Thursday, April 28, 2011

Comfort Food

THURSDAY 28th April

It was pouring rain when I woke this morning and pretty much stayed that way all day. I watched a couple of long boring war movies on TV and pretty much wasted the day away thinking how much I would totally enjoy a lazy wet day at home.... there's always so much more to do (or not!). Watching the rain in the garden is a pleasure! Listening to the noises of my family is a delight.  Here there's a blank wall to look at out this window, and I rarely hear anyone in the house...
Needless to say, as I was walking home getting drenched after tonight's classes, I stopped off at Texas BarBQ and pigged out on a chicken, avocado and bacon burger and chips!  Savored every bite and practically waddled home I was so full. And the double blessing was that it had stopped raining by then :)
Simple pleasures like a normal hot shower... a fully equipped kitchen.... home cooked meals... not being stared at.... A COMFORTABLE BED!!!   Aaah, I can just imagine it.  So all you friends and rellies taking all those pleasures for granted tonight, please do a little intercessory enjoying for me, as I tuck my still full belly into this hard little bed and dream of wonderful things to come...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


TUESDAY 26th April

This morning we did another recording session for VATC which didn't take very long. It's a gorgeous spring morning, so I decided to walk home. It is amazing how in the last week or so, all the trees lining the streets have suddenly started to green up. When they were bare, you didn't even notice they were there, and now the whole streetscape is softened by shady green trees.
Winter streetscape

transformed for spring - summer

I took a detour down a long street market (Dưỡng An Da) and back again... meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. All very spacious and fairly laid back.
As I got near to home I decided to try and find a shortcut through a rabbit warren of back alleys and just ended up not far from when I started the detour... so I walked the long way after that! But it was a very pleasant way to spend the morning, strolling along having a good old stickybeak.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Whose funny little legs?

SATURDAY 23rd April
I was just thinking I didn't have much new to blog, when I got an emai from my friend Jean who is enjoying enlarging the photos on my blog. I just tried enlarging a couple of the photos myself, and had to laugh at the one of the strange shellfish... I commented to see if you could see their funny little legs, then when I enlarged it i could see the reflection of my own feet!... needless to say, they are not the funny little legs I was referring to!  I have found out from my students that they are called sam and are both delicious and expensive. I will have to budget for that next time... a once in a lifetime treat?
I had to resort to going to the chemist for codein and cough medicine last night, because I have a persistent cough that's just getting worse, and I was ridiculously tired from lack of oxygen, since I was only using the top half of my lungs to avoid coughing. All the muscles around my diaphragm scream each time I cough. Anyway, it seems to be working, for it has eased a little this morning. I have a day off, so I will sit tight and just watch movies, and doze today so I can get enough rest to get well. It will be nice to teach again with a full voice... and I haven't been able to sing for several weeks - blow that for a joke!
Life has been the usual since getting back from Cat Ba... doesn't seem that anything has happened that is exciting enough to blog. Ann told me the VIP class like me. Bless her... I think she is in awe of them. That has got to be one of the biggest advantages of being this old... you realise that regardless of status, education, wealth etc, we're all just people, worthy of the same measure of respect... equals.  Still it's nice to hear that she's happy she gave me the class.
 Oh yes, speaking of stories, last night with my VIP class we were dealing with feelings/emotions and time frames. So I got them to tell me a story beginning with Once upon a time...  or  Long, long ago...  To give them an example, I told the Story of King Solomon and the two women fighting over the baby.  I omitted all references to the source of the story, and avoided using names coz it could cost me my job if i was accused of proseletising.  As I read the story, dramatising it, I felt quite emotional acting the part of the desperate mother wanting to protect the life of her child. So it turned out to be easier than expected to get the students to elicit opinions on the feelings experienced by the characters in the story. Then their task was to relate a story back to me. This class really enjoys teaching me about Vietnamese culture, so it was interesting to hear their legends. Celine took great pains to remind me that the stories were fantasy, they didn't really happen. I'm not sure whether she was concerned that I might think they were true, or that I might think that they believed they were true!...... ?

SUNDAY, 24th April

It's Easter Sunday here. I'm so glad that the revelation of the reality of the Resurrection gives us an awareness of space and time beyond the temporal. Even though I am on my own here, I can still celebrate. I just enjoyed a time of communion with a glass of grape juice and a chunk of bread and the sweet presence of my Saviour. So very much to be thankful for...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cat Ba Island


It was a bit drizzly when we woke up, and Sarah was very slow to get going, so we missed the early fast ferry and ended up catching a slow one at 12:30.. They loaded it up with lots of passengers and freight... even manhandled a motor bike onto the roof... and one lady had some ducks in a bag

We sat at the front by the door, which was nice coz we could stretch our legs a little.
It was an old boat, but at least we could get up and walk out onto the bow in the fresh air... which was essential when they turned on the TV to a Vietnamese pantomine at full bore. I'm beginning to think that Vietnamese people are all a bit deaf! Admittedly we were closest to the speakers, but we ended up stuffing tissues in our ears when we got sick of standing outside...
On the way we stopped and I bought these sticky rice cakes from a vendor on the jetty. They were very neatly wrapped in banana leaves in these handy little packages. They didn't look very appetising ...
Neither Sarah nor Amie were up for it, but I ate one and gave the other to an American guy across the aisle. They had that smoked banana leaf flavour, and were stuffed with a kind of soya bean curd. Very popular with the locals.

After 3 hours, we finally came into Cat Ba harbour... it's like a little resort town with tall skinny hotels all along the esplanade.

We booked into the Cat Ba Dream Hotel at $10 a night.. check out my view...

We were all hungry, so we headed down to a restaurant on the esplanade and grabbed a bite to eat

Because it is not yet summer, there is a wonderful tranquility about the place. Very little traffic, a few tourists and not a lot of people around... ah the serenity! We changed into our swimmers and headed off over the hill to Cat Co No 1 beach for a late swim (it was already 6pm). The water was chilly, but crystal clear and so inviting

That path around the headland leads to another beach, which I headed for the next morning. After our bracing swim, we walked back to our hotel for a shower and a relax before dinner. We headed for The Green Mango but they were too busy (must have been on reduced staff levels coz there were plenty of tables free... ) So we wandered along the esplanade and picked another restaurant which was pretty disappointing, really. Oh well, it had a great location!
Now those two floating restaurants looked like fun. You could hear the music drifting off the water all the way up in my 6th floor room though.

The next morning I got up and had breakfast - fruit salad, meusli and yoghurt

I found a restaurant maybe we should have tried last night... they had these huge shell-fish in tanks, obviously waiting for the table. They would have been about 25cm across. You can just see their funny legs underneath.

Then I walked back over to the first beach and round the headland to Cat Co No 3. The scenery was fabulous and there wasn't a soul in sight...

So beautiful. I found it difficult that I had no-one to share it with. This little beach is where I was headed. As you can see, there is a resort dominating the beach but that means it is well maintained and there are amenities if you want to pay. I had a swim for a while in the crystal clear water thinking how much my grandchildren would love it. When I got out and was drying off, one of the waiters went down to the water's edge looking at something... so of course, I wandered over to check it out. Turned out to be an enormous jelly fish in the shallows - easy 75cm across, with big fat short tentacles like lots of stumpy legs. I waded out and took a picture of it... but you can't see how huge it was:
He ended up burying it in the sand. The staff were quite unperturbed by it, so I gathered that they aren't that unusual. They just quickly and quietly bury the evidence.  It didn't have those big trailing stinging tentacles anyway...

The walk back around the headland to the hotel was again very scenic, with all the unusual watercraft...

And next time I come I am definately going to try this restaurant...

Even though I dont have to work tonight, I dont want to risk another rush like on Sunday getting back and preparing lessons (or not!), so I came back with Amie on the fast ferry at mid-day. It took less than 2 hours. It was so tough to leave the tranquility and beauty of Cat Ba to return to grubbly old Hai Phong. I'll definitely treat myself to more visits as my roster allows. This little adventure in the lap of luxury cost all of $50 all up.
We were home by 2:30 and I felt really tired. I walked to school though because Kate, one of the Office staff wanted me to draw a couple of pictures for her daughter's school project... unfortunately the project is on dreams for your future and she wanted pictures of a doctor and a teacher and I'm pretty bad at drawing people. Anyway, I did a couple of pencil sketches and Kate was happy.

While I was there I ducked into the little canteen and had a sữa chua nếp cẩm-  sticky rice and yoghurt... this is Bich, the canteen lady. She's an absolute sweetie and speaks no English, but is always delighted when I try to speak Vietnamese

Hillsong in Hanoi

SUNDAY 17th April

It was about 9pm when we finally got to the youth group meeting after an exciting 40 minute motor bike ride. The street frontage was a tiny little phone card shop, then we went up this steep narrow flight of stairs for four stories. On each level there were people and shoes and clothes and stuff everywhere... apparently the rooms are rented out to families and they are all crammed in. As we got to the top floor I could hear Brooke Fraser singing Hosanna! How amazing, that here in a little house church in Hanoi the youth were practicing a drama for easter to a song that we sing at home.
After they finished, we went down the road a piece and booked into a hotel for the night. It was so nice to have a shower and lie down... I had a good night's sleep but apparently my snoring kept poor Lynh awake all night... Sunday morning we walked back down for the church service.
... the street we were in.
There is one big room on the top floor that is used for meetings, and about 70 people attended. Apparently the children are looked after in another room. The singing included 2 more Hillsong songs - translated and transfigured into Vietnamese, but quite recognisable none the less.  My Redeemer Lives was one of them. The 'shepherd' preached for over an hour, then they opened the floor for testimonies. More than a dozen people stood up and shared what Jesus had done in their lives that week ... healings, provision, etc. We should do more of that, it's such a vibrant reminder of the goodness of God actively moving in our lives.
They wanted us to stay for a fellowship lunch, but we were already in trouble with the time. We walked a fair way to catch a bus to the coach terminal, stopping to grab a bread roll from a street vendor on the way.

The city bus ride ended up taking nearly an hour, then the coach back to Hai Phong over 2 hours so we arrived at the scholl right on 3 o'clock when our classes were due to start (Not happy Jan!).  I had to jump on a xe om and dash home to change my clothes and grab my teaching books and got to my class 15 minutes late... Moon, one of the TA's was playing hangman with them so they were quite happy. So I had to wing it with no preparation, but it all went well and we had a good class.
This is a picture of a sticky rice cake I bought on the coach. The texture is a gluggy as it looks, but the flavour is really nice.. just a hint of ginger...

We got our rosters for next week and I was delighted to see I had Monday and Tuesday off, so I made plans to go to Cat Ba Island. Both Amie and Sarah were rostered off too, so they are coming too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ancient pottery and Water Puppets

SUNDAY 17th April
On Saturday I headed off to Hanoi with Lynh. We planned to go to a Don Moen worship celebration, but at the last minute, the govt wouldn't approve of a venue, even though they gave permission for the event to be held... disappointing! We were already in Hanoi, so we just did something else... Anyway, we couldn't leave Hai Phong till Lynh finished her class at 11, then we rode her motorbike to the bus station and caught a coach for the 2 1/2 hour ride to Hanoi ($3.25)... then a city bus to the Citadel (15c) - 20 minutes. bus.

First place we had a quick look at was the Vietnam Military History Museum. The first thing you see is this 1000 year old flag tower in the distance.
Then there is this array of cannons that are centuries old.

I was totally impressed by this huge sculpture made of debris from the American war:

This painting depects the relocation of the Royal Court from Ninh Binh to Hanoi (about 300Km) in 1010, by decree of Emporer Lý Thái Tổ

Sadly, after all the bombing, there are only portions of the ancient walls of the Citadel that they built still standing

Modern buildings housing ancient artefacts are spaced around the old gates
This is Lynh. Of course I took heaps of photos, so now the hard part is deciding which ones to include in my blog...
There were some fabulously contorted tree roots and onyx and marble sculptures on display and for sale, but the best part was all the relics they found during a huge archaeological dig in the 1990s
this is the drainage system put in place 1000 years ago...

And these pots are from the 9th century!!
It is extroardinary to me that these thick terracotta pavers (30x30cm) were made so well 1000 years ago that they have withstood the passage of time, buried under metres of dirt, rubble and human occupation.

This old gate is a relic of the French colonial era, built in 1832 I think. you can see the damage left by rocket and bullet fire from the American war, but the walls are so thick, the biggest hole at the top still only got through the first 50cm. It was about 5:30pm and people were gathering on the footpaths playing badminton... young and old...

We walked to the old quarter, which is incredibly picturesque - narrow twisting streets, fabulous old buildings, trees and a huge array of street stalls and shops

By then we were very thirsty, so we stopped and had fresh coconut juice...

We were headed for the oldest restaurant in Vietnam - Cha Ca La Vong - owned by the same family since 1871, they only do one dish (a deep fried fish) that is so famous they named the street after it. The entrance is very old and understated:

The food was very simple... marinated fish pieces, fresh rice noodles, greens, roasted peanuts and fish sauce with chillies... ($6 a head)

After we finished our dinner we jumped on the back of a couple of xe om (motorbike taxis) and did a mad dash through the traffic and tourists to get to the Water Puppet Theatre in just 10 minutes. This traditional art form is unique to Vietnam and came complete with a Vietnamese orchestra and singers. The several stories depicted were light-hearted and must have been a lot of fun for the villagers that first thought of it.
the puppeteers stand in the water.

After that we jumped on xe oms again and rode way off into the suburbs to join Lynh's friends at a youth group meeting... followed by a night in a near-by hotel. I'll blog that lot tomorrow coz I'm tired and I haven't begun to blog my visit to CAT BA ISLAND!!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Night Stand

THURSDAY, 14th April

Now before you start getting excited, this is not about me...

Last night I was talking ot Moon, one of our teacher's aides about planning our trip to Sapa and she told me about an extraordinary custom they have up among the hill tribes. Apparently they set aside one particular night of the year where it's quite OK to sleep with a partner other than your spouse. They take it quite seriously... it's not for just casual sex, it is so couples who love one another, but are married to someone else, can have one night a year together, then return to their normal life with no recriminations!
In a society where marriages are often arranged it must have been a compromise that became accepted a very long time ago. It even has a special name, but I forgot to write it down. When Moon told me about it my reaction was of deep sadness. The more I think about the repercussions of such a custom it just becomes incredibly complicated... but that is filtering it through my western mind. I suppose for these people it is simply accepted as 'normal'... but can human emotions be turned on and off so easily?
Imagine if in Australia 22nd August was declared a day for us to practice this particular festival... and then the chaos that would result if people did...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Buy a golf handicap card? It's simply not cricket!

WEDNESDAY 14th April

Today was ladies lunch day and we joined the girls as usual. Again there was plenty of animated conversation around the table. Today we were joined by Caroline from Belgium who is here with her husband for four days while they decide whether they want to take up a posting here with his company. The husbands of several of the group work for the same company, so they had been showing her around, keen to give her a good impression of Hai Phong (a bit like giving someone a good impression of Botany Bay)...
Anyhow, some of them took her golfing this morning. which she apparently enjoyed. When Alwyn (the British matriach of the group) heard the word golf, her ears pricked up and she asked Caroline if she was a golfer, to which Caroline replied that she had been learning and really enjoyed it, and was keen to take it up when she returned to Hai Phong later in the year. Alwyn was delighted to hear it, because her golfing partner has left, and she has had to resort to playing with the girls who are obviously novices and dont take it as seriously as she does. She then asked Caroline what is her handicap, and Caroline said blithely "Oh I bought a handicap card in Thailand, so I'm on 36." Alwyn nearly choked! you can't simply buy a handicap card, it has to be earned.... there are rules and course etiquette that must be adhered to or all the serious golfers can be grossly inconvenienced by the rookie's ignorance!
Alwyn has worked hard for years to get to her handicap of 15 and she was quite appalled that anyone could think they could buy their way into the ranks of serious golfers. Obviously there is no guarantee that Caroline even knows the fundamentals of the sport, let alone stepping up to the mark as Alwyn's partner! ...  There was considerable discussion as some of the other ladies tried to explain the expediency of having to buy your card just so you could get onto a golf course in Thailand so you could practice and get your game up to scratch. But I don't think Alwyn was convinced. It probably helps if you're a golfer to really appreciate the gravity of the situation.

On a lighter note, Tina had laser surgery on her eyes last week in Hanoi and is thrilled with the results. It only took 4 minutes per eye and cost under $800. She has a few checkups over the coming weeks/months and it's all good. She was very short sighted before and now has 20:20 vision.

Sarah was feeling quite unwell because of her sunburn tonight, so I taught one of her classes as well as my own. It was a big class (17) adults using the same book as one of my regular classes so it wasn't too much trouble. But now I'm tired... too much excitement for one day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lina's cooking class

TUESDAY  12th April
Did I mention it was hot and sunny yesterday?? Well after we left the recording studio it was such a glorious day after months of grey, that Eathen, Amie and Sarah decided to ride out to Doson Beach (20Km each way)... with no hats, or sun protection Eathen and Sarah got REALLY sunburnt. (Amie is built of tougher stuff... she wasn't affected!). When they finally came home last night it was a shock to see how red they were... brought out all my mothering instincts! (though I only have moituriser to offer...)
Today is a public holiday for the Kings' birthday(s).. Huong dynasty I think... so we all have a day off. Lina, one of our teachers from VATC very kindly offered to take Sarah and I to the market, then teach us to make Vietnamese Spring rolls! She took us to a little fresh food market just around the corner and down a side street that I had no idea was even there...

This is Lina on a mission... we trailed behind and I took photos...
First we bought 500g of pork. Lina selected the meat and the lady minced it into a plastic bag with a little hand mincer fixed to the table.
Next we bought 500g of live prawns, good fat medium sized prawns. I took this next shot of another stall which also had big fresh squid
 (in the tray on the right)

This stall is like a little general store... here we bought dried rice noodles, spring roll wrappers, dried mushrooms and 'wood ears' (fungi), and a little sachet of ground pepper.

Here we bought a couple of little lettuces, some scallions (little onions), and bean sprouts.
Last stop was to buy this fresh rice vermicelli noodles.  I took photos of other things ,too... you know how it is...
you can't really see them unless you double click on the photo, but these baskets hold chickens and ducks
All the food looked wonderfully fresh and inviting
I couldn't resist taking a pic of there chickens on the back of this motor bike... as the traffic came to a standstill... the hold-up was caused by this car going against the flow of mostly pedestrian traffic, honking continually...
 and it turned out to be a bridal car all decked out with flowers!
For the last purchase at the market, Lina and Sarah bought little shoulder purses just big enough for a mobile phone with a zipper pocket for some money / keys  / credit card...  They only cost 50c and Sarah reckons she should buy a heap to take back to Oz and sell at the markets for $5 coz they're perfect for girls on a night out. Lina suggested getting some from the Silk Village out of Hanoi which are really beautiful... dressier... could sell them for $10!... Christmas markets here we come??
So we walked home with our purchases and Lina and Sarah chopped and shredded and mixed and wrapped....
Lina asked Sarah to peel the prawns. When Sarah commented that they were still alive, Lina just shrugged and said "It's OK..."  Sadly I missed filming Sarah's reaction when she picked up a prawn intending to peel it and it started wriggling!... but being the trooper that she is, I got to video the re-enactment
So I got to record the event, while Lina and Sarah chopped and soaked and stirred
black fungi and mushrooms

All the ingredients were stirred together

Sarah rolled the neat little parcels, and Lina shallow fried them... using chopsticks to roll them over. I think because we use tongs we break them up too easily. Over here you can get very long chopsticks for cooking... I'll have to bring some home. She even used them for turning the prawn crisps that she cooked in the same oil after the spring rolls.
Lina even brought with her the where-with-all to make dessert... Jelly Cake (which is really strawberry and coffee instant pudding mix set in a jelly mould)

Needless to say, we had a feast for brunch this morning

sunburnt Eathen and Sarah...  Dave cracked a bottle of good Red he'd been saving and we all tucked in. Soft fresh rice vermicelli first, some lettuce then a spring roll (absolutely delicious) topped with a great sauce made from fish sauce with fresh garlic lumps, chopped chillies, and a little vinegar and sugar... just fabulous... and we even had Jelly cake for dessert...

Yup... instant pudding in layers... Jelly Cake.
We had such a pleasant morning... Lina is great company. It was very kind of her to give up one of her few days off to come and share with us. Speaking of sharing, during the morning I had the opportunity to share my testimony with the girls. So it's right out there. I wonder what God will do with it?

After Lina left we still had the front of the house all opened up and it is such a lovely day. We were discussing what a shame it is that there are no parks near-by... not even a place to sit outside at all... or even a couch... It would be lovely to sit outside and read a book.  Oh well, we all retired to our various rooms... I am sitting at my window updating my blog (which takes ages!). Sarah and Amie have both gone out for a ride... not sure about Eathen (I think he's staying out of the sun). Dave's in his room. He has just confirmed his next 2 jobs... first it's several weeks in the UK teaching English at a summer camp, then he's off to Tanzania to volunteer at a school in the shade of Mt Kilamanjaro for a couple of months!  He'll get free room and board and be living right on the edge of the Serengetti Plains. Sounds exciting doesn't it? When he gets there we'll all still be here plodding along at VATC making our own plans for moving on...

There's a lovely relaxed atmosphere about the place today. Not much traffic, voices are quieter.. in fact everything's quieter. Think I can hear a Nana Nap calling... :)  See ya!