Sunday, April 29, 2012


Every few months Khánh's high school classmates get together and tonight was their karaoke night. Khánh picked me up at 7.30 and we rode to the park near the war memorial to join them.

It was a lovely balmy night, and they were sitting on mats on the grass enjoying a drink and eating various forms of cuttlefish - dried, grilled, pickled... 

After a while we all headed for a Karaoke Bar on Văn Cao. Our room was on the fourth floor. First impression when you walk in is bright lights and deafeningly loud music...

When I used the flash, you could see everything clearly but it completely loses the atmosphere.... 

As you can see, there is quite a mob of us.

A few toasts, and lots of very enthusiastic singing...

I love how young Vietnamese people really know how to enjoy themselves. They laugh easily and often.... It's always a delight to be around them. It doesn't matter a jot how well you sing, it's all about having fun and enjoying yourself. Everyone is applauded and enjoyed regardless!

Having a camera is always a big hit... by the time I got home they had taken about 50 photos that I had to cull!  All the good ones Khánh put on his facebook so they could access them and I have kept just a handfull.

Most had already ridden off before we grabbed a security guard to take this group shot... another fun night!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Elephant Mountain... Núi Voi

I didn't have any classes during the day on Saturday, so Khánh took me to visit his friend Vinh, and climb Elephant Mountain, Núi Voi. The village Tiên Hội is about half an hour away from here and when we arrived everything was shut down for the mid-day snooze.
We went straight to Vinh's house. He is an secondary school English teacher who is also studying Economics at Uni with Khánh. His house is quite new and the rooms are big and airy. You can see the old building on the left... that is the kitchen from the original house... and it is still in use.

When we arrived, Vinh introduced us to four of his young students who were keen to practice their English, but very shy. They were quite delightful. Shortly after we sat down to lunch. This is Bich, Vinh's wife, Anh, a little girl from next door, Nam, their son, and Vinh. 

This is Gai, Vinh's mother, Nhủ, Huyền, Anh, Tuấn, another Nam and Bich.
After lunch I took some photos around the yard... a fighting cock and chickens,

Vinh told me that when he was a boy, he used to swim in this pond, but now it is too polluted... even for fish. He will drain it and refill it in the next wet season and re-stock it with fish.  Pollution from the brick-works nearby caused all the trees in this village to die several years ago. Then the government stepped in and it's much better than it was, but the ponds haven't recovered.

We waited inside till 2pm to avoid the worst of the mid-day sun. About half an hour before we set off (on motorbikes) the four children disappeared... they had ridden their bikes to the bottom of the mountain ... a very hot ride!

So that's Elephant Mountain Núi Voi... the steep bump on the right is the one we climbed to the top of! That gazebo half way up is a welcome stop off to admire the view.
These are the kids who climbed with us: Anh, Nam, Nam, Nhủ, Huyền, and Tuấn. Of course, they were always way ahead... having to wait for slow old Granny!

See? I told you it was steep! The path you can see on the left was the easy way. We came down that path. The path we followed to the top climbs up between the trees on the right.

Yup, he really is standing right on the edge...

These steps lead up to a large cave which was used by the Vietcong soldiers during the American War. There are several caves here.

There was a lovely cool breeze blowing out of the cave mouth, so we sat there for a bit to cool off and rest the old legs. The view was getting more spectacular the higher we climbed. Then there was an easy path to the gazebo. You can see it on my left in this next photo. The steep, rough path on my right is the way to the top of the rocky outcrop behind me... and that's where we were headed!

We took lots of photos at the gazebo, then climbed up the last stretch. I love this next photo of Vinh hauling me up a particularly steep stretch. See the gazebo down below?

Very hot and tiring! we stopped again in the shade and enjoyed the stiff breeze.

Then finally, we were at the top!  Check out the view from here!

That huge quarry is very close to Vinh's house. The brickworks in front of it caused huge pollution problems in the past, but it is regulated more closely now.

I wouldn't have been standing here without Khanh and Vinh's help.

And there's the easy path down from the gazebo... a gentle stroll!

When we got to the bottom we walked to a nearby fish farm where they grow bonsais.

This little tea house in the middle is set up for fishing.

It was so hot and still down here that we went around to the other side of the building and just sat in the shade for a bit

Wishing I was swimming ...

We rode through Vinh's village, Tiên Hội, and stopped for a treat - tau hu da, which is black beans, candied papaya strips and coconut jelly in sugarcane juice... delicious...

These little kids were sitting at the table when we arrived. Can you see the funny old man peering through the gap at the back?

This fellow drew quite a crowd. He had a mincing machine that churned out the mixture for fish patties in no time. Lots of people gathered to watch... a job they usually do by hand with a mortar and pestle. You can see the minced mixture in the blue bowl, and the taste tester samples in the frying pan. As I watched he sold bag after bag of the minced mixture. Plenty of people in the village will be eating his fish rissoles tonight!

Vinh bought me some sugarcane... you chew it to suck the juice out, then spit out the fibre.

Since I stand out like a sore toe everywhere I go, people often stop and stare - especially in the smaller villages. So I always smile at them and say hello. These street market ladies were extremely friendly, and they took great delight in teaching me the names of the various fruits and vegetables they were selling. Khánh said Vietnamese people are very surprised when I say Vietnamese words because my accent is very good!!... great teachers, I think!

When we got back to Vinh's home several of his relatives were there. They were gathering for a special meal. Today is the anniversary of his grandfather's death, so all the family were coming to pray and worship him then share dinner. They kindly invited us to stay and join them, but I had to teach at 7.30pm and I desperately needed to take a shower and put my feet up before then!  Bich was already busy cooking, and this dish smelt wonderful... It's chokoes, liver, chicken intestines and garlic. 

This buffalo was happily grazing in the vacant lot next door, so I had to take a photo...

What a wonderful day... very hot, but wonderful!  And to top it off, after I walked to school and taught my late class, the students invited me out for dinner with them. So I was off gallivanting yet again! First we stopped off for a white bean and coconut jelly type drink, then went to an outdoor cafe near the War Memorial for sugarcane juice and Banh Mi Pate ... hot crusty bread rolls filled with delicious meat paste. Unfortunately the batteries in my camera were flat by then, so I don't have pictures, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself getting to know this new bunch of students.

Needless to say, I fell into bed at about mid-night!