Wednesday, March 27, 2013


A lot of life in Vietnam is sort of hurtling towards death. I don't just mean the motorcycles - though that's an obvious example.  Consider rather the demented bloody-minded ants who are thriving precariously on my kitchen bench.

Or the enormous, at least seven centimeters long, oily cockroach - whose rattling feet are audible on the tiles  even to me* - who was just sitting in the corridor outside my place this morning, waiting for someone to tromp on him.

Yesterday there was a lot of commotion around the canal - and a lot of people fishing too.  Overnight, someone had dumped A LOT of golden fishes - little ones, and great big ones and schools of them in all the sizes in between - into the murky waters.  And they swam! 

It's always surprising when someone pulls a live, usually quite menacing looking, fish out of the canal.  Just looking at that water I imagine that any organic material would dissolve on contact.  These fish were so alive yesterday that they attracted a crowd.  And this morning they were there still, swimming. Mr D slowed down so we could get a good gawk over the side of the bridge. 

What does goldfish taste like, anyway?

*Reverse cookie bite - look it up if you know me in real life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Weird things people say

This morning somebody said to me:

"Wow!  Nice tan!"

And I went, Really?

And he went, "Yeah - your weekend really betrays you!"

I can only assume he was being sarcastic (though his demeanor didn't suggest as much).  I don't have a tan. I have what the Melanoma Foundation calls skin type 1: pale, freckly, always burns.  I've never had a tan in my life.

Furthermore, my weekend was spent either indoors at the shopping mall or indoors at home. I didn't do anything remotely interesting (hooray!).

What I think he was actually reacting to was the fact that today  I'm wearing no makeup (mascara is not makeup), and this is unusual on a weekday for me.  It's not a tan, it's a natural glow...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Robble robble!

What do I have to say about Saigon today?

This morning on my motorbike commute to work I was reminded yet again about how much driving in Saigon is like being in a video game. You get points for starting at the intersection exactly 3 seconds before the light turns green, and lose points every time your foot touches the ground*.

Last weekend we went to Mui Ne, finally.  If you discount Vung Tau, it's the closest beach resort town to Saigon - and one of its most redeeming features is that you can get there on the train in only 3.5 hours.

Mr Martin says the train is OK

That's Damon sitting next to Mr Martin, there.  You may remember him from such early blog posts as this one.  We had a visit! Damon and Lynne enjoyed Mui Ne too...

At the Russian restaurant, listening to the smooth tones of a Vietnamese one man band rendition of Tie A Yellow Ribbon...

Apparently there's a beach at Mui Ne.  I did catch a glimpse of said beach, but I was too busy trying to dissolve myself in the swimming pool** to be bothered with dry land, even of the sandy variety.  Oh, and they very kindly put a spa pool on our deck at the resort...

Mr Martin says the pool is OK, too...

Because it was a bit of last minute decision to go to Mui Ne, the only train that still had seats left to bring us home on Sunday night was the 10:35 pm one.  Which would have got in at around 2:30 am, and factor in another half hour to get home from the station would have equalled a very late school night indeed.  So we hired a car and driver instead - and I can recommend Saigon2MuiNedotcom if this is the kind of thing you'd be interested in pursuing.  It only cost $105, which divided between 4 of us was a bargain, and it was a really nice car and the driver drove as safely as he reasonably could.

Which leads me to: Vietnam's roads are such a nightmare.  We saw the aftermath of two different crashes on our way - both involving trucks and motorcycles, and neither I think resulting in positive outcomes for the motorcyclists.  As in - I'm pretty certain that at least 4 people died on the same road we were travelling in our comfortable car.  And I'm very grateful that we are so rich that we don't have to ride motorcycles on the highways.

Vietnam's roads explain some of Vietnam's religious practices perfectly:

 This from the street corner outside our apartment building.

*Mr D had to put his foot on the ground for - oh, about a millisecond? He was VERY ANNOYED about it, and emitted a small grunt.

**I DID manage to dissolve my sunglasses so that the cheap black plastic stuck to my face and I looked like the Hamburgler - but that's another story...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On promo girls and blisters

Mr Martin recently bought me a new phone, because I lost my phone on my trip home last month. It's a nice smart phone with a decent camera, and wish I had had it a few weeks ago when the Payless Shoes stores had its grand opening in the Vincom Center.

This is the Vincom Center:

It's a very fancy multi-level shopping mall in the centre of Saigon. It has all kinds of shops that most Vietnamese people can't afford to shop at, and most foreigners don't want to shop at.  It's a mystery how they manage to stay open, and an even bigger mystery how they found enough demand to open another almost identical shopping mall across the street: the Vincom Center 2. 

A further mystery is how Payless Shoes got a shop in the very fancy shopping mall - but I have no answers. 

Payless Shoes is just as it is overseas - rows of cheap shoes displayed in the box and arranged by size.  The largest size available for women's shoes is 38 - so tough luck if you're taller than the average.

Like, say, a promo girl.

For their grand opening, Payless Shoes had approximately 20 girls in slutty orange dresses and too much makeup wander around the mall wearing their shoes and carrying shopping bags with their logo emblazoned on them.

I happened to be at the mall towards the end of the promotion.  About a dozen girls were gargoyling in a row by the MAIN ENTRANCE to the mall.

This is a Vietnamese gargoyle. They can sit like that for hours.
And they do...

They all looked unhappy, wearing their slutty dresses and with their orange bags heaped on the floor, and they had all kicked off their cheap shoes and were rubbing their blisters.

I can't think of a better advertisement for Payless Shoes, than 12 promo girls with blisters - can you?

Monday, March 18, 2013


There have been some changes at our place in 2013.
First off, we’re hardly ever there.
In January we travelled to Bangkok, then Mr Martin went to Seoul for a few days, then we both left for our annual trip home in early Feb.

I say annual trip home, but actually it was my first trip home – since last year’s trip coincided with starting my new job, and I thought it wasn’t exactly a fabulous idea to start work and then leave on holiday a week later.
Going home was weird only in that it wasn’t. It was as if I had just been away for a weekend, rather than for two whole years. Some things had changed at home – but mostly it was just exactly the same as I had left it, and in no time at all I was driving my mother in law around just like any other weekend.
I took the opportunity of being at home to schedule some medical appointments and ended up staying an extra week – so I was basically absent from Vietnam for all of February.  That means there is no Tet madness post here this year (phew!). 

The big news in our house is that I finally bought a countertop oven when I got back.  It’s a bit crap – but that’s ok – all the countertop ovens in this country are a bit crap, I think. 
Shopping for the oven was interesting.  I visited lots of places (OK, 3 places) and found only 3 different brands available:
They are all basically the same: glass door, rotisserie thing, fan for “convection”, ticking dial that tells you it’s on.  You can get big ones or smaller ones, and my kitchen is small so I got a smaller one, and the cheapest one – though only really because that was the one in the third shop we went to and I didn’t think it was different enough from the others to go back to a different shop. 

So long as you turn the heat up to blasting, it works OK, and so I’ve been cooking stuff that can only be cooked in ovens for the past week. I haven’t tried baking anything yet, but watch this space!

Oh look!  A shepherd's pie...  You can get purple potatoes here lately. 

I’m working full time now, so I’m slowly coming to grips with the reality of really only having weekends free to do stuff like watch daytime tv and go shopping for cosmetics.  Ms T, our housekeeping lady has been an absolute godsend – if only because we now only need to fight about doing the dishes about twice a week – and I haven’t ironed anything for ages, if you don’t count the tet money. 

I’ve recently learned that Ms T has to pay for parking when she comes to our place – which means that I finally have a use for my huge pile of 1,000 and 2,000 dong notes...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What's on your desk?

I just read this article in the Guardian. I definitely have the messier desk, when compared with my two Vietnamese officemates. I couldn't tell you if they despise me for it or not...

My desk contains (broadly from left to right):
  • One plastic 30cm ruler - with a deep split in it (woops!).
  • Empty glasses case
  • Almost empty paper towel tube
  • One ill-fitting belt
  • On half empty coffee mug
  • Handcream
  • Chewing gum - a massive pottle
  • Post-it notes
  • One empty CD case
  • Someone else's business card
  • One stolen stapler
  • One highlighter (also stolen)
  • One cheap ballpoint pen (I believe I legitimately own this one - but have no proof...)
  • One used paper towel, containing the last bit of gum I chewed
  • Random papers - mostly useless - though a couple of them I do refer to on a daily basis, so they're where they should be.