Monday, September 10, 2012

Outside the chicken service station

Robyn and Kevin are here again, and a couple of days ago we had a surprise as we were walking around the neighbourhood.


A man was selling day old chicks from the back of his motorbike. They were brightly coloured - he had obviously dipped them in dye. He was attracting a crowd!


20,000 dong for one...


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Shannon talks too much

So this happened:


From: mrsnivel@randomschool.emailaddress
To: me

Subject: Shannon

Good Afternoon,

I just wanted to touch base with you about Shannon.  While she is a very polite and sincere student, she seems to have a bit of a problem focusing in my class and is very talkative with others.  At this time I am going to initiate a seat change and see if that helps her improve her focus.  It is very important that students remain focused and complete the work in order to pass the course which is a requirement for graduation.  I wanted to inform you of this now so we can rectify it and avoid escalation to office involvement.  If you have any questions please contact me.

All the best,

Mr B Snivel

9th Grade SpringBoard
12th Grade World Literature

City High School, USA

From: me
To: mrsnivel@randomschool.emailaddress

Subject: Shannon


Sorry for the delay in responding to this.

I am NOT Shannon's caregiver. In fact, I am a Grants Manager working in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam.  I guess that the poor woman who is responsible for Shannon is also called Katrina Lawson, but I can assure you this is not her email address.

I'm so sorry about Shannon.  She sounds like a pain in the b !u m (you see - I bet your school has one of those "no swears" email filters, so I have modified my typing for you).  I really think you should just say: "Shut up, Shannon!" I bet you wish you could.

When I'm having a cr ! ppy time, I look for poems.

Here's a poem about Shannon. Maybe:

By Emily Dickinson
They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still”   –

Still! Could themself have peeped –
And seen my Brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound –

Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Look down opon Captivity –
And laugh – No more have I –
I'm not saying you should lock her in a cupboard. But it obviously worked for Emily Dickinson, so perhaps?

Anyway, do you think you could have word to your school administrator about getting me off your infernal list of notices?  Because I'm not Shannon's mother, and I don't care about open nights, school plays, parking restrictions or even Shannon, actually.

Thanks ever so much!

Katrina Lawson
Grants Manager

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scuttle, scuttle, little roach

You know we moved apartments again.  We have the distinct misfortune among our acquaintances here in Saigon to be the only ones evicted by the landlord twice in row.  In each case, the landlord has offered us a smaller, less lovely apartment – and this time we took the offer*. 

There was a decent amount of hand-wringing over it. It was very pleasant having a larger apartment to stretch ourselves out in, and most especially to bring our friends in to without everybody having to sit on everybody else’s laps.

One of the consequences of our sellout has been not entirely unexpected**, but unpleasant none the less. A couple of weeks ago as I was chopping stuff up for tea I noticed a quickly thickening trail of ants on the wall between the sink and the cabinets above. “I’ll put an end to that,” I thought and gave them a quick spritzing with the Raid. About two minutes later I nearly chopped my finger off as a small (2cm) cockroach came charging at me from the crack between the bench and the wall. 

I made that awful noise you make when an awful thing charges at you and took a giant step backwards.
Mr Martin, ever valiant, came racing to the rescue. He squished the offending creature with a kind of disgusting crack under his bare finger, then rinsed the whole corpse down the kitchen sink. He said: “I’ll always come and squash cockroaches for you, my love.” 

Do you feel sick yet?

Well, save it if you do – because there was more.  He rinsed, I chopped a little bit, a disgusting thing charged at me, Mr Martin to the rescue. He rinsed, repeat. Ad, seemingly infinitum, but actually only about 10 times. Which is 10 times too many.

I’ve told this story a few times now, and everybody says – were the roaches coming to eat the ant corpses?  No, I don’t know if roaches are interested in dead ants so much, but they are susceptible to Raid.  Only, while Raid kills ants instantly, it takes about 10 minutes to properly terminate a roach. Which means that if they detect it early enough, they can get an opportunity to run away. Or towards you – which is infinitely worse.  Let’s not think about how many roaches probably ran deeper into the cracks in the wall, on the basis that at least 10 ran out onto my kitchen bench. 

Suffice it say, that night and the next day I spent a decent amount of time and energy on further roach annihilation strategies – spraying, wiping, stuffing cracks with steel wool etc. And then for the rest of the week, I was coming across half dead Gregor Sansas in places like The Middle of The Living Room. 

Sweep sweep.

My favourite part of the poem below? The whisk its/biscuits rhyming couplet in the 4th stanza.
SCUTTLE, scuttle, little roach—
How you run when I approach:
Up above the pantry shelf,
Hastening to secrete yourself.

Most adventurous of vermin,
How I wish I could determine
How you spend your hours of ease,
Perhaps reclining on the cheese.

Cook has gone, and all is dark—
Then the kitchen is your park:
In the garbage heap that she leaves
Do you browse among the tea leaves?

How delightful to suspect
All the places you have trekked:
Does your long antenna whisk its
Gentle tip across the biscuits?

Do you linger, little soul,
Drowsing in our sugar bowl?
Or, abandonment most utter,
Shake a shimmy on the butter?

Do you chant your simple tunes
Swimming in the baby's prunes?
Then, when dawn comes, do you slink
Homeward to the kitchen sink?

Timid roach, why be so shy?
We are brothers, thou and I.
In the midnight, like yourself,
I explore the pantry shelf!
By Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

* She offered us money, you see.
** Vietnam is gross.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The benign houseguest

Since we came to Vietnam we have met (and gotten better acquainted with) some interesting young people. What happens is this: a friend will email and say, "hey, my young cousin/brother/friend is backpacking around Southeast Asia. Can I give them your email address?"

And then we inevitably inviting the young thing to come and stay for a day or two. Running an impromptu guest house is not something we actively signed up for on arrival, but we always end up enjoying having visitors.

Currently we have Oscar. I went to meet him from the bus, and since he is one of the ones that we neither of us have ever met before I was little worried about how we would recognise each other.

"I'll be wearing a cream dress with coloured polka dots for easy recognition!" I emailed him.

But identification was so easy - he sort of tumbled breathlessly up the stairs to our cafe meeting point, clutching a motley collection of raggedy bags and beaten up guitar.

Within a few minutes he had ascertained that we had not only guitars but also a piano and then this gangly bag of nineteen year old limbs seemed utterly content.

"I was hoping you had a piano." Was what he said.


Oscar is delightful. He sleeps quietly most of the day, and then when he gets up he does the dishes.

I'm sure his mother is missing him terribly!


Thursday, August 23, 2012


This story was told to me over lunch the other day. 

I think I’ve mentioned the segregation among Vietnamese staff and foreigners at my place of work. There are lots of factors driving it, and obviously the biggest factor is the language barrier. Next biggest is a practical issue – Vietnamese people get up out of bed at the arse crack of dawn. They run around and work HARD in the morning, and by 11 am are starving and ready for lunch. 

Whereas, expats get up later, barely work all that much in the mornings by comparison (not many of us will have been to the market and cooked all the meals for the family for the day before we even get to work), and are ready for lunch at about 1pm. So, the Vietnamese staff take first shift in the lunch room, and the expats come in a bit later.  After their lunch, the Vietnamese staff can often be seen snoozing at their desks – but that’s a whole other post. 

So, lunchtime is segregated.  But I always like it when we get a Vietnamese person at the lunch table with us, because they often have quite a different point of view, and even better – they have stories!

The other day, one of our senior Vietnamese researchers was telling us this story about an incident in a medical school back in the 1980s in Vietnam. Back then, medical students would be divided into groups of about 10. The group would spend the whole year doing everything together – all their lab work, all their study groups and socialising, and of course, all their cadaver work. A bit like Grey’s Anatomy, I guess. One day, one of the students decided to play a practical joke on all the others in the group. Before the practical session with the cadavers, he sneaked into the lab and hid himself under a sheet on a table – waiting for the others to come in and be ready to begin their work- pretending to be the body.  When the others arrived and were gathered around the table he – predictably enough – sat up. 

What he hadn’t predicted though, was the reaction of one of his classmates. One guy was so frightened, that he just started screaming – in a long, continuous scream – and running around in circles. Like something you would see on a cartoon, he was running around in a state of panic, with all of his classmates, cadaver included, in pursuit. 

The poor guy. 

It ended up being VERY serious.  At first, they couldn’t catch him.  And when they did finally catch him – they couldn’t calm him. The guy ended up spending two weeks in a mental institution and the group of students were severely reprimanded.  They were told that if the guy didn’t recover, then they would all be expelled. So there was a lot of contrite apologising and grovelling and visiting the guy in the hospital. When he was recovered, they asked him about his reaction – why did he just run around like that?  Why couldn’t he stop? He said that it was because not only was he shocked, but he was being chased. And not just by the group of students, but also by the guy who was supposed to be dead.  How did they expect him to react when being chased by a recently reanimated dead guy?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Uncle Ho expresses his opinions

Most of the time, it is easy to forget that I'm living under an oppressive regime, and I'm sure that that is no mistake in the government's part.

When you get out of town though, it becomes more obvious. In Hoi An a couple of weeks ago we met a Belgian woman who had been aging with her family in the north of Vietnam. They spent two weeks in Sapa and more remote areas. She told me that in the small towns in the north the government felt omnipresent. Partially she said it was because of the huge monuments in even the tiniest poorest towns, and partly because of the propaganda posters and rules posted everywhere. But most especially, she felt the presence of the loudhailers.

The government uses loudhailers for public announcements, and news, and propaganda and advertising of all kinds. In the cities they have fallen out of use, for the most part, but in the small towns they are inescapable.

This afternoon at home I had a surprise:


First off - I didn't know we had loudhailers in the building! And I've been here 6 months.

Secondly - I suppose it's possible that this is actually an announcement from the company that owns the building, and they are borrowing tried and true technology.

So, and I'm not just being careful here, since my blog's already blocked in Vietnam so why bother - it's possible that it has nothing to do with the government at all.




anyway, this announcement is reminding me of what life is typically like for people in smaller towns.

It's loud, even when things ought to be quiet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mr Martin samples the Hoi An Beach Resort special.

We've recently been watching downloaded episodes of the Downlow Concepts brilliant comedy: Hounds. Here's a taster if you haven't seen it yet. In Hounds, the bar lady at the dog track serves a special punch, made of all the undrunk dregs from the bottom of people's glasses. so when we saw the Hoi An Beach Resort Special on the menu at the (you guessed it) Hoi An Beach Resort this afternoon, I was suspicious.

And yet Mr Martin daringly ordered it anyway:


He was right, it did taste better than my piña colada. But that's only because my piña colada was virtually undrinkable - in my opinion he gave it a very generous score.

So this weekend we've been beaching and tomorrow we're going snorkeling. This is our 4th trip to Hoi An, and so we've hung out exclusively at the beach and haven't gone into the township even once. The weather has been lovely, a bit of rain yesterday but nothing like the daily storms we've been getting in Saigon. The sea is great for swimming - not choppy or murky. Though, there are jellyfish, and one wrapped itself around my foot this afternoon so I had to spend the next half hour soaking my foot in a hot bath. Which worked, by the way! Now it looks no different from a couple of mosquito bites on my foot and ankle.

Mr Martin is at the spa right now, and when he gets back we're going to wander down to the restaurant at the next resort along (which is a bit nicer than this one) for dinner and maybe another special cocktail. If its on the menu, I intend to to order jellyfish salad!



Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mr Martin feeds the elephant plus swimming!

When we were in Cambodia recently we went on an elephant ride. I just noticed this video in my YouTube list.


Elephants are adorable.


In other news, today we're at a posh hotel in Saigon, - the Legend Hotel. We had a buffet lunch, and part of the price for the buffet includes access to the pool for the afternoon.

Mr Martin's having a swim right now. See:


I, meanwhile am enjoying one of these:

How was your weekend?

Dear Phil - the duck curry

When a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sambal oelek you know you're really making a commitment to fiery curry - and also to wearing plastic bags over your hands while handling the marinating meat. The good news is that I could buy a jar of sambal oelek at the supermarket downstairs so I didn't have to make anything from scratch.


Actually this was a very easy recipe, which is all the better because dish itself was quite impressive.

There were two ingredients that I couldn't find. And given that we're stressing the EASY here, I think ou should understand that I'm absolutely surer I could have found them, if I had bothered to look a bit harder. But I went to exactly two supermarkets to make this dish, and refused to do any more desperate shopping than that.

One of the missing ingredients was chilli flakes. Given that there are two tablespoons of sambal oelek and three fresh chillies, I thought that the missing chilli flakes wouldn't really be missed (and boy was I ever right about that!).

The second missing ingredient was the duck. I thought I might find frozen duck bits at the fancy supermarket, but there were none. There was goat... In the end I used Australian lamb tenderloins. Quite expensive (around $20) but super delicious, and this was kind of a treat. Plus, I thought lamb would make a better substitution for duck than, say chicken or beef.

I was a bit nervous about how lamb and mango would go together. I could somehow easily imagine duck and mango, but lamb and mango?

You have to sort of simmer the curry paste on its own for ages -about 15 minutes. The recipe says until it turns a deep red colour. My kitchen is so dark, I wasn't sure if it was turning red or not, and kept calling Mr Martin over to evaluate the colour. while its doing this, the whole house gets infused with the smells of cooking. I opened a bottle of red to really make the most of it!

The recipe comes with another recipe for spicy rice to go with, but I just made brown rice, which I think was better anyway - spicy should come with a little plain.

Thank god for the mango! The dish was really hot, but the fragrant sweetness of the mango toned it down just a bit, so the heat of the chillis didn't drown out all the flavours. Would I make it again? Yes -but would use less sambal oelek because I'm a wuss. We have a lot of leftovers!





Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I had a minor victory at work today (actually someone else's major victory).

Mr Martin brought me flowers as a ... What? Reward?

He keeps saying "auspiciousness!". I don't think he knows what it means.


Dear Phil - Duck and Mango Curry?

I mentioned in my last post that I've got a little bit more time on my hands than usual lately. I've been doing a little more blogging (as you see) and rather a lot more piano practicing, and just the usual amount of avoiding the housework, but with more fervent intensity.

Today I have noticed a recipe that looks delicious on the Guardian for a duck and mango curry. 
I was going to make it tonight but Mr Martin tells me he has to go out for dinner for work, so maybe another day soon...

Anyway - keep an eye out for a follow-up to this post...

Now, where to find duck bits in Saigon?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Oooh Crumbs!

Do you know Crumbs Bakery here in Saigon?

When I remember to order online on a Friday night, I love getting a delivery of warm, fresh bread on Saturday mornings. You can order any day of the week, of course, and they deliver the next morning - but I think it's extra special to get a delivery on the first morning of the weekend. It reminds me of when my mother used to send us down to the dairy on Sunday mornings for a hot Sunday loaf. I don't think you can get those at the local dairy any more (showing my age, here!).

Crumbs is just like Baker's Delight at home - and we suspect that's not an accident. Just check out the similarity between the two logos:

Anyway, Crumbs is better than Baker's Delight, because Crumbs is HERE. And, not only do they make wonderful fresh bread - but they're the only joint we've found in town that can make pies.

This morning we had a craving for pies for breakfast. And after a protracted argument about who should go on a motorbike and fetch some, we had a brainwave and rang them up to ask for a delivery.

Happy pie face!

Happy pie face!

They arrived still hot and delicious - just in time for Sunday brunch. The woman on the phone spoke pretty good English, too. Thanks, Crumbs, for preserving Marital Harmony in the Martin household for one more day!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pay the washerwoman!

Oh, how I hate ironing Mr Martin's shirts.

But sometimes... What's that in your pocket, Mr Martin?


500,000 dong = nearly 25 USD.


Payday for me!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Still here!

If you're reading this because you're moving to Vietnam and you want to know what it's like, it might interest you to know that after one year, not so much seems new and weird anymore. I am a lot less compelled to write about my life here now than I once was.

But I'm still here. This is a photo I took of myself right now - I'm sitting in the Highlands Cafe in the tax center and I have no work today so I am a total lady of leisure.



Work has been amazingly good for me, and I really love my job here. But there isn't enough of it! Right now, I am going through a particularly quiet patch, and so for the last 2 weeks I have only worked for 1.5 days each. I am a contractor, so if there is nothing for me to do, I don't have to go into the office. Of course, that also means that if there is nothing to do I don't get paid, but at least I get the day off, and I can do what I want.

Actually I do have a few things I could write to you about, though.

  1. I have to move again (!)
  2. The situation with my xe om drivers
  3. The ubiquitous leopard print



Last week our landlady came round and politely informed us that she intends to move into our apartment.

Apparently, our lease agreement expires in July (I think towards the end of July) and then we get chucked out of our apartment for the second time in 6 months. Do you think it's because we smell?


There's a new apartment building - called the Horizon Building - that has gone up only a block or so away from our old place at the top end of District 1. Some friends of ours are already living there and we went to look at a few apartments over the last weekend. I think we will definitely choose to move into that building - it's just going to be a matter of selecting which apartment.


The good news is that the Horizon Building has a pool and a gym. The bad news is that construction of neither is completed yet. The building manager told us that they pool will be ready in about a month (so we assume around 3 months).


Mrs Martin: So when will the gym be ready?

Apartment guy: About 3 years?

Mrs Martin: !

Apartment guy: 3 months! I mean 3 months!


Wanna take bets on whether it'll be closer to 3 months or 3 years? Next time we go to have a look a I'll get photos for you. While the pool really does look nearly ready, the gym is just an empty dusty concrete shell at this stage.


The Horizon Building, like all buildings in Saigon is going to demand a bit of double-think for me to live in it securely. I watched it being built from our old apartment last year, and although its about 23 stories high it's made ENTIRELY (like everything here, but still) of tiny little bricks and mortar. Put together by hand like an enormous lego project. The building where we are now is built in the same way - but I just struggle to trust the idea that so many little bricks can be safe...




Mr D has gone back to his home town for a month. I know this, because one day Mr Om was waiting for me outside my apartment to take me to work instead of Mr D. Mr Om is NOT as good a driver as Mr D. His bike is bigger, which should be a good thing, but he drives much more wobblier and his seat is slippery. This means that I spend the whole 30 minute sliding around - and - (I'm sorry Winnie - you may want to skip this section) - did you know that when a woman is sliding around on a slippery wobbly motorbike seat for 30 minutes at a time then her vagina tries to take charge? No, neither did I. At the end of the trip I invariably have pins and needles in my special area. Because the whole time my special area has been trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to get a grip. I'm only telling you this, because if you really are that person who's moving to Saigon and you want a few tips -well. I haven't got any advice about this aspect of Saigon transport actually, but maybe it would have been good if I had been mentally prepared?


Hurry home Mr D!




Mr Martin and I have taken to playing leopard print bingo when we go out. It's amazing, when you actually start looking for it - the incredible variety of polyester leopard print pajamas there are in this town. Being worn. On the street. In public. All the time. Obviously this is something that I need to write about in more detail with pictures, but just take my word for it - it makes a taxi ride more interesting when you've something to look for.



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dear Phil - macerate this!

I saw a great tshirt the other day. It said:





Well, no. I daresay you'd need a whole other kind of glue for that.

It made me laugh out loud though, which startled Mr Duong a bit, since I was on the back of his motorcycle at the time.

Glue sniffing doesn't do much for familial harmony, but as you're fully aware, PUDDING works quite well. It's a double whammy: while their gobs are full, they're less likely to say disharmonious things to one another. And by the time they've finished the pudding, and it's preceding meal as well, they should be all nice and sleepy. Add a few glasses of wine and you have a perfect recipe for familial cheer.

There's not really much familial disharmony at my place at the moment, but since I finally got round to sacking that maid, we're probably going to have to work a tiny bit harder at keeping things quiet (I'm looking at you, sink hairs!)

Which is why I went out of my way to make sure that this came home with me from Dalat in my hand luggage:

The ladies in the market make these boxes out of old newspapers and magazines.

actually, produce in Dalat, as with everywhere else in Vietnam is of questionable quality, because farming practices are of questionable quality. My friend who is from Dalat told me not to buy anything from the market because it is probably going to be from China, even though Dalat is Vietnam's very own vegetable garden; and because it is probably therefore going to be full of fertilizers and pesticides.

I believe the bit about the fertilizers and pesticides, but China theory seems a little far fetched to me. I'm sure some stuff in Dalat comes from China, but probably not the strawberries. I think Vietnamese farmers are perfectly good at ruining food, without any help from their Northern nemeses. Regardless of their provenance, the strawberries in Dalat were plumper and fresher by far than the strawberries I can buy in Saigon, for around the same price. This one kilo box cost me Đ50,000, about $3 NZ.

My favorite is macerated in sugar and lemon juice with fresh thick cream poured over the top. How about you?

Artichoke - no tears this time

Some very loyal readers might remember a post from shortly after our wedding where artichokes nearly brought about divorce. Weirdly enough, that post seems to have disappeared so I can't link to it. Perhaps I had a fit of regret?

Anyway, we saw some beautiful looking artichokes at the market in Dalat yesterday. One of them had a pretty passenger.


Where's the butter?

Do you remember the old butter ad from NZ where the teenager yells at his mother "Where's the butter?" and she replies "In the butter conditioner, where it should be!"



Monday, February 13, 2012

Chickens IKEA Bangkok

I didn't fire the maid.  

Another expat woman who volunteers at the orphanage and is very cynical after too many years in Vietnam said to me that if the maid was recommended by the landlady then I should get rid of her immediately, since the landlady will have put her in there to spy on us. 

I thought that was a pretty extreme position, but it demonstrates how bitter people an get after they've been here for quite a while.  She's been here 9 years to my one-and-a-bit, so I hope I've got a little while to go yet. 

Anyway, the reason I didn't fire the maid is just because of this: 

 That'll be me next to the guy in the suit. 


In other news, when we were in Singapore we bought some bed linen, because we didn't have very much, and what we did have didn't fit our king sized bed. It is pretty much impossible to buy bedding that isn't 100% polyester, and garish colors in Vietnam.  And even if you can find tasteful stuff, chances are it will be extremely expensive and the largest size you can get is queen size anyway.  

This is because Vietnamese people don't sleep in beds like ours.  They sleep on the floor, sometimes on fold away mattresses, with only a quilt to cover them.  All bedding is folded away during the day.  Most houses are too small for huge western style beds anyway, and most bedding is person sized, not bed sized.  Western style beds and bedding a considered luxury items and come with luxury price tags to match - appealing to the nouveau riche who are happy to pay A LOT for their luxuries. 

I have no explanation for the color choices though except to say that Vietnamese people really like bright colors. As many bright colors as possible. 

Anyway, so in Singapore we went to IKEA. We thought we were so awesomely grown up - we even measured our bed before we left Vietnam to be sure we'd get the right sizes. That's how organized we were. 

We chose these duvet sets:


Aren't they nice?  They don't fit, of course.  They exactly the same size as the mattress.  I felt pretty stupid when I realized that I hadn't made any allowance for the overhang - so at the moment we're playing tug of war in our sleep. 

 Luckily, we're going to Bangkok this weekend, where I am reliably informed by my office mate who has done EXACTLY this (buy the wrong size bedding at IKEA Singapore, then buy the right size bedding at IKEA Bangkok) there is an IKEA and it stocks king size bedding sets. 

Yes, Bangkok! Martin is going for work, so I am going to tag along and stay in the work-paid-for hotel room, visit temples, shop at IKEA and try to revive my Thai language skills. Poor Martin will have to work so I'll be doing all the touristy stuff by myself, but getting a weekend in Bangkok kind of makes up for being an advertising widow for once, n'est ce pas? 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Awards Season

My friend Michael in Hanoi has been a bit full of himself lately since he got appointed to the Australian Order of Merit for his work with Blue Dragon.

But did you get a certificate Michael?  Huh? Check this out - Standard of Achievement: Excellent

Absolutely NO children were rescued in the making of this production.  Not even one. 

While arguably my award is not quite so glamourous - I still think it's pretty cool. Here's my acceptance speech:

I would like to thank my mother! Who only has about 97 posts to go towards getting her own certificate.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A long post about maids and water and how sometimes making progress doesn't feel any different from walking backwards in the dark.

 In case you missed the horrible headline, I had to move apartments last month. It was a sudden move. We were actually evicted - though it's almost impossible to say that to someone without having them look at you askance.  You can see them wondering how obnoxious you really are.
Our last apartment was serviced. We weren't specifically looking for a serviced apartment at the time when we moved in - it was just a lucky bonus.  Actually, serviced apartments near the city centre are not much differently priced than unserviced furnished apartments, and this time we ended up looking at quite a few serviced apartments too- though ultimately the one we chose is unserviced.
The difference between serviced and unserviced is maids (and bed linen, though that's a different post). Our last place ran pretty much like a hotel. You put a sign on the door at night that says either "please clean room" or "do not disturb" and in the morning either the maids come in and clean your flat, or they just leave you alone until the next day.
I know.
It was pretty sweet. They would come come in and clean the bathrooms and the floor, wash any dishes, and make the beds, including change the sheets twice a week. They brought fresh towels and clean bed linen. One of the girls used to do my laundry until I made her stop (she washing-machined my silk dress! With Martin's jeans!)
I know. Believe me, you don't have to tell me.
There is a whole other facet to serviced apartment living too.  The apartment staff take of all the bills and the stuff.  Men would come and clean the air conditioners. Electricity and Internet and mains water and gas are all taken care of. And when I wanted drinking water I would just have to say to the receptionist - can you please order me two more bottles of La Vie and later that day the La Vie would arrive.
In my new apartment I have no staff.  There are security guards in the lobby, and there are maids whose job it is to clean the corridors and lifts and disappear the rubbish, but there's nobody whose job it is to look after me, in particular. In theory, this should be ok because I only work 2-3 days per week and I actually know how to make my own damn bed. But unfortunately, there are still lots of things that I don't actually know how to do. Like, order water from La Vie on the phone. And pay the electricity bill. And other things that I don't really want to do - like sweep and mop 150 sq meters of floor and iron half a dozen men's shirts.
So when my landlady recommended a particular maid to come in a couple of times a week I said yes please!
She's been twice now, and when she comes in on Friday, I intend to fire her.  It's not her fault, really. She's a nice person, but it takes her 4 hours to sweep and mop the floor and clean 2 (not very dirty) bathrooms. She seems to require supervision.  I went out for a couple of hours the other day while she was here, and when I got back, she was still here, and had only done the floor, nothing else. And she doesn't speak English. I asked her to order the water for me, but while I was out I got no less than 5 phone calls from La Vie - what's your address, and how many bottles do you want and your maid isn't answering the phone. So I had to go home to meet the La Vie guy and supervise the maid (sit on the couch) while she finished up.
There's not much in the world that makes me feel more like a horrible person than sitting on my tuffet while someone else cleans my toilets.  I know this lady needs the work, but I just can't bear having her around while I'm at home, and can't trust her to do the job well when I'm not at home.
I know.  Can you even believe that I'm complaining about this situation!  I'm sure you would all love to have a maid to complain about.
I said to Martin this morning that I will just have to clean the floors myself and he can give me $100 a month.   Do you know what he said to that? "After nine months you'll be able to afford a Lego death star!"
 Just what I've always wanted.
It's still taking me a while to settle into the new place, and it's not just about the water and the maid, though it is partly about the water and the maid.  The real issue has been that I feel now almost exactly the same as I did a year ago, when I first moved into Sweethome. Back then, I had a whole lot of stuff to learn. I still didnt really know anything much about how to live in Saigon.  I wasn't confident to use xe oms, I didn't know where anything was, or how the big dirty city worked.
And even though I have learned a lot now - I know my way around, I can mostly cope with the heat and I can ride a motorcycle, I keep getting stuck in ways that I wouldn't have had to get stuck if I hadn't had to move. There was a power bill posted through my front door the other day.  I had to use my translator app to figure out that it even was a power bill.  I took it to the post office to pay, and the lady gave me the Vietnamese 'no' hand signal.

 So I showed it to a work colleague, and he said - "Most Vietnamese people pay this at the ATM".  We dont have a Vietnamese bank account, so that wasn't an option. So I asked the landlady, and she told me to take it to a Vietnamese bank, which finally worked.
Moving house meant losing our pack of friendly xe oms. There are xe oms around our new building too, of course, but I don't know these guys. It's a very intimate experience riding a xe om - and especially as a woman. I'm not the kind of girl who readily wants to feel a sweaty stranger between her knees, you know? And our last guys knew all the places I wanted to go. We had already negotiated prices and I could trust them to do things like take my shopping home for me, or wait for an hour and hold onto my helmet.  I had felt like I was all the way back at transportation square one.  And forget trying to pronounce the new street name - its no better than the last one so far as taxi drivers go...
I say had felt, because yesterday Martin managed to get a Vietnamese friend to talk to my Mr Duong on the phone, and so he will be there (hopefully) to pick me up and take me to work tomorrow.  I'm sure the price is going to go up - but it's worth it to have someone I know.  for 30 minutes in the morning Mr Duong will be in charge of my life in Vietnam, and I can just relax.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

(Tiger vs Lions) vs (Ninjas vs Pirates)

 Mr Martin and I got a little philosophical at the white tiger enclosure at Singapore Zoo.

The question of the day was: who would win in an epic battle between tigers and lion?  We definitely think the tigers would win. Apart from the fact that they're bigger, tigers are tough guys. Tigers will eat you for the fun of it.

Ninjas vs pirates? No competition.  Pirates won't even see them coming.

Your votes in the comments, please!


For the Dr Who fans with guitar fetishes

 Do you like Dr Who?  While Martin was in NZ in December I watched almost all of the new Dr Who series on bootleg DVDs. 

If you are a Dr Who fan you will know what I thought when I saw this photo among the dozens of photos of guitars Martin took in Singapore.  It's the Weeping Angel guitar! 


Best not to avert your gaze...


 Almost everything you buy in Vietnam comes with some kind of customs sticker.  Every wine bottle has a little sticker over the seal, for example.  Our new apartment is furnished but not serviced like the last one.  This means that there were quite a few small household items I needed to buy, like extra sheets and towels, cleaning stuff, and pots and pans.

 The landlady is going to bring me a microwave and a rice cooker today, but I couldn't wait until after Tet to make a cup of tea at home, so I had to buy myself a kettle.  Annoyingly enough, my kettle was stickered too:



That damn sticker WOULD NOT come off. 



 I had to scrub at it with the scrubby thing on the kitchen sponge.  Now my beautiful new kettle features brushed steel AND glass. But at least it has official communist approval.