Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Farewell Andrea and Reinhart

This week Andrea and Reinhart are leaving for Chile, and next year they will be in South Korea. I rang to see if they'd like to come over for dinner, but Andrea insisted we come there ... I didn't take much persuading, I must admit!  Khánh dropped me off, then went to pick up Jutta and I chatted with Andrea while she prepared dinner one last time.  Then we took photos from the balcony...

It is quite surreal how beautiful and peaceful the night is after the storm just last night. It's balmy and clean and very still.
We shared a delicious dinner and I didn't get around to taking photos till we were leaving ... and of course all looking tired.  But on Tuesday we had a farewell lunch at Texas BBQ and I caught the irrepressible Andrea looking gorgeous as usual...

 ... a farewell toast

I will miss this beautiful friend.

Bánh đa cua

Tuesday morning began at 5.30am walking as usual, then at 7am Tiên picked me up and took me into the city centre for breakfast ... bánh đa cua at 26 Kỳ Đồng Street - the best I've ever tasted!

It was very, very busy .. these ladies were flat out serving bowl after bowl of delicious soup. Each ingredient is put in the dish fresh and then the broth poured over the top, so the vegetables are still crisp and the noodles aren't mushy ... just perfect!

Tiên and I were joined by Vũ Anh, whose family owns the restaurant.  She is one of the NP students. I told her I definitely want to bring Katie, Hannah and Adam here while they're in Hải Phòng ... You can't see all the goodies until you stir ... there's chicken, and meat balls and all kinds of surprises in every mouthful. Delicious.
And this is breakfast!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cyclone !!

Last night we had a cyclone. It was raining off and on as I finished work,  and as I walked past the dentist he was free and open for business so I went in. I have been avoiding dentists for more than 40 years, and my teeth are in an appalling state, so I have been promising myself that I would do something about getting them fixed while I was still here since dental work in Australia is so very expensive. No more excuses.  The first visit was easy ... less than $5 to have my teeth cleaned.  The next stages will be a lot more uncomfortable and a lot more expensive, but it has to be done  (poor me!).  Anyway, more about the dentist in later blogs.
By the time I left him, the rain was holding off, but it was very dark and the wind was very gusty.  The storm began in earnest a few hours later with high winds and heavy rain. I was snug and safe in my room but I could hear lots of noise around the house. During the night we lost power and about then I realised I hadn't bothered to find and charge my torch, neither had I closed the storm door at the top of the stairs. I think the three false alarms on cyclones last year had lulled me into a false sense of security! Anyway, in the middle of the night I woke up and the wind was howling, I could hear things banging outside, and it was pitch dark. Above the noise of the storm, I could hear water running down the stairs (inside), so I decided to go and have a look and close the windows and the storm door on my rooftop courtyard.  Climbing the winding staircase was precarious because there was so much water the marble was very slippery, and I was getting dripped on from above. The water was 2-3cm deep on the landings outside both the small bedrooms and there was a wild updraft wind coming from downstairs ... so much so that I could not pull the windows at the top of the stairs closed because the wind (from inside the house!!!) was too strong. I managed to close the storm door, but then realised that the water was all coming in from the skylight, not from the courtyard anyway.  By then I couldn't imagine where all the wind was coming from downstairs, so I painstakingly felt my way back down in the darkness. As I got to the bottom flight the wind was blowing my hair around!  And when I looked to my front doors there they were wide open!! The wind had blown them open and the storm was blowing in. These doors are each 3m high and 2m wide - so it was a very big space!  I was barefoot (of course) and I was so very careful making my way to the doors - I certainly didn't want to slip over. But when I tried to force the doors closed I quickly realised there was no way! Even if I did manage to get them locked again, the pressure of the wind would soon force them open or worse still, blow out the glass. So I just had to push them wide open and go back to bed!!
By morning the cyclone had blown over and I surveyed the damage... surprisingly little, considering. The floors everywhere except in my bedroom (and the bathrooms....) were wet  - 3cm deep in both Will's and Tony's rooms.  I was busily mopping up downstairs when Xuân arrived!  What a blessing!!  We slaved away for a couple of hours bucketing the water - starting with the top landing. All up we shifted about 40 buckets of water. Xuân began to resemble the sorcerer's apprentice as he laboured up and down the stairs with bucket after bucket of water!!  But eventually it was done.
Then Khánh came over with his friends Parazini and Cường and we headed downtown to get stuff for making costumes for the Halloween Party at Rie and Emily's on Wednesday night.  My goodness ... that was an eye-opener.  Everywhere we went there were trees blown over and localised flooding even 12 hours after the storm

As we rode past this corner, I was amazed to see this old lady sitting with a scrubbing brush and a bucket, cleaning the window sill of her shop ... with the flood waters still receeding behind her!

  This is the costume hire place...

Lots of fun trying on costumes ... and all we came away with was a mask for me ($2.50 hire!). The boys all opted for buying fabric and making their own.  So we headed for the big market.

Business as usual...

The boys bargained with this lady and came away with fabric to make capes... and I bought some fabric to get a couple of summer dresses made from the one I wear all the time at home.

On the way home I asked Khánh to stop so I could take this sad photo ... the huge tree in the carpark at VAIE was uprooted during the cyclone. Imagine the noise it made as it fell!

I took this next photo the next day ... Believe it or not , there was a small black fish swimming in the root-hole!!! How on earth did that get there??

You can see the branches across the road on Văn Cau as we headed for our local phở restaurant for lunch. After lunch I made a start on the custumes with a cape for Xuân ... he wants to go as a vampire...  Hand sewing is pretty tedious, so I do hope it holds up!! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snails for Dinner

There is a little restaurant that specialises in snails down the alley that I use for a short-cut to Lạch Tray street. I have walked past it many times going to and from work and there are always a lot of people there tucking in and tonight it was our turn!  Xuân arranged rides for Graham and me and we were joined by more lovely ladies...

  Thủy,   Quế,   Linh,   Nguyệt,  and  Tuyền 
Xuân,  Hương, Thủy  and  Quế  

The trick is to skewer the muscle of the 'foot' then twist the shell away from the meat. Fabulous dipping sauces make these very tasty little morsels!  There was one varity of pointy little shells that you snip the tip off, then suck furiously to extract the meat ... I wasn't nearly as successful with those!

It was beginning to rain as we parted company. You can see in this photo how busy it is at the tables set outside ... I have seen this so often - now I'm delighted to say I have "been there, done that!"

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dinner at home!

Tonight for the first time in months I actually cooked dinner! I had the night off, so Khánh and Xuân came over and Khánh brought Jutta and Maarten, from Germany.  We had chicken drumsticks, garden salad, potato salad and bánh mì – simple as...  It’s surprising how many things I thought of cooking, but had to cross off the list because I don’t have an oven! I hadn’t realised how much I rely on an oven to cook for guests at home.

Khánh set up my laptop downstairs so we could have music and Katie came on Skype, so that was a turn around... Katie talking to me while I was preparing dinner. It has always been the other way around.
Xuân took over shallow frying the drumsticks as soon as he arrived, bless him. It’s so hot standing over a frying pan.  The boys got a huge bottle of beer hoi from the restaurant down the lane (about 20 litres for $5) and we sat down to a typical Aussie summer meal right here in Hải Phòng... 
Jutta and Maarten both commented that the potato salad was just like they would have it in Germany – so there you go – small world.  We had fresh fruit salad and yoghurt or ice cream for dessert and by then we were all full. But not too full for a game of darts.

None of us were very good at it, but local rules are that the looser has to do push-ups...

We girls had the option of singing a song when we lost, but Jutta opted for push-ups instead.  So did Quỳnh when she arrived a bit later.
While Khánh took Jutta home, Xuân and Maarten played chess.  Though I must admit it didn’t take long for Maarten to get to checkmate!

What a lovely night. The boys had already washed up, so there was very little for me to do to clean up... just toddle upstairs!  How blessed am I.

Another funeral

There was another funeral in our lane yesterday and today. This morning a sad procession walked slowly past my house.

That's the third funeral in the last few months...  another grieving family.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

VIMARU English Club

Since I only had one class today, I was happy to go out tonight. (Sunday nights I'm often tired and just want to stay home and do nothing).  So at 7pm Tiên picked me up and we went for dinner ... lòng lợn (pigs heart -arteries and stuff) and đậu phụ (tofu).  I must admit the meat was a little unusual for a western palate... and rather chewy, but the tofu is so fresh it melts in your mouth - yum!

I gave my camera to the man at the next table to take a photo of us ... guess he's not used to handling a camera! ... still you get the idea!

After dinner we went to VIMARU University to English Club and had a very enjoyable evening. There were many familiar faces there from our NP Church class. Hà is the president, and she does a masterful job. They welcomed me and asked me to introduce myself, then played a team game where each team had to write a list of nouns with the first letters spelling out a given word. A good game ... I'll remember that one!

Then they had to discuss what they would do if Doomsday was upon us and they only had one day to live. Nearly everyone said they wanted to spend their last day with their families ... especially their parents. It is so beautiful here how much love and respect young people in Việt Nam have for their Mum and Dad. One young man said he wanted to go home and sleep next to his parents one last time, because when he was a child he used to sleep with them -  obviously a treasured memory for him.

They asked me how I would spend my last day. Given the scenario, I wouldn't have time to get back to my family so I would be here. I told them that after contacting my family (preferably via skype!) I would spend my last day telling all who would listen about the love of Jesus and how much the Father wants to call them his children. A short, impromptu gospel message, but I love these dear friends so much I yearn for them to know God like I know Him - as my personal friend and source of all love and joy, my protector, lover of my soul, my Father - the God of the Universe, who sings over me! It is my prayer that they will recognise something different about me ... and that they will come to realise that difference is the love of God flowing in and through my life.

 People here never pass up a photo opportunity...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mai's baby party

Mai and Cường's baby is now one month old, so they had a naming party for him. I was blessed to be invited.
 Mai and little Xuân Lam

As always the food at Mai's was wonderful. Check out these crispy little numbers... frog legs ... Delicious!! Mai said she is on a very strict diet for three months and can only eat pork (no seafood, frogs or chicken). Apparently there are lots of traditional rules governing life for a new mum here, so she couldn't join in the feasting, poor darling!

All so fresh and tasty.

Check out the splendiferous cakes ... one tier for each of the family...

Xuân Lam - the year of the dragon

Mai - the year of the pig

and Cường - the year of the rooster.

Many family and friends had come and there was loads of food... plenty of toasts for the baby's future and a good time had by all.  Mai's brother was very friendly and he was keen to have a photo with me ... probably hasn't seen such a huge lady up close before...!  I don't expect anyone in Mai's family is over 5' tall.

After the meal was cleared away we settled in for some Karaoke until it was time for Mr Cường, my xe ôm, to take me back to work. Affectionate farewells from Mai's family and off I went...  How privileged am I!

Footnote: This is little Xuân Lam at three months old....
Now that's a surprise!!!  How could he grow so big, so fast????