Friday, November 18, 2011

Fabulousness with frustrations

FRIDAY 18th November       COFFS HARBOUR

First, the fabulousness. I've been home for 16 days. In that time I've been out catching up with friends 14 times, to church 3 times, shopping for groceries 5 times, to the beach 3 times and to the swimming pool once, to centrelink looking for a job 4 times.... the rest of my time is spent playing with my grandchildren and generally doing life with my precious family.  In the midst of all that activity I spent at least 20 hours working on my blog, uploading photos and videos... and that was just for the first 2 days of travelling with Katie... Then last night a bogus email hit my computer and I lost all of that blog entry AAAARGH!!! ... (that was the frustration)

So today is back on track for fabulousnes. Katie and I walked Jordan to school (that chalks up an hour's exercise). At 11 I'm meeting a lady I met the other day who is keen to find out more about teaching English in Vietnam, and at 12 an old friend is passing through Coffs and we'll catch up for lunch.

I wanted to upload some photos... got side tracked, and now it's Sunday afternoon and the girls are nagging me to take them to the beach for a swim...

So here's a quick couple
Katie, Lockie, Bailey, Jordan and me when we finally got to Brisbane

At last! Cuddles with Caelyn...
and going to the beach.

Caelyn and Bailey

My grand-daughters in my bedroom

Gemma, Caelyn and Greg.


Lockie and Tyler

Bailey, Katie and Jordan on the merry-go-round at the carnival.

Worn out after the jumping castle!

My gorgeous mother - Nancy Page, 91!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Finally home... no thanks to Qantas

THURSDAY 3rd November

Well, what a drama trying to get home!!  We arrived in Darwin at 5am on Sunday morning to be told that all Qantas lights were grounded and we wouldn't be going home any time soon. They bundled us across the road and put us in a pleasant room at the Darwin Airport Rydges Resort, promising to pay our accommodation and meals. Under normal circumstances it would have been delightful to stay there... we could never afford to stay in such a place...
 but trying to explain on skype to two crying little girls that they weren't going to be meeting Mummy and Grandma at the airport was heart-breaking.

The Qantas guy at the desk told us they would advise us as soon as they had seats available, so we spent the day sleeping and watching the TV commentaries on the crisis, hoping and praying we'd be on our way on Monday. There was no-one at the Qantas service desk at the airport when we went back to check.

Monday came and went with us hanging by the phone, checking emails for word from Qantas... but since they hadn't even bothered to notify us of the grounding we didn't expect much. So on Monday afternoon I went back over to the airport and this time there was a lady who told me they hadn't done anything about getting us on any flight... would I like her to book us on the next one available? Turned out that all flights were fully booked already till Thursday afternoon! Unbelievable!
So we jumped online to check out Virgin and Jetstar and managed to get seats on a 6.40am flight on Wednesday... just as well I have a credit card! at least after 2 days in limbo we finally had concrete plans again, so we could re-make arrangements for Lockie and the girls to drive up to Brisbane to meet us, even if it was another 2 days wasted.

On Tuesday Katie and I went into Darwin for a stroll around the city centre, then had lunch by the resort pool... a swim etc and filled in another day.
Bright and early on Wednesday (5am) we checked out of the resort and lined up to check in for our Jetstar flight only to be told it would be 3 hours late! Katie phoned Lockie to tell him but they were already on their way, so he had to make several stops along the way to fill in time. We finally boarded the plane at 9.30am only to be told that there would be a short wait while passengers from this same plane (which had come from Bali) were processed through customs. That short wait dragged out for over an hour and it was 11am before we left the ground!
It was 3pm Brisbane time when we finally got to cuddle the girls and Lockie...
We stopped off at a cafe to grab some lunch and catch up with Andrew, then hit the road for the long drive home.

When we finally pulled up, (at 11pm) Greg, Gemma and baby Caelyn were waiting, so it was a very joyous (if late!) homecoming.

I finally got to cuddle my newest grand-daughter, and she is such a beautiful baby! Photos and skype don't even come close to the real thing. We unpacked loads of presents for everyone and it was a bit like Christmas... eventually went to bed at about 1am.
This morning Lockie and Katie and the kids were due to leave at 6am to drive to Mudgee for the Lake Windemere Fishing Classic... needess to say it was mid-day before they got away. Thanks to Qantas Katie had to hit the ground running, but we got everything all sorted through the morning. They have a 9 hour drive ahead of them and will be back on Monday afternoon.

So my adventure is over. I'm home again, all unpacked and it's quite surreal... almost as if I'd never been gone except I have the treasures I brought back around me and a heart full of wonderful memories. It will take days to blog the last three weeks with Katie, but I'll get to it, starting tomorrow. That will be another book...Right now I'm going to walk over to Greg and Gemma's and get some Grandma time with Caelyn.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sad Good-byes

SATURDAY, 29th October

I woke up at the usual time and said good-bye to Lan, who had an early class...  but there was not sign of movement from the rest of the bunch. So I left Katie asleep and walked down to the corner to join Becki and Gene one last time for bánh cuốn for breakfast.
Gene came back home with me and we called a taxi so she could take the two tubs of lesson plans and other stuff I am leaving for if/when I return. She'll hang onto it for me, bless her.
By then energiser-bunny Xuan had woken up, so we walked to a bank on Van Cau so I could change some money over, but they couldn't do it. The day was heating up by the time we walked back to the house to borrow Khanh's bike so we could go and find a goldsmiths shop. There are a few on Lach Tray and I had no trouble changing dong into US dollars. The others were a pretty slow and sorry bunch waking up by the time we got back...

Lynh from VAIE came over to say good-bye. It was so nice to see her. Katie didn't end up meeting Lina or Aline... guess we'll just have to come back for that! It was pretty crazy in my room those last few hours. Besides Katie and me and our luggage, there was Khanh, Xuan, Thinh, and Linh. I used up all my Texas BarBQ vouchers and ordered a heap of take-away for lunch but none of us were really hungry. In the middle of all that, Tony came in with two of the local waitresses he's teaching English. He introduced them, told them here was a wonderful opportunity to practice and walked off! Talk about inappropriate and embarassing! Sometimes I wonder. Anyway, after a few awkward minutes of stilted conversation (during which Khanh insisted he wasn't Vietnamese, but an Aussie from Coffs Harbour...) the poor girls left us to it and went back downstairs.

Lastly, Kate from VAIE came over to inspect my room and make sure all was in order and it was time to go to the airport. My sorrow on leaving was tempered by the probability that I would be returning in a few months. So many beautiful, dear friends... all of whom played a part in shaping this wonderful adventure. How very blessed I am.

Before we knew it, it was time to go to the airport. We said good-bye to Will at the gate and Xuan and I loaded the luggage into a taxi and Khanh gave Katie one last ride on the bike. We will really miss that mode of transport... it is so much fun. Sitting at the airport in the departure lounge was the pits, but before we knew it our flight was called and it was time to say the last of our good-byes... a teary affair with promises to return. Katie and I had a fabulous trip ... we walked lot, laughed a lot, ate great food, saw fascinating places and met some wonderful people ... love Viet Nam!

We caught the 2pm flight from Hai Phong to Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines - a comfortable 2 hour flight. Then we had a six hour wait for the flight back to Oz. We skyped Lockie and the kids with promises that we'd be home tomorrow... SO looking forward to that! But as we were waiting Andrew phoned from Brisbane to tell us there was a Qantas strike and all flights had been grounded. Even though we had booked with Qantas (good old frequent flier points) our flight to Darwin was with Jetstar, so we took off on schedule at 11pm, hoping for the best. That's the thing about flying... when you're finally on your way home after a fabulous trip there's that wonderful anticipation about being back with family and friends - being home - that ecplipses the sadness of seeing the end of the experience of a lifetime that will be cherished.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Last Day - Tomorrow We Fly Home

FRIDAY, 28th October

It's hard to believe that tomorrow we fly home. I was keen to take the Church class at this, my last opportunity, so Khanh came around early and we went to Nam Phat church. Will came too. It was lovely to join the students one last time. Meeting them has added a new dimension to my Hai Phong experience. When we got to the discussion groups Katie and Will joined in as well, so there were three 'teachers'. At the end of the class, Net presented me with a beautiful marble display plate with Ho Chi Minh's portrait. Uncle Ho is esteemed as the father of the nation and is held in the highest regard.
As I said good-bye to yet another group for dear friends I realised how much I want to return in 2012 and pick up where I've left off.

For lunch we took Katie to the fabulous BunCha restaurant on the corner and she was as blown away as I was when Khanh and Xuan took me there the first time.
Simply the best...

There was no more putting it off - I had to finish my packing. So I stayed home to get stuck into it uninterrupted while Khanh took Katie to see the Hang Kenh Communal House.
When you come to the compound, there is a large ornamental pool directly in front of the House.
Then there's a gate

and the communal house
which has a large open area in front of it.
Every year from the 16th to 18th of the second lunar month, ritual ceremonies, festivals, traditional games and performances of cheo tuong and other folk songs are held here, attracting large crowds.
People were inside worshipping, so Katie didn't take any photos of the interior and the valuable wooden sculptures.

This is the national hero,General Ngo Quyen, who vanquished the Chinese invaders and founded the first National Dynasty in the 10th Century. He is depicted as a humble man, dressed like a simple worker with a beautiful face.

Next to the communal house, it is the temple of literature of An Duong rural district with steles bearing the engraved names of feudal bachelors and doctors of former An Duong district.

Then they went to the Du Hang Pagoda, built in 1672... Katie enjoyed the happy Buddah statues.

A decorative grotto
Lots of turtles in the pond.
Ornate detail on the roof of the pagoda...

I was all done packing by the time Khanh brought Katie back. She ducked out with Will and Xuan to the local bottle-o to get in supplies for later in the evening - beer and vodka. No-one wanted to waste a minute of Katie's last night in Hai Phong!

For our last night we took our dear friends to dinner at Seamen. Will was working till 9:30 so it was pretty late when we got there, so there wasn't the same array of food on offer as the other times I'd been there, but it was good enough. None of the others had been there before, so it was a real treat.
with Tinh and Xuan

Xuan, Will and Lan

Lan, Katie and Khanh

group photo!

We were having too much fun to remember to take many photos. It's been like that since we got back... so there aren't any photos of the fabulous food this time... best we could manage was this sad rendition of a plate of scallops...
The whole concept of a buffet where you could go back and get another plateful as often as you wanted was a novelty. When I explained it to the others they tucked in with gusto. It's amazing how much food people can eat... especially when it's so delicious.

We were all full when we toddled off to find a karaoke bar for another session.
We reckon there's nothing Khanh can't do ... he even has a fabulous voice...
Maybe next time I'll try to learn some Vietnamese songs as a way of acquiring some language... Daunting as the prospect is, I would love to learn more than just a few numbers in Vietnamese when I return.

Lan and I crashed when we got home, but Katie and the boys played darts and partied on well into the night... our last night in Vietnam... (for now)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do Son Beach, VAIE, dinner, karaoke and party, party, party

THURSDAY, 27th October

Today was huge. Bright and early the boys arrived to take us to Do Son Beach for the day... all doubled up on bikes, of course... Khanh and Katie, Will and Lan, Panda and Tinh, Tinh and Huien, and me behind Xuan. I took this photo over my shoulder as we left home
How cool is that photo without looking?

When we got to Do Son, Xuan took the lead, crying "Follow me!"

We rode past the main beach and eventually ended up at a deserted part of the beach with back-hoes loading trucks.

Needless to say, we didn't stay there long! Xuan was out-voted and we headed over to the lookout. It's a steep walk up the hill, but well worth the effort. Here's a couple of group shots we took on the way up.
Panda and Xuan on the wall, Katie, Khanh, Tinh, Huien, Tinh, Lan and Will.
Then Khanh took one including me.

This resort has been under construction for quite a while.
That little cove is the beach where I swam when I came here with Ian and Leslie and the church class crew back in August.

We stopped for lunch at the top - fresh banh mi dipped in sweetened condensed milk... sticky and sweet, but tasty... washed down with water. It was a great photo opportunity, so we took lots.
Xuan and his sister, Lan

Will and Xuan


Annie! Look at me!

It was very windy up there, so we soon started down, going through the 'zoo'. At the top end, there are several cages with birds and animals indigenous to the area. They all looked to be well cared for, but the cages were so small and bare.
a pheasant and peacocks
These little animals looked like rodents... they are Nhím.
The locals were bemused by Katie's affection for the 'puppy'.
The chicks in this brood were a gorgeous array of colours.
This bear had a most luxurious coat,
but like the monkeys, had no room to move around.

We were all charmed with this baby monkey. She was small enough to slip through the bars of her cage, and she was very friendly... and cute as...


She loved being tickled on her tummy

On my video, you can actually hear her chuckling... but sadly, it won't upload.

 Katie was playing 'photographer'...

Boys will be boys!

The concrete animal statues are one of the features of this park.

These are characters under construction are from the movie 'Madagascar'.

This is the swing bridge.

Will couldn't resist this female brontosaurus reaching up to the swing bridge...
OK Will...enough!
Tinh wasn't so bold.

They're up to the finishing touches on the pagoda near the new holiday cabins.

Perched on the side of the hill, the cabins have a wonderful view.

On a clear day you can see many islands.

When we got to the beach it was quite windy, but the boys were going swimming, so I went across the road to a changing pavillion and put on my swimmers. Katie said she wasn't swimming...
    but posed for a photo with Tinh.
 Xaun was to be next for a photo but push came to shove..

surprise, surprise.

Will was laughing so hard, he got to share the love

So Katie ended up swimming after all...

Pity she wasn't enjoying herself...
  ... well... not much ...

Tinh, Katie, Khanh, me, Will, and the other Tinh.

We had hired an umbrella on the beach

complete with deck chairs and a table.
Very comfortable...

Will drying out in the sun... "I'm ready for my close-up Mr DeMille!"

While others rugged up and huddled trying to keep out of the wind.

We drove past the fighting buffalos statue...  (There is a very popular festival held here every year on the 9th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.)

and the boat sculpture


What a great outing. Here we are about to ride back to Hai Phong... quite a crew!

It was mid-afternoon when we got home, so Katie and I walked to VAIE, pointing out people and places along the way. When we got to school only a few of the teachers were there and of course they were busy preparing for the evening's classes, so I gave Katie a guided tour and we said our good-byes and walked home the other way... quite a long walk when you're not used to it!

At 7:30 we caught a taxi and picked Gene up after her class and went to Quan Ngon Restaurant. Becki was already there.

Once again we enjoyed fabulous food and beaut company.

  ... dessert.

I will really miss Vietnamese food... it is so deliciously fresh and tasty without being heavy. We will try to cook it at home, but that is never quite the same. We said good-bye to Gene and Becki and made our way home, but that was far from the end of the evening... Khanh and Xuan came and picked us up and took us to a Karaoke bar. Will had finished work for the evening, so he came too. Panda and three of his friends also joined us.
 Tinh and me

We hired this room for a couple of hours. They play whatever songs you request from the list. Of course, the majority are Vietnamese songs, which makes it even more fun. There are two microphones (VERY loud), and a big flatscreen, and mood lighting. You help yourself to the drinks and snacks and they count up the empties at the end of the session. It's pretty hysterical.

By then it was midnight - time for me to crash and leave the young'n to party on. And party on they did! Will had been invited to a house-warming party for some other teachers, so Katie, Khanh and Xuan joined him. It was about 1am when they arrived in time to see a policeman at the door. Discretion being the better part of valour, Khanh kept on going. Apparently there had been a noise complaint, so the police came and forced all the Vietnamese guests to leave the party. They have a very sorry reputation for bribery and corruption, so wherever possible the locals keep well clear. Katie and the boys had a drink at a street bar around the corner and laid low for half an hour till the coast was clear.
So even though the house looked shut up for the night, the party raged inside till the wee small hours. The funniest thing happened when they finally came home at 4am. As Katie and Khanh pulled up at the gate they could see our house mate in the kitchen starkers... just lovely! It was all the boys could do to keep from hooting out loud. They waited around the corner till the coast was clear before coming in. Katie had to wake me up and tell me all about it... if she had to witness such a shuddering sight, she reckoned I had to share the experience... lovely!