which is all about providing scholarships for disadvantaged children so they can continue to attend school. Now, we just need to make sure we can continue to get funding for them, so that we can give the same scholarships next year, then the next and hopefully all the way until they go to university. 
  • Prepare some material for a course I'm giving in June about writing. It's called "Saying What You Mean" and I will be leading some workshops with a bunch of bright young people about organising ideas to write effective documents for any kind of audience. 
  • Cooking!  On the menu tonight is Merguez sausages and mashed potatoes.  The very first potatoes I have cooked in Vietnam - despite the best efforts of the sellers at the market who try to get me to buy potatoes every time.  Actually, I don't have a masher - so it's going to be lumpy!  Maybe I should just call it hash and mix some fried onions with it.
But back to the Philippines - or as we are now calling it - the land of meat.  It seems that meat was all that was on the menu in the Philippines and though it was delicious, we were dying for fresh vegetables when we got home. We went for 3 nights as part of a company trip - Mr Martin's whole office gets taken on holiday once a year for free. And the prospect of holiday made me slightly more forgiving of the long hours and never a weekend totally free ...  for about five minutes.

I will write more about it later, but to keep you happy - here's a photo (click on it to see a bigger version):

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh, to have staff!

I have talked a bit already about how bewildering I find the whole experience of having maids to be. I am not naturally a clean and tidy person, as much as I wish I was!  Actually, cleaning I can do quite well.  But tidiness is really beyond me.  I just don't know what to do with stuff.  Clothing tends to gather in messy piles on the floor, and papers accumulate on all surfaces.  Well, having someone else come in everyday and tidy my stuff for me has been a real (imperfect, mind you) catalyst for change on that front.

I am ashamed and embarrassed every day of my life! And shame is a great motivator, so I find myself doing a sweep of all the surfaces and picking up dirty laundry every morning before the doorbell goes.

And oh, how I love my maids!  There have been times when I've come in at night to a spotless, fresh smelling apartment and wanted to kiss them. In my real life, coming home to a spotless fresh-smelling apartment meant that my husband had recently been in trouble and was making amends.  Now, it just means that I've been out for the day. When we went away for the weekend recently we callously left the place in a bit of a mess - unwashed dishes etc.  And when we came back, it was as if brownies had been!

But sometimes they get a little over-enthusiastic in their care of me and I feel bewildered and dismayed again.

No!  You don't have to do that! What kind of a despot do you think I am?

Do your maids ever fold your dirty laundry?  Do you fold your dirty laundry?  Oh dear.  I'm just beginning to realise that maybe they think I'm extremely slovenly because I don't fold my dirty laundry.  I think I deserve a medal when I pick it up and put in the basket.  Are you supposed to fold it?

And of course I have told them many times not to bother with folding my laundry and just leave the dishes but what you must understand is that they are not my maidsI am their project. The maids are in charge, which is just as bloody well, really, because I am certainly not capable of being in charge of my domestic life. 

Sometimes I feel like I am living in what is termed "assisted housing" in my country - where people who are intellectually disabled are helped to live independently in their own homes.  That is the exact situation for me.  They make phone calls for me.  They show me how to recharge my phone credit. And they fold my dirty laundry.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hoo hoos and the proper ranking of magical horses

The fruit in the Mekong Delta hangs heavily from the trees and fruit trees are everywhere.

Is this the world's biggest banana flower?

Durian ripening on the tree

Milk apples

 Baby rambutan

Of course water is the dominant feature of the landscape.

But when you are on land it feels as though the land must go on forever.  The vegetation is so thick that we could only see a few metres ahead at any time.

This is a papaya plantation.  The trees are all babies so we could see quite far at this point!

Local fruit was served to us at every meal.  I don't know who was keeping track of what we had ingested so far (big job) but somebody evidently was because we were never served the same thing twice in a row.

Somehow, everything tasted better than it does in Saigon. Mr Martin had been indifferent/negative towards jackfruit and rose apples in the past, but was now joyfully tucking into both. The jackfruit was sweet and soft and had a kind of  banana-ish flavour. Kind of like a those square chewy wrapped in paper lollies you used to get at the dairy.  I thought they were called "kegels", but then I looked up kegel lollies and the internet told me to stick a lollipop up my hoo hoo so that can't be right.  What are they called, kiwi people?

 Jackfruit tree gone mad on fruiting.

The rose apples we had were beautiful. Crisp and fragrant almost as if they had been dipped in nectar. We picked and ate them right off a tree that was growing in the garden of one of the two pagodas we visited.

Fresh rose apple with a bite out.

I think we felt almost giddy with pleasure at that point (if you discount the bike bum) as if we had been somehow transported and were no longer heavy-footed and earth-bound but gliding on a magical fruit-filled butterfly flowers plain.

There should have been unicorns.

Well, except that unicorns although pretty and magical etc are universally known to be big hoo hoos with fairly sociopathic personalities. Like koalas.  Cute on the outside, but inside they're totally saying: "I'm going to CUT YOU, motherf*%$er!"

So actually, just so you know, my magical horse of choice is the lever-powered flying horse from the Arabian Nights.  The only way that day would have been better is if there were flying Arabian Nights horses and a genie.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mekong's next top model

He saw me coming.  His little eye watched me and he let me step closer, then closer still until finally I could get all of his implausibly long tail into the shot.

And then he was gone.